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Trigger Warnings for a Happier Planet

The last few months have seen a rising debate over the use of “trigger warnings” and whether or not colleges and universities should implement them in their syllabi.  What’s that?  You haven’t heard of the term “trigger warning?”  Well, then, it’s time for your education on the latest round of feel-good nonsense permeating college and teen culture.

In an age where people wear their various mental illnesses on their sleeves with a level of pride formerly reserved for actual life accomplishments, it stands to reason that everyone would be looking to protect each other from the perils and dangers of adult discussions on things that might be uncomfortable so we now have a culture brewing where warnings of potentially traumatizing content have to be made so that the precious snowflakes can handle it or avoid it appropriately.

The issue is being pushed by academics and student governments at various universities.  Many in favor are arguing that trigger warnings are “the right thing to do” because education should not be a traumatic experience to the young minds that are merely trying to learn new things.  On its surface, this is clearly a movement with good intentions, but once you start thinking about how (and when) to put trigger warnings in place, now you suddenly have an issue.

I’d like you to meet Emily and Alice.  Emily and Alice are two different people.  They check all the “boxes” and have all the usual current mental health buzzwords between them, but Alice is particularly special.  She’s Pluto.

I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.  Alice is Pluto.  Just ask her.

“It’s kind of hard to explain ●︿● But it’s like when I see, or hear about, or even read about Pluto, I just know. Like I see a picture of Pluto and I think “That’s me! ◕3◕” same for when someone talks about Pluto, I just feel it inside me that they’re talking about me. Before I realised I was Pluto I always felt like… idk, a sense of “wrong,” like I had no idea who I was, but when I finally realised it, it was like everything clicked. Everything about me and everything I felt just finally made since! I was Pluto! I did actually consider different planets at first, but Pluto was the only one that resonated so strongly with me. I feel an extremely deep connection with Pluto, that goes far past the feeling of admiration or wonder. It’s the feeling of “this is what I’m supposed to be. This is who I really am.” I hope that makes since (✖﹏✖) I’m sorry if it doesn’t. I have a really hard time putting my thoughts and feelings into words. “

Farbeit from me to tell people they can’t be everything they want to be, and I’m sure Emily’s life as a planet is quite interesting, especially at age 21.  Yes, a 21 year old adult refers to themselves as a planet.

I realised that Pluto and I shared the same soul and spirit when I was ten. I had always kind of understood this but I did not understand it fully until I was ten. It’s been eleven years now I still know that Pluto and I share a soul, just currently separate bodies. I’m not insane, I fully understand that I currently reside in the body of a human, but I know that one day I will return to my true body, where I will be whole again. I can’t wait for that day.

Wow.  I mean, is there any more textbook example of strange?  I try not to judge because everyone has their “thing,” but it’s really hard to read something like this with a straight face.  None the less, Alice seems happy with plurself (the pronoun preferred as opposed to “herself,”) so that’s fine with me.  I’m not judging plu (the pronoun preferred to “her”) no matter how “off” I find this whole thing to be.

I chose to tell you the story of Alice here because Alice has a convenient list of triggers on plu Tumblr.  Here they are, for those of you who are interested.

Alice’s triggers:

  • black holes

  • anything referring to pluto not being a planet

  • gravity

  • asteroids

  • rubber bands

  • shock images (i.e. shocking reaction images of humanoid faces, examples: 1, 2, 3. WARNING. EXTREMELY SHOCKING AND TERRIFYING.)

  • pugs

  • Neil Degrasse Tyson

  • curse words (mostly when yelled or in caps)

  • Elderly humans in crocs

  • Marvel’s Galactus

  • Disney’s movie Hercules

  • cisgender privileges

  • segways

  • metric system

  • galactic cannibalism

  • low opacity photos

Quite a list, no?

Again, I’m not here to judge, and people have their “things” and those “things” are theirs and they’re entitled to them, but if you notice the third to last one, the “metric system,” it probably confuses you.  Don’t worry, Alice has a nice explanation.

I want to sum this up without giving much detail because this one is extremely personal. Basically an older person in my life when I was a child tried to force me to learn the metric system and basically every time I messed up and couldn’t learn it they would hurt me.

I think we can all agree that no matter how strange we find this whole thing, that’s a screwed up situation, right?  Right.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, since the metric system is obviously a problem for Alice, any of plur instructors would have to warn plur of anything containing references to the metric system so that plu could choose whether or not to participate in that work.

Go ahead, professors, add your trigger warnings.

Slippery slopes are bad logical arguments.  Very bad.  The idea is that if you allow one thing, you allow an avalanche of made up subsequent things in succession, but it’s hard to see how “trigger warnings” placed on things like reading lists don’t turn into huge laundry lists of terms that could offend anyone, potentially.  Imagine constructing a list of trigger warnings based on Alice’s triggers?  Good luck!

Now it should be noted that I don’t oppose (totally) the idea of being conscientious of the needs of one’s students.  I think it’s perfectly reasonable that, for example, if you’re reading a book on flowers and there’s  a chapter where a mass murder happens, something that is unexpected or out of character, I can understand a warning.  On This Week in Law a few weeks ago they discussed this very issue and one of the guests, a law professor, had a case that was going to be discussed on the final about a coffin company.  He decided against using the case when he had a fear that it would upset a student who recently lost a loved one.

However, he also said that he doesn’t believe doing such should be mandated in any way, but that doing so is simply an example of being a good person and trying to be decent to other people.

Well how about that.

I honestly think that’s the right way to approach this.  Forcing professors (and holding them accountable) to use trigger warnings can result in a crazy array of students seeking recognition and protection from their potential triggers no matter how obscure they are.  It would put educators in the untenable position of having to make sure they think of every possible thing that could trigger every possible person in every possible class.  If our subject, Alice, took an astronomy class, plu would be devastated because they would probably discuss the work of [trigger warning] Neil Degrasse Tyson and Alice would have a mental or emotional breakdown.

I’m not opposed to people voluntarily trying to forewarn those with certain sensitivities about potentially upsetting or traumatizing content.  I am absolutely 100% opposed to making it a mandate in any fashion simply because the range of what people are sensitive to varies so widely that you’d either be tagging everything with warnings, or if you weren’t, probably useless in totality anyway.

Either way, it doesn’t work.

 

 


 

Header Image via Sakura on Flickr

 

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Facebook Experimented on 600,000+ Users Without Explicit Permission

What if someone did an experiment on you without your knowledge?  And in that experiment, what if they manipulated your emotions to see how far they could push that manipulation?  Would you be okay with it?  And what if that experiment was justified because, at some point, you agreed to a Terms of Service for using a website that said that the company could use your data in any way they saw fit? Congratulations, you’ve just been experimented on. Now to be clear, it was only 600,000 users out of the millions Facebook had, so the actual scope of the experimentation is very small, but that notwithstanding, the ethical problem is overwhelming and something we really need to consider. Researchers wanted to know if emotional contagion, the idea that the people around you can manipulate your emotions, would apply to people online as it does in real life.  From New Scientist:

A team of researchers, led by Adam Kramer at Facebook in Menlo Park, California, was curious to see if this phenomenon would occur online. To find out, they manipulated which posts showed up on the news feeds of more than 600,000 Facebook users. For one week, some users saw fewer posts with negative emotional words than usual, while others saw fewer posts with positive ones.

Digital emotions proved somewhat contagious, too. People were more likely to use positive words in Facebook posts if they had been exposed to fewer negative posts throughout the week, and vice versa. The effect was significant, though modest.

Interesting, right?  I mean I’m not going to lie; the conclusion is very interesting because it shows that emotional contagion is just as valid online as it is in the real world, but do the methods used to arrive at the conclusion seem ethical?  Absolutely not.

It’s clear that, at the least, this was unethical.  The legality of it is not open to question because your data and your use of a service does not include the right to have all your information presented equally and to not have things changed as the company sees fit, but even the most irrational reactions I’ve seen to this story are not claiming anything about the legality of it.

The ethics, however, are shocking.  Facebook let people believe that they were having a certain experience when they weren’t.  On top of that, they let people experience emotions, some detrimental, for their “research.”  How do we allow such a thing to happen without a revolution of some kind?  Or have we gotten so complacent that being manipulated in such a way doesn’t even register on our anger meter any more.

The implications are huge.  Facebook, through these unethical experiments, have basically learned that they can artificially program you emotionally.  What if they always want you to be happy?  Well then they show you happy posts.  What if they only want you to feel warm and fuzzy thoughts about an advertiser?  They can highlight posts praising those advertisers and you would feel warmth toward them.  They could, theoretically show you an ad on the right side of the screen, manipulate your feed to show that advertiser in a good light, and get you to buy a product all without your knowledge.

Scared yet?  Because I sure as hell am.

In fact, in a subtle nod to the level of manipulation Facebook can do, in spite of the fact that everyone I know is talking about this “experiment,” here’s the trending topics Facebook is showing me as I write this:

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Funny but something strikes me as missing from that list…

I should note, because I think it’s important, that I don’t mind this personally as much as I should.  While I’m shocked that they would engage in something so clearly unethical, I understand that things like this may happen when you give so much of your data to one company and trust it to keep it relatively safe.  We do it with lots of online services.  Think of the profile Google has on you.  Or maybe Microsoft.  They could probably reliably construct who you are and what you’re about also.

But that doesn’t mean I excuse Facebook for what is a clear violation of every accepted ethical norm, particularly in studies of people.  The authors of the report argue that since the text of messages and communications were not read by human eyes and were instead read by an algorithm, they didn’t run afoul of the Privacy Policy Facebook has in place protecting users (notice, however, they don’t address the expectation of data integrity, proving to me that they understand their study is problematic ethically).

They even go as far as naming the people at Facebook who worked with them so as to make it more convenient for people to vent their outrage.

We thank the Facebook News Feed team, especially Daniel Schafer, for encouragement and support; the Facebook Core Data Science team, especially Cameron Marlow, Moira Burke, and Eytan Bakshy; plus Michael Macy and Mathew Aldridge for their feedback. Data processing systems, per-user aggregates, and anonymized results available upon request.

Make note of those names, people. The most frightening thing is the technical argument about informed consent.  I understand that their definition of informed consent is the barest of the bare and that it would probably pass legal muster should they get sued, but when you consider what could have resulted from this study, you realize that this was a really bad idea.

Since we know the outcome, and that emotional contagion happens in a social network, what if one of the 600,000+ subjects in this study didn’t have stable mental faculties and they drew the “negative” card?  What if they were ready to put a gun in their mouth and pull the trigger and the onslaught of negative emotions brought to their newsfeed pushed them over the edge? If someone was informed about the study happening they could opt out, knowing they couldn’t handle the kind of experimentation that was about to happen, but if they couldn’t and the candidates weren’t vetted (and we know for a fact they weren’t) how ethical can you possibly call experimenting on people without knowing their mental state, ability to cope, etc.?

That’s the scariest part of the whole thing in my eyes; Facebook could’ve literally experimented someone into killing themselves.  We can’t work on hypotheticals, but hypotheticals can act as a warning and can help us make better choices and no matter how you slice it, Facebook made a bad one here. I’ve requested the anonymized data so I can look into it and I’ll report back once I have a chance to look it over.  I also told one of the authors that I may have some follow-up questions about the report if they were open to that, so we’ll see how that goes and if they respond.  I’m hoping they do because I’d really like to explore the mindset of the people who did this study a little further. In the meantime, Adam Kramer, the lead author in the experiment, explained himself on Facebook.

OK so. A lot of people have asked me about my and Jamie and Jeff‘s recent study published in PNAS, and I wanted to give a brief public explanation. The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.

Regarding methodology, our research sought to investigate the above claim by very minimally deprioritizing a small percentage of content in News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short period (one week, in early 2012). Nobody’s posts were “hidden,” they just didn’t show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always visible on friends’ timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads. And we found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses is.

And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it — the result was that people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week.

The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.

While we’ve always considered what research we do carefully, we (not just me, several other researchers at Facebook) have been working on improving our internal review practices. The experiment in question was run in early 2012, and we have come a long way since then. Those review practices will also incorporate what we’ve learned from the reaction to this paper.

Do with that what you will.  One thing’s for sure; they don’t strike me as apologetic, just explaining.


Header Image via Robert Scoble on Flickr

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Matt Lauer Draws Ire For Asking Two Simple Questions

Matt Lauer has been one of the most consistently liberal voices in New York media in my lifetime.  Often you’ll find him lobbing softball questions at his favorite left-wing icons while ignoring the opposition or just not even having them there to discuss their point at all.  It’s the worst kept secret in the media today, and part of the reason that The Today Show is a favorite stopping point for everyone peddling a social justice cause du jour.

It came as a great surprise to me that Lauer would be at the center of a controversy over his questioning of GM CEO Mary Barra when he asked her on his show two questions that sent everyone into a frenzy.

Question #1: Do you think you were given the position to present a softer side of GM during its current crises?

Question #2: Do you think you’ll be able to effectively balance being a CEO and a mother?

Now, many people who could potentially ask that question would be called out for being sexist and so on, but when I read the questions, I thought of it completely differently.  Lauer is a lot of things, but sexist?  No.  He’s actually, to put it in the words of many people I’ve heard call him such, a weenie and is so committed to being unapologetically left-wing that I actually think people are seeing this precisely the wrong way.

Let’s look at question #1.  He didn’t say she wasn’t qualified, but he did imply that her being a woman shed a warmer light on the company than having a man at the helm would.  Those kinds of considerations are made all the time and, honestly, when left wingers (the complainers in this case) talk about affirmative action, this is what happens.  In fact, talking about making “diversity appointments” or hiring someone to fill a quota or presenting a more “diverse” appearance, these are the consequences.  Added to that, the side effect of affirmative action type policies is that every protected class who achieves anything will have it questioned because of it and you have a combustible mix of a bad idea and an insitutionalized bias.

She basically answered that question by saying that “Some people would say that, but I’ve earned the position on my merits.”  Fine.  Problem solved.

Now for question #2: Can you balance the needs of being a CEO and a mother?

This is the question that caused the most outrage because it was clear to everyone with a women’s studies degree that the only reason for asking that question was because Lauer clearly believes that women do not have the ability to do so.  I mean, that’s what interviewers do, right?  They ask questions that have simple answers that validate their beliefs, right?

Well yeah, if they suck as an interviewer they do, but Lauer isn’t an idiot.  Lauer didn’t ask that question because he believes it, it’s called lobbing a softball.  Lauer wouldn’t conceivably believe that she couldn’t do the job and balance being a mother.  He asked the question to give her a springboard from which to jump into exactly why she could do that and how ridiculous that question, which didn’t originate in Lauer’s brain, really is.

That’s right, as Lauer explained, he was referencing a Forbes article that raised a similar point and he was giving her a chance to respond.

Oops.

Of course that doesn’t stop the gnashing of teeth, as it usually doesn’t and the usual suspects are calling for the usual things.  Boycotts, protests, angry tweets, etc.

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Yawn.

See, I’ve been known to commit acts of journalism from time to time.  In a former life, I was the Editor of my high school newspaper, a writer for my college newspaper, and a mildly successful podcaster including a stint as an interviewer where I talked to some of the best names in the tech business, so believe me, I know what I’m talking about when I say this: Matt Lauer’s agenda drove him to ask those questions, and that agenda is not to make her look bad, but to make her critics look bad.

When he asked those questions, it was to give her easy criticisms that she could forcefully reject and look like the strong qualified leader she is.  He wasn’t trying to make her look bad, he was trying to give her an opportunity to make herself look good and instead of taking it, she reacted to him (not the critics he was citing) and then her advocates joined right in because, as is usually the case, they led with their hearts and not with their brains.

Sad, because this was a missed opportunity to respond forcefully to critics (which, to her credit, Barra kind of did) and her answers, which were pretty decent (albeit they could’ve been more forceful) are now being overshadowed by a bunch of offenderati jerks who don’t understand how journalism actually happens and how an interview is done.

Tragic.

If Matt Lauer hadn’t been so reliably liberal over his time as host of Today, I might buy that he was being combative with Barra, but I just don’t see it.    If you follow my golden rule and assume benign intent, then you can make a rational argument (rather than an emotional one) that he was merely giving her a chance to speak her peace.

People need to relax a little and stop being so quick to be outraged and extort apologies.  It seems to be a recurring theme lately, and yet we’ve learned next to nothing after each time it happens.


Header image via Nan Palmero on Flickr

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Delta Tweets a Giraffe Photo, Pisses Off Over Sensitive Jackasses

When you think of Africa, what do you think of?  Unless you’re an intellectually dishonest left-wing douchebag, you think of safaris, lions, etc.  And unless you’re a really guilty left-wing douchebag, you probably don’t feel bad about it no matter how much you’re told that those thoughts are racist stereotypes held by stupid white people who don’t bother to understand how different and varied the countries of Africa actually are.

Because I’m sure you really give a damn, don’t you?

So Delta, after the USA beat Ghana in their World Cup match posted a tweet that congratulated Team USA and included two pictures.  One of a giraffe, and another of the Statue of Liberty.

delta-airlinestweetOffenderati, start your engines!

The reaction was swift, immediate, and decisive.  Cries of racism and outrage flew forth with speed usually reserved for the Red Bull Air Race.  It was the perfect storm of pompous outrage, white privilege accusations, and an opportunity to bemoan the ignorance of western culture.  It was a perfect chowder of all the crap soup we’ve been served in the past few months every single time someone says something that makes someone unhappy.

I always ask myself who actually gets offended by stuff like this.  For ages and ages, the nations of Africa have made their money on tourism from Western people looking for the Safari experience.  The fastest-growing industry in Tanzania, for example, is tourism and, chances are, if you’re going to Tanzania, it’s to either photograph exotic animals, or shoot them dead.

That’s just reality.

But beyond that, is it really such a bad thing to assume that giraffes live in a country in Africa?  More to the point, is it such a ridiculous presumption that the mere expression of it is cause for, essentially, a modern-day letter writing campaign?  Who, in the nation of Ghana, was personally harmed by a tweet, and in what way?  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of the outrage came from the “check your privilege” crowd who who the sane world has come to know, hate, and wish smited from the planet.  Here are two of the featured outrage tweets from Fox News…

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Oh yeah.  Saying giraffes live in Africa is totally racist you moron.

Delta’s apology (yes, they made an official apology over this) was as groveling and silly as you would expect a corporate apology to be.

After removing the “offending” tweet, Delta groveled…

Twitter___Delta__We_re_sorry_for_our_choice____

Okay A, you’re sorry for your choice of photo?  Why?  Because some internet douches on Twitter got butthurt over it?  And B, best of luck to all teams?  Why?  Do you have to now root for Ghana because you misused a giraffe!?

I mean, I know this is silly, but that’s kind of the point: it’s silly.  At some point I’d really love for a company to grow a pair of balls and say “You know what?  I don’t give a damn if you’re offended.  We can’t make everyone happy all the time, so be an adult and realize things are gonna be said that will make you unhappy and if you’re not happy it’s your problem, not ours.”

I know.  Dream on, right?

I could live with the apology a little more if Delta hadn’t double-groveled by wishing “all teams” good luck when they clearly don’t mean it (as evidenced by the fact that the whole thing started when the US airline was congratulating the US soccer team on their win), but Delta didn’t even have the courage to not try and endear themselves to the same people who, as of the moment that tweet was made, will never not see them as racist and will perpetually be trying to extract apologies and penance from Delta.

Meanwhile, in the real world, reasonable adults understand that this was neither racist, nor offensive, and the overreaction by the aggrieved is the only thing more offensive than the stupid apology for using a universally understood symbol for a continent.

By the standards of the offenderati, I should be very angry that they chose the Statue of Liberty.  After all, there’s no Statue of Liberty in California, so it’s stereotypical of the US, right?  Damn, Delta, you can’t get anything right!  The main thrust of the criticism of the picture choice was that they were using an animal to represent a country’s people.  That’s all well and good, so let’s carry that over.  The US picture used a statue.  Are we all made of copper and blue-green now?

And yes, before you get your Righteous Anger(tm) brand underwear in a bunch, I understand that the situations aren’t exactly parallel, but at the same time, I’m just tired of people seeking reasons to be offended, and I’m tired of the insincere groveling apologies that universally follow that offense.  The apologizing party doesn’t really mean it, the apology target doesn’t really accept it, and the whole thing looks ridiculous to normal people looking in from the outside, so maybe…  Just maybe we can put a stop to this stupid charade we keep engaging in time and time again…

Whaddya say…  Maybe we can start being adults, now?


 

Header Image via Enjosmith on Flickr 

 

 

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Gungrabbers Twist Facts Because They Have To

Gun control advocates have been trying really hard to get as much mileage as possible out of the Sandy Hook shooting, and they’ve made good progress.  Many states, including my own, immediately and reflexively clamped down on guns as if that would suddenly halt the problem.  No one even bothered to understand that Connecticut already had an assault weapons ban at the time of the shooting.

It didn’t matter, though, because Adam Lanza was set on killing people.

This is where the anti-gun lobby falls on its face: they never seem to understand that all the laws in the world won’t make them safer because the people who follow gun laws, myself included, are not a danger.  I’m not going to shoot you, even though I could from a very respectable distance, because it’s not in my nature.  I won’t take my rifle to a spot with a good vantage point of a schoolyard and start picking off kids at recess because I have no desire or motivation to do so.  My guns are legally owned, they’re locked (one is in a locked case, the other is trigger locked) and the ammo for them, when I’m not out of it, is not near them.

You can pass laws until you’re blue in the face, but in the end you will be no safer tomorrow than you are today because you’re not in any danger today.  From me, anyway.

Gungrabbers reflexively spew numbers because numbers quantify what they see as the problem.  Often, they don’t realize that when they drop these numbers on people, smart people take the time to process them and come to conclusions and those conclusions aren’t always what the gungrabbers want even with a media that literally jumps right into their corner.

Take for instance this recent graphic going around, purporting to be statistics on handgun violence in various countries.

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A cursory look at this piece of stupidity and you can simply say it’s another anti-gun propaganda piece.  It looks silly in context of the arguments made against “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines” but it looks even sillier when it purports to be current data and includes a country named “West Germany.”  The actual data isn’t much better, of course, and doesn’t account for population size, legal gun ownership rate, or any other distinguishing factors, it simply shows a number and has been repeated uncritically thousands of times as proof of a point.

It came as no surprise when Michael Bloomberg’s Every Town for Gun Safety, an organization devoted to doing nothing more than making it still harder for people to legally own a firearm, came out with a statistic that lit the internet and most major media on fire.  The claim was simple.  Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, there have been 74 school shootings.  This number and the accompanying report were repeated in every major news outlet across the country and nearly all of them did so uncritically.  The astonishing part of that is that these mainstream media organizations echo’ed the report knowing full well that it was driven by an agenda and an ideologically biased group but since the media in general likes this kind of advocacy (namely, what Everytown advocates for), it didn’t matter, and off to the presses they went.

Immediately upon seeing the data, many people were puzzled.  Had the folks reporting this number fallen down on their job that badly?  If there were 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook, how is it at all possible that we didn’t hear about them?

The simple answer is because the number is an outright lie.

Politifact 10-74As soon as the number started hitting the media, Charles R. Johnson started looking into it and found that only 15 out of the 74 “school shootings” were actual “school shootings” in what adults consider the term to mean.  Once Johnson finished his work, they concluded the same, and just a few days ago, Politifact, an organization that almost always skews left in their analysis of facts, was even harder on the organization saying that only 10 of the incidents in the report were actual school shootings.

Among their findings, Politifact noted:

  • Incidents such as Sandy Hook or Columbine in which the shooter intended to commit mass murder: 10 instances
  • Incidents related to criminal activity (such as drug dealing or robbery), or personal altercations: 39 instances
  • Incidents unconnected to members of school community and/or that took place outside school hours: 16 instances
  •  Suicides: 6 instances
  • Accidental discharges: 3 instances

Does that sound like a rash of school shootings to you?  Because it sure doesn’t to me.  It sounds  a lot like someone Googled the word “gun” and then posted any stories within a certain date range, but that should surprise precisely no one because the truth rarely bears out the hysteria from the gungrabber crowd.

They also carefully worded their report with phraseology such as “We should feel secure in sending our children to school” even when 35 of the shootings they cited were at a college.  Clearly, they were trying to elicit fear from parents, and, as I noted earlier, the complicit media played right along.

In numerous discussions over this I’ve heard every manner of justification for this bogus stat you can imagine, including “It doesn’t matter if the number is 74, 10, or 3.  1 is even too many.”  That sounds nice on paper, but it’s also complete and total bullshit because if they truly believed “1 is too many” then 1 would be enough, but they know damn well they need to puff up those stats to look as scary as possible in order to get vote-seeking douchebags in state houses and Congress to pass reactionary legislation to solve a problem that legislation can’t actually solve.

If you really want to know how weak the gungrabbers are in their grasp of numbers, think about this.  Gungrabbers often cite a number of around 200,000,000 guns in the United States as proof that there are “too many” guns in this country, yet when you consider that sheer number and take it along with the chart below you realize why they have to lie.

SDT-2013-05-gun-crime-1-1They have to lie because the “too many guns = crime” thing is overly simplistic and belies the fact that legal guns do not contribute to crime in the first place.

So what can people who believe in the right to bear arms, the second amendment, and the right to defend your property including the number one piece of property you own, your body, when gungrabbers start spreading lies and their accomplices in the media are not only complicit, but gleefully and uncritically parrot every word they speak?  Well, for one thing you can make sure to not let their lies go unchecked.  Every single time they lie, counter with facts, real statistics and non-debatable points.  They’ll always argue from emotion because appeals to emotion, parents, families, and “the children” will always go a long way, but if you back them into a corner and they can’t prove their empty arguments, you’ve won.

Secondly, be a model citizen, particularly if you’re a gun owner.  I respect non-owners as much as owners, but I won’t concede my rights to placate their fears.  I simply refuse to allow anyone to tell me I’m not entitled to defend myself because we have a police force in the same way I wouldn’t advise anyone against having a fire extinguisher because there are firefighters.

It’s time we took back this debate, and if it means we have to exhaustively engage every single anti-gun zealot in this country who thinks that a criminal with a gun is the same as a legally licensed gun owner then that’s what we have to do or we’ll simply watch our rights get flushed directly down the toilet.  Allowing idiocy like this “74 School Shootings” lie to go unchecked simply because the people who are spreading it think it’s right “in principle” is something we’re obligated to put a stop to immediately.


Header Image via Elvert Barnes on Flickr

 

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Cosmo Goes Nuts, Ignores Its Role In The Issue

Cosmopolitan, that magazine loaded with tons of fat acceptance, on June 4th had a piece on their website that just reeked of complete crap, or at least crap of the disingenuous kind.

In a discussion about Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar attire from last year, they expressed outrage that no prominent designers wanted to design her attire for the occasion.

In the new issue of Redbook, however, McCarthy explains that finding her Oscars look was not easy. Despite the opportunity to have their work worn by a presenter and, you know, also a beautiful, talented, and hilarious actress, “five or six designers, very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people, all said no” to her requests for a gown. She does not name names, which is polite — designers who don’t want to show off their work on a fuller-figured woman are, in fact, only showing off their own limitations, and probably deserve to be called out for it. It’s not that much more difficult to produce stunning, red carpet-worthy gowns for women with curves than it is for those without; really, it isn’t. So what gives, fashion people? Sort it out, please. And soon.

You get all that?   It’s wrong, damn wrong, that she couldn’t find a designer to do the deed and Cosmo is not happy about it.  It makes me wonder, however, if Cosmo has ever looked inside its own pages.

Here’s July 2014′s cover featuring Katy Perry.

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I’m glad they chose plus-sized icon Katy Perry for the cover so they could teach you her trick for “flat abs.”  When was the last time they even had a “woman with curves,” as they referred to McCarthy, on their cover?  In fact, during a cursory look at their last 20 or so covers, Adele is the only one in the group.

Most of the cover models look a lot more like Katy Perry than Melissa McCarthy.  And by most, I mean nearly all.

And every issue is loaded with tricks on how to lose weight, how to “look better,” how to “have a bikini body” and other euphemisms for “get slim so you aren’t fat.”  Nearly all of the ads are for companies that don’t even make clothing for plus-sized women and when criticism has been lobbed toward media outlets for the pressure they put on young girls, it’s almost always directed at Cosmo primarily because of their reputation of glamorizing thin women, thin clothing designers, and “looking good” (losing weight, etc).

If Cosmo truly felt that what happened to Melissa McCarthy was worthy of scorn, it could be easily fixed and it wouldn’t even take a whole ton on their part to do so considering their clout in the publishing business.

  • They could refuse to accept advertisements from companies that don’t make clothing that fits all sizes of women.  If the clothing line isn’t diverse enough to fit everyone, then they aren’t a good fit for the glossy interior of Cosmo.
  • They could put more plus-sized women on the cover, and I don’t mean plus-sized by the ridiculous definition of what has come to mean plus-sized.  I mean large curvy women of the size that they’ve shunned for years and years.
  • They could actually make an effort to stop running ads with cut up and chiseled guys as well and maybe feature a regular guy or two.  I mean, if you’re going to pretend body image diversity matters, then it should matter for men and women, not just women.

There’s one problem with all of those things, however, and the problem is that they all would actually mean changing their business model, potentially angering advertisers, and maybe losing readers who find plus-sizes disgusting.  They can’t have that, can they?

It’s easy for Cosmo to pontificate on what’s wrong with the world and how everyone else needs to fix it.  It’s much harder when you turn that microscope inward and have to figure out ways that you can help fix it.

Now I should be really clear; I don’t care what Cosmo prints.  I don’t care if they only have the thinnest of thin anorexic-looking celebrities on their cover and run article after article on how important it is to have a 6-pack bikini body and a perfect ass.  My issue with them isn’t the trash they choose to publish on a month-to-month basis because I believe that people have a right to say what they want, publish what they want, and run their business as they see fit.

My problem is when an icon of everything that’s considered “the problem” starts lecturing others on their contribution to it.  It would be the equivalent of someone standing their with a blow torch bitching that people keep starting fires with matches.  It’s all well and good that Cosmo has jumped in the corner of Melissa McCarthy, but that’s a pretty damn hollow gesture, and unless I miss my guess, that plea for designers to get their crap together never even appeared in the magazine, proving that their commitment to this “issue” is as thin as the paper it could potentially be printed on.

Once Cosmo starts walking the walk, I’ll take them a lot more seriously.  For now, it’s just blather and politically correct outrage and as long as they have such a great platform upon which to actually do something and they don’t, you’ll never convince me they mean the words that were printed.


Header via Mingle Media  TV on Flickr

 

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Context Doesn’t Just Matter, It’s Everything

In Jonah Hill’s apology to the LGBT community for saying a word that’s so verboten that you have to grovel for days after saying it, he made one very revealing statement that tells you everything you need to know about how devoid of substance our current apology culture really is.

In his apology, he actually said the following sentence.

I said the most hurtful word I could think of at that moment. I didn’t mean this in the sense of the word. I didn’t mean it in a homophobic way. I think that….that doesn’t matter, you know? How you mean things doesn’t matter. Words have weight in meaning. The word I chose was grotesque. No one deserves to say or hear words like that.

Wait, what?  How you mean things doesn’t matter?  Everyone who heard this should be shocked at such a daft statement from a man who makes his living both writing and producing movies and acting, right?  Instead, people are reinforcing his idiotic statement.

Perhaps most significant in all of this is Hill’s acknowledgement that the context and what he meant by the word—a word that, like so many of us, Hill probably heard hurled with impunity throughout his teenage years, just by virtue of being a dude—simply doesn’t matter.

If the context doesn’t matter, then holy crap do we have a lot of things we need to rethink, and we can start with the actual thing that Hill said.  If you recall from yesterday’s post, he told the photographer who he felt was harassing him to “Suck my fucking dick you faggot.”  While he’s gone out of his way to distance himself and self flagellate over the use of the word “faggot,” if context doesn’t matter and only words do, Jonah Hill literally requested a blowjob from the photographer.

See what you get into when you start taking the context away from words?

And Hill is an actor.  In Hill’s movies, he has used the word faggot multiple times.  In fact, in Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill tosses around the word “fag” to provoke a fight in a parking lot.  In Django Unchained, Hill appeared as a KKK member who tossed around the word “nigger” with relative ease.  By Hill’s (and by extension, by A.V. Club’s) rationale, he thinks gay people are fags and black people are niggers, since context doesn’t matter.

Adults inherently understand the importance of context, even when using words that may make people uncomfortable.  The idea that a word has a weight of its own and a mind of its own is childish, simplistic, and flat out stupid, and the idea that there is no need for discussion of context when discussing something someone says tells me that we are a long way off from being the adults we’re supposed to be.

Apologies are only sincere when we address the heart of the statement that warranted the apology.  Apologizing simply for a choice of words tells me that we don’t want to have deeper discussions about what is meant, we just want to be childish and take every word at its face value with no understanding of the intent behind it or the meaning of it.

As someone who makes their bones with words, I’m not really sure I want to live in that world.

Jonah Hill’s comment, though, shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the media and so on to any extent.  In fact, I’ve talked here about apology culture many times, and there’s one thing in common with nearly every story about someone apologizing: words are punished with a complete disregard for context.

Joan Rivers, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, caught hell for joking that her room at Melissa’s house was as small as the room the Cleveland kidnap girls were held in.  She didn’t diminish their suffering or anything else, but the mere mention of the girls was called disrespectful and everyone jumped on her, resulting in Willie Geist making the most insincere and over the top apology I’ve ever seen a human being make.  The context of her words didn’t matter, she was soundly beaten, verbally, for saying them.

A game development company, Turtle Rock Studios, fired its community manager for saying that Donald Sterling was the victim of a person who betrayed his trust by recording his conversations and distributing them to the media.  In his tweet, he said…

k56nfdbpcck58tjhmhwxTurtle Rock immediately let him go, saying that his comments stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of the company.  Notice, Olin did not say he was correct for his views, only that his privacy was violated and it’s wrong, but the lynch mob focused on his quote of “He’s a victim.” and used that to determine that Olin supported the racism he espoused and therefore he had to be fired.  Again, context be damned.

Pharrell Williams recently landed in hot water for a cover of Elle UK on which he was wearing a Native American head dress.

pharrell-williams-elle-uk-featuredIt didn’t matter that the context wasn’t disrespectful or that he wasn’t pulling a YMCA Indian Chief gimmick, and it didn’t matter that he is, in fact, part Native American, he immediately was harassed until he apologized over the cover, and of course he had to give the usual caveats that he never meant to offend and he honors all cultures.  Some still haven’t accepted his apology and the cries of “cultural appropriation” have run wild, mostly from Western-dressing Native American tribes who wear jeans, sneakers, and other parts of a culture they’re totally not appropriating, you guys.

It just keeps getting more ridiculous, and the more ridiculous it gets, the less we discuss the context of the thing that’s allegedly offensive because all we need is someone to be outraged and that’s good enough to demand an apology even if the “offending” remark or word wasn’t directed directly at them or to them.

Jonah Hill’s admission that context doesn’t matter is very enlightening and shines light on a problem we have in this country and, to a similar extent, the rest of the world: we’re shallow, thoughtless, and base in our arguments and reactionary in our comments on current events, particularly controversial ones.  When anyone can say, to a modern civilized world that “What you meant don’t matter; we only care about what you said because we can’t be bothered to give you the courtesy of thinking about meaning before we react,” we’re setting ourselves down a bad and dangerous path.

I’m scared.


Header Image via David Goehring on Flickr

 

Bovine Fecal Detection At Its Best