Why We Need a Men’s Rights Movement, Like It Or Not

Left-wing progressive social justice warriors will always argue that men, particularly of the caucasian variety, do not need a “rights movement.”  In fact, they often mock the idea as being the product of the demented minds of a bunch of knuckle-draggers who have nothing better to do than keep brilliant smart talented women down.  At the same time as women complain about things that don’t exist (like the favorite lie of getting paid $0.70 for every dollar a man makes) there is something even more startling going on in this country that’s getting very little play: men are actually demonstrably being treated differently by the government and its systems, and we’re A O K with it.

Let’s start at the beginning.  In spite of the argument by feminists that they simply want equality, they are making no effort to be equal in certain areas.

tumblr_n6sc47yacz1s8seg1o1_1280The chart above represents every service offered by the government that can be denied to males 18 or over for not registering with Selective Service.  At age 26, they lose all opportunity to register and cannot ever receive these benefits.  Women, however, are never kept from any of these things, nor are they ever required to register for the draft.  One attorney (one who, admittedly, I find annoying but who I agree with here) is trying to change that but can’t find any of the equality crowd to try and get in on the suit.  Surprised?  Of course you’re not.  I’m not, either.  The equality crowd would never stand for equality in this case, would they?  So instead, men must become wards of the state at the state’s whim in order to avail themselves of the benefits provided to taxpayers while women can simply receive the benefits solely by benefit of existing and, I might add, while they continually argue for “equality” and being allowed to hold front-line positions in the military; the same military they’re not required to submit to should there ever be a draft.

It wouldn’t be so bad, however, if this was the extent of the inequality, but there are examples of it being far worse than this and more systemic.

In case after case, women are given lighter sentences for crimes where male offenders would have the proverbial book thrown at them.  Time and time again, in case after case, women will commit an act of sexual assault, then serve little to no time.

Take, for instance, the case of Andrea Mears.  Suspecting Austin Haughwout was trying to film people on a beach in Connecticut with his drone, she assaulted him.  She pinned him to the ground, stuck her fingers in his mouth, groped him, and took some big swings with the arm that wasn’t holding him down.  When the police came, they were set to take her word on the story until Haughwout produced video that clearly showed that Mears was the aggressor.  Her punishment for this assault?  Probation.

Or maybe you’d prefer to hear about a Lancaster lunch lady who was convicted of having sex with two boys, both 17 years old, and both special needs children.  Her sentence was a possible 180 days.  She got 3.

Or maybe you think there’s a chance that Hachat, the woman from the story above, actually didn’t do anything wrong and it was consensual, so let me introduce you to Charlotte Parker, a teacher from the UK.  She had a two-year affair with a 14 year old student, an age well below the age of consent in every civilized country in the world.  She plead guilty to sexual contact with a child, but copped a “depression” plea.  Her penalty?  10 years on the sex offender list, a lifetime ban on teaching, and a suspended sentence.  No jail time whatsoever.

Maybe you would like a really obvious and disgusting example of bias when it comes to female offenders.  How about a married couple who got a 15 year old babysitter high, then had sex with her?  That surely couldn’t be more cut and dried, right?  In fact, in this case, the husband of the couple only watched.  The wife had actual intercourse with the babysitter.  The sentences?  3 years for her, 4.5 for him.  It isn’t even like they’re different cases in similar circumstances: this is the same case, the most vile part of it done by the woman, and she still gets a lighter sentence.

Or maybe you would like to hear about a coach abusing players on a basketball team.  Oh, but don’t worry: this is a female coach and a male student.  Megan Mahoney is alleged to have committed criminal sexual conduct with a 16 year old student and faces 30 counts of Statutory Rape.  She was released without bail pending trial.  She goes to court again on December 2nd, but notice how you barely heard about that story and how there’s next to no outrage over it?

Not a bad collection of stories, is it?  It’s ironic that we’re still talking about “equality” like it’s some high-minded goal we’re all seeking, and yet I don’t see one single feminist arguing that any of these women should be sentenced more harshly.  Not. A. Single. One.  And if you need proof that these stories are treated differently, check out the wording when the teacher is a man.

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He didn’t “have a relationship that was inappropriate,” my friends.  He molested those boys.

But it’s worse than just some incidences of inappropriate touching and the crappy punishments and idiotic reporting of them.

A while ago I wrote about a piece of trash on the internet named Frogman.  Frogman made big waves when he came out a few months ago, after the Berkeley shooting, said that the idea that men dared defend themselves and not accept their summary judgment, was crazy, telling men that they should imagine the situation if a bowl of M&M’s had 10% of their number poisoned, then take a handful.  The idea, in his mind, is that if you think men aren’t all dangerous predators, you should still have to be judged because some others might be, like it or not.  I demolished that argument here, but I’m bringing it up again because Frog Man is out and about, yet again, being a hypocrite.

In a thread on his blog about victims, watch as he turns sexual harassment and assault into victim blaming with such ease it would make the happiest spinsters in Washington DC Blush:

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This is the guy who’s so pro-women that he thinks no men are to be trusted, and yet here he is clearly victim blaming, but this is nothing new, and male victims of this sort of thing are often blamed, belittled, or minimized by a society that simply doesn’t give a damn enough about men to even offer services to them should this kind of thing.

Before I go any further with this, it’s important to note that I don’t necessarily think governments should be providing these services at all to anyone, however if they are going to provide them, they should provide them to everyone. That isn’t showing any sign of happening any time soon, either.  In fact, according to a recently-released NIH study, not only is that not happening, but the exact opposite seems to be happening and men are getting the short end of the victim services stick.

The study sought to examine how men who were victims of IPV (intimate partner violence) felt with regards to the services offered to male victims and how they were treated throughout the process.  Some eye-grabbing facts were made apparent in the study, which is the largest ever done of its kind (302 samples of male victims of IPV).  Here are some of the highlights (if you can call them that).

  • Statistics show that men are as often the victims of IPV as women, but because of societal and systemic biases the help is often hard if not impossible to find.
  • Men who called domestic violence help lines were often told that they could not receive assistance, that it was only available for women, or they outright accused the men of being the aggressors.  Some men seeking help were referred to batterer’s programs (programs designed to help batterers stop).
  • Male victims who were fathers lost custody of their children to the battering mother even when evidence corroborated their story.
  • “In 54.9% of cases, the partner was determined to be the primary aggressor. Among those 62 men, 41.5% said the police asked the helpseeker if he wanted his partner arrested; 21% reported the police refused to arrest the partner, and 38.7% indicated the police said there was nothing they could do and left. The coding of the qualitative accounts found that 25.4% of the men told stories of the police doing nothing and ignoring or dismissing them.”

You can read the study here.

What’s shocking about this, to me, is that we continue to see a push for more services for female victims, while it’s increasingly clear that men are not only regular victims of the same violence, but that because of societal norms, they are not treated equally when it comes to seeking help.

I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, however, because as soon as you bring up the topic, people get hyper defensive.

A few months ago a bunch of celebrities got together to make a video decrying domestic violence, only instead of decrying domestic violence, they turned it into a PSA about violence against women.  It’s normal to see those two things (domestic violence and violence against women) used interchangeably, which essentially erases any male victimization whatsoever and frames the issue as men assaulting women.  I wrote about it then and called it a missed opportunity to shed light on all victims of domestic violence, male or female.  When a relative posted the video on Facebook, I chimed in because I felt that while the video was good, it was a missed opportunity.  I was immediately shouted down.

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Notice the tone and the inherent biases in what she says?  “The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are man against women,” in spite of the article linked right above her comment saying that not only is that not true, but the numbers are almost equal.  Once I pointed out that the video would’ve been more meaningful had it been more inclusive, she turned to mockery and straw-men, proving that in the end, she had no argument and her position was not backed by meaningful research or facts.  She chose, like most others do, to take the tack that if you’re arguing that we have a problem in the lack of support systems in place for men, you’re clearly saying women have it easy and benefit from being assaulted.

I don’t know if she truly believes that or if she was being hyperbolic to make her weak emotional argument stronger, but in the end, her attitude is the pervasive one, and the difference is only a matter of degree.  I would love say she’s the only one that feels this way, but I’m not able to.  In fact, not only am I not able to, but I can find an even more egregious example.

Ray Rice, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was roundly attacked in the media for assaulting his fiancee (at the time) Janay Palmer.  His actions, along with other cases that came to light at the time, caused a major uproar in the sports journalism game where it was alleged that this was a deep problem covered up by teams and leagues and that professional athletes shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this just because they’re famous, a point I find valid.

However, it’s clear that the people calling for “no special treatment” for professional athletes didn’t really mean it.  At the same time this story was percolating around the water cooler, another story started making the rounds.  In a cut-and-dried case of domestic violence, US Women’s Soccer player Hope Solo was arrested for a domestic violence incident involving her nephew and sister.  She has suffered no ill-treatment for her actions.  She has not lost an endorsement deal, not been suspended, and if you merely mention her name in a conversation about domestic violence, something she will stand trial for, you’re persona non-grata, something Roland Martin learned very quickly.  According to Mediaite:

Citing ESPN “lauding” Solo during a women’s soccer highlight reel, Martin asked, “Domestic violence is a national issue, should we not be questioning why Hope Solo is still playing on the women’s soccer team, and Nike — who dropped Adrian Peterson — has said nothing about Hope Solo?”

“Whoa,” panelist Katty Kay interjected. “I’m a little skeptical of that. Look, that’s one example of one woman beating another woman, with countless examples of men beating women.” She added that Solo should face the same “retribution” as her male counterparts, “but let’s not try and use that as an example to suggest that women are as guilty of domestic violence as men are.”

Ms. Kay, we don’t need that as an example.  We already have statistics to prove it.

What’s ironic is that for the whole conversation, Kay and others were rampantly vigorously against domestic violence, but that was when the aggressor was a man.  Make the aggressor a woman and, well, you see the result.

All of the collected research, double standards, and abuse stories I posted can only draw one conclusion as far as I’m concerned: we need a men’s rights movement.  Not because men don’t have enough power in society or because women need to be kept down from the advances their making.  Simply because the double standard in treatment that created the feminist movement to begin with has now swung so far into the over-compensating end on the other side of the spectrum that it should give us pause.

When I hear feminists argue that they want equality, I have hope.  I’ve met a lot of feminists (real ones, not the social justice warriors who get all the attention) who recognize that being the oppressor isn’t the same as victory or equality.  The problem is that the discussion on men’s rights and equality has been taken over by radfems on one side who think all men are scum (particularly “white cishet males”) and a compliant and terrified media that cowers every time they hear the name Gloria Steinem.  We’re told time and time again that men control the “power structures” and that women are “systematically discriminated against” and yet, when we step outside the “everyone knows” idea of what that means, we often find that the grass is greener crowd simply isn’t taking a fair look at both lawns.

We need a men’s rights movement as much as women need real honest feminism.  The two do not, by default, conflict, and equality is a great goal.  Maybe one day we’ll stop discussing issues in terms of “everybody knows” and start discussing them in terms of the reality on the ground so that we can really achieve equality that’s thorough and benefits everyone.

Ebola Kills Journalism In Syracuse

In this modern world where we rely so heavily on journalism and the media and we consume it in so many different ways, we would hope to have some integrity from journalists.  Unfortunately, we’re getting less integrity and more hyperbole, and if we want to know where it starts, we can look no further than journalism schools because a shockingly uninformed thing occurred last week at Syracuse University and we can all stand to learn from it.

After spending extended time in Liberia documenting the Ebola epidemic there, Michel du Cille was invited to Syracuse University to speak about what it was like but instead of being allowed to speak, du Cille’s invitation was revoked due to the panic over Ebola.  In explaining her panicky actions, the Dean of the school said the following:

I have a responsibility to faculty, staff and most importantly, our students – and their parents. While I don’t want to contribute to the fears about the disease, I believed we needed to exercise due caution. I also knew at least one student was already worried about his visit and that those concerns would quickly spread to other students (and then their parents), as well as staff and faculty. We did not want to create a panic.

Unfortunately, Ms. Branham, that’s exactly what you did.  You’ve stoked the fears and created a panic and you’ve legitimized people’s panic over something they will most likely not be exposed to in the near future.

The problem with her argument, that she was simply exercising due caution and avoiding a panic, is that you could make that argument in basically any circumstance after making an irrational decision.  You could react, make bad decisions, or do something overtly stupid any time you want as long as you’re avoiding a panic.

Is that the kind of journalism we want to teach?  Like it or not, this attempt to avoid a panic is doing exactly that: teaching that you simply allow fear from others (Branham said she was worried about others but never expressed that fear herself) to force you into making decisions you don’t agree with.  That sounds to me like a recipe for disaster when it comes to journalists.

Consider this: Had the Wikileaks and Edward Snowden revelations not been made public out of fear of the panic they would create, would that have been good for society in general?  I’d argue of course not, and so should any journalist worth their salt that isn’t being bought off by a politician in some way.  That’s what real journalism is supposed to be.  Instead, what journalism seems to be becoming is two things: How to get eyeballs with sensational headlines, and how to blow people’s minds with panic over things they really don’t need to panic about.  That, to me, is not journalism.

CNN has finally scaled back its wall to wall panic coverage, and has stopped trying to turn everyone into quivering corner dwellers…

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An epic overreaction.  I wonder where that reaction was fomented, though?  If you look at the bullet point list of stories, it talks about how the fear of Ebola has put a bridal shop in chaos.  One of the people who contracted the virus in the US visited a bridal shop.  That bridal shop is now having problems with business due to her visit.  Why are people panicking?  Because for weeks and weeks up until maybe this very headline, CNN and others have been fueling the fear.  How did it reach the US?  How was this person allowed on a plane?  How many people do you incidentally come in contact with that might have had it?  Facts went out the window a long time ago in an effort to internalize the story for people watching soundbites on CNN.

It’s very similar to the way the coverage of earthquakes go when you live in New York.  Every time there’s a major quake in California, invariably a local news outlet will run a story on what would happen if there was one in New York and how much damage it could do.  The answer, of course, is tons of damage, but the reality is that New York is at a very low risk for earthquakes.  None of that matters, though.  The “journalists” at our local news outlets tend to be of the mindset that if they can’t tell you how an earthquake in California can directly affect you and your life in the immediate local sense, you aren’t smart enough to be empathetic and care for your neighbors on the left coast.

You can apply this same logic of “what if it happened here” to major hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and so on.  It’s all interchangeable fear at this point, and it can all be justified as “we’re not trying to make you scared, we’re trying to make you aware.”  In reality, they’re “making you aware” of things that you have the most minute chances of ever having to deal with in the hopes that in your fear of it happening “here” you’ll tune them in.

“Just trying to avoid panic,” they say.

Ducille wasn’t taking this panic quietly, telling News Photographer Magazine

“I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Ducille, that’s their game.  Mass hysteria.  That’s what draws eyeballs.  Jeff Jarvis, who I admire greatly when it comes to journalism, said the following.

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Indeed.  Turn them off.  Expose your kids to journalism instead of hysteria.  Let them choose if they want to be at the talk or not and let their own fears be their guide, but certainly a school of journalism should not shy away from truth in the face of unsubstantiated and unnecessary panic.  Doing so will almost certainly have one victim: the truth.

Careful Katy, Your Confirmation Bias Is Showing

Confirmation bias is a powerful thing.  We’re all guilty of it at one point or another, but some of us refuse to even admit we have it or have done something because of our own biases.  Katy Conrad is a perfect example of confirmation bias in action.

In a tweet from October 16th, Conrad couldn’t help but take a shot at Senator Rand Paul for a comment he made about Ebola.

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#uhmm indeed, Katy.  In fact, this tweet is pretty embarrassing.

For one, Conrad is a “journalist” for CBS who “lives for #breakingnews.”  Well that’s great, Katy. It’s a shame you haven’t learned what “journalism” actually is, because you didn’t bother to fact check something that is common knowledge.  Rand Paul has been an opthalmologist for 20+ years.  That’s a medical doctor, meaning he went through med school.  He also had to go through additional certification and an internship.  Rand Paul isn’t some hack spewing nonsense, he’s a real deal 100% doctor.  Everyone knows this.  Well, everyone except for Katy Conrad.

Katy Conrad thinks that someone as stupid as a Senate Republican has no right to comment on medical issues, or she’ll hit them with a great big #uhmm because, well, you guys, she’s Katy Conrad and she’s in love with the world and a total journalist you guys.

So as could be expected from someone employed by the organization that fabricated documents to embarrass a former President, Conrad deleted the tweet (apparently this “journalist” hasn’t learned that the internet has a permanent memory) and then posted this after the firestorm really got going…

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Poorly researched?  I’m just kinda curious as to what kind of research led her to making a determination on Rand Paul’s ability to comment on medical issues but didn’t also help her arrive at the conclusion that he was, in fact, a doctor.  She is a journalist, after all, so you would think research would have been more fruitful?

No, Katy, this wasn’t a “poorly researched tweet.”  It was a non-researched tweet from someone who sees “Republican” and goes “Too stupid for science” and then, using the power of confirmation bias, makes a statement so ignorant that only a left-wing nut working for a left-wing media outlet could possibly dismiss it as an “oopsie.”

This is confirmation bias in action.  Conrad believes a Republican like Rand Paul is a stupid anti-science fundamentalist, so when he says something she doesn’t think is true, she immediately siezes on the moment to make her “point” of how stupid he is.  The problem, at least in this case, is that her bias showed her to be, basically, an idiot, who didn’t bother to do anything other than take the opportunity to smack a guy she doesn’t like for his party affiliation.

We’ve seen this many times in the past.  On many occasions, for example, Sarah Palin (who I’m no fan of, believe me) would catch hell for every dumb thing she said, but when things were examined further, it was often discovered that she wasn’t even wrong.  The corrections rarely made the media.  The facts never really mattered.  That they could portray “stupid Sarah” as “stupid” was really all they cared about.

Consider her statement about death panels in Obamacare.  She explained what she meant, that there was going to be a board that would examine the financial feasibility of a medical procedure and decide whether or not it would happen.  Everyone mocked her and pretended she was comparing it to the Spanish Inquisition.  In the end, not only was she right, and she had read it correctly (unlike her critics which didn’t read the bill at all) but certain parts of Obamacare were changed afterward and the same media that mocked Palin’s remarks and called her stupid for them unironically reported that the boards would be disbanded in updated legislation.

Or the time she said she wanted to party like it’s 1773 and was jumped all over with stomping rage because, as we all know the country was “born” in 1776, except that isn’t what she was talking about.  She was talking about the Boston Tea Party which, indeed, did happen in, you guessed it, 1773.  “Stupid Sarah” was right again.  Her critics were wrong.  Again.  And yet nobody held them to task for their clear confirmation bias.

Or how about the time that Sarah Palin, on the spur of the moment, couldn’t name a specific magazine she read?  Man, that story sure was important.  Look how stupid she is!  She doesn’t consume mainstream media voraciously!  Unlike Joe Biden who told us that the reason the country didn’t panic during the stock market crash in 1929 was because FDR took to the television and told Americans what was going on.  The problem, of course, is that FDR wasn’t President in 1929, and TV wouldn’t be invented for another 10 years.  That, however, wasn’t stupid.  No.  That was just “Joe being Joe,” a phrase that has come to be used every time Joe Biden says something stupid (which, if you know his record, means really really often), but confirmation bias allows all those aligned with Biden to simply move on with their lives no matter how dumb the words that come out of his mouth are because “he’s not really stupid.”  Unlike Palin who, without an illustrated guide, couldn’t tie her own shoes.

I should point out that I’m not holding Katy Conrad up as an example of all mainstream media, but I do think she shines a light on something that’s been going on for years: the media has an agenda.  They disguise their activism as journalism and use their pulpits to slander their enemies and rivals.  The fact that someone could stand up and say something as uninformed as she did, then follow it up with an apology for it not being “well-researched” is laughable, but that’s the kind of world the media operates in: a politically left-aligned bubble of self congratulatory spin disguised as unbiased news and spewed forth to the masses.

The Remarkable Difference In Use of the Word Hate

In April of 2005, a group of 5 black girls attacked another group of girls in Marine Park, Brooklyn.  While doing so, they called them “cracker” and “white bitches,” yelled “Martin Luther King” and so on.  The attack was brutal leaving many of the girls to miss school for days.  The local media outlets barely reported on the story, and the one that did seem to find it even a little interesting was the New York Post, but as is usually the case, they had to report on the beating in the context of a few letters to the editor of a local Brooklyn paper that no one actually reads.

“Anyone stupid enough to invoke the name of Martin Luther King – the modern-day model for tolerance and nonviolence – while stomping a helpless victim needs to be slapped with something more than a simple assault charge.

But there should also be some outrage over a newspaper that would wallow in the racial mud by printing letters that tell blacks to go “back to Africa.”

At least the troublemakers who started the fight in the park were juveniles who can hide, to some degree, behind their youth.

But the race-card-playing publishers who gambled that prejudice would boost their newspaper were presumably adults.

They should know better.”

Like most of the reports on the incident at the time, the paper could not bring itself to simply criticize the girls who attacked and leave it at that.  Instead, they had to find some way to make them victims as well.  So goes the story of hate crimes in New York.  In fact, so ridiculous are the application of “hate crime” statutes in New York City that it took the NYPD a year to declare that this beating was in fact a hate crime, and they did so only after enormous amounts of political pressure from the families who in turn pressured local politicians to get it done.

One year.

In contrast, the NYPD Bias Crimes Unit is often on TV the night of similar cases where the races of the victims and perpetrators are reversed proclaiming to the black community, often led by some local loudmouth like Al Sharpton, how they will not tolerate these types of crimes and how they will find the perpetrators and bring them to justice immediately.  From the second a scratch befalleth a black victim in New York City, the Bias Crimes Unit is involved and it’s up to the white perpetrator to prove that they did not, in fact, commit their crime based on race.

A stupid concept, for sure.

Hate crimes are stupid in general.  The idea that anyone commits a crime with anything but hate in their heart is ludicrous, so in reality, all a hate crime statute accomplishes is sending a message that some lives are more important than others.  The idea of a hate crime is that there’s a certain “extra malice” in a crime that needs to be punished additionally if someone is motivated by race, gender orientation, or any other protected group status.

And, as if the stupidity of hate crimes aren’t overtly obvious, there’s the additional angle of the application thereof.  If you attack a white person and you’re black, there’s a pretty good chance that, in spite of the fact that it could be racially motivated, you will almost always get the benefit of the doubt, as the perpetrators did in this case.  Can you imagine it taking a year for a crime to be declared a hate crime if the victim were black and the perpetrator were white?

If you really want to see New York City’s head explode, have two protected classes attack each other.  In 2013, there was a story of a vicious beating in Chelsea of a gay couple.  It was huge news.  Then they found one of the attackers.  He was a young black man.  All of a sudden, the zeal for hate crime charges subsided.  Why?  Because the hate crime pusher crowd hates it when it isn’t a white male being hit with the scarlet letter of a hate crime.

Further evidence of this reluctance to brand protected groups as even possible of committing a hate crime can be found throughout New York Newspapers.  Recently, a man was arrested for shooting people in Central Park with a pellet gun while yelling “Fuck you, you fucking white bitch” and “Fuck white people.”  How did Gothamist, for example, report it?

Thusly.

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Note the scare quotes around “Anti-White”?

And that wasn’t the first time they used them.  In the original story before the arrest:

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They just couldn’t bring themselves to commit.

Even though the NYPD properly started investigating it as a hate crime, the idea that something even could be “anti-white” required scare quotes.  It isn’t “really” anti-white.  It just “appears” that way.  Think about the times you use those quotes around terms and what you’re saying when you do.

So the question now becomes “Well, how do we fix it, then?”  Well, the answer is simple.  We abolish the idea of hate crimes legislation altogether.  If we want to make a claim that all lives are equal, then we can’t value some under the law more than we value others.  Assault is assault. Murder is murder.  If I yell “nigger” as I shoot a black man to death, he isn’t “more dead.”  He’s still dead.  And I’m still a piece of garbage for doing it and I should go to jail.

The law needs to be simple and equal, not complex and varying.  It can’t be subjective, and it certainly can’t be as randomly applied as the various hate crime statutes are around the country.  If the law is not consistent, then it is not the law. Hate crime legislation is well-intentioned, but as with most well-intentioned things, it has gone off the rails into creating a multi-tiered justice system which doesn’t serve any good purpose at all.


Header image via Longislandwins on Flickr

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

 

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

Gungrabbers Get Guidance On How To Politicize Shootings

Have you ever noticed that in the aftermath of a shooting, particularly one at a school, the message of gungrabbers seems to be almost in unison?  At that point, the gungrabbers will immediately start telling you why gun control is important, and they trample upon the corpses of the victims to get to a microphone to say how they won’t tolerate one more shooting.  They can’t stop making laws in the wake of dead people; it’s almost a blind compulsion.

They have no problem turning dead children into a prop with which to scream about gun control because when it comes to guns, they feel they’re right.  I don’t assign malice to their behavior because I don’t think they have ill intent.  I just think they’re wrong and misguided.  I do, however, think that their use of children’s bodies to further their agenda is cynical at the very least.

They also have no problem dragging photos of smiling kids to Congress and saying “You need to pass a law in their name,” while at the same time they argue that anyone (like me) who will tell you ten times over how their guns are not a threat and they don’t think it’s fair to further restrict their rights are politicizing the issue.  They’re not politicizing shootings by using bodies as props.  You, defending your rights, are.

The messaging is so concerted and together that it’s almost impossible to believe that they aren’t getting their talking points from somewhere, and guess what?  They are.  That’s right, folks. The gungrabbers have messaging experts working on reports for them on how to twist reality and exploit dead bodies for their gungrabbing agenda.

Recently, a report was obtained that was done by a Washington DC consultant firm for a Washington State gun-control group.  Keep in mind this happened in 2012 before the Sandy Hook shooting.

Let’s take a look through some of their recommendations on how to properly exploit a shooting for maximum political gain.

Here’s a real gem from page 5 of the report.

It’s not just about words. Powerful and emotionally-engaging images are vitally important  reinforcers of strong messages. For example, intimidating images of military-style weapons help bring to life the point that we are dealing with a different situation than in earlier times.

“Intimidating images.”  Note that they say nothing about context, they simply talk about images that intimidate.  The implication is clear: find a picture of a scary weapon and show it to ignorant people who don’t know any better to garner the most emotionally irrational reaction possible.

The next section of the report lists specific “messaging guidance.”

The first point:

It’s critical that you ground your messaging around gun violence prevention by making that emotional connection. Don’t skip past emotional arguments and lapse into a passionless public policy voice. And don’t make the gun violence debate seem as if it is a political “food fight” between two interest groups.

There is a reason why the NRA falls silent at times of high-profile gun violence incidents. The last thing they want is an American conversation centered on the terrible toll that gun violence takes on people’s lives.

Translation: don’t get bogged down in pesky things like facts.  Argue emotions.  This is something I’ve been saying forever: gungrabbers can’t argue facts because facts don’t back up their arguments.  When cornered to provide facts, a gungrabber will either make things up or just outright lie and then accuse you of being politically motivated if you point out that they are, in fact, lying.

Point number two:

Our first task is to draw a vivid portrait and make an emotional connection. We should rely on emotionally powerful language, feelings and images to bring home the terrible impact of gun violence.

Compelling facts should be used to back up that emotional narrative, not as a substitute for it.

WARNING: Don’t break the power and undermine the value of emotionally powerful images and feelings by appearing squeamish or apologetic in presenting them.

If you go back to the piece I wrote two weeks ago, look at the header image.  Requisite photos of the victims, and a logo that implies a heart.  How can you argue with a heart?  It doesn’t matter that Connecticut actually had an assault weapon ban that made the gun used in Newtown illegal, just that you’re scared and emotional when you see all these smiling children gunned down by an evil weapon.

Third point:

We should emphasize that one fundamental freedom every American should have is the freedom to be safe in our homes and neighborhoods – freedom to live our lives without the constant threat of  gun violence hanging over our heads.

The NRA likes to talk about its work as the defense of American freedom. Recognize that, depending on the audience, both sides of the debate have the opportunity to claim moral authority. But, don’t yield that ground. Fight for it by emphasizing that a reckless disregard for the gun violence that plagues so many people’s lives is morally bankrupt and doesn’t have anything to do with protecting freedom.

Translation: paint your opponent as immoral.  Again, this is tied in to the idea that when they trot out bodies, they’re doing the right thing.  If you defend your rights while they’re trying to curtail them, you’re politicizing the event.

Fourth point:

We have to make clear to people that this isn’t a conversation about your grandfather’s hunting rifle.   The fact that military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are routinely available to people in most states is alarming – and surprising – news to many Americans.

As is usually the case, a gungrabber cannot differentiate between a powerful gun and one that simply looks scary, which is why they use the term “military-style.”  They want you to believe that if you have a rifle that looks like a military rifle, it’s the same kind of rifle used in wars.  That simply isn’t the case.  They also want you to believe that you just hold down the trigger and it just shoots until the magazine is empty.  Again, clearly not the case.  This is what the average american believes and when they see pictures like the one above and combine that with the emotional manipulation these organizations do, the panic makes them applaud ridiculous gun control measures that do nothing to get guns out of the hands of those that are a danger, and instead take them out of the hands of responsible gun owners.

The point mentions “these aren’t your grandfather’s hunting rifles.”  Actually, they’re 100% right.  They aren’t.  But, they’re not “weapons of war” either.  A semi-automatic AR-15 chambered in .225 is no more dangerous than a semi-automatic M1 Garand that was issued during World War II, even though the AR-15 looks so much scarier (which is why it’s a favorite target of gungrabbers; it looks scary).

The next two points talk about US gun laws and how weak they are (they aren’t, and in states where the gun laws are less strict, there is less gun violence.  This is not debatable, it’s a fact) and how to address the NRA (not even worth talking about).  They then go into some messaging do’s and don’ts, and the message to the gungrabbers is clear: don’t tell people that you want gun control and stricter gun laws.  You want to “prevent gun violence” and “stronger gun laws.”

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Pure semantic arguing.

Look at the “effective language” they recommend.

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Point 1, 2, 3, and 4 are pure unbridled emotion with zero facts to back them up.  Number four is actually a lie.  There are no assault weapons in the United States, which is why the definition of “assault weapon” needs to keep being scaled back further and further to include low-calibre semi-automatic weapons.

It’s also interesting in point 2 that they argue that the NRA tries to scare people when they openly admit that the best messaging method they can recommend is emotion and fear-based.

I could go on and on and the report is actually very long, but the points I’ve raised here warrant discussion.  It clearly demonstrates that gungrabbers are knowingly being manipulative when they argue for stricter gun laws.  There’s no clear conclusion to this report, but it’s filled with manipulation of language and emotion and statistics including the results of push-polls done in an effort to further their agenda.  At over 60 pages, it’s an interesting insight into the gungrabber culture and one that, if we are to continue to advocate for our right to defend our homes and family, we owe ourselves to familiarize ourselves with.  To that end, I’m saving this file in a place where you’ll always be able to access it just in case it disappears one day.  Read through this and note how the messaging you hear from the gungrabbers is exactly what you’re reading here.

When the gungrabbers talk about powerful special interests controlling the debate, you’ll know which powerful interests are really presenting an organized and well-funded front when you see them follow the exact tactics you’ll read.

You can find the publication here: Gun Violence Messaging Guide


Header Image via John Crowley on Flickr