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Posted by Fred Clark

Last year, Washington Nationals relief pitcher Aaron Barrett bested the Rockies’ Brandon Barnes in an epic post-anthem standoff at Coors Field that didn’t end until seconds before the first pitch of the game.

So it was particularly bold — perhaps foolhardy — for the Phillies’ Aaron Harang to challenge Barrett yesterday on his home field. That contest wasn’t decided until after the first pitch was thrown.

Aaron Barrett wins epic post-anthem standoff,” Chelsea Janes writes in a pitch-perfect report for The Washington Post:

The game hardly mattered by the time it began. A mere baseball game, especially one played in May between the charging Nationals and the sputtering Phillies, could not possibly carry the emotional weight of the test of human spirit, of will and of hope, that preceded it. The Nationals won Friday night’s game, 2-1, and that was good, of course. But first, Aaron Barrett won one of the longest post-anthem standoffs in recent memory — one the baseball world will little note, but one those who witnessed it will long remember.

As with many of baseball’s inexplicable but time-honored traditions, the origins of the post-anthem standoff are obscured by the blur of numbers on jerseys, of bored players, of long pregame ceremonies and long baseball seasons. It sums to this: “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays to a reverent crowd, and both teams line up, hats off, held over their hearts. The song ends, the crowd cheers, and the players disperse. Most of them, anyway.

One hearty soul on one side stays. Someone on the other side notices, considers consequences of surrendering without standing up for himself, then engages. The standoff ensues. Barrett said later he did not want a fight Friday night. The challenge came, and he did not back down.

OK, you may be thinking, so what? It’s just a bit of silliness from men who play games for a living. Sure, it’s kind of funny when ballplayers parody the hypermacho staredowns of heavyweight fighters at their weigh-ins, but who cares?

Well, I think Barrett and Harang may have just shown us a better way to organize the overflowing Republican presidential primary debates — and thus how to move forward in this great American experiment in democracy.

Screen shot 2015-05-23 at 3.53.01 PM

The Winner. (Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton — click for full article.)

So far, more than a dozen candidates have announced that they are (or will be) seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for president. I’ve lost count at this point, but the running total seems to be somewhere between 16 and 22 candidates. And no one has any idea how to organize a televised “debate” among 22 candidates.

Both CNN and Fox News seem to think that a meaningful debate among 10 candidates might be manageable. I think even that is overly ambitious and optimistic, but let’s give the news networks the benefit of the doubt on that point. That still presents them with a big problem — how do you decide which 10 candidates to invite to the debate and which 10-12 candidates to exclude?

And — even trickier — how do you do so without baldly admitting to the role that supposedly objective media coverage and media decisions play in elevating some candidates and dismissing others?

Martin Longman looks at the different strategies that Fox and CNN have announced for selecting their Top 10 Debate-Qualified GOP candidates. Fox is going with the crudely straightforward approach of only inviting the 10 candidates who are leading in the polls come July when this decision will need to be made. CNN is opting to do the same, but also to hold a second debate for the second-tier of candidates — an approach Longman says recalls the relegation system of premier league soccer:

This will introduce something British into American politics, which is the concept of relegation. In most football/soccer organizations, there are tiers of leagues, somewhat like what we have in minor league baseball. The difference is that the worst two or three teams in a division will be dropped (relegated) into a lower division at the end of the season, and the top two or three teams from the lower divisions will advance (be promoted) to a higher one. This makes otherwise uninteresting games between terrible teams near the end of a season quite suspenseful, as getting kicked out of the English Premier League comes at a terrible cost for the organization and the fans.

To put this in CNN debate terms, we’ll all be asking if Donald Trump can do well enough in the first debate to avoid being demoted to the kiddie table for the second one. Meanwhile, we’ll be wondering who in the also-ran debate will shine and get an invitation to debate Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul the next time.

As he says, this will likely be entertaining and darkly amusing, but not particularly edifying — and a lousy way to go about choosing the nominee for one of our two major parties.

In both cases, for CNN and Fox, the prospect of being excluded entirely or relegated to a second-tier debate creates pressure for candidates to do anything — any stunt, any desperate grab for attention — to pump up their poll numbers, even temporarily, this summer. This is certain to be a spectacle but, again, not a pretty one.

Of course, the concern that candidates will be desperately shouting “Look at me! Look at me!” and attempting potentially embarrassing stunts to distinguish themselves from the crowd in order to qualify for these Top-10 debates only leads us to the same concern for the debates themselves. With Fox and CNN putting ten candidates on one stage for an hour — giving each less than six minutes to distinguish themselves from one another — we probably shouldn’t expect these “debates” to be debates at all. These will not be dignified conversations in which candidates are able to explore their distinct ideas and perspectives — they’ll be shouting matches and chaotic scrums.

No matter how the Top 10 are chosen, ten candidates is still at least twice as many as there should be for a meaningful televised debate. But trying to winnow the crowded field down even further only seems to exacerbate the problem facing the news networks.

So here’s my plan: Invite all of the candidates to Nationals Park for a post-anthem stand-off. The last four still standing — still on the field, caps held over their hearts — qualify for the televised debates on Fox and CNN.

It would be silly and stupid, but it might still be an improvement over the current process — which is, itself, a goofy parody of macho posturing and performative patriotism.

(And don’t worry, candidates Walker, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Paul, Santorum, Trump, Carson, Fiorino, Huckabee, Graham, Pataki, Perry, Christie, Jindal, Kasich, etc. — Aaron Barrett is only 27, so you won’t have to go up against the champ.)



"Purple mist coming from the east" cake

Saturday, 23 May 2015 07:21 pm
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Posted by Victor Mair

Here is an interesting picture that Francois Dube took today in a cakeshop in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui (Muslim) Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China:

Francois comments:

As usual in China, the menu introduces each cake with its name in Mandarin and in English (with plenty of mistranslations). But one cake was different: its very poetic name (紫气东来) was not translated in English, but in what appears to be Malaysian/Indonesian.

Before tackling the baffling Roman letter name for the cake, let's take a closer look at the Chinese name:

zǐqì dōnglái 紫气东来 ("purple air comes from the east" — a propitious omen)

The specific allusion is to the legendary account of Lao Zi ("Old Master") travelling to the west. He is met by the keeper of the pass, Yinxi 尹喜.

Here are some notes on the imaginary encounter for a hanging silk tapestry scroll depicting Lao Zi on his blue ox dating to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in the National Palace Museum, Taipei:

It is said that when Lao-tzu went through Han Valley Pass, the official Pass Commissioner Yin Hsi felt the presence of a purple mist suddenly appearing in the air. He surmised that a great sage was passing through the area. Not long thereafter appeared Lao-tzu riding on his blue ox emanating from the east. Yin Hsi implored Lao-tzu to write down a book for later generations. Lao-tzu consented and left behind at Han Valley Pass the famous Tao-te-ching in 5,000 characters. After finishing it, he got on his ox and rode off to the west, never to be heard from again.

Now, what to do with "Sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi", the supposed Roman letter "translation" of the Chinese name of the cake? The first thing we must recognize is that it's not sui generis.

Without quotation marks, it yields 1,750 ghits.

Google kindly offers this suggestion:

Did you mean: sabingga sukun dergisi jimbi

That yielded 7 ghits.

Searching with quotation marks:

"sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi" yields no ghits

"sabingga sukun dergisi jimbi" yields the same 7 ghits that it garnered without quotations marks

But what language is it? This may sound strange, but my first intuition was that it is Manchu. I've seen a lot of Manchu material and even studied it a bit, and somehow "sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi" just struck me as Manchu. Before trying to figure out what it might mean in Manchu (if, in fact, it really is Manchu), I thought I'd enlist the help of Google Translate in determining what language it is.

sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi — detected by Google Translate as Malay, but Google Translate doesn't give a suggested reading for all four words together nor for any of them individually, if we take them as Malay

sabingga sukun dergisi jimbi — detected by Google Translate as Turkish, but Google Translate doesn't give a suggested reading for all four words together, if we take them as Turkish, though it does tell us that "dergi" in Turkish means "magazine" in English

Using the detect feature word for word:

sabingga is detected as Filipino (no English translation offered), but I've also found it in Manchu with the meaning "good omen" (that makes me very happy!)

sukdun — Esperanto (no English translation offered)

dergici — Danish (no English translation offered)

jimbi — Swahili ("crew" is offered as the English translation, but I don't put much faith in that, since going the other way, from English "crew" to Swahili, I get " wafanyakazi" [i.e., "staff"])

Based on this analysis, I'm not very sanguine about "sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi" being Malay, Turkish, Filipino, Esperanto, Danish, or Swahili.

The longer I looked at "sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi", the more it looked like Manchu to me, so I contacted several Manchu specialists, and they all agreed with me that it is indeed Manchu, and that it means what the Chinese name of the cake does:

sabi = omen, auspicious
-ngga = adjectival suffix; sabingga = "of good omen"

sukdun = air, spirit

dergi = east, imperial/emperor
-ci = ablative suffix

jimbi = to come

"auspicious spirit comes from the east"

Somebody must have gotten hold of the Manchu translation of Lao Zi's biography in Shi ji (The Grand Scribe's Records) or in the Liexian zhuan (Collected Biographies of Transcendants), which has the fullest rendering of this legend. I'm assuming that there must be Manchu translations of one or both of them.

More likely, though, whoever is responsible for equating zǐqì dōnglái 紫气东来 ("purple air comes from the east") with Manchu "sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi" ("auspicious spirit comes from the east") probably knew about it from a bilingual collection of set phrases (chéngyǔ 成语).

That would indeed come in very handy for those who wanted to come up with a poetic, literary name for some dish or product, since it would provide both the fancy Chinese and what looks like an international, Roman letter translation.

There is one last matter to take up, though, and that is why we find all or parts of "sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi" / "sabingga sukun dergisi jimbi" scattered around on the internet. It seems fairly popular among online marketers (e.g., Aliexpress) and is applied to a variety of products, including wallpaper (both "cheap" and "quality") and jewelry. Sometimes, however, it seems almost as though it were functioning as a filler text like lorem ipsum, but scattered about haphazardly amidst bits of English and other Western languages, including Greek.

Just as I was about to put this post to bed, I noticed that "sabingga sukdun dergici jimbi " has its very own Wiktionary entry, which tell us that it is Manchu and that it means the same thing as zǐqì dōnglái 紫气东来 ("purple air comes from the east").

[Thanks to Pamela Kyle Crossley, Leopold Eisenlohr, and Mark Elliott]

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Posted by Fred Clark

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ireland overwhelmingly says Yes.”

The official result for the marriage equality referendum was declared at Dublin Castle shortly before 7pm this evening, with the final tally ending up 62.1 percent Yes against 37.9 percent No.

yes-equalityIn total, almost two million people voted.

The number of Yes votes cast was 1,201,607, with 734,300 No. …

Over all, the Yes vote secured a 467,307 majority.

Large crowds have gathered at Dublin Castle to celebrate the resounding Yes.

Speaking after the official result was announced, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland had made history today. “Our people have truly answered Ireland’s call… we have made history.”

Adding: “Those who voted no did so due to genuine held views which should be respected.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin called the Yes result a “reality check” for the Catholic Church in Ireland.

“I think it’s a social revolution. It’s a social revolution that didn’t begin today, it’s a social revolution that’s been going on, and perhaps people in the church have not been clear in their understanding of what that involves,” he said.

Well, yeah. Perhaps not, Fr. Martin. Good of you to notice.

This wasn’t just some urban elite vote, either – the results were the same throughout the country.

Ireland becomes first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote

Ireland has voted by a huge majority to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution and welcomed around the world.

Some 62 percent of the Irish Republic’s electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland’s journey towards a more liberal, secular society.

Out of an electorate of more than 3 million, 1,201,607 backed gay marriage, while 734,300 voters said No. The result prompted a massive street party around the gay district of central Dublin close to the national count centre.

Directly addressing Ireland’s gay community, taoiseach Enda Kenny said the result meant that “a majority of people in this republic have stood up for them [those in the gay community]”. He said: “In the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement. With today’s vote we have disclosed who we are. We are a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people who say yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to gay marriage.”

Irish deputy prime minister and Labour leader Joan Burton added: “The people of Ireland have struck a massive blow against discrimination.”

And quoting the late American politician and LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk, she said: “Hope will never be silent.”

Specifically, this was a vote to amend Ireland’s constitution to enshrine within it the same rights for minorities that the majority enjoys. Or, to say the same thing another way, it was a vote to amend the constitution to make it a constitution. That’s the whole point of a constitution, after all — to ensure that the law is the law for everybody, not just for the powerful. A constitution that claims to give rights to the majority but not to minorities isn’t a constitution at all — just a chalkboard and a pretense.

That’s why those trying to make a big deal out of the fact that the Irish Republic voted to amend its constitution somehow differs from what’s happening here in America, where the courts are finding that marriage equality for same-sex couples is already constitutional. America legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote in the 1860s — it just took our courts more than a century to acknowledge that fact.

Or, as Rachel Maddow put it, “Here’s the thing about rights. They’re not actually supposed to be voted on. That’s why they’re called rights.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Saturday Links: Say Her Name Edition

Saturday, 23 May 2015 04:08 pm
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Posted by Derica


Illustration by Tara Jacoby, via Gawker.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby, via Gawker.

On May 20, the African American Policy Forum released a report titled #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women. The report focuses on how police brutality targets cis and trans black women and girls, and was followed by a National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. The pictures from these protests, which you can follow via the #SayHerName hashtag on social media, are eye-wateringly beautiful (just a heads up, some of the pictures from the protest include nudity, so watch out for that). I’m grateful for the organizers that are making #SayHerName happen, and that the conversation about the problems that follow when our protest fails to center, or even include, black girls and women is becoming mainstream.

This article on Mic about the nationwide #SayHerName protests includes interviews with some of the organizers and activists. In the piece, the filmmaker Aishah Shahidah succintly sums up the aims of the actions:

The reality is, when black, straight, cisgender men and boys are beaten, brutalized and/or murdered by the police or white supremacists, it becomes a national issue in the black community, and in a few instances [...] the outrage moves beyond the black community [...] Today’s actions are necessary and important interventions because they disrupt this narrative that violence against black cis and trans women are not also worthy of mass mobilization, protests and demands for accountability.

Basically: yes yes YESSS to all of this!

Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé released the video for “Feeling Myself” exclusively on Tidal, and it is ICONIC. This compendium of moments of playful, adorable black girl love includes many memorable scenes, but maybe none more beautiful than this eating burgers like wedding cake situation.

GIF based on Nicki Minaj video for "Feelin' Myself" feat. Beyoncé, by  Sabrae Danielle.

GIF based on Nicki Minaj video for “Feelin’ Myself” feat. Beyoncé, by Sabrae Danielle.

I also loved watching the outpouring of love for the video, and Akilah Hughes’ roundup of some of her favorite “Feeling Myself” fan art captures some of that outpouring.

Photo of Jaden and Mecca Kalani, via Instagra,

Photo of Jaden and Mecca Kalani, via Instagram.

Jaden Smith attended prom with Mecca Kalani, and every single one of the pictures I’ve seen is fire. I don’t know how he achieved the transformation, but as the night wore on, Jaden gradually turned into Batman wearing an all-white superhero suit. Was the costume under the suit the whole time?? They both look magical and fabulous.

Emma Sulkowicz, center, with her mattress at Class Day, a graduation event for seniors at Columbia College. By Michael Appleton for the New York Times.

Emma Sulkowicz, center, with her mattress at Class Day, a graduation event for seniors at Columbia College. By Michael Appleton for the New York Times.

Congratulations to Emma Sulkowicz who graduated from Columbia University this week. Through her activism and art, she has helped further a nationwide conversation about the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. That said, I am so, so angry for Emma that she even needed to perform this piece to begin with, and it hurts my heart to know that she has been victimized and harassed. By performing her piece daily, throughout Columbia University, and right through her graduation, Emma reminds us of the inadequacy of campus investigations into rape allegations. I am truly in awe of Emma’s courageous activism. Meanwhile, Columbia University is under federal investigation for mishandling of sexual assault complaints.

In this stellar video, Cool Cosmic Dad Neil deGrasse Tyson takes us on a tour of his collection of strange objects. He explains that many of his curios are gifts that others have given him, or items with sentimental value that he’s collected over the years. I bet his office is full of stuff even cooler stuff than a museum gift store! Also, please note his SOLAR SYSTEM NECKTIE.

I’ve fallen so hard for Tamaryn’s new song “Hands All Over Me,” from her upcoming album Cranekiss. It’s a giant leap from her previous records, which were slow-paced and sweetly ethereal; this new album is vibrant pop with dancey shoegaze sensibilities. The video for Tamaryn’s “Hands All Over Me” is really gorgeous, and its voyeuristic gaze reminds me of the movie Paris, Texas. I’m really excited about the direction her music is taking and can’t wait to hear more.

Photo of the mewgaroo hoodie, via Laughing Squid.

Photo of the mewgaroo hoodie, via Laughing Squid.

This sweater with a kangaroo pouch for your pet to snuggle in is a totally reasonable object, and there is nothing absurd about it at all! In fact, I would like to know why this isn’t issued to you when you adopt a cat or dog! Like, you go the shelter, pick out your new furbabylove to take home, fill out the paperwork, and receive this sweater for forever cuddles into oblivion. LOOK AT HOW COZY THOSE CATS LOOK. I’m pretty sure there’s no greater feeling than having your pet curl up against you with a satisfied look on its face. And with this sweater, you can have that all the time. Completely, totally, utterly necessary.

Photo of Judy Blume, by Elinor Carucci via the New York Times.

Photo of Judy Blume, by Elinor Carucci via the New York Times.

Judy Blume’s books taught me everything I wanted to know about what it might be like to be a teenage girl—and oh, how I longed to be a teenage girl at the age of 10. I read those books more times than I can count and I devoured her adult books, too. Her last novel, Summer Sisters was published in 1998, and Judy swore she’d never write another, but now she has. In the Unlikely Event will be released next month. It’s set in the era and the town where Judy grew up—early ’50s Elizabeth, New Jersey—when a series of plane crashes occurred, a real-life tragedy that she’s still thinking about decades later. This New York Times Magazine profile of Judy Blume, tells the story of her new book, and goes from her early life and through her career, to where she is now as a 77-year-old woman living in Key West. ♦

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Posted by Libby Anne

I have been coming upon more and more truly excellent commentary in the aftermath of the revelation that Josh Duggar sexually molested five girls in two families as a teenager—and that his parents, their elders, and local law enforcement covered this up. There is Samantha’s How Josh Duggar Is Getting Away with It, for example, and Kathryn Elizabeth’s Josh Duggar Says He’s Sorry. So What?

I’ve seen defenders argue that we shouldn’t be airing the family’s private affairs publicly, and that this is over and done with and water under the bridge, and so forth. The problem with these statements is that they ignore the role specific beliefs and doctrines played in the mishandling of Josh Duggar’s abuse. As I pointed out yesterday in my blog post exploring the sort of counseling Josh and his victims likely received, the story here is about problems with the Duggar’s worldview and subculture—a worldview and subculture many Duggar fans have praised as wholesome or quaint for years now, without understanding the deep underlying problems inherent to it (problems I have addressed previously here and here).

And now, without further ado, I give you the following excellent commentary by my friend Carmen Green, who like me, like Samantha, and like Kathryn Elizabeth, grew up in a Christian homeschool family and has personal experience with the Duggar’s worldview and subculture. (I even have mutual friends with the Duggars—the Christian homeschool world can be very small indeed.)


Two things:

1) Anna Duggar (Josh’s wife) is an example of what many women coming out of the Duggar’s fundamentalist Christian subculture go through. They get married young after a brief courtship. (Because of family pressure and perhaps a desperate need to get out of their parents’ home.) They don’t really know the person they are marrying, and they are too inexperienced (having no sex ed, previous boyfriends, or real-world experience) to recognize any red flags that might have risen by this point. They can’t use birth control (because sinful) so they start having children right away.

Anna now has three, with a fourth on the way. She is 26 years old. She was homeschooled her whole life and never went to college. She now claims that she knew when the courtship began that Josh was a child molester. But I very much doubt that Josh used those words — it is far more likely that he said he had “temptations” to which he “succumbed” but “God is good” and he has “asked for forgiveness.” And, in that culture, she would have had no choice but to accept that for face value, because to do otherwise would be to call Josh a liar and to doubt God’s ability to save. Now she’s found out the truth, she has a few more years of experience, and she’s more trapped than she’s ever been.

There are so many women who use marriage to escape in this subculture (because that’s the only socially accepted way out) only to find out (once they have the added responsibility of small children to care for) that they’ve jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. I see, time and again, young women in their twenties with multiple small children, no job experience, and no marketable skills trying to navigate the world of divorce, custody and support, and protective orders, all while trying to live on their own for the first time in their life. They are some of the bravest and most extraordinary women I know.

When someone like Anna chooses to stay with someone like Josh, it’s not necessarily because they blindly believe that everything is fine. (Although she might well still be that naive.) It’s often because they feel walled in with no place else to go. She is a victim here too, as well as her children.

2) Forgiveness is a warped topic in fundamentalist Christian circles where abuse is concerned. Jim Bob, Michelle, and Josh are using that language purposefully. They are tapping into the belief that no sin is too terrible for God to forgive and the mandate that we must forgive our trespassers as God has forgiven us. Together, these beliefs force victims in this subculture to shut up, sit down, and “make peace” with the people who have wronged them.

This results in victims having to act as if nothing ever happened. They still have to live with the perpetrator. They still have to speak to the perpetrator and show affection to them. They have to smile and pretend for years and years. No one gets real counseling. And the perpetrator is never punished.

My friend, Kathryn, wrote an excellent piece on why we shouldn’t let Jim Bob, Michelle, and Josh dictate the tone of the discussion. I don’t care if Josh thinks the victims forgave him (what choice did they have?). I don’t care if Josh says he’s sorry. He’s a child molester who escaped punishment because mommy and daddy covered for him. Children in two different families (that we know of) were victimized. No other families were ever told about Josh’s behavior so that they could take protective measures for their own children.

This story is NOT about the power of forgiveness. It’s about a cover-up, a blatant disregard for children’s safety, and the appalling selfishness of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.


I want to finish by quoting from Josh Duggar’s description of his courtship with Anna, which included discussion of the years before he met her. I quote it here because it backs up Carmen’s contention that Anna was probably told of Josh’s past “mistakes” in a language that disguised what they really were.

As I became a teenage young man I was constantly tempted to have lots of wrong thoughts, and often battled to keep my heart right. One of the greatest things that helped me in my struggles was my parent’s commitment to accountability. They were faithful to talk with each one of their children – if we were willing to share honestly & openly with them – to maintain a clear conscience. I learned quickly that great freedom can be achieved by accountability, and great accountability requires humility & openness. I often had failures in my early teenage years, but found I had a clear conscience only when I was willing to confess my thoughts and temptations quickly to God & my parents. (1 John 1:9)

Josh says he was “tempted” to have “wrong thoughts” and that he “had failures” but learned to confess his “thoughts and temptations” to God. There is no hint that these “temptations” involved sexual molestation. Instead, the rhetoric sounds not unlike that of any other young man in a culture that values “purity” and treats any sexual thought as sin.

Marriage O'Quality

Saturday, 23 May 2015 12:49 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Tweeted by Graeme Orr:

Clicking on "View Translation", Graeme was fascinated to learn that his combination of neologism and Gaelic is actually… Romanian!

OK Google

Saturday, 23 May 2015 08:47 am
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Posted by Mark Liberman

A couple of days ago, I gave a talk at the Centre Cournot on the topic "Why Human Language Technology (almost) works" ("Pourquoi les technologies de la langue et du discours marchent enfin (ou presque)"), and for the introduction, I tried giving Google Now a few questions and instructions on my Android phone.

In case you're not familiar with this feature, you start it up by saying "OK Google", followed by the question you want it to answer or the instruction you want it to follow.

And since the starting-point of my talk was that HLT now actually works well enough to be useful, I was glad to see that my little experiment worked pretty well.

Here are the first few things I tried:

Question: "OK Google, what is the French word for 'dog'?"
Transcription: "what is the French word for dog?"
Answer (spoken as well as shown in text): "chien"

Question: "OK Google, what is 15 degrees centigrade in Fahrenheit?"
Transcription: "what is 15 degrees centigrade in Fahrenheit?"
Answer (spoken as well as shown in text): "15 degrees Celsius is 59 degrees Fahrenheit."

Question: "OK Google, What's the name of the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania?"
Transcription: "What's the name of the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania?"
Answer: A page of search links, with the Daily Pennsylvanian at the top.

Question: "OK Google, Note to self — buy paper towels."
Transcription: "note to self buy paper towels"


Question: "what is the URL of Language Log?"
Transcription: "what is the URL of language log"
Answer: A list of search results, topped by the Language Log Facebook page.

At this point, I began to worry that the "almost" qualifier of my title might be in danger, at least without introducing some background noise or simulating laryngitis, so I tried something weird. One of the few books that I brought with me to France was ggplot2 by Hadley Wickham, and it was sitting on the corner of my desk, so I asked

Question: "OK Google, when was Hadley Wickham's book ggplot2 published?"
Transcription: "when was Hadley Wickham zbook ggplot2 published"
Answer: Page of search results with the Amazon listing for ggplot2 at the top.

How they got zbook into their lexicon and language model is a mystery, but the whole thing still basically worked, even if getting to the answer required drilling down into the listing for the book. So going further into the improbable, I asked:

Question: "OK Google, what is the word for 'dog' in Hausa?"
Transcription: "what is the word for dog in hausa"
Answer: "Here is your translation:

In search of some more convincing failures, I turned to Google Translate. And there I confirmed my prior belief that pronouns and idiomatic fixed expressions sometimes remain a problem.

For example, in translating sentences from the Cournot Center's "Présentation" page, I found things like this:

Le Centre Cournot est une association soutenue par la Fondation Cournot, placée sous l’égide de la Fondation de France. Elle porte le nom du mathématicien et philosophe franc-comtois Augustin Cournot (1801-1877), reconnu de longue date comme un pionnier de la discipline économique.

The Cournot Centre is an association supported by the Cournot Foundation, under the aegis of the Fondation de France. It is named after the mathematician and philosopher Franche-Comte Augustin Cournot (1801-1877), long recognized as a pioneer of economic discipline.

The phrase "la discipline économique" ought to be "the discipline of economics", not "economic discipline", which sounds like another way of saying "balanced budgets" or the like.

Google Translate did correctly render elle as "it" rather than "she". But a bit later in the text, we get two instances of il referring to "le centre", where the first one is translated as "it" but the second one as "he":

Le Centre n’est pas un laboratoire de recherche, il n’est pas non plus un centre de réflexion. Il jouit de l’indépendance singulière d’un catalyseur.

The Centre is not a research laboratory, it is not a think tank. He enjoys the singular independence of a catalyst.

Finally, I tried the opening lines of a recent roman policier I've been reading, Yasmina Khadra's Le dingue au bistouri:

Il y a quatre choses que je déteste.
Un: qu'on boive dans mon verre.
Deux: qu'on se mouche dans un restaurant.
Trois: qu'on me pose un lapin.

There are four things I hate.
A: we drink in my glass.
Two: we will fly in a restaurant.
Three: I get asked a rabbit.

Finally, some support for my "almost"! The first two instances of on should be translated as "somebody", not "we"; on se mouche means "somebody blows their nose", not "we will fly"; and on me pose un lapin mean "somebody stands me up", not "I get asked a rabbit" (though "I get asked" for "on me pose" is a good try…).

And a final practical example: on my way out the door, planning to walk to the location of the talk, I asked

"OK Google, Navigate to Télécom Paris Tech"

with my best French pronunciation of the destination, and got the completely unhelpful transcription: "Navigate to telecom Perry tech".  (It seems that there is a "Perry Technical Institute" in Yakima, WA — and Google helpfully told me about all the possible air travel connections…)

But when I asked again with the normal English pronunciation of "Paris", the request worked, and landed me in Google maps navigation with an appropriate destination.

Qishan smell of urine yellow croaker

Saturday, 23 May 2015 02:58 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

Tom Hancock sent in this photograph of a poster seen yesterday outside a Shaanxi restaurant just inside Beijing's third ring road:

Here's the name of the dish they are advertising:

Qíshān sàozi huángyú 岐山臊子黄鱼

I won't attempt to translate it at one fell swoop.  It will be more prudent to work at it two characters at a time:  the first two first, the last two second, and the thorny middle two third.

Considering that this highly suspicious dish begins with the name "Qishan", the restaurant owner might find himself in hot water.  "Qishan", written with the same two characters, just happens also to be the given name of Wang Qishan, the dreaded Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, i.e., the hatchet man who is leading Xi Jinping's purge of the Chinese Communist Party (also referred to as an "anti-corruption campaign").  In my estimation, dour Wang Qishan is the second most powerful man in China, so it would not be a smart move to provoke his ire, especially since he has a well-deserved reputation for throwing people he doesn't like in prison at the drop of a hat.

Wang Qishan was born in Qingdao, Shandong, but his ancestral hometown is considered Tianzhen, Shanxi Province.  Qíshān 岐山 is a county in neighboring Shaanxi Province, so perhaps Wang Qishan has some connection with that place.  Since this is a Shaanxi restaurant, the Qíshān 岐山 at the beginning of the name of the dish must be referring to a style of fish particular to Qíshān 岐山 County in Shaanxi Province.  However, considering how ultra famous and feared Wáng Qíshān 王岐山 is nowadays, nearly every literate person who sees the name of this dish is probably also going to be thinking (if only subliminally) of the Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

The last two characters are relatively easy:  huángyú 黄鱼.  This is Larimichthys crocea, in English called the croceine croaker, large yellow croaker, or just yellow croaker.

But what is this mysterious sàozi 臊子?

Google Translate doesn't know what to do with it, and just says "sào", while Bing Translator reduces that to "sao".  Baidu Fanyi gives "the smell of urine".

The problem arises because 臊 has two readings, first tone and fourth tone.  Read sāo it refers to the smell of urine or a fox.  This is an old meaning that has its roots in ancient texts two thousand and more years ago, indicating a rank, foul smell.  By extension, not long afterward it acquired the sense of "scandalous" (having an odorous reputation, as it were).  Read sào, 臊 can signify "minced /diced meat", so I thought that Qíshān sàozi huángyú 岐山臊子黄鱼 must be minced yellow croaker à la Qishan.

Wanting to confirm that surmise, I searched the internet for recipes and images of sàozi huángyú 臊子黄鱼.  Much to my surprise, what I saw were whole fish with thick sauce spread all over.

Back to the drawing board.

I then checked Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic), vol. 6, pp. 1384b-1385b and Hànyǔ fāngyán dà cídiǎn 漢語方言大詞典 (Unabridged Topolect Dictionary of Sinitic), vol. 5, pp. 7355a-7358a to see if there were any other meanings for sāo / sào 臊 than "smell of urine / fox; scandalous; minced / diced" that might be appropriate for a fish dish.  It turns out that, in dozens of topolects scattered across the length and breadth of China there are scores of the most disparate expressions based on sāo / sào 臊.  To list just a few of the meanings without giving the colorful Chinese expressions, we have "humiliate, insult; jest; give birth to, bear; satirize, ridicule; be out of luck; putrid / fetid meat; pungent food (such as that which should be avoided by Buddhists); gaudy; despicable; contemptible; filthy; dirty; treacherous; cheat; be sarcastic / ironic; bald(y); shy, bashful; make an ass / fool of oneself; part of the transcription of the Sanskrit word for parrot…", and I'm just getting started.  There are scores more of these topolectal terms that convey an astonishing range of connotations.

Most of these meanings are particular to the speech of a limited area.  Although many of them can be traced back to the early meaning of "rank / foul smell", I suspect that sāo / sào 臊 has also come to be a bit of a catch-all character to which one can attach morphemes with that sound (many of which have a negative or pejorative meaning) for which there are no known characters.

To return to the task at hand, none of these meanings seemed to fit yellow croaker à la Qishan.  So I had no choice but to ask some friends from China and to poke around a bit more on the internet.  It turns out that sàozi 臊子 is a type of sauce made from minced pork cooked with vinegar, red pepper, and many other seasonings.  It is described in detail and pictured on this Chinese wiki page.

Usually Shaanxi sàozi 臊子 is served on noodles, but here it is used as the flavoring for the fish.  So a better translation would be "yellow croaker with minced pork sauce à la Qishan".  Just be sure not to make any jokes about the Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

[Thanks to Xiuyuan Mi and Jing Wen]

Friday Playlist: Welcome to the Jungle

Saturday, 23 May 2015 03:00 am
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Posted by Bianca

Whether you’re feeling playful like a puppy or fierce like a teen tiger, these songs for the animal in you have got you covered. Take time out to roll over and play dead, or to howl at the moon—release your inner beast!

Cover and playlist illustrations by Kim.

Cover and playlist illustrations by Kimberly.

[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

  • I had a culture column at WIRED. And then I didn’t. Here’s what happened. | monica byrne (May 19): “I’ve talked with other writers who’ve had experiences with Wired. My experience is not unique. So as far as I can tell, they don’t cover the future. They produce a white male fantasy of the future. Which isn’t surprising.”
  • The Dehumanizing Myth of the Meritocracy by Coraline Ada Ehmke | Model View Culture (May 19): “We hide behind the motto of “love the art, hate the artist” to justify our preferences despite the faint voice of conscience, persistent in telling us that something is amiss. It seems that ignoring the worst of our heroes is easy, but should the opposite also hold true? Should we ignore the positive, community-oriented contributions of others as quickly as we dismiss some people’s negative attributes? Are the contributions of bad actors really superior to those who bring humane, non-code contributions to our corner of the world?”
  • #girlswithtoys: women remind Twitter they are scientists too | Wired UK (May 18): “Female scientists from all over the world have taken to Twitter to post pictures of themselves with tools and equipment from their workplaces alongside the hashtag #girlswithtoys.”
  • Furiosa (5) | Be Less Amazing (May 18): “I’ve seen a few internet pundits that they “don’t see the feminist content” of this film. Dudes. It’s about the lone powerful woman in a male-dominated society who helps a group of sex slaves escape under the premise that “[they] are not things.” That’s about as feminist as it gets, and that’s just one of the many amazing equality messages going on this movie. “
  • The programming talent myth | LWN.net (April 28): “When we see someone who does not look like one of those three men, we assume they are not a real programmer, he said. Almost all of the women he knows in the industry have a story about someone assuming they aren’t a programmer. He talked to multiple women attending PyCon 2015 who were asked which guy they are there with—the only reason they would come is because their partner, the man, is the programmer. “If you’re a dude, has anyone ever asked you that?” On the other hand, when he got up on stage, he did look like those guys. “So you probably assumed I was a real programmer.” These sorts of assumptions contribute to the attrition of marginalized people in tech, he said.”
  • We Will No Longer Be Promoting HBO’s Game of Thrones | The Mary Sue (May 18): “After the episode ended, I was gutted. I felt sick to my stomach. And then I was angry. My next thought was, “I’m going to have to spend part of the next six months explaining why this was a bad move over and over.””
  • Reasons Why It’s Hard to Find Senior Women Engineers | Accidentally in Code (May 14): “People ask me about this topic sometimes, especially as I’m no longer close to being a “new grad” but at the point where I look for bigger opportunities. I’m collecting it here for reference – reasons and observations from my own experience, of why it’s so much harder to find senior women engineers.”
  • How Social Media is Failing Creative Women | Ink, Bits, & Pixels (May 17): “Real Name policies endanger women. Until these companies understand WHY that is, it’s not possible for the policy to be crafted in a way that reduces the danger.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

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Posted by Anita Little

1432145109373Aiyana Jones. Rekia Boyd. Tarika Wilson. Duanna Johnson. Kayla Moore. The list of black women and girls victimized by police violence stretches on endlessly.

The simple act of speaking their names has power. It symbolizes a refusal to forget these women and who they were. It honors the lives they lived and the loved ones they left behind. And it is a resounding indictment of a police state where the deaths of black women are seen as collateral damage.

That’s why the African American Policy Forum launched the #SayHerName campaign this week to elevate the experiences of black women—especially lesbian, bisexual and trans black women—in national dialogues about police brutality.

Kimberle Crenshaw, director of AAPF, co-author of the #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women report, and the author of Ms. magazine’s “Black Girls Matter” feature, said in a press release:

Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.

The names of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray or Tamir Rice are instantly recognizable, while if you said Michelle Cusseaux or Shereese Francis, you likely would get back a blank stare. And though the #BlackLivesMatter movement is helmed by black women activists, media conversations on police brutality have remained centered on black men and boys, despite the fact that black women also experience profiling and over-policing.

In fact, in 2013, out of all the women stopped by NYPD, 53.4 percent were black, 27.5 percent were Latina and only 13.4 percent were white. Just like men of color, women of color are singled out for harassment, profiling and violence. Plus, because of their intersecting oppressions of being black and female, black women and girls face the added threat of sexual assault. Public narratives need to be gender-inclusive or risk erasing the realities faced by non-white women.

Since the #SayHerName campaign began, the hashtag has taken off on social media, becoming the second most popular hashtag in New York on Wednesday according to AAPF. #SayHerName has sparked action offline as well with rallies and vigils taking place in New York City and the Bay Area. In New York’s Union Square, the family members of black women killed by police reflected on the lives of their lost loved ones, and in San Francisco, a group of black women activists mounted a topless protest to condemn a culture that hypersexualizes black women’s bodies while brutalizing those same bodies.

If the push for police reform doesn’t factor the stories of black women into its framework, then that reform is incomplete and meaningless. The memories of slain black women implore you to #SayHerName. Say it today, say it tomorrow, and say it every day.

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. newsletter.

Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.
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Posted by Libby Anne

This week the news broke that Josh Duggar sexually molested at least five girls in two families while he was a teen. I can’t say for sure what Josh Duggar’s counseling looked like, though it appears it was handled in-house, through the family and likely also through the church and Christian ministries the family follows, such as Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI). What I can do is speak to the sort of counseling Bill Gothard and ATI provide.

The Duggars have long been avid followers of Gothard and his ministry. They’ve used their platform to promote Gothard, his teaching material, and his homeschool curriculum, which the family used until recently. The older Duggar children have consistently attended ATI seminars and retreats, including Journey to the Heart (for the girls) and ALERT (for the boys). Gothard was outed as a predator of teen girls last year and removed from his leadership position, but the Duggars continue to serve for speakers at ATI conferences. The Duggars’ connection to Gothard and ATI is not incidental or tangential.

Just what do Gothard and ATI teach about sexual abuse and about situations where the perpetrator is a minor? We can find out by looking at some of their materials. For example, have a look at “Counseling Sexual Abuse,” a document distributed at ATI seminars for over a decade:

The most obvious problem here is the victim blaming.

4. Why did God let it happen?

Result of defrauding by:

  • Immodest dress
  • Indecent exposure
  • Being out from protection of our parents
  • Being with evil friends.

But there’s also something more insidious going on.

3. What did the offender damage?

What parts do we damage with bitterness and guilt?

Remember that point 3 comes immediately after points 1 and 2, which portray the spirit as more important than the body. In other words, Gothard contends that while the offender damages only the victim’s body, the victim damages their spirit with bitterness and guilt—and that is the greater crime.

This is not best practices for counseling victims of sexual abuse.

What advice does Gothard have for situations where parents find that their teenage son has sexually molested younger children? Let’s look at a Gothard article titled Lessons from Moral Failures in a Family:

Lessons From Moral Failures in a Family

The tragedy

The parents were shocked and grieved as social workers visited their home and confirmed reports that an older brother was guilty of sexually abusing younger ones in his family. The damage to the younger children, the ridicule to the cause of Christ, the shame of detailed publicity, and the scars to the life and reputation of the boy were indescribably painful to the family and their friends. The boy did repent of what he had done; now that time has passed, he was asked the following questions:

1. What were the early indications that you had the problem?

2. What conditions or circumstances contributed to the problem?

3. What steps could your parents have taken before it happened?

4. What could have been done to avoid it?

5. What teaching could have been given to each child to resist evil?

6. What factors in the home contributed to immodesty and temptation?

The boy wrote out the following answers to these questions. The information he gives is so helpful that every parent should read it and diligently apply the lessons that this family learned the hard way.

To recap, an older brother in a large family sexually abused his younger sisters, and here, after an indeterminate amount of time has passed, Gothard asks this young man (who appears to be still a minor) to discuss the factors that led to his crime and what his parents could have done differently. Note that Gothard is giving the offender a platform, but not his victims. While the boy’s mother does get a note in at the end, his victims are silenced.

To start out with, the young offender says he shouldn’t have been asked to babysit his siblings. This seems to suggest that any teenage boy is a child sex offender waiting to happen when this is not the case. The vast majority of teenage boys are able to babysit just fine without sexually molesting the children in their care. The next thing the young offender blames is pornography—and not child porn, regular porn. This ignores the fact that nearly all teenage boys see porn at some point but only a very small percentage of teenage boys molest their sisters.

On the plus side, he does at least chalk part of the problem up to the lack of sex education and a lack of open communication between him and his parents on subjects relating to sexuality. This is at least something.

However, there is also this:

The need for modesty in the home

Modesty was a factor. It was not at the level it should have been in my family. It was not uncommon for my younger siblings to come out of their baths naked or with a towel. They would often run around the house for the next twenty minutes until my mom or sister got around to dressing them.

Changing my younger sisters’ diapers when they were really young may not have been a big thing, but it really did not have to be that way (if we had only applied Levitical law). My younger sisters used to wear dresses often, but as they were young and not aware of modesty, they did not behave in them as they should.

Mom did not push the modesty unless we were in public, and Dad only had the opportunity to mention it during weekends. Little people do not realize their nakedness right away. It takes several years before they grasp it. It needs to be taught to them. My mom is a nurse, and the human body was not a big deal to her. I guess she didn’t want it to be for her children either.

She and I have talked about it. She explained to me that she had no idea how visual male sexuality is, compared to women who are mainly by touch. I am so grateful my parents have changed so much of this area in our home. This was not a major reason for the offending, but it allowed my little sister to be open to what I made her do. I don’t think so much teaching was necessary because everyone was so young. However, a different lifestyle, with more modesty, might have prevented what happened.

And so here it is again—this idea that a little girl’s lack of modesty can be a factor in her molestation. We’re not even talking about teenage girls here (which would be bad enough), we’re talking about children.

At the end of the article Gothard lays out these pointers for parents:

  • Do not tolerate laziness by any child. Plan a full day’s schedule.
  • Do not argue with your children over surface problems. Probe for root problems.
  • Do not neglect moods of depression in your children. Plan a time to talk it out.
  • Do not allow boys to change diapers, especially of baby sisters.
  • Insist on modesty at all times.
  • Teach the children to recognize wrong behavior in moral areas.
  • Pray for protection from pornography. Prepare them to resist it by reading Provo 1-7.
  • Establish open, honest accountability for daily victory in thoughts, words, and actions.
  • Provide warnings on immorality from Biblical accounts such as Samson, Tamar, etc.
  • Provide guidelines on all physical contacts between children.
  • Prohibit roughhousing, wrestling, and inappropriate touching of brothers with sisters

Now maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see anything here about giving your children more comprehensive sex education. Yes, it says to “provide guidelines on all physical contacts between children,” but that’s it. That’s something, but not enough. I also don’t think this list goes far enough in encouraging clear and open communication, with its focus on accountability and root problems rather than on fostering openness between parent and child.

And then, of course, there is the stuff about pornography, immodesty, and boys changing diapers (not sure where the babysitting bit went), as though those things were the problem here.

After reading this document, I became curious. What does professional literature say about sibling sexual abuse, and about what factors contribute to it? How does Gothard’s treatment of this situation compare to current professional standards? I did some digging and found an informative Social Work Today article on the topic. Here is an excerpt talking about the contributing factors:

Abuse Obscured in Chaotic Families

Sibling sexual abuse victims often live in dysfunctional family environments that subtly foster incestuous behaviors and are not conducive to disclosing the secret. Sibling incest appears more likely to occur in large families characterized by physical and emotional violence, marital discord, explicit and implicit sexual tensions, and blurred intrafamilial boundaries. Emotionally and/or physically absent parents may empower older siblings to assume parental roles. In short, these families are chaotic and unlikely to recognize the significance of behaviors occurring between siblings. If sexual behaviors are noticed, they are likely to be minimized and misinterpreted as a normal aspect of childhood development. Lack of adequate parental supervision provides perpetrators with ongoing opportunities to offend and protects the secret, leaving the victim vulnerable to continuing abuse (Asherman & Safier, 1990; Caffaro & Conn-Caffaro, 2005).

In the cautionary tale Gothard published, the young offender placed part of the blame on being asked to babysit and change his sister’s diapers. Here, the professional literature on sibling sexual abuse points to lack of parental supervision, emotionally or physically absent parents, and older siblings assuming parental roles as contributing factors. I suspect that this may have been what the youthful offender was trying to reach for, albeit inadequately, and it went over Gothard’s head completely.

Nowhere in his list of guidelines for parents does Gothard talk about the importance of parental supervision. Nowhere does he advise ensuring that older siblings are not forced to assume parental roles. Nowhere does he mention the role played by physical violence (such as more severe forms of corporal punishment), marital discord (such as the underlying and unaddressed tensions common in families that believe in wifely submission), or implicit or explicit sexual tensions (such as the belief that normal sexual thoughts and age-appropriate masturbation are sin).

In the end, it is incredibly clear that Gothard has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to minor child sexual offenders, or sexual abuse in general. From his victim blaming to his complete ignorance of the factors that contribute to such abuse, Gothard is unable to effectively grapple with these problems or support victims.

This is why it is so troubling that Josh and his victims appear to have received counseling and treatment in-house, whether from their parents or through their like-minded church or various ATI seminars or conferences—and this is why professional counseling and treatment is so important.

Finding Feminisms

Friday, 22 May 2015 07:00 pm
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Posted by Kaire Ortiz

Illustration by Kelly.

Illustration by Kelly.

I first heard the word feminism in my sophomore year of high school. It was one of those things; I was aware of the topic, but had no idea there was an overarching word to describe the movement for women’s equal rights. Prior to sophomore year I’d never had a conversation about feminism, and it wasn’t as big a topic in the media and among celebrities as it is now. I was on Twitter one day and everyone was buzzing about Emma Watson being this big feminist who advocated for women’s rights and education for young girls in Africa.

I Googled feminism and once I had a solid definition, I typed the word into my Tumblr search box. Scrolling through the #Feminism tag I read posts about misogyny, unequal pay, discrimination in the workplace, dress codes, and men silencing women’s opinions. It was a huge shock to me that I hadn’t known about this movement. Why was no one in my life talking about equality for women, how most images cater to the male gaze, or internalized misogyny amongst women? Was I living in some sort of dazed and confused world? I wanted to scream, “Hello!?!?! Get with the program, people!” at everyone I knew.

I started following blogs on Tumblr that posted regularly about feminism, like thefeministme, thecatsmeow90, and curvellas. In the early stages of finding my feminism I thought of Emma Watson as the epitome of a feminist. Not only was she was an ambassador for the UN’s HeForShe campaign, which aims to achieve gender equality by involving men in feminist movements, but everyone seemed to love her. I came across an interview published in the Daily Mail where Watson said, “I find the whole concept of being ‘sexy’ embarrassing and confusing [...] What’s sexy about saying, I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt, have a look at everything I’ve got?’ My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder.” This shocked me! I felt that feminism should empower girls, not put them down or tell them to cover up. Still, I really believed that if I thought differently than Watson did, my ideas must be a sham.

I was still questioning whether I was a “true” feminist when Patricia Arquette gave her Oscar acceptance speech. It was a basic, bite-sized speech on feminism which included the words: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” In an interview after the Awards ceremony, Arquette added, “It’s time for all the gay people and all the people of color to fight for us now.” This enraged me! Her words implied that the only women worth advocating for are those who can give birth, which erases childless and childfree cis and trans women. She basically said OK people of color, queer people, and trans people, your fight is over, now pay attention to us white women! Instead of acknowledging the privileges white women have over other women, she glossed over our struggles to make her point.

On Twitter, I saw people commending Arquette’s speech as if there was nothing wrong with what she had said. But as I browsed my Tumblr dashboard I came across a popular post explaining intersectionality. The author of the post outlined how often mainstream feminists excluded anyone who isn’t a white, cisgendered, straight, able-bodied woman from their advocacy. It helped me see that mainstream feminism was a bit watered down, and left out black, POC, LGBTQI, and disabled people. More and more I noticed that, like in Patricia Arquette’s speech, trans women were often excluded from feminist discussions due to a close-minded idea that if you weren’t born with a vajayjay, you could not know what it’s like to be a “real woman.”

It occurred to me that I was part of the many groups excluded by mainstream feminism, which almost never addressed my struggles as a black girl. While white girls like Kylie Jenner were considered beautiful and exotic for having big lips and wearing dreads, black girls like Ciara and Zendaya, were bashed for wearing dreads and having the same attributes. I also noticed that the discrimination that black women face in the workplace was a major struggle that rarely gets the same level of coverage in the mainstream as the wage gap between white men and white women. I started to question the inclusiveness of every feminist-identified celebrity I had looked up to. Maybe it was wrong to put Emma Watson and Patricia Arquette on a pedestal, especially if the feminism they were promoting was so one-sided?

I could still see the value of their contributions—they were bringing widespread awareness to the movement which could lead to girls supporting and identifying as feminist, and digging deeper. Increasingly, I understood that I did not have to agree with all of their views, and that feminist role models don’t necessarily have to be celebrities. My mom works her hardest to support me on her own. She has never depended on a man for the happiness and success she’s attained. She taught me that I can achieve anything I want—no matter how hard it is, dress however I want, and not to take shit from anyone (if I’m in the right, which I am 99 percent of the time). She’s one of my biggest feminist role models.

On Twitter, I found other black girls and girls of color struggling with feeling like outsiders in the world of feminism. I began to align myself with feminists who valued intersectionality and not just feminism for and about white women. Unlike the conversations going on in the mainstream, my conversations with these women focused on issues important to us—women of color, trans women, and gay and queer women. These women have made me feel comfortable, liberated, and less alone: I can speak about topics from firsthand experience without wondering whether or not I’ll fit a perfect feminist mold. We support each other by giving each other compliments, encouraging each other when we feel down, and encouraging each other to speak up.

The women in my online community have helped me develop and grow as a person and as a feminist. Gabby’s tweets are funny in their own right but also point out social inequality in a way that helped shape my feminism. Simone influences me to speak my mind, and to stand up for what I believe in. Dyandra was one of the first people to make me realize that I could center my struggles as a black woman in my feminism, and speak about other people of color, too. Feminists like Beth, who continually uplifts all women, have encouraged me to do the same for other women. And Syena has taught me to always be aware of what is going on in the world, and that just because something may not affect me directly, it is still important to talk about and support issues other people face. I am more outspoken and bold about my beliefs since finding my community of feminists, one of those beliefs being that feminism isn’t just a struggle for white women; the struggles of all women deserve to be discussed and taken seriously. I no longer question whether or not I am a “true feminist” because I have finally found my sense of place. My feminism is valid. ♦

OTW Fannews: Giving Some Credit

Friday, 22 May 2015 03:18 pm
[syndicated profile] otw_news_feed

Posted by Pip Janssen


Banner showing a cartoon figure holding a book that says I Wrote This!

  • A post at Polygon disagreed with fans' protests about game mods being sold on Steam. "Over and over, it’s been shown that when great content is rewarded with cash, better content flows forward. Of course, more crap will also flow in — but Steam has spent years improving its Workshop system to let the best content filter to the top. Modders will now have a reason to finish their work, and the best modders will find reward in the social aspects of the modding scene — as well as monetarily. The idea that adding a layer of real-world rewards will somehow stifle content is absurd."
  • Notwithstanding the lure of cash, game publisher Bethesda listened to fans and reversed its decision, even refunding earlier purchases. "[W]e underestimated the differences between our previously successful revenue sharing models, and the addition of paid mods to Skyrim's workshop. We understand our own game's communities pretty well, but stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating. We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there's a useful feature somewhere here...Even though we had the best intentions, the feedback has been clear - this is not a feature you want. Your support means everything to us, and we hear you."
  • Radio.com wrote about the contest run for Mad Men to reproduce its first episode. "Similar fan-made cuts of other movies have taken the internet by storm, including Star Wars Uncut, a project to remake the Star Wars films. That project began in 2009 as a lark by a then-20-something programmer and later went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media. Few of these types of crowd-sourced remakes, however, have gone on to be recognized in an official way or aired for millions on TV. This makes Mad Men: The Fan Cut a smart move on AMC’s part to rally Mad Men junkies as the show winds down, allowing them to re-enact favorite scenes and put their efforts back on the same screen that captured their imaginations seven seasons ago."
  • The Media Industries Project "examines the profound changes affecting media industries worldwide, focusing especially on creative labor, digital distribution, and globalization" and looks at what they call connected viewing, which they define as "any product or service that augments the entertainment experience by integrating Internet access, game play, and/or social networking." They look at various changes in entertainment consumption, including "How is connected viewing transforming the relationship of viewers to media content and access?" However, the MIP looks at the issue more in terms of how it challenges entertainment producers than in the relationship between audience and creators.
  • One area where the relationship between audience and creators continues to fail is in fanwork ambushes. Nerd Reactor posted about the latest display of fan art on a TV talk show. While acknowledging that "[s]ome fans have commented on the trend with criticism, saying that it is a way of shaming fans and making celebrities uncomfortable" the title of the article points out the real issue involved -- the lack of participation by fans. If the creator of the fanwork isn't known, it's probably because the media outlet in question failed to make any effort to contact them for permission, as well as failed to credit them on air.

What sort of creator and fan interactions have been a win or fail in your experience? Write about them in Fanlore! Contributions are welcome from all fans.

We want your suggestions! If you know of an essay, video, article, podcast, or link you think we should know about, comment on the most recent OTW Fannews post. Links are welcome in all languages! Submitting a link doesn't guarantee that it will be included in a Fannews post, and inclusion of a link doesn't mean that it is endorsed by the OTW.

[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by brainwane

This is the second of a two-part post about feminism and the philosophies and vocabularies of “open stuff” (fandom, open source, etc.). Part I is at Crooked Timber, here, and I suggest you read that first.

Recently I was thinking about abstractions we open source software folks might borrow from fandom, particularly the online world of fan fiction and fanvids. I mean, I am already a rather fannish sort of open sourcer — witness when I started a love meme, a.k.a. an appreciation thread, on the MediaWiki developers’ mailing list. But I hadn’t, until recently, taken a systematic look at what models we might be able to translate into the FLOSS world. And sometimes we can more clearly see our own skeletons, and our muscles and weaknesses, by comparison.

Affirmational and transformational

While arguing in December that the adjectives “fan” and “political” don’t contradict each other, I said:

I think calling them fanwork/fanvids is a reasonable way to honor fandom’s both transformative and affirmational heritage

I got that phrasing (“affirmational/transformational”) from RaceFail, which is a word for many interconnected conversations about racism, cultural appropriation, discourse, and fandom that happened in early 2009. (In “Feminist Point of View: A Geek Feminism Retrospective”, Skud discussed how RaceFail influenced the DNA of Geek Feminism (see slide 15).) RaceFail included several discussions that X-rayed fandom and developed new models for understanding it. (And I do mean “discussions” — in many of the Dreamwidth links I’m about to mention, the bulk of thought happens in the comments.)

obsession_inc, in a RaceFail discussion, articulated the difference between “affirmational” and “transformational” fandom. Do you bask in canon, relaxing in the security of a hierarchy, or do you use it, without a clear answer about Who’s In Charge?

When we use these terms we’re talking about different modes: different approaches to source texts, to communities, to the Web, to the mass media industries, and to each other. It’s not just about whether you’re into pages of words or audio/video, and it’s not necessarily generational either:

So when I see the assertion that as a group, print-oriented old time fans don’t know how to deal with extensive cross-linked multi-threaded fast-paced discussion, all I can do is cough and mutter “bullshit”.

We have a long-standing heritage of transformational fandom — sometimes it surprises fans to know just how long we’ve been making fanvids, for instance. (What other heritages do I have that I don’t know enough about?)

And I’m mulling over what bits of FLOSS culture feel affirmational to me (e.g., deference to celebrities like Linus Torvalds) or transformational (e.g., the Open Source Bridge session selection process, where everyone can see each other’s proposals and favstar what they like). I’d love to hear more thoughts in the comments.

Expectations around socializing and bug reports

I reread the post and the hundreds of comments at oliviacirce’s “Admitting Impediments: Post-WisCon Posts, Part I, or, That Post I Never Made About RaceFail ’09”, where people talked about questions of power and discourse and expectations. For instance, one assessment of a particular sector of fandom: “non-critical, isolated, and valuing individual competition over hypertext fluency and social interaction.” This struck me as a truth about a divide within open source communities, and between different open source projects.

Jumping off of that came dysprositos’s question, “what expectations do we … have of each other that are not related to fandom but that are not expectations we would have for humanity at large?” (“Inessential weirdness” might be a useful bit of vocabulary here.) In this conversation, vehemently distinguishes between fans who possess “the willingness to be much more openly confrontational of a fannish object’s social defects” vs. those who tend to be “resigned or ironic in their observations of same. I don’t think that’s a difference in analysis, however, but a difference in audiencing, tactics, and intent among the analyzers.” When I saw this I thought of the longtime whisper network among women in open source, women warning each other of sexual abusers, and of the newer willingness to publicly name names. And I thought of how we learn, through explicit teaching and through the models we see in our environment, how to write, read, and respond to bug reports. Are you writing to help someone else understand what needs fixing so they can fix it, or are you primarily concerned with warning other users so they don’t get hurt? Do you care about the author’s feelings when you write a report that she’ll probably read?

Optimizing versus plurality

In fanfic and fanvids, we want more. There is no one true best fic or vid and we celebrate a diverse subjectivity and an ever-growing body of art for everyone to enjoy. We keep making and sharing stuff, delighting in making intricate gifts for each other. In the tech world I have praised !!Con for a similar ethos:

In the best fannish traditions, we see the Other as someone whose fandom we don’t know yet but may soon join. We would rather encourage vulnerability, enthusiasm and play than disrespect anyone; we take very seriously the sin of harshing someone else’s squee.

Sometimes we make new vocabulary to solve problems (“Dead Dove: Do Not Eat”) but sometimes we say it’s okay if the answer to a problem is to have quite a lot of person-to-person conversations. It’s okay if we solve things without focusing first on optimizing, on scaling. And I think the FLOSS world could learn from that. As I said in “Good And Bad Signs For Community Change, And Some Leadership Styles”, in the face of a problem, some people reflexively reach more for “make a process that scales” and some for “have a conversation with ____”. We need both, of course – scale and empathy.

Many of us are in open stuff (fanfic, FLOSS, and all the other nooks and crannies) because we like to make each other happy. And not just in an abstract altrustic way, but because sometimes we get to see someone accomplish something they couldn’t have before, or we get comments full of happy squee when we make a vid that makes someone feel understood. It feels really good when someone notices that I’ve entered a room, remembers that they value me and what I’ve contributed, and greets me with genuine enthusiasm. We could do a lot better in FLOSS if we recognized the value of social grooming and praise — in our practices and in time-consuming conversations, not just in new technical features like a friction-free Thanks button. A Yuletide Treasure gift exchange for code review, testing, and other contributions to underappreciated software projects would succeed best if it went beyond the mere “here’s a site” level, and grew a joyous community of practice around the festival.

What else?

I’m only familiar with my corners of fandom and FLOSS, and I would love to hear your thoughts on what models, values, practices, and intellectual frameworks we in open source ought to borrow from fandom. I’m particularly interested in places where pragmatism trumps ideology, in bits of etiquette, and in negotiating the balance between desires for privacy and for publicity.

Why You MUST See Mad Max This Weekend

Friday, 22 May 2015 02:00 pm
[syndicated profile] ms_magazine_feed

Posted by Natalie Wilson

212061A version of this article originally appeared on Skirt Collective

Much has been made of the call by Aaron Clarey in his piece “Why You Should Not Go See ‘Mad Max: Feminist Road.’” As many articles have discussed Clarey’s ridiculous, hyper-macho douchery, (for example, herehere and here), I will instead offer a counter call: Instead of “mancotting” the film as Clarey begs “real men and real women” to do, I urge you to GO SEE IT! Go now!

Here is part of Clarey’s original call for a boycott of the film:

[D]o yourself and all men across the world a favor. Not only REFUSE to see the movie, but spread the word to as many men as possible. Not all of them have the keen eye we do here at [Return of Kings]. And most will be taken in by fire, tornadoes and explosions. Because if they sheepishly attend and Fury Road is a blockbuster, then you, me, and all the other men (and real women) in the world will never be able to see a real action movie ever again that doesn’t contain some damn political lecture or moray about feminism, SJW-ing and socialism.

In response, here is my counter feminist call to action: Do yourself and others a favor—see Mad Max: Fury Road and tell as many humans as you know to see the film, to discuss it on social media, to decry the Men’s Rights Activists aiming to make the world a hyper-patriarchal dystopia where heterosexual macho types horde all the power with their weapons of choice, namely violence, oppression, rape, enslavement and hatred.

Not all people will recognize the importance of supporting this film, many may go for the special effects and the popcorn, but even if they don’t attend wearing “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirts, they will still be treated to a great action movie which enacts feminism in both content and form. Those who see the film will help to pave the way for a future where real humans can enjoy movies that reflect the real world, which is made up of women AND men, boys AND girls, where gender is a continuum and NO, romance and baby-making are not the be-all and end-all of life.

See Mad Max: Fury Road. See it as soon as possible.

See it because Charlize Theron is amazing, Tom Hardy is a new and improved Max, and because the action is breathtaking and achieved with very little CGI.

See it because director George Miller happily proclaims: “I can’t help but be a feminist” and believes women are capable as actors and directors and are essential to telling imaginative, important stories—something that is all too rare a belief in Hollywood, where in the last several years, women directed less than 2 percent of top-grossing movies.

See it because it was edited by a woman, Margaret Sixel.

See it because Eve Ensler led workshops about violence against women with the cast and crew.

See it because, as MRA Clarey readily admits (perhaps his one correct point), Hollywood DOES condition us. As Carolyn Cox of The Mary Sue puts it,

By admitting they’re threatened by Charlize Theron … Clarey and his commenters are also agreeing that the media we consume and the stories we tell are hugely important.

See it because while Clarey worries women might be conditioned to want to be more like Imperator Furiosa than Sophia Loren (I know, WTF???), we can use that conditioning instead to feminist purpose. As Melissa Silverstein puts it,

A little girl can dream of being a hero just as much as a little boy can because she sees multiple examples of heroic women.

See it because, as Peter Howell documents, “Hollywood doesn’t often let females star in its big ‘tent-pole’ films” because “Male-dominated movie studios don’t believe female action movies make money.” See it because we need to remind Hollywood and MRAs this is false (as Hunger Games, InsurgentAlien, Terminator and so many other films prove that point).

See it to disprove Neanderthal thinking on the part of Marvel Comics CEO Ike Perlmutter and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton who in a leaked email correspondence “proved” female superhero films don’t make money by naming three such films while ignoring the many female-driven films that have made money and dismissing just how many male-led superhero films have tanked.

See it because Clarey’s assertions are laughable, and contrary to his claim that “feminism has infiltrated and co-opted Hollywood,” we still have a Hollywood machine driven by a privileged male elite who don’t seem to want to give up their own little version of the world, their very own MRA movement—“Men Rule Art.”

See it because there is a culture shift happening in media, a wave that includes GamerGate, calls to stop online harassment (#StoptheTrolls), an evergrowing feminist blogosphere, and a growing call to Hollywood to wake up and smell the feminism.

See it because while some see MRAs as a non-threatening fringe, they DO warrant attention because they consistently and vehemently offer sexism as the answer and their websites and organizations garner thousands of followers. (For some truly horrifying evidence about MRA beliefs, you need look no further than David Futrelle’s piece on We Hunted the Mammoth, which documents some truly horrifying comments running the gamut from espousing beating one’s wife to denouncing one’s daughters if they dare to have college aspirations.)

See it because, as noted by Nicole Sperling in her piece on the film for Entertainment Weekly, it is “one glorious, relentless assault” that may make us “never look at action movies quite the same way again.” As Sperling notes, the film “challenges our perceptions about women and freedom, heroism and extremism.” However, while Sperling claims the film focuses on the “slavery endured by all women,” I would extend this—the film actually details how everyone is enslaved by patriarchy. Yes, the women are the sex slaves whose bodies are raped as well as forced into producing breast milk to feed male troops, but the male minions are also enslaved to the dystopian war machine and turned into heartless warriors and slave-laborers.

See it because Furiosa is not a “degendered…eunech warrior” (as claimed in the Sperling review) but rather a gender-queer, disabled, bad-ass feminist hero who proves that heroism has no one gender, no one body type, no one sexuality

See it because it suggests it will take collective action rather than one lone (male) hero to save the future. In the film, it takes Furiosa, five female “breeders,” a group of badass gun-toting grannies, as well as Mad Max and other males tuned to the feminist cause to bring down the likes of Immorten Joe, the villain at the heart of this iteration whose names speaks to the fact patriarchy is not “immortal” nor is the concept of your average (macho) Joe a thing to espouse.

See it because we are all on this tiny spinning planet together and only together can we find the “Green Place” espoused in the movie where the water will be clean and people will not be oppressed.

See it because if you have ever doubted the acting chops of Charlize Theron, this movie will convince you of her incredible talent. She is absolutely fierce as Furiosa. In a movie with very little dialogue and limited characterization, Theron is able to exude an intensity of will and palpable strength of character that is on par (if not exceeding) other female heroines such as Ripley and Sarah Connor.

See it for the grannies with their mad survival skills, for the fierce “Breeders” who refuse to be sex slaves, see it for its championing of the one-armed sharp shooter Furiosa. See it because how often do we see women portrayed as better survivors, snipers and drivers than men?

See it because it is the best feminist road movie since Thelma and Louise. See it because Furiosa’s story is so much more powerful than Black Widow’s in The Avengers. See it because we need to prove Hollywood big wigs wrong and make Clarey and his MRA minions STFU.

See it to piss off MRAs and show them feminists will not be stopped by their testicle-clutching pleas of superiority. See it for their daughters, and sons, and partners, who can hopefully grow into a world free of their “Immorten Joe” mentality.

Finally, see it because, yes, movies matter, and if we want more feminist-friendly blockbusters, we have to prove there is an audience willing to support such movies.

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Natalie Wilson 
teaches w
omen’s studies and literature at California State University, San Marcos. She is the author of Seduced by Twilight and blogs for Ms., Girl with Pen and Bitch Flicks.

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