Gamergate: Undefined all the way down

It’s a serious challenge to figure out what “Gamergate” is all about. There’s far more noise than information about it on the Internet, and what information there is isn’t consistent. Here are a few pieces I’ve run into:

Sorting out the claims takes work, largely because the subject of the battle is an undefined term. Wagner writes: “By design, Gamergate is nearly impossible to define.” Bianco tells us that “Gamer Gate is three separate things clustered together under one name.” The starting point was an allegation that somebody had sex with somebody in exchange for favorable coverage. Depending on whom you believe, this is clearly false, clearly true, or more or less plausible. I could research it and form my own opinion, but by now it’s beside the point. The original question faded into the background in the face of threats against Anita Sarkeesian, including the threat of a mass shooting, which forced her to cancel a talk, as well as threats against Brianna Wu. Intel pulled its ads from the website Gamasutra; critics claimed this was in response to Gamergate pressure, while Intel says it was a marketing decision that it had made earlier. The article that provoked so much anger is a bit of a rant, but I can’t see why it, out of all the rants on websites, should have provoked a boycott campaign.

One thing is clear: There’s a segment of the Internet gamer culture that regards the most vicious threats as a useful way to intimidate people. How large a segment is it? It’s hard to tell. A small, persistent group that gets a strong reaction can appear bigger than it really is. But what do these threats have to do with allegations of buying favorable reviews with sex? This is where the undefined really takes over. “Gamergate” has become a rallying term for people with all kinds of grievances, from journalistic corruption to increased representation of women in games. Some of the really vicious people have picked up the banner. If there’s a coherent point to be made, it’s been lost, and when clear, principled positions don’t get heard, the quality of discourse spirals downward. As the Gamasutra article says, “When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.” The article by Yiannopoulos, who dismisses death threats as merely “ungallant” and “injudicious” and uses arguments like “It’s an unconfirmed internet rumour, but it illustrates Quinn’s credibility to gamers,” is a case in point. I saw it because Lew Rockwell recommended it.

People such as Rockwell who call themselves libertarians, indeed all reasonable people, should agree that whatever the truth of the original claim about reviewers, whatever the worth of Sarkeesian’s views, when someone resorts to threats of violence, it has to stop there. They aren’t “injudicious” but monstrous, even if they aren’t carried out, and debates need to be suspended long enough to condemn and if possible find the people responsible and to disavow their supporters.

Instead we’ve seen tribalistic behavior at its worst. Many people rallying around the #gamergate hashtag have dismissed the threats as unimportant, perhaps manufactured. Many who talk about “social justice” have come to treat Gamergate as a conspiracy behind the threats. Each side reinforces the other. If you want to get people really furious, call them on it when they treat the entire “gamergate” blob as the same as the people making criminal threats. No one is more self-righteous than a person caught making baseless accusations. John Scalzi tweeted: “Fuck everyone who thinks GamerGate is anything other than haters shitting on women.”

There we have it: If you don’t join the Two Minutes Hate of haters, we hate you. But justice is individual, not social, and treating people according to their perceived social group is injustice.

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Don Lebrun vs. private property

In Nashua, state representative Don Lebrun is showing his disregard for private property, wandering around the Ledgewood Hills grounds distributing his campaign literature even though there is a sign prohibiting solicitation. When I told him he was not supposed to be on our property, he said I was “full of shit.” He claimed some piece of state legislation entitles him to ignore our right to keep solicitors off.

When voting in Ward 5, remember how little respect he has for the property rights of us commoners.

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OVFF

I’ve just come back from the Ohio Valley Filk Festival, where I conducted fifteen interviews for Tomorrow’s Songs Today. They included people from the US, Canada, and Germany, who’ve had a significant role in the history of filk. I’ve now got more information, more perspectives, and more good quotes to include in the book.

Matt Leger has sent me a draft and a revision of the cover art. I really like it, and so did all the people I showed it to at OVFF. The final illustration will go on the tote bags and hard copy books, as well as the e-book. I’ll be making some extras of each available for sale as well as delivering the promised perks.

Terri Wells has started going over my drafts and delivering some very useful recommendations.

The project’s turning out to be a bit more work than I thought, just because people have been so enthusiastic about providing information, but it will be a better book for that. The book should be out before the end of January, which will let me deliver the perks on time.

Sadly, with all the interviewing, I didn’t sing even one song at OVFF, but I had a lot of fun. Your support on IndieGoGo helped make the 1500 miles of driving possible.

Online banking security

Banks still don’t get security for their online sites. A long time ago, I signed up for online banking with BANK_X (I’m not giving out any information that would help phishers here) and noticed some worrisome signs, including a sudden increase in directed phishing spam, so I cancelled the service. About a decade later I figured they might have improved things, so I tried again. It’s a little better, but there’s still at least one significant problem.

After getting my account initially working, I had to activate the bill payment feature separately. This involved a delay, and I got an email from “Bill Pay” this morning saying it had been activated. It’s a lucky thing the email from Mr. Pay didn’t get marked as spam.

I logged into my account in the usual way, from the bank’s website (never blindly click on email links!) and found that the page didn’t look the same as usual. Only my checking account was showing; and then I noticed I was in a different domain from the one that normally services my online banking. I was logged out in the middle of navigating it, and I went back to the BANK_X site and logged in again. This time things looked normal. This had me worried, so I sent an in-site message stating my concern. The response said that I should be seeing the image I had selected when setting up the account on each page, and if I wasn’t seeing it, there might be a security problem.

I discovered that by clicking on the bill payment tab I got taken to the same odd-looking page on a different domain as before, and confirmed my recollection that I wasn’t seeing the image in question. This was sounding seriously worrisome, so I called the bank. The person I talked with told me that behavior sounded wrong and asked me to try again from another computer. I booted up my laptop, found the same behavior there, and called back. The person who answered this time got the information from the one I’d talked to at first, and this time I was talking with someone who understood the system better. She said that bill payment is in fact handled by a different service, and that I won’t see the selected image there. I pointed out that this was contrary to to the instructions on the BANK_X website; she agreed with me and suggested I send in feedback, which I’ll be doing shortly.

Most customers are oblivious to all suspicious behavior on a bank’s website and will just forge blindly ahead, which is why phishers are able to scam people so easily.

I have serious doubts about using this bill payment service, even after my most pressing fears were assuaged.

Update: A representative of BANK_X replied to my feedback and said that once you’ve logged in and see the security image once, nothing can possibly go wrong, so you don’t need to see the security image again and you shouldn’t worry if you find yourself on a different domain. Idiots.

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The unpopularity of atheists

Atheists are an unpopular group in the US. According to a Pew Research poll, 53% of Americans would be less likely to vote for an atheist. One person I know is afraid she’d lose her job if her employer knew she was one.

Personally, I don’t feel persecuted for my atheism. On November 1, 1996, the lead front page article of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune began: “Gary D. McGath said he is an atheist…” Nothing bad happened to me as a result. The story wasn’t actually about me, but about a pagan ceremony which I attended; the pagans had been targeted with a death threat, but the ceremony happened peacefully. A reporter just happened to talk to me there. My song “Night of Halloween” is about that event.

It makes a big difference where you’re living, I’m sure. In New Hampshire you’ll be left alone with just about any religious view. In some other parts of the US, not so much, and there are still issues nationwide. The people who consider it a grave injustice that the Boy Scouts ban gays are mostly silent about its doing the same to atheists on the grounds that we can’t be “the best kind of citizen.” (As a private organization, the Scouts should be free to ban anyone they want, but they should admit they’re a religious organization and not get any favors from the government. The Masons’ requirement for a belief in God doesn’t bother me, since they’re an openly religious group and don’t claim I’m an inferior citizen.)

Distrust of atheists is related to the notion that without a belief in God there can be no morality. Religionists say things like: “If there is no Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: ‘Be good.’ Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.” In this view, morality is a matter of obeying orders. Something is right or wrong because an authority says it is. If God says, “Thou shalt not kill,” then it’s wrong to kill. If He says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” then it’s wrong not to kill.

Weak as this argument is, the better-known secular ethicists haven’t answered it well. We hear that right and wrong come from our values, which is true as far as it goes, but they hedge on the question of where values come from. Some claim morality is derived from biological impulses, but they cherry-pick just the impulses which they like in order to arrive at pre-selected conclusions. Rand had it right: the only rational standard of value is human life. People don’t like this, though, because the life which is central to you, which makes it possible to value anything at all, is your own, and this is “selfish.”

Most people do act on the standard of life most of the time, but it’s understandable if they’re skeptical about secularists who flounder and dodge on the fundamentals of ethics. Until it’s more widely understood that life and the pursuit of happiness are moral goals that don’t require a divine commandment, the distrust of atheists will likely continue.

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Five songs

Five of my songs as you’ve never heard them before — namely, performed by competent musicians! As a reward for supporting her Celtic Avalon project, Heather Dale and Ben Deschamps have made videos of five of my songs:

Don’t worry about the “private” designation. Heather marked them that way till she could ask me if I wanted them to be public or not, and they should change to public status soon. (Done.)

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Philcon’s insecure online registration

While it’s the data breaches at big companies that make headlines, small operations are often the sloppiest. A few days ago I started to register for Philcon. The only option was online registration. I chose one adult full membership and was taken to the following URL:

http : //2014.philcon.org/index.php/component/hikashop/checkout?Itemid=131

(WordPress automatically turns anything that’s syntactically a URL into a link, so I’ve put spaces around the colon to prevent this.)

That page asks for either a login with an existing password or registration with entry of an existing password. In either case, the password will be sent as cleartext. This is seriously bad security for any site that’s handling money.

I wanted to see if it would do the same when asking for my credit card information. If it did, that would be egregiously bad security. Here, though, things just got weird. I entered clearly fake information, selected Visa for my payment method, and clicked to continue. This brought me to a page that had a message at the top, “You cannot access the private section of this site,” but was still allowing me to proceed. It claimed that I had chosen PayPal for my payment method. I tried going back but couldn’t find any way to change the payment method.

When I clicked on “Finish,” I was taken to a secure PayPal page, where I stopped. I went back to the Philcon site and found that my shopping cart had been cleared; at least that’s worth something as a security touch. I tried to log in again, and kept getting “You cannot access the private section of this site,” this time keeping me from going further. (If I entered the wrong password I got a different error message, so I had successfully registered and was using the right password.) As a further check, I tried logging in from two other browsers, first clearing all cookies, and got the same error message about the private section. I don’t know what the “private section” is or why the server thought I was trying to access it; maybe that’s where credit card payment happens if you can get there.

I would have been happy to register with a paper form, but the site didn’t provide one. A couple of days ago I learned from another person with the same problem that he was being told that no one else was complaining. I gave him permission to say I was complaining too, and now there’s an option to download the flyer. Philcon’s online registration is frighteningly buggy, so I recommend using the paper form.

See you at Philcon, if they don’t ban me for posting this.

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Acceptable hatred

For many people today, blanket denunciations of everyone in a group defined by skin color, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, and so on is evil and unjustifiable, but denunciation of everyone in a political party based on spurious claims is enlightened and noble.

Today I saw a tweet by “@PortCityPisces,” someone I don’t know, retweeted by someone who should have had better judgment: “Republicans are Stupid, Racist, and Irrational.” There are at least 50 million registered Republicans in the US, and this person claims to know they’re all stupid, racist, and irrational (including perhaps a million black people) based on the party they designated when they signed up to vote. That is stupid and irrational, though not necessarily racist.

Party affiliation, unlike physical characteristics but like religion, is a matter of choice. Certainly some choices of affiliation are reasons for moral disapproval. Anyone in the KKK is presumably either a racist or an undercover agent. However, there are only two big political parties in the US, so the choices are limited to picking one of them, a minor party, or no party. The politicians elected by both parties have serious problems for anyone who values freedom and justice, but many people think they have to pick a major party or “throw away their vote.” You can say that they’ve made a bad choice, but ascribing serious vices to everyone who’s made it is stupid and disgusting.

It’s depressing that it’s even necessary to say this, but the tribalist mindset, the one that says “My people are good, everyone else is bad,” never goes away. When one target becomes unpopular, it latches on to another.

Tomorrow’s Songs Today: Change in plans and open thread

The amount that my IndieGoGo campaign for Tomorrow’s Songs Today raised fell short of the stretch goal for getting editing of content as well as copy. However, a couple of anonymous donors have just come through with additional money; this means that Terri Wells will be working with me through the whole process of developing the book, sending stuff back to me when it should be rewritten, and otherwise abusing me to make it a better book.

While we’re here, I’m declaring this post an open thread on filk history. If there’s anything you want to tell me about that you think should go into the book, let me know. If you prefer, just ask me to email you; I’ll see the address which you give WordPress, even though the public won’t.

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Update on hardcopy TST

I just got a quote on spiral binding for Tomorrow’s Songs Today. It’s still not cheap, but it’s doable. All hard-copy books for supporters and other commitments will be spiral bound, with card stock covers front and back, and the front cover in color. I expect to have some additional copies for sale afterward. This is the signed and numbered edition; it’s possible that there will be a less expensive print version, but I can’t make any promises now.

I’ll be talking with people at OVFF about filk history, to gather as much information as I can. If you’ll be there and would like to be interviewed, let me know.

If you want to support the project, you have till the end of tomorrow (midnight Pacific time). You can still get your name listed as a supporter, as well as the tote bag, the printed book, or even your own custom songbook. Same URL as usual.

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