bad faith

On Adria Richards, PyCon, and SendGrid

As many people are already aware, a woman named Adria Richards, who worked at a company called SendGrid, was fired yesterday. Both Richards personally, and SendGrid as a company, have been under attack by individuals, and by Anonymous. These attacks are “retaliation” for the firing of a developer at Play Haven, by Play Haven, after that developer was ejected from the PyCon conference taken aside and spoken with by PyCon staff (Update: the accounts I initially read said he’d been removed from the conference, but that was evidently not the case. My apologies for the misinformation.) following Richards’ reporting to the conference that he was making inappropriate jokes in the audience of a talk.

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled already on this topic, and as a cisgender, hetero white man, whether or not my understanding or ideas are correct, my voice is not among the ones that need to be heard most. (This is also a big part of why I haven’t been blogging nearly as frequently as I used to.) That said, I wanted to list a few links covering the story-so-far, as best I’m aware of it, and make a few short remarks on the matter.

First, Richards’ own account of the incident at PyCon.

Next, a Venture Beat article discussing the incident and some of the fallout, including DDoS attacks against SendGrid.

Here’s the Facebook post where SendGrid announces firing Richards.

This post by Amanda Blum has been getting a lot of circulation (perhaps because, I uncharitably speculate, Blum leads with “I don’t like Adria Richards,” imputes to Richards a history of being “unreasonable”, and insists “This wasn’t about feminism, and she shouldn’t be allowed to sit her perch on the issue.” and “Adria reinforced the idea of us as threats to men, as unreasonable, as hard to work with… as bitches.”). I think there’s a lot wrong with it.

Here’s a further post on SendGrid’s blog about Richards’ firing. Interestingly, they make the same mistake I did yesterday: they interpreted a proposed change to the PyCon code of conduct as a confirmed change intended to prohibit public discussion, like that Richards engaged in, of harassment incidents. My friend @quarteringsea, however, pointed out to me that PyCon say the proposed change (under considerable discussion on their GitHub repository) was intended to target the kind of doxxing and attacks Richards has been subjected to, rather than her initial report:

(Further update: it is actually now completely unclear to me which behavior the change is meant to address, so I’m cautiously holding out hope, but PyCon really needs to do a better job clarifying the situation. A Code of Conduct should be unambiguous.)

Finally, Melissa McEwan has an excellent response at Shakesville to some of the most common criticisms of Richards’ actions; and my friend Courtney Stanton has a thoroughly documented piece at BuzzFeed linking these incidents to the whole disgusting history of sexism and harassment in the tech and gaming worlds.

Here’s what I want to say, and it’s almost certainly redundant with some of what I’ve linked above, but the right way to articulate what bothered me most about the common insistence that “she should have just asked them to stop” instead of publicizing the photo: There is no fucking reason the onus should have been on Richards to politely ask the men to stop. She had a right to expect professional behavior, and moreover the odds of a man responding constructively when confronted by a woman — especially a woman of color — over sexist behavior are, in our society in general and in the male-dominated, “proudly-politically-incorrect” tech world in particular, extremely low.

Maybe the persons in question would have responded calmly, apologized, and improved their behavior in the future, but anyone who knows anything about how women who complain are treated in male-dominated fields (allow me to again recommend Stanton’s BuzzFeed post above) knows that, without already knowing them personally, there is no reason to assume they would. The odds are much, much stronger that they’d be defensive, dismissive, passive-aggressive, or just plain aggressive, and quite possibly escalate their inappropriate behavior — and that they’d feel themselves perfectly justified in doing so, that no one around them would step in, and they’d later deny having done anything wrong. (For an excellent account of how this sort of thing often works, I recommend my friend Maddy Myers’ writing on the fighting game community.)

“In an ideal world,” as the device goes, would it likely be preferable for a person witnessing inappropriate behavior to try asking those responsible to stop before taking any other action? Well, in an ideal world, no one would be behaving inappropriately in a professional setting in the first place; but let’s set that aside and stipulate that yes, if you have a reasonable expectation that a polite admonishment and request will be effective in both stopping the current problem and reducing future problems, without compromising your safety, that’s the fastest, lowest-friction, best response. We do not live in a world where women, especially in male-dominated spaces, can reasonably have that expectation. Keeping it private doesn’t necessarily result in any less harassment, but making it public does make it harder for everyone else to deny it’s happening.

A final note: As my friend @lastnora pointed out, the “don’t publicly shame people, that hurts the community, let’s just deal with it internally” logic being deployed in a lot of responses to this incident is precisely the logic of abusers. Don’t make the family look bad, don’t make the church look bad, don’t make the [whatever group] look bad — but a group that protects hostile or abusive behavior is bad, and to try to keep it looking good is deeply dishonest. Nora’s tweets, referring to the proposed PyCon Code of Conduct language:

On Greader

Earlier this week, Google made some big changes to their Reader service. They radically altered its look and feel to bring it in line with the New Google Look which debuted on Google Plus; and they also removed entirely all of Reader’s native social features.

My favorite thing about Reader — and not just mine — was always the sharing, following, and commenting functionality. On each item in Reader, there were Star, Like, and Share buttons. Like worked approximately like Google+’s +1 or Facebook’s Like, but Share was a bit different. Sharing a post in Reader pushed it to a public RSS feed of all the items you’d shared. It also enabled comments on the item, when viewed within the Reader interface. Other Reader users could follow you, which meant that the RSS feed of your personal shares would appear along with all the other feeds they subscribed to, and they’d be able to comment on your shares as well.

Because it just pushed them out as RSS, though, you could also grab the URL for the feed of your shared items — as I did to populate the “Recent Google Reader Shared Items” sidebar box on this very blog. Apparently that RSS feed hasn’t been taken down from google.com yet, but Reader no longer allows me to add anything to it.

Instead, among the many mostly terrible design decisions involved in New Reader, Like has been replaced with a +1 button (a reasonable choice), and the Share button is gone.

Clicking the +1 button adds a public +1 to the item, and brings up a popup from which you can choose to also share the item to Google+, restricting it to a particular circle if you wish. If you want to share an item without letting the whole world know you’ve +1’ed it, you have to first select the item in the reading pane, then click the “Share…” button up in the top corner of the universal Google bar (as Shih notes, this is extremely nonintuitive, especially for people who are already Reader users. I think that’s on purpose: Google will let you share things without putting a +1 on them, but they don’t really want you to do that: much better to contribute to their “X people liked this” statistics database).

This means sharing items takes a bunch of clicks instead of just one, and to see others’ shares, and discuss them in comment threads, you now have to leave Reader and switch to G+ (and anyone who doesn’t have or — for example due to Google’s needlessly user-hostile “real name” policies, on which see JWZ — doesn’t want a G+ account is out of luck), where lots of screen space is taken up by stuff that isn’t the shared item or discussion of the shared item, and where there’s no way to see only Reader shared items: you see all the posts from the circle you’re currently viewing, status updates, photos, links, and all.

What Google has done is to kill off a feature that was well-tailored to its purpose and encouraged interoperability by use of internet standards, and replace it with one which is ill-suited to the habits Reader taught its users, and which operates within a more closed Google ecosystem instead of using a standard protocol. And they’ve done so with little warning (only a bit more than a week), and an apparently completely unthinking UI redesign in the name of a foolish consistency. Reader’s form and function used to complement each other, and are now at odds.

Why did they make these changes? The only plausible explanation I can see is that they want to drive more users to Google+, because it’s the identity brokerage at the center of their platform strategy. Google+ requires a public Google Profile; Reader, Docs, Picasa, and perhaps some of their other services (not Gmail yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time) require a Google Profile as well, though it need not be public. But if you use any of those services and join G+, you have to set your profile to public. And G+ requires you to use your “real name,” on penalty of profile suspension (which means losing access to not only G+ but also Reader, Docs, and Picasa). They’ve also rolled out the “+1” button to Google search results, and as an embeddable web bug like Facebook’s “Like This”. In other words, pushing users to G+ lets them build a more or less comprehensive database of each user’s online behavior, tied to an identity they can reasonably authoritatively assert represents a single real person in the world. Across millions of users, that’s a huge wealth of minable data on browsing habits.

And that’s something of extraordinary value to advertisers. Google, I think, is making maneuvers toward competing with Facebook as the dominant identity broker and supplier of carefully targeted demographic data for ad placement. And, whether because they got spooked by Facebook and slipped up, or for some other reason, they’re doing so in a clumsy way, making bad changes for no obviously good reason, pissing off users, and tipping their hand.

That’s not something I’m eager to be any more a part of than I have to. I’m going to switch away from Reader to some other RSS aggregator. I’ve disagreed with G+’s “real name” policy from the start, and it’s clear that they have no intention of fixing that either; so I’m going to leave G+. Facebook, if anything, respects its users privacy even less than Google (indeed, it’s famous for that disrespect), and though it’s loosely enforced, also has a “real name” policy; so I’ll also be leaving Facebook. (As it happens, I barely use Facebook anymore anyway.) I’m looking for good replacements for Docs and Calendar, but if I can’t find any, I can survive a return to non-web-based solutions, no matter how much I’ll miss easy real-time collaborative editing.

For the time being I am retaining my Gmail account, due to the hassle of changing email addresses, but if they continue to push user-hostile policies, I’ll be looking to fully disentangle myself from the Google ecosystem.

I suppose I’ll leave the sidebar box up until Google kills the RSS feed for good.

Should I Compare Someone I Disagree With to the KKK?

So, I was going to stay out of this one. It’s a complicated mess, and I think on many points both sides are talking past each other.

It started — well, no, it’s barely even meaningful to talk about where it “started”: the roots of the issue stretch back well before the founding of the United States, and threads are woven throughout our culture and history. But the current blagowebby eruption of this normally-subterranean-from-the-white-liberal-point-of-view conflict was kicked off by Melissa Harris-Perry’s column at The Nation, “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.” First Joan Walsh responded at Salon; then Harris-Perry wrote a followup blog post; then David Sirota mixed reasonable points about historical comparisons with nasty, condescending personal swipes and counterclaims as overreaching as he insisted Harris-Perry’s claims were.

There were and have continued to be, of course, many parallel and concurrent discussions, debates, and arguments over these posts on Twitter, where in particular Sirota has been prone to undermine what good points he made by adopting a taunting, sneering tone.

But even Sirota’s nastiest jabs seem to have faded to the level of background noise at this point, thanks to Gene Lyons, who penned (and, inexplicably, got Salon to publish — leading me to wonder on Twitter, “maybe Sirota slipped some web intern at Salon an unmarked envelope: ‘hey…make me look reasonable by comparison, eh?'”) “Obama’s bridge too far: When the president gets tough, the tough start whining.” In this gem of a column, Lyons dismisses the entire notion of applying the lenses of race and gender analysis to our history and politics with a “[y]ada, yada, yada”; characterizes Harris-Perry as “a left-wing Michele Bachmann”; and describes her worldview as “a photo negative of KKK racial thought.”

Yep.

He wrote that.

So, you know, maybe Mr. Lyons just doesn’t quite realize the import of what he wrote; maybe he just figured, well, the KKK think about race a lot, and Harris-Perry thinks about race a lot, so…sure, why not compare them?

As a public service to Mr. Lyons and anyone else who might be thinking about employing a Ku Klux Klan comparison — and as a humble, clumsy homage to ebogjonson’s classic post, with my apologies — allow me to offer this handy spreadsheet: “Should I Compare Someone I Disagree With to the KKK?”

A flowchart to determine whether comparisons to the KKK are appropriate. Spoiler alert: probably not.

Please refer to this as often as needed. Click through for full size.

(Flowchart built with Creately. Edit: forgot to say in the initial post, the flowchart graphic is under a CC-BY-SA license. Feel free to share and adapt it under those terms; a link to this post is sufficient for attribution.)

On Troy Davis, Lawrence Brewer, Capital Punishment, and — again — on Being America

Below is the text of a public post I made on Google+ last night; I wanted to put it here, as well, and to make a couple of other notes on the subject.

State-enacted killing of innocent (and not-proven-guilty) persons is a necessary, inevitable feature and consequence of a legal system which allows the death penalty. There is no such thing in the world as perfection: all systems fail sometimes, all humans are fallible. The theory, though not the implementation, of the criminal justice system we have in the United States is probably one of the most resistant to failures, but there is not and can never be a system which never fails.

Knowing that systems always fail, the only rational thing to do is to try to design them not only so that they fail as infrequently as possible, but also so that their failures are as mitigated, and do as little damage, as possible.

A system which allows execution as punishment for crimes is a system which will — not can, not could, but WILL — kill innocent people. Troy Davis is far from the first, and so long as the death penalty is legal in this country he won’t be the last.

To support the death penalty is, inescapably, to support legalized killing by the government of innocent persons. The vast majority, I am sure, of death penalty supporters think that such cases are deeply regrettable, and that efforts should be made to avoid them; but as long as the state is allowed to kill people, it will sometimes kill innocent people.

Supporting the death penalty requires either a belief against all evidence, all facts, and all reason — a willful delusion — that some human legal system could possibly be so infallible as never to put an innocent person to death; or a belief that some rate of wrongful executions of innocents is acceptable in order to kill criminals.

Either is deeply troubling, but the latter especially makes my blood run cold.

This is what we are, in the United States of America. We tell ourselves, as a society, a lot of stories about our history, about the important people in our history, about the founding values of our country, about “what it means” to be an American. Most of them are lies.

What it means to be an American is to claim to be uniquely virtuous in the world, while living atop the piled-high bones of centuries of genocide and atrocity, profiting to this day from centuries of stolen labor, claiming the mountain of bodies on which we stand and the filth-filled gully below it together constitute a level playing field. What it means to be an American is to tell other countries to respect human rights, while we tap our own citizens’ phones, kidnap and torture people on mere suspicion of having connections to “the terrorists,” and proudly murder a man whose guilt of the crime for which he dies is not proven.

We are a nation of vicious, hypocritical cowards; we should own up to it, at least.

That post discusses the inevitability of killing innocents under the legal death penalty, and the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves in the US — something I also wrote about a couple years ago, after Shepard Smith was so angry about torture that he dropped an F-bomb on-air; then, I said: “And all of [this] does count.  We don’t get to pretend it didn’t happen.  We don’t get to pretend someone else did it.”

But the other thing I want to say is this: Lawrence Brewer, who was one of the three men who murdered James Byrd, Jr. in 1998 merely for being Black, and who was unequivocally, confessedly, unrepentantly guilty, was also executed last night. There’s an enormous amount of doubt about Davis’s guilt; there is none at all about Brewer’s. He was proud of what he’d done.

For the state to kill him — no matter how strongly one might believe (and I do) that the world is no worse off for not having him in it anymore — was nonetheless every bit as unjust and barbaric as was Troy Davis’s execution.

The state’s power to enact and enforce laws, and to try, convict, and penalize those who break them, arises from society’s right and obligation to keep itself intact, functioning, and healthy. In principle, though frequently not in practice (see above, re: impossibility of perfection), laws represent the lines drawn by society to protect itself: what falls outside those lines is too harmful to society to be allowed. And so to keep itself healthy, a society has the right to create mechanisms to try to prevent that harm, such as imprisonment to prevent perpetrators from causing further harm; well-known penalties such that people tempted to break the law will decide the risk is too great; requirements where possible that the perpetrator(s) compensate the victim(s), and reform and rehabilitation programs to make it easy for people who’ve done harm to society to instead find ways to help it. But society only has the right to do this so long as the mechanisms it puts in place are themselves within the harm threshold.

Capital punishment by the state is, in my view, inherently as far outside the harm threshold as murder is. A murder is, by definition, a harm that cannot be compensated for: no recompense or restitution can be made for a death, because lives are not objects and do not have a price. A victim’s family might want, as the MacPhails did in the Davis case, the killer to be killed; or they might want, as the Byrds did in the Brewer case, the killer’s life to be spared. But the law should never be an instrument of personal revenge: society’s concern is protecting, preserving, and keeping itself healthy, not enacting vengeance on behalf of individuals. If someone is a continuing danger — Brewer is reported to have told a reporter the day before his death, “I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” — society is justified in keeping that individual isolated, to prevent further harm. But just as we might take prisoners of war, and hold them for the duration of the conflict, but are compelled by law and decency to treat them humanely, and forbidden to kill them, so too is it inhumane to kill a killer.

Well, I Guess That Resolves Things

Again, probably reading Kirby Bits’s post is the best place to start; I only have my own commentary to add on a couple of points.

One is that Krahulik has been out front, and taking most of the heat, on this issue. That’s probably by design; he’s always seemed more comfortable with confrontation than Holkins. And it’s left room for people (including me — I have certainly always preferred to think that he was in general a more thoughtful an empathetic person than Krahulik) to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions about where he stands on the issue. I think at this point, though, Krahulik’s behavior has become hostile enough toward rape survivors that Holkins’s apparent neutrality begins to look like tacit approval, or at best cowardice. Jerry, if you happen to read this, this isn’t actually a complicated question. You can just speak up. Are you for, or against, mocking the suffering of rape survivors? Having a voice other than Mike’s speaking for Penny Arcade, at this point, would probably be a good idea.

The other point, which Kirby Bits doesn’t directly address, is the dig in this section:

I’ve gotten a couple messages from people saying they are “conflicted” about coming to PAX. My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it. In fact give me your name and I’ll refund your money if you already bought a ticket. I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order. (emphasis added)

Sure enough, Krahulik threatened to blacklist anyone so upset or angered by his mockery of rape survivors that they weren’t sure they’d feel comfortable attending PAX.

Guess I’m not so conflicted anymore. It’s a shame — as I mentioned in my last post, I really enjoyed going to PAX East last year, and I think that the work Child’s Play does is really valuable. But even if I’d still have a good time — which I very well might — if I went to PAX East this year, PAX attendance numbers (among many other factors, obviously) affect Penny Arcade’s clout in the video game industry. So my having fun would go hand in hand with helping to boost Krahulik and Holkins’s profile, driving more advertising dollars to their site, and increasing their legitimacy as representatives of video game culture. I’m not willing to contribute to Penny Arcade’s push to define gamer culture as hostile to everyone but heterosexual, white, cisgendered men. So whether or not Mike has actually put my name on the auto-cancel list at Penny Arcade Expo HQ, I won’t be going to PAX this year.

Child’s Play is a somewhat trickier issue. I worry that on the one hand, if people stop giving to Child’s Play over its association with Penny Arcade, Krahulik and Holkins will yell “look, they’ve got a vendetta against us and they don’t care if they hurt sick kids!”; but that on the other hand, if people don’t stop giving to Child’s Play over this, they’ll point to those numbers as evidence that they’re Good People, and so all the mean things those Nasty Internet Feminists said about them must be false. I think that I’ll continue to give to Child’s Play, myself, because ultimately it’s only an aggregator — the gifts are still picked from wish lists put up by the hospitals, and still go directly to the hospitals. And because even if Gabe and Tycho don’t, people like this woman deserve to be honored.

On Security Theater

(Updated below)

I assume that y’all are more or less familiar with the TSA’s new “security” measures — you get the choice of submitting to a full-body imaging scan which produces detailed images of your naked body, which images are then supposed to be but not necessarily actually destroyed, or of submitting to an “enhanced pat-down” (and if you think that sounds a lot like “enhanced interrogation technique,” well, that’s maybe not such a coincidence) in which a TSA employee of the same gender (as long as you’re cis and your gender presentation fits the conventional binary) gropes your entire body, chest and groin included.  If you’re inside security and try to refuse both procedures, you will neither be allowed on the plane nor allowed to leave the airport without being threatened with arrest and hefty fines.  I’m dashing this post off quickly, so I won’t include links to sources — I’m confident that Google will back me up.

A few points about this situation, though they’re probably not going to be new ideas to anyone.

  • There is no reason whatsoever to believe this will in any way make air travel safer.  People who want to sneak things onto planes will still find ways to do so, because people who want to sneak things onto planes are not stupid, and will be able to figure out, just as I have figured out, and just as you have probably figured out, that neither the grope-down nor the naked scanner will reveal any objects hidden inside a person’s body.  People who, for example, want to blow up a plane while they’re on it are probably not going to be deterred by the idea of sneaking the explosives on by swallowing them or inserting them rectally — after all, drug smugglers have been doing so for ages.
  • What makes air travel safer is good investigative and intelligence work, so that plots against air travel can be stopped in the planning stage, before anyone gets on a plane.
  • Approximately one in six American women has been the victim of rape or sexual assault in her lifetime.  That means about 8% (at least) of the flying public are now legally required to relive their sexual assaults.  (The remaining 92% are “merely” required to submit to an initial sexual assault.)
  • A common refrain from defenders of the new measures is “I’d rather be groped than blown up.”  It’s crucially important to try to get through to people who argue that, that being groped in no way reduces their already-minuscule chances of being blown up.
  • Another common claim is “we have to do anything we can to prevent another 9/11.”  But, aside from the aforementioned intelligence work, which we aren’t doing as much of as we should because we’re distracted by nonsense security theater like this — and aside from the bill being sponsored by Rep. Markey which would require screening of 100% of air cargo, an entirely sensible measure — we have already done all we can to prevent “another 9/11.”  Namely: we locked the cockpit doors.  It will never again be possible for hijackers to gain control of an airplane and fly it into a building, killing thousands; and unless you’re just invoking the September 11th, 2001 attacks for cheap political gain you have to accept that nothing short of that would be “another 9/11.”  (The September 11th hijackers themselves also had a hand in ensuring that another such attack could never happen: they let all air passengers know, from now on, that it is not safe to assume hijackers are just after ransom and intend to the hostages unscathed once their demands are met.)
  • We have to assume that the people in charge of devising and promulgating these policies — the TSA, DHS, and up the chain to the President — are themselves also not stupid, and know just as well as some guy with a blog that there’s no plausible way the new screening methods will improve security in any meaningful sense.  We have to conclude, then, that improving security is not their purpose.
  • Finally, even supposing that there were some way in which these measures would reduce the already-minuscule chances of dying in a terrorist attack, it wouldn’t matter.  It wouldn’t matter because these searches are clearly in violation of the 4th Amendment: they are neither reasonable, nor spurred by immediate probable cause, nor backed by warrants issued on evidence of probable cause and describing the specific things to be searched for and seized.  This would be plainly true even if these techniques were effective, and the fact is that they aren’t.  (In DC v. Heller, for example, the Supreme Court made it clear that even a law which is demonstrably effective at reducing crime does not supersede [their interpretations of] the Constitution.)

Update: Of course, another thing to keep in mind here, and it’s something I’m as guilty of as anybody, is that arbitrary harassment and abuse by authorities who can’t be effectively held accountable for it have just been the status quo for many marginalized populations in the US, especially people of color, GLBTQI people, people with disabilities, poor people, etc.  It’s only now that affluent white men — John Tyner, a software engineer; Penn Jillette, a millionaire comedian — are being subjected to this kind of treatment that there appears to be some serious outrage growing.  Only now that white men aren’t treated differently from those other people.  There are all kinds of ways in which that doesn’t say anything good about our society.

What The Hell Is Wrong With You People?

Shorter Switzerland:

Raping a child and spending thirty years as a fugitive from justice is punishment enough, especially for a Great Artist.  Plus, America’s not the boss of us.

Shorter New York Times:

Ho-hum, Switzerland decides that the rule of law doesn’t apply to Famous People…who cares about that?  But Polanski’s a director, so I guess we’ll stick it in the “Movies” section along with the reviews and fluff pieces.