Hell in a handcart Technology

“You go out into the world and see people and they smile, but what is really in their heads?”

This is horrific. Lyz Lenz writes about a small town and its conversations on Facebook.

It’s a nice Iowa town. In a way that many Iowa towns are nice, and they don’t like being called racist. So, when people called them racist, all hell broke loose.

…Screenshots of comments sent to me by people in Marion show conversations about over policing and racism in the community devolving into cries that Black people are being too political, making everything about race and not working hard enough. A few commenters insisted they “go back to Chicago” — which is a racist insinuation that presumes only people of color come from the big city. If you speak Iowa, “from Chicago” is racist for Black.

Black people who posted about racism and white privilege had their posts removed by frantic page administrators who just wanted everything to be “nice again.” Or as one person who texted me screenshots of a racist diatribe targeted to one of her comments about a protest said, “They don’t want it to be nice again, they want it to be white again.”

As Lenz notes, this isn’t just the usual online hatred of and by strangers. These are neighbours, local shop owners, the “clown who makes balloon animals at the farmers market. It’s personal.”

…the feeling is claustrophobic. You go out into the world and see people and they smile, but what is really in their heads? I don’t have to guess, I can go to Facebook.

It’s death by a thousand comments.

…It’s easy to think you are nice when you keep all your ugliness hidden in Facebook comments and emails sent from fake accounts. It’s easy to think you are nice when delivering cookies to a new neighbor or filling sandbags to protect a local business from flooding, but the words, the jokes, they mean something.

There’s a power dynamic at play here. White people don’t need to worry that if they offend someone who’s Black, they’ll be visited by racist cops looking for an excuse to hurt a white person.

The freedom to make comments that defend racism, those aren’t nothing in a world where Black men get killed by the police just for the crime of going to the store or walking down the middle of the street.

Studies show that the microaggressions of casually-used slurs or devil’s advocate positions can have lasting traumatic effects.

It’s not nothing.

Thinking it’s nothing is a privilege.

And telling someone that the words they say and the ideas they espouse are hurting you, that’s not cancel culture. That’s a person advocating for their humanity.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

I don’t want to talk about her either

…but Rowling is trolling again, and she’s moving into very dangerous territory. The government is considering whether to ban conversion therapy, which is discredited and dangerous. Rowling is trying to convince people that trans-affirming healthcare is also conversion therapy.

Here’s The Trevor Project:

Conversion therapists use a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities. According to studies by the UCLA Williams Institute, more than 700,000 LGBTQ people have been subjected to the horrors of conversion therapy, and an estimated 80,000 LGBTQ youth will experience this unprofessional conduct in coming years, often at the insistence of well-intentioned but misinformed parents or caretakers.

Conversion therapy is the attempt to force people to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is almost always done against the person’s will and instigated by somebody with authority over them, such as a parent or religious leader.

It ruins lives.

NBC News:

Exposure to “conversion therapy” — efforts by a secular or religious professional to change a transgender person’s gender identity — is associated with thoughts of and attempts at suicide, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

…“What this new study shows is that transgender people who are exposed to conversion efforts anytime in their lives have more than double the odds of attempting suicide compared with those who have never experienced efforts by professionals to convert their gender identity, he said.

Turban said one of the most alarming findings from the study was the even higher risk of psychological distress for those who reported exposure to conversion therapy during childhood. Those who were subjected to the practice before age 10 were four times more likely to report lifetime suicide attempts than the general transgender population, according to the findings.

Teen Vogue published an exposé on the “Gender Critical” parents who actively seek conversion therapy for their children.

These parents don’t view “non-affirming therapists” as conversion therapists, but the connections are clear: “gender-critical therapy” is the newest cover of a song that’s been playing for the past 50 years. And while the methods aren’t perfectly aligned, the harm that can be caused by these kinds of practices can be as severe. The desired outcome — rejection of transgender identity — is a message that’s been broadcast by a network of quasi-medical organizations, the evangelical anti-LGBTQ right, and the old guard of conversion therapists who’ve been defending their harmful actions for decades.

…As NCLR puts it: “While these contemporary versions of conversion therapy are less shocking and extreme than some of those more frequently used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients — especially to minors, who are often forced to undergo them by their parents or legal guardians, and who are at especially high risk of being harmed.”

But what anti-trans bigots claim is that the real conversion therapy is when parents are not putting trans kids through conversion therapy. In their minds there are no trans teenagers; just gay teenagers who are forced, often by an international Jewish conspiracy, to become trans because it’s much easier than being gay.

I don’t know where to start with this, I really don’t. The idea that it’s somehow easier to be trans or that homophobic parents would rather have a trans kid than a gay one is so deranged it’d be funny if it weren’t about something so serious.

You cannot talk somebody into being trans any more than you can talk them into being gay. If you could, there would be no trans people and no gay people, because the world is very cruel to trans people and gay people.

Conversion therapy does not work. You won’t turn a straight kid gay or a cis kid trans with any amount of propaganda. And you won’t turn a gay kid straight or a trans kid cis by torturing them. We know this, because many people have tried to do it.

Gender-affirming healthcare operates from the approach of “do as little as possible”. In most cases it is no more than using a child’s preferred name and pronouns. In the teenage years, after many months or years of assessment, it may involve puberty blockers to delay puberty in order to give them more time. And then, years later, it may involve transition, a process with an exceptionally high success rate and a very low regret rate.

Nobody goes into this lightly, and they definitely don’t go into it at high speed. There are tons of reputable studies that show that this approach is effective, that it leads to improved mental health outcomes, and it saves lives.

So of course some bigots want to get rid of it. Better a dead kid than a trans kid.

The people Rowling is amplifying want to remove all support, all healthcare and all affirmation from trans teenagers. They want trans teens to be deprived of any help and bullied until they break down and say they’re not trans.

Let’s call it what it is. Torture.

As the journalist Katelyn Burns put it, JK Rowling’s message to trans teens is simple.

Your body. My choice.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart

“The culture war is an incredibly cheap way of getting votes”

This is a fascinating post on voters and “culture war” messaging.

Right-wing politicians love a good culture war. It’s no coincidence that the terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘woke’, both originating on the American left, have been eagerly seized by the right. They know it is an ideal way of stirring up indignation and deflecting attention from things they’d rather not discuss.

…A few left-wing activists can usually be relied upon to give the right-wing press the ammunition it needs by doing or saying something silly. Even a poorly considered comment or rebuttal can lead to stories that run for years, like Baa Baa Green Sheep and Winterval. On the basis of one person writing ‘racist’ on Winston Churchill’s statue, Boris Johnson has been able to cast himself as the defender of a monument that is not under any serious threat. He was at it again yesterday, attempting to spice up his lacklustre speech with a promises to defend the “statue of our greatest wartime leader” from, well, no-one really.

The problem for the left is that some of this stuff lands. It makes otherwise quite reasonable people cross. And it doesn’t need to make many of them cross… All it needs is enough people in the right places.

Health Hell in a handcart

“Only the wealthy get to survive the pandemic unscathed”

Deb Perelman has written an interesting piece in the New York Times about working parents in the time of COVID-19.

Why am I, a food blogger best known for such hits as the All-Butter Really Flaky Pie Dough and The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake, sounding the alarm on this? I think it’s because when you’re home schooling all day, and not performing the work you were hired to do until the wee hours of the morning, and do it on repeat for 106 days (not that anyone is counting), you might be a bit too fried to funnel your rage effectively.

…The consensus is that everyone agrees this is a catastrophe, but we are too bone-tired to raise our voices above a groan, let alone scream through a megaphone. Every single person confesses burnout, despair, feeling like they are losing their minds, knowing in their guts that this is untenable.

Of course there is an element of privilege here: there are many people who, long before COVID, were forced to work very long hours and sometimes multiple jobs just to scratch a living (and in America, get healthcare). They didn’t get to write about it in the NYT.

But that doesn’t mean Perelman doesn’t have a point. The response to COVID-19 means that in many parts of the world, many workers are now expected to do their jobs in the same hours from home. In addition to their full-time job they’re also expected to look after and teach their children, which is also a full-time job. And when politicians talk about re-opening the economy, those parents clearly aren’t being taken into consideration.

I’ve heard from parents who have the luck of a grandparent who can swoop in, or the deep pockets for a full-time nanny or a private tutor for their child when schools are closed. That all sounds enviable, but it would be absurd to let policy be guided by people with cushioning. If you have the privilege to opt out of the work force and wish to, enjoy it. But don’t wield it as a stick to poke others with because far more people are being forced to “opt out” this year and will never professionally or financially recover.

I resent articles that view the struggle of working parents this year as an emotional concern. We are not burned out because life is hard this year. We are burned out because we are being rolled over by the wheels of an economy that has bafflingly declared working parents inessential.

I’m one of the privileged ones (although I’m ineligible for the financial support the government ensures furloughed workers and some self-employed people get to keep the wolf from the door, so I’m not that privileged). I was already a home worker, I don’t have to work specific hours and because I co-parent I still have a few days when I can work in silence without also having to amuse or educate my children. But the effect on my productivity and availability has still been catastrophic: while I cannot be available for half of the usual working week, the people who employ me expect me to be. Trust me, it’s hard to write an accurate piece about something complicated, let alone broadcast live to the nation, when your six-year-old is bored senseless and loudly demanding entertainment.

Muddling through is doable for a short time. I’ve done it for four months, albeit four months that have wiped out all my savings. But what if the new normal is nothing like the old normal? What happens if your employer expects you to be back full-time but your kids’ school is only taking them part time? Given the horrendous cost of commercial childcare, the only solution for some couples will be for one of them to go part-time, assuming the employer allows it, or to quit. Most of the people expected to go part-time or quit will be women.

And of course, things are even more difficult for single parents.

Even those who found a short-term solution because they had the luxury to hit the pause button on their projects and careers this spring to manage the effects of the pandemic — predicated on the assumption that the fall would bring a return to school and child care — may now have no choice but to leave the work force. A friend just applied for a job and tells me she cannot even imagine how she would be able to take it if her children aren’t truly back in school. There’s an idea that people can walk away from careers and just pick them up where they left off, even though we know that women who drop out of the work force to take care of children often have trouble getting back in.

This isn’t really about COVID. It’s about a sudden economic shock making existing fault lines deeper, amplifying the existing inequalities so that they affect a wider group of people. It’s about the hypocrisy of a largely male political class who have the resources to pay for high quality childcare, education and healthcare for their own families but deny it to everybody else. Childcare, education and health are not costs to be avoided; they’re investments in – and insurance for – the future.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Hateful words lead to hateful acts

The TIE Campaign is a wonderful organisation that campaigns for more inclusive education.

The TIE Campaign posted this yesterday:

We are a charity which works with schools, teachers, and educators to tackle prejudice-based bullying. We provide anti-bullying sessions and gender stereotypes/equalities workshops to schools, and produce resources to include LGBT people and history in the curriculum.

…For a number of months, we have been receiving the most hurtful – and dangerous – posts and messages from individuals who appear to be opposed to LGBT themes being included within education. We have never had to deal with anything like this before.

…We cannot continue to sit by as individuals do this to us. Trolling is one thing – but what they are doing is dangerous, prejudicial, and hateful. Please report tweets like this if you see them. We cannot address this alone.

LGBT people and charities are regularly called groomers, pedophiles, abusers. This is unacceptable and horrific.

…It’s not just us. Many LGBT organisations have been receiving this for months; as have national women’s charities, youth organisations, politicians. Lying like this about people or groups on social media is dangerous & can have serious consequences. It needs to stop.

Please do read the whole thing. It’s horrifying, and utterly typical of the abuse LGBT+ organisations and supporters of LGBT+ equality receive on social media. And it’s increased dramatically in the last two years.

Here’s Pink Saltire:

This type of abuse is commonplace towards LGBT+ groups and has a real impact on us all.

Sisters Scotland:

The online abuse, slander, misrepresentation and lies that the LGBT community face on the daily destroy lives. It bleeds from online toxicity in to abuse in the media, and straight into abuse in the workplace, at home, in the streets. These prejudiced narratives pushed influence the narratives lived by the LGBT+ community. Their voices and strength are crushed under the weight of this. It’s up to all of us to ensure we give that strength back, that we raise those voices, make them louder and challenge those that seek to silence them.

Dr Rebecca Crowther of LGBTI Scotland:

It claws in to our personal social media accounts too & of course our minds, our mental health, our bodies. I couldn’t & wouldn’t type some of the names I’ve been called. I could never share the mysognynistic homophobic bullying & gaslighting I’ve received. That all of us have.

And the worst part? Nothing I have received even compares remotely to the horrific bullying and abuse my trans siblings have been subject to.

SNP women’s convener and TIE Campaign chair Rhiannon Spear:

Constantly being called a pedophile or a child groomer because I support LGBT rights cannot become normal + I refuse to let it become normal.

We are seeking legal advice + will take action where we can.

The rhetoric needs to change.

Abuse against LGBT+ people is rising in the UK, and that rise corresponds to the increasingly violent rhetoric being used about us and our allies in print and on social media. The people calling LGBT+ people and charities paedophiles on the internet are just echoing what high-profile Twitter accounts and newspaper columnists are saying. Violent words ultimately lead to violent acts.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Super Size Media

Morgan Spurlock in a promotional image for Super Size Me (2004)

Have you ever wondered why so much news output is junk?

It’s because of the big board.

As journalist Mic Wright explains, the big board was popularised by Nick Denton of Gawker media. It’s a big screen that everybody in the newsroom can see, and it shows you in real time which stories are getting the most attention.

What Gawker did a decade ago is commonplace in newsrooms now, because most media outlets have become dependent on traffic-based advertising revenue. As a result every significant media outlet pays close attention to its traffic: “which reporters/writers/columnists are killing it and whose stuff is absolutely eating dirt,” as Wright puts it.

And sadly, it’s usually the lowest-quality content that’s killing it.  You can see that for yourself: while media outlets don’t let you see their big board, many of them do show you what content is the most read (and often, most shared and/or most commented on).

In 2011, Nick Denton explained that this system worked really well for everything but “the worthy topics”: “Nobody wants to eat the boring vegetables. Nor [do advertisers] want to pay to encourage people to eat their vegetables.”

He was right, and the food comparison is a good one: many of us would much rather eat Big Macs than broccoli, and the stats show that we are similarly drawn to unhealthy news output: the dogwhistling columnists, the manufactured outrage, the reinforcement of prejudice, idiocy rather than analysis.

But the downside is the same too. As Morgan Spurlock demonstrated in Super Size Me just before the big board became a newsroom staple, there are terrible consequences to consuming a diet made mainly of junk.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart

A tale of two cities

Something happened in Glasgow’s George Square last night.

Tale #1: two rival groups of protesters clashed. One group was there to “protect statues” from vandalism.

Tale #2: more than 200 far-right loyalist goons set out to attack a peaceful pro-immigration protest, assaulting protesters, passers-by and the police.

Both tales are true, but they’re framed very differently and effectively describe two different cities.

The first one has appeared in multiple media outlets.

The second description is the real one.

The far-right thugs shouting racist and sectarian slurs – “Fenian bastards” was a favourite, judging by the videos I’ve seen – and sieg-heiling in our streets, the people who just days ago assaulted non-white people and young women in similar scenes, were not counter-protesters and were not there to protect statues. They were coordinated by the National Defence League, the successor to the SDL, a group of fascist clowns who go out intending to inflict violence. Their social media is plastered with the Red Hand of Ulster and the Union Flag, acronyms such as FTP and all the usual far-right tropes.

To suggest, as some media outlets have done, that they were in any way equivalent to the gentle, joyful, anti-eviction protesters whose event they deliberately targeted isn’t balance. It’s false equivalence.

I joked on Twitter last night that the bigots “need to work on their messaging: if they claimed to have ‘reasonable concerns’ about ‘statue erasure’, The Herald would give them a column”. But there’s some truth in it. Whether it’s sectarian hooligans or more genteel bigotry, false equivalence is very dangerous.

False equivalence doesn’t just mislead people about the story. It prevents progress. How can you take action against vicious, violent bigots if you won’t admit that there are vicious, violent bigots in the first place?

Hell in a handcart Media Technology

“That is phenomenal engagement. What’s not to like?”

Alex Hern explores the tragic and frightening tale of one man’s descent into psychosis, a descent that was speeded up by online radicalisation.

There is no doubt that people have been radicalised by the internet, and by this particularly horrible corner of it. There are just too many cases like Slyman’s, where we can see, in the pattern of YouTube likes, Facebook groups and Twitter follows, someone entering the funnel at one end – watching Jordan Peterson videos, or listening to the Joe Rogan Experience – and then, six months or a year later, fully “red-pilled”, accusing Hilary Clinton of child murder or calling for a second civil-war in the US.

(One particularly curious thing about this as a Brit is that that’s even the journey of radicalisation of much of the UK far right. God knows we have our own pathways too – with Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins playing major parts – but the number of Trump t-shirts and MAGA hats at British fascist gatherings is wild.)

But in this case, six days just feels too quick for the normal radicalisation narrative to fit.

Hern asks a frightening question: what if the algorithms that push content to us can push us over the edge?

if YouTube’s recommendation algorithm had learned to recognise the signs of someone on the edge of a psychotic break, and had learned that if you show them a lot of QAnon videos at that stage in their life engagement goes through the roof, what would be different from the tale we’ve just heard?

We’re still not taking the problem of online radicalisation seriously enough. Part of it is human, where extremists use cult tactics to recruit people to their cause and create echo chambers of increasingly extreme ideology. But a great deal of it is automated, and that automation not only rewards extremism but promotes it to the people least able to sort fact from lurid fiction.

Five days after he watches his first Q video, he is live-streaming his belief that the local radio station is sending him coded messages from Q. Later that day, the song You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive convinces him the Deep State is coming to kill him, and he gets in the car with his wife and kids and begins his drive.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Trans people are planning to escape the UK

Jane Fae in the Independent:

I spoke to a few trans folk: ordinary people trying to go about their daily routines as well as community leaders advocating on their behalf. The result was unanimous and shocking, and not just for the general level of abuse reported back. For this, in the end, is not so much about abuse or danger, but a growing fear that government, in yet another desperate populist lurch, will roll back the still limited place trans folk have been granted, making the UK a more hostile place for all.

…if rhetoric does turn to action – if the Tory party reverts to its longer-term status as “nasty party” in respect of LGBT+ people – who can blame trans people for seeking safety elsewhere. We have seen what is happening in Trump’s America. Seen, too, how quickly rights can be stripped away in places like Hungary or Brazil. And we know that without state protection, the violence that some would like to direct our way will swiftly escalate.

I do not wish to leave the UK. I am not going any time soon.

But if the UK lurches further right, descending further into desperate populism, the time may yet come when, like my father before me, I can no longer live safely in the country where I was born.

Some of us want to leave but can’t. I know because I’m one of them.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Reaping, sowing

Apologies for the language, but there is an internet meme that’s become popular:

Me sowing: Haha fuck yeah!!! Yes!!
Me reaping: well this fucking sucks. What the fuck.

And another:

Well, well, well. If it isn’t the consequences of my own actions.

I was reminded of them yesterday when a British anti-trans group blogged about the US rollback of anti-discrimination protections for trans people, gay and lesbian people and women who have or need abortions.

it actively harms lesbians, women seeking abortions and women who defy gender norms… [the] religious right are waging a war on women and against the principle of health care as a human right.

Trans people and allies have been trying to warn anti-trans groups about this for years, which is why many, many people quoted this in response:

I can’t believe leopards are eating my face, says woman who voted for the “leopards eating your face” party.

It’s funny, but it isn’t remotely funny. The US’s anti-women legislation was initially presented as anti-trans legislation, but that was only ever a Trojan horse. And the same tactics are being used here.

In the UK, anti-trans groups have allied with the religious right to attack key legislation such as the Equality Act; yesterday’s government leak indicates that they’re being listened to. But the Equality Act doesn’t just protect trans women. It protects all women. Black women. Asian women. Lesbian women. Pregnant women. Religious women. Disabled women.

And it’s not just the Equality Act. Lawyers who previously represented anti-abortionists are now helming anti-trans test cases in an attempt to remove protections for LGBT+ kids at school. There is a concerted effort to remove the bodily autonomy of trans teenagers, something that would undermine the Gillick and Fraser competences that means teenage girls can get access to contraception.

What’s so frustrating about this is that the religious right has been very clear about it. They even put it in writing. The Family Research Council, one of the key drivers of anti-women legislation, published its master plan for attacking trans people in 2016. The FRC is part of the Hands Across The Aisle Coalition, which connects US evangelicals with British anti-trans activists.

As Brynn Tannehill wrote in 2018:

These right-wing organizations don’t try to hide their relationship with so-called feminists. Indeed, they proudly display it in order to create the illusion that both the left and the right oppose inclusion of trans people in society. In reality, only one side’s interests are being represented here ― the radical religious right.

Real feminists, lesbians, queers and bisexual woman should ask what sort of woman or feminist would align themselves with these right-wing organizations. They are all anti-choice. They all want to ban access to birth control. They universally want to overturn Lawrence v. Texas and allow states to make homosexuality illegal again. They want to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, and Roe v. Wade. They want to ban same-sex adoption. They all are hostile to fair-pay-for-women laws. They oppose women working outside the home. They are all hostile to the Women’s March and Me Too. They are fake medical organizations and anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice hate groups. They have cheered the assassinations of abortion providers. They are publications that have published horrible things about women, such as “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”

This isn’t a choice between transgender people and women. This is a choice between trans people and right-wing organizations pretending to represent women. And you are deluding yourself if you think these right-wing organizations will not be coming for queers and cisgender women next. They have said that’s exactly what they plan on doing.