Friday, October 16, 2015

Beth’s Books: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

It took me a little while to warm up to this book, but it left me with a lot to think about.

Ronson explores the recent phenomenon of online shaming, in which someone posts a comment or photo that goes viral and results in massive condemnation and hatred from others online. The most recent incidence of this that I can think of is that dentist who killed Cecil the lion. There was some talk of extraditing the guy to Zimbabwe to face prosecution, but that didn’t happen.

At first Ronson seemed to be rather gleeful about his own participation in such shaming, and that bothered me a bit. But as he continued to explore various topics for this book, he seemed to realize how devastating it can be for these people and how the initial satisfaction we might get from firing off a nasty tweet is not really worth it when it comes to people losing their jobs, being afraid to leave the house due to death threats, and generally feeling like worthless pieces of shit.

He explores various people who have had to deal with this, some who weathered it well and some who didn’t; he visits a therapy group that practices Radical Honesty, and his description of the encounter had me laughing out loud; he works with a group who does reputation rehabilitation online to successfully remove the egregious searches from the front page of Google (fascinating stuff) of someone who was a “shamee.”

In one of the most interesting sections, he interviews prison reformers who believe that much of the violence perpetrated in this country stems from people being shamed as children. They feel helpless in the face of such humiliation so they lash out at others in order to take control and make others feel the same helplessness and humiliation that they did as children. Our current prison system perpetuates that humiliation and the subsequent violence.

It made me think about Good Internet vs Bad Internet. Used wisely, the Internet can bring us new friendships, new connections, and even lasting love. However, we’ve all seen the dark side of the Internet, in which people are attacked, belittled, verbally abused, and threatened. It has been my experience that the Anonymous Comment is detrimental to courteous and productive discourse (and that’s why I stopped allowing anonymous comments here some time ago). When they don’t have to worry about accountability, it’s far too easy for people to say whatever vile things they want.

It also made me think about whether I have ever engaged in public shaming. I have written about real people like Kim Davis, but I did my best to criticize what I felt were her discriminatory attitudes rather than criticize her personally. I totally disagree with what she was doing, but I would never send her death threats or anything like that. I honestly don’t understand that mentality. But there are people out there who do that, and I feel that it is counterproductive. It’s one thing to criticize for a belief or a policy; it’s quite another to threaten a person and call them names.

Maybe I’m a little more sensitive to it because I have experienced such shaming on a personal level. An ex went around town telling people that I was an alcoholic lesbian who took him for everything he had. He was doing this to friends and family members and it got pretty embarrassing. I had a clerk in Waldenbooks tell me that they knew who I was and that my ex was in there talking about me; my parents’ neighbor told them that the ex was telling them about all this stuff. I weathered it with the help of some good advice from my parents. They said that the people who know and love me won’t believe it and will think less of the ex for going around and saying it. I think that turned out to be the case.

I thought about that when reading this book and imagined what I went through multiplied by about a million. That’s what it would be like to be shamed online and have it go viral.

It made me resolve even more to try to keep things civil and focus on the topic rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. I can’t stop others from doing that, but that doesn’t mean that I have to participate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Perception and the Media

There has been much chatter, from both online pals and the media, about last night’s Democratic debate.

As I wrote last night, my own feeling was that Hillary won. The media certainly was quick to give her the win, and the kudos reached a rather absurd level. (No, Van Jones, she wasn’t like Beyoncé.) I also thought Sanders did quite well, but to me, Hillary carried herself the best.

However, a handful of focus groups showed Sanders winning. Vox had an interesting article about this, taking a look at how they felt Hillary seemed too timid and Sanders came across as strong. I found this a little dismaying because it seems that a woman who gets passionate about something is deemed as ‘shrill’ or told to ‘calm down.’ (For the record, if you ever encounter me when I’m really angry, tell me to calm down at your own risk.) It is very much a double standard that women have had to deal with for pretty much forever. It reminded me a lot  of President Obama stepping back from the risk of appearing to be the ‘angry black man.’ Virtually everyone seems to have these hardwired perception filters that are really hard to overcome. I thought that Hillary was being calm but showing strength; others thought that she was too passive.

A gal can’t win for losin’.

Another interesting thing I read today was a piece from Paul Waldman in which he wrote about how the media will manipulate our thoughts on the debate. We’ve been seeing this a lot lately, haven’t we? Whether it’s the media writing story after story about Hillary’s emails or not reporting on Sanders’ events, it seems they have their own agenda to push.

A related story was from poll genius Nate Silver about how the media had been selling the narrative of Hillary’s campaign in disarray and how VP Biden might step in to rescue the party and blah di fucking blah. So after pushing that narrative, they are now talking about how she was triumphant, a veritable phoenix rising from the ashes of a dysfunctional campaign. However, as Nate points out, she has been the frontrunner nationally for the entire time, and by a fairly healthy margin. He does not state that she is a shoo-in, but odds show that she is the prohibitive favorite. However, their bogus comeback story is a lot more interesting than “yes, she was ahead before the debate and she’s still ahead after the debate.”

This is why I take so much of what I read with a grain of salt. Sure, a lot of what I read is biased on the left. I realize that. But I try to avoid the especially sensationalistic sites like Salon or Jezebel. The Daily Beast can be that way, too, but I pick and choose which articles I post from there. If something is obviously inflammatory or biased, chances are I am not going to post it. I grow weary of journalists pushing an obvious narrative about this or that candidate. I just want to see the straight-up facts and go from there. Many journalists have insightful and thoughtful opinions, and I enjoy those for what they are: opinions. I always try to keep in mind that that is what they are offering up and putting their own spin on.

Unfortunately, far too many people accept that manipulation as fact and don’t form their own opinions. They’d rather be told what to think than to think it through on their own. I’m certainly vulnerable to that to a certain degree, but I do my best to form my own opinions.

Most people who know me would probably agree that I have plenty of them!

Well, that was refreshing!

Tonight was the first Democratic debate and boy howdy, wasn’t that a breath of fresh air?

  1. Everyone talked about the issues.
  2. No one attacked each other to any extensive degree.
  3. Everyone agreed on the Democratic principles and vision, and no one really went off the reservation to any great extent.
  4. Everyone seemed knowledgeable and was able to use their words and put them together into sentences that actually made sense.
  5. There were only five people onstage, which meant that everyone got to say their piece, although I suspect Jim Webb would disagree with that.

What a contrast from the Republican debates. No one was attacking viciously, no one was stupidly attacking President Obama, no one was attacking immigrants or blahs or was all quite civilized.

I almost don’t know how to handle it. I mean, what just happened here? Did a group of candidates hold a debate and actually talk about the issues in a substantive way?

Huh. Weird.

P.S. I think Hillary won. Webb definitely lost, Chafee was marginal, O’Malley did pretty well, Sanders did very well, but Hillary was cool, calm, and collected, and came across as the most ‘presidential,’ which definitely counts for something in these debates. Biggest loser of the night? The Republicans. This is how you do a debate, kids. Please make a note of it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Return of the Dead

Walker heads! [insert walker noises here]
Most people know that I am unabashedly obsessed with the TV show “The Walking Dead.” As I’ve remarked before, it’s like they made a show just for me. I knew when I saw the trailer for this brand new show that it was something I wanted to try, and I was hooked from the very first episode. “Little girl? I’m a policeman.”
Zombie Zone!

I’ve also become a fan of the companion series, “Fear the Walking Dead,” but the original is still the big dog for me. “Fear” got me through the summer (along with all kinds of other fun stuff), but I was beyond excited for the Season 6 premiere of TOS. Which was last night!

These premieres and finales are such big deals to me that I try to do fun stuff. I had a couple of zombie signs to put up and I hung the strand of “walker lights” that Shane and Matt got me for my birthday. I told Ken, “Those are staying up year-round!” (I have them lit even as I type! They are so cool!) For dinner, I made a Head Loaf, a meatloaf that looked like a zombie head (garlic cloves for eyes and teeth). For dessert, I made my Slimeballs brain mold (recipe to follow), and while the premiere was airing, we drank Zombie Dust beer (also a birthday present, that one from my sister).

It was an enjoyable evening and I loved the season opener. I won’t go into any spoilers here, so no worries. It was an hour and a half long, so it was essentially a movie! It went back and forth in time a bit and they handled it really well. A few things got explained although there is plenty to deal with going forward. I’ve seen this episode referred to as ‘ambitious,’ and I think that’s a good word for it. Special effects guru and executive producer Greg Nicotero directed it, and the walkers were particularly gnarly. Keep in mind that we’re well into the zombie apocalypse on the show, so the walkers continue to decompose and fall apart. It makes for some gruesome (and totally fun!) moments.

Am I happy? Yes, I am happy. It’s back and they did a great job with it, setting up the season as we explore life—and death?—in the Alexandria Free Zone. I’m ready!

Slimeballs (double batch)

2 packages of lime Jell-O (I use sugar free)
2 cups boiling water
1 cup vodka
1 cup Midori melon liqueur

Make the Jell-O like you usually do. (I don’t need to explain that, do I?) I let it cool in the fridge for a little bit before I add the booze. If you’re just putting it in a pan, you can go ahead and do that. If you’re using a mold (you don’t have to use a mold, but a brain mold is really a lot of fun!), you’ll want to spray the mold with cooking spray and cool the slimeballs in the fridge for a bit before you put it into the mold. This results in an intact brain. An intact brain is very, very important in the zombie apocalypse.

I like to decorate it with red and black gel frosting. Serve with whipped cream and be careful! Slimeballs pack a punch!