Monday, January 28, 2008

On blogging... an update.

So, I've been mostly taking a break from blogging this month. Counting this post, it'll be six posts total in January.

Blogging really stresses me out.

There are things I love about blogging- I enjoy engaging with people. I enjoy reading what other people have to say. I enjoy having a place to say what I'm thinking and find out what other people have to say in response. I've learned a lot of things because of blogging- not just from people blogging about current events (which is also great), but from people correcting or analyzing the things that are written. When blogging is like a conversation, it can be a really interesting and exciting process.

But, there are a lot of things that I really hate about blogging. I hate how easy it is to read one thing that someone has written, and see that as the sum-total of that person's opinions and experiences. I hate how easy it is to misread or misinterpret what people are saying when they blog. I hate how easy it is to miss tone, or misunderstand sarcasm, or misread humor. I hate how quickly conversations escalate into arguments into flaming. I hate how easy it is to forget that bloggers are real people who have real feelings who have real experiences outside of the web who have complex opinions about issues that don't always come through in every post. I hate how easy it is to forget or ignore or simply not know about a person's many other good works and history of thought and action and activism when you read something that they've said that you disagree with or don't like. And on, and on.

And, no, it's not that all of those things happen to me (although, yeah, I absolutely hate it when they do)- it's also that I end up doing those things, too.

And I also hate not knowing if any of this is actually doing any good. I hate that I can spend a week researching and writing and rewriting something- hours and hours spent thinking about writing and working on a post, and I put it out there, and I have no idea whether it actually helps the cause. I hate feeling like I've put my heart and soul into something and feeling like the only people who are going to read it are:
1. People who already agree with what I'm saying.
2. People who are 100% against what I'm saying and only reading it to tear it apart.

And, it is hard writing. Writing is work. It's good work- it feels good to find the right words, to really bite into a tough subject, or to realize that you've just found exactly the right way of saying something so that it clicks in your head in a way that it hadn't before. But, it's still work. It's hard. It's hard, in part, because of constraints I put on myself.

And I'm having all of these feelings, and then I go to the doctor, and I find out that I have a stress related chronic condition. The more stressed I get, the worse the condition gets. Which is a vicious circle, because the worse the condition gets, the more I stress out, but whatever.

So, I'm not sure what to do. Blogging is hurting me, and I'm not really convinced that it's actually doing good, but not blogging is actually starting to stress me out a little too, and I miss it, and I miss the sense of community that I felt when I first started.

I haven't yet figured out how this all works. I'm unhappy with the way things were going, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel, either. I'm thinking that I need to change my idea of what this blog should be, but I'm not really sure what it looks like or what it ought to be, either.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Question Time: Enjoying art despite the artist...

Bobby Fischer is dead.

For a lot of people, the name Bobby Fischer probably doesn't mean a whole lot. But, if you're a big chess fan, you probably have some feelings about the man. Bobby Fischer was an American chess prodigy at a time when Americans weren't seen as "real" chess players. He reached the rank of Grand Master- the highest title you can get in chess- at only 15. In '72 he became the first American to win the World Chess Championship. He wasn't just an amazing player, he was one of the greatest players of all time, and- when I was growing up and learning the game- was a huge inspiration.

He was also, as it turns out, a huge antisemite. He denied the holocaust, and said, in radio interviews, that he was the victim of an "international Jewish conspiracy" and that the United States was "a farce controlled by dirty, hook-nosed, circumcised Jew bastards."

When I was growing up, studying Fischer's endgames, and learning about his theories, these aspects of his personality were completely unknown to me. Bobby Fischer was the greatest. Now, as an adult, I'm forced to reconcile my love for the man's talant on the board with what a horrible person he was off the board. How do you do that, though?

And it's not like it's just Bobby Fischer, either. I love H.P. Lovecraft. I think that his contributions to horror writing are remarkable- the man was a genius. Also a huge racist and antisemite. Ian Flemming's writings are filled with blatant sexism and racism.

I've been sitting here thinking about whether I can still respect someone like Fischer, now that I know more about him. Can I enjoy and respect the work, knowing where it comes from? I think that I can still recognize the great things that Fischer did for the game and his genius on the board while recognizing that he was a horrible person in a lot of other ways.

I think that with Fischer it's a little easier, though, because the game doesn't reflect his views in the way that, say, a movie or a song might. I can't watch Falling Down because of the troubling racism it's filled with, but you can't see antisemitism on a chess board. Then again, James Bond books are, as I noted, filled with racist and sexist imagery, but my reaction to them isn't the same as my reaction to something like Grand Theft Auto.

So, what do you do when that happens? What do you do when a person that you love or respect for some talant they have or some contribution they've made to a field you're interested in turns out to be... well... an asshole? And not just a run-of-the-mill "I'm a jerk" asshole, but a racist/sexist/homophobic asshole? Can you seperate the contribution from the contributor, or are they forever linked? Or maybe it depends on the circumstances?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I think that this counts as bad credit...

The criticisms of Subway's newest commercial reminded me of another commercial that I saw recently that I found pretty egregious, too. Have you seen the commercials for Free Credit Check (dot com, of course)? The first one involves a guy singing about how he dresses as a pirate at a crappy restaurant, because, I assume, it's the only job he can get now that he has bad credit or something... the connection between working as a singing pirate and having bad credit isn't really explained, but, I have to admit, I always end up singing along with the commercial. Well, be that as it may, they have a new commercial that I absolutely hate.

And so I will share. Because I'm cool like that.

So he married his dream girl and it turned out that she had bad credit. Okay, that happens. I can understand wanting to know before you get married "uh, say, how is your credit, just so that we can plan for the future a bit", but, the moral of the story is that he wishes he'd checked her credit, because if he had, he'd have dumped her and he'd be happier because he could have his own home and a dog?

Wow. That's a strong love they share, yeah?

What's stopping him from buying a house if his credit is good? Also, she's the only one I see actually doing work in the commercial. She's cleaning and doing laundry while he hangs out with his friends singing a song about how he wishes he'd dumped her before they got married. Yeah. That's cool.

Shorter McCullough: I've never played video games and here's why we should ban them...

I don't read, and I don't really know that much about Kevin McCullough, but this story makes me glad that I'm not a regular reader, for sure.

To save you the pain of reading it- McCullough is outraged- Outraged, I say!- about Mass Effect. It's pretty obvious that he's never played the game. He's got a great list of claims about it, everything from claiming that game-players are universally male (fyi- the only people I personally know who've played the game are actually women), to claiming that it allows players to engage in "the most realistic sex acts ever conceived" and that they can "hump in every form, format, multiple, gender-oriented possibility they can think of." (Conceived! Get it? That's funny! And "hump"? Really?) *ahem* Anyway- It's got a very realistic relationship, but the most realistic sex ever conceived? It's less than a minute long, and less explicit than half the stuff you see on network television.

I also love that McCullough thinks that character creation is a "disgusting idea" that "tends to objectify women, sex, and human relationships". Nevermind that the only customization you can do is in a limited area, and that the ability to create custom characters is actually a beneficial gameplay aspect that allows players from diverse backgrounds and physical types to create avatars that they can personally identify with. And ignore that the sex only happens as a result of multiple hours of relationship building. Showing people (and aliens, I suppose) as having complicated relationships- relationships that, yes, involve sex- isn't objectifying. The argument seems to be that any depiction of sex must necessarily be objectifying.

The criticisms just go downhill from there, ending up with the claim that Mass Effect:

can be customized to sodomize whatever, whoever, however, the gameplayer wishes.

With it's "over the net" capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away.

It's worth noting, here, that Mass Effect isn't an online game.

I know I've talked about this before, but this is just another example of someone taking an issue that's important and should be discussed- the sexism that exists within games and gaming culture- and completely missing the mark by not knowing what sie is talking about. There are games that allow the player to, yes, rape with the push of a button. And there are games that go to great lengths to objectify women or that push unrealisitic and unhealthy attitudes about sex, or gender, or relationships. But, spreading lies or untruths about games and gaming culture doesn't do anything to address those problems. Instead, it makes the conversation harder to have. It obfuscates the real issues, and puts gamers into a defensive mindset. It destroys the credibility of your argument when you can't even be bothered to find out what level of customization you have over a game, or whether it has online play.

The silver lining here is that a lot of McCullough's readers have called him out on this article. The comments (over 500 of them right now), are filled with plenty of people pointing out "Wow, you've clearly never played this game."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A couple of stories prompting a quick post at lunch...

Via Echidne and Mighty Ponygirl, two stories.

At first glance, this Matthew Yglesias story, and this Japundit blog post probably don't really seem to have all that much in common. The former is a very brief story about hockey, and how Yglesias would prefer if there were "ice girls"- the hockey version of cheerleaders. The later is about how a taxi service in Japan that tried to provide special service to people who have mobility problems has been forced to close doors because too many without disabilities were trying to take advantage of the service.

And yet, there's some overlap there.

It's not completely there in the stories themselves- although that's rather clearly the point of the Yglesias post. The story about the taxi service is actually a lot sadder than this Canned Dogs post makes it sound. I agree with MP's take, pretty much completely. Here's a taxi service that is trying to make it easier for people who have a hard time moving to actually get out into the world by making sure that there's an extra person to help. As an idea, having a taxi service that supplies caregivers for people with mobility problems is a really good idea. That there's a focus on maintaining a sense of equality between the rider and the caregiver, instead of the former feeling dependent on the later, is even better. As Keiji Endo- president of the company that ran the service- described the purpose behind the service:

We wanted to be able to give the disabled a taxi service that they could use in a light-hearted manner, in much the same way as they’d ride around in a go-kart at an amusement park. With carers and those being cared for, there’s always a tendency for a relationship of dependency to build up. We wanted the disabled to be able to use the car without any fuss, so that’s why we got the maids in to do the job.

And yet, there's a flaw in the plan.

It's that always looming "sexing up" of a thing. That assumption that X is always better if you add a little T&A. The assumption that anything is better if you just add a little XX to it.

It's the designing of things with stereotypical "straight guy" in mind.

In the case of the Yglesias post, it's the idea that hockey would benefit from scantily clad women. With the taxi service, it's the idea that riders would be more comfortable with a woman dressed as a maid. And, of course, the reactions that people have to those ideas, too.

It's not a call for cheerleaders, which could include men, too. It's a call for women's bodies. It's not a service that provides a companion who has been instructed to be casual and entertaining instead of formal. It's a service that provides women dressed as maids.

The really unfortunate part is that theh taxi service is an otherwise great idea- It is a good service to provide reliable transportation to people who have trouble getting around, and I'm sure that there's a market for a wheelchair accessible van with a driver and a caregiver who is friendly and conversational. It's fact that their model of a person with disabilities is pretty obviously straight and male that creates problems.

The other overlap is exactly what Echidna is talking about- our words (and actions) say more about us and our attitudes than we necessarily mean. Yglesias's post was, as Echidna put it "some trivial entertainment", and the press release from Keiji Endo was describing the goal of the service. But, both of them said a lot more about their intended audiences than they may have realized.

Not just "hockey fans" or "the disabled" as I suspect they'd have said if you asked.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Welcome to the new year...

Welcome to '08, everyone. My posting will continue to be a little light for the next few days- but I wanted to say that I'm still around.

I'm still dealing with things- some of it related to the blogging, but a lot of it not. I'm still shocked and sort of speechless about the news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Kevin's point about how the leadership of our nation has rested in the hands of two families for almost two decades is alarming, but, sadly, not shocking. My alma mater getting hit with the biggest fine for a violation of the Cleary act of any school in the history of the act ($100k higher than any other school) is good in the sense that I'm glad to see that the violations are being punished, but sad, because I loved my time there, and, ultimately, these fines don't hurt the people who made the call- they hurt the entire university. The knowledge that this is just one example in a string of really bad administrative choices that have seriously damaged the reputation of what was once a great public university is depressing. This was a university that offered excellent educational opportunities to students who otherwise might not have been able to afford the huge cost associated with higher education. In other words, the actions of the administration haven't hurt them- they've hurt the students, both current and future. Which is to say nothing of the personal stuff I'm dealing with, too.

Anyway, I'm a lot busier than I realized, as I sit here thinking about all of the things coming up that I have to get my ass in gear on. Which is to say that things might be a little light for a short time, but I've got posts in the works and things that I'm thinking of, and I'm still waiting for more news on the Lakota (cue the sounds of crickets chirping from almost every news site), and I'm trying to catch up on the blogs I love to read, and, yes, I'm still feeling stupid and about two inches tall. And I think that almost all of those are good things (except for the lack of coverage about the Lakota. Seriously, CNN. You could at least mention it. Even FOX did a brief story about it, you jerks). I think that it's good to feel uncomfortable and out-of-sorts during a time of change, and while I'm not going to make a New Year's resolution, I'm totally okay with finding myself in the midst of a changes during the coming of the New Year.

So long to 2007- one of the most intense years I can remember. I expect 2008 will be, as well.