Saturday, 22 April 2017

LGBTQAnime

A mutual acquaintance on a forum a go on wandered into an anime convention in the American south to kill some time. Like most bookfairs and conventions this one had a series of talks and panels. One of them was listed as being about LGBT themes and representation in Anime and Manga. And it was being hosted by a group called Southern Cospitality.


The talk was apparently very good and they grabbed the slides from the presentation. Having read the slides I agree its pretty interesting and enlightening. Japan is pretty in/famous for its non hetero characters in media, but a lot of the really popular and well known examples aren't exactly what you'd consider positive. A lot of its pornographic or teasing at pornography and mostly made for straight opposite sex audience to fantasize and indulge in what's essentially a fetish.


The slides go into much more detail about the bad, the good and the inbetween, so I'll just take a step back now.
















Thursday, 13 April 2017

No match for a good blaster at your side kid: Digital Protest and Repression

Believe it or not, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away the word protest in relation to the video games industry had nothing to do with harassing women and stalking liberally inclined nerds. On the contrary there was once a time when game protests were considered a legitimate form of consumer activism and clashed directly with proprietorial rights.

That time was the early noughties and that place was Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). SWG was an online role playing game (RPG) set in the Star Wars universe, between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back. As you can imagine it was incredibly popular, until the company running the game Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) mismanaged its community and eventually killed the goose that laid the golden eggs on a monthly basis. The game was shut down in 2011 though I can tell you first hand it had been dead long before that.

Before I continue I should start making my excuses, SWG had a vibrant community in the game and offline, so news about and in the game was news outside of it. However much of the knowledge and trivia about SWG was hosted on fan sites, which understandably died out when the game withered. Proper video game journalist sites also covered the game in detail, but given that the peak was from 2003-2006 most of the news on the game wasn't carried over when these sites changed servers. So much of what follows will be from my own memory. I was however able to find just enough knowledge still hanging around(mostly in decades old forum threads) to fill in some gaps and prove I'm not making this up.

Moving on, SWG was an game that at first prioritised its player base, by which I mean the entire economy was dependent on its player population, nearly every weapon, armour, food, clothing or hairstyle had to be made by a player and players could teach others the skills they had learnt. And this codependency was crucial because unlike most games you're probably familiar with, SWG did not have a leveling up system. Instead of killing boars to earn Xp to get more health you killed boars to unlike combat skills, you cooked food and created recipes to get cooking experience and unlock more sophisticated dishes, you played music to get better at playing music etc. Every character had the potential to be anything they wanted, it depended on what you focussed your progression on, you could be a dancer whose quick with a pistol, a doctor whose a martial arts master, a chef who builds droids in their spare time and so on. But the activities were tied to other players, healing players gave you healing experience and built bounds with you patients, providing covering fire on a hunt netted you combat experience and the gratitude of close range players etc.

In addition to this Star Wars being Star Wars it attracted an incredibly fanatical fan base. Meaning that Role Playing was a very common and important part of the experience, (this will come up later) so the links and relationships between players were very close and the player base quickly developed a reputation for acting like a real albeit virtual community. Instead of just customers looking for a few hours to unwind. I could list dozens of examples from my own time playing the game, I once got swept up in not one but two factional struggles for control over the towns I lived in to just pick one.

Speaking of struggles, like every community it was vocal about things it liked and features it hated. SWG gained some notoriety for a series of protests over different issues. I'm going to focus on three, because they're the ones I am personally most familiar and were also the ones I was able to find the most corroboration on[1].

Phase One: We Shall Ovarrrrwaaahhh Come!


The first example is arguably the first virtual protest to gain widespread (well for the early internet age) attention. Players of SWG when creating characters choose from several species, human, Trandoshan (the lizard people), Wookies etc. However its not just cosmetic, different species have different abilities, strengths and unique traits. Trandoshans for example can't wear shoes but have a regeneration ability. Wookies being big and hairy were limited to a limited set of clothing and equipment. The problem was that the game devs had overlooked coding more Wookie based equipment into the game after it launched. This meant that the Wookie players were being left behind. In addition to skills the other way to improve your abilities is to use superior equipment, which left them at a disadvantage.

After months of being ignored during updates a group of Wookie players decided to take action. They formed protest lines at Space Ports,- in order to travel from planet to planet in the game you needed to use a Star Port so cities with Space Ports had the highest population density and were the most trafficked areas-  on several planets and servers, and started chanting protests and demands for better equipment. It got noticed both in game and out of it, and the response was very positive. While some of the chants were abusive most were fun. Unfortunately I've not been able to find an image of these protests and can't really remember any of the chants, but SOE did respond on its official forums and Wookie approved equipment did start appearing in subsequent updates.

This episode actually helped SOE's reputation as it helped reinforce the impression that they were a company that cared about their customers and were willing to acknowledge and deal constructively with issues when they cropped up.

Oh and while I didn't find an image of Wookies chanting, I did find images from a later and different protest that shows how that actually worked in the game,


This will come up a bit later, but essentially the Wookie protests were much more numerous, like you couldn't see the screen for all the text boxes popping up
Things would soon take a turn for the worst however.

Phase Two: Moderators Strike Back

The second time SWG started making waves over internal dissent was over the issue of inflation and counterfeit coinage. No really, SWG was paid for on a monthly subscription (about four or five pounds a month I think) so in game goods and services were paid for by a virtual currency called credits. However during the updates which the monthly subscriptions paid for a bug occurred that allowed some players to clone extra money. They of course went on a spending spree but it wasn't long before the development team at SOE realise there was a problem and took action.

They didn't just remove the bug that allowed for cloning credits though, they decided to ban every account that had these cloned credits on them[2]. The problem was that this included a large number of players that had taken these credits in good faith, from trading or accepting gifts. These players were very angry, and so were all there friends.
 
 Now if you don't play online RPG's you may not get what the big deal is, so I'll briefly explain, players of these games do form very firm relationships with the other players, sometimes in the real world but also in the game itself. So by banning someone from the game for no reason SOE was actively damaging these connections. And imagine how incensed you would be if you were rounded up in a dragnet against counterfeiters in the real world because you accepted money from them in good faith, and then were given the same punishment as the ones who did the counterfeiting.

It did not go over well. Again the protesting at the Space Ports was attempted, but this time the response was much more draconian. The moderators of the game used their power to spawn protesting players into space. Yes that is what teleport them into space in the top image refers to[3].
Now doing this meant that the players were stuck there, potentially forever if the moderators didn't teleport them back.

I realise that this is a bit confusing, so try to imagine police rounding up protesters outside an embassy and then restraining them completely they can't move or do anything until the police let them out of the restraints. 

When this didn't work, more people kept protesting outside the space ports the moderation team threatened to shutdown the servers. And apparently they actually did this on at least one server[4]. Player characters are server linked, so if say my character "Rykian Kel" a Twilek Miner was created on Server Basilisk, I couldn't access that character when Server Basilisk is offline. So this action punished thousands of players who had nothing to do with the protests, assuming they even knew about them in the first place.

The protests eventually ran out of steam, but not before generating a lot of negative publicity and mockery. SOE seemed to learn its lesson, for a bout six months.

Oh and one minor tangent, one player did a lot to publicise the protests by role playing as a reporter, they broadcast news of protest at Theed Space Port on server channels, and got noticed by several gaming news sites. In order to shut the player up a mod teleport their character into a hostile area with very dangerous animals. I'm told Cuban dictators Machado and Batista used to throw dissidents to the sharks. However another moderator overrode them, and brought the character back, because they feared bad press. Yes really, this isn't a joke, that actually happened. Unfortunately corroboration is a bit light but I did find a copy of one of their reports[5].

This is Allehe reporting live from a staged protest outside Theed Starport. Just a few moments ago protesting cartoons went suddenly missing -- warped outside our great galaxy. Where have they landed? This we do not know. What we do know is people are angry...and showing their support in banning CREDIT Dupers...also known as cheaters. It appears the Great SOE GODS are favoring the cheaters over the fair and honest gameplayers. I will remain here until there is no news... This is Allehe
Reporting live from Theed Spaceport, Naboo, Intrepid.
Back to you Dan.
This is Allehe reporting live from a staged protest outside Theed Starport. Just a few moments ago protesting cartoons went suddenly missing -- warped outside our great galaxy. Where have they landed? This we do not know. What we do know is people are angry...and showing their support in banning CREDIT Dupers...also known as cheaters. It appears the Great SOE GODS are favoring the cheaters over the fair and honest gameplayers. I will remain here until there is no news... This is Allehe
Reporting live from Theed Spaceport, Naboo, Intrepid.
Back to you Dan.
Phase Three: Its Not Broke But We'll Fix It Anyway

The previous examples and the attention they gained established a precedent. Unlike most other player communities complaints against the way developers were handling the game was done mostly through in game protests. Usually the main way to express displeasure is complaints on the games official forums or an online petition, there was certainly a lot of that on SWG to, but the focus was planning and organising attention grabbing protests. And the development of SWG gave plenty of opportunities for grievances and smaller protests.

The third and as it would turn out final phase of mass protest would occur roundabout the same time I started really playing the game. And revolved around major game overhauls. There were two sets of protests, but the grieveances were the same, as were the tactics used and the response from the developers so for the purposes of this I'm merging the two.

The two overhauls that proved so controversial were Combat Upgrade (CU) and then later New Game Enhancement (NGE). You don't have to know what they were, you just need to know that they changed a lot, and they pissed off a lot of players. And I mean a lot, we're talking tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of players, remember this game was incredibly popular.

CU came first and once again its implementation sparked protests, only these weren't peaceful protests anymore, no that bridge had been burned over the fake credits scandal. Now there was a violent minority who had months of experience and practice and they were angry. This was when the players unleashed a powerful weapon, sabotage.

A server has a finite (though vast) amount of resources, meaning that if the server uses up enough resource the game performance will degrade, and then eventually crash. A lot of players became, very good at finding ways to waste server resources. One tactic in particular was to summon a destroyed vehicle, when a vehicle degrades past a certain point it explodes very noisily. So if enough players were to summon enough degraded vehicles at the same time, well the server goes offline.

The Moderators were just as heavy handed as before. In addition to bans and teleportations they spawned high level stormtroopers in areas where protesters were summoning vehicles to kill their characters and delay them from spawning more vehicles and buy time for more bannings. Several servers were knocked offline for awhile and many others experienced extreme performance issues.

However, the company itself was working hard to stay on message, the President of SOE John Smedley appeared on the forums asking for patience and calm, the response were almost all negative and abusive but overall it seemed to work the protests fizzled out with the diehards leaving and the subscription numbers leveling off again.

Things settled down for a bit, but then less than six months later NGE arrived. NGE made CU look like a bug fix and logo redesign in comparison, it completely restructured the game from the bottom up. I remember the change from CU to NGE very clearly, they were completely different games. And once again we had another round of protests and sabotage and more crackdowns. We also had another attempt by Smedley of all people to play the same trick twice. This time the PR offensive didn't work, and why should it, the company had tried this trick less than six months ago.

Eventually the protests were broken, but this time they were met with a mass exodus of players. And I mean mass, within a month the servers were ghost towns. I stayed on for awhile because my friends did, but that was basically it, you could spend hours not running into another player and we soon drifted off ourselves. The game limped on until 2011, but it died long before that.

Conclusion

So what have we learned? I suppose a better question is why did I write about this? Well truth be told its been rattling around in my head for years now. Its a curious bit of virtual history and I think its interesting how in the space of four and a bit years a community matured from idealistic civil rightsish protests, to Seattle 99. And given how most of the sources on this topic are dead or on the verge of disappearing it was now or never.

I do think it's interesting to note that thousands of people from around the world could unite and tell a company to go fuck itself and that they're relationships and enjoyment is more important than a companies proprietorial rights. Even you don't understand the appeal of video games, their commitment and militancy alone would ensure acknowledgement and study if it happened out in the open air.

Appendix:

Here's an example of another form of protest, that didn't really fit anywhere else but as another example I think its worth including.
































This image is the start of a raid, I've grabbed to give an idea of what raids looked like. When the controversy was at its peak, several groups of players who had decided they'd had enough but wanted to make a statement beyond cancelling their subscriptions started a raid as a form of mass suicide protest. They would line up like the above and as one go into combat and then just take damage until they died. Usually they'd be a video uploaded accompanied with anti SOE messages. No, I'm not entirely sure what they hoped to accomplish by this as death in SWG was just a minor inconvenience. But I assure you the players who did stunts like this were not joking, they took this all very seriously.



Footnotes:

1: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VideoGame/StarWarsGalaxies See entry under "Powder Keg Crowd
2:  https://forums.unknownworlds.com/discussion/78672/star-wars-galaxies-folk-get-banned
3: The full comic is here https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/08/25/this-is-an-allegory
4: http://www.busygamernation.com/2004/08/news_flash_star_wars_galaxies.html
5: http://boingboing.net/2004/08/25/gamespace-protestors.html

Thursday, 6 April 2017

CHAPTER 4: PERESECUTION


WHEN, ON JANUARY 30, 1933, HITLLER was appointed chancellor, triumphant Nazi troopers staged a massive demonstration, marching with torches through the streets of Berlin, singing songs of vengeance. Still, Hitler did not have the majority of voters needed to win an election on March 5. Whether the Nazis really expected a Communist uprising or whether, as often before, they camouflaged their own wrecking methods by ascribing them to their opponents, luck came to their assistance. On February 27 the Reichstag, Germany’s white-columned, neoclassical parliament building, went up in flames. In no time, Hitler, Goring, and Goebbels turned up among the scorched ruins. Hitler proclaimed: “This is a sign of Providence from above. Now nobody will dare stand in our way when we crush the Communist menace with an iron fist.” Immediately afterward, a wave of terror swept throughout Germany. The Nazis had started to settle accounts with their enemies. When the jails proved not to be large enough, Himmler stepped in; within less than a month he embarked on the construction of concentration camps, beginning with Dachau.

Among the first to be jailed were the directors of homosexual rights organisations, which had been proscribed just four days before the burning of the Reichstag. Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research was a prime target, as were Kurt Hiller, its chairman, Felix Halle, a legal adviser, and Max Hodann, a respected sex reformer whose books on women’s rights, sexual minorities, and abortion had annoyed the Nazis for years. Hiller, Hirschfeld’s successor and the most prominent member of the institute, was shipped to Oranienburg, where he was repeatedly tortured. Through sheer luck he was discharged and later published a vivid account of his experience. The offices of several prominent homosexual organisations were raided during these early winter weeks of 1933. Storm troopers plundered the premises of Friedich Radzuweit, editor of Die Freundschaft (“Friendship”), and took his stepson to jail. Communist and Social Democratic papers were forced to stop printing. The Nazi propagandists never tired of conjuring up the smouldering debris, the smoking woodpiles, the devastated ceilings of the Reichstag, to declare that this fire was only a beginning. The Communists, they said, had destroyed the Parliament; now they would unleash a civil war. German citizens could expect the worst. Only the strongest government measures could save the nation. The strongest measures followed soon. On March 24, the so-called Enabling Law was adopted, subtitled the Law to Remove the Stress from People and State. In reality, it did away with the constitution, removed all legal restraints, and gave total control to Hitler and his thugs. It signalled the end of the Weimar Republic and the start of totalitarianism, and it remained on the books until 1945.

The blaze that consumed the Reichstag, the later ransacking of Hirschfeld’s institute, and finally the notorious book-burning of May 10, during which fanatical storm troopers destroyed the works of those who had made German culture great but were now declared to be subhumans, should have been seen as a signal to every non-Nazi that an era had abruptly come to an end, that a new dark age would follow. Shortly thereafter- and nearly a year before the Roehm purge- the Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health was enacted, a barely noticed omen of mass killings to come. Here terms such as “racially inferior offspring,” “deviant psychopath,” “criminally insane person,” and “unneeded consumers” were first introduced. Homosexuals should especially have been on their guard; as early as the fall of 1933, some were sent to Dachau and to Fuhlsbuttel, near Hamburg. Yet most gays hoped they could weather the storm. Many rushed to join the Nazi Party in the belief that they could vanish among the uniformed crowds; others hoped for the best, and although bars, cafes, and dancing places catering to homosexuals were eliminated, they tried to continue their lives as unobtrusively as possible. Gradually, many realised that their existence was threatened, and they lived in constant fear of discovery. Others joined the armed forces, over which the Gestapo was never to gain complete jurisdiction. But not until Roehm and his confederates were executed did most homosexuals believe that a country like Germany could fall back into barbarism. Now, however, there could be no mistaking the murderous intentions of the Nazis. There could be no doubt any longer that the Nazis were as violently opposed to sexual deviants as they were to such racial deviants as Jews and Gypsies.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Bussing Debate of the 21st Century

In the last days of March I kept seeing an orange bus in my twitter feed. Called the Free Speech bus because in America Free Speech is cross between a magic talisman and a catchphrase. The Bus was vandalised, here we see graffiti and windows were also broken. You'd think a "Free Speech" bus would welcome the honest opinions of others, but well, like I said most Americans see it as a catch phrase.

Here's what the bus looks like in pristine condition for comparison.

Now as you can see the bus has images about biology and is clearly arguing against transexuality. That struck me as a little odd at first because this bus is being run by the the American organisation Nation for Marriage (NOM) an anti same sex marriage pressure group. Now it didn't surprise me to learn that people opposed to same sex marriage are also hostile to transsexuals, but I did find it curious that the organisation appears to have shifted gears.

So I did some googling, turns out they haven't, their still trying to sabotage same sex marriage in America but this bus tour is an initiative by the group CitizenGo, of which the leaders of NOM are members. CitizenGo founded in Madrid in 2013, on the surface looks like a Conservative Christian Change.org. It hosts dozens of petitions on various pro Christian angles, but as this bus shows it also does active campaigning and activism around certain issues. There was a similar bus operating in Spain until the Spanish government cut its funding. I don't speak Spanish so I don't know if its resumed its tour, all searches turn up is this impressive photoshop




Anyway, I think the bus has demonstrated an important distinction we need to keep in mind when we talk about speech and action. On the surface it seems clear the vandalism is step beyond driving around and politely (I assume) telling people that transexuals are freaks undeserving of the same standards of civil rights. But like most things it becomes a lot less clear the more you look at it. Both NOM and and CitizenGo support violence against queer people around the globe. Brian Brown the President of NOM and Board member of CitizenGo has endorsed multiple attacks on LGBTQ communities around the globe including Russia infamous Gay propaganda law.

But before I leave you, I will close with one last little nugget that should tell you all you need to know about Brian's mission (i.e. NOM's mission), his new international partners, and the global threat to LGBT people.  You see, it turns out CitizenGo has officially endorsed the ignominious Russian law against gay "propaganda.
 And their petition platform hosts campaigns in favour of conversion therapy.


 If your not familiar, conversion "therapy" is a tool to pressure people, usually teens into conforming to the behaviours and values promoted by the organisation. The reason its not consider proper therapy apart from its methods not standing up to scientific scrutiny, is that the goal is different. The point of therapy is to help the patient better understand themselves and deal with their internal issues and stresses.

Through therapy, you can change self-destructive behaviors[sic] and habits, resolve painful feelings, improve your relationships, and more.
 Whereas conversion "therapy" isn't about the patients well being at all, its about getting them to submit regardless of the effect on it has.

Now advocates of conversion "therapy" argue that this is what they're doing, indeed in the above screencap the authors of this petition make that argument. But the problem here is that its nonsense. The problems they list are caused by social pressures or completely tangential to no hetero relationships. If a teen like Nicole doesn't want her homosexuality its the result of societal and familial pressure. And contrary to propaganda, non hetero sex does not leas to sexually transmitted diseases, un protected sex increases the chances of STI's.

To quote the Human Rights Campaign 

In 2007, a task force of the American Psychological Association undertook a thorough review of the existing research on the efficacy of conversion therapy. Their report noted that there was very little methodologically sound research on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCEs) and that the "results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE." In addition, the task force found that "there are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom." Read the full report.
In short, there is clear evidence that conversion therapy does not work, and some significant evidence that it is also harmful to LGBTQ people.
In contrast, there is ample evidence that societal prejudice causes significant medical, psychological and other harms to LGBTQ people. For example, research on the issue of family acceptance of LGBTQ youth conducted at San Francisco State University found that "compared with LGBTQ young people who were not rejected or were only a little rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity, highly rejected LGBTQ young people were:

Oh and if you'd like an example of what Conversion "therapy" is like, read this account

And that one is one of the tamer accounts I've read.

So really what we have hear, is vandalism of a bus on the one hand, and an attempt to dehumanise trans people and push for further marginalisation, pushed by people ok with tormenting teenagers on the other.

If this were a version of the trolley problem I know which track I'd take. 


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Miami Vice: Or How I Learnt to Stop Judging Things by Their Covers

I watched filmed starring Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte called Under Fire the other day. Its about the Nicaraguan revolt against Somoza in 1979. It was made in 1983 back when the Reagan Administration was doing its best to vilify the Sandinistas and return the brutal right wing dictatorship to power. So I was impressed with how explicitly pro Sandinista the film. Unfortunately it wasn't very good, the action scenes were kinda dull and a couple looked like they were cut from a comedic farce and pasted into this film instead.


But it did remind me of another slice of 80's Americana about the US attacks on Central America, Miami Vice. To date it is the only episode I have ever seen, but that was because of a lack of opportunity to watch others. The episode, which the Miami Vice Wiki informs me was called Stone's War, aired in 1986, I caught it in the mid 2000's on a free view channel and its stuck with me ever since.


The reason the episode struck such a chord with me is simple, despite not having seen the show its fame and popculture footprint gave me a mental image of 80's excess at its very worst. I knew the protagonist drove around in flash cars (in Stone's War he drives a Testarossa) high speed chases in the Miami sunshine, beautiful women in bikini's, and refusal to play by the chiefs rules. The problem here wasn't with any of this in itself, it was that I've seen all before so never really cared to see another example of cool cop single handedly winning the war on drugs.






So unless Stones War was the rare exception I owe the series an apology. Stones War was smart, emotional and earnest. There was fast paced action and gun fights but they were tense and exhilarating and the show took its subject matter incredibly seriously and Crockett (the main character) instead of being the ultimate icon of 80's action hero, was sorta flawed.Though the opening credits much like how I thought the show would be, so I wasn't completely off base.


The wiki has a full synopsis and plenty of trivia, and the plot is kinda convoluted so I won't attempt to recreate it here. I'll just briefly summarise, the CIA, backed by big business is using American mercenaries to aide the Contra's in their civil war in Nicaragua. During which the commit many crimes, including the murder of an American priest while pretending to be Sandinistas. A journalist and an old acquaintance of Crockett have video evidence of the CIAs dirty tricks, and the CIA is now trying to murder the pair of them and recover the footage. Crockett winds up entangled in the scheme and grudgingly tries to help. And in the biggest shock for me watching, despite killing a few bad guys, (including one guy who wears a necklace made of Sandinista ears)he ultimately fails completely, both his acquaintances are killed and the tape is partly wiped and broadcast in an edited manner to make it look like Sandinistas were carrying out war crimes. For an extra kick in the teeth it ends with him staring off into the distance while listening to a radio report blaming the murder of the priest on the Sandinista regime. His failure is total.



Ears.... Sandinista Ears
So yeah a pretty big departure from sunshine and car chases. I was genuinely impressed, the American right is depicted as scum. Halfway through the leader of the mercs calls a meeting of supporters and assembles a group of industrialists, including one from the United Grain Company. And they're all for the plan to send Americans into Nicaragua, the only concern they have is if they'll get a return on investment. And the Mercs, ex-CIA are sadistic killers, who are quite willing to murder American citizens on US soil if they can keep it quiet. Politically speaking its right up my street.


But more importantly it was an entertaining watch, the action scenes were tense and the emotional bits were appropriately emotional. I felt frustrated when that plane full of soldiers took off and escaped from Crockett too. I think that's the main failing of the film Under Fire, it had a lot of knowledge about Somoza and Nicaragua packed into it, even the trivia about the Mussolini statues, but it was a bit of a slog. Nothing really connected it was like watching Nolte stumble from one scene to another. Which was a pity because some of the street fighting scenes were inventive it just didn't gel with anything.

So in conclusion, Stones War is pretty good, and I hope the rest of show lives up to its standards because I plan to catch up with the rest.


Oh and this isn't an April Fools joke by the way, I thought about making a joke post but couldn't think of anything intentionally funny so I thought a post about light entertainment (light entertainment which opens on a massacre of villagers, has a necklace of human ears and has a woman punched so hard her neck snaps) would do instead.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Words Can Cut Deep: Speech and Violence




For the past few months the internet has been a buzz with fights and arguments over the concept of Free Speech. Its been quite varied and heated. Recently Libcom.org was the site of a textual slapfight with another blog, and while I don’t really think the position offered is useful or even consistent it did get me thinking.
The blogs stated there is a difference between speech and acts, the example given was that it is justified and correct correct to fight say the British Union Fascists (BUF) because they represented a paramilitary threat (debatable) rather than just an ideological one. This isn’t a unique distinction liberals who favour maximum speech rights for all do often give a concession to physical defence against unambiguous violence. But the problem is that speech in itself can and often is a form of violence as well.

This happens in a number of ways but one of the most common is the tactic of outing someone. Outing is most commonly associated with queer individuals and Milo Yiannopoulos himself a recent lightning rod for this argument outed a Trans student at a University in Milwaukee, and is believed to have planned on doing the same to undocumented students on the campus of the University of Berkley.

 

"I didn't know if I was going to get attacked or not. I was just like, 'Dear god, I hope nobody recognizes me.'"

"When you have a room full of people that are just laughing at you as if you're some freak of nature, like you have some kind of mental illness—which is how he described me—it's like, I don't even know how to describe it, but it was way too much,"

Now in this particular case the harassment remained verbal, but it could very easily have had a darker ending, in 2015 21 people were murdered for being transgender in the United States.[1]

In March of this year there have been seven recorded murders of Transgender individuals recorded in the United States.[2]

There’s also been an increase in hate crimes recorded with Transgender people being disproportionately targeted.

 
In its 2014 report, the FBI recognized 1,248 victims of hate crimes targeted due to their sexual orientation (18.6 percent of all hate crimes reported) and 109 victims of hate crimes targeted due to their gender identity (1.8 percent of all hate crimes reported). The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported that 2015 saw a 20% increase in the number of hate violence-related homicides of LGBTQ and HIV-affected people - noting that people of color and transgender people are disproportionally targeted. NCAVP reported that 62% of all LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color, and 54% of homicide victims were transgender women of color.”[3]



But this isn’t a situation unique to LGBTQ people, on the contrary it’s a fairly common tactic that can be used against any group and often is.

In El Salvador Roberto D'Aubuisson (pictured) the leader of the extreme right wing ARENA party used to give televised speeches exposing people he claimed to be communist terrorists. In addition to naming them would show photographs of them so they could be recognized. Once outed if they didn’t escape (either abroad or to the underground) they would disappear. Their bodies would usually be found some days later showing signs of torture and mutilation.

“Having established the principle, D'Aubuisson got down to specifics, marshaling charts, photos, videotapes, and computer graphics for an intricately detailed, name-by-name, face-by-face tirade against "El Salvador's terrorist conspiracy."

D'Aubuisson denounced union leaders, priests, academics, peasant organizers, students, professionals, government officials, and Christian Democrats. Among those he named was Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom he told, "You still have time to change your ways." He also attacked Mario Zamora, a leading Christian Democrat and member of the government who—like others identified in the broadcasts—was assassinated in a matter of weeks. “[4]

Now obviously the Salvadoran civil war is an extreme case but it does demonstrate how speech can be used as a systemic tool of terror. And the only thing that makes it extreme is the circumstances, denouncing political enemies both real and imagined in the hopes or knowledge that fellow supporters will take care of the problem for you is very common.

This was how Mcarthyism and the Second Red Scare worked. Once someone was denounced as a suspected Red they were fair game for state harassment and investigations, employers would fire them and they could be publicly harassed and victimised. The once denounced the only way for a victim to save themselves from further attacks was to publicly cooperate with HUAC and denounce others. 

And you don’t have to rely on state backing to pull of this off the Fascists have made use of this for decades.  First they have an annoying habit of describing everyone and everything in opposition to them or they just don’t like as Jewish. Now this tendency is often cited as justification to write them off as loons, but there is method to the madness. By denouncing someone as Jewish, or a Zionist or a Globalist they’re telling their base to ignore what their targets are saying.  And at the same time egging on local Fascists to attack them because they’re not just dissidents they’re actively part of the vast conspiracy against the nation or the white race etc.

For examples I’m spoiled for choice. Indeed so common is this practice that it actually found me. I uploaded a video by Johnathan Meades to youtube about architecture during the Nazi regime. Now I expected some backlash but I was caught by surprise how much vitriol a documentary on urban planning and statues would cause. Most of the negative comments were revolved around Meades being a Jew and a liar, or just a Jew with the implication being that as a Jew he’s lying. One commenter mentioned that Meades mother was Jewish, which she was though she had a deathbed conversion to Anglcanism and Meades himself is an outspoken atheist.

The reaction to this revelation caught me by surprise; it was like a smoking gun to these people. The fact that this man has a connection to Judaism was all the vindication they needed, the holocaust is a lie, because that smug liberal on the screen has a Jewish mother. Like I said is easy to dismiss these people, but unfortunately they are still quite capable of considerable organized violence.

The White Nationalist website Stormfront is suspected of being used as a platform for the occasional violent crime up to and including murder.[5]

In April 2013 Italian users of the site were arrested for publishing a list of names and encouraging violence against the people named.

“The blacklist included: Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia; Riccardo Pacifici, the President of the Jewish Community in Rome; Adel Smith, the President of the Muslim Union of Italy; the Mayor of Padua, Flavio Zanonto; several members of the judiciary; and journalist Gad Lerner, a Jew, and veteran TV talkshow host Maurizio Constanzo. According to media reports, those on the list were targeted because of their support for immigrants. Also listed were then House Speaker Gianfranco Fini and then Minister for International Cooperation and Integration Andrea Riccardi, who have both spoken out about citizenship rights for immigrant children.”[6]

And it’s not just this one website there are others like Red Watch. Red Watch is a catalogue of supposed communists with identifying information. When I was 16 a friend of mine an inoffensive wooly liberal was listed on the site with his photo and then address. Yes someone put a teenager on a database used to target people.

Now nothing had happened to him thankfully at the time and he and his family moved out of the area, (though now that I think about it that could just mean someone attacked the house when other people were living there) though the potential consequences can be serious. In 2006 (the same year my friend told me he was on Red Watch) another person recorded on the site was stabbed.

“What McFadden did not realise at the time was that he was not being punched but stabbed. "I think it went on for a couple of minutes before I managed to get the door closed. I turned round and my daughter was screaming. It was only then, as I put my hand to my face and felt the blood, that I realised what had happened."[7]

Oh and my speculation on my friends danger wasn’t completely unfounded, far right types are active in my area, in 2013 a couple of them attacked the local Mosque with petrol bombs, and the Synagogue has reported severe vandalism on several occasions.[8]

 

Now there is more to this topic but it’s already getting quite long so I’ll wrap up. I can anticipate some of the counter argument, that these are all violent acts and should be opposed, but that’s the rub. Every example I’ve cited was started and required the use of speech. The only way to stop sites like stormfront and redwatch from exposing hundreds to potential assault and murder is to shut them down. The only way to stop a politician inciting attacks on the marginalized or a right wing zealot exposing queer and migrant students to harassment is to remove their platforms for example causing so much disruption that no venue will knowingly host such people. It isn’t sufficient to attack and neutralise the ones who carry out the attacks, more will take their place so long as the infrastructure remains intact. But we can’t take effective action against any of this without infringing on another’s freedoms of speech and expression.  
___________________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hunting Griffins: The BNP and Freedom of Speech



For the past few weeks I've encountered the thorny issue of free speech(tm) pretty much everywhere I look on the web. A lot of the back and forth is very old but one in particular has worn out its welcome. It concerns the British National Party (BNP) and their leaders one and only appearence on current affairs/political debate show Question Time on the BBC. 

In Liberal mythology this event has become something of an exorcism when Nick Griffin BNP leader and Britains main far right bogeyman was exposed for what he was and firmly defeated by the power of rational debate on a national platform watched by millions (eight million, the show has an average of 2.7 million per episode). And his party quickly crumbled into obscurity.  Its a good story, there's just one problem, its not remotely true. Its not even coincidental, and yet for some reason this myth has grown over time in proportion to the amount of evidence against it.

Now aside from annoying me this myth is potentially very dangerous which is why I decided to outline what really happened

First just a quick primer, the BNP came out of the collapse of the National Front, a fascist group that tried to be both an electoral party and a street fighting organisation. After its collapse the BNP launched itself as legal political party though individual members kept getting exposed for links to violent crime and terror. they became known as the fascists in suits, they tried to make far right policies and ideologies more respectable and mainstream. A big part of their propaganda that wasn't aimed at demonising migrants was that they were being unfairly targeted and singled out by the liberal establishment and attacked by communists. In what most believe was a shameless quest for higher ratings the BNP leader Nick Griffin was invited to the mainstream political debate show Question Time. 

 

The appearance occurred on the 22nd of October 2009. At the time it was very controversial multiple organisations and politicians criticised the decision to invite the leader of the BNP and there were large protests outside the BBC Television Centre. About 20 or so protesters managed to break into the studio reception area and six were arrested. The episode was broadcast in full despite these incidents, what happened next was a major case of mutual confirmation bias. Liberals who supported the invitation and looked forward to an opportunity to humiliate the stupid bigot rejoiced they got what they wanted. Meanwhile the Brit Nats were also gloating as their main champion got to call out the liberal establishment to its face. Griffin himself tried to play the bullied martyr calling the audience a lynch mob and lodging a complaint about his treatment.

That was the event, now according to the liberal narrative this was the start of the end for the BNP, one thing you'll notice when you encounter someone saying this is that don't have any evidence to back it up. There's a good reason for this, what evidence we do have shows the opposite. In the 2010 General election, the first elections after Nick Griffins appearance the BNP won 564,331 votes. That is the best results they've ever had and put them in fifth place in terms of votes cast.

Yes that's right the BNP in 2010 were the fifth largest party in the UK. In 2005 the general election before Nick Griffins humiliating defeat on QT, they polled 192,745 votes, and coming eighth in vote share. That's not a collapse or a drubbing, if the evidence says anything its that the QT appearance gave Griffin and the BNP a shot in the arm.


The BNP did collapse mind, but that was several years after the big debate at the BBC. Most place 2014 the year Nick Griffin finally lost the leadership as the period when the collapse of the BNP became irreversible. But the collapse was the result of other things, like infighting, competition, financial problems, increased opposition etc. Indeed if we to thank anything one thing for breaking the back of the BNP it would have to be Marmite.


No that last part wasn't a joke, Marmite really did do a lot of damage to the BNP. In 2010 Marmite had released a new series of ads based on their long time slogan "you either love it or you hate it" and the upcoming general elections. There were two ads styled like party political broadcasts one from the "Love" party who love Marmite, the other from the "Hate" party which, well hates it.




Now the Hate party was a parody of Nick Griffin and his policies. The BNP were not amused and decided to hit back in their own party political broadcast



Yes really, they super imposed an image of a Marmite Jar into the corner so it looks like its hovering. No I don't get it either. Though they did do a bit better by ending the broadcast with another picture of the jar with "Love Britain vote BNP" at least that one makes sense. It also violated copyright law. Unilever the company that owns Marmite were not pleased, shortly after the BNP ad aired they sewed the party and in July 2010 just after the elections they won £170,000 in damages.

But bosses at Marmite makers ­Unilever were furious at the BNP broadcast and began High Court proceedings for breach of copyright.
BNP caved in and the amount claimed is put by insiders at between £70,000 and £170,000.
Former National Organiser Eddy Butler has said the BNP is “on the brink of bankruptcy”.
And last night a ­spokesman for anti-racism group Searchlight said: “The Marmite fiasco has been a ­disaster from start to finish for ­Griffin.”
Unilever confirmed a settlement had been reached but said the terms were confidential.
This was a serious problem as it took a massive chunk of money from the party just after a General election, when a party has spent most of its assets on candidate registry and propaganda. It also dominate the news in regards to the BNP just after the elections overshadowing the BNPs historic performance at the ballot box. Both these issues exacerbated the other problems, infighting and competition.

At this time both the English Defence League (EDL) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) were squeezing the BNP. The party was formed to make racism more respeactable and mainstream but UKIP was doing a better job of that, it beat the BNP in both 2005 and 2010 elections.
And the EDL was attracting the right wing extremists that were never happy with the focus on elections instead of street action.

“In broader terms, the party is struggling anyway because of the rise of Ukip and the internal factionalism.
“It is fair to link the rise of Ukip and the fall of the BNP because there is a degree of overlap. Ukip’s success has restricted the space but, after 2010, the BNP was arguably finished anyway.”
If your curious the link is dead but Nick did repeatedly call the EDL a Zionist front
Nick wasn't a fan of the EDL, though after being kicked out of the BNP in 2014 he warmed up to UKIP.

That was outside the party, inside the party it was even worse. See most Fascist subscribe to the Fuhrerprinzip, it means that the leader can do what he wants, its extreme hierarchy. However this has a drawback, if the party faithful aren't happy with the way things are going, then the only way to change course is to topple the Fuhrer.

“I will not allow anyone to undermine me in my new role”, he said in one exchange after taking the reins. And he added: “gone are days when anyone with a gripe could use special pleading with the Chairman to undermine officials. That includes you, by the way, Nick!”
So if the demise of Nick Griffin means the victory of Liberal Democracy then I guess it means its champions are Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage and Unilever. Hurrah?

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