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Published: Sun, 30 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2017 07:05:13 -0400


Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Makes for a Raucous Television Adaptation

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

American Gods. Starz. Sunday, April 30, 9 p.m. When Shadow Moon, a newly released prison inmate flying home for a funeral, expresses his admiration for a con artist he's just spotted hustling his way to a free upgrade in first class, the scammer shares his secret: "It's about getting people to believe in you." That's as good a summary as any of American Gods, the cult-favorite 2001 novel finally making its way to the screen on the Starz cable network. Is religion just a gigantic hustle? And does it matter, as long as people believe? Most importantly of all, what happens if they stop believing? A rambunctious sci-fi/fantasy slice-and-dice of theology, myth, and hot-button sociology, with a generous dollop of pure depravity thrown in just for fun and Nielsen points, American Gods is a dizzying journey through humanity's obsession with theism and dogma. It doesn't always make sense—maybe it never makes sense—and its pace is dreadfully uneven. But a show in which a religious pilgrim trekking through the wilderness of a big-box electronic store is tempted by a goddess disguised as Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy, murmuring from a TV screen, "Hey, you ever wanted to see Lucy's tits?" is not easily dismissed. It all starts off with that (seemingly) chance meeting at the airport. Moon (Ricky Whittle, The 100), just released a few days early from prison following the death of both his wife and best friend in an unsavory accident, encounters the sleazily charming con man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane, Deadwood). After a bit of byplay, Mr. Wednesday offers Moon a job—"legal, for the most part"—as his assistant; with little to go home to, Moon accepts. What follows are a series of encounters with friends or enemies of Mr. Wednesday—it can be hard to tell the difference—ranging from the eccentric (that video proposition by the ersatz Lucy) to the threatening (a tall leprechaun less interested in pots of gold than in beating the bejeezus out of people). It is soon apparent that Moon has inadvertently struck some kind of infernal deal, though with whom or for what purpose remains unclear. What readers of the novel know, but TV newbies won't discover for several sometimes-agonizing episodes, is that Moon has been sucked into a generation-gap war between old gods (like Jesus and Easter, the goddess of spring and renewal) who came to America in the beliefs of its first immigrants, and new ones, (like Media, the manipulative trickster who posed as Lucy, or Technical Boy, the ultimate cybergeek) who've arisen as the land's culture has transformed itself. Executive producers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green (who worked together on NBC's Heroes) have kept American Gods faithful to the vision of Neil Gaiman's novel as a meditation on the evolution of faith. That doesn't mean readers of the novel won't see deviations. Some are merely stylistic; Technical Boy (British stage actor Bruce Langley) is no longer a tubby, pallid kid who looks like he lives in his parents' basement, the 20th-century stereotype of net geeks, but a ruthless Silicon Valley shark who vapes zillion-dollar-an-ounce synthetic toad skins when he's not pillaging and looting the company down the street. Others are more substantive. Moon's ghostly wife Laura (Emily Browning, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) has gone from a slutty bit player to a major character in search of redemption. The eight-episode series also shares the book's garish style. Except for the phlegmatic Moon, nearly every performance is madly over the top. That's often all for the good; it's practically impossible to tear your eyes away from the screen when McShane's lubricious treachery is afoot. But a little of Langley's vicious turn at Technical Boy goes a long way. The overwrought-chic extends to the screenplay itself, where the Old-Testament sensibilities of the gods render the landscape sinister and the action disturbing. From weaponized vaginas to grindhouse gore to creepy graveyard sex, American Gods offers a baleful view of humans and their divinities. That's fair e[...]

Australian Police Admit Illegally Snooping on Journalist

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Today we have a reminder from Australia that when government collects massive amounts of private information abuse ultimately follows. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) admitted today that an officer illegally accessed a journalist's call records (metadata) in order to track down a source who was leaking confidential police information. Remarkably, the AFP commissioner then subsequently described the breach in a press conference as a result of "human error." Clearly it was not some sort of mistake that a police officer just happened to get his or her hands on this information. What he really meant was that the proper rules were not followed. Apparently the investigator "failed in their obligation to know the law," the commissioner stated, according to The Guardian. But he also laid some of the blame on "the system," the extremely familiar argument that this is all a "training issue." The timing is particularly interesting. In 2015 Australia passed a law mandating communication companies collect and store the metadata from their customers for two years so that authorities can access it. It was sold to Australians as a mechanism to fight terrorism and crime, just as similar mass surveillance authorities have been sold to citizens in other countries. Media companies and journalists were worried that police would access their data in precisely this way. So the law included a provision that required police to get a warrant to access the metadata of journalists. Mind you, the journalist would not be informed that the police had requested or received access to said metadata, but at least there would be an additional layer of oversight. But even that didn't happen here. The AFP official did not get a warrant. Furthermore, despite the breach of the law, they have not identified or told the journalist who was affected due to the ongoing investigation. The metadata has been destroyed, but the commissioner acknowledged that the officer who violated the law cannot unsee the information. He also said the officer would likely face no discipline because there was no "ill will or bad intent." While the law was passed two years ago, the full data retention orders were just formally implemented just weeks ago in order to give internet and telecom companies time to comply. Media and privacy advocates in the country are appalled. From The Guardian: The Human Rights Law Centre legal advocacy director, Emily Howie, told Guardian Australia the breach showed that the metadata powers were putting "press freedom at risk". "The fact that police can so easily access a honey pot of personal information at any time surely has a chilling effect on free speech," Howie said. "Let's not forget that it is not only journalists whose metadata might be accessed. "Australia's metadata regime is the most oppressive in the western world. It effectively allows law enforcement bodies to watch everybody, all of the time, without them knowing." It's also a reminder that metadata reveals an awful lot about who we are and what we're doing. Government officials who support this type of metadata collection are constantly reminding citizens that they're not eavesdropping on actual conversations or reading the content of emails. But in this case, just the government's access to a list of people who spoke to a journalist over a specific time frame has the potential to implicate them. Metadata is useful to the government entirely because it does actually reveal private behavior. Libertarian (technically Liberal Democratic) Australian Senator David Leyonhjelm had been warning about expanding the government's access to citizen metadata back in 2014 when he joined the Senate. In response to this latest breach he told the Australian Associated Press the laws were fundamentally wrong, and "Governments are supposed to serve the people, not treat them as presumptive criminals." Note that this sort of government snooping on journalists is one of the major reasons why organizations like Reporters Without Borders say media freedom is on the decline acr[...]

That Time New York's Department of Education Decided to Teach Kids What an 'Oreo' Is

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:35:00 -0400

For your "They Used to Do Children's Television Differently" files, here's a moment from the '70s show Vegetable Soup. Produced by the New York State Department of Education from 1975 to 1978, this multicultural-themed series aired on both PBS and NBC; the scene embedded below celebrates black slang. Not a bad idea for a segment. But at the 1:01 mark they casually throw in an expression that these days would've been vetoed long before the show got to air:

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For the full episode, which originally aired in 1975, go here. For a nightmare-nostalgia look back at the surreal and disturbing side of the show, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

Mostly Weekly: Why I’m Boycotting the White House Correspondents' Dinner

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 14:13:00 -0400

The White House Correspondents' Dinner has turned into a red carpet event for Washington's media and bureaucrat elites. This year president Trump is not attending, which is a good thing. Fostering a little comity between Republicans and Democrats can bring the nation together, but a healthy democracy works best when there's a frosty tension separating journalists and those in power. This weekend's self-important gala encourages the executive branch and the fourth estate to get along; it would be better if we made them square off in paintball.

Mostly Weekly is a new comedy series on Reason TV written by Andrew Heaton and Sarah Siskind with writing assistance from David Fried and produced with Meredith Bragg and Austin Bragg.

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Surveillance and Wars on Whistleblowers Leading to Less Press Freedom

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 11:00:00 -0400

Reporters Without Borders, an organization analyzing and defending a free media worldwide, just released its 2017 rankings list and has determined that media freedom is on the decline. It has calculated that in almost two-thirds of the 180 countries in the index, press freedom has dropped over the previous year. While America is still extremely far from the kind of country that imprisons or kills people who engage in acts of journalism the government doesn't like, it dropped two ranks from 41 to 43. Yes, the election of President Donald Trump and his open display of contempt for critical media reporting of him plays a role. But the report is very clear that Trump is far from the originator of America's decline. He is taking advantage of a framework that has been developed by previous administrations, particularly President Barack Obama's pursuit of whistleblowers: US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered several major obstacles over the past few years, most recently with the election of President Donald Trump. He has declared the press an "enemy of the American people" in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, while attempting to block White House access to multiple media outlets in retaliation for critical reporting. Despite the bleak outlook under Trump, it bears repeating that his predecessor left behind a flimsy legacy for press freedom and access to information. Journalists continue to be arrested for covering various protests around the country, with several currently facing criminal charges. The Obama administration waged a war on whistleblowers who leaked information about its activities, leading to the prosecution of more leakers than any previous administration combined. To this day, American journalists are still not protected by a federal "shield law" guaranteeing their right to protect their sources and other confidential work-related information. And over the past few years, there has been an increase in prolonged searches of journalists and their devices at the US border, with some foreign journalists being prevented from any travel to the US after they covered sensitive topics such as Colombia's FARC or Kurdistan. The report notes how populist movements that favor "strongmen" type candidates and leaders use attacks on the credibility of the media to grant them "anti-system" credibility with voters in the United States and Europe. And already existing strongmen and autocratic leaders in other less free countries have brought the hammer down even harder on the press. But more specifically for Western countries, governments have used fears of terrorism and general "national security" goals as mechanisms to expand the use of surveillance against journalists themselves as yet another way of tracking down sources or individuals trying to anonymously pass along information: In Germany (ranked 16th in the 2017 Index), the Bundestag passed a law in October 2016 extending the mass surveillance powers of the Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) without making any exception for journalists. The grounds cited for the new law was the need to combat terrorism, harmonize legislation, and bring it into compliance with the constitution. The BND can now legally spy on all non-German and non-EU nationals, including journalists and lawyers. It turns out that this controversial and much criticized law has helped to legalize existing practices. A few months after its adoption, Germans learned that the BND had already spied on at least 50 journalists and news organizations for indefinite periods since 1999. It was also in late 2016 that the United Kingdom (down 2 places at 40th) adopted a new law extending the surveillance powers of the British intelligence agencies. Dubbed the "Snoopers' Charter," the Investigatory Powers Act put the UK in the unenviable position of having adopted "the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history", with a law that lacks [...]

ESPN Will Get Better, or Fail Trying

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:23:00 -0400

ESPN, which has lost millions of subscribers in recent years, announced it would be laying off 100 employees, mostly on-air talent, as The Hollywood Reporter reports—they are not the first big layoffs at the sports network, but represent ESPN's continuing efforts to respond to increased competitive pressure as fortress cable's hold on Americans' viewing habits continues to weaken. ESPN makes the majority of its money—two thirds of its revenue in 2013—on carriage fees. If you have a cable or satellite package with ESPN on it, the network gets a cut of your monthly bill whether you watch or not. The rest comes from advertising. In 2015, cable companies lost 1.1 million subscribers, four times the number they lost in 2014. Last year, 1.8 million people cut the cord. According to Disney, which owns ESPN, the network lost 3 million subscribers in 2015, and is down to 92 million from 99 million at the end of 2013. Competing cable networks don't always benefit—in February Fox Sports 1 lost even more subscribers than ESPN, and from a smaller base. Nevertheless, ESPN has the kind of long-term contracts for broadcasting rights other cable sports networks aren't saddled with. It spends more on content a year, $7.3 billion, than Netflix, which spends $5 billion. It's spending $166 million a year through 2036 on the ACC alone. According to Motley Fool, ESPN last year had $33.27 billion in long-term broadcast rights contract obligations for MLB, the NBA, the NFL, and the college football playoffs. ESPN has been successful for a long time, and according to Disney revenue and operating income for its cable networks still rose three percent in the first three quarters of 2016, as Motley Fool reported, a slowdown from previous years. ESPN enjoyed the benefits of being the first network to do what it did—dedicate its broadcasts entirely* to sports—and the benefits of the cable monopolies. Almost since its inception, the cable industry has been regulated at the local, state, and federal level. As a 1984 Cato report explained, federal regulations brought the cable industry to a near halt between 1966 and 1975. After courts and bureaucrats started rolling back these regulations, local governments stepped in with new regulations and controls. Clint Bolick noted in the 1984 report the danger posed by local regulation and franchising prompted by the fallacious idea that cable was a natural monopoly. Such predictions of natural monopoly formation, Bolick explained, tended to be self-fulfilling prophecies because of the government intervention they yield. By 2005, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) was concerned in the other direction, spending several years trying to combat the rising cable prices enabled by local government franchise regulations and the expansive bundles that came with them—George W. Bush's FCC wanted to force cable companies to offer more a la carte choices, but in the end, as Peter Suderman noted in 2015, it was market forces, and the internet in particular, that yielded the "great cable unbundling." ESPN's broadcasting rights binge may have been a response to those trends. Actual games are the currency of sports broadcasting. But ratings are down in many sports too. NFL ratings fell 9 percent last year (ESPN is paying $1.9 billion a year for the broadcasting rights to Monday Night Football through 2021). Major league has seen some ratings improvements after years of decline. At the same time as going all-in on being the home of broadcast sports, ESPN has moved away from the idea of all-sports coverage. Its own public editor reported of regular complaints about the network's foray into politics (generally of a specific left-wing variety). "Like it or not, ESPN isn't sticking to sports," Jim Brady wrote earlier this month. He repeated his assertion that disentangling sports and politics was a "fool's errand" while acknowledging that looking back at the last 20 years of ES[...]

The Handmaid’s Tale Lands an Excellent Adaptation

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Great News. NBC. Tuesday, April 25, 9 p.m. The Handmaid's Tale. Hulu. Available Wednesday, April 26. When The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's account of a totalitarian takeover of America by a religious cult that reduces women to breeding stock, first appeared in 1985, it was instantly acclaimed as a feminist 1984 that exposed the misogyny not only of evangelical Christianity but of men in general. In short order, Atwood's novel was adapted to stage productions, radio plays, a ballet, an opera, and a messy Volker Schlöndorff film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway. But the precise nature of Atwood's message was always a little more slippery than feminist critics let on. The Handmaid's Tale was written while Atwood was living in what was then still known as West Berlin, closely studying what was happening on the other side of the wall, and many of the novel's totalitarian devices (particularly self-criticism sessions in which women rip their own psyches to shreds at a brainwashing factory suggestively called the Red Center) are drawn from the playbook not of the Westboro Baptist Church but the Marxist regimes of the day. And the rigid class system of The Handmaid's Tale, in which some groups of women (particularly wives, daughters, and concubines of male leaders) were treated much better than male laborers seemed to mock male chauvinism less that the Soviet system of nomenklatura privilege. Then there are the anti-porn rants of the government apparatchiks in The Handmaid's Tale and their conflation of sex with rape, which sound suspiciously like the rhetoric of 1980s feminist groups like Take Back the Night. Was Atwood really stroking feminists, or needling them? That ambiguity remains in the latest and, by far, best incarnation of The Handmaid's Tale, the 10-hour miniseries that Hulu unveils this week. Though the three episodes Hulu made available for review lean somewhat more heavily on the tensions of resistance to a powerful totalitarian state, the show still seems to be firing potshots at targets all along the ideological and cultural spectrums. Certainly the feminist element is still strongly present. Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men stars as Offred—a contraction of the phrase "of Fred," connoting her status as the indentured sexual surrogate of Frederick Waterford (Josesph Fiennes), a high-ranking member of the ruling class of Gilead, the theocracy that has replaced the United States. What, exactly, led to the creation of Gilead remains largely untold, though there are references to a mass assassination of the U.S. Senate and vast toxic waste spills. (Whether the latter were contributors to or results of the government's collapse is unclear.) What is certain is that the new regime has imposed a strict caste system that is particularly brutal toward women. With female sterility rampant in the wake of the environmental catastrophes, the few women like Offred who are still capable of bearing children have been designated "handmaids," assigned to powerful men ("commanders") for a monthly session of joyless, clinical sex aimed solely at reproduction. However demeaning, the breeding is less hazardous than the ferocious jealousies of the wives of commanders, the domestic-servant Marthas, and even other handmaids, who are encouraged to spy on one another. One of the most horrifying scenes in The Handmaid's Tale is a Dante-esque tableau of handmaids chanting "Whose fault? Her fault!" at a gang-rape victim. Missteps are fatal: Either slowly, through reassignment to cleaning up toxic waste in the ominously named Colonies, or quickly, through impromptu hangings. The city bristles with dangling corpses of errant women, renegade Catholics and Quakers, and gay men, the latter chillingly referred to as "gender traitors." In a society so ruthlessly Stalinist in methodology if not ideology, so riddled with informers and secret police, resistance seems not just im[...]

Bill O'Reilly: The Kennedy Conspiracy Years

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:30:00 -0400

As we await the next stage of Bill O'Reilly's career—RT host? FCC commissioner? down-on-his-luck high-school basketball coach?—let's set the Wayback Machine for 1979 and check out one of the fallen Fox star's earlier incarnations. Before he was the Joe Pyne of cable news, before he was the tantrum-prone anchor of a syndicated tabloid show, O'Reilly was a twentysomething baby-boomer with a moptop of '70s hair and a yen to do investigative journalism. In 1979, when JFK assassinology was arguably at its peak, he tackled the death of John F. Kennedy in a report for a TV station in Connecticut. In the clip below, O'Reilly focuses on one of the odder byways of the JFK theories: the so-called "umbrella man" who raised a parasol shortly before the president was shot.

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After the station re-aired that in 2013, an anchor there posted an item promoting it online. "Look for our Carter-era disco inspired logo, the size of the tape cassette recorder Bill carried with him, his powder blue bell bottom pants, and the copious chest hair he showed off to the viewers," he advised, adding: "Hey, it was the '70s." As for the actual theory explored in the report, he described it as "fascinating yet somewhat bizarre."

There is, for the record, a non-conspiratorial explanation for the umbrella man; Errol Morris covers that here. O'Reilly returned to the JFK assassination during his tenure on Inside Edition; you can watch that happen here. More recently, O'Reilly wrote—or at least put his name on—a book called Killing Kennedy; I haven't read it, but a text search at Amazon reveals that the word "umbrella" doesn't appear in it.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. And I suppose I should take this opportunity to promote my book on the history of American conspiracy theories, right? Check that out here.)

If President Trump’s War on the Press Starts with WikiLeaks, Who Will Rise to Assange’s Defense?

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:15:00 -0400

If a vague, politically malleable concept of "hate speech" is all it takes for some Americans to surrender their First Amendment rights to speak out, will the possibility of the prosecution of WikiLeaks be all it takes for some Americans to turn their backs on the free press? CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned last week that neither WikiLeaks nor its founder Julian Assange were safe from what Pompeo believes to be "justice" for the media outlet's role in leaking classified or private information and communications to the public. If the sources who have talked to CNN are telling the truth, Pompeo's threats aren't just bluster: The Department of Justice is mulling over whether to charge Assange with some sort of criminal behavior. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that the Justice Department will "seek to put some people in jail" over leaks. President Barack Obama's administration famously went after leakers. But they knew to target the people who actually leaked to the press, not the press itself. CNN notes that the Justice Department under Obama did mull over how to possibly get at Assange and WikiLeaks but couldn't figure out a way to do so without implicating other media outlets that also ran leaked classified information. Under Donald Trump's administration, they seem to be less interested in that sort of distinction and are leaning heavily on the idea that Assange is a foreigner and doesn't get the "protection" of the First Amendment. That's not how the First Amendment works or is written and the American Civil Liberties Union is raising alarms at what the administration is considering: Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argued that US prosecution of Assange sets a dangerous precedent. "Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public," Wizner told CNN. "Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations." A lot of people who supported Hillary Clinton are furious with WikiLeaks these days and blame it and Assange for contributing to her defeat by publishing hacked emails from her campaign. Some even believe Assange is a willing stooge for the Russian government. As such, because some people don't like the consequences of what WikiLeaks has done, they seem more than fine with the idea that they should not have the same protections as media outlets they see as more "mainstream." Note some of the tweets at the bottom of this San Diego Union-Tribune piece. I think I'm most fascinated with the dueling concepts that Assange isn't protected by the First Amendment because he's a foreigner, but he's also a "traitor," even though he's not a U.S. citizen. Allow the government to decide what is a real media outlet and what counts as journalism will only lead to bad places. It is the ultimate example of a slippery slope that decimates the concept of what a "free press" is. Sessions subsequently on CNN refused to rule out the possibility that other media outlets could also face prosecutions for publishing leaked information. People who think WikiLeaks and Assange are bad guys because of what happened to Clinton need to stop for a minute and think about the consequences of an administration led by a man who is openly hostile to the concept of a free press claiming the authority to decide the circumstances by which the protections of the First Amendment applies. That so many people hate WikiLeaks makes it an easy political target. This is a test run. It will not stop here.[...]

Trump, the Media, and the First 100 Days: Matt Welch on Kennedy

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 19:00:00 -0400

(image) Some big news in cable TV's 8 o'clock time slot…. The terrific and successful Fox Business News program Kennedy tonight will weigh Vice President Mike Pence's claim today that President Donald Trump is "off to a great start" against a new Media Research Center study showing that 89 percent of Trump's coverage in the press has been negative. WHAT IS TRUTH?

I will be Party Paneling on this and other important questions—including but not limited to, why don't more non-Reason journalistic outlets disclose who their staffers are voting for?—along with host of the recently Fox-euthanized Red Eye Tom Shillue, and The Daily Caller's Katie Frates. ALSO ON THE PROGRAM: The beloved John Stossel, to talk about Earth Day.

Killing Bill O'Reilly

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:40:00 -0400

(image) You young folks might not believe this, but there were a few months in 2000 and 2001 when Bill O'Reilly felt refreshing. It's not that the Fox News host was all that better then than now: He was already a blustering blowhard with a transparently phony man-of-the-people schtick. It's just that he's the guy who knocked Larry King Live off its ratings pedestal, and at that point Larry King was so damn tired that you can't imagine what a relief it was to have a new 800-pound gorilla in town. Besides, that changing of the guard didn't just mean that one show was drawing more viewers than another. With King dethroned, a new era of more explicitly opinionated cable news was fully underway; and as terrible as the new order could be, I still preferred it to what came before.

If anyone at CNN came close to the impossible goal of not having a point of view, it was King, if only because he had reached some ethereal state where he didn't seem to know who he was interviewing half the time. O'Reilly may have had some dumb opinions, but at least he had opinions in the first place, and at least he wasn't shy about owning them. He even had some opinions that were unusual for Fox: At various points he has opposed the death penalty, endorsed campaign finance reform, and otherwise broken with the current conservative consensus. In the cable-news environment at the turn of the century, this felt almost like authenticity.

The O'Reilly age soon felt nearly as predictable and contrived as the order it had overthrown, and O'Reilly himself quickly showed us how often he could be a bully or a fool. Fortunately, still more alternatives were on the way: The internet became a mass phenomenon, and for all its flaws the net is still a great leap forward over the cable crew. And now O'Reilly's reign is coming to a formal end: He faces multiple credible accusations of sexual harassment, and with antsy advertisers pulling out of his show Fox has decided to cancel it.

I can't say I'll miss him. But I'll remember those months, or that month—or maybe it was just a week?—when the buffoon on Fox at 8:00 represented a step forward. As Jeremy Lott once put it, "He at least used to be an interesting crank."

Bonus video: That time O'Reilly told Reason's Jacob Sullum, "don't come near my family":

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Drupal Developer Larry Garfield Ostracized Over Involvement in Sci-Fi Based Kink Community

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 09:15:00 -0400

Here's another good example of the limits of liberal "tolerance": in the name of equality and diversity, tech leaders have turned against a long-respected member of their community over his private and consensual sex practices. Sure, the scandal has revealed that Drupal developer and spokesman Larry Garfield has a penchant for BDSM broadly and also for a specific sub-genre of the kink centered on the fictional land of Gor, in which a subset of women serve as men's sex slaves. But more importantly, the situation has exposed strange taboos in the liberal-leaning Drupal community and how hypocritical their talk of tolerance can be. Taking the brunt of the hypocrisy criticism is Drupal trademark owner Dries Buytaert. Buytaert's main gig now is chief technology officer for Acquia, a company he co-founded in 2007. But he's better known as the the creator and original project lead for the open-source content management software Drupal, which has attracted a huge and devoted community since its 2001 launch. Drupal is "supported and maintained" by the nonprofit Drupal Association, which also organizes Drupal conferences. According to Executive Director Megan Sanicki, the association began looking into Garfield last October at the behest of another member of the Drupal community. That person had discovered Garfield's profiles on membership kink and dating websites and shared some screenshots with Drupal leadership. But a Drupal Community Working Group investigation into Garfield found that he had not violated anything in the Drupal community's Code of Conduct, which probably should have been the end of things. No one has offered any evidence that Garfield discriminated against women in his professional life—in fact, many women whom Garfield has worked or associated with have rushed to his defense—let alone committed any more severe offenses or violence against them. Garfield himself says he believes women are every bit as intelligent as men and that his desire for female submission extends only to his own personal romantic/sexual partnerships. "The [dominant/submissive, or] D/s and Gorean community in general places a heavy emphasis on explicit, active, informed consent and constant communication," he notes, adding that he personally has "never, ever advocated for treating women, as a class, with anything other than dignity and respect." But even if Garfield did hold sincerely sexist views in private, it hardly seems grounds for community expulsion in the absence of publcly articulated views or actions. The idea that women should be submissive to their husbands is a prominent feature of many religious faiths, and a value that plenty of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others still hold dear—typically with way less add-on feminism than you'll find in BDSM relationships. Would the Drupal Association feel as comfortable ousting a devout supporter of Islam or evangelical Christianity if it came out that their wives practiced voluntary submission? If—as Buytaert says—the association is commited to treating people equally regardless of "their heritage or culture, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, and more," they seem to doing a pretty terrible job. People's preferences toward certain types of sex or particular fantasies can be no less innate than a sexual orientation toward same- or opposite-sex partners (and no more reason for alarm). And it's hard to imagine a woman receiving the same treatment and derision if it came out that she once worked as a dominatrix or wrote 50 Shades of Grey fanfic. Meanwhile, Garfield was disinvited from the upcoming DrupalCon Baltimore, had his status as a conference track coordinator revoked, and (in a February phone call that both agree on at least the basics of) was asked by Buytaert t[...]

Documentaries Put Spotlight on War Propaganda

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Five Came Back. Available now on Netflix. American Experience: The Great War. PBS. Monday, April 10, 9 p.m. Growing up, I was completely absorbed by a CBS documentary series called The 20th Century that aired on weekends from 1958 1966. Every other episode, it seemed, was about a war. At the time, I thought the main reason was probably that Walter Cronkite, the narrator, had become famous as a combat correspondent. That may have had something to do with it, but with the passage of years and a widened perspective, I've come to suspect that the real reason is that war—preparing for it, fighting it, recovering from it, and arguing about what it meant—was the century's principal activity. From the decapitation fad during the Boxer War that opened the century to the trigger-happy streets of Mogadishu that closed it, war was a global avocation. TV this week takes a look back at the century's two biggest bangs with a pair of magnificent three-part documentaries. PBS' American Experience series spends six hours dissecting World War I (part of it, anyway; we'll get back to that), while Netflix explores how Hollywood enthusiastically picked up the propaganda gun during World War II with Five Came Back. Both shows convey an astonishing amount of information with a mixture of style and simplicity that other filmmakers could study to immense profit. World War I, as American Experience: The Great War paraphrases a conclusion already reached by the cast of Friends many years ago, is probably the biggest event in U.S. history of which Americans know next to nothing. In some ways, that will still be true even if they watch The Great War, which views the events strictly through the lens of how Americans were affected. The welter of royal bloodlines and backdoor treaties that turned a seemingly isolated event—the assassination of an Austrian nobleman by a Serbian teenager—into a worldwide conflagration involving Russia, France, England, Italy, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Japan, and the United States is barely explored. Nor are many of the war's geopolitical shockwaves. Even the implosion of Russia's czarist government, which would eventually result in a Cold War that for nearly five decades threatened to turn apocalyptically hot, only gets a minute or two. What The Great War does do, in truly spectacular fashion. is limn the voracious expansion of the American government midwifed by World War I. When Woodrow Wilson's uncertain attempts at neutrality floundered and he called for a declaration of war in 1917 because "the world must be made safe for democracy," it made the United States unique among the combatants, notes a historian in The Great War: "It was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal." But as The Great War documents in horrifying detail, that ideal was the creation of a Leviathan state with unprecedented power: to draft young men and send them to a foreign war. To set price controls on food and impose dietary restrictions. To arrest and even deport political dissidents. To create a powerful government propaganda organ aimed not at enemy nations but the American people. (It expanded from one employee to about 100,000 in a couple of months.) To send goon squads known as Liberty Loan Committees roaming neighborhoods offering deals on war bonds that couldn't be refused. Wilson's actions did not go without dissent (signs at a protest march in New York City: MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY?) and dissent did not go without punishment. Wilson demanded, and got, a new Espionage Act that made it a crime to collect, record and disseminate information "harmful to the war effort," and he wielded it like an axe against the anti-war mov[...]

CIA Head Pompeo Would Like to Decide What Counts as a Real Media Outlet

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 14:15:00 -0400

Mike Pompeo, the former Republican congressman who is now President Donald Trump's director of the CIA, wants to protect America from fascism and authoritarian regimes by cracking down on media outlets that publish information he doesn't want them to. Wait … what? Pompeo delivered a prepared speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday that was clearly intended to be a boisterous defense of what all our federal snoops do to keep America safe. But the intelligence community has had some issues with leaks the past few years, to put it mildly, and Pompeo's speech has him playing company man, insisting through sheer assertion that disclosures about what the CIA and intelligence community at large are doing is a threat to America's ability to keep people safe and fight terrorism. Pompeo's comments took a particularly dark turn when he addressed WikiLeaks. He does not like the media outlet, nor does he like Julian Assange. This is not terribly surprising and not unusual. Assange has a lot of critics even outside the beltway. He's a polarizing figure. But Pompeo makes it very, very clear that he does not believe that WikiLeaks should be treated like a media outlet and actually threats some sort of government-sponsored retribution for publishing classified or private data. Here are two separate and rather chilling quotes from parts of his speech: No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America's First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong. … [W]e can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now. We must destroy free speech in order to protect it! We must use government power to stop people from disclosing information in order to protect the media's right and responsibility to disclose information. It makes total sense! Because of the allegations of ties between WikiLeaks and Russia and the possibility that Russian government representatives were the source of documents (like Democratic National Committee communications) that had been released during the presidential election, the site is the focus of even more criticism than it had been before. But one does not have to be a supporter of WikiLeaks to see the deep, serious problems with what Pompeo argues here—that one's right to free speech and free press is dependent on one's agenda and whether it aligns with the federal government's. Pompeo is hardly alone in wanting the government to decide what is and isn't a real media outlet and to want to exclude WikiLeaks entirely for the purpose of trying to punish them. Lawmakers have been wanting for ages to decide what counts as a "real journalist" in such a way that allows them to exert control over what really counts as news. One doesn't have to wander very far to ponder the implications. You don't even have to turn away from Pompeo. As Reuters notes, Pompeo's criticism of WikiLeaks is a new thing. He was certainly willing to treat them like a media outlet with content worth sharing when it was revealing information about the Democrats' communications last year: In July, Pompeo, than a Republican member of the House of Representatives, mentioned it in a Twitter post referring to claims that the DNC had slanted the candidate-selection process to favor Clinton. "Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by Wikileaks." So it's absurdly obvious t[...]

What HBO's Veep Gets Right About Politics: New at Reason

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

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Every television series based in the White House inevitably has to grapple with one fundamental question: what motivates politicians?

And it's HBO's hit comedy Veep, now entering its sixth season, that's actually figured it out.

Almost two decades ago, The West Wing presented one answer in the form of President Jed Bartlet, whom creator Aaron Sorkin imagined as a straight-talking statesman and public servant who transcends partisan politics and puts the common good of the American people above all else.

If The West Wing is idealistic White House fan fiction, Netflix's breakout series, House of Cards, is its dark reflection.

House of Cards imagines a Washington, D.C. in which corruption and blackmail are the murky waters in which politicians swim. In this world, only the predators survive, and Frank Underwood and his wife and co-conspirator Claire devour anything in their paths.

But it's Veep, that actually gets American politics right. It doesn't fantasize that politicians are flawed but heroic figures, nor the inverse that they are inherently sinister monsters. Veep proposes something more radical: Politicians aren't special.

Political theorists call this simple insight, that self-interest is the driving force of politics, public choice theory—a theory Nobel Prize-Winning economist James Buchanan called "politics without romance."

Watch the video above for the full explanation. Approximately 4:30. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Graphics by Meredith Bragg.