Trump, abroad: How white liberals failed.

Early morning November 8th, 2016, I board a plane headed for India, with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. I miscalculate and almost miss my flight. All I can think about is getting on that flight on time, and whether I’m going to miss my game developer conference and screw things up for a lot of people. I’d forgotten to check in in advance, and it was totally my fault, which made it worse.

I make it with minutes to spare before the check-in counter closes.

I’m sitting on the plane, having made a joke on twitter about how I’m leaving the country because of the election, which of course isn’t true. I voted for Hillary, a democrat, for the first time in my life. I’d always voted green before now, but saw the threat of a Trump presidency as too great, and the appeal of our social gains over the last 8 years as too important, to vote any other way but Democrat, even as a California resident.

I was wondering how I’d deal with not knowing what happened until I landed. Well, it turns out there’s cable TV on the plane. A man in his late 50s with a large black turban was watching it constantly, and since his wife was a seat leaner, there was a gap through which I could see the election in real time, regardless of what I wanted to be doing. I couldn’t look away. My heart sank as I watched the country’s white folks throw us all under a bus. Republicans rule the roost, and our white folks prove that racism and sexism don’t matter so long as they get to feel good about exclusion again.

I hold my head in my hands, I feel like throwing up.

I arrive in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is one of the most religiously tolerant places in the region, but remains predominantly muslim. As I enter the country, a man wearing a jilbab says “big election day for you, eh?” I’m one of two white people getting off the plane. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I say, and he laughs.

As I stand waiting to go through the first leg of immigration, a British woman behind me says, “Pardon, are you American?” “Yes,” I say. After asking me some questions about immigration that I don’t know the answer to, she sighs and says, “shame about Trump,” and I reply again that I’m not ready to talk about it.

As I pass through the checkpoint, I’m stopped by a police officer. “Passport please,” he says, looking at me intensely. He takes me behind a panel and begins to search through my stuff, meticulously, piece by piece. “Fair enough,” I think, “This is what we’d do to anyone who looks like you in America.” He’s very nice, but very intense. He asks where I’m from, and he’s never heard of San Francisco, he thinks I’m from Texas. Once again, I think it’s poetic justice for American TSA’s assumptions about my brown-skinned friends, even if they’ve clearly got a dutch accent.

I’m trying to be friendly and cordial with this guy, because frankly, I’m uncomfortable. I know I’m one of the only white people around. I know I’m in a country forcing others to speak my language (his English is somewhat limited). I know I have a lot of weird electronics and pills (for malaria, etc) in my bag. He looks at all of them and asks about everything.

Eventually, he asks about Trump. I can’t hold it in any longer and say “He’s a piece of shit,” and the guy smiles. “It seems you have good people, but a bad… a bad…” I’m not sure what he’s trying to say. I offer, “we have some good people, but they voted a racist into office. I don’t know what is going to happen.”

“Well,” he looks at me. “I hope he doesn’t do anything bad.” Our eyes meet for too long, and he starts packing my stuff back up. “Have a nice day.”

The fact is, no matter what Trump levies against my friends and lovers, I’m going to continue being a straight white male. The brunt of this war is on our American minorities, women, and LGBTQ friends. The next group of people to check out my bag don’t speak English. But they’re laughing and goofing off with each other, a woman making fun of the guy going through all my electronics by calling him over to see something else I have – a charger for an iPad. She holds it up, raises her eyebrows, and says something to him. He laughs. She laughs. I laugh. But I can’t help but think about what the future is for people who look like them in America. For the people who look like them who already live there. I go through a retinal scan and get my prints taken.

I’m waiting at my gate for a flight to Hyderabad, India, my ultimate destination. I’m fielding texts from shattered friends, and my girlfriend, and my mom, all of whom feel like they’re lost. What do we do?

Again, I’m the only white person in the area. But it turns out I’m not the only American. Three African Americans with religious mission shirts on are feeling the jetlag pretty hard in one section of our round waiting room. I can’t bring myself to look at them. What if they think I voted for Trump? What if they think this is my fault?

But it’s then that I realize, this is my fault. I could have done more. Those conversations with family about the fallacy of protest votes could have lasted longer. The discussion my girlfriend and I had about the one Trump supporter we know, an Asian American, could have happened with him, instead of about him.

Honestly, I don’t really know what more there was to do, but clearly more needed to be done. The democratic establishment wasn’t enough for people. Hillary’s civil and women’s rights record wasn’t enough. Ultimately, it’s liberal white America that failed to deliver reasons compelling enough for people to vote. So many stayed home. So many thought “what’s the difference.” I voted for her, but I don’t love Hillary. She actually does have a lot of good points, is an extremely qualified president, and would massively help women’s rights. But the poison that was out there poisoned me as well, since the 90s when the Clintons were in power, and I was never truly behind her.

There’s a huge difference between a democratic majority and a republican majority though, no matter what one thinks of Hillary. All the social change we’ve made over the years could be undone. And it’s people like me who allowed it to happen, especially those who stayed home, who posted anti-Hillary memes and articles on Facebook and Twitter while claiming a liberal background.

Now, as the republicans begin the process of trying to unravel all the social progress we’ve made over the last 8 years, I am at a loss. I sit here in Hyderabad in a hotel I didn’t pay for, after a flight I didn’t pay for, overlooking a beautiful pool and tropical landscape. 5 minutes from here are no less than three slums, and hundreds of restaurants and businesses that are nothing more than tarps over frames with a single burner inside.

Here I am, a white person who will continue to be safe in America when I return. But my friends, my partners, my business associates, what of them? Who will protect them, and how? We’ve already failed to do so, in the most minor of ways – simply voting against hate. I don’t know what to do now. But I deeply feel that it was me, and people like me who allowed these racists to take power. Racists and sexists were always there. But we left wing white folk proved we’re no better, because we didn’t stop it. I know it’s my fault. And that makes it so much worse. I have to live with that for four years. Hopefully not more.


The Minecraft comic that almost was

Just over three years ago, I began talking to Mojang about the possibility of doing a Minecraft comic. I had a story – very “Dragon Ball meets Adventure time”, in movie pitch terms, but set in the Minecraft universe. The aim was to expand the universe, and make something different, not to talk about “Steve,” or similar.

They were interested, but would need to see a proper pitch. I got together with the artist Zac Gorman, and we pounded our heads together and came up with a visual style, while I wrote a few rough pages. We put our pitch docs together — Mojang liked that too, so Zac and I made those sample pages.

At this point, we were in business, as far as everyone was concerned. We just needed to figure out the money, what the book would look like, how we’d sell it, and all that. Unfortunately, it was around then that Zac decided maybe this project wasn’t for him, so we were without an artist.

The next three years saw meetings, research, trials with new potential artists, and a lot of cold-emailing to folks whose visual styles we liked. We never found the right match to fit Mojang’s vision. I pushed to just get a publisher on board, and let them help us find an artist. Things seemed to be moving in that direction, when I found out the week before GDC 2016 that Mojang no longer wanted to go forward with the project.

I certainly didn’t work on this comic for the entire three years between then and now, but I did work on it a fair bit, so it was a disappointment for me. At the very least, it got me more seriously into writing comics, and I’ve since worked on two webcomics – No Girlfriend Comics, and Hot Comics for Cool People, both with my collaborator Dami Lee.

Now that the Minecraft project is definitely over, I thought I’d share what it was going to be.

These are some character sketches, environment studies, and roughs from Zac. We spent a lot of time determining how the blocks and people would look – blocks would be rounded, with soft lines, not drawn with a grid in mind, and humans would be quite human-like, but everything would be just a little blocky.

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 8.30.42 AM

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 8.30.48 AM

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 8.30.55 AM

The main character was meant to be gender-ambiguous, and their gender would deliberately never be defined so that anyone could see themselves in them. (Note that this was not to make lack of gender “the point” – it was to purposefully not make a point of gender.) In a future revision, we would also have made the character a fair bit more ethnically ambiguous as well, again without referring to it directly.

mc_Concepts_03_V2

mc_Concepts_02_V3

mc_Concepts_01_V5

Here are some of the full on pitch images, including a couple actual pages. As the story begins, the main character wakes up in the minecraft world as night is falling, uncertain of their surroundings. They must run for shelter as threats approach from all angles.

mc_Sketch_01_V5

mc_Sketch_02_V8

In this page, we’re setting the scene for a recurring trope – the main character’s “power” is they can be friends with anyone – with time and effort. The first thing they befriend is a wolf, and over the course of the comic, more and more wolves will follow them – you won’t see a bunch of new wolf interactions, but the next time you see them out and about, now there are are 4 happy wolves trotting along, where previously there were 3.

mc_Page_01_V6

In this page, the main character is trying to befriend a surly farmer who has created a giant agricultural contraption. You’ll see more from him in one of the upcoming vignettes (but there it’s a calculations machine, rather than an agricultural thing). This was meant to encapsulate the main drive of the first act of the story – the main character goes around having specific friendship-adventures with specific people – but over time, their problems overlap, and their solutions require each others’ skills, and the main character is the only one who both knows this and can facilitate contact.

mc_Page_02_V14

Here’s the full initial pitch:

Goal: This will be an adventure of friendship. Sounds cheesy, maybe, but think about Pokemon, Dragon Ball, Final Fantasy, even Adventure Time… they’re all about gathering the right team of friendly characters (and uneasy alliances with enemies) in order to succeed against a larger threat. We’re hoping this will be an uplifting narrative that will inspire kids (and adults) to go adventuring together in the game – we want to unite nearly everyone our main character meets against a common foe. You know that feeling when Goku arrives at the last minute and saves the day, or at least buys the weaker characters some more time? That’s the kind of quick rush we want people to feel while reading this. “How will they get out of this jam?” and then – “Ah, I hadn’t thought of that!”

Plot: Minecraft has been running for a long, long time on this server. It has evolved to become its own semi-autonomous universe. Our hero, the Average Player (AP for now, to be named later!!), is an ambiguously gendered being with an irreverently positive attitude. AP finds themself waking up in the Minecraft world, much like a player of the actual game… AP must survive the first night, and then the next, beginning to create a home to live in.

AP’s role is as a uniter, and this starts with the first friendly characters they meet – wolves! AP will start searching the land to get a sense of the world, and will happen upon several eccentric characters – a recalcitrant creator of complex tech contraptions, an absent-minded architect who builds massive structures, a salt-of-the-earth farmer who uses agriculture to both survive and keep monsters at bay, et cetera!

Some of these characters will be wary of our hero initially, but AP’s optimism and desire to help people out wins through in the end, and they begrudgingly accept AP’s friendship over time. Not everyone will be so affable though – later on, AP will meet griefers! They can move faster, build more, and use this to bother the residents of the world for their own amusement – but AP and their wolves will save the griefers from a trap of their own making at a certain point, leaving them as possible begrudging helpers in the Big Event that comes later.

AP must even unite the Old Ones – minecraft heroes of faded glory, the only characters that are still boxy from the olden days, sitting in their citadels with enchanted diamond equipment and such. Nothing can touch them, so they don’t concern themselves with the outside world. Can AP get them to come down from on high in a time of need?

Audience: Essentially the Adventure Time or Steven Universe audience. Smart, attentive kids, and adults who know that having an imagination is actually pretty cool. With the exploration and adventure base, high friendship-oriented storyline, and genderless main character, we’re hoping to equally target boys and girls.

Vignettes.

These are some mini chapters I wrote to prove out some of the above concepts. This first one is from the first night our main character arrives. Just to reemphasize the above, they are named AP here – that stands for Average Player, another reason for the gender ambiguity.


Minecraft vignette 1: First night.

Ext, dusk, sparse forest, bordered on one side by water, bordered on the other by mountains.

It’s getting dark – it’s AP’s first night in the Minecraft world, and they’ve been walking around, getting their bearings, soaking it in, looking around. They hasn’t eaten today. They stoop to inspect a toadstool, growing in front of a tall tree…

*AP’s stomach growls, and they clutch it as they stoop.

AP: Urgh, I wonder if I can eat these things…? It looks a bit poisony.

*AP is about to reach for it to inspect further, when, from out of the bushes:

Zombie: RRRRR!!

*AP spins around, their back to the tree

AP: Wha… is someone there?

Zombie: RRRRRRR

*AP looks on in horror, eyes wide

AP: That can’t… oh no!

*The zombie CRASHES through the bushes, and AP is momentarily frozen.

AP: No

Zombie: RRRRR

AP: No!!

*AP begins SPRINTING

AP: No!! No!!!

*AP zig-zags through the forest, unsure of where to go. As they leap over a large root, they spy a divot in the ground, to the left. More zombies have appeared.

AP: There! Gotta get there!

*AP jukes left, as a zombie smashes into a tree where AP once was. AP rushes into this divot, which to our more educated eyes is a half-exploded shelter, blown out by a creeper. Two sides of the very crude shelter still stand, and a bit of wooden roof. It looks as though it were built into a mountain.

Cut to: Hut interior. AP is putting up blocks of dirt with their hands, as barriers, to wall off the exposed portions of the hut that aren’t already guarded by walls. AP builds from the bottom, as more zombies approach. Zombies lean over the small barrier, grabbing at AP.

AP: Aaaagh!! Come on, dirt!! Be a wall!!

SUDDENLY: a zombie tries to hop over the unfinished wall, and AP puts a dirt block in its path just in time.

*AP has run out of dirt, only stone is beneath them. AP can dig no further. Luckily their wall is mostly intact, with a bit of roof besides. There are gaps, but it will have to do. They grab a bone they find in the far corner of the shelter, and stumble around, nervously, in the near-darkness. Moonlight shines in through cracks in the wooden portion of the ceiling.

AP walks over to the wall, under the moon beams, leans against it, and slides down into a half-crouch position. AP can see their faces – their eyes – through holes in the wall, and above.

AP begins limply shaking the bone in the direction they think zombies may be coming from.

AP: You go away! You go away right now!!

AP: Away!! You leave me alone!

*Tears well up in AP’s eyes, and they collapse on the ground, hugging their knees, waiting for morning.

AP: Leave me alone…

*They eventually fall asleep, curled up in a ball.

*morning comes. AP is lying on their side. Close up of AP’s face, laying on a prone arm, still gripping that bone.

AP: Huh…huh?

*drool is wiped away with a sleeve.

AP: Looks like I made it. Good job, walls!

*AP stands up, bone in hand, tapping the walls as thanks. They peer out of one of the accidental windows.

AP: Looks safe enough out there now…

*AP takes a look at the bone, their only weapon, tightening their grip on it.

AP: Let’s hope so.

Cut to: Exterior shot, as AP squeezes through a hole in the wall. On their way out of the ramshackle hut, AP kisses one of the blocks to the side.

AP: Thanks blocks, you really saved me there. I won’t forget you guys.

AP: Oh, hey, what’s that? A little doggie!

*AP hops to the ground, and crouches in front of the “dog.”

AP: Hi doggie!

*AP crouches forward, grins a huge, stupid grin, holding the bone at their knee.

*The wolf bares its fangs, and eyes AP’s delicious bone.

*SMASH CUT TO: AP sprinting across the plains, yet again, bone in hand. The earth seems to bend into a sphere beneath them, as though we’re looking through a fisheye lens.

AP: Woooooooolf!!!

Here’s another piece of art, done by Joseph Harmon as a test after the Zac Gorman days.

minecraft2


Minecraft Vignette 2: in which our hero attempts to make friends with A Very Serious Man.

Ext. Day, verdant field
A Very Serious Man stands atop a massive trapezoidal structure, doing some Very Serious Thinking.

We see our hero approaching from afar, with one wolf trailing behind.

Cut to: Our hero jovially whistling along with a happy wolf pal.

AP: Dang, look at this thing!

*Our hero notices the distant figure atop the trapezoid-thing. AP cups their hands to their mouth and screams

AP: HEY!! HEY UP THERE!! DID YOU MAKE THIS!?

AP: Silent type, eh? **winks at wolf** Well, let’s go make friends!

Wolf: Hurf!

Smash cut to: AP dashing up to the structure, screaming along the way, as the words trail behind

AP: Hey! Hi! Hey!!

*AP begins to climb, getting closer with each salutation, frame by frame, exhibiting signs of exertion.

AP: Hi!

AP: Hello!

AP: Hey!

*AP approaches Serious Man, doubles over, hands on knees, catching breath. AP is directly next to Serious Man’s side, uncomfortably close, some might say.

AP: Phew!

*straightens, extends hand

AP: Hiya!

Serious Man looks aghast at AP

AP: How –

*Full body shot of Serious man, turning his head oddly, to face AP

Serious Man: NOOOOOOO

*in the following sequence, the word is extended across multiple panels, getting closer and closer and closer to SM’s face

SM: INTERUPTIONSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now it is AP who has a horrified look on their face

AP: uh –

SM: AWAY, INTERRUPTER!!!

AP: Sheesh! I just wanted to say hi! I thought maybe we could be friends!

*AP’s hand is still extended, which AP glances at, and SM is ignoring

SM: Friends!? Can’t be friends! Won’t be friends! Impossible to be friends! Your brain is TOO SMALL!

AP: Hey, my brain’s not that –

SM: Quiet!! Must think! Stupid calculations machine is a stupid failure! Got to think!! Use my brains! And my guts!!

*SM points to his skull with his left hand, arm extended like the handle of a teacup, and his guts area with his right hand, pointing at it from round the front.

AP: This big ole thing is broken? What’s it supposed to be doing?

SM: Interrupter goes away now! *SM waves AP away* Thinking!

AP: Aw, come on, maybe I can help!

SM: IT GOES AWAY!! IT GOES AWAY NOW, INTERRUPTER!

*now AP is aghast

AP: But…

SM: Tiny brain!

*SM makes a tininess gesture with his fingers – he’s squinting like he’s doing the Kids in the Hall “crush your head” thing

SM: So small!

Cut to: shot of AP’s head through SM’s fingers, pinched right between

AP: Jeez, fine, but I don’t have any friends here yet! Come on!!

SM: Don’t care! Bye bye!

*SM resumes scowling, and mumbling to himself incoherently. AP shuffles off, a bit defeated.

*AP reaches the bottom of the trapezoid again. Sighs.

AP: Somehow I feel like could’ve gone better.

Wolf (a bit melancholy): Horf!

*AP starts to walk away, but something catches their eye, and they lean back to look as they’re walking.

AP: Oh, hello! Well, that isn’t right!

*AP approaches a block and starts to pick it up.

*SM notices something happening down below, points, eyes blaring.

SM: SABOTEUR!! HARLEQUIN!! SNOLLYGOSTER!!!

*SM runs down the structure as fast as he can. We see this from afar, in silhouette, as though he were sprinting down the side of a pyramid.

AP has already moved a few blocks, finishing just as SM arrives.

SM: Ruining interrupter!! Slubberdegullion! Why I’ll –

*SM is cut off as the structure begins to thrum with life. He spins around in place, shocked, making wide “preparedness hands” as he hops into a readiness crouch.

SM: Wha!? How!?

AP: Fufuuu… these blocks were just in the wrong place, is all.

*AP is boasting, hands on forward-thrusted hips

SM: How…how did you know?

AP: Well, they told me! Kinda. It’s hard to explain.

SM: They told you? But how?

*AP’s ear catches something. He looks over at the block.

AP: Haha. Yeah, well…

SM: What… did it say something!? Something about me!? If it was! I demand to know!

*SM is getting flustered already.

AP: She says uh… she says that you’re very nice. Not a maniac. *AP makes an air-swiping gesture assuring the absolute negativity of that last statement.

Close up of AP winking at the block on the sly.

SM: Sh-sh-she? That’s a …L-L-L-lady?
*SM blushes, AP smiles knowingly, eyes closed

SM: Interrupter, thank you for your kind introduction to block friend, and starting of calculations machine, good bye! Good bye! Bye now! Forever!
*SM pushes AP away in order to flirt with the lady block. These words are all pushed together to indicate hurriedness, except the last, which follow AP as they’re pushed further and further out of frame.

Cut to: AP, walking away in the foreground, talking to the wolf. In the background we see SM blushing and carrying on, saying, in very tiny text, almost scratchmarks, in the direction of the lady block “you see, my calculations machine is very…”

AP: That’s how you do it, buddy.

*AP winks at the wolf again, bites lip, and gives a thumbs up

NOTE: Later we will see SM carrying this block in a back pack, EVERYWHERE, saying, with an air of smug-yet-matter-of-factness “You’ve met my girlfriend.”

NOTE ALSO: It is going to be purposefully slightly unclear whether AP can *really* talk to blocks or is just very intuitive re: minecraft, and using the idea of speaking to them as a bluff.

Now, here are some excellent tests from Guillaume Singelin, from France. He’s shared these elsewhere, but couldn’t say what they were for. Here they are in context. I was fully on board with this visual style, though I wanted to make the main character a bit more ambiguous – unfortunately Mojang wanted to go another direction, so we didn’t pursue this further. Frankly, I think once they had seen Zac’s art, that became the vision, and it was hard to find another route.

mine02

mine01

mine05

mine08

mine06

mine09

mine07

mine10colo

mine11colo

mine04

I wanted to make this comic so badly. No money or contracts exchanged hands – this was all on spec, but there was always the idea that if we just got this one thing right, or that that thing solved, it would go ahead. I’m disappointed at where we’ve ended up, but that’s the inherent risk of trying to work with someone else’s property.

I’m disappointed mostly because I was excited about the story I had brewing in my head, and all the plans I had for it. Long-term narrative is one of the most exciting and also terrifying things to me – it’s a huge challenge, and to try to do all this while meeting the expectation of Minecraft fans would have been a serious undertaking. But I really was looking forward to it. I’m hopeful that some day soon I’ll get the chance to tackle a long-form narrative comic project like this, but for now, please enjoy what we did make, and think about what could have been.

mine03


The Twitter “free speech” straw man

There’s a lot of talk these days about how everything is “getting too PC.” I won’t spend too much time talking about the fact the majority of this talk comes from people who have not experienced discrimination, because that’s more or less a given.

But I do want to discuss the “free speech” straw man argument that’s given in response when people tweet things like this: “Online harassment is a huge problem! It’s worth losing the ability to hurt peoples’ feelings to try and stop it.”

I made that tweet a few days ago in response to that very prompt – someone saying “things are getting too PC,” and “if the sissification of the internet continues, I’ll leave twitter.”

The most measured responses to me tended to echo the sentiment of this person, who said, “Is it worth losing the ability to dissent, whether you use colourful language or not?”

Ultimately I felt compelled to write this when I saw a friend post the following excerpt from Hitchens and O’Neill:


“..what the offensive person has actually said is seldom important. It is what the offended person believes him to have said that actually counts. And this is the process to which we are rapidly entering as a society. We’re moving towards a strained dictatorship of rage where any approved group or any approved person’s fury is sufficient to trigger cause for the denial of platforms, for the ostracism of one kind of another of that person. In effect for the silencing of those people and the suppression of their opinions. This is a sinister development. Why is this so fantastically sinister, this attitude towards people on expression of opinion? Because it is irrational, even medieval..”

“In fact, pretty much every leap forward in history, pretty much every freedom we enjoy is a product of individuals giving offense. Having offended against the orthodoxies of their age. Offensiveness is not just something we have to begrudgingly accept, offensiveness is the motor of human progress. The right to offend is not some pesky little part of freedom of speech that we have to put up with, it is the heart and soul and lungs of freedom of speech. It is the coursing lifeblood of human progress. It is the instigator of liberty and modernity and science and understanding.

What a laughing stock today’s student leaders are that they can so casually dismiss the right to be offensive without realizing that their lovely enlightened lives are the gift of individuals who gave offense. The gift of scientists, thinkers, agitators who bravely showed their asses to the dominant ideas of their era. Their offensiveness made you free.”

So I agree of course that free speech is important, because I’m a reasonable human being who believes in positive change – but these excerpts and those twitter responses don’t defend free speech in the abstract, they are referencing student leaders wanting to create “safe spaces,” and twitter users wanting to be free of harassment, respectively. I agree that the relatively fringe groups that want to do things like put trigger warnings in books are, indeed, fringe groups.

But the larger context of this is one of harassment – that’s what these fringe “trigger warning in books” overreactions are lashing back against, but in most contexts I find the people overreacting are the ones “defending free speech,” when in fact they are defending harassment.

Consider this video for example, about women who stream games. The second comment is “toughen up, you’re on the internet,” which is essentially what the above quotes are saying as well, except “toughen up, you’re in society.” And that’s true to an extent, but then you look at all the subsequent replies to that youtube comment, which are full of vitriol and hate.

Now, imagine being that lady, and having people in your place of business calling you a whore, a slut, and literal trash every day, every minute, while you’re trying to do your job. To what extent is that degree of “debate” useful for anyone? That is the reality of being a woman on the internet right now, and it is where these reactions come from.

Free speech is important, but is it an inherent right of people to be assholes and harass others? Every time I bring this up on twitter, that is essentially the argument. “If we lose this part, we lose it all,” they say. “This is how you get a China-style censored internet,” is another argument.

But if your platform is “fuck you, you’re a slut,” that is not a platform that needs defending, because it’s not a stance, it’s not an argument, it’s just an insult. Saying “I think this person is terrible for X reasons,” that is one thing. Saying to that person “You are terrible for X reasons” is another, especially when it’s done over and over again, and when it is not a discussion, but a one-way monologue. That is when it becomes harassment.

Consider, for example, the witness protection program, or restraining orders. The freedom of speech of the harasser/stalker is being greatly diminished here – they feel they have this important thing they need to bring up with the person they’re stalking. I’ve read many reports on this particular subject, and in general, the stalker feels they have unfinished business with the stalkee, and if they could just get their point across the right way, everything would be fine. So they keep pushing, and prodding, and calling, even if they’re being ignored. This is very similar to what you see in online harassment.

What do you do in such a situation? Being a remotely popular woman on the internet means essentially being in this situation all the time.

In California, harassment that can lead to a restraining order is described as:

Unlawful violence, like assault or battery or stalking, OR
A credible threat of violence, AND
The violence or threats seriously scare, annoy, or harass someone and there is no valid reason for it.

Most of the popular women on the internet have experienced these. The problem is there are no laws that protect people from this sort of behavior right now, so people are having to take action themselves – blocking, muting, et cetera. But when those that harass them can still see what these folks are saying and doing, and harassment is their entire platform, to what extent is their input valuable, and to what extent is it more likely to be harmful?

If people did these sorts of things in “real life” they would be getting restraining orders – but because it’s on the internet, it’s “not real,” so it’s not particularly regulated. People are calling on platforms like Twitter and Facebook to help prevent abuse, because the law is not doing it. People are muting and blocking and writing about these issues because the law does not offer them recourse from harassment.

I am not saying that anyone should murder free speech – I wouldn’t imagine any reasonable person would think that, which is why it gets my dander up when I see these arguments about free speech. Of course free speech is good! The right to protest and the right to freedom of expression and dissent is under serious attack in cities across America.

But you can’t divorce that Hitchens discussion above from the current reality of harassment on the internet and in public. When you’re getting hundreds of tweets and facebook messages and emails about how someone wants to rape and kill you, and *even one* of those includes a picture of your house, suddenly all the other “harmless” boasting doesn’t feel harmless, and the “get over it, you’re on the internet and this is how it is” doesn’t work for me.

While you can’t stop people being terrible to each other, and the Hitchens paragraphs argue you shouldn’t stop them, shouldn’t the victims be able to have some recourse, or a way out? To what extent is someone shouting “FUCK YOU SWJ RETARD” at someone 100x per day a debate that one should engage in? Does the person typing that even have a platform? Is it worth my time to try to convince someone I’ve never met or heard of… something? Whatever it is they don’t like? Are you killing free speech by muting them? Are you losing something by not finding out exactly why they think you’re a pile of garbage?

But muting isn’t what people are worried about – it’s the removal of that person’s voice entirely. Those who cry “free speech” at me when I tweet that it’s worth losing the ability to hurt someone’s feelings are worried that voices will be silenced forever. But when I talk about losing the ability to hurt someone’s feelings, I mean losing the ability to harass. I said it in a cute way, but that’s what it comes down to. Of course you can hurt someone’s feelings if you want to (I still don’t think it’s the best stance, but hey). When you do it en masse, though, you start to make yourself a problem, and it’s not free speech you’re contributing to, but harassment. I say again – the free speech of someone who harasses someone else in real life gets squashed with a restraining order, or jail time, because they are bullying, harassing, or stalking, not contributing to a discourse. Should you throw every internet troll in jail? No, of course not. But if *any* consequences for these actions existed, people might actually think before they typed.

I maintain that if internet harassment law matched real-life harassment law, the person who wants to yell “GO DIE, SLUT” to every woman would be a very different person on the internet. They might voice an actual opinion or platform or discussion instead. And I argue further that the “toughen up” and “this is free speech” argument just doesn’t hold up when paired with the actions it’s being used to defend, right now. I’ll have a debate with people if it is a debate. If there is no debate, the “free speech” defense becomes a straw man.

To conclude:
Do: defend free speech.
Do: create online harassment laws that mirror offline laws.
Don’t: defend harassment by invoking free speech.


growing

I really like watching my friends grow creatively. Seeing WIP drawings from David Hellman, or weird music tracks from Zak McCune please me, because I know they’re going to transform into something. I know that my friends are obsessive enough that the skeletons I see are going to be fleshed out into some glorious monsterbeast, even if said beast is not released “professionally” or “officially” in any capacity.

This is why I very much enjoy these videos of my friend Tanguy getting acquainted with the OP pocket synthesizers from Teenage Engineering. Here, you’ll see him poking at the thing, figuring out what sorts of sounds and rhythms feel good, and how to make them, punctuated by satisfying stingers and some modulation. It’s clearly an early poke-around.

Now, we have more instrumentation and a semblance of melody. It’s building and growing from that initial pokearound, now that more sounds are known, and the device is a bit more familiar. We have swells of synth with a lot more melody and a jaunty New Jack Swing-style beat, and some Justice-style modulations, squashes, and stutters.

Lastly, we see it all sort of come together. The song is still rough, somewhat improvised, and very live, but now we have two devices on the table, working in concert to create what feels like a proper song. It builds, it has structure, and on the whole it’s fully enjoyable as a piece of music.

It can be appreciated on its own, but with the context of the prior two, it reminds me that people don’t just start out with The Good Stuff. They build to it and poke at it and obsess over it and get excited about it (look at his jaunty hand movements at 1:57) and something you might not have expected results. This is of course supplemented by knowing the person and seeing their character come through int he product, but also in seeing how they defy your expectations. So encourage your creative friends! Making things is great!


“Go home, hipster”

Recently, a few friends of mine have had insults thrown at them while walking down the street in Oakland, to the effect of, “fucking hipster, go back to where you came from.” Most recently it happened to my friend Hank, when he was on his way home in the Fruitvale district last week. Hank has tattoos all over his body, facial hair, and wears weird t-shirts with his cutoff jeans. If you were going to call someone a hipster without thinking about it, you could do worse than Hank.

I understand where this anger comes from, and the sentiment behind it. I share a fair amount of that anger. Oakland is changing. Some (like me) might say it’s changing for the worse. Housing prices are rising. Local businesses are getting displaced, and local art and commerce is being driven away in favor of “hip coworking spaces,” brunch spots, and “tech hubs.” Even driving around the Vietnamese and Cambodian parts of East Oakland, I’m starting to see it. I live in a rent controlled apartment, and if I ever move, I won’t be able to live in this area – where I was born – anymore. The change is rapid, and I don’t know what will stop it. I share this anger, but I feel it’s sometimes misdirected.
(more…)


Tim, from highschool

In highschool I knew a kid named Tim. He was thin and wiry, and had a thick Russian accent to match his thick black hair. He had nearly no interest in school, and got an abysmal score on his SATs. He discussed this low score with me as we walked from the bus to school one day, worrying that he wouldn’t be able to get into any college whatsoever. I recited that rumor I’d heard, that you got 800 points just for signing your name. “Maybe I didn’t sign my name, I don’t know,” he mused. But whatever disinterest he had in school, he had an inverse amount of enthusiasm for art. He was a fantastic fine artist – paint, mixed media, whatever he threw himself toward became gorgeous, troubling, and provocative, in a seemingly effortless way.
(more…)


Mugged

Last night I got mugged. I guess you’d call it a mugging – no actual physical violence occurred, but threats of death were certainly on offer. My girlfriend and I had just come back from a concert, taking the last train to Oakland from San Francisco. I had just given a couple bucks to a guy in the 16th st Mission BART station because he seemed truly desperate – he said his social welfare had just been stopped completely, and couldn’t be renewed because he hadn’t been able to get a job in two years, though he was trying to get jobs in food service. His face had lesions, and it sure did not look like someone in food service would hire him – it was a depressing reminder of the ways in which our current system of living does not allow for someone like him to come back from wherever he’s been. He made sure to tell me his name – Roland – then he spelled it out – so we would know that he was a human being. It made me sad.

We were discussing this as we rode home, how difficult it would be for him to get a job, and how being messed up in drugs is not particularly his fault at this point – after earlier having a discussion of what martial arts might boost one’s confidence. Then, serendipitously, as we walked home all these threads came together in an unfortunate altercation.
(more…)


A holiday in Oakland

Last year around this time, several of my friends went back home for the holidays, and wrote about their respective experiences returning to places they had purposefully left behind. A long email thread became a vessel for their familial angst. None of them posted their stories online, but in essence, I learned that those television holiday specials are real.

I was not a natural part of this discussion, as I do not go back to anywhere for the holidays – I stay where I am. That is an experience of its own, you might find. Here’s what I wrote to them in response.
(more…)


No Girlfriend Comics

This comic was my first effort to publicly be more open about my personal life. I’ve generally been quite guarded about it, and recent events on the internet have proved this to be the correct strategy. But it’s also a bit of a crutch, being able to hide behind anonymity. So this whole web site is pretty much dedicated to opening myself up a bit. Relationships and all that are something I generally keep quite private, and that will likely continue, but here is a window into the end of one.

(more…)


B3WcXixCAAI7mZT

Temescal on fire

Last night my neighborhood was on fire. If you’re unaware, for the past two days there have been demonstrations against the lack of indictment of Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown, and they’ve been very large and spirited in Oakland. I realize this is an extremely complicated issue, and I can’t possibly get all angles on this (and will probably catch some hell for it), but I’m going to talk about what I saw the day after, in my neighborhood.

(more…)