UPDATE on Queer Rapid Response Team: No safe implementation possible.

When the word got around about how people on the WorldCon 76 staff were treating some of their queer members and honorees, and queer people were talking about feeling unsafe and unwelcome at the con, I made the decision to form a queer rapid response team to provide on-the-spot backup to queer people who felt alone or threatened, whether in dealing with con staff, other members, or anyone hanging around.

I’ve spent the intervening weeks trying to figure out how best to implement such a program, and now, after long deliberation, I have decided that it would be best not to do so.

It’s not that I don’t see a need for it, though the convention has stepped up its game in response to the backlash. But for me, it comes down to one thing: safety. The whole point of this endeavor would be to increase safety. If it can’t be done safely, if it would actually make things more dangerous, then it shouldn’t be done at all.

And after much thought and soul-searching and consultations with my friends who have done similar types of activism and organizing, I do not think it can be done safely.

It comes down to operational security. For such a team to do any good — for it to be any good — then the ability to contact the team and get a rapid response must be completely open to the public. Knowledge of the team’s existence and the procedure for summoning a team member must be widespread, which means it must be shared publicly. If we rely on back channels and whisper networks to spread this information, then it’s not a rapid response team, it’s a group of friends being friends.

My plan was to use a combination of a Twitter hashtag people could post alerts to and a phone number for texting confidentially to, with an automated process to forward all tagged tweets/messages to members of the team.

The problem is there is no way to vet these messages as they come in; stopping to verify the sender and investigate the situation would defeat the whole purpose of a rapid response. With a known fascist presence organizing itself in the vicinity of the convention and a well-established alt-right cultural movement attached to the Hugo Awards, I think the best case scenario is a system being flooded with phony requests and useless alerts, causing the team to be run ragged and preventing anyone who happens to actually need it from getting aid.

Worst case scenario is that the system is used to lure team members — visibly queer people ourselves — into dangerous situations.

Any public bat signals (like through Twitter) could become a lightning rod for further abuse, bringing hostile attention to the person who requested help. And as an unofficial organization, we’d have no way of preventing unscrupulous individuals from representing themselves as part of the team, either to gain access to vulnerable victims or paint the team or queer con members in general in a negative light. A single false flag event could be used to paint the whole endeavor as a violent threat.

My draft of a document for team members included some steps to minimize the danger we put ourselves in, including an injunction against answering distress calls outside the convention area and a suggestion to use a buddy system, but after “wargaming” several situations out in my head I fear that there’s no combination of precautions that would make the endeavor safe.

So in lieu of a team, I’m going to be doing what I do at every con, which is making myself visible and available. I urge other queer con goers to do the same thing. Look for “family” in a crowded room and if you see someone who looks like they could use support, catch their eye and drift over towards them. Wave to each other. Say hi to each other. Practice bystander intervention out loud and in your head so you don’t freeze up in the moment. It can be as little as saying, “Wait, what?” and “Are you serious?” in a loud, clear voice when someone is doing or saying something harmful in your presence.

My family and I do make a habit of making our movements and presence known when we’re at a convention and we do encourage people who need some backup to look for us. Anyone who doesn’t want to be the only queer person in a crowd is invited to join me at any time that I’m out and about in public spaces at a convention. I tweet selfies of my daily looks at conventions, and I am pretty recognizable to begin with — even if you’re face blind (as I am), most of the time if you think you’re looking at me you’ll be right. Being face blind, I design my looks from the ground up with this in mind.

I’ll still be available to help anyone who needs it, anybody who can. While I’m at a convention I have my notifications on Twitter turned up and my DMs open. Cell reception may be spotty inside the convention center (another reason attempting to provide systemic support might only increase danger) but I will do what I can to give aid and support.

Thank you to the people who expressed interest in joining the team. I really appreciate it and I encourage you to be visible, be strong, and be present, but also to be careful and to be safe.

The things that I felt and said when I first announced my intention to head a team on Twitter are still true. I still believe the best response to danger is to “form up like queer Voltron”, even if it’s happening in a less formal fashion. I’m still going to this convention needing nothing from anyone and owing nothing to anyone, which leaves me free to be an absolute gadfly. I am not going to abide any nonsense in my sight.

Queer Rapid Response Team for WorldCon 76

So, this is one of those posts that’s going to be mystifying to a lot of people but make perfect sense to others. It’s a busy day and I don’t have the time or wherewithal to go into the background. The short version is: WorldCon 76 is fudging up quite badly in how it treats attendees, up to and including finalists for its crown jewel Hugo Award. Multiple genderqueer, non-binary, and non-conforming members have spoken up about feeling unsafe and disrespected, and WorldCon’s safety team is not inspiring a lot of confidence.

Accordingly, I am taking one of my standing offers at WisCon and expanding and formalizing it for the larger WorldCon: I am forming a Queer Rapid Response Team. Before the convention next month, I will set up an automated channel that will text any messages onward to everybody on the team. The idea is that if anybody in the family needs an escort, needs a friendly face, needs emotional support, or whatever, we can form up on them like queer Voltron.

If you’re going to be going to WorldCon and you’re interested in participating, watch this space for info as the plan comes together. I am looking for other trans, genderqueer, and especially visibly queer people, however you define that for yourself; the point of this is *not* cis people using their cis privilege to intervene (which you should be doing that anyway) but creating a visibly queer presence to bolster and reassure. If somebody hits the panic button I want them to know when their support brigade has arrived, you know?

The Queer Rapid Response Team is *not* going to be picking fights, *not* going to be escalating, educating, or even mediating in conflicts.We’re not going to be armed, we’re not going to be getting in individual specific people’s faces and shouting at them. This is not about respectability or pacifism, but about making sure we’re allowed to operate within the convention itself.

Things the Queer Rapid Response Team will do: we’ll walk with people to and from their events. We’ll hang out with people so they’re not alone. We’ll sit with someone who has a difficult encounter and listen to them process. We’ll sit in the front row of people’s panels to cheer them on and glare at That One Guy who is making things uncomfortable for them. We’ll be a floating Safer Space for any queer congoer who is looking for a crowd they feel more comfortable in.

You do not have to commit to answering 100% of alerts during the whole length of the con to be on the Queer Rapid Response Team. If I can actually get more volunteers, I’ll make a spread sheet and you can put your likely availability on it. We’re going to be pretty informal, though. If a text alert comes through, you can answer it if you can and ignore it if you can’t. I (like most people who aren’t straight white cis people, apparently) am not on any programming items at WorldCon, so my schedule is pretty free and clear, which is part of why I’m doing this.

I’ll have more details as we get the ball rolling here.

Change of Plans (WorldCon 75 memberships for sale)

Until recently, we had been planning on attending WorldCon 75 in Helsinki this coming fall as a family. Given the state of the republic right now, we’re not comfortable being committed to taking our visibly queer, vocally anti-Regime selves across the U.S. border and back. So, with a somewhat heavy heart, I’m announcing our decision to stay home.

Our change of plans can be your stroke of luck, though. We purchased our (non-refundable, but transferable) memberships before the price went up. If you’re interested in attending, please know that we have three adult memberships to sell, one with the first-time World Con discount (80 euros, when we bought it) and two without (120 euros). The discounted one can only be transferred to someone who qualifies for it. The three memberships do not have to be transferred to the same party.

If you’re interested in buying one or more of the memberships, please send an email to blueauthor at gmail dot com. Please make sure you specify how many and which. We’ll be doing this first come, first served. The exchange rate right now is such that we’ll take 80 or 120 as appropriate in either USD or EUR, just to keep things simple. Either way we’ll be losing a little bit on it compared to what we paid, but that’s fine.

I believe the nomination period for Hugos runs through mid-March, so if you snatch these up before then, you will have nominating privileges. Even after that, WorldCon membership carries voting privileges.

Protesting & Accessibility – A Bridge Too Far?

Yesterday, a conclave of Democratic United States Senators descended on the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a retreat that was a bit less noticed than the GOP Congressional retreat in Philadelphia. It was likely put together hastily as an emergency measure for an emergency situation, and I’m going to have more to say about it later.

But first.

Women’s March on Washington of West Virginia – Shepherdstown didn’t have a lot of time to put together an organized response to the Democratic presence, but they pulled it together beautifully.

Circumstances prevented us from participating in the Women’s March on January 21st, in part because of accessibility concerns and the need to pace our shows of resistance, given our various disabilities.

But this action was largely stationary, and taking place on and near the Potomac Bridge, in sight of the frankly quite splendid inn where the Senators were gathered. This was important because there are little overlook areas with seating near the ends of the bridge, and the one nearest the inn has a little parking area with a couple 15 minute parking spots for people to enjoy the view or grab a picture, and some handicapped parking spaces that made this action a lot more accessible.

My partner Jack and I arrived at the bridge before sunup, before seven. We were meeting a friend from Shepherdstown who was absolutely needed at work today and could not participate in the action during its scheduled hours of nine o’clock on. So, we got there before anyone else and we parked without issues, and we took up position in the cold and the light rain as the sun came up over the Potomac. We were out there, “doin’ a freedom,” as the youths probably say (hashtag: #DoingAFreedom), flanking the group’s sign (“HEAR OUR VOICE”) on the bridge when the Senators in their rooms got their first look at it in the morning light. We were there when the marchers proper arrived, and had been there for just over two hours at that point.

Jack had to find a bathroom shortly after that, and this is where our trouble began. Rather than searching the campus of the nearby Shepherd University, he took his car and drove straight off to a nearby convenience store he knew would serve. While he was gone, a group of police cars pulled into the access drive for the little parking area for a little inter-agency confab.

And I have to say, there were probably 3 or 4 different police agencies there, at a spot on a state border with U.S. Senators taking up residence and a university right there, and I have to say that they were polite and friendly and supportive of the admittedly very visibly majority white crowd. I have no complaints about their overall conduct.

But they were making the accessible parking… inaccessible.

So, I went over to talk to them (second bravest thing I did all day, given that I am acrophobic and have an especial terror of bridges) and I started by asking, politely, if access to the handicapped spaces was being restricted for security reasons, or if protesters were able to use it.

“Oh, no!” one of them said. “There’s not a lot, but if someone needs it, they can use!”

I pointed out that they were blocking it, and was told they’d just pulled in for a minute to chat. I then clarified that my interest wasn’t hypothetical and that a protester who needed that space was on his way back. They politely thanked me, finished up their chat, and got back into their vehicles and pulled away… leaving behind a third vehicle, which I had assumed was part of the confab, a Shepherd University police van that had pulled all the way out of the little entry lane and was squarely blocking off the small lot.

It was also unattended.

That was about when Jack drove by, and with the lot inaccessible, he kept driving past the protest, to a park area on the other side of the bridge (the old C&O Canal towpath, I believe). Later people were parked in the breakdown lane on the Maryland end of the bridge, but at this point police were waving people past them.

Now, it’s quite a hike from the towpath parking area to the bridge, uphill, on a very cold and very windy day. Jack judged this was beyond his present level of ability (gentle currently able-bodied readers wondering why someone who needs handicapped parking would even consider the hike: disability isn’t a binary switch), and texted me from where he was parked.

Disgusted, I started taking pictures of the university police vehicle in its spot, trying to get an angle that would capture both its position and the handicapped spaces beyond and the fact that this was the only access point. My plan was to find a twitter account for the university and holler @ them about it. The sun was directly in my screen at that angle, so I didn’t actually get a good one that turned out, but… well, maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe one of the officers on site from another agency radioed them that a protester was photographing their vehicle, but while I was trying to get that sorted someone came hurrying out from the university campus and hopped into the vehicle and moved it without a word.

Now, I’d like to be charitable, but the way it was parked, I can only think two things, and I’m not sure which is more charitable. One is that someone thought that there would be a problem with protesters abusing the 15 minute parking or cramming in to the lot past its very small capacity so they’d head that off at the pass. The other was that they needed somewhere to park that vehicle and this seemed like an out-of-the-way place since no one would be using the overlook parking during the protest.

Both of these situations involve completely forgetting that disabled people exist, even while being within 10-15 feet of clearly visible, marked, and posted evidence of our existence.

Whoever parked that van there, for whatever reason, did not so much make the assumption that nobody would need to use those handicapped spaces for any reason (protest-related or otherwise) as they made no assumption whatsoever. Didn’t cross their mind.

In moments like this I am reminded of the blog story “The Elephant Disappears“, by wheelchair user Dave Hingsburger, who almost had his luggage confiscated at an airport by a security officer who tried to confiscate and cart it away from him, saying “All luggage must be attended!” when Dave asked him what he thought he was doing. Now, if your mind is jumping to the most charitable interpretation of this event from the guard’s point of view… well, first of all, ask yourself why “being charitable” or “giving the benefit of the doubt” implicitly means “to the able-bodied security officer” in this situation and not the man whose luggage was being taken.

To be clear: Dave was right there. Attending his luggage. The guard did not see him as capable of attending his own luggage, or did not see him as a person, or just plain did not see him, even though he was in full view and right there. We cannot know. People with visible disabilities are well aware that all three are possible.

People with disabilities already may have less ability to participate in organized action. There may be mobility issues, sensory issues, issues with crowds. I couldn’t have stood out there all day on my best day; we were there from just before 7 to a bit before 11 and I came home after we grabbed lunch and crashed for three hours.

I might have taken a cane with me, but I was concerned if things went south it might be viewed as a weapon, since I am young-appearing enough that people often wonder why I have one. Jack didn’t have his backpack of potentially necessary emergency medical supplies, because it would have added to our bulk on the sidewalk (that had to kept passable) and similarly might be viewed as suspicious. Might not have been a concern for a typical march in a quietly liberal college town tucked away in the Potomac River valley, but… there were elected officials afoot. Security was pretty intense on the other side of the street.

But with whatever difficulties our disabilities present, the question of “accessibility” is often less a matter of what extraordinary things must people do to allow us to access a place or event and more a matter of what things they should avoid doing that block and exclude us. Stairs are not some natural state for the entryway to a building, someone has to put them. A culture and aesthetic that centers assumptions of certain levels of ability makes them an assumed default, but it could just as easily be ramps or (where possible/appropriate) zero-entry doors.

Someone at Shepherd University made a decision that made the event less accessible. I’m sure if the individual who made that call were here, they would say they were only parked there for minutes… and it really wasn’t that long, in the scheme of things. But it was long enough to cause a problem, and more to the point, any amount of time is long enough that it might have been a problem. We’ll never know if anyone else drove past the protest, eyeing the lot and seeing it was blocked off. I’m sure the university police don’t consider “It was just for five minutes!” or “I would have moved if anyone had needed the space!” a valid excuse when they come across someone illegally parking in or blocking off an accessible space.

As I said, I will have more to say about the event itself and the politics surrounding it. I just had to get this off my chest. It’s less about naming and shaming Shepherd University (though not naming them would seem passive-aggressive, as anyone who looked at a map of the area would know who I meant) and more about talking about the general case of thinking about accessibility and remembering that people with disabilities really, truly do exist.

Business As Usual

Donald Trump said he’d run the country like a business. He’s not running it yet, but early signs are clear that he meant it. This is going to be a disaster.

Reports have been circulating for more than a week now that Trump’s inauguration organizers were offering hefty cash incentives and even diplomatic posts (as in, “You get to be the official U.S. ambassador representing our country to another country!”) to talent brokers who could line up A-list stars to perform at the ceremony and related events. The Trump team has said that this is categorically false, that they have made no such offers.

I happen to believe it.

All of it.

I believe the reports that the offers were made and I believe the Trump team’s disavowal. How can this be? Because in business, a person in Mr. Trump’s position can say, “Get this done, I don’t care how, don’t bother me with the details, just do it.” and expect it to be done. If the big boss says your job is on the line if you can’t deliver, you do whatever it takes to deliver.

Do I believe Trump’s party planners are empowered to make deals about diplomatic posts? Certainly not. Do I believe that would stop them from implying that they did, if it would seal the deal? Well, of course they would. They are representing a personal brand built on hype and overselling, and on the sort of negotiation that happens after the other party has already come through on their end and you walk back what you promised to whatever pittance you feel like paying.

I can believe Donald Trump had nothing to do with it, that he didn’t approve it. But I also must believe he would have approved of the notion, had it worked and had they gotten away with it. To Mr. Trump, getting away with stuff is “smart” and doing as much as you can get away with is “good business”. And I have no reason to believe that he won’t continue to conduct his affairs this way when he’s president.

After all, he promised to run the country like a business, didn’t he?

Trump tweeted this morning about his son Eric’s conflicts of interest.

My wonderful son, Eric, will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency. Isn't this a ridiculous shame? He loves these kids, has raised millions of dollars for them, and now must stop. Wrong answer!

A lot of people have characterized this as an immature tantrum. They’re not far wrong, but that characterization misses where this behavior is coming from. “Wrong answer!” isn’t the response of an actual child, but of a childish boss hearing something he doesn’t like.

“Wrong answer!” doesn’t say, “I disagree with this, and will work to change it.” It says, “I’m in charge, and I say that’s not true, so it isn’t.”

Donald Trump said during his campaign that his inexperience didn’t matter because he would surround himself by experts, “the best people”, and get their advice. It’s what he does in business, after all. But to his ears, “the best people” are the people who tell him what he wants to hear. If anybody brings him unwelcome news, they’re wrong, just wrong, and they need to get out of his sight and don’t come back until they can bring him the right answer.

These are not what they call in the business world “best practices”, but they are certainly common enough practices, and they speak to the shark-like image that Donald Trump projected when he played a billionaire business genius on TV for all those years. The very format of The Apprentice speaks to a horrible and horribly stereotypical practice of the sort of bad boss who can easily run a business into the ground: fostering division and competition within the business itself.

The theory is that this kind of environment makes sure everyone is performing at the highest level. The practice is that everybody involved spends as much time trying to undermine each other and guard against sneak attacks as they do on anything that actually helps the company achieve its goals.

And if you pay attention to the ongoing sideshow that is… well, everything about Trump’s transition… it’s apparent that this is what’s happening. He’s got multiple people performing the same tasks in direct conflict with each other. He’s throwing his spokespeople into the deep end and seeing who can swim. He’s making people audition for positions like they’re on a reality show, making picks not based on credentials or merit but on how well they play his game. This does not ensure that he’s surrounded by the best people, but the most ruthlessly manipulative ones.

The way Trump does business—when properly edited—makes for terrific television, if you like that sort of thing. When it’s done in business, no one really sees it except for the people who are immersed in it. But Trump is, as previously noted, not even in office yet and we’re seeing what it looks like when a public figure does business the way Trump does business.

The results aren’t pretty, and that is likely to be the best that can be said of it.

Foundational Privilege

Privileges aren’t always what you’d think they are.

When my siblings and I were in school, my parents took a keen interest in our local school system, in order to be certain we were getting the best education possible. My father was heavily involved with the school’s foundation, a charitable trust organization that raised money to benefit the school. The year I turned 18, he campaigned for a bond issue, wherein the town agreed (by popular ballot) to borrow money to greatly expand the school’s physical plant in response to a growing student body.

The school bond campaign did a voter registration drive that reached out to the outgoing seniors, entreating everybody who was 18 or would be by the election to register. The bond measure passed by what to my recollection was an overwhelming majority.

Fundraising is not the only way my parents were involved in my education. My mother in particular was a fierce advocate for my disability accommodations, well-armed with the facts about my needs and my rights. Both of my parents had the opportunity and wherewithal to fight for my education, and they did so.

One tangential result of this is that I grew up with a basic understanding of what a charitable foundation is and what a bond issue is. That is itself a privilege and a form of education.

Becuase of this privilege, my eyebrows didn’t automatically raise when I heard that the Clinton Foundation was taking money from anyone who would give it, including (gasp!) foreign governments, in the (shock!) Middle East and elsewhere. I understand that just because it’s got her name on it (well, her family’s) doesn’t mean it’s her piggy bank, checking account, or campaign war chest.

I’m a bit embarrassed to realize how long it took me to catch on that not everybody grasped that distinction. It’s obviously possible to treat a charitable foundation like it’s your personal slush fund (more on that later) and I figured everybody who was pointing alarmed fingers at the Clinton Foundation was just assuming that was happening. Certainly that’s what the talking heads on TV were talking about, at least directly.

But over time spent watching or engaging with rank-and-file voters who saw the Clinton Foundation as an example of enormous and obvious corruption, it became clear that a lot of them just didn’t understand that there was even supposed to be a difference between giving to the Clinton Foundation and giving to Clinton herself. They described reported donations by members of foreign governments and royal families as being campaign contributions. They either thought the “Clinton Foundation” was a name for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or that it was like a company owned by the Clinton family.

A couple of weeks after the election, I tweeted the following as part of a thread about messaging and controlling the narrative:

In my opinion, the biggest thing that gave the Clinton Foundation stuff legs beyond the conspiracy core? People not knowing what it was.

I was talking about how good the right has been about understanding the importance of framing the narrative and how good the left has been about letting them do it, sometimes by ceding points that really don’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) ceded and sometimes by simply not understanding that things need to be framed.

In all of the defenses I heard about the Clinton Foundation, I never saw anyone giving even the five second nutshell explanation of what “foundation” means in this context. Absent that information, the defenses weren’t very compelling. It looked like her defenders were just glossing over glaring and obvious misdeeds like they didn’t matter, which played into the appearance of arrogance.

And of course, if you’re thinking of the Clinton Foundation as simply being “Clinton cash”, then the repeated mentions of things the Clinton Foundation does–funding vaccines, cancer research, anti-malarial treatments, etc.—just sounds like, “Look, they also do good things, so get off their backs.”

And “But think about all the good things X did!” is only a compelling defense to people who are already on X’s side.

Obviously not everybody who was critical of the foundation had this misapprehension. But their concerns and critiques were magnified and amplified by an acoustic environment more conducive to noise than signal. Some of the critics were making the same naive error as the defenders, that of assuming everybody knew what they were talking about.

Some were counting on listeners making associations that they themselves did not explicitly make. “Clinton campaign funded by foreign Muslims” is not a bad idea to have floating around, if you’re campaigning against Clinton, foreigners, and Muslims.

Clinton is no longer running for anything. Neither is her opponent, that he can’t seem to stop campaigning. But I thought about this again today, when I saw one of his supporters in a thread about Eric Trump reportedly suspending his charitable fundraising say that people were confusing the issue by bringing up Donald Trump buying stuff for himself “with his personal foundation, his private foundation, not his charitable one”.

That was when another penny dropped for me. The flipside of people not understanding the layers of separation between giving money to Hillary Clinton and giving money to the charitable foundation to which her family lends their star power and good name. If you think “The Person Foundation” is just a high-faluting way of saying “money belonging to The Person”, then when people talk about the Trump Foundation breaking rules against self-dealing, it just sounds like people are getting hung up on procedural nitpicks and bureaucracy.

You hear Trump paid for a lawsuit settlement out of his foundation, you think it’s some kind of obscure, esoteric legal “Gotcha!” Oh, he took the money from the wrong account. Who cares? It’s his money, isn’t it? Why make it complicated? Can’t a man buy a picture with his own money? It’s his, isn’t it? And so on.

A lot of digital ink has been virtually spilled on the need for empathy with Trump voters, and how “intellectual liberal elites” are “out of touch” with “real America”.

Well, I’d be hesitant to validate those notions entirely (particularly as they are textbook examples of the right framing things to their satisfaction), but an extremely important stage of communication that was lost on the left in this election is the part where you consider how the thing you’re fixing to say is going to sound to the person who hears it.

Simply put: if you don’t know where your audience is coming from, your audience isn’t going to know where you’re coming from.

Now, this is not Thinkpiece #5,382,483,290 about The Real Reason Clinton Lost. I do not mean to suggest that if liberal talking heads had prefaced their remarks with, “Well, of course, the Clinton Foundation is a sort of independent corporation set up to manage charitable contributions in the name of the Clintons, so we should be very clear that giving money to the foundation is not the same as giving money to the Clintons themselves,” it would have ended the hoopla and won the election. There were a lot of things going on, and a lot of people were highly motivated to believe the worst.

But it couldn’t have hurt, and might have helped.

Similarly, I don’t bring this up with the notion that if we can school people on foundations it’s going to somehow turn everything around. Even if you can figure out how you lost the last fight, it’s only going to help you if the next fight is the same. The action item here is not “Hey, everybody, make sure you clarify what a foundation is when you’re talking about it on the news.”

Rather, the message I’m sending is: don’t assume your audience knows the same things you do, that what is obvious and goes without saying to you is the same as what is obvious and goes without saying to everyone else.

We didn’t all come up with the same sort of educational foundation.

 

The Banality of Banality

One of the reasons I sort of lost my footing after the high of WorldCon was the growing awareness that the sort of forces represented by the ridiculous “Puppy” campaigns and Gamergate have been on the rise in actual world politics, using the same techniques and appealing to the same base instincts and groups of people. Pointing out the fascists in science fiction and fantasy fandom seemed kind of silly when others were marching towards the White House.

I haven’t really been able to figure out how to reconcile that. It took the wind out of my sails, basically drove a stake through the heart of the character of John Upjohn even though I hadn’t quite finished my planned business with him. I had more book reviews planned, con reports sketched out, a post-mortem on the Hugos this year.

But it all seemed so pointless, in the face of American electoral politics.

I mean, I’m good at what I do, at what I did during the Sad Puppy things. I’ve been trying to bring that same blend of insight and humor to actual politics. But it’s harder to know where to start on such a big stage, to find the corner and defend it (or alternately, start assembling puzzle pieces around it).

Anyway…

Last week, Foz Meadows had an essay published at Black Gate about Vox Day, the noted neo-Nazi who ran the Rabid Puppies campaign and turned the Sad Puppies movement into as much of a success as it ever managed to be. File 770 has the details on what happened, the upshot of which is that the essay was moved to a different venue after some sophisty on the part of Day implied (falsely) that there might have been legal consequences to him over the label “neo-Nazi”.

\Vox Day is, in fact, a neo-Nazi. His attempt to write a definitive manifesto for the alt-right (likely in the belief that if he could get out in front of it, he could claim ownership or leadership) specifically referenced the “14 words” neo-Nazi slogan as the fourteenth point.

Denying it, though, is just part of the playbook. Not hiding it, but denying it and preventing anyone else from saying it, even while being open far past the point of dog whistles (I call them “slide whistles”, they’re so comically obvious) about it. Gamergate did it. Trump has done it. The Puppy campaigns did it.

It’s part of the alt-reich’s standard operating procedure: you play at legalism and reference or even invent rules to get the other side, the side that cares about consequences and fairness, to abide by them, even while you don’t. He used these tactics to get Black Gate’s editor to back down, to blink, and now the text which correctly and accurately labels a neo-Nazi as a neo-Nazi politely redirects to another venue, to which it has deferred that duty.

And I look at this, and I look at what’s happening in Washington (well, mostly in New York and Florida, as our President-Elect sees the presidency as more of a side gig) and the way our national news media is covering things, and, I have to say… it doesn’t look nearly as pointless.

As above, so below.

I don’t wish to give Vox Day undue credit for the ascendancy of fascism in this or any other country. He’s just barely charismatic enough to get the few hundred devoted followers he needs for his Hugo ballot-rigging each year. If he could get more than that, he would, because he’d need them to actually control the Hugo outcomes and not the nomination.

It’s not because of Vox Day that Trump is in the White House, but it’s because of people like him.

And this is why it’s worthwhile to oppose Vox Day and those like Vox Day, wherever they may be. In gaming circles. In literary science fiction and fantasy fandom and its associated industries. Anywhere. It’s worth it to a shine a light on what they’re doing, to point it out and call it by name even when it seems obvious, to label fascism as fascism and to call neo-Nazis neo-Nazis.

And to make fun of them. To satirize them, lampoon them, show the world their ridiculousness and teach people how to laugh at them.

 

Reince Priebus has been played.

He will never acknowledge it. He will never admit it. His reward for being played is that he will continue to allow himself to be played, specifically so he need never face the truth.

Last night, I read news stories about Priebus, the outgoing GOP head, had been appointed to a “co-equal” position with Steve Bannon, CEO of the white nationalist propaganda/hoax news site Breitbart turned CEO of Trump’s campaign. I had a vivid flashback to back in the summer, when Bannon and pollster/PR flack Kellyanne Conway were appointed to “co-equal” positions “running” Trump’s campaign.

In the time since then, Bannon has sat at Trump’s right hand, whispering in his ear, shaping his policies and connecting him to constituencies that had a lot to do with delivering him the White House.

Conway, for her sins, was reduced to an apologetic cable news tour, always forced to put a palatable spin on whatever Bannon and Trump cooked up, smiling to keep from crying as she denied, denied, denied, and sometimes pathetically reduced to saying what she would say to the man whose campaign she had been hired to manage, if she were able to.

While others who were loyal to Trump are being sized up for cabinet positions or influential roles in the White House, all signs indicate her reward for her job will be to keep doing it, in one form or another.

The common view is that in appointing Priebus, a member of the GOP establishment, to be his Chief of Staff and Banon, a member of what is euphemistically termed the “alt-right” (the modern face of white nationalists and fascists), as his Chief Strategist, Trump is signaling a sort of balanced, big-tent approach. Traditional conservatives and those looking for reasons to be optimistic are hopeful that Trump will use Bannon to bring his Neo-Nazi followers “into the fold”, moderating them into mainstream Republicans.

If how he ran his campaign is any indication of how he will be president, this is not what we will see. The fascist extremists will not join the mainstream but become the mainstream. Priebus will continue his thankless task of selling the more moderate, more grounded members of his party on a jackbooted vision of America, putting a suit and tie over the brown shirts and telling the GOP that this is all good for the party and the country, actually.

This is his reward for staying the course when much of his party wanted to bail out from Trump’s downward spiral. He spent months shoveling Trump’s manure, and the reward for that is a bigger shovel, with which he can dig an even bigger hole for himself.

If only the rest of us weren’t going down with him.

Scott Adams Makes The Case: Hitler Never Existed

Over on his blog, Scott Adams (who reminds us that he is a master persuader, as evidenced primarily by the fact that he managed to convince himself that he is a master persuader) has laid out his case to “un-hypnotize” (as he puts it) anti-Trump voters.

His reasoning goes like this: when there’s a difference in what people see in a situation, the people who are seeing an unlikely addition to reality are the ones who are hallucinating. If everybody can see a pink elephant, the pink elephant exists. If even one person doesn’t see the pink elephant, though, it can be chalked up to a mass hallucination.

It’s basically an application of Occam’s Razor, and as principles for reasoning goes, it’s not a bad one. So let’s follow Master Persuader Scott Adams a little farther along this garden path.

Some people, he notes, look at Donald Trump and see the next Hitler. That is, some people see a fascist strongman rising to power on a wave of hatred and populism. And some people, like he himself, don’t. A Hitler figure is an unlikely addition to reality, so if some people see the danger and some people don’t, then the danger must not be real. He doesn’t see Trump as Hitler, so it can’t be real.

Well, color me reassured. Because if I accept this logic, not only am I thoroughly reassured that Trump cannot be Hitler, I must also accept a rose-tinted rearview mirror of history in which Hitler could not have been Hitler.

Follow Scott’s logic: some people looked at Hitler and saw a dangerous maniac who would fan the flames of hatred and risk plunging Europe and beyond into a war that would dwarf the “Great War” from which it had so recently emerged. And some people didn’t. Some people saw a dangerous demagogue who would scapegoat whole populations and persecute them to the brink of extinction and beyond if he could. And some people didn’t.

I think we can all agree that “patriotic man who wants only the best for his homeland” is more likely in politics than “genocidal demagogue and would-be world conqueror”. So if anyone could look at Hitler back then and not see the unlikely addition to reality presented by Hitler-qua-Hitler, that more extreme conception of Hitler must not exist. At least, not according to the persuasive logic of Scott Adams, Trained Hypnotist.

Of course, he might rebut this by saying that a historical case is different, because we have evidence that the popular conception of Hitler existed and now there is no longer any doubt. That’s very nice, but there are two problems with it.

One, it still leaves us with the fact that at the time of Hitler’s rise to power, the thing that would have struck a Herr Adams, Meister der Überzeugung, as the “pink elephant” of the situation was in fact actual reality, which means that we cannot in the present situation count on anyone being able to determine what is actual reality and what is an unlikely addition just based on an eyeball declaration.

Two, there are still people today who dispute the evidence that Adolf Hitler was anything more than a German patriot who wanted the best for his people. There are people today who still make the same “pink elephant” style arguments against Hitler’s worst excesses and biggest crimes.

Scott Adams tells us that if everybody is looking at something big and bafflingly unlikely like a pink elephant, and some people can see it and some people can’t, it’s proof that the pink elephant does not exist. He tells us that it’s always the addition that is suspect, always the people who do not see any evidence of the addition’s existence that are correct.

So what do we make of Hitler’s apologists? What do we make of Holocaust deniers?

It turns out there a lot of elephants in the world, Scott. That is, there are a lot of things that are big and (to some people, at least) unexpected and showing up in places people would rather not face their existence.

Scott Adams’s rubric for navigating a world like this is that if even one person says a thing doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t. It can’t.

By that logic… what would we be left with? And who decides what the “unlikely addition” is, anyway? In a battle between flat earthers and everyone else, the flat earthers see a mostly round earth as being the pink elephant. They see no evidence of it, so they can dismiss it, quite correctly, using Scott’s rule of thumb. “But they’re wrong,” Scott might say, “and you could prove them wrong by providing them evidence of _____.” And then that’s the pink elephant. It won’t do, Scott. I’m afraid it’s pink elephants all the way down.

The is the worst, sloppiest, and most self-serving example of “consensus reality” I’ve ever seen. As a lens for viewing the world, it dispenses with all the utility of Occam’s Razor by insisting on always shaving at the same angle.

And the thing is, I think Scott Adams knows this. I believe his blog post is structured not to “un-hypnotize” anyone, not to “de-persuade” them, but rather the opposite. He’s trying to use rhetorical techniques to lead his readers to a pre-determined conclusion.

It’s a very straightforward, by the numbers approach, though it’s ruined by his ham-handed application.

Sidenote: I believe that Scott Adams has studied persuasion, but he made the mistake of doing it without studying people, and without any real appreciation for his limits. Nuance and statistical tendencies are liberal myths, after all, just like implicit bias and systemic prejudice. Things either work or they don’t, in Scott-land.

Imagine a frumpy middle-aged sitcom couch lump trying to court a lady using a book labeled “The Art of Seduction”. He shows up on her doorstep, and when she answers the doorbell, he says in a flat monotone with the book open in front of him, “Step one compliment the lady on her appearance being sure to highlight those aspects that are within control such as her clothes or hairstyle hello that is a lovely dress you are wearing step one complete.”

That’s Scott Adams, Master Persuader.

But clumsy and clueless as his approach is, he’s at least trying to follow some good advice.

He starts by proposing a thought experiment. This makes you more likely to accept his premise, because it’s all hypothetical. Few people are going to have a visceral “HECK NO!” reaction to that. He then leads the reader through a series of hypotheticals which are pretty much guaranteed to elicit agreement. By the time he gets to third and final scenario, the average reader’s going to be like, “Yeah, obviously.” It’s not a guarantee that a person who has agreed with you three times will agree with whatever follows, but it doesn’t hurt anything.

This is the point where he breaks in to state his (snerk) “credentials”, so that you will see him as an authority. It’s a jarring misstep, as it breaks the nominal spell his opening created. It’s one thing to lay out your credentials on an area of informational expertise in order to give your words more weight, but telling someone you’re a master of persuasion is like daring them to disagree with you, and it usually produces the same result.

The next two paragraphs are appeals to what I’ll call the fantasist’s ego and then to intellect. The fantasist’s ego is that special section of the ego that wants everything to be a life and death struggle, that wants the ego’s possessor to be the protagonist of reality. There are real-life supervillains targeting you for mind control, Scott Adams says. You’re in the Matrix, Scott Adams tells you.

But don’t worry: he’s not calling you stupid. Even the most intelligent person is susceptible to the mind-bending powers of… GODZILLA. Okay. I should explain to everyone scratching their heads. Scott Adams, Master Persuader, thinks that labeling the shadowy Svengali he imagines is coaching Team Clinton on psyops “Godzilla” is going to make the implication resonate more strongly and deeply with you. Because… Godzilla… is… big? Or scary? Or radioactive?

Or the actual hero of the vast majority of the movies in which he appears.

Nobody knows where he’s trying to go with this, but the actual effect is to make his claims risible and easier to dismiss.

I mean, his set-up is all morpheus.gif “WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT HILLARY CLINTON IS” and the punchline is “BEING TRAINED IN PERSUASION BY GODZILLA”.

You’d be laughed out of the sub-reddit, Scott.

That’s what would happen if you told us that.

He could have gone with Svengali or Rasputin, which have the advantage of sounding sinister and foreign to people who don’t know who they are. He could have tapped into the zeitgeist by dubbing the mysterious master of manipulation “Killgrave”, which, again, sounds threatening. But no. He went with Godzilla. Which, okay, Godzilla would be incomprehensibly terrifying in real life, but: nobody’s afraid of Godzilla, not the way they’re afraid of other movie monsters or killers or villains. Godzilla is awesome in the classic sense of the word. Godzilla is too big and too powerful for the human mind to really take in as a threat.

From there, it’s all downhill. He’s still following well-worn advice, but following it increasingly badly. He asserts his supposed neutrality on the topic (not fooling anyone, Scott), he mentions his “credentials” again, he tries to bring up an example of a mass hallucination that he thinks most people will agree with (“everybody else’s religion but yours”, basically), but because he does not understand people, he doesn’t realize that this is not going to resonate with the religious.

Scott, the evangelical Christian in your audience knows that a Hindu reading it is getting the same message. And even people who don’t believe other religions have validity also don’t believe that their followers are hallucinating. This is a cynical atheist’s attempt to relate to the religious mindset on a “how do you do, fellow kids?” level

His closing is terrible. He tries again for the “several things you will agree with, and then a conclusion you will thus also agree with”: he doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus or luck or God, and he doesn’t believe Trump is dangerous.

Here we come to the thing that’s really holding Scott Adams back, which is that years ago he wrote a line that struck him as clever and it’s shaped everything about how he interacts with people since then: “When did ignorance become a point of view?” In the battle between the comically clueless Pointy-Haired Boss and Dilbert, it’s a great zinger, but using it as a rule of logic for life requires you to assume that you have an innate ability to tell ignorance apart from real knowledge at a glance.

And okay, everybody’s got some of that ability. It’s called critical thinking. But like the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. If you have any faulty assumptions rattling around in your head, the most logical processes of critical thinking you apply will produce some errors. The less critical you are about your own assumptions, the more often this will happen without you noticing, and the more errors pile up, and you get a feedback loop until you wind up where Scott Adams is, at the point where he’s saying a man who leveraged himself badly in order to open up a series of three casinos in direct competition with each other for no other reason than he really wanted his name to be on the biggest and most impressive one ever built “knows risk management”.

At the point where Scott Adams decided that the world divided neatly into True Knowledge (what he knows) and Ignorance (what other people who disagree with him thinks), critical thinking became a fool’s errand for him. And since persuasion, for the short on charisma, consists largely of critically thinking out loud in a way that others can follow, his career as a master persuader was doomed to failure in that moment.

Priorities: Justice vs. Safety in Convention Culture

One comment I made in one of my recent posts that has attracted a certain amount of skepticism was my endorsement of a con culture that focuses on safety rather than justice in conflict resolutions. “How can you have safety without justice?” is one typical response. “So justice is a bad thing now?” is another.

Well, justice is most assuredly not a bad thing.

But justice in the sense of criminal justice or what we might call retributive justice is not the most pressing concern of a convention’s code of conduct, nor should it be the focus of a convention’s safety or security team.

Let me put it to you this way: how many comic, literary, or media conventions have you been to or heard of, that you would trust with the weighty responsibility of meting out justice? How many of them do you think have the people, expertise, or time and resources to serve out justice in a meaningful sense?

Or to put it another way: imagine you’re in charge of hiring a mall security officer.

You have two equally qualified candidates, alike in all respects except for their answer to the question, “What do you see as the primary function of this job?”

One of them says “To punish criminals, wicked people, and evildoers.”

The other says “To keep mall guests, employees, and property safe.”

Assuming you have to take one and not the other, which one of those individuals do you hire to guard your mall?

If you take the first one, I can assure you: you’re not going to be in charge of hiring for mall security for much longer. Because that is not the job.

Providing safety is a necessary step in almost every human enterprise. It may never truly be complete (safer rather than absolutely safe is the goal), but  providing justice is a never-ending battle and something that requires highly dedicated institutions as well as an individual commitment, and even then it often goes horribly wrong.

I mean, when’s the last time you heard about a gross miscarriage of safety or a travesty of safety?

I certainly don’t mind when a convention has a commitment to justice. My “home convention” of WisCon has such a commitment. But I expect such a convention to be reflected by a striving towards justice, not dispensing it. In recent years, WisCon learned a valuable lesson in the folly of attempting—as laypeople with limited resources—to apply principles of jurisprudence and criminal investigation in resolving conflicts between people. It’s having witnessed this (and part of it up close, as part of WisCon’s ConCom) that informs my view here.

People who are saying that a convention should never act on a complaint without performing a serious investigation, weighing evidence, and having a finding of facts culminating in a verdict in a sentence are, whether they know it or not, advocating for one of two possibilities: an endless succession of unqualified kangaroo courts or a world where conventions never act on complaints. Neither approach actually serves justice. Neither approach does anything for safety.

Trying to find a middle ground (or create a workable “convention court” system) would place an undue burden on conventions, raising the costs in money and time investment, and for what? To satisfy the aggrieved sense of fairness of random people on the internet, most of whom will continue to side with their friends and assume that any result other than the one that vindicates their own biases is a sign that the system was rigged anyway?

No thank you.

I’ll tell you one thing that’s true about this latest case and the one I referenced regarding WisCon: as far as I could tell, neither party ever really disputed the basic idea that it was a good idea for the two of them to avoid each other. Like, that was accepted as just plain a good idea, no matter what version of events you believe or what viewpoint you subscribe to.

In a case like that, what is there to investigate? “Feelings aren’t actionable!” cry the people who haven’t noticed that there was no action in the sense they mean it. It’s an interpersonal conflict resolved via boundary mediation, not a criminal complaint resolved via punishment.

A convention’s commitment to safety means they will try first to prevent conflict, then to diffuse it, then to resolve it. Punishment, if it happens, is incidental. Even if an action is interpreted as punishing, the so-called punishment is not the point. The harm reduction or risk mitigation is.

When James Frenkel was initially provisionally banned from WisCon, to name another case, the outcry was not because he was not being punished enough. Few people wanted him punished more. The concern was safety… not vengeance, not retribution, and not punishment.

When the convention elected to permanently ban him instead, this represented (in my opinion, based on arguments made at the time) a shift from “What punishment is appropriate for this transgression?” (a criminal justice-based approach) to “What action is necessary to ensure the safety of our members?” (a safety-based approach).

I don’t want to go to a convention that thinks it can force people to be better people through behavioral modification, which is the higher goal of punishment, per se. I don’t want to contribute my time, money, or energy towards a convention that is spending its resources in the foolish pursuit of creating a workable parallel to a criminal justice system. I understand the impulse to go, “Wait, there was no investigation? No trial?”, but man, no one actually wants to go down that path: “In the media convention circuit, people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the Public Safety Team who investigate crime and the ConCom who prosecute the offenders.” Is that what we want our conventions to spend their time on?

*DONK DONK*

Again, I say: no, thank you.

Conventions have a duty to provide a measure of safety. They have neither the duty nor even the means to provide justice. Trying to act as a court system is how they wind up with uneven punishments, complaints that stretch on for years, etc.

Your average fandom convention at any one time has got not quite enough expertise, resources, money, logistical support, and volunteer-hours to actually throw a convention in the first place… and then, amazingly, against all odds, they do it anyway. You’re not going to get all that and a criminal court system, too.