Political Flavors

Archive for September, 2012

Why I’m Taking Part In Project Panda: Reddit Bomb

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on September 25th, 2012

If you use Reddit, you might have seen me around “Shit Reddit Says” and the related subreddits, which we sometimes call “The Fempire.” SRS is a community of people dedicated to social justice, and the main way we do this is by calling out racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, transphobic, classist, and otherwise generally shitty upvoted content on Reddit. The main subreddit is a place to both call attention to these comments and for people to mock them. SRS has its own sense of humor with lots of hyperbole and inside jokes about dildos and Lady Gaga, but it’s easy to catch on. Serious discussion takes place in the other forums.

In the past, presumably in response the users of SRS and others (notably Anderson Cooper) Reddit has shut down /r/jailbait, a subreddit where people traded sexually suggestive pictures of teenage girls, and has articulated a “necessary change in policy” which states:

At reddit we care deeply about not imposing ours or anyone elses’ opinions on how people use the reddit platform. We are adamant about not limiting the ability to use the reddit platform even when we do not ourselves agree with or condone a specific use. We have very few rules here on reddit; no spamming, no cheating, no personal info, nothing illegal, and no interfering the site’s functions. Today we are adding another rule: No suggestive or sexual content featuring minors.

In the past, we have always dealt with content that might be child pornography along strict legal lines. We follow legal guidelines and reporting procedures outlined by NCMEC. We have taken all reports of illegal content seriously, and when warranted we made reports directly to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who works directly with the FBI. When a situation is reported to us where a child might be abused or in danger, we make that report. Beyond these clear cut cases, there is a huge area of legally grey content, and our previous policy to deal with it on a case by case basis has become unsustainable. We have changed our policy because interpreting the vague and debated legal guidelines on a case by case basis has become a massive distraction and risks reddit being pulled in to legal quagmire.

As of today, we have banned all subreddits that focus on sexualization of children. Our goal is to be fair and consistent, so if you find a subreddit we may have missed, please message the admins. If you find specific content that meets this definition please message the moderators of the subreddit, and the admins.

We understand that this might make some of you worried about the slippery slope from banning one specific type of content to banning other types of content. We’re concerned about that too, and do not make this policy change lightly or without careful deliberation. We will tirelessly defend the right to freely share information on reddit in any way we can, even if it is offensive or discusses something that may be illegal. However, child pornography is a toxic and unique case for Internet communities, and we’re protecting reddit’s ability to operate by removing this threat. We remain committed to protecting reddit as an open platform.

However, much of this content still remains. There’s /r/creepshots, a forum where men post pictures focusing on women’s private areas that were taken in public, without the woman knowing. Some of these women appear to be underage. In addition, subreddits like /r/beatingwomen and /r/rapingwomen celebrate violence against women.

Project Panda: Reddit Bomb is an attempt to bring attention to the fact that these subreddits exist, and encourage Reddit to enforce its own policy.

Just as in Adam’s discussion of Big Think’s decision to hire Satoshi Kanazawa, it’s possible to support someone’s right to free speech without wanting to hand them a megaphone. I use Reddit, and I love it. I promote my blog there, I have met some great people, learned a ton about beer and even my hometown. But I feel uneasy being part of a community, no matter how big and varied that tolerates entire forums with hundreds of subscribers that encourage rape and brutal violence.

I decided to email companies that advertise on Reddit about my concerns. It’s a market based solution, and one was highly effective in getting Glenn Beck off of the airwaves without restricting anyone’s First Amendment Rights. So far, two of them have responded. Additionally, outrage over /r/creepshots has generated a ton of media coverage, including Jezebel, the Guardian, and the New York Daily News.

Reddit has made no official response yet, but already some of the subreddits in the initial press release have been taken down.

I have been made a moderator at /r/RedditBomb, the subreddit organizing this project. I’m excited to see what will happen next.

The Taming of the Shrew – Alternative Character Interpretation(s)

Posted in Editorials on September 14th, 2012

While in London, Adam and I had the opportunity to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, a replica of the building where Shakepeare’s plays were originally performed, rebuilt a few hundred yards from the original site. We saw The Taming Of The Shrew.

There’s volumes that could be and have been written about what Shakespeare meant to say about women (and men) in this play. The only thing I have to add is that he must have been either reacting to or parodying the reaction to recent gains in women’s rights/education/autonomy. Otherwise there’s not much of a point to it all.

The performance was excellent and hilariously funny at times. I did enjoy myself for most of the play, drinking cider under the stars and wondering if my experience was anything like those of people centuries past. (My basis for comparison comes from Shakespeare in Love and Doctor Who.)

The first thing that really broke my concentration was Act IV Scene V.


Come on, i’ God’s name; once more toward our father’s.
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!


The moon! the sun: it is not moonlight now.


I say it is the moon that shines so bright.

He’s gaslighting here, and it’s icky to watch.


I know it is the sun that shines so bright.


Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father’s house.
Go on, and fetch our horses back again.
Evermore cross’d and cross’d; nothing but cross’d!


Say as he says, or we shall never go.


Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
An if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

But as it continued, an alternate dialogue, one from the novel 1984 began to play in my head.

‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’


‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’


The word ended in a gasp of pain.


‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four. I suppose there are four. I would see five if I could. I am trying to see five.’

‘Which do you wish: to persuade me that you see five, or really to see them?’

‘Really to see them.’

I’m don’t know if there’s been anything scholarly written about this. The only other reference I could find was in TV Tropes.

Orwell clearly isn’t making an allusion to Shakespeare, but the scenes to me are so strikingly similar, it gave me chills. I started thinking that Kate is Winston Smith.

In her final monologue she says:

I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.

And all I could see was the ending of The Stepford Wives:

Oh, God. Not Joanna!

At the end of the book and the 1975 film, the men of the town have killed all of the women and replaced them with robots.

I’m trying to keep in mind that The Taming Of The Shrew is a comedy, but there is something very dark under the surface. And I don’t think we can separate what we suspect to be Petruchio’s motivations from how we interpret Kate’s transformation. The play is almost a Rorschach for a person’s views of gender roles. My most generous interpretation is that they are playing a delightful D/S sex game. But if we are to believe that she is sincere, it’s not very funny at all.

Related post: The Stepford Wives Is Totally Anti-Feminist If You Don’t Understand It

Anderson Cooper, Language Lawyering without Policy Analysis is Meaningless

Posted in Editorials on September 13th, 2012

This is a few weeks old, but I think it’s important to sort this out as the Presidential campaign season continues. Anderson Cooper interviewed Debbie Wasserman-Shultz on his show and claimed that she, “lied” when she claimed in fundraising letters that Mitt Romney does not support a rape victims right to get an abortion. His basis for this claim is that Romney has, in the past said that he thinks abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s health or life are threatened. However, he has also said many other things.

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As Rachel Maddow reports, Romney has gone back and forth on the idea of a health exception and also a rape exception. So if Cooper wants to say that Wasserman-Shultz is “lying” because she has only included Romney’s most extreme statements, he’s being obtuse. Language lawyering here is incredibly clueless when you consider the policy implications of even the most generous pro-choice interpretation of Romney’s position(s).

Wasserman-Shultz was correct in pointing out Mitt Romney’s support for personhood amendments, as it is in direct contradiction with his statement that he favors any exceptions at all. And she was also correct in tying him to his party’s platform. Cooper’s balking at this is nonsensical. If political party platforms are to be disregarded, then the parties themselves are meaningless. Does Anderson Cooper really think there are no policy differences between the two parties? How could that be possible? By rejecting what Debbie Wasserman-Shultz said about the Republican party’s official stance on abortion, Cooper is picking and choosing what statements he will and won’t hold Mitt Romney to. Why would someone do this? The only reason I can think of is that “Liberal Democrat Woman caught in lie!” is a bigger story than “Mitt Romney flip flops again.” That kind of intellectually dishonest pandering is a great disservice to viewers.

Beyond the obvious, what Andersoon Cooper is missing is that rape exceptions are bad policy by design and are pretty much written so that Americans in the mushy middle can sleep at night, but in reality don’t actually allow rape victims to get abortions. This is yet another reason why Debbie Wasserman-Shultz wasn’t lying. A country where only rape victims can get abortions does not exist on this Earth. As Jesse Taylor explains, such a policy is unenforceable and would not work at all. The same is true for health and life exceptions. They end with women dying horrible deaths from sepsis. In South America, for example, if a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, the doctor cannot abort the pregnancy it until either the fetus dies or the fallopian tube ruptures.

Upon closer examination, the “exceptions” Cooper is insisting Mitt Romney advocates for don’t exist in reality, even when they are stated as a goal by politicians. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is right that Mitt Romney’s position is extreme and would take away women’s access to abortion in almost all cases. Anderson Cooper owes her and his audience an apology.

Beer Adventures In London and Edinburgh

Posted in Food and Drinks, Pictures on September 12th, 2012

During my recent trip to the UK, I made an effort to sample beers that I haven’t seen in the USA or in New York specifically. Here are some of the hilights:

Cider in London
While in London I enjoyed a lot more cider than I had initially thought I would have. It’s quite popular and was available at ever pub and restaurant we went to. What surprised me is that it’s often served over ice. I’m not a fan of that, because the ice melts and dilutes the cider. Most of the time, the bar tender or server will ask if you want ice, so that only happened to me once, with a Wyld Wood Westons Organic Cider.

We visited the Sherlock Holmes pub with Steve Bowen and @RedDalek. I was quite shocked that someone had mounted their poor bloodhound on the wall, but then I realized that it was the Hound of the Baskervilles! The pub contains memorabilia from Sherlock Holmes movies and television series.

Like many in /r/beer recommended, I made sure to sample Strong Bow Cider on tap. It tasted even better drinking it outside on a sunny afternoon at a pub that was actually a boat.

Photo credit: RPM
Tattershall Castle

I tried Aspall Draught Suffolk Cyder on the advice of @ChardHollis and was not disappointed.

We got to visit The Mayflower, the pub that is said to be where the ship of the same name set sail for America.

While there I had a Joseph Holt Maplemoon, which I think was the beer highlight of London for me. The maple flavor was just enough that you could really enjoy it but it didn’t overpower the beer.

On a day trip to Bath, I had some (nonalcoholic) ginger beer. I see Reed’s extra ginger brew sometimes in the United States, but most American soft drinks are packed with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Fentimans was very gingery and almost too spicy.

During our visit to the British Museum, I noticed this fascinating piece of beer history:

Cask Ales in Edinburgh
While in Scotland, I tried to always pick a beer from the cask selection, something not often seen in the United States.

When we arrived in Edinburgh, it was cold and rainy. We had lunch at the Halfway House, a small pub on the oddly named Fleshmarket Close. I had a smoked haddock and cheese pot pie and Adam had stovies – corned beef hash to us Yanks.

Dark Munro on the right and Thrappledouser at left.

I had my first cask ale, a Highland Dark Munro. I enjoy darker beers, and this one had a very pleasant flavor of well roasted malt and just a hint of chocolate/coffee. It was definitely appropriate for the weather and a hearty lunch.

That night we visited The Last Drop, a picturesque pub on Grassmarket, famous for being the site of the last ever public hanging in Scotland.

The inside of it was cinematic. The building is hundreds of years old, and the tavern has seen a lot of history. It was crowded even fairly early in the evening and we got a table facing the bar. I enjoyed watching the crowd and looking at the different taps and trying to make sense of the scotch whiskey list. The way the pub was lit, it seemed to suggest candlelight and a glowing fireplace although there were only modern, electric lights. I had another pot pie, but this one was made with steak and ale. I’m not generally a steak and potatoes kind of woman, but it was fantastic. I had a pint of Caledonian ale, the same used in the pie I was eating. It was a very satisfying meal.

On the way home we stopped at Bow Bar, where I was happily surprised to see Brooklyn Lager and Goose Island representing the United States on their bottle list.

The next day I have to admit we were ugly Americans and had lunch at Filling Station but I did have a chuckle at this description of Brooklyn Lager:

We made up for it though with dinner at The White Hart Inn, a pub whose cellar dates back to 1516.

Photo credit: notcub

We had a drink outside before heading in for a dinner.

Independence Ale

Later on we made our way to Brew Dog, passing a night club offering £1 drinks:

Quality cocktails, I’m sure!

But we were greeted with this amazing sight when we arrived:

Brew Dog had a laid back atmosphere with a larger selection of bottles than beers on tap, most of which were IPA’s:

Photo credit: @BrewDogEdin

I had the Dogma, which was very rich and pleasantly medium bodied. There were hints of honey and dark malt. Definitely a beer to savor.

We couldn’t leave though, without trying the infamous Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

It tasted like Port and burning.

It was £5 for a shot (or dram as they say in Scotland) and was served in the glass pictured above. TNP smelled really good at first, like a caramel stout with dark fruit. But when I tilted the glass to drink some, I got a slight burning sensation in my nostrils like I was at a gas station. Technically it’s an imperial stout, and I could see that. It also tasted like a very strong port wine, and had a strong alcohol aftertaste. It wasn’t great, but I’m glad I tried it for the novelty.

One of the things Adam particularly liked about Edinburgh was the churches that had been renovated into pubs.

The Iron Church

The Frankenstein Pub

Cloisters Bar

At Cloisters, I tried a Tempest Cresta Black, which was a pretty decent stout, but a little thin for my tastes.

We had dinner at the Guildford Arms which had been highly recommended to us. It’s a beautiful place, and was built in a very ornate style to try and combat the prevailing notion that pubs were a bane on society. The food was very good. I had the traditional Fish and Chips with an Edinburgh Gold. Edinburgh Gold was light but much too fruity for my taste. I felt like I was drinking a jar of perfume at times. We ordered dessert because we were having such a nice evening. I had an Orkney Dark Island which was nice on it’s own, but much to bitter to be paired with my profiterole. I pushed it aside and sipped it when I was finished.

A view of the Guildford Arms from the upstairs seating.

On our last day in Edinburgh, we had lunch at Teuchters a cozy pub on William Street.

This was where we found (in our humble opinions anyway) the Holy Grail of Scottish beers – Innis & Gunn on tap:

Checkmate, Atheists!

We had dinner at The Canon’s Gait. The restaurant is decorated with famous quotations painted on the walls, like “If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?” The food was good, and I was boring and ordered a Magner’s, but the honey and ice cream parfait I had for dessert was really terrific.

Our final stop in Edinburgh was The Blue Blazer to meetup with some Daylight Atheism readers.

Photo credit: Chris Donia

I tried two really good beers on cask there, Trade Winds and Blathan.

Trade Winds was the only wheat beer I had in the UK, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was interested because it was described as including elderflower, and I love St. Germain elderflower liqueur and champagne cocktails, so why not try that flavor in a beer? It was light and fruity with some nice malt tastes.

Blathan was a challenge to order, mainly because the name is Gaelic and not pronounced how it’s spelled. But it was worth the confusion my labored Long Island accent produced to the bar tender’s Scottish ears. It was crisp, fruity and not too bitter. Very refreshing.

Photo Credit: Craige Moore
Blathan? Blath? Bath? Blan? That one!

I had lots of fun on my trip, and want to give a shout out to /r/beer for recommending many of the fine establishments we visited in Edinburgh. Also I really enjoyed the Daylight Atheism meetups, thanks to everyone who came out!

On Being Held Hostage By The Democratic Party

Posted in Editorials on September 10th, 2012

Our affable captors.

I listened to Sam Seder’s interview with Jill Stein. And while I think she sidestepped his questions about the strategic reasons a person might hesitate to vote Green, what jumped out at me was that she said the Democratic party is unsalvageable. Even though I have a lot of ambivalence about President Obama, it makes me uneasy to say the the Democratic party as a whole is beyond repair.

A friend of mine involved in Occupy once suggested that the reason I feel this way is because of my efforts in local Democratic politics. That might be true. I have spent a lot of time, money and shoeleather volunteering for Democrats. I’ve made some great friends and learned a lot. To abandon the party now, when it includes people like Tony Avella, and Sandra Fluke feels wrong.

If I did leave, where would I go? The Green Party seems like the obvious answer. I did vote Green for NYC Mayor in 2009, and I was voting for Bill Talen, not against Thompson or Bloomberg. Listening to Jill Stein was kind of anticlimactic. She couldn’t answer Sam Seder’s questions about his concerns that promoting the Green Party would elevate the Republican Party. She said that Obama is a hypnotic orator, which has weird and racist undertones. I think that Sam Seder was right when he said that the liberals were co-opted by anti-Bush organizing during the Bush administration, and that we only have the Occupy Movement because we now have Democrats in office who we can try to persuade. Voting for her would seem more like a vote against Obama than one for her.

Yes, she voted for the Iraq War and he signed DOMA and made life shittier for poor people and called it “Welfare Reform” (which included the beginning of federally funded abstinence only sex education, btw) but they are so DAMN ADORABLE!!

I was mulling this over in my head and I thought about groups like the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO. They have even less of a choice than individual voters. Obama hasn’t delivered much of anything on environmental policy, and has failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. But environmental and labor groups must continue to endorse Democrats. Republicans would be actively destructive to those causes, and these groups would lose access and power if they endorsed a 3rd party candidate.

This was underscored when the Sierra Club tweeted the praises of Obama’s speech to the DNC, even though he was talking about “clean coal” and making what some say were references to increasing fracking (he said we should use more natural gas).

But as I tweeted, I know why they said this. President Obama needs to win Pennsylvania and Ohio, so he must speak favorably of coal. He uses the false frame of “clean coal” because most Americans don’t know that that’s greenwashing. The Sierra Club has no choice but to ignore what they clearly know to be bad policy. They either fall in line and endorse him or get left behind.

This weighed heavily on me as I watched the rest of his speech. As soon as I saw through what was behind the President’s mention of clean coal, it was difficult for me to focus. I did appreciate his vision of an America where everyone is equal and free:

If you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election.

If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.

If you believe that new plants and factories can dot our landscape; that new energy can power our future; that new schools can provide ladders of opportunity to this nation of dreamers; if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.

America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.

It was as if he was drawing a line in the sand, and I resent that. President Obama expects us to believe in the facade of “clean coal” even though he must know that a pursuit of it would be counterproductive to his stated desire to combat climate change. And yet, here he was saying really moving things about freedom, justice and equality. It’s quite disorienting.

I have long said that I am not disappointed with President Obama because when I voted for him I knew that I was voting for a centrist and not a Liberal. I thought that I could deal with his pie in the sky bipartisan ideas, and I am glad to see that much of this year’s DNC was about drawing contrasts between the parties and calling out obstructionism. I’m not the only Liberal with a deep ambivalence for President Obama. But politics is as they say, the art of the possible.

There are those who wear their self righteous indignation with President Obama and the Democratic party like a badge of honor. I think that we should ask questions of our leaders. But we won’t get answers if we play games and grandstand. There are outlets other than politics for people enraged by the United States human rights violations of the 21st century. The prison reform movement and Amnesty International come to mind. But while the tactics used in the video did get a lot of page-views, did they effect policy? Did they inspire anyone to run for office or make a donation or write a letter? Was anything changed, even to the level of an individual’s opinion?

What it comes down to is that the Obama Administration has a tangible list of accomplishments that have real positive impacts on the lives of people. This cannot be ignored.

It’s easy to resent the Democrats for not doing what I want them to do. It’s even easier to resent them for being what I believe to be my only option. But I take full responsibility for my own role in the process. I write to my representatives, and I support candidates who really, really get it. There are two ways out of this hostage crisis. One is to work harder. The other is to give up.