Tag: Arguing on the Internet

Too soon!

There's a sentiment I've seen in the CBR comments section a couple of times recently: this "How dare you try and tie this to a political agenda?" faux-outrage.

Now, there are lots of times when it's inappropriate to bring up controversial political subjects. Particularly when there's a recent tragedy in the news and you're sensationalizing it. Like, for example, after the V-Tech massacre, when soon-to-be-disbarred fuckface Jack Thompson tried to blame the killings on Counterstrike, a game which the shooter did not play.

Some things are completely inappropriate in the wake of a tragedy. Like flailing around trying to blame it on Doom or Marilyn Manson or Dungeons and Dragons. Or jumping all over a quote from some guy on the opposite end of the country about what the killer supposedly said. Or grabbing whatever Batman comic your film critic has on his desk, thumbing through it until you see a scene that takes place in the theater, and wildly speculating that the killer was imitating it. Or plastering the killer's name and stupid fucking face all over TV and the Internet to make good and sure that every crazy asshole out there knows that hey kids, if you wanna be on TV, all you have to do is murder a bunch of people. Or typing his name into Google and falsely conflating him with a Tea Party member. Or having an honest dialogue about the ease of access to high-powered weapons and high-capacity clips in this country, and the sorry state of our mental health system.

Wait, what was that last one?


The subject came up again in a discussion of the recent news that comics writer and inker Karl Kesel recently adopted a baby with a methadone addiction and is selling his comic collection to pay for the child's medical bills.

Now, it goes without saying that this is a feel-good story, that Kesel and his wife Myrna are clearly legitimately wonderful human beings, and that they're doing something great that really matters.

But if you can read a story like that and not, even for a moment, think "They shouldn't have to do that" then you and I are very different people.

Nothing but respect to the Kesels, and I certainly speak only for myself and not for them. But it strikes me that there are a lot of people out there with sick kids who don't have tens of thousands of dollars in investments, and that getting slapped with tens of thousands in bills -- even if you've got insurance! -- is a sign of a broken healthcare system.

Seems to me that stories like that are perfect opportunities to have a conversation about healthcare -- but somebody brought it up and immediately got shushed by another commenter's righteous indignation: "How dare you politicize this?"

(In fairness, the guy who brought it up was kind of an ass about it.)

Seems to me that, when presented with a story that's a clear, directly-pertinent object example of some important sociopolitical issue, it's probably a good time to talk about that issue!

I mean, should we just wait until there are no stories about gun violence or healthcare debt to talk about gun access and healthcare costs? Don't make much sense if you ask me.

Nymwars

Yesterday Google started encouraging YouTube commenters to use their Google+ accounts. Google claims that this will make YouTube commenters use their real names and, therefore, not act like such assholes all the time.

I think it's more to do with Google desperately trying to get people to use Google+ after everybody tried it for a month and then went back to Facebook. But the notion of "realname enforcement" as a deterrent to trolls is a pipe dream and it's been pretty roundly torn apart already. So, I present to you this post, a reworked version of something I wrote last October.

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory posits that ordinary people, given anonymity and an audience, turn into total fuckwads. I agree with this assessment wholeheartedly.

Which is why the suggestion that removing people's anonymity so they've got to stand by their words is so appealing: at least some people would be a little less obnoxious on the Internet if they had their real name attached to everything they said, right?

Which would probably be true if it could actually be implemented, but it can't. This argument essentially mirrors the DRM argument: intelligent, tech-savvy people understand that it doesn't fucking work, but idiots continue to support it because it sounds like something that should work. So we wind up with something that does fuck-all to stop people who are misbehaving, while managing to create an obnoxious inconvenience for people who have done nothing wrong.

To wit: All "realname enforcement" means is that a troll has to use a plausible-sounding name like "John Smith". Meanwhile, people who have actual unusual names get hassled and held up, as noted in the Washington Post article Offbeat Name? Then Facebook's No Friend. (Some people really are named "Batman" or "Yoda"!)

All that aside, there are legitimate reasons to use a pseudonym on the Internet. Fortune gets it; danah boyd (no relation) really gets it.

Another site has popped up called "My Name Is Me" where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What's most striking is the list of people who are affected by "real names" policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where "real names" policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What's even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense...

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. "Real names" policies aren't empowering; they're an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.

I use my real name online -- but I'm a straight, middle-class white boy between the ages of 18 and 35. Worst thing that's going to happen to me is somebody asks me about my political opinions in a job interview, or posts satellite pictures of addresses you can find if you run a whois on my website.

Charlie Stross has a wonderful analysis of everything that's wrong with realname enforcement under the title Why I'm not on Google Plus; notably, it quotes Patrick McKenzie's Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names. I'm going to follow Charlie's lead and quote Patrick's list of falsehoods in its entirety:

  1. People have exactly one canonical full name.
  2. People have exactly one full name which they go by.
  3. People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.
  4. People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.
  5. People have exactly N names, for any value of N.
  6. People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.
  7. People’s names do not change.
  8. People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
  9. People’s names are written in ASCII.
  10. People’s names are written in any single character set.
  11. People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points.
  12. People’s names are case sensitive.
  13. People’s names are case insensitive.
  14. People’s names sometimes have prefixes or suffixes, but you can safely ignore those.
  15. People’s names do not contain numbers.
  16. People’s names are not written in ALL CAPS.
  17. People’s names are not written in all lower case letters.
  18. People’s names have an order to them. Picking any ordering scheme will automatically result in consistent ordering among all systems, as long as both use the same ordering scheme for the same name.
  19. People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.
  20. People have last names, family names, or anything else which is shared by folks recognized as their relatives.
  21. People’s names are globally unique.
  22. People’s names are almost globally unique.
  23. Alright alright but surely people’s names are diverse enough such that no million people share the same name.
  24. My system will never have to deal with names from China.
  25. Or Japan.
  26. Or Korea.
  27. Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have "weird" naming schemes in common use.
  28. That Klingon Empire thing was a joke, right?
  29. Confound your cultural relativism! People in my society, at least, agree on one commonly accepted standard for names.
  30. There exists an algorithm which transforms names and can be reversed losslessly. (Yes, yes, you can do it if your algorithm returns the input. You get a gold star.)
  31. I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it.
  32. People’s names are assigned at birth.
  33. OK, maybe not at birth, but at least pretty close to birth.
  34. Alright, alright, within a year or so of birth.
  35. Five years?
  36. You’re kidding me, right?
  37. Two different systems containing data about the same person will use the same name for that person.
  38. Two different data entry operators, given a person’s name, will by necessity enter bitwise equivalent strings on any single system, if the system is well-designed.
  39. People whose names break my system are weird outliers. They should have had solid, acceptable names, like 田中太郎.
  40. People have names.

Now, it's true that Internet Fuckwads use pseudonyms to behave in a way that they probably wouldn't if they were forced to use their real names.

However, any potential benefit of such realname enforcement is negated by the fact that -- and those of you familiar with my opinions on swear filters and DRM may notice a trend here -- realname enforcement doesn't fucking work.

Stross also links a Gary Walker piece, A Firsthand Examination of the Google+ Profile Reporting Process, which pretty much takes a wrecking ball to any notion that Google+'s realname enforcement is, well, even slightly competent.

To wit:

He set up a second Gary Walker account, and used the same avatar -- which isn't personally identifying, just a Lolcat.

Then he reported the second account as an impersonator. To file such a report, he had to prove his original account was the "real" Gary Walker. To do this, he Photoshopped a crooked scan of his picture onto the McLovin ID from Superbad, and replaced "McLovin" with his own name, in a different font from the rest of the ID.

Google accepted this as a valid ID, and temporarily blocked the second Gary Walker account.

To prove his identity, Gary responded from the second account, taking the same fake ID and Shopping a picture of Jared fucking Loughner on it.

The account was reinstated.

In short, in a revelation that should surprise absolutely fucking nobody, realname enforcement doesn't stop anybody from using pseudonyms -- it just forces them to use pseudonyms that sound, plausibly, like real names.

Meanwhile, both honest people who want to use pseudonyms and people with unusual real names are penalized.

So yeah, I think the comparison to DRM and swear filters is apt: legitimate users get fucked, abusive ones don't even have to break stride.


That was where my original post ended. The rest of the thread is well worth reading; a number of the guys on the board note that as far as they're concerned, their handles are their real names at this point. Forumgoer Kayin, creator of cult gaming hit I Wanna Be the Guy, is best known on the Internet as Kayin; nobody knows who the fuck Michael O'Reilly is. (And, as I note, even O'Reilly tends to fuck with "realname" parsers, due to the apostrophe.) I've met some of these guys and still didn't address them by their real names; Kazz will always be Kazz. Sei won't even tell us his real name.

(Hell, I've been mostly-using my real name online since 1990, but there are still some people out there who think "X" is actually my middle initial. I used to know a guy who always addressed me, in person, as Thad "X" Boyd. As in "Hi, Thad 'X' Boyd. How are things, Thad 'X' Boyd?")

Google+ did add support for pseudonyms a few months after the criticism started, so that, say, Madonna can sign up as Madonna, but it still requires that the pseudonyms be "established" -- as vaguely defined by some guy in an office somewhere. Kazz and Sei, presumably, don't qualify. I guess Kayin might, but I doubt it, and to my knowledge he hasn't tested it -- last I heard he'd deleted his Google+ account.

Anyway. If all that's not enough to convince you that realname enforcement doesn't work, consider this: do you generally think of Facebook as a place where people are polite and don't say offensive or insulting things?

And consider this: I post under my real name, and have been for over twenty years -- and it hasn't stopped me from posting things with titles like Nintendo President Still a Fucking Idiot, Experts Say.

Stalkerin'

Last night, when I was digging for old Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic I wrote when I was 11, I ran across a page that had set up a profile for me.

Nothing I'd signed up for; a site that had apparently trawled search engines and found things out about me.

For example, it had an address and phone number on it that were both, at various times, attached to my domain registration information for this site. It asterisked out the last four digits of the phone number, as well as the street numbers of the address -- but I don't know how much that would prevent anyone from finding the house, seeing as the site's got a satellite photo of it with an arrow pointing to it.

Now, I haven't lived at that house in years. And I've been pretty good about keeping my current address off the Internet for most of this century. But you know, I did pick up a stalker once who posted vaguely threatening satellite photos of old addresses he'd found by Googling my name. He was laughably incompetent at the whole stalker thing, but it was still a little on the creepy side.

There are other things about that site that made me curious about its data aggregation. I know where it got my (old) address and phone number, but it also knew my brother's name, and I'm curious where it found that. (Not like it's a secret or anything, I'm just wondering where and how the scraper found it.) It also listed my age -- as "early 40's", which I have to admit makes me feel a little better about turning 30 in a couple months.

But you know, it's a bit disquieting to know that that address and phone number will be associated with me forever (or at least for years to come). If I ever attract any competent crazies, that could mean harrassment for whoever lives in those two places now. (My domain is now registered to the address and phone number of the hosting company. Please don't go after them if I piss you off, either; they're an understaffed local business and their job is tough enough as it is.)

There was a story a few months back about Spike Lee retweeting what he believed to be the address of accused child-murderer George Zimmerman but turned out to belong to a couple of elderly retirees. You can imagine how that went.

So, you know, not that I believe that the sort of gibbering maniac who stalks people who make him angry on the Internet will heed this advice, but here it is anyway: do not engage in Internet Mob Justice. You want to send an angry E-Mail to a public address or call in a complaint to a public number, okay, but leave personal phones and home addresses out of it. Not just because that's basic human decency, but because you might get the wrong person.

But Internet Mob Justice could make for a whole other post, or a whole series of them. (And, mind, I haven't actually been subjected to any, beyond the weirdo with the satellite photos a few years ago, nor do I expect to; I'm just indulging in general musing right now.)

But back to the point. Back when I used my real, personal addresses and phone numbers as contact for this domain, I wasn't thinking about long-term effects or unintended consequences. And I think that's an ongoing problem in the era of social networking.

Back in April, Cult of Mac wrote a feature on an app called Girls Near Me, which used Facebook and FourSquare location data to help users find people in the area and pull up their profiles. Charlie Stross had further comments.

At minimum, the app had potential for simple skeeze -- sliding up to a girl at a bar and pretending to coincidentally be interested in the same things she was. At maximum, well, full-on stalking. The app was pulled in pretty short order, but the app was just an aggregator -- people still post location data and personal information; that information is still out there, whether or not it's aggregated by a skeezy-looking app.

People post about being on vacation, and their houses get robbed. You'll recall I was out of town this past weekend -- but I didn't mention it until I got back. (I even scheduled two posts to go up while I was gone, to keep up my post-a-day streak.) Now, as I said, I don't think my current address is available anywhere on the Internet -- and my readership is far too small to pose any kind of statistical likelihood that somebody's waiting for a chance to rob my house -- but at this point it's just a best-practices thing.

I dunno. Guess I'm not going anywhere in particular with this. It's just weird, the amount of shit that's out there, the amount that's accurate, the amount that once was, and the amount that's just pure goofy-ass bullshit. (Still wondering where that aggregator got the idea I'm in my forties.) Something to think about.

Do Not Like

A few weeks back, I laid out my aversion to Facebook and the like.

When I updated the site code a bit to add tags, I considered whether to add all the now-standard bullshit Like/+1/Pin/Reddit/StumbleUpon/Digg (Wait, Digg? That's Still a Thing?) buttons to the bottom of my posts. They'd probably get more exposure that way. And hell, maybe someday, if I'm actually concerned about getting exposure instead of, say, people stumbling on my site randomly while doing a search for "did stan lee bone at jack kirby's wife", I'll bite the bullet and stick a linkbar down there. But for now, I'm perfectly happy with my uncluttered little niche site. (Reminder: this site's title is meant as irony.)

Now, the thing is, upvoting actually does have positive applications. Not just in terms of exposure, but it's a great way to organize a comments section, provided it's implemented as it is on Slashdot or Reddit: popular posts become more prominent, while the trolls get drowned out.

Of course, this has the potential to result in mob-rule stupidity. That's why Slashdot doesn't allow just anybody to upvote comments; certain users are selected as moderators (and other users are selected as meta-moderators to help ensure that the moderators reflect the community). Slashdot's not perfect, but it uses a very effective model for its comments section. (On the other hand, if you put the power in the hands of too few people, you end up with a situation like Digg -- which I quit reading some years back precisely because I thought the voting had fallen to the lowest common denominator, but which as it turns out was being tightly controlled by a small and select group of morons.)

Course, that's not what the Like/+1/Karma/whatever button is typically used for. Typically it's purely masturbatory -- it doesn't affect which posts are more or less prominent, it just functions as a scorecard. The people clicking Thumbs-Up or -Down get to stroke their own egos and the ego of the poster (and it doesn't matter which -- do you really think someone who's got a shit-ton of thumbs-down clicks is any less satisfied than someone who got a bunch of thumbs-up? Because here's the thing: if somebody's got dozens of thumbs-downs, that is exactly what he was trying to get.). It's also a very rudimentary form of gaming, of the sort Ian Bogost parodied in Cow Clicker.

I'll say one thing for it: it at least serves as a substitute for people writing banal little one-word praise posts ("Seconded!", "Yes!", "Like!", "This!"). I'd rather see a "+100" next to somebody's comment than 100 one-line replies.

That said, I'd rather people actually, you know, find intelligent things to say.

Still Not My Batman

Providing another great example of the Not My Batman point I made the other week: a thread at Robot 6 where, discussing Arkham Asylum, I utter the eight words "it's more violent than I like my Batman" (in-between calling it "a phenomenally good game" -- twice) and multiple people feel the need to condescend to me and tell me I'm wrong and that's how Batman is supposed to be.

It's still just such a weird thing to me -- the idea that it's not enough to prefer one version of Batman over others, but to have to declare it the One True Version. It's not enough to say "Well, I for one have been waiting for a more violent Batman game"; it has to be "Obviously you aren't familiar with the source material; people like me have been waiting a long time for someone to make a game that's closer to the source material." Where "the source material" means "The Dark Knight Returns", because every Batman comic printed prior to 1986 doesn't count, obviously.

I will say one thing, though: not one single person argued with the part where I said "I really can't stand the art style."

PC Gamer's Dilemma

Well, I finally got me an Xbox 360.

It was free. My fiancée got a new computer with one of those student "comes with a free Xbox" deals.

Here's the thing: I've got a pretty solid gaming rig. And another pretty solid media rig. So I haven't felt much need for Xboxin' up to this point.

The advantages and drawbacks of PC gaming are pretty well-documented. A PC can support crazy high-end hardware, but while the games are cheaper the gear is more expensive and fiddly and there's a whole lot that can go wrong.

Me, I'm something like a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche -- I run Linux on a Mac Pro as my primary OS and keep Windows around for gaming.

This is pretty cool when it works. But here's the thing: even a good Apple makes for a pretty crummy gaming system.

Last year I bought a pretty high-end Nvidia card. ATI has better Mac support, but I've had nothing but headaches trying to get ATI cards working with Linux. Nvidia's always run smoother for me -- galling considering their total lack of cooperation with Linux and the open-source community, but true.

But it's not an officially-supported card. It works under OSX (as of 10.7.3) but it's not entirely reliable under Windows -- when it gets taxed too heavily, I get a bluescreen.

It happened a few times when I played through Witcher 2, but, perversely, it's given me more trouble on Mass Effect 2 -- a game I had no trouble playing through with all the settings maxed out on a lower-end (but officially-Apple-supported) ATI card.

I thought it might be a heating problem but it occurs, consistently, even when I crank up all my system fans with third-party software.

The game worked fine up until Omega, and then started BSoDing randomly. I managed to recruit Garrus in-between crashes, but by the time it came around to Mordin's quest I couldn't get past loading the corridor.

I could just try some other missions, but seriously, you want me to put off getting Mordin? Hell no.

I've found, from searching, that this appears to be a fairly common problem with ME2, even among people not running eccentric hardware configurations such as mine. And I've found a few suggested fixes, but none have worked for me.

I've tried running the game under WINE on both OSX and Ubuntu. Under OSX it plods (I suspect my helper card may be to blame; maybe I'll try disabling it to make sure my higher-end card is the only one the system's putting a load on); under Ubuntu it runs fine up until the menu screen but then doesn't respond to mouse clicks or keystrokes (other than system stuff like Alt-Tab or Alt-F4). I haven't turned up any other reports of this same problem, so I can't find a fix -- maybe one of these days I'll try a full clean install and see if it still does it. Nuke my WINE settings too if I have to. (Or maybe I could set it up on my fiancée's new computer...)

Needless to say, I haven't tried Mass Effect 3 yet.

And that's before we get into all the DRM bullshit plaguing the PC platform.

Never played Batman: Arkham Asylum, largely because of the SecuROM/GFWL/Steamworks Katamari of Sucktitude. Similarly, I gave Dragon Age 2 a miss once I heard reports of people unable to authenticate their legally-purchased games because they'd been banned from BioWare's forums for saying mean things about EA. (Which obviously totally disproves that EA deserves to be called names.)

It's a great damn time to be a PC gamer for a lot of reasons -- a huge indie scene supported by the likes of Steam and the Humble Indie Bundle, with both pushing more gaming on OSX and even Linux -- but it's a lousy time for other reasons.

Anyway. Now I've got an Xbox. All else being equal, I still prefer to play games on the PC, but for cases where the Xbox has less restrictive DRM (like Arkham Asylum) or titles that aren't available on PC (like Red Dead Redemption) or just shit I can get for under five bucks (like a used copy of Gears of War I just picked up), well, it's kinda cool to have one.


Playing: Batman: Arkham Asylum.

I Just Don't Get Fanboys.

Last week I wrote a post on fanboy entitlement, as exemplified by people who are positively enraged that the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is for kids instead of thirtysomethings.

It included this bit:

Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.

Well, funny story about that: Bleeding Cool ran a piece today about that announcement.

And there is one internet user called Nabil Elmjati who seems to have started a one man covert war against [Ultimate Spider-Man] and Marvel Animation.

[...]

Nabil appears to have created the site Marvel TV News which runs stories about [Marvel] animation and games, but mostly about how awful the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is, and how everyone hates it. It is registered to a "Nabil Mjati" in Morocco. So, you know. That's him.

And then he posted the news that the Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes would be cancelled and [replaced] with the cartoon Avengers Assemble. He also [quoted] from a press release, purported to be "print only", saying "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes won't be renewed for the 3rd Season. Marvel Animation will present their newly developed series Marvel's Avengers Assemble in 2013."

[...]

Only problem was that the quote was made up. There was no official press release. It was a lie that few chose to question.

There is certainly the rumour that Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled. It may well be replaced by the new Avengers Assemble. But no official word. Marvel TV News made up an official quote and all the websites followed suit without checking.

Mea culpa. Dude "quoted" a "print-only" press release and I didn't question it. I've updated my earlier post in light of the BC piece.

In my defense, by the time I wrote that post the linked TV Guide interview had been posted, with Loeb confirming work on the Avengers Assemble TV series. That supports the claim that Earth's Mightiest Heroes is cancelled but does not actually confirm it, and is certainly not the same thing as a print-only press release. And before we go any farther, it bears noting that Bleeding Cool is the British tabloid of comic book news sites, and itself best taken with a grain of salt.

But, still and all: there was no press release, and Marvel TV News is a bullshit site by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man.

Which is just, you know, fucking weird.

I get into it a bit with a guy in the comments section of that Bleeding Cool post -- one of those guys who just does not understand why Marvel wants to target its cartoons at the kids, and who just doesn't care anymore and wants to make very sure that everybody knows just how much he doesn't care. Okay. So that's run-of-the-mill fanboy entitlement. A basic lack of perspective. I don't really get it, but it's a common, somewhat mild condition.

It stops somewhere short of this Elmjati gentleman's apparent obsession -- per the BC article, he hasn't merely set up a phony news site to "quote" completely made-up press releases, he's also repeatedly harangued Joe Quesada on Twitter and actually set up a phony Jeph Loeb Facebook profile and then encouraged people to deluge it with angry comments.

And...I mean, just god damn, what is wrong with that guy?

Christ knows I've wasted a lot of time arguing with people on the Internet about superheroes, but running a full-time campaign of astroturfing, sock-puppetry, and downright fabrication has seriously never crossed my mind.

Hudson

News out of the Comics Internet today is that Laura Hudson is stepping down as EIC of ComicsAlliance. It's one of those things where the headline shocked me but the story actually left me feeling it's a good thing -- Laura described the frustration of having to maintain a website instead of just being able to write.

I've been grousing about that very thing on this blog -- and this blog is tiny, has one writer, no comments section, and nobody looking over my shoulder to make sure I don't use the word "fuck".

So, Laura Hudson not worrying about site admin crap and, instead, focusing on writing more articles? Yes please.

Because the woman writes a damn fine article.

Last September, she set the Comics Internet aflame with a post titled The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'. She wasn't the first person to point out sexism in mainstream American superhero comics, obviously. Nor was she the first to point out that it was a barrier for entry in DC's "New 52", ostensibly an attempt to attract new and lapsed readers.

But her piece was clear, heartfelt, and became something of a rallying cry, the first of many on CA, and linked frequently in other articles on other sites.

She's more patient than I am.

Somebody tries to tell me there's no sexism in American superhero comics, I'm less likely to deliver a point-by-point set of examples and how they make me feel, and more inclined to look incredulous and say "Are you fucking kidding me?"

I don't think people should have to write pieces like that. I think every example, every explanation, that Laura gets into in that piece is blisteringly obvious and self-evident.

But obviously there are people who just don't get it. For many of them, their instinct when confronted with such a piece is to get defensive, or to deny, or just to spew a bunch of crazy misogynistic crap in the comments section. I swear that the CA comments section got permanently stupider after that post. (And people are still writing terrible comments on that single post, nine months later -- you're probably better off not scrolling down to the bottom.)

But I think some people do listen. I think some people do take a look at what they're doing and look for ways to fix it. Just the other week Greg Rucka wrote a great post at io9 discussing superhero misogyny and how to fix it (basically: you want to write a well-rounded female character, talk to some women). The discussion is ongoing -- and with Hudson back writing articles, I like to think she'll keep the heat on.

I think it's a little optimistic to say that Big Sexy Problem could be the most important thing written on the subject since Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators list -- but I really think it has the potential to be.

Course, she's more than welcome to just post cat pictures from here on out, too. She's earned it.

And she writes a mighty fine Mark Millar Valentine.

On Alan Moore

Arguments on the Internet are waged through cliché.

Before Watchmen is out today. Alan Moore isn't too happy about it, and has made it abundantly clear that he did not approve it.

Bring this subject up, and sooner or later somebody -- perhaps even an ordinarily intelligent person -- is going to introduce the false-equivalence argument, "Did JM Barrie approve Lost Girls? Did Bram Stoker approve League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?"

I shouldn't have to explain why that is a stupid comparison, but let me just get it out of the way:

JM Barrie did not approve Lost Girls and Bram Stoker did not approve League because JM Barrie and Bram Stoker are fucking dead.

Alan Moore: Not dead. Still alive. Vocally complaining about the use of his characters and concepts.
JM Barrie and Bram Stoker: Dead. Not still alive. They do not have an opinion about Alan Moore.

Not remotely the same thing.

So, okay, point that out and whoever brought it up might concede that point, but then next on the list is "But Watchmen is based on the Charlton Comics characters; it wasn't original in the first place."

Well, you're getting warmer, but still no.

While it's true that the Watchmen cast is deliberately derivative, it is distinct. Rorschach is not the Question, Dr. Manhattan is not Captain Atom, and Nite Owl is not Blue Beetle.

I do think it would have been nice for Moore, Gibbons, DC, or somebody to offer Steve Ditko a check for inspiring their runaway success. (Ditko would likely have refused, because he is Ditko, but it would have been a nice gesture.) But I also think that that's a fundamentally different situation than if, say, the story actually had featured the Question, Captain Atom, and Blue Beetle and Ditko had been asking them not to make it.

Being able to create original characters who are clear analogues to existing characters is a good thing, and the comics industry is built on it. Superman is based on Doc Savage and Batman is based on the Shadow. But they are most certainly not Doc Savage and the Shadow; they're not merely distinct legally, but also morally and artistically. Just as the characters in Watchmen are distinct from their inspirations.

Even in current issues of League, where Moore is clearly using still-living creators' characters with the serial numbers filed off -- most notably Voldemort --, it's still not the same thing. Including a popular, culturally-important character in a minor role or cameo in an ensemble book and never referring to him by name is qualitatively different from making him the main character and sticking him on the cover.

All that said, there are some people who have made a fair point and a rational comparison in this debate: Alan Moore did spend most of the 1980's working on other people's characters. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern -- for someone who now bemoans DC's predatory contracts, he didn't seem too concerned about Jerry and Joe's cut when he wrote Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

And that is a fair point. You can take this a number of different ways, I suppose -- it could be that Alan Moore was simply young and naive and didn't think about things like that in those days. Or it could be that he, Scott Kurtz-like, knew about the injustices of the past but naively believed that things were All Better Now.

Or, cynically, it could just be that he didn't care about unfair contracts until one affected him, or until after he was already rich enough that he could afford to tell DC off.

Honestly, that's a valid interpretation. I can respect that opinion. It's not flattering, but it's at least logically consistent.

And the other thing is, you know, Alan Moore is kind of a dick.

First, there are the blanket statements he constantly makes about everyone at DC and Marvel being terrible and doing nothing but rehash his ideas from 25 years ago. Now unfortunately, I do believe there's some truth to that -- grim-'n'-gritty stories attempting to duplicate Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns are a blight on the superhero genre -- but to say that there's not one person with a single original or creative idea at either company is just, by Moore's own admission, an insult delivered from a position of ignorance.

There's also a whiff of the paranoid conspiracy theorist to Moore's ranting about DC. I don't really think DC bought WildStorm just to get Moore back. And neither do I think that Steve Moore (friend, no relation)'s novelization of the Watchmen movie was scrapped out of petty revenge against Alan, acted out through coded threats transmitted through an unwitting Dave Gibbons -- I find it far more likely that someone at DC just realized that making a novelization of a movie that tried its hardest to be a shot-for-shot adaptation of an existing comic book they already published was a fucking stupid idea.

But his claim that DC was using Gibbons to send weird coded threats brings us to another problem I have with Moore: he has a pretty spotty history with his co-creators.

I think it's wonderful that he refused his share of royalties from V for Vendetta and Watchmen and insisted that it be given to David Lloyd and Dave Gibbons, respectively. I also think that it's a damn shame that, afterward, he accused them of being ungrateful and refused to speak to them ever again.

And that's something that I think too many people have ignored here: comics is a collaborative medium, Alan Moore didn't make these comics by himself, and unfortunately he doesn't just have a history of falling out with his collaborators, he also has a history of blocking their old work from being reprinted.

Steve Bissette -- who says he still has no idea what he said that made Moore refuse to speak to him anymore -- has spoken at length about his attempts with Rick Veitch to reprint 1963 and Moore's refusal to let it happen, and has noted, sardonically, that as much as he hates work-for-hire, it's his WFH collaborations with Alan that are still in print and earning him royalties, not their creator-owned work.

So while I still think Moore and Gibbons should own Watchmen, I acknowledge the very real possibility that if they did, Moore might still have declared Gibbons to be persona non grata and might very well have forced Watchmen out of print. We'll never know.


To the matter of the Watchmen contract: I don't think anyone was attempting to hoodwink Moore and Gibbons with the reversion clause; neither they nor DC had any expectation that the book would stay in print and never revert.

To that end, I can see DC's point that it tried, for decades, to reach an agreement with Moore that would be favorable to all parties, up to and including offering him the rights back if he'd write the prequels himself, and that he was intractable. And I can see Moore's point that DC was moving the goalposts and offering him what it had already agreed to give him, in exchange for more in return from him.

In that sense, it can be viewed as simply a dilemma, as two parties unable to reach an agreement (with Gibbons trapped in the middle) and both sympathetic to a certain extent.

On the other hand, there were cases where DC clearly took advantage of Moore and Gibbons, most notably in the case of the Watchmen buttons it sold as "promos" so that it wouldn't have to pay them their cut for merchandising.

And Moore has recently claimed that his contract actually stipulated that if he ever refused to agree to anything DC proposed to do with the property, they could hire their own lawyer to sign in his stead. And if that's true, then yeah, I think the contract was predatory.

Which does, of course, mean that Moore should have had a lawyer go over his contract in the first place -- I don't think anyone, including Moore himself, disagrees with that.

But what I don't quite get is the frequent line of reasoning, "He signed a contract, therefore he deserves anything that happens as a result of that." Well, legally, sure, but ethically that's far too callous a worldview for my tastes. The notion that it's Moore's fault for allowing DC to take advantage of him -- well, certainly he deserves some share of the blame, but what I don't get is how that absolves DC of any blame for actually taking advantage of him.

JM Straczynski's "Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Segal [sic] and Shuster, worse was a lot of people" dismissal is particularly galling.

But JMS inadvertently brings up another point -- by being, himself, a perfect example of a famously difficult person to work with, a guy known for publicly criticizing the people who sign his checks, who DC puts up with anyway because he brings in good money.

Moore may seem intractable, but DC hasn't gone to much trouble to keep him happy. As Heidi MacDonald recently noted, he was willing to collaborate with them on a Watchmen retrospective back in 2000 -- but after that, DC pulled one of his stories, almost didn't publish Black Dossier, and never did publish it in the format Moore and O'Neill wanted.

Hell, Moore was even consulted for the V for Vendetta movie up until he read a script written by Americans who didn't even have a working idea of how British people talked or the basic structure of the British government.

Moore may be a crank, but MacDonald's point is sound: DC is making the same mistake it's been making since 1939. It's focusing on the characters as its treasure trove instead of their creators.

Way I see it, Before Watchmen will sell well at first and be largely forgotten in a year or two. It's another example, like the New 52, of short-term gimmick thinking -- it'll be a blip on the radar, rather than something that brings in new long-term readers and fans.

You know what could have brought in new readers and fans? New material by Alan Moore.

DC is so singularly focused on wringing every last penny out of Watchmen that it hasn't even stopped to consider what made the book great. It wasn't Ozymandias and the Comedian. It was Moore, Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins.

And maybe Moore was always going to get pissed off and take his ball and go home. Maybe nothing DC could have done would have been enough to get him to stay. Or maybe, if they'd gone to more trouble to keep their biggest-name creator happy, he'd still be around churning out new bestselling books for them -- we'll never know.


Course, there's also the point that Before Watchmen is a terrible idea in the first place, and it would still be a terrible idea even if Moore gave it his blessing -- even if Moore wrote it himself. (And yes, he was planning on it at one point.)

Watchmen is a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. It stands alone, and should continue to do so. I love Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner (and I've enjoyed some stuff by JMS and Azzarello), but I'd much rather see them working on something new.


Discuss this in the Watchmen thread at Brontoforumus!

Selling Out

It's interesting -- those last two posts have actually gotten a couple of people to tell me I should post more. A friend I hadn't talked to in a few months, somebody from the messageboard, and, to my pleasant surprise, a stranger. (Or possibly someone pulling a surprisingly elaborate hoax, which I suppose is still flattering in its own way.)

Partly because of the feedback, I'm going to try and write more here.

I've fucked around on the backend a bit; you've probably noticed posts have tags at the bottom now. I've gone through all the way back to when I first started using blogging software in '06, and tagged all of them. I'm half-tempted to go through the older ones, from when I entered everything by hand, perhaps for no other reason but to tally up how many posts each I've devoted to Mike Allred and Kurt Busiek, but that sounds suspiciously like a lot of work for very little payoff. The reason I switched to blogging software in the first place was because I found myself spending a really inordinate amount of time cutting-and-pasting from one page to another.

Speaking of which, I've also updated the KateStory page, fixed broken links, summarized Book XVIII, and added some new character entries, which is exactly the kind of irritating bookkeeping that drives me to go play Nintendo instead of updating the site. Wonder if it'd be worth it to set up a DB so I don't have to manage every character's list of appearances manually. Then again, we haven't done one of these in nearly two years.

And speaking of old crap that seemed like a good idea at the time, I've renamed the "My Personal Life" category, because that was always a pretty stupid name for "What book I am reading/What game I am playing" but which I kept for a dozen years due to a combination of inertia and mild amusement that I could refer to my categories with the shorthand "Life/Stream".

I've changed it to the more boring but more accurate "Status Updates". That still doesn't seem like a very good name, so if anybody's got a better idea I'm open to suggestions.


I ever tell you why this site is called corporate-sellout.com?

I was chatting with an old friend of mine. Girl I went to high school with; we were in drama together, and I went to my junior prom with her.

By this point we were in college. I was a freshman or a sophomore, thereabouts, and she would have been a year ahead of me.

We were still in touch but pretty testy with each other -- you know that age, where you're out on your own but still kinda stressed-out and pissed-off about everything.

Plus, I was still getting over a bad breakup. With her roommate.

Anyhow, we were talking about our majors. She'd picked creative writing and I pooh-poohed it a bit.

Not because I don't believe in writing, of course. She and I are both storytellers, at heart.

But for other reasons. I thought of college as a means to an end, a financial investment for a financial reward. And, well, I was lucky enough that I really enjoyed something that also was, unlike a creative writing, a lucrative degree. (That'd be CompSci, for those who haven't been keeping score.)

She responded, rather angrily, with "Well, it sounds like I'm studying to be an artist, and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."

It wasn't the worst thing she called me in that conversation (it was followed shortly by "asshole"), but it stuck with me.

Mostly because I make a terrible corporate sellout.

Up to that point in my life, I'd never even worked in private industry; all my work had either been for my family or for the government.

I've worked a few corporate jobs in the years since, but I'm still a bottom-rung IT temp. If I were going to sell out, it would have been for a lot more money than what I'm making.

Funny thing is, last I heard she was doing much the same work I am -- she's probably a bit higher up in the chain, actually, because a few years back she took an entry-level phone support job that I refused.

I can't say I regret refusing that job, because seriously, entry-level phone support sucks and I thank the all-powerful Atheismo every day that I no longer work in a phone bank, but I will say that the job I took instead because I thought it'd pay better and give me more room for advancement was...a miscalculation.

So it goes, I suppose. But I'm still a storyteller at heart.

I enjoy the hell out of writing. And I never really stopped doing it -- I just cut way back on doing it here.

I'm pretty damn prolific over on the forums, and I spend more time arguing with idiots in the ComicsAlliance comments section than I'd care to admit. I think I'm much better off trying to redirect at least some of that effort back this way.

I've probably got a pretty good backlog of standalone posts over at Brontoforumus (and maybe even Pyoko, if I feel like slogging through Wayback pages) that I could just copy-paste up here. I expect I'll do a bit of that, in addition to original posts.