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October 18, 2012

the war on halloween costumes

I have a mild problem with the "We're a Culture Not A Costume" campaign.  You may have seen this in your social media diet (or you can visit their Facebook page here).  It's the work product of an entirely well-meaning University of Ohio student group that fashions itself Students Teaching About Racism In Society (which, if you haven't figured out, abbreviates as STARS).  The campaign (at least for this fall) is a series of posters/graphics that have a background of a ridiculous Halloween costume (a hillbilly! a welfare mom!), with an actual Appalachian frowning, or a black woman with her arms crossed, etc. in the foreground, with the caption: "You wear the costume for one night.  I wear the stigma for life."

This is the point where we tread carefully.  I agree entirely with the premise, which I'll restate as, "Hey, guys, everybody please be less racist."  Awesome.  Let's do that.  But of all the little tendrils of endemic racism that should be addressed, I have a hard time believing that the Halloween costume is the most pressing.

Let's just say that it seems to me a war against dressing up like someone else, or a blanket ban on ever mentioning a stereotype, which would be an over-reaction.  Maybe the over-reaction is the point?

Let's just say that there's something about it that makes me uncomfortable.  Maybe it's the word stigma, which is being used pretty broadly here (in the examples given)?

And for the record, I am far too lazy to assemble a Halloween costume, for about fifteen years running.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:57 AM

October 17, 2012

hofstra debate

I was hovering over the keyboard during last night's debate waiting for that zinger, that good 'un that'd be worth rah-rah-ing in a public fashion, and it never quite came.  Something to goose the base, give us something to start Tumblrs over.  And when it was over (and it was a blur, oddly), I finally realized that there was no zinger because Obama was too busy winning the debate to be bothered.

And win he did.  He connected when he had the chance, and he managed to get through the thing without decking Romney.  He made the points he had to make.  He was the God-damn President of the United States, which is the advantage of incumbency, and an advantage he squandered last time around.  And I'd love to say that he made policy points forcefully and cogently (which he did), but we all know that that's not the purpose of these silly exercises.

No, the purpose is to see which guy will make a fool of himself, and this time around Mitt Romney did not disappoint.  To the one question that could solidify his numbers among women (which were said to be improving), he gave a generic "some of my best friends are women" response that included the "binders full of women" remark that will devour the Internet for one day.  On Libya, which is weirdly the center of Romney's foreign policy credibility, he got schooled by both the president and the moderator.  And his mien of How To Succeed In Business which shocked everyone two weeks ago curdled into Thurston Howellism, and trying to steamroll Candy Crowley was not quite as useful as it was with Jim Lehrer.  They say that Romney had to practice sitting on a barstool; I say it looked like he needed practice walking and standing, as his rictus grin gave his overall posture a somewhat cadaverous aspect.

Basically, if you leave a mop bucket in the vicinity of Mitt Romney, he will eventually step in it.

And to the three people who are still like, "There's supposed to be polite to each other!" — sorry, the president tried that once and people thought he was sleeping.  And as a matter of fact, I hope he remains less accommodating for the remainder of his second term, should it come to pass.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:32 AM

October 16, 2012


There are a couple of conversations across the Internet that revolve around the issue of anonymity.  The one you've probably heard about is the unmasking (or "doxxing") of Reddit mod Violentacrez, who was responsible for some truly vile content, and the one you may not have heard about is the suicide of Canadian teen Amanda Todd, who left a wrenching video behind, detailing the online bullying that drove her to take her own life.

Anonymity comes into play in the first case b/c the Reddit community fervently believes that, so long as no laws are broken, the namelessness of the community members is an inalienable right, and in the second, the anonymity of the online bullies is what is protecting them from possible prosecution.

Here's the thing: you have no right to be anonymous.  It's got nothing at all to do with the First Amendment (and neither does the right to troll, but that's a whole other argument, addressed well here).  The portion of the First Amendment dealing with speech talks only about the prohibition of the government from "abridging the freedom of speech."  If one behaves in a certain way in public (Hi, I'm the Internet) and adopts some snazzy nom de blog, and then someone else decides that you're gonna be signing your name on that shit whether you want to or not, you don't have much in the way of recourse, but nothing, the First Amendment, common sense, protects the speaker from the repercussions of speech.

And by the same token, you have no obligation to sign your name — there's no statutory reason for you to do so.  But if you are going to do that, then have a care in how you go about it.  Because the one thing that all the people who've been doxxed have in common is that it wasn't very hard to figure out who they were.

Basically, it's worth giving the precept of never saying anything anonymously that you wouldn't own up to a deep thought, mostly in the interest of being a good person.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:56 AM

October 15, 2012

progressive insurance, flo and badgers

This is terrible; have some.

You are no doubt familiar with the television commercial character "Flo," who speaks for Progressive Insurance.  In fact, you're probably sick to death of her like everyone else, but I hate to begrudge an actor making an honest living (Stephanie Courtney, by the way).

So in this radio ad I've heard more than once, it starts with a little situation: someone has a badger in their attic, so naturally some sort of badger response squad shows up.  Flo is a member of this badger-response-squad.  But she seems unfamiliar with badgers!  She expresses her admiration of badgers, and then opens the door, at which badger-pandemonium is illustrated by bumping- and random-animal noises.  The door slams shut.  "I just wanted to hug it," say Flo, and her badger-response compatriot answers, "Badgers don't hug."  "They don't yet," says Flo, which is supposed to be some sort of dramatic resolution.

But then comes the actual pitch (since the name of the product and its benefits have barely been mentioned).  A young-ish sounding announcer comes on and hits us with, "Covering your vehicle under Progressive is just like having Flo in the car with you," after which the announcer says nice things about Progressive Insurance.  But it's too late.

Flo is a fairly well established character, enough so that I can say that there's no way that I would want her riding with me.  She seems nice enough, but annoying as hell.  And as to her skills as demonstrated over the course of the campaign?  I can't figure out what they would be.  Originally she was presented as someone that worked in a Progressive retail outlet, so I guess if you are driving along and need to sell someone insurance, maybe Flo would be the right one to have.

But as to the specific commercial cited above: wha?  So not only is Flo now seconded to the Progressive Badger Response Squad, she is also terrible at responding to badgers.  So, personality aside, in the context of that spot, it only makes sense to have Flo with you in the car if you have regular need of someone to exacerbate badger-encounter situations.

Do not sign me up for that.

And remember, the big reason to go with Progressive is if you want an insurer to represent the uninsured driver that kills you in an accident.  Then Progressive would be for you.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM