Managing Elections

Honestly considering the 2012 election, I think it's pretty clear that the Democrats won just about everything that we could have honestly expected to get. Sadly, control of the House was never really on the table, but we cut into that majority somewhat, won several major Senate races (although not enough for the 60-vote cutoff, that was also never really on the table) and of course re-elected President Obama. It's pretty obvious that the Republicans lost that election quite severely.

Needless to say, the Republican Party commenced with a great deal of soul-searching and after-action analysis. Why did they lose the election? What can they do next time to win? I have only a passing interest in such discussions, because as far as I'm concerned the only plan that will actually work is to reform the party entirely so that the numerous intellectually bankrupt ideas they hold aren't treated as gospel anymore. Of course, a GOP that accepted the economic evidence against their orthodoxy (see: anything Paul Krugman has ever written) and the weight of history bearing down on the progressive side of the social debate wouldn't really be the GOP anymore.

So the question is, how can the Republican Party win an election without changing the viewpoints that make them the Republican Party? I would prefer it if the answer to that question was "they can't", and heaven knows I'll be trying as hard as possible to make that happen! But some state-level conservative governments have come up with a different answer: change the way electoral votes are handed out at the state level. Give out electoral votes by congressional district rather than state.

I may not entirely agree with the idea of calling it "cheating" - it's already law in Maine and Nebraska, and it's certainly constitutional. It does, however, lock in the one big problem with the Electoral College: it ignores the will of the people. It's abundantly clear that had this system been in place in 2012, Romney would have been elected president, with 62 electoral votes going the other way. Despite President Obama's 51.1% of the popular vote, to Romney's 47.2%.

I don't like the electoral college system, and I'd be happy to see it reformed... so long as that reform makes the system more responsive to the desires of the people of the United States, not less. And to the Republican Party, in Virginia and Pennsylvania and Michigan and wherever else they might try to enact this, I have only this to say: if you want to win the 2016 presidential election, you might try convincing a majority of the electorate to back your candidate. If you can't manage that, it won't be the Electoral College that dooms your hopes for office.


Verbal Abuse, Online and Off

As with any other online game, League of Legends has its own forums where people can go to discuss the game. The community on said forums is about as pleasant as the in-game community, which is to say it's absolutely not. I mean, probably most of the discussions on there are perfectly civil and productive, and it's nice to read the things that the developers are saying, since they come and post on the forums regularly, but it's still aggravating sometimes to have to wade through the racism and elitism that comes with it.

Recently, though, I stumbled across a thread on the League's General Discussion forums that I actually ended up participating in. One of the common threads on there, you see, is the "how do we react to verbal abuse" thread, which revives itself in a new form fairly often. Inevitably, it devolves into a flame war between two separate camps: on one side, the decent people who want to try and improve the community by getting people to stop spewing abuse at their teammates and/or opponents; on the other, the not-decent people who complain about how the entire community's made up of thin-skinned babies who can't take a joke.

No, that's obviously not an even-handed summary of the arguments, but I stopped caring about presenting this "debate" fairly a long time ago. The thread itself is here, for the curious, although I would be very cautious about following that link given some of the decidedly not-safe-space invective that some of the people on that forum were resorting to. My personal participation in that argument began on page 9 and concluded on page 14 (just the two posts on those two pages) if anyone wanted to see those specifically.

But, if there is actually anyone reading this who thinks there's a viable debate here, allow me to set the record straight: "just toughen up" and all variants thereof are horrible advice to give someone who's having to deal with abuse or harassment. At the very least, I can say it did not help me. It didn't actually do anything to address the abuse itself, which continued unabated. And even if it "worked" in the sense that it helped me "ignore" the abuse, it did so by forcing me to conceal my emotions and identity - not a price that anyone should have to pay just to get by in society.

Maybe the rules are different enough online for it to work. Maybe the faceless nature of the Internet is enough to make ignoring abuse a viable strategy. I honestly don't care, because I see absolutely no reason to go with a "maybe" when I have a much better option to offer. It's a simple option, too - all you have to do is say three words.

"Cut that out."

It does make a difference. Even if you're only on League of Legends. It will matter to the person who's being abused, tell them that they're not alone and that they have support on their team. It will put the jerk in question on notice that they are being watched and will be held accountable by the people around them. And it's a much better idea than spreading advice that has caused real harm in the past.

If you actually want to do something about verbal abuse, whether the online abuse in games like League of Legends or the offline that continues to be a problem in schools today, don't tell me to toughen up so that I can ignore the abuse. Tell them not to say abusive things in the first place.


A Tribute to Aaron Swartz

This blog's Internet tag serves as a useful way of getting at everything I've ever written about online society. Shocking, I know, the tag serving its stated purpose! More importantly, in light of recent events, it is an excellent way of reading everything I've ever written about... well, what I have called "piracy" in the past, but what the subject of this post would probably not describe as such.

Yeah, I know, I'm a good three days late. Whenever it comes to writing about major events, this always seems to happen...

I digress. In case anyone wasn't already aware, Aaron Swartz committed suicide a few days ago, at 26 years old. I was only passingly familiar with his work and his ideas, despite the connection that I had to his family (one which I won't describe in detail, in keeping with my tradition of not discussing personal matters in this forum). Indeed, I don't feel informed enough even to provide a summary of his life; I would encourage people to follow the link to the Wired article for that.

Although, given some of the things I have found online in the wake of this tragic loss, I can safely say that I can add one more person to the list of people with whom I would love to meet and talk to in person... or rather, the subset of that list that is made up of the people for which that will never again be possible.

I am too late to discuss his ideas with him in person, but thanks to the Internet which he valued so highly, I have been able to read (some of) those ideas now. And more importantly, I've re-read the things that I've written - about SOPA when that was being considered, about Megaupload when that site was taken down, about the ways the American community watches anime.

I do believe that some of those ideas still stand. I believe that content creators should have the right to determine how their work is shared with others, whether that be posting to the Internet under a Creative Commons license or a DVD collection that costs a staggering three hundred and seventy dollars.

And yet, focusing on that (as I have done in the past) has caused me, in some major ways, to be guilty of missing the point to an almost staggering degree. Re-reading what I've written and what Aaron Swartz has argued for in the past has forced a rethinking of my own thoughts on these issues. Indeed, forced a rethinking on how I reacted to the "crime" which played a major role in this saga, Aaron's downloading of multiple different articles from JSTOR and his intention to make them widely available, although that reaction is one that I never discussed publicly.

To an extent, those reactions have been shaped by my concern over the way society functions now. My desire to play by the rules, and a personality that considers intentionally breaking the rules to be usually unjustifiable. This, then, was my failing: to discuss the issue as if the rules we play under today were inviolable. As if society cannot change. It is a failing that is all the more unbelievable considering the way I react to "society can't change" when the subject is misogyny. A failing that is frankly absurd considering that the rules in question, that led to federal prosecution for his actions, are ones that need to change.

Let this mea culpa, then, stand as my personal tribute to Aaron Swartz. If it were possible, I would beg his forgiveness, in that it had to come to this before I gave his ideas the attention they deserved... and I will work to ensure that I do not continue in the errors that have characterized my thinking on these issues.

My condolences go out to his family and friends, and I would encourage people to visit the memorial website that they have set up in his memory.

May you rest in peace, Aaron Swartz, knowing that your work will not go unfinished.