Monday, June 16, 2008

Some painfully bad news quotes

Hmm, who can give the most stupidly over-the-top quotation in a news article?

From 6 months ago, we have, in the article Websites linked to series of young suicides, the following contenders:

British Labour MP Madeleine Moon worrying that Internet memorial sites for suicide victims are dangerous to our youth:
"What is concerning is that you're getting internet bereavement walls. That's not going to help anyone," she said.

"What people need is not to go into a virtual world of the internet to deal with emotional problems... They need to stay very much in this real world and talk to real people."

People: the Internet is part of reality. Deal with it.

From the same article, I do feel a bit that the unnamed police officer who got quoted was being pushed into providing something, anything, that fed the reporter's narrative. This was offered up as a reason to believe that, yes, the mere existence of a memorial to a dead friend on the Internet (as opposed to, say on a wall, at a grave, or any of the gazillion other ways that people's deaths have been memorialised since, well, ever) could be seen as a way in which the Internet encourages youth suicide:
"They may think it's cool to have a memorial website," an officer told The Times.

"It may even be a way of achieving prestige among their peer group."


But it's hard to top Russian state officials, whose "Concept for a State Policy in the Area of Spiritual and Moral Education of the Children of the Russian Federation and Protection of Their Morals" is awe-inspiringly bad. Nevermind the hysterical claim of Stanislav Govorukhin that "Today we have a lost generation of wandering morons whose parents’ moral vision was robbed by perestroika", it's in talking about goth and emo that things just get plain weird:
The drafters of the concept took a particular negative stance in regard to the Goth and emo youth subcultures, which are characterized by black clothing, piercings and a depressed outlook on reality. They authors compared the danger those subcultures hold for society to the dangers of skinheads, soccer hooligans, National Bolsheviks and even anti-fascists. Emo youths, according to the concept, “are subject to suicidal tendencies” and Goth children cultivate bisexuality. “The cost of the sexual services of an underage boy prostitute with Goth attributes is lower than for students in military schools but higher than for usual gay prostitutes,” the authors say, demonstrating their knowledge of life.

I suppose an anti-Western cultural backlash was inevitable (thank you so much, George W. Bush), but this kind of xenophobic outrage against "Western" concepts like emo and goth is downright scary.

More thoughts on the "emo" and "social networking" youth moral panic

Another tragic teen suicide that's vaguely related to emo and the Internet, another round of reporters writing bad articles that will actively contribute to the problem prompting all their hand-wringing.

The teenager this time is Sam Leeson. He was a thirteen year old who hanged himself. The Daily Mail reports that he was an "emo teen" who got bullied for it, and proceeds to list Blink-182 and Good Charlotte as examples of emo bands that he liked. They have the decency to list the Foo Fighters and Slipknot as "alternative" rather than "emo" at least, so it's nice to know they're trying to classify emo music accurately, even if they do fail. Blink-182, emo? People will be trying to say that Nirvana counts as emo music at this rate...

There's been plenty of pushback against bad reporting on emo in the media, with sites like Alterophobia springing up, and protests happening, of all things. The Daily Mail article is thus somewhat muted compared to its earlier dire warnings about the "emo suicide cult", as others have noted. It would be nice to think that this easing off on blaming emo would translate into thoughtful reporting, of a type that doesn't involve seeking a convenient scapegoat to account for deep-seated social problems being expressed in the attitude of teens towards each other and themselves, but that wouldn't sell papers now, would it? All attention is turned instead towards the other scapegoat that inevitably appears in these stories: the Internet, and the youth province of social networking sites.

Sam Leeson had an account on Bebo. From Bebo blamed for 13-year-old boy's death. Sam's mother "has blamed Bebo, a teenage social network similar to MySpace, for her son's death, and demanded a crackdown on websites that allow cyberbullies to target other users."

Unhelpfully, people in the comments section of this article at Mashable find it bemusing that someone could kill themselves just over cyberbullying, flat out saying that it shows Sam had something seriously wrong with him that the parents should have noticed...somehow. One goes so far as to say that "The parents should be charged with murder for allowing this clearly sick child to get on the computer for chatting at all!"

Some of this attitude is somewhat understandable given that certain facts did not appear in the media reporting. One such fact is the existence of offline bullying of Sam Leeson: claims that Sam "had been bullied by Severn Vale pupils particularly on the bus", that students from another school "apparently threatened him to kill himself, or they would kill him". The bullying was both offline and online. Why is it only the online bullying whose existence gets acknowledged?

Well...from Digital Journal:"Sam’s parents didn’t realize that he suffered from bullying until they checked his Bebo page after his death". Think about this. His parents didn't know about ANY bullying, both offline and online, until they found online evidence of it.

The Internet has changed things, but not in the way that people getting all hysterical about the "new menace" of cyberbullying claim. All that's happened is that the bullying which has always been there is now much more readily visible to the people who ought to be concerned with it. "Cyber-bullying" is not a new form of bullying. It is not threatening in some unspecified way that "real" bullying is not. It is just the extension of it into an online environment. Nothing more, nothing less.

The problem, then, is not Evil Emo Music[tm], or Evil Internet[tm]. The problem is what it has always been: the existence of bullying. What's changed is not its prevalence, but its visiblity. This could be seen as an opportunity, should people concerned with the issue be willing to take it. It is such a shame that they are proving unwilling or unable to do so.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fighting Windows

Dear God but Windows Vista is a steaming pile of crap.

Our Internet access is finally on at home, so naturally I set about decking out the computer with all the essentials I've come to expect (well, except for a Linux OS, but Nick's stood firm in the face of my nagging about it). Firefox downloaded no problem at all, and then I tried to install Flash...

Automatic install: fail. Okay, switch to manual. Download, run, get told I need to quit Firefox before it can run. Quit Firefox, run installer, try to run Firefox. The ever-helpful Windows system tells me "there is a problem with the program", and it doesn't load. Windows helpfully tells me that it will find out what's wrong for me "if possible". Naturally, enough, it doesn't. No "sorry, couldn't help" either, it just does nothing. Firefox, she is broken.

I switch to the omnipresent Internet Explorer browser to find the problem. Don't get me wrong, the latest version of IE is much better than the earlier ones, but still, I want my Firefox extensions. Anyway, I find the fix. It's fiddly, and wouldn't be necessary if Windows Vista didn't have a seriously brained attitude to security.

For anyone else who faces this here is the link I used. I had to uninstall Firefox (completely uninstall, including user data and settings), disable User Account Control (UAC), re-install Firefox, and then install Flash (which now worked fine as an automatic install).

Now, I'm wondering: UAC is that godawful part of Vista that insists on asking "do you want to allow this operation?" whenever you install a program, uninstall a program, run an executable from any disk at all for crying out loud, and generally get in the way. I swear, some MS would-be software engineer heard someone say "security tends to come with a trade-off in usability" and heard "the more usability you lose, the better your security". What, besides, nag the user incessantly and unnecessarily, does this thing actually do? The help file says it's supposed to prevent malware from being installed by "ensuring that the program being run is the actual program you want to run", but, honestly, that seems an awful lot of trouble for a very weak form of protection. It's one that's totally dependent on the user not just clicking through regardless, I'll note.

So, do I actually need UAC activated in Windows Vista? I'm thinking no.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"We don't want to make Obama look racist by endorsing him"

So Google News' front page randomly decides to serve me up an article from The title is Nigeria: Senate Turns Down Motion of Commendation to Obama.

The motion was dismissed before it could be voted upon, on the basis that Hillary Clinton has not as yet conceded (although she has now stated that she will do so on Saturday).There's also this fascinating explanation for why the Nigerian Senate shouldn't rush to Obama's support:
Bringing his own counsel to bear, Senator Aminu said, "It's good for Obama for one thing but I don't like how efforts are being made to portray him as a racist. It wouldn't serve him right for the largest Senate in black Africa to portray him in such light.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Democratic Primaries are over

It says something about the whole process that I have not read a single report of who actually won the last two Primary contests held today. Instead the news has been replete with reporting that Barack Obama has finally gained the majority of pledged delegates and superdelegates that he needed to win. He now appears to have a lock on the nomination.

Hillary Clinton has not yet conceded, and used tonight to deliver a speech in which she once again raised the hotly disputed claim that she won the popular vote, asserting that more people have voted for her than for any Democratic candidate for the nomination in history. She then asked people to go to her website and make suggestions about where she ought to go from here. News reports had earlier quoted her as saying that she is open to the possibility of being Obama's VP.

All three candidates gave speeches tonight, although at the time of writing the full versions have not yet shown up on Youtube. I admit my daily blog diet has an overabundance of strong Obama supporters in it, but this is the short summary of their impressions of each speech:

McCain's: Yawn-worthy
Clinton's: Tacky and graceless

In any case, the first stage of the interminable process of replacing George W Bush at is nearly over. Here is an electoral map of where things currently stand for the actual Presidential election itself.

Apropos of nothing in particular, something I've been wondering for a while now: why does DailyKos have the nickname "Great Orange Satan"?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The people's choice?

What the Daily Show has for some time been calling the Long, Flat, Seemingly Endless Bataan Death March to the White House proceeds apace.

Today was a meeting to decide the fate of the delegates in Michigan and Florida. Look it up if you want to find the exact details, I'm getting thoroughly sick of the whole thing. Bottom line: the two states will have delegates seated, but the number of delegates will be cut by 50% for each. Some Michigan delegates will also be apportioned to Obama, although Hillary still gets the majority of them.

To summarise the objections from the Clinton camp to Obama's nomination that still exist, as well as some brand new ones:
1) Hillary Clinton is leading in the popular vote
2) Hillary Clinton beats in John McCain in the general, while Obama loses
3) A black, racist liberal elitist like Obama cannot possibly win the general under any circumstances.
4) Awarding any Michigan delegates to Obama at all is unfair and undemocratic because he chose to remove his name from the ballot, therefore receiving no delegates is entirely his own fault.


For now, I only want to deal with (1), and mainly because what I'm about to say is I think one of those unpopular things that needs to be said: the popular vote in these Democratic Primaries is not a valid metric of what the majority of people want. You can think Michigan and Florida for that.

Because Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan, people who wanted to vote for him were not able to do so. I have also personally communicated with people who chose not to vote at all in either the Florida or Michigan Primaries because they had been told in advance that their votes would not count. Without these two groups voting, the existing vote tallies in those two states do not accurately reflect the will of the people in those two states. Therefore, including them in the overall popular vote tally, as Hillary Clinton does, is wrong. The fix? There isn't one: an accurate "popular vote" tally that includes all 50 states and sundry other competitions (Puerto Rico, Guam, Democrats Abroad, etc.) is no longer possible.

Actually it'd be enough to discredit the "popular vote tally" as a valid metric just by pointing out the absurdity of including a state in which 0% of all votes were awarded to Obama, but (a) I wanted to be thorough, and (b) as stated above, many Clinton supporters are now saying that it's Obama's own fault that he received no votes in Michigan.