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3 essays on rape and death threats against women in the age of #gamergate

posted: 10.21.14 by Nick Carbone

Online violence against women scares and worries me. As it morphs from virtual threat, which is bad enough and still violent even if not overtly physical, into offline threats that drive women from their homes, offices, and families and into hiding, the damage and danger has become palpable enough to make news.

Writing in her Washington Post Blog, Act Four, Alyssa Rosenberg sums up the three high profile cases:

[Anita] Sarkeesian has had to leave her home because someone who threatened her claimed to have her address and that of her parents. Brianna Wu, who co-founded the video gaming company Giant Spacekat, also moved to avoid threats made in response not even to sustained criticism of video games, but to jokes she made about the Gamergate campaign. “Depression Quest” developer Zoe Quinn went into hiding after a vengeful ex-boyfriend published a long account of her alleged infidelities that seemed to imply she chose her partners for professional advancement.

These women’s stories are in the news now, coming shortly after a spring and summer that brought much needed attention to campus sexual assaults and the lack of protections and justice most of its victims endure. It seems to me, then, a look at the issue of virtual assault having devastating consequences in physical world, can also increase understanding and shed light on campus sexual assault.

To that end, here are three pieces on virtual assault that I recommend and would assign. Note, these are frank discussions and long pieces. But they’re compelling.

A Rape in Cyberspace

I’d start with Julian Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace,” available online at his website.

A version Dibbell’s essay first appeared in the Village Voice in 1993. That’s right, twenty years ago. Dibbell’s piece focuses on how a violent virtual rape in LambdaMOO, a text based virtual world where rooms, characters, spaces and actions are all described in words that allowed players to enter, create avatars, and interact, shocked those LambdaMOO members into realizing they were a community. The article describes how the victim of the rape, though virtual, suffered physically — fear, anxiety, tears. While the community recognized the rape as an assault, they realized there was nothing they could do to punish the perpetrator in real life, no way to bring charges, to get an arrest. And so they develop rules to try to deal with future actions virtually, by setting up guidelines for expelling offenders from the Moo.

I’d start with this piece for a few reason. It’s one of the first, perhaps the first, documented case study of cyber rape and its affects. Unlike the underbelly of the contemporary accounts of virtual sexual assault under consideration in the next two pieces, the rapist didn’t have recourse to comrades, drum up justification that blamed the woman he assaulted, or wage the assault in multiple sites and social networks. The rape happened in a relatively small and closed community, a community that became more formally formed in response to the rape, and because it was small, was able to adopt more quickly rules and policies to better protect members.

Why the Trolls Will Always Win

First published by Kathy Sierra at her own blog as “Trouble at the Koolaid Point,” Wired Magazine republished her original post verbatim just days later with the title “Why the Trolls Will Always Win,” and that’s the version I link to here. I’m opting for Wired because Sierra indicates that she might at some point take her original post down.

But off the bat, a first question for students to consider — how does the different title give by Wired shape their reading?

Sierra’s piece marks the tenth year anniversary of her first online threat, of which, Sierra writes, “I thought it was a one-off, then. Just one angry guy. . . .  But looking back, it was the canary in the coal mine…”. What’s changed? Sierra’s work picks up from the one angry guy, the kind of person the LambdaMOO community faced, to a world where social networking — Twitter, especially in her personal experience — amplifies and spreads the assault against a lone woman exponentially, as trolls amplify, get picked up, facts are ignored, lies are believed. She explains:

I now believe the most dangerous time for a woman with online visibility is the point at which others are seen to be listening, “following”, “liking”, “favoriting”, retweeting. In other words, the point at which her readers have (in the troll’s mind) “drunk the Koolaid”. Apparently, that just can’t be allowed.
[. . .]
But the Koolaid-Point-driven attacks are usually started by (speculating, educated guess here, not an actual psychologist, etc) sociopaths. They’re doing it out of pure malice, “for the lulz.” And those doing it for the lulz are masters at manipulating public perception. Master trolls can build an online army out of the well-intended, by appealing to The Cause (more on that later). The very best/worst trolls can even make the non-sociopaths believe “for the lulz” is itself a noble cause.

Sierra describes first what her experience tells her about the logic and motivation of trollers and then why and when she stepped back from online life — how she was harrassed out, and why, with this post, she is stepping back in.

The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’s Gamergate

Written by Kyle Wagner in Deadspin, this piece, published Tuesday, October 14, begins with the news that Brianna Wu fled her Boston home over the weekend, “after an online stalker vowed to rape and kill her.”

Wagner does three very useful things.

  1. He explains the origin of #gamergate, a movement that claims to be about holding the press who cover the gaming industry to journalistic ethics, but that began with a deranged ex-lovers lies and rants about Wu Zoe Quinn, including the false claim that her romance with a journalist lead to a game she wrote being praised.
  2. He critiques the coverage of #gamergate in the traditional press, The New York Times and the like, noting that their instance on even handedness creates what press critics have called false equivalence, a logical fallacy. Such coverage lends undo legitimacy to those who committing the assaults.
  3. This is key, Wagner describes the mindset of the trollers and assaulters, why they feel aggrieved enough to do this, and he likens it the kind of motivations that drive certain segments of the Tea Party and other reactionary groups: change they don’t like is coming. For some in the Tea Party, its the recognition, embodied in our first black President, that the nation’s demographics are changing and that whites will become a minority.  For those in gamergate, its a reaction against the fact that more and more women play games, and that new games are emerging designed to appeal to those players.  

What Can One Learn From These?

Taken together these three essays move both historically and technologically. Dibbell’s piece sets an early example, when the Web was young and new and a smaller place; Sierra’s first person account gives voice to a victim of assault and violence in her own terms, introducing and explaining terms and techniques that show the role of social networks in turning the derangement of a lone actor into a a deranged and even more dangerous mob; and Wagner’s work takes a step back, offering scathing attack on Wu’s assailants and their motivations, and then tying it to a larger cultural trend.

Combined, these are long reads, but as I said, compelling. Each is written in Web vernacular, each is frank, each has its own truths to convey. I like them because they are one-sided, advocate for women and for a civil online social communities, even as the work by Sierra and Wagner show how difficult that goal is. I also think they bring forth the physical and psychological cost of assault, how the relentless nature of these kinds of attacks, have consequences in the offline world. This is not a painless crime, not just words.

And finally, they pieces shed light on the anger and entitlement mindsets of the attackers. So those insights, empathy for the attacked and anger and hate of the attackers, can provide some grounding for a discussion of campus sexual violence.

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Project Syndicate: Bringing the World to Your Classroom

posted: 8.17.11 by Nick Carbone

I was reading a piece in Slate by Simon Johnson titled “The Tea Party’s Circular Logic: Its revolt undermines the private sector more than it reins in “big government.”” and saw that the piece came from a site new to me called Project Syndicate. So I checked it out.

It’s a site you might find useful. And addictive.

Here’s something from their about page:

Project Syndicate: the world’s pre-eminent source of original op-ed commentaries. A unique collaboration of distinguished opinion makers from every corner of the globe, Project Syndicate provides incisive perspectives on our changing world by those who are shaping its politics, economics, science, and culture. Exclusive, trenchant, unparalleled in scope and depth: Project Syndicate is truly A World of Ideas.

As of August 2011, Project Syndicate membership included 468 leading newspapers in 151 countries. Financial contributions from member papers in advanced countries support the services provided by Project Syndicate free of charge or at reduced rates to members in developing countries. Additional support comes from the Open Society Institute.

Project Syndicate provides the world’s foremost newspapers with exclusive commentaries by prominent leaders and opinion makers. It currently offers 54 monthly series and one weekly series of columns on topics ranging from economics to international affairs to science and philosophy.

Project Syndicate is committed to maintaining the broad intellectual scope and global reach that readers need to understand the issues and choices shaping their lives. As a result, Project Syndicate’s commentators reflect the world in all its variety of professions, national and cultural backgrounds, and political perspectives.

The pieces are  op-ed length, making them useful for just-in-time teaching, shorter pieces that are good for impromptu discussions or for more recent pieces that might complement issues covered in your readers if you use those types of textbooks.

You can sort by contributors and their themes. For example, Peter Singer, a bioethicist from Princeton has a series of pieces on “the ethics of life.”

One very cool series is called “The World in Words,” whose rationale is thus:

Although terms like “globalization” are invoked regularly by political leaders, public discussion about their meaning and the values they imply is mostly unsystematic and uncoordinated. Countries with common interests and concerns too often talk past each other.

That need not be so. Project Syndicate’s weekly The World in Words commentaries inform general audiences around the world of the best and most influential ideas in politics, economics, and society. They establish a vehicle for broadening debate and exchanging ideas between East and West, North and South.

I like that goal, of helping our students to not see past one another, past their fellow citizens. We know from this current recession that our fates and well beings, our economy and our cultural, our ethics and our understanding of life is tied inextricably to the world. So a site that can help bring the world to our students feels more important now than ever.

There’s really just so much in Project Syndicate to look through and work with.

Have fun exploring.

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Writers Writing about Writing and Reading

posted: 8.12.11 by Nick Carbone

On WPA-L, a discussion list for Writing Program Administrators, Steven Corbett pointed article in Inside Higher Ed, by Kimberly Epting called “Precision First”. Epting, an assistant professor of psychology at Elon College wrote in response to an opinion piece in the New York Times where the writer called for teaching students concision. Steven’s citing of a psychology professor talking thoughtfully about teaching writing reminded me of a different article, one that instead of being written by a psychology professor, instead cites heavily from a psychology professor writing about writing.

The article is  “Slow Poke: How to be a Faster Writer,” and it’s in Slate Magazine. The writer – Michael Agger — cites heavily from “Professional Writing Expertise,” by Ronald Kellogg, an essay published in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.  As an aside, the Kellogg reference lead me to CompPile, and his work is indexed there.  From CompPile I learned that Kellogg has a book called The Psychology of Writing which I hadn’t heard about before, but that looked interesting enough that I bought an e-book copy.

But back to Agger’s piece and why it’s worth looking at:

Agger starts by citing examples of writers who can write quickly, who can turn out work fast, and wishes he were like them. In his search to find out why he cannot write that fast, he traces to Kellogg’s essay by way of a reference to it in Outliers; he then goes on to summarize Kellogg via the lens of his own writing life and desires. Here’s a sample from Agger doing that.

Kellogg, a psychologist at Saint Louis University, tours the research in the field, where many of the landmarks are his own. Some writers are “Beethovians” who disdain outlines and notes and instead “compose rough drafts immediately to discover what they have to say.” Others are “Mozartians”—cough, cough—who have been known to “delay drafting for lengthy periods of time in order to allow for extensive reflection and planning.” According to Kellogg, perfect-first-drafters and full-steam-aheaders report the same amount of productivity. Methinks someone is lying. And feel free to quote this line the next time an editor is nudging you for copy: “Although prewriting can be brief, experts approaching a serious writing assignment may spend hours, days, or weeks thinking about the task before initiating the draft.”

The Agger piece strikes me as useful in many ways. If you’re teaching a Wardle/Downs approach about Writing About Writing,  Agger’s piece is not too dissimilar in structure to the kind of thing you might ask students to write:
* An opening that frames a question or context or desire around writing
* A transition in to how the writer thought/investigated that issue
* A summary of work that helped the writer get at the issue, using the summary to reflect back on the opening question

Also, the Agger’s piece, coming as it does from a writer and not a writing teacher, but a writer dipping his toes into the kind of reading we do, is simply also just an interesting model for students of an essay where someone who is not an expert starts to engage with works by experts.  Agger’s expertise is applying what he learns to his situation, to his view of himself as writer. Students can do that; they can apply what experts say to their own understandings of an issue.  So even if you’re not teaching a ‘writing about writing’ based course, the Agger essay can be useful for students to think about as one way (not _the_ way) to explore and think about a text they are reading which is new to them.

Oh, and if you get a chance, look at Ronald Kellogg’s work as well.  I’m glad I downloaded Kellogg’s book after learning about him from a non-expert in our field.

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How Arguing From Facts Isn't Enough

posted: 7.8.11 by Nick Carbone

For something you can use in class this semester, see:

Arguing From the Facts

By Gary Gutting

The key point is that both Taylor’s argument and that of his critics were based on established facts.  Moreover, in each case, the facts did support the conclusions Taylor and his critics were arguing for.

There was no flaw in their logical moves from premises to conclusions.

How, then, could there be something wrong with their arguments?

Gutting, to set up the key point above, analyzes an argument made in the Wall Street Journal by John Taylor, an economist at Stanford, and then counter arguments to Taylor’s analysis.

With that in mind, Gutting goes on to write,

As is inevitable in almost all discussions of complicated political topics, Taylor and his critics are employing inductive arguments.

Therefore, their reasoning is open to question simply by adducing further relevant facts such as pointing out the aging of our population and increases in medical costs, or noting that there could be serious reform of the structure of our welfare system.

Even a strong argument from purely factual premises is open to refutation unless we are assured that it has taken account of all relevant facts.

Gutting’s post is part of series described this way by the NY Times:

The Stone is featuring occasional posts by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, that apply critical thinking to information and events that have appeared in the news.

The starting point for _The Stone_ is:

The Stone itself is a blog that “features the writing of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley. He teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research in New York.”

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Rebutter in Chief

posted: 8.12.09 by Nick Carbone

This post by Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly blog features excerpts from a New Hampshire Town Hall conducted by President Obama.

It occurs to me, on reading Benen’s summary and having listened to some of Obama’s press conferences and speeches, that Obama’s legal training combined with his writing ability make him a master of rebutting the critiques of his policies and positions through explicit counter-arguments, no matter–in the case of the illogical and demagogic claim that the health plan under debate in Congress calls for “death camps”–how disingenuous and dishonest the criticism is.

Compare, for example, Obama’s response to the “death panel” claim to one of the most prominent assertions of that claim, Sarah Palin’s.

Palin wrote in Facebook:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion.

What is the logic of her paragraph? What is the train of thought? Can it be mapped by students? Are her claims fair? Is there a “death panel” clause in any of the proposed bills now in Congress?

What is the purpose of the final two sentences? They are statements no one will disagree with; is she using them to assert that the plans in Congress don’t care about dignity?

With those questions in mind, now look at Obama’s explicit rebuttal of this argument as represented by Palin. Obama said in New Hampshire:

“The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for ‘death panels’ that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t — it’s too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various — there are some variations on this theme. It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.”The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of ‘death panels.’ I am not in favor of that. So just I want to clear the air here.”

Obama first categorically rejects the charge that he wants “death panels,” and then looks to the bill in question, to the item in the bill his opponents have distorted, and explains its origins.

How does the use of logic and evidence in the two arguments compare? Which statement is more factually accurate?

Questions such as these make the current debate on health care in our country a useful one for studying and analyzing argument and rhetoric. It might also lead to a good discussion of civil discourse and how to tell it from inflammatory discourse and violent discourse.

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Genre, Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation
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Blogs vs. Social Networks: How Identity is Shaped

posted: 8.7.09 by Nick Carbone

So much of writing is about the author shaping how he or she is to be perceived; it’s about ethos, persona, and voice.

What’s fascinating in this early Internet age are the increasing number of places and ways writers can write. All the print forms persist — articles, papers, books, profiles, newsletters, and more. And added to these are new ways of being via writing: blogs, social networks, Twitter, wikis, discussion boards, and e-mail. All these forms require words to be written, but where and how those words are read change how writers create a person and how readers perceive the ethos of the writer.

In a Gawker post called “Was Blogging Just a Fad?,” Scott Rosenberg describes a key distinction between blogs and social networks:

A blog lets you define yourself, whereas on a social network you are more likely to be defined by others. Sure, blog readers can write comments — but the blogger can delete the comments, or disemvowel them, or turn them off entirely. Sure, a blog is dependent on the links you point outward and those that others point in; but it has its own independent existence in a way that no amount of messaging and chat and interaction on a social networking site can match. A blog is not necessarily better than a Facebook profile, nor is it worse; it is, simply, different.

All writing is part of a social network, of course. But Facebook and other online social networks accelerate the social. Researchers have found, for example, that what you say in your profile is not taken at face value by members of the network; how you are viewed is determined by the accumulation of your activities in the network. The wall posts you make, the status updates you write, the comments you make on the walls/updates of others; the images you share, and so on. Hundreds of discrete, relatively micro writing acts accumulate to create a pointillistic composition of your identity.

Whereas a blog, as relatively longer form done in a technological environment that the blogger can control more fully, is more about the writer as he or she attempts to define themselves in broader, often richer, strokes.

What’s really interesting to see are writers who work across several e- and print media delivery methods. Do you know them more or less depending upon which technology you read them in?

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A Journal Built Around "Lore"

posted: 7.7.09 by Nick Carbone

LORE began when two University of Illinois at Chicago professors, Patricia Harkin and James Sosnoski, got in touch with Bedford/St. Martin’s about an idea several of their graduate students had: to publish a journal built around lore, “the informal ways in which teachers accumulate knowledge about pedagogical traditions and practices. Many of us who seek advice about what happens in our classrooms do not turn to published journals, but instead ask our colleagues, ‘what would you do?’ LORE is interested in these answers” (“What is ‘lore’?”).

The goal of the journal was to make a scholarly home for lore, which is a valuable and intellectually rich way of knowing and understanding the teaching, scholarship, and academic service.

The founding editors — Eve Wiederhold, Beth Burmester, Eva Bednarowicz, Tina Kazan, and Nels P. Highberg — published the first issue in the spring of 2001 and their final issue in the summer of 2004. The aim had been for the journal to be a vehicle for graduate students and adjuncts to gain experience managing a publication — the editors issued calls for contributions, designed the journal’s look and feel, and reviewed and selected submissions. Bedford/St. Martin’s sole role was to publish the journal online for free and to help promote it.

The partnership worked very well. However, as the founding editors graduated and found excellent and challenging positions as new assistant professors, the duties of their new positions left them with less time to work on LORE. The idea had been that a succeeding group of graduate students, perhaps under the mentorship of the founding editors, would be recruited to continue the journal and to learn the craft of scholarly editing.

And so, after the summer 2004 issue (LORE published three times per year, spring, summer, and fall), LORE ceased to publish new issues and existed as an archive of valuable work we’ve been proud to host.

That changed, however, in 2008, when on behalf of her graduate students, Melissa Ianetta of the University of Delaware queried Bedford/St. Martin’s on the status of LORE. Her students had an idea for an issue of LORE and wanted to pursue publishing an issue.

Colleen Foley and Kate Huber issued a call for contributions on “the Intersection of Literature and Composition” They reviewed contributions, decided on which submissions to accept, and worked editorially with contributors to develop the pieces. The editors also worked with Victoria Sandbrook, an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s on preparing the pieces for publication and on a redesign of LORE’s look and feel as a Web 2.0 publication.

A lot of care and thought went into this new issue and we’re very proud to publish it.

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Congratulations to the Kairos Awards Winners

posted: 6.23.09 by Nick Carbone

On behalf of Joan Feinberg, President, and all of Bedford/St. Martin’s, we want to recognize and acknowledge how important the work of TAs and Adjuncts is. We support these awards, funding the three $500 prizes, because the innovative work of TAs and Adjuncts in the Computers and Writing community is so important to the field. We’re especially gratified to be working with Kairos, a journal founded and sustained by TAs and Adjuncts. It’s a journal that is fun to read and write for because its ideas excite.

Rik Hunter, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annette Vee, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Krista A. Kennedy, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Jerz’s Literacy Weblog by Dennis G. Jerz, Seton Hill University

Expanding the Space of f2f: Writing Centers and Audio-Visual-Textual Conferencing
Melanie Yergeau (who also received an award last year), The Ohio State University
Kathryn Wozniak, DePaul University
Peter Vandenberg, DePaul University

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Plagiarism Workshop

posted: 12.9.08 by Nick Carbone

Presented to the Cuyahoga Community College English Faculty

“Steal This Talk” Part 1 of 8
Losing Voice: The Threat of Plagiarism.

“Steal This Talk” Part 2 of 8: We Were All Freshmen
“Steal This Talk” Part 3 of 8: Plagiarism Statements: Do’s and Don’ts
“Steal This Talk” Part 4 of 8: Problematizing Plagiarism
“Steal This Talk” Part 5 of 8: Helping Students Not Hang Themselves
“Steal This Talk” Part 6 of 8: Research: What Might It Mean
“Steal This Talk” Part 7 of 8: The One True Source
“Steal This Talk” Part 8 of 8: The Benevolent Panopticon

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Computers and Writing 2008, Athens, GA

posted: 5.21.08 by Nick Carbone

I arrived in Athens, GA, last night, getting to the hotel about 9 pm.

Happily, despite some heavy traffic made slower by some intermittent hard rain, the ride from the airport to Athens passed quickly because I had good company: Carole Clark Papper and Lynda Haas.

We met up at the Budget counter–me coming from Boston, Carole from Long Island, and Lynda from the LA area.

The conference begins Thursday with workshops during the day followed by an opening reception, but Bedford/St. Martin’s is hosting an e-portfolio summit.

The idea of the summit is simply: we just wanted to get a lot of smart people in a room to discuss what they see happening with e-portfolios. We gathered an eclectic group, from novices to experts, and we invited some people who might have contrary views on some issues.

It’ll be a good, robust, no consensus-forming discussion. Followed by a nice dinner.

That’s this afternoon.

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