Meet the Online Tracking Device That is Virtually Impossible to Block

A new kind of tracking tool, canvas fingerprinting, is being used to follow visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.

(David Sleight/ProPublica)

Update: A YouPorn.com spokesperson said that the website was “completely unaware that AddThis contained a tracking software that had the potential to jeopardize the privacy of our users.” After this article was published, YouPorn removed AddThis technology from its website.

This story was co-published with Mashable.

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it.

 

Canvas Fingerprinting in Action

Watch your browser generate a unique fingerprint image. This is for informational purposes only and no fingerprint information is sent to ProPublica. (Mike Tigas, ProPublica)

See your browser’s fingerprintClick the button above and your computer and web browser will draw a ProPublica-designed canvas fingerprint.

 

Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit — profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them.

But fingerprints are unusually hard to block: They can’t be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus.

The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use AddThis’ social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. (A list of all the websites on which researchers found the code is here).

Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace “cookies,” the traditional way that users are tracked, via text files installed on their computers.

“We’re looking for a cookie alternative,” Harris said in an interview.

Harris said the company considered the privacy implications of canvas fingerprinting before launching the test, but decided “this is well within the rules and regulations and laws and policies that we have.”

He added that the company has only used the data collected from canvas fingerprints for internal research and development. The company won’t use the data for ad targeting or personalization if users install the AddThis opt-out cookie on their computers, he said.

Arvind Narayanan, the computer science professor who led the Princeton research team, countered that forcing users to take AddThis at its word about how their data will be used, is “not the best privacy assurance.”

Device fingerprints rely on the fact that every computer is slightly different: Each contains different fonts, different software, different clock settings and other distinctive features. Computers automatically broadcast some of their attributes when they connect to another computer over the Internet.

Tracking companies have long sought to use those differences to uniquely identify devices for online advertising purposes, particularly as Web users are increasingly using ad-blocking software and deleting cookies.

In May 2012, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, noticed that a Web programming feature called “canvas” could allow for a new type of fingerprint — by pulling in different attributes than a typical device fingerprint.

How You Can Try to Thwart Canvas Fingerprinting

  • Use the Tor browser (Warning: can be slow)
  • Block JavaScript from loading in your browser (Warning: breaks a lot of web sites)
  • Use NoScript browser extension to block JavaScript from known fingerprinters such as AddThis (Warning: requires a lot of research and decision-making)
  • Try the experimental browser extension Chameleon that is designed to block fingerprinting (Warning: only recommended for tech-savvy users at this point)
  • Install opt-out cookies from known fingerprinters such as AddThis (Warning: fingerprint will likely still be collected, companies simply pledge not to use the data for ad targeting or personalization)

In June, the Tor Project added a feature to its privacy-protecting Web browser to notify users when a website attempts to use the canvas feature and sends a blank canvas image. But other Web browsers did not add notifications for canvas fingerprinting.

A year later, Russian programmer Valentin Vasilyev noticed the study and added a canvas feature to freely available fingerprint code that he had posted on the Internet. The code was immediately popular.

But Vasilyev said that the company he was working for at the time decided against using the fingerprint technology. “We collected several million fingerprints but we decided against using them because accuracy was 90 percent,” he said, “and many of our customers were on mobile and the fingerprinting doesn’t work well on mobile.”

Vasilyev added that he wasn’t worried about the privacy concerns of fingerprinting. “The fingerprint itself is a number which in no way is related to a personality,” he said.

AddThis improved upon Vasilyev’s code by adding new tests and using the canvas to draw a pangram “Cwm fjordbank glyphs vext quiz” — a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. This allows the company to capture slight variations in how each letter is displayed.

AddThis said it rolled out the feature to a small portion of the 13 million websites on which its technology appears, but is considering ending its test soon. “It’s not uniquely identifying enough,” Harris said.

AddThis did not notify the websites on which the code was placed because “we conduct R&D projects in live environments to get the best results from testing,” according to a spokeswoman.

She added that the company does not use any of the data it collects — whether from canvas fingerprints or traditional cookie-based tracking — from government websites including WhiteHouse.gov for ad targeting or personalization.

The company offered no such assurances about data it routinely collects from visitors to other sites, such as YouPorn.com. YouPorn.com did not respond to inquiries from ProPublica about whether it was aware of AddThis’ test of canvas fingerprinting on its website.

Read our recent coverage about how online tracking is getting creepier, how Facebook has been tracking you, and what tools to use to protect yourself.

Commonly Used Drug Can Make Men Stop Enjoying Sex—Irreversibly


Some of the symptoms reported include impotence and thoughts of suicide and depression.

No one should have to choose between their hairline and their health. But increasingly, men who use finasteride, commonly known as Propecia, to treat their male pattern baldness are making that choice, often unwittingly. In the 17 years since Propecia was approved to treat hair loss from male pattern baldness, many disturbing side effects have emerged, the term post-finasteride syndrome (PFS) has been coined and hundreds of lawsuits have been brought.

Finasteride inhibits a steroid responsible for converting testosterone into 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) the hormone that tells hair follicles on the scalp to stop producing hair. Years before Propecia was approved to grow hair, finasteride was being used in drugs like Proscar, Avodart and Jalyn to treat an enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Like Viagra, which began as a blood pressure med, or the eyelash-growing drug Latisse, which began as a glaucoma drug, finasteride’s hair restoration abilities were a fortuitous side effect.

Since Propecia was approved for sale in 1997, its label has warned about sexual side effects. “A small number of men experienced certain sexual side effects, such as less desire for sex, difficulty in achieving an erection, or a decrease in the amount of semen,” it read. “Each of these side effects occurred in less than 2% of men and went away in men who stopped taking Propecia because of them.” (The label also warned about gynecomastia, the enlargement of male breast tissue.)

But increasingly, users and some doctors are saying the symptoms sometimes do not go away when men stop taking Propecia and that their lives can be changed permanently. They report impotence, lack of sexual desire, depression and suicidal thoughts and even a reduction in thesize of penises ortesticles after using the drug, which does not go away after discontinuation.

According to surgeon Andrew Rynne, former head of the Irish Family Planning Association, Merck, which makes Propecia and Proscar, knows that the disturbing symptoms do not always vanish. “They know it is not true because I and hundreds of other doctors and thousands of patients have told them that these side effects do not always go away when you stop taking Propecia. We continue to be ignored, of course.”

In some cases, says Rynne, men who have used finasteride for even a few months “have unwittingly condemned themselves to a lifetime of sexual anhedonia” [condition in which an individual feels no sexual pleasure], the most horrible and cruel of all sexual dysfunctions.”

“I have spoken to several young men in my clinic in Kildare who continue to suffer from sexual anaesthesia and for whom all sexual pleasure and feelings have been obliterated for all time. I have felt their suffering and shared their devastation,” he wrote on a Propecia help site.

Sarah Temori, who launched a petition to have finasteride taken off the market on Change.org, agrees. “Many who have taken Propecia have lost their marriages, jobs and some have committed suicide due to the damage this drug has done to their bodies,” she writes. “One of my loved ones is a victim of this drug. It’s painful to see how much he has to struggle just to make it through each day and do all the daily things that we take for granted. No doctors have been able to help him and he is struggling to pay for medical bills. He is only 23.”

Stories about Propecia’s disturbing and underreported side effects have run onCNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and on Italian and English TV news.

The medical literature has also investigated finasteride effects. A study last year in Journal of Sexual Medicine noted “changes related to the urogenital system in terms of semen quality and decreased ejaculate volume, reduction in penis size, penile curvature or reduced sensation, fewer spontaneous erections, decreased testicular size, testicular pain, and prostatitis.” Many subjects also noted a “disconnection between the mental and physical aspects of sexual function,” and changes in mental abilities, sleeping patterns, and/or depressive symptoms.

A study this year in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology finds that “altered levels of neuroactive steroids, associated with depression symptoms, are present in androgenic alopecia patients even after discontinuation of the finasteride treatment.”

Approved in Haste, Regretted in Leisure

The rise and fall of Propecia parallels other drugs like Vioxx or hormone replacement therapy that were marketed to wide demographics even as safety questions nipped at their heels. Two-thirds of American men have some hair loss by age 35, and 85 percent of men have some hair loss by age 50, so Propecia had the promise of a blockbuster like Lipitor or Viagra.

Early ads likened men’s thinning scalps to crop circles. Later, ads likened saving scalp hair to saving the whalesand won awards. Many Propecia ads tried to take away the stigma of hair loss and its treatment. “You’d be surprised who’s treated their hair loss,” said one print ad depicting athletic, 20-something men. In 1999 alone, Merck spent $100 million marketing Propecia directly to consumers, when direct-to-consumer advertising was just beginning on TV.

Nor was Propecia sold only in the U.S. Overseas ads compared twins who did and did not use the product. In the U.K., the drugstore chain Boots aggressively marketed Propecia at its 300 stores and still does. One estimates says Propecia was marketed in 120 countries.

Many have heard of “indication creep,” when a drug, after its original FDA approval, goes on to be approved for myriad other uses. Seroquel, originally approved for schizophrenia, is now approved as an add-on drug for depression and even for use in children. Cymbalta, originally approval as an antidepressant, went on to be approved for chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Less publicized is “warning creep,” when a drug that seemed safe enough for the FDA to approve, collects warning after warning once the public is using it. The poster child for warning creep is the bone drug Fosamax. After it was approved and in wide use, warnings began to surface about heart problems, intractable pain, jawbone death, esophageal cancer and even the bone fractures it was supposed to prevent. Oops.

But finasteride may do Fosamax proud. In 2003, it gained a warning for patients to promptly report any “changes in their breasts, such as lumps, pain or nipple discharge, to their physician.” Soon, “male breast cancer” was added under “postmarketing experience.” In 2010 depression was added as a side effect and patients were warned that finasteride could have an effect on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests. In 2011, the label conceded that sexual dysfunction could continue “after stopping the medication” and that finasteride could pose a “risk of high-grade prostate cancer.” In 2012, a warning was added that “other urological conditions” should be considered before taking finasteride. In 2013, the side effect of angioedema was added.

A quick look at Propecia approval documents does not inspire confidence. Finasteride induces such harm in the fetuses of lab animals, it is contraindicated in women when they are or may potentially be pregnant and women should not even “handle crushed or broken Propecia tablets when they are pregnant.”

Clinical trials were of short duration and some only had 15 participants. While subjects were asked aesthetic questions about their hairline during and after clinical trials, conspicuously absent on the data set were questions about depression, mental health and shrinking sexual organs.

In one report an FDA reviewer notes that Merck did not name or include other drugs used by subjects during trials, such as antidepressants or GERD meds, suggesting that depression could have been a known side effect of Propecia. Elsewhere an FDA reviewer cautions that “low figures” in the safety update are not necessarily reliable because the time period was “relatively short” and subjects with sexual adverse events may have already “exited from the study.” An FDA reviewer also wrote that “long-term cancer effects are unknown.” Breast cancer was noted as an adverse event seen in the trials.

Propecia Users Speak Out

There are many Propecia horror stories on sites founded to help people with side effects and those involved in litigation. In 2011, a mother told CBS news she blamed her 22-year-old son’s suicide on Propecia and Men’s Journal ran a report called “The (Not So Hard) Truth About Hair Loss Drugs.”

In a database of more than 13,000 finasteride adverse effects reported to the FDA, there were 619 reports of depression and 580 reports of anxiety. Sixty-eight users of finasteride reported a “penis disorder” and small numbers reported “penis deviation,” “penis fracture” and “micropenis.”

On the patient drug review site Askapatient.com, the 435 reviews of Propecia cite many examples of depression, sexual dysfunction and shrunken penises.

One of the most visible faces for post-finasteride syndrome is 36-year-old UK resident Paul Innes. Previously healthy and a soccer player, Innes was so debilitated by his use of Propecia, prescribed by his doctor, he founded a web siteand has gone public. Appearing on This Morning last month, Innes describes how using Propecia for only three months on one occasion and three weeks on another produced a suicidal depression requiring hospitalization, sexual dysfunction and a reduction of the size of his reproductive anatomy, none of which went away when he ceased the drug. He and his former girlfriend, Hayley Waudby, described how the physical and emotional changes cost them their relationship, even though she was pregnant with his child.

In an email I asked Paul Innes if his health had improved after the ordeal. He wrote back, “My health is just the same if not worse since 2013. I am still impotent with a shrunken penis and still have very dark thoughts and currently having to take antidepressants just to get through every day. Prior to Propecia I was a very healthy guy but now I’m a shadow of my former self. I have only just managed to return to work in my role as a police officer since taking Propecia in March 2013.”

The hard truth about getting old

Sixty isn’t the new 40, and 80 isn’t the new 60. I know it. You know it. So why do we buy into it?

The hard truth about getting old
The author as a young woman and as she appears now

I don’t know about you, but the chirpy tales that dominate the public discussion about aging — you know, the ones that tell us that age is just a state of mind, that “60 is the new 40″ and “80 the new 60″ — irritate me. What’s next: 100 as the new middle age?

Sure, aging is different than it was a generation or two ago and there are more possibilities now than ever before, if only because we live so much longer. it just seems to me that, whether at 60 or 80, the good news is only half the story. For it’s also true that old age — even now when old age often isn’t what it used to be — is a time of loss, decline and stigma.

Yes, I said stigma. A harsh word, I know, but one that speaks to a truth that’s affirmed by social researchers who have consistently found that racial and ethnic stereotypes are likely to give way over time and with contact, but not those about age. And where there are stereotypes, there are prejudice and discrimination — feelings and behavior that are deeply rooted in our social world and, consequently, make themselves felt in our inner psychological world as well.

I felt the sting of that discrimination recently when a large and reputable company offered me an auto insurance policy that cost significantly less than I’d been paying. After I signed up, the woman at the other end of the phone suggested that I consider their umbrella policy as well, which was not only cheaper than the one I had, but would, in addition, create what she called “a package” that would decrease my auto insurance premium by another hundred dollars. How could I pass up that kind of deal?

Well … not so fast. After a moment or two on her computer, she turned her attention back to me with an apology: “I’m sorry, but I can’t offer the umbrella policy because our records show that you had an accident in the last five years.” Puzzled, I explained that it was just a fender bender in a parking lot and reminded her that she had just sold me an insurance policy. Why that and not the umbrella policy?

She went silent, clearly flustered, and finally said, “It’s different.” Not satisfied, I persisted, until she became impatient and burst out, “It’s company policy: If you’re over 80 and had an accident in the last five years, we can’t offer you an umbrella policy.” Surprised, I was rendered mute for a moment. After what seemed like a long time, she spoke into the silence, “I’m really sorry. It’s just policy.”



Frustrated, we ended the conversation.

After I fussed and fumed for a while, I called back and asked to speak with someone in authority. A soothing male voice came on the line. I told him my story, and finished with, “Do I have to remind you that there’s a law against age discrimination?”

“Would you mind if I put you on hold for a few moments?” he asked. (Don’t you love the way they ask you that, as if you have a choice?) When he came back on the line, he told me he’d checked the file and talked to the agent who couldn’t recall saying anything about age, nor was there anything about it in the record.

“OK,” I said, “then sell me the umbrella policy.”

“No,” he was very, very sorry for the misunderstanding, but they never sell an umbrella policy to anyone who’s had an accident in the last five years, and their policy is “absolutely age-neutral.”

And if you believe that, I know a bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it: Where are all those sources of personal power and self-esteem we keep hearing about as the media celebrate the glories of the “new old age”?

That’s one from my file of personal stories about ageism, but there are other older and bigger ones: discrimination against older workers in the job market among the most important. True, the law now offers a possible remedy in the form of an age-discrimination lawsuit, but who’s going to pay the legal and household bills during the years it will take to work its way through the courts? Who’s going to help those workers deal with the psychic wounds that come from being so easily expendable, so devalued just because of their age?

In her groundbreaking book “The Coming of Age,” published in the early 1970s, Simone de Beauvoir spoke passionately about the stigma of old age — about the loss of a valued identity, our fear that the self we knew is gone, replaced by what she called “a loathsome stranger” we can’t recognize, who can’t possibly be the person we’ve known until now.

Her words give life to a core maxim of social psychology that says: What we think about a person influences how we see him, how we see him affects how we behave toward him, how we behave toward him ultimately shapes how he feels about himself, if not actually who he is. It’s in this interaction between self and society that we can see most clearly how social attitudes toward the old give form and definition to how we feel about ourselves. For what we see in the faces of others will eventually mark our own.

As a sociologist, I have been a student of aging for four decades; as a psychotherapist during this same period, I saw more than a few patients who were struggling with the issues aging brings; as a writer I’ve written about the various stages of life, including a memoir about aging daughters and mothers. Yet until I undertook the research for my recent book, “60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in America” — until I began to read more deeply and to interview people more systematically — I didn’t fully realize how much ageism had become one of the signature marks of stigma and oppression in our society.

Nor did I really get how much the cultural abhorrence of old age had affected my own inner life. So it was something of a surprise when, as I listened to the stories of the women and men I met, I found myself forced back on myself, on my own prejudices about old people, even though I am also one of them.

Even now, even after all I’ve learned about myself, those words — I am one of them — bring a small shock. And something inside resists. I want to take the words back, to shout, “No, it’s not true, I’m really not like them,” and explain all the ways I’m different from the old woman I saw pushing her walker down the street as she struggled to put one foot in front of the other, or the frail shuffling man I looked away from with a slight sense of discomfort.

I know enough not to be surprised that I feel this way, but I can’t help being somewhat shamed by it. How could it be otherwise when we live in a society that worships youth, that pitches it, packages it, and sells it so relentlessly that the anti-aging industry is the hottest growth ticket in town: the plastic surgeons who exist to serve our illusion that if we don’t look old, we won’t be or feel old; the multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry whose creams and potions promise to wipe out our wrinkles and massage away our cellulite; the fashion designers who have turned yesterday’s size 10 into today’s size 6 so that 50-year-old women can delude themselves into believing they still wear the same size they wore in college — all in the vain hope that we can fool ourselves, our bodies and the clock.

If you still need to be convinced about the ubiquity of the assault on our sensibilities by the anti-aging crusade, try plugging the term “anti-aging” into Google. Last time I checked, it came up with 22,600,000 hits, among them the website of the recently spawned American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine with a membership of tens of thousands of doctors whose business is selling the idea that aging is “a curable disease.” Never mind that the American Medical Association doesn’t accord legitimacy to this organization or its stated mission, it continues to laugh all the way to the bank.

There, also, you’ll find the latest boon to the American entrepreneurial spirit: a growing array of “brain health” programs featuring brain gyms, workshops, fitness camps and “brain healthy” food. And let’s not forget the Nintendo video game that, the instructions say, will “give your prefrontal cortex a workout.”

Will any of this help us remember where we left our glasses, why we walked into the bedroom, or the story line in a film we saw a few days ago? Not likely, as recent scientific evidence tells us.

Surely no one can live in a society that instructs us so relentlessly about all the ways we can overcome aging, without wanting to do something about it. I know I can’t. Why else do I go to the trouble and expense of dying away my gray hair when I hate to sit in the beauty shop? Why else does my heart swell with pleasure when someone responds with surprise when I say that I’m 87 years old? Why else do I know with such certainty that the minute they stop looking surprised is the minute I’ll stop saying it.

As I read, listen, talk, write, it seems to me we’re living in a weird combination of the public idealization of aging that lies alongside the devaluation of the old. And it isn’t good for anybody. Not the 60-year-olds who know they can’t do what they did at 40 but keep trying, not the 80-year-olds who, when their body and mind remind them that they’re not 60, feel somehow inadequate, as if they’ve done something wrong, failed a test.

We live in the uncharted territory of a greatly expanded life span where, for the first time in history, if we retire at 65, we can expect to live somewhere between 15-20 years more. But the story of this new longevity is both positive and negative — a story in which every “yes” is followed by a “but.” Yes, the fact that we live longer, healthier lives, is something to celebrate. But it’s not without its costs, both public and private. Yes, the definition of old has been pushed back. But no matter where we place it, our social attitudes and behavior meet our private angst about getting old, and the combination of the two all too often distorts our self-image and undermines our spirit.

Yet too few political figures, policy experts or media stories are asking the important questions: What are the real possibilities for our aging population now? How will we live them; what will we do with them? Who will we become? How will we see ourselves; how will we be seen? What will sustain us — emotionally, economically, physically, spiritually? These, not just whether the old will break the Social Security bank or bankrupt Medicare, are the central questions about aging in our time.

Lillian B. Rubin is an internationally recognized author and social scientist who was, until recently, a practicing psychotherapist. Her most recent work is “60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in America.” She lives in San Francisco. 

http://www.salon.com/2011/08/04/lillian_rubin_on_ageism/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Wealthy venture capitalist Tom Perkins is nostalgic for the old Silicon Valley

 — whorehouses and all

The venture capitalist was made infamous for warning of a “progressive” Kristallnacht

Wealthy venture capitalist Tom Perkins is nostalgic for the old Silicon Valley -- whorehouses and all
Tom Perkins (Credit: Bloomberg TV)

Tensions between the wealthy tone-deaf tech world and folks being priced out of San Francisco have been mounting — protests, evictions, Google glass altercations — and they’re the subject of a feature in this week’s New Yorker.

In it writer Nathan Heller interviews a man who has spouted infamous and offensive opinions about these issues: venture capitalist Tom Perkins.

Perkins, as you may recall, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal, saying this:

“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

“From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?”

In the New Yorker piece, titled “California Screaming,” Perkins seems to have changed his tune a bit. He reminisced about the artists, the Beats, the jazz, the spirit, and yes, the whorehouses of the Silicon Valley he first knew. Here it is below via ValleyWag:



“Perkins considers Ron Conway a friend, and admires the pro-business policies that Conway and Sf.Citi have pushed through [in San Francisco]. He also admires the country of Australia, which he believes approaches the free-wheeling, entrepreneurial bliss of Northern California at the time he arrived, in 1957. ‘I was twenty-two, twenty-three,’ he explained. ‘I lived in Sausalito, which back then had a functioning whorehouse—one of the last ones in the Bay Area. It was a loose town where anything went, and I loved it. San Francisco was that way. It was artistic, outrageous. The gays had a lot to do with that.’ Perkins had brought his forehead to rest on his fingertips and closed his eyes, smiling. ‘I knew writers and artists. North Beach. The Beats. The jazz. It’s still a great city, but I think it was better then.’”

While it’s still not a full admission of understanding why people are so outraged by the rising inequality in the city, he does seem to miss some of the aspects that protesters are trying to keep from disappearing in a city known for its beautiful counterculture. ValleyWag points out that both Perkins and the protesters see the importance of “artistsmusicians, and, yes, sex workers” that the tech world is pricing out of the city.

Though he may long for days gone by, Perkins doesn’t think the culture can be saved. (Thus, revealing his bias: He may love the olden days, but still he makes his massive earnings from the tech world):

“I asked Perkins whether he saw a way to preserve communities of writers and artists in town. He sighed and thought for several long moments. ‘I don’t see how,’ he said at last.”

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/02/tom_perkins_is_nostalgic_for_the_old_silicon_valley_whorehouses_and_all/?source=newsletter

Exploring Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

By Jules Suzdaltsev

On November 18, 2003, Michael Jackson’s 3,000-acre primary residence, Neverland Ranch, was searched by 70 police officers from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department after accusations that Jackson had molested some children (The People of the State of California v. Michael Joseph Jackson). Following this, Jackson abandoned his estate, saying it had been “violated,” and three years later the property went into foreclosure.

While the Ranch floated in real estate limbo, a group of photographers snuck onto the grounds and explored the abandoned kingdom, returning several times between December 2007 and March 2008. I spoke to the photographers to see what they saw. (Because tresspassing is illegal and I was feeling nostalgic for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they will be referred to as Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. A fourth member contributed photography and was not interviewed.)

VICE: What inspired you guys to explore Neverland Ranch?
Leonardo: It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I was aware that the park had been abandoned for quite a while, and I knew that Jackson was in Dubai at the time and that he wasn’t able to pay his electric bills. So, my understanding was that it would be a short-lived opportunity. I usually drive along the 101 freeway, and I decided, I have a few extra hours, I’m just going to go check it out. It just so happened that the day I was out there, it was pretty windy. It was a good cover because there were guards on-site, and the wind sort of blocked out my noise. I was able to sneak in without being heard. I had no expectation to make it in, but I just wanted to see.

What was the weirdest shit you saw?
Raphael: [Laughs]
Leonardo: Raphael is laughing because everything we saw was pretty weird. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Michael Jackson, but I knew that he was an important American historical figure. At the time, most people probably didn’t realize that he was part of history, and I knew that there was the potential for everything that was associated with him to be quickly lost. Without our documentation, I think it would’ve been a huge loss. So, I thought it was important to do that as quickly as we could, before it was gone.
Raphael: Are we talking about going into his house? Is that part of the story?

Please.
Raphael: We haven’t really told anyone about it… OK, the strangest thing to me was the little boy in pajamas sitting on the moon logo, everywhere. Like, it amazes me how much it resembles the DreamWorks logo. That thing was painted on the ground, like, 60 feet wide. It was on the signs, on the bumper cars, it was on the coach station where they parked the coach, one on the ground.
Donatello: That’s his creepy logo, right?
Raphael: It’s got a little boy sitting on it in those footie pajama things. Isn’t the back open, or is that only on some of the paintings? [Laughs]

Oh my God.
Donatello: The other thing was that he collected memorabilia that had his likeness on it. He had Pepsi bottles and books and other promotional material in boxes. He also had stacks and stacks of fan mail, and one piece that really grabbed me was the prosecuting attorney of his molestation case with devil’s horns drawn on. That was just laying on a tabletop—maybe a Pac-Man table?
Raphael: You read his fan mail?
Donatello: We were flipping through some of it.

How did you guys get into his house?
Raphael: We probably don’t want to talk about the details about how we entered.

Was it difficult?
Leonardo: We didn’t have to break any laws, because it was open. It was all open. The house was open.

Wow.
Raphael: One thing that really sticks out in my memory was drinking his grape soda from that walk-in kitchen storage area and then very carefully wiping the fingerprints off the bottle and hiding it in the bushes.

Wait, you drank his juice?
Raphael: I was thirsty and he had all of this grape soda, and I thought I’d just drink something from his house.

Was it actual grape soda?
Raphael: Yeah! It was actual grape soda. In the kitchen there was this “Children of the World” menu. Everything in there was geared toward children. I’m not sure he had any, but…

He did.
Raphael: That menu, on a permanently-printed chalkboard with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, that sticks out in my mind. And the strange hodgepodge of shit that he had bought that didn’t have any relation to his house. His entire house was filled with these expensive looking, one-off, semi-artistic things.

Semi-artistic?
Raphael: These weird mirrors on this four-foot by four-foot platform. And that would be next to some Roman statue-looking thing. Next to that would be an eight-foot-tall oil painting of Michael Jackson himself. There were all of these paintings inside the house.
Donatello: There’s one where he’s leading a procession of children.

What was the vibe in the house?
Donatello: I was really on-edge and uncomfortable, mostly because I was worried that someone might find us in there and I think it’s just such a breach of privacy. It was so compelling to do it; I couldn’t not go in because the opportunity was there. But at the same time, it just felt wrong. It was this constant friction between fascination and, I’ve got to get the fuck out of here, I shouldn’t be in here.
Leonardo: That’s true. We all felt that way. We [as urban explorers] don’t normally ever go in peoples’ houses.
Raphael: It’s all usually industrial, or old schools, or things that aren’t people’s personal residences. At one point, I got so fed up with the weirdness that I went outside and I tried to loosen them up by banging on the door. I had a flashlight in my hand, and made it look like I was busting them. We fuck around with each other quite a bit, but Donatello was furious that I did that.

That’s ridiculous.
Donatello: I don’t remember that. It must’ve been such a bad memory.
Raphael: I scared the shit out of you.
Leonardo: I remember that vividly, actually. I didn’t find anything that creepy about the whole thing. I found it really odd and different, but I wasn’t scared at any moment. I think none of us were really scared. Mostly we felt like we shouldn’t be invading the privacy of someone else. But I never felt like I was afraid of any of the things that he put out there. It just seemed really exotic and different. There are far more odd things in this world than what Michael Jackson was.
Raphael: The whole thing was just really an adventure, and going somewhere that nobody’s ever seen, and seeing all of this stuff, it was right after he left the country because of the molestation charges. So in our mind, it was like looking at everything more from that angle. There’s the kids’ stuff, there’s toys everywhere, there’s the huge arcade—a giant child-magnet.
Donatello: I don’t know. I don’t want the whole gist of this interview to back up those allegations toward the guy.

That’s OK. I was actually going to ask how much of the property you ended up being able to see?
Donatello: We pretty much saw everything except for the petting zoo area. We went to the arcade, the mansion, the amusement park rides, the railroad train station, all of the statue areas…

I’m shocked that you guys weren’t caught.
Donatello: We’re kind of professionals. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but… We do this a lot. We do a lot of research and recon. But also, it’s surprisingly low-key because there’s a guard truck down by the road, and we just avoided that guard truck, and once you’re past that, you’re in the valley, and you’re on your own, and it’s pretty desolate.
Raphael: Surprisingly, we just roamed about the grounds. Casually.

It’s a pretty huge space, isn’t it?
Raphael: Really big. We didn’t even get to the zoo, because it’s so far away.
Donatello: One other interesting thing—we did go in Michael’s room, but both of the kids’ rooms were locked from the outside.
Raphael: We decided not to get into the kids’ rooms, because it didn’t seem right.

What about his toy room?
Raphael: It was maybe 60 feet by 30 feet, and filled with every toy you could imagine. Life-size Lego models, Darth Vader—all sorts of awesome toys.
Donatello: The other thing I remember is that there were game stations set up all around the house. Imagine those consoles for Super Nintendo that you might find at the Best Buy store, but set up with all different systems.

Was there anything adult in there? It all sounds like mostly kids’ stuff. And weird art.
[Laughter]
Raphael: There were a lot of big, lounge-y spaces with couches and all the strange art objects.
Donatello: I remember seeing really normal things, change lying on a coffee table and a little office space with a computer and typical home stuff.

Roughly how many rooms did he have? It’s a mansion. It must’ve been fucking huge.
Leonardo: He probably had ten rooms, I would say. The mansion itself was not as huge as you’d think, but there were all of these other smaller buildings that we didn’t really go in.

Isn’t there a massive clock in the garden?
Donatello: Oh, dude, there’s all kinds of crazy shit in the garden.
Leonardo: Didn’t you take a picture of the clock with the hands stuck, and then you realized later on that you took the picture within three seconds of what the hands were stuck at?
Donatello: I did! There’s this clock that’s stopped around 2:55, and I just happened to snap the shot almost exactly at that same time, without even realizing it until a year later.

Pretty serendipitous. Although, how did you know that it had been stopped?
Donatello: The power had been cut off, and the hands weren’t moving.

The house didn’t have any power?
Donatello: If I remember correctly, there was no power in the mansion but the water was working.

Did you guys use the bathroom?
[Laughter]
Donatello: I think we checked the water or something because we were just curious if it worked. What’s weird is that within his house, there was no dust. It was immaculate. The carpet was vacuumed, and there was no dust on any of those crazy sculpture or statues. That’s kind of why we were on edge—like, people are here. A lot of things were covered in vinyl-type tarps to protect them. But it was obvious that someone was in there cleaning, I would say, at least once a week, by how clean it was.

But he hadn’t lived there for a while…
Raphael: I think that’s what signified to Leonardo that he was OK to go in there.
Leonardo: The house is foreclosed, it’s basically derelict, defunct. That’s when it hit my radar.
Raphael: It’s probably obvious that we really only go to abandoned and defunct sites.

You don’t seem like paparazzi.
Raphael: We’re paparazzi of bridges, maybe.

Thanks, guys. 

 

http://www.vice.com/read/exploring-michael-jacksons-abandoned-neverland-ranch-760?utm_source=vicenewsletter

U.S. Student is Rescued from Giant Vagina Sculpture in Germany


22 firefighters had to help free the hapless art lover.

Photo Credit: via youtube

In the space of 24 hours last week, two spectacular rescue operations were carried out in southern  Germany.

Both involved men who had become trapped deep inside cave-like structures, and a large team working to set them free. But if explorer Johann Westhauser is expected to soon tell the world how he got  trapped inside Germany’s deepest cave, an anonymous exchange student might prefer to keep quiet about the story of how he got into a tight spot.

On Friday afternoon, a young American in Tübingen had to be rescued by 22 firefighters after getting trapped inside a giant  sculpture of a vagina. The Chacán-Pi (Making Love) artwork by the Peruvian artist  Fernando de la Jara has been outside Tübingen University’s institute for microbiology and virology since 2001 and had previously mainly attracted juvenile sniggers rather than adventurous explorers.

According to De la Jara, the 32-ton sculpture made out of red Veronese marble is meant to signify “the gateway to the world”.

Police confirmed that the firefighters turned midwives delivered the student “by hand and without the application of tools”.

The mayor of Tübingen told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he struggled to imagine how the accident could have happened, “even when considering the most extreme adolescent fantasies. To reward such a masterly achievement with the use of 22 firefighters almost pains my soul.”

http://www.alternet.org/culture/us-student-rescued-giant-vagina-sculpture-germany

Queer Flight: Does the Success of Gay Rights Mean the End of Gay Culture?

Queer Flight: Does the Success of Gay Rights Mean the End of Gay Culture?

When Lary Abramson moved to San Francisco from Detroit in July 1960, police raids on gay bars were commonplace. Nightlife existed at the decree of morals cops who could be bought off, and patrons of gay establishments who didn’t play along risked serious personal consequences. “The cops would usually come around midnight, so they’d turn on the lights and say, ‘No dancing!’” Abramson says.

One defiant bar was the Tay-Bush, so named because it stood at the corner of Taylor and Bush. “It was raided,” Abramson says, “and that was the raid where everybody’s name got published in the paper. People lost their jobs. That’s what led to the Tavern Guild,” an organization of gay bar owners that was instrumental in the political awakening of LGBT San Francisco.

Almost 50 years later, the idea of “No Dancing” has taken on another meaning. The Deco Lounge, Esta Noche, KOK Bar, Marlena’s, and others have closed their doors in the last few years. There’s even an annotated Lost Gay Bars of San Francisco Google map. But the disappearance of gay bars is a widespread phenomenon. New York has lost several established bars in the past year; at the opposite end of the spectrum, Amarillo has shed two of its three (Whiskers and Sassy’s). For every city in between, a cursory glance at Yelp reveals a similar pattern.

The venerable Eagle Tavern's two-year closure got national attention in the gay press. If San Francisco couldn't sustain an Eagle, what city could?

Dan Schreiber
The venerable Eagle Tavern’s two-year closure got national attention in the gay press. If San Francisco couldn’t sustain an Eagle, what city could?
Erin O'Neill has lived in the Mission Dolores area since 1982.

Courtesy of Erin
Erin O’Neill has lived in the Mission Dolores area since 1982.

The 2009 raid on the Dallas Eagle notwithstanding, these closures aren’t stemming from a renewed wave of vice squad crackdowns, but a fundamental shift in gay culture. Greater acceptance of same-sex love, positive representations of LGBT characters in the media, and the ever-increasing number of openly gay people leading an ordinary existence have meant that LGBT Americans now have less reliance on the bars, clubs, and other places that served as hubs for the counterculture. There’s no longer the same need for exclusively gay spaces in gay neighborhoods in gay-friendly cities.

What was once clandestine and illegal is now almost mainstream. Pushing this change is same-sex marriage, which came to California twice, but now benefits from majority support: The Public Religion Research Institute published a report in February noting that 59 percent of Californians support marriage equality. If a Prop. 8 redux were to come before the electorate, it likely wouldn’t pass.

Beyond California, in May alone, same-sex marriage — or at least court orders to recognize same-sex marriages even if a state isn’t yet obliged to perform them — has been visited upon purple states such as Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, and even infrared Utah. (The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to rule on that one, but the state must recognize marriages already performed.) There are of course many other thorny issues — employment and housing discrimination, violence, bullying, substance abuse, suicide — but the trends are clear. America is getting more inclusive. Consequently, there is less of an impetus than ever for LGBT people, particularly younger gay men, to flee their conservative hometowns in conservative states and, as Dan Savage once put it, skip toward Gomorrah.

So the gay experience in San Francisco is at a crossroads. Gay people are more “normal” here than arguably anywhere in else in America, but the institutions and spaces they’ve built in the last half-century or more are in a precarious position.

“It’s hard to quantify, but it’s there anecdotally,” says Supervisor David Campos. “There is something real to the anxiety.” The LGBT community faces threats of assimilation, displacement due to the explosive cost of living, and atomization in the face of handheld sex — all of them national trends, to be sure, but felt most acutely here. Gay rights and gay culture exist in tension, with the success of the former foreclosing in no small way upon the need for the latter. A culture premised on outsider status, on the lust for the forbidden, and rooted in peripheral neighborhoods, may not be able to survive fully intact when the forbidden becomes permissible and the periphery becomes the center. San Francisco is experiencing queer flight.

It feels condescending and fatalistic, if not simply rude, to say that Folsom Street is dead and that gay bars are dying. Sure, in absolute numbers, the number of gay bars citywide is a fraction of what it was at its peak. Since memories fade, raids and sudden closures were frequent, and the line between “gay bar” and “straight bar” has always been less than absolute, an accurate count is probably impossible, but 30 years ago, the number was in the dozens. And South of Market’s “decline” is relative, as the lack of elbow room at any Sunday afternoon beer bust will tell you. The drag scene at the Stud is bursting with queens, particularly at “Some Thing” on Fridays. Leather Pride flags still adorn Market Street for the entirety of September, and in the Castro, although LGBT bookstore A Different Light shuttered, Trigger became Beaux, and Lime became Hi-Tops. The Eagle’s abrupt 2011 closure came undone when it reopened last summer, and people still get as drunk there as ever. The owners didn’t even rip out the infamous trough urinal.

Restroom continuity or not, change is happening elsewhere. In 2013, a former old-school leather bar on Folsom called KOK — previously Chaps II, My Place, and Ramrod — became a cocktail bar called Driftwood. It’s a kitschily decorated venue whose owner Chris Milstead describes it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as “straight-friendly.” Successful or not, an upscale spot with good lighting and $10 drinks that replaced a dank dungeon is going to ruffle feathers. Driftwood is, you might say, a “post-gay” bar, and it’s not the only one.

CONTINUED:   http://www.sfweekly.com/2014-06-04/news/lgbt-castro-gay-bars/

Elliot Rodger and the Toxic Weight of Virginity

By Harry Cheadle

A screenshot from the now famous YouTube video in which Elliot Rodger announced his murderous intentions

In the days following Friday’s shooting in Santa Barbara, California, during which 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 13 more before putting a bullet in his head, the media has exhausted itself dissecting the whys and hows of the incident. Rodger’s long manifesto, in which he rages against women for not giving him the sex and affection he felt entitled to, has been picked apart along with his similarly seething YouTube videos and comments on bodybuilding forums. The ever-classy New York Post put his childhood crush on its cover. One Washington Post writer connected Rodger’s loneliness to Judd Apatow films; some local politicians have proposed making it harder for psychologically disturbed people to get and keep guns. Even the fact that his family wasn’t particularly wealthy was worth writing about. All in all, it’s a fine example of the news cycle going through its “week after a mass shooting” playbook.

Commentators more inclined to discussing broad societal trends have focused on Rodger’s horrific hatred of women, which can be seen as a form of “misogynist extremism.” That conversation has morphed into a discussion of sexism in general, along with the ways in which women and girls are viewed by men as something less than full people. But just as Friday’s shooting has provided us with a chance to discuss a depressingly common type of misogyny, we should also pause for a second to examine Rodger’s twisted fixation on sex and losing his virginity, and how frequent those sorts of ideas are.

Rodger’s manifesto is uncomfortable to read, not least because some of the sentiments in it aren’t too far divorced from thoughts plenty of awkward unsexed dudes have, or dialogue spouted by nerdy characters in American Pie 14: Cashing In Again. If you take the melodramatic edge out of these statements, they are fairly ordinary reflections that could have come from any unhappy masturbator:

Not getting any sex is what will shape the very foundation of my miserable youth.

The boys who girls find attractive will live pleasure-filled lives while they dominate the boys who girls deem unworthy.

No one respects a man who is unable to get a woman… A man having a beautiful girl by his side shows the world that he is worth something, because obviously the beautiful girl sees some sort of worth in him.

Thinking of yourself as a lesser person because you haven’t put your penis inside a vagina isn’t a rare pathology; it’s the default state of being for many young men. A lot of that confusion and LiveJournal-esque angst is perfectly natural, but that frustration can mature and curdle to the point where the state of not having had sex becomes a self-imposed identity. The endpoint of this way of thinking can be found on the forums where Rodger discovered some slightly sympathetic posters who refer to themselves as “incels”—men who are “involuntarily celibate.” These are people who have given themselves a name and banded together over something they haven’t done. It’s like forming a group where you and I complain about never having been to Europe, or eaten a steak, or gone white-water rafting.

Hello, I am a billboard. Can I make you feel uncomfortable about yourself and your sexual prowess? Photo via Flickr user Don

Sex, we’re told, is far more important than any clothed activity. Churches, pop culture, the schools, and other authority figures tend to teach the same lessons about the beast with two backs: Girls who have too much or the wrong kind of sex are “sluts”; boys aren’t real men until they’ve lost their virginity. Religions often ascribe a moral and spiritual importance to where penises are put, but the secular world also gets hysterical over the subject. Think of teen movies where characters spend 90-plus minutes panicking over their V-cards, or romantic comedies that equate a monogamous sexual relationship with love and happiness, or TV shows that feature will-they-or-won’t-they subplots centered around whether two characters will fuck—which of course will signify that they are soulmates who have Found Each Other and will stride into the future, arm in arm, in the series finale.

If you’re young and were raised on mainstream media you could be forgiven for thinking, as incels presumably do, that losing your virginity is the defining moment of everyone’s adolescence, that attractive people are constantly having amazing sex, and that sex will lead to love and fulfillment.

None of that is true, of course. Now, sex is fine, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great way to occupy that spare half hour between dinner and Game of Thrones, not to mention the most convenient way to have an orgasm with someone. Most people really like it, and despite the mess it remains the number one way of getting pregnant. But it won’t change your life. It’s like Monopoly—a fun activity for two or more people that sometimes ends in hurt feelings. When you think of it as being more significant than that, you’re likely to run into problems.

The cast of the first season of The Pickup Artist, a show about the importance of getting awkward guys to have sex. Photo via Wikipedia

One of the striking things about Rodger’s manifesto is that, New York Post headlines aside, his rage didn’t have a single target. He was furious at every woman in the world, conventionally attractive ones in particular, to the extent that in planning his “Day of Retribution” he decided to attack the sorority that had the “most beautiful girls.” He fantasized constantly about women, but his manifesto never elaborates on what he wanted out of a relationship other than sex and some vague sense of companionship—the girl of his dreams could have been any girl at all.

God knows he’s not the only person who’s imagined that a lithe naked body next to him would magic his problems away, nor is he the only guy who has thought that success—measured in physical contact—with women could make up for all kinds of failure. It’s a mental trap I’ve fallen into before, and I know I’m not the only one.

At its worst, the philosophy behind pick-up artists (PUAs) exploits this idea that a sexual relationship will solve everything. The promise that men can come out of their antisocial shells and get some sweet poontang through “game”—a method of carefully calibrating one’s interactions with women—has attracted plenty of adherents who are so into it they’ve invented a whole world of incomprehensible lingo.

If you squint, pick-up artistry can be a harmless way for shambling shy guys to build confidence and improve themselves through acquiring “inner game.” Still, the community as a whole often expresses some ugly attitudes toward women and seems to exist within its own occasionally toxic bubble—after Friday’s shooting, some PUAs opined that if Rodger had only become one of them (and, presumably, had himself some sex as a result), the whole tragedy could have been averted.

Obviously that’s bullshit. Even if he had gotten laid, Rodger would have remained profoundly sick. But that line of reasoning shows how the PUA worldview works: They imagine that the problems of the aggrieved, involuntarily celibate men stem from their lack of access to vaginas, when it’s their obsession with sex that is making them miserable in the first place.

“Don’t have sex,” Lady Gaga says, which is good advice even if the person giving it is involved in whatever is going on here. Photo via Flickr user Alfred Hermida

What would it look like if we made an effort—individually, collectively, whatever—to stop letting sex have so much power over our lives? For starters, it would mean more celebrities would say, like Lady Gaga did in 2010, “It’s OK not to have sex.” It would involve, as Jaclyn Friedman said in TIME this week, banishing the idea that sex is something men “get” and women “give up.” It shouldn’t be approached as the end result of a game, but a way for people to enjoy their time together. Explained Friedman:

When we stop treating sex like an accomplishment and start approaching it as a creative, collaborative encounter with a fellow human being, we learn to expect more satisfaction from our sex lives, and we increase our odds of getting it.

Treating sex more casually could also entail having more casual sex, à la the French model as described by sex columnist Maïa Mazaurette in a recent interview with New York magazine. Her countrymen, Mazaurette told Maureen O’Connor, “don’t connect sex with ethics or morality or values in general,” and apparently bang without necessarily attaching intimacy to the experience. However you feel about that sort of freewheeling promiscuity, you’ve got to admit that it would be nice to have sex without that hideous weight of morality hanging over your head.

But along with this message that sex could just be a fun way to spend 15 to 40 minutes, we should also say that sometimes sex isn’t even that great—it can be awkward or unintentionally stir up bad feelings and wreck friendships. And though it may distract you from your problems, you won’t find yourself suddenly healthier or otherwise transformed when your orgasm fades.

You can find positive messages about the benefits of not being tormented by sex or your lack thereof on, of all places, r/seduction, a Reddit community devoted to “self-improvement and pick-up.” Yesterday a redditor created a post to let the group know that he had lost his virginity at the age of 28, not by perfecting a pick-up routine but by getting his shit together. “I picked up productive hobbies and bettered myself through them,” he wrote. “I quit jerking off and quit smoking pot, both of which (as I firmly believe) were hindering my advancement in life.” He continued:

Not only did I get to experience sex, but I legitimately have feelings for this girl and I will continue seeing her for the time being.

[…]

All in all, sex was whatever. Not the end all of earthly pleasures but yea it felt pretty good.

http://www.vice.com/read/elliot-rodger-and-the-toxic-weight-of-virginity?utm_source=vicenewsletter

Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

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Arthur Chu

Nerdy guys aren’t guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick as long as we work hard. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by getting the girl.

I was going to write about The Big Bang Theory—why, as a nerdy viewer, I sometimes like it and sometimes have a problem with it, why I think there’s a backlash against it. Then some maniac shot up a sorority house in Santa Barbara and posted a manifesto proclaiming he did it for revenge against women for denying him sex. And the weekend just generally went to hell.

So now my plans have changed. With apologies to The Big Bang Theory fans,this is all I want to say about The Big Bang Theory: When the pilot aired, it was 2007 and “nerd culture” and “geek chic” were on everyone’s lips, and yet still the basic premise of “the sitcom for nerds” was, once again, awkward but lovable nerd has huge unreciprocated crush on hot non-nerdy popular girl (and also has an annoying roommate).

This annoys me. This is a problem.

Because, let’s be honest, this device is old. We have seen it over and over again. Steve Urkel. Screech. Skippy on Family Ties. Niles on Frasier.

We (male) nerds grow up force-fed this script. Lusting after women “out of our league” was what we did. And those unattainable hot girls would always inevitably reject us because they didn’t understand our intellectual interest in science fiction and comic books and would instead date asshole jocks. This was inevitable, and our only hope was to be unyieldingly persistent until we “earned” a chance with these women by “being there” for them until they saw the error of their ways. (The thought of just looking for women who shared our interests was a foreign one, since it took a while for the media to decide female geeks existed.The Big Bang Theory didn’t add Amy and Bernadette to its main cast until Season 4, in 2010.)

This is, to put it mildly, a problematic attitude to grow up with. Fixating on a woman from afar and then refusing to give up when she acts like she’s not interested is, generally, something that ends badly for everyone involved. But it’s a narrative that nerds and nerd media kept repeating.

I’m not breaking new ground by saying this. It’s been said very well over and overand over again.

And I’m not condemning guys who get frustrated, or who have unrequited crushes. And I’m not condemning any of these shows or movies.

And yet…

Before I went on Jeopardy!, I had auditioned for TBS’s King of the Nerds, a reality show commissioned in 2012 after TBS got syndication rights to, yes, The Big Bang Theory. I like the show and I still wish I’d been on it. (Both “kings” they’ve crowned, by the way, have so far been women, so maybe they should retitle it “Monarch of the Nerds” or, since the final win comes down to a vote, “President of the Nerds.” Just a nerdy thought.)

But a lot of things about the show did give me pause. One of them was that it was hosted by Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong—Lewis and Booger fromRevenge of the Nerds. I don’t have anything against those guys personally. Nor am I going to issue a blanket condemnation of Revenge of the Nerds, a film I’m still, basically, a fan of.

But look. One of the major plot points of Revenge of the Nerds is Lewis putting on a Darth Vader mask, pretending to be his jock nemesis Stan, and then having sex with Stan’s girlfriend. Initially shocked when she finds out his true identity, she’s so taken by his sexual prowess—“All jocks think about is sports. All nerds think about is sex.”—that the two of them become an item.

Classic nerd fantasy, right? Immensely attractive to the young male audience who saw it. And a stock trope, the “bed trick,” that many of the nerds watching probably knew dates back to the legend of King Arthur.

It’s also, you know, rape.

I’ve had this argument about whether it was “technically” rape with fans of the movie in the past, but leaving aside the legal technicalities, why don’t you ask the women you know who are in committed relationships how they’d feel about guys concocting elaborate ruses to have sex with them without their knowledge to “earn a chance” with them? Or how it feels to be chased by a real-life Steve Urkel, being harassed, accosted, ambushed in public places, have your boyfriend “challenged” and having all rejection met with a cheerful “I’m wearing you down!”?

I know people who’ve been through that. And because life is not, in fact, a sitcom, it’s not the kind of thing that elicits a bemused eye roll followed by raucous laughter from the studio audience. It’s the kind of thing that induces pain, and fear.

When our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

And that’s still mild compared to some of the disturbing shit I consumed in my adolescence. Jake handing off his falling-down-drunk date to Anthony Michael Hall’s Geek in Sixteen Candlessaying, “Be my guest” (which is, yes, more offensive to me than Long Duk Dong). The nerd-libertarian gospels of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and how their Übermensch protagonists prove their masculinity by having sex with their love interests without asking first—and win their hearts in the process. Comics…just, comics. (Too much to go into there but the fact that Red Sonja was once thought a “feminist icon” speaks volumes. Oh, and there’s that whole drama with Ms. Marvel for those of you who really want to get freaked out today.)

But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?

Do they buy into the “pickup artist” snake oil—started by nerdy guys, for nerdy guys—filled with techniques to manipulate, pressure and in some cases outrightassault women to get what they want? Or when that doesn’t work, and they spend hours a day on sites bitching about how it doesn’t work like Elliot Rodger’s hangout “PUAHate.com,” sometimes, do they buy some handguns, leave a manifesto on the Internet and then drive off to a sorority house to murder as many women as they can?

No, I’m not saying most frustrated nerdy guys are rapists or potential rapists. I’m certainly not saying they’re all potential mass murderers. I’m not saying that most lonely men who put women up on pedestals will turn on them with hostility and rage once they get frustrated enough.

But I have known nerdy male stalkers, and, yes, nerdy male rapists. I’ve known situations where I knew something was going on but didn’t say anything—because I didn’t want to stick my neck out, because some vile part of me thought that this kind of thing was “normal,” because, in other words, I was a coward and I had the privilege of ignoring the problem.

I’ve heard and seen the stories that those of you who followed the #YesAllWomenhashtag on Twitter have seen—women getting groped at cons, women getting vicious insults flung at them online, women getting stalked by creeps in college and told they should be “flattered.” I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.

I’ve heard it from acquaintances, I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve heard it come out of my own mouth, in moments of anger and weakness.

It’s the same motivation that makes a guy in college stalk a girl, leave her unsolicited gifts and finally when she tells him to quit it makes him leave an angry post about her “shallowness” and “cruelty” on Facebook. It’s the same motivation that makes guys rant about “fake cosplay girls” at cons and how much he hates them for their vain, “teasing” ways. The one that makes a guy suffering career or personal problems turn on his wife because it’s her job to “support” him by patching up all the holes in his life. The one that makes a wealthy entrepreneur hit his girlfriend 117 times, on camera, for her infidelity, and then after getting off with a misdemeanor charge still put up a blog post casting himself as the victim.

And now that motivation has led to six people dead and thirteen more injured, in broad daylight, with the killer leaving a 140-page rant and several YouTube videos describing exactly why he did it. No he-said-she-said, no muffled sounds through the dorm ceiling, no “Maybe he has other issues.” The fruits of our culture’s ingrained misogyny laid bare for all to see.

And yet. When this story broke, the initial mainstream coverage only talked about “mental illness,” not misogyny, a line that people are now fervently exhorting us to stick to even after the manifesto’s contents were revealed. Yet another high-profile tech CEO resignation ensued when the co-founder of Rap Genius decided Rodger’s manifesto was a hilarious joke.

People found one of the girls Rodger was obsessed with and began questioning if her “bullying” may have somehow triggered his rage. And, worst of all, he has fan pages on Facebook that still haven’t been taken down, filled with angry frustrated men singing his praises and seriously suggesting that the onus is on women to offer sex to men to keep them from going on rampages.

So, a question, to my fellow male nerds:

What the fuck is wrong with us?

How much longer are we going to be in denial that there’s a thing called “rape culture” and we ought to do something about it?

No, not the straw man that all men are constantly plotting rape, but that we live in an entitlement culture where guys think they need to be having sex with girls in order to be happy and fulfilled. That in a culture that constantly celebrates the narrative of guys trying hard, overcoming challenges, concocting clever ruses and automatically getting a woman thrown at them as a prize as a result, there will always be some guy who crosses the line into committing a violent crime to get what he “deserves,” or get vengeance for being denied it.

To paraphrase the great John Oliver, listen up, fellow self-pitying nerd boys—we are not the victims here. We are not the underdogs. We are not the ones who have our ownership over our bodies and our emotions stepped on constantly by other people’s entitlement. We’re not the ones where one out of six of us will have someone violently attempt to take control of our bodies in our lifetimes.

We are not Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds, we are not Steve Urkel from Family Matters, we are not Preston Myers from Can’t Hardly Wait, we are not Seth Rogen in every movie Seth Rogen has ever been in, we are not fucking Mario racing to the castle to beat Bowser because we know there’s a princess in there waiting for us.

We are not the lovable nerdy protagonist who’s lovable because he’s the protagonist. We’re not guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick of our dreams as long as we work hard enough at it. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by “getting the girl” in the end. And when our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

It’s because other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers. And it means that the rest of us will always, on some fundamental level, be stupid and wrong when it comes to trying to understand the women we claim to love.

What did Elliot Rodger need? He didn’t need to get laid. None of us nerdy frustrated guys need to get laid. When I was an asshole with rants full of self-pity and entitlement, getting laid would not have helped me.

He needed to grow up.

We all do.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html

Pope kisses the hand of, concelebrates mass with pro-homosexual activist priest

BY HILARY WHITE, ROME CORRESPONDENT

  • Fri May 23, 2014 14:17 EST

ROME, May 23, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pope Francis raised eyebrows earlier this month by concelebrating Mass with and kissing the hand of a leading homosexual activist priest campaigning for changes in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. On May 6, Francis received the 93 year-old priest who has cofounded the homosexualist activist organization, Agedo Foggia, that is opposed to Catholic Church teaching.

Fr. (Don) Michele de Paolis concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis at the Domus Santa Martha and then presented the pontiff with gifts of a wooden chalice and paten and a copy of his most recent book, “Dear Don Michele – questions to an inconvenient priest”.

In a previous book, Don Michele wrote, “homosexual love is a gift from (God) no less than heterosexual.” He also disparaged the idea of homosexual couples not having sex.

Francis closed the meeting by kissing the priest’s hand, a gesture that the far-left newspaper L’immediato called one “revealing the humility of a great man to another of the same stature.” De Paolis described the unusual papal gesture himself in a post to his Facebook page, saying that he asked Francis for an audience with the priest’s other organization, the Community of Emmaus: “Is that possible?”

He said that the pope replied, “Anything is possible. Talk to Cardinal Maradiaga and he shall prepare everything.”

“And then (unbelievably) he kissed my hand! I hugged him and wept,” de Paolis concluded.

The gesture has made something of a sensation in Italian media and ‘blogs since de Paolis is a well-known figure in Italy as a leading clerical apologist for the homosexualist ideology. He ostensibly met with Francis in his capacity as the founder of Emmaus Community in the southern Italian city of Foggia that assists the poor and those suffering from AIDS.

But it is for his cofounding of Agedo Foggia, an “association of parents, relatives and friends of homosexuals” (Associazione di genitori, parenti e amici di persone omosessuali) – that campaigns to promote the homosexualist and gender ideology in Italian society and the Church – that he is best known in this country.

LifeSiteNews asked Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi for clarification as to the nature of the encounter but received no reply by press time.

In addition to support from the City of Foggia, Agedo Foggia is funded by and working with the UNAR, the Italian government’s National Antidiscrimination and Racism Office (Ufficio Nazionale Antidiscriminazioni Razziali) that has issued documents threatening journalists with prison if they fail to portray homosexuality in a positive light.

The website of Agedo Lecce carries an extensive quote from one of de Paolis’s books to help readers “get out of the quagmire of biblical precepts”. He wrote, “[W]e must overcome the letter of Scripture. It is the same St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:6 who says, ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.’”

“That this biblical letter,” de Paolis wrote, “killed and continues to kill, unfortunately, at times, not only morally but also physically, is a fact. The Bible ‘is’ not the word of God; the Bible ‘contains’ the word of God.”

“Instead of wasting energy in endless controversy the Church aims to build a Christian spirituality of joyous acceptance of self, gratitude to God in the knowledge that homosexual love is a gift from Him no less than heterosexual. A spirituality in which we dialogue and we compare to all, but obey God alone.”

Church people, he said, “completely ignore the phenomenon of homosexuality, which science has now clarified unequivocally: the homosexual orientation is not chosen freely by the person. The boy or girl will discover that it is an approach deeply rooted in personality, which is an essential aspect of his identity: it is not a disease, it is not a perversion.”

He lamented the “insensitivity” shown to homosexuals by the Catholic Church, saying, “Some church people say, ‘It’s okay to be gay, but they should not have sex, they can not love each other.’ This is the greatest hypocrisy. It’s like saying to a plant that grows, ‘You must not flourish, you must not bear fruit!’ Yes, it is against nature!’”

“We must have patience with our Mother Church,” he continues. “Her attitude towards homosexuals will change.” He praised the “numerous initiatives” that have already been founded throughout Italy in which “groups of homosexual Catholics have occasional contact with the diocese, usually marked by cordiality.”

De Paolis is a prominent member of an Italian clerical subculture on the extreme, Marxist-informed left that sprang up after the Second Vatican Council. One Catholic writer, Giuseppe Nardi, wrote that de Paolis is a promoter of the “anarcho-Catholicism” of the extreme left that has been dominant in the Church in Italy, as well as in the South American Church, since the 1970s.

De Paolis founded Agedo Foggia with the late Gabriele Scalfarotto, the father of the Italian Deputy Ivan Scalfarotto who sponsored the Italian parliament’s “anti-homophobia” bill that has been denounced by family activists as an attempt to shut down any moral criticism of the homosexual lifestyle. Recently pro-family and Catholic activists in Italy sought to secure Pope Francis’s aid in opposing the bill.

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-kisses-the-hand-of-gay-activist-priest-allowed-to-concelebrate-mass/

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