Let’s Drewniak! Christie Spokesman Spawns Youth Craze

You gotta figure that according to Michael Drewniak, David Wildstein’s best feature is his “burning eyes.” Documents released in late March reveal a text by Drewniak saying: “The only trouble is that David is/was a true friend of mine. Now, I could claw his eyes out, pour gasoline in the sockets and light him up.”

Our roving reporter on the PATH train recently overheard one youth remark to another: “Yeah, Friday night at eight o’clock. Come on down, we’re gonna Drewniak.”

Just how does one Drewniak, and what is the correct etiquette, manner of attire and so forth? Here are a few do’s and don’ts:

— Always set up a Drewniaking playdate in advance so that the proper materials may be collated.

— Dress should be casual, with flame-retardant pajamas favored.

— If you is the Drewniaker, then who or what is the Drewniakee? For purposes of this tutorial, let’s assume it’s an inanimate object like a pumpkinhead (or Chris Christie’s conscience).

— The clawing of the eyes is largely ceremonial. Do not try this on a pumpkin without first making guide cuts using an X-Acto blade. There’s nothing more frustrating or anticlimactic than clawing at the eyes only to have them remain firmly in their sockets, thus impeding progress to the next step.

— For professional Drewniakers, Lee Press-On Nails are de rigeur.

— Although the original recipe calls for gasoline, any toxic liquid may be substituted, such as hair tonic or water from the Passaic River.

— In one colorful variant, McDonald’s breakfast sausages are inserted into the vacant eye sockets, and an Egg McMuffin stuffed in the mouth. This is affectionately known as a “Trenton telegram.”

— If, after Drewniaking a pumpkin, you place it on your head and take a selfie, this known as a Weiner-Drewniak. (If you then attempt to eat the pumpkin, it’s a Christie-Weiner-Drewniak — rarely accomplished without medical supervision.)

When attempting the rare Christie-Weiner-Drewniak, it is advisable to make the pumpkin into soup prior to consumption. Photo courtesy salon.com

When attempting the rare Christie-Weiner-Drewniak, it is advisable to make the pumpkin into soup prior to consumption. Photo courtesy Salon.com

— If you combine Drewniaking with slut-shaming, that’s what’s known as a Gibson-Dunn, which also requires the filing of a few hundred pages of superfluous paperwork.

— When a Drewniaking is conducted for charity, and the Trenton telegram variant employed, the proceeds may be contributed to Ronald McDonald House and a tax deduction taken. (Be sure and attach Schedule P, “Charitable Deductions Involving Flaming Pumpkins.”)

Ronald McDonald House -- the place one most fears winding up at. Open upper storey windows reveal escaped inmates. Tyvek for Mayor.

Ronald McDonald House–the place one most fears winding up. Open upper storey windows reveal escaped inmates. Tyvek for Mayor.

— Drewniaked pumpkins may be repurposed for job training programs, reclaiming shattered lives and giving future political operatives a leg up.

This Ronald McDonald truck carries Drewniaked pumpkins to inner city youth in need of job training. Eco-friendly engine runs on french fry grease.

This Ronald McDonald Mobile carries Drewniaked pumpkins to inner city youth. Eco-friendly engine runs on french fry grease and love.

— Despite interest in Drewniaking as a cultural phenomenon, there are still few high-paying jobs. Avoid work-at-home scams involving Drewniaking advertised on the backs of matchbook covers.

— Do not combine Drewniaking with fan-dancing or flagpole-sitting, as this plainly results in cultural overkill. The cat will not be amused.

This cat is thoroughly unimpressed by a gaudy display which combines Drewniaking, fan-dancing, and flagpole-sitting. Photo courtesy letssmiletoday.com

This cat is thoroughly unimpressed by a gaudy display combining Drewniaking, fan-dancing, and flagpole-sitting. Pic: LetsSmileToday.com

— Since Drewniaking can pose a fire hazard, it’s helpful to have plenty of people standing around who can put out any blaze which may develop. An ideal place to conduct a Drewniaking would be a Walmart on Black Friday. If a fire does break out and no extinguisher is available, the next best thing would be to heap on children’s toys made in China, as these are known to have natural flame-retardant properties.

Remember, at Hot Tin Cat Blog, the saf-e-ty of the public is always the uppermost thing in our minds!

The saf-e-ty of the public is always the uppermost thing in our minds.

Safety of the public always uppermost!


Chris Christie, Gibson Dunn and Slut-Shaming

According to Rachel Maddow, what Randy Mastro and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher were doing for client Chris Christie was slut-shaming:

The report released by the law firm Thursday established no clear motive for the lane closures, but did include seemingly gratuitous references to a “personal relationship” between Bill Stepien and Bridget Anne Kelly which Stepien allegedly ended, leaving Kelly feeling “emotional.”

The theories are flying fast and furious as to why Gibson Dunn would stuff a report prepared at taxpayer expense with such salacious fiddle-faddle. One theory is that it’s about distracting public attention away from the soap opera of a politician who fell from grace — who like Icarus, flew too near the sun, or like Mama Leone, simply ate too much manicotti. It’s about refocusing attention on a different kind of soap opera — one starring Bridget and Bill, with Bridget cast as the “bad girl” who gets jilted then gets even by (wait for it)… commissioning a traffic realignment study. This leap in logic will be explored later; what’s important is that the Hollywood remake will feature the two lovebirds holding hands under the George Washington Bridge, watching the cars pile up. “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” Bridget will ask dreamily. “Not as long as you love me,” Bill will reply coyly.

Another theory is that Gibson Dunn included gratuitous personal info to cover their own sorry legal asses, to make it look like they’d actually done some investigating (rather than mere whitewashing) to earn their million bucks. The sad truth is that they didn’t interview David Samson, or David Wildstein, or Bill Baroni, or most of the central figures in Bridgegate, nor was anyone under oath. The lawyers might have spent the whole time playing pinochle! (Since they also didn’t interview Kelly or Stepien, one wonders whose wisdom got tapped on their love life. The hotel bellboy’s? How much did they have to slip him before he started telling the right story?)

The first thing these guys forgot is that if Christie still has national political ambitions, he shouldn’t be contributing more matériel to the Republican War on Women. If he were half a man (and halfway chivalrous), he would have protected Bridget Anne Kelly rather than (figuratively) dumping her body in the Hudson.

Even if we accept the farfetched notion that she acted on her own initiative, he gave her that initiative — encouraging his staff to play hardball with every concession they could choose to dole out or withhold. We control the vertical, we control the horizontal, we control the bridge lanes… Kelly was no renegade, but Christie’s loyal looey till he dumped her. As her lawyer Michael Critchley said on Friday, she “was deeply devoted and committed to her job at the Office of the Governor. She worked tirelessly to pursue the goals of the Office during her tenure.” Translation: she was only carrying out Christie’s policies of political retribution, which included maintaining plausible deniability.

Just when we got used to Christie calling her a liar, he has to up the ante by implying that she’s a slut as well. If Virginia’s Bob McDonnell is known as “Governor Ultrasound,” maybe New Jersey’s Chris Christie should be called “Governor Slut-Shamer.”

The second thing these guys forgot is that purported “sluts” are like putty in the hands of Aunt Irma. When she comes to visit, they might easily kill the dog and boil him for stew, or detonate nuclear weapons because they’re feeling fat. Closing down the busiest bridge in the world wouldn’t be no thang. Yet Team Christie failed to capitalize on this essential sexist meme!

How might they have done so? Well, consider the dramatis personae who helped bolster Bill Baroni’s fake cover story that the lane closures were part of a “traffic study.” Those upstanding citizens Paul Nunziato — head of the Port Authority police union — and State Senator Kevin O’Toole were quite happy to play along. It’s easy to picture one of these moral giants hypothetically leaking a story to the press that they just happened to lunch with Bridget Kelly on August 12. When she opened her handbag to answer a cell call, the contents spilled out — including tampons and birth control. Given that Team Christie plays so dirty, I really wouldn’t put this past them.

In a changing society, the term “slut” is turning out to be quite the portmanteau word — now sometimes applied to men. I wonder if Chris Christie qualifies as a “political slut” for allegedly trying to shake down so many politicians of both genders in order to consolidate his own power and influence, and fatten the coffers of crony David Samson’s law firm (not to mention his own political brag book). Tsk, tsk! Such slutty behavior from a public official makes Anthony Weiner’s selfies seem modest by comparison. The mental image conjured up by Bridgegate is that of a larger-than-life Christie sitting astride the George Washington Bridge wearing a toga and emperor’s crown, doling out concessions to supporters of his unholy reign.

Political onanism knows no bounds, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Republican State Senator Kevin O’Toole — who helped with the cover-up — is also on the investigating committee. This reminds me of a Firesign Theatre routine from Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers:

“But gee, Dad — I still don’t see how you can be my defense lawyer and the People’s Prosecutor all at the same time.” “Easy, son. This way I can personally see that you’re persecuted to the full extent of the laws.”

Another question inadvertently raised by the Gibson Dunn report is: Can bullies be boring? May we yawn?

The report claims that a picture of Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer yawning at a public meeting proves she didn’t feel threatened by the Christie clan’s alleged shakedown. According to Zimmer, the main approach took place in a supermarket parking lot, and involved a quid pro quo whereby the hard-hit city of Hoboken would only get Sandy relief funds if Zimmer agreed to play ball with a private real estate deal which stood to benefit David Samson’s law firm Wolff & Samson, and their client The Rockefeller Group.

Political power junkies like Christie & Co. can be extremely boring, especially in their day-to-day machinations. No one’s claiming that Christie uses piano wire or that people feel physically threatened by him (unless they’re holding the last doughnut in the box). Bureaucratic expressions of power can be unbelievably boring, even if one is on the receiving end. I would hardly blame Dawn Zimmer for yawning and smiling her way through a meeting. That doesn’t mean she didn’t feel financially intimidated on behalf of the city she represents. So yes, political bullies like Chris Christie can be boring. It can be hard to stay awake at meetings where political operatives and real estate interests are running their sh*t. The three-day PowerPoint presentation subs for piano wire in Christieland. (“Cardinal Fang, fetch… THE SLIDE PROJECTOR!”)

A tale of two alibis

Last time I checked, Christie was still claiming that for all he knows (being the innocent lamb), the lane closures really were part of a traffic study. But the story concocted by his lawyers is that Bridget Kelly was having some sort of hissy fit after being dumped by Bill Stepien (if that really happened), and that’s why she took it upon herself to initiate… What? A traffic realignment study? Is that what jilted lovers do? Hell hath no dull statistics like a woman scorned! Even low-level criminals can do a better job of syncing their alibis than Christie and his minders. (Forensic analysis also reveals that on August 13 Kelly was having a bad hair day.)

If I give Messers Gibson, Dunn, et al. MRCVS the benefit of the doubt, I need to work out how David Wildstein fits into the new canvas they’ve sketched. Oh, I see! He was probably Bridget’s dresser, attiring her in elegant outfits he hoped would arouse desire in Burglar Bill. Being a sensitive and empathic soul, Wildstein was probably attuned to Bridget’s every emotional need, and she must’ve kept him informed of romantic developments. So when she e-mailed him “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” he was completely simpatico and understood this to be a requirement of Courtly Love (never politics). After ordering the lane closures, Wildstein probably returned to the mundane task of brushing and combing Bridget’s Madonna wig.

What of Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the woman who Mayor Dawn Zimmer claims approached her in a parking lot and delivered a message on behalf of Chris Christie that Zimmer had to play ball with a private real estate deal for Hoboken to get hurricane relief funds? Suppose, as the investigation (the real one) by federal prosecutors continues, Guadagno were to admit to making the threat on Christie’s behalf? Would Guadagno’s love life suddenly become fair game for Christie’s lawyers? Would she be subjected to the same slut-shaming campaign as Bridget Anne Kelly?

Christie has long portrayed himself as a guy who’s in control, micromanages everything, fights corruption and takes responsibility. It’s time we insisted: To thine own selfie be true. Christie should man up and resign instead of deep sixing his lieutenants or dredging up their love lives. Resigning would show some self-respect, respect for voters, and respect for the political process. Slut-shaming, on the other hand, reveals Chris Christie for what he has become: a bully and miscogynist, not a candidate women voters can stomach.

*  *  *


More on Aunt Irma courtesy The IT Crowd:


The Daily Beast refers to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as a “white shoe” law firm. Maybe after this incident, they should more properly be labeled a “brown shoe” law firm. They certainly seem to have stepped in sh*t.

Also, Extry! Extry! David Samson’s resignation thrown out with Friday trash. Powerful Christie crony finally exits Port Authority. Now just one stinking, rotten tomato left in fridge…

CIA Lawyer Eatinger Linked to Dine and Dash Incident (satire)

It was Thursday, November 28, 2013 when Robert Eatinger–currently acting general counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency–walked into an Olive Garden in Falls Church, Virginia and demanded a table for eight. “I thought he was bringing in his family,” said manager Luis Martinez. “He ordered a whole turkey on a huge platter, with a gallon of gravy. Business was slow on Thanksgiving, so I did notice him, especially because of the way he was dressed: more formal than most of our customers, but with dark sunglasses.”

Martinez went on to describe how Eatinger remained alone and standing. When the turkey arrived, he proceeded to place it in various stress positions, with one drumstick bent back over where the bird’s head would have been, and another drumstick inserted into the orifice adjoining the parson’s nose.

Eatinger reportedly took ice from a glass of ice water and rubbed it over the turkey’s skin, occasionally interjecting comments like, “How do you like that, turkey? Ready to talk yet? Ever been on a plane? Ever been to Cairo? I hear the weather’s lovely there this time of year…”

At one point, Eatinger went out to his car and returned with a boombox equipped with stereo headphones, which he stretched to fit over the turkey’s midsection. “He really cranked up the volume,” said Martinez, “to the point where other customers were complaining. It was torture to listen to: in the left channel was the Plastic Ono Band, and the right channel was Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America.’ But the two channels together sounded like cattle being mutilated. The turkey acted as a natural resonator. The sound was horrific, but Eatinger was beaming and looking around like he expected the room to applaud him as if he were a sushi chef.”

Then Eatinger produced some type of device from his vest pocket. Martinez describes it as having about five small lithium-ion batteries wired in series, and cables with alligator clips that served as electrodes. “He attached the electrodes to the turkey’s extremities,” said Martinez. “He was turning some kind of dial until finally black smoke started coming off the turkey and wafting up toward the chandelier.”

“He hadn’t eaten a thing or touched the gravy. But then he picked up this gigantic gravy boat the size of the Queen Elizabeth and started drowning the turkey. I mean, he sloshed the gravy in stages like he was waterboarding the turkey or something.”

According to Martinez, when questioned about his odd behavior Eatinger explained that he was just using “enhanced interrogation techniques” to determine whether the turkey was really fresh or not. He then excused himself and went to the washroom.

“After he was gone fifteen, twenty minutes, I sent a busboy in after him,” said Martinez. “But the washroom was empty. The frosted glass window had been neatly cut–like with a glass-cutter–and there was a hastily-scrawled note on toilet paper saying ‘I had to go.’

“It’s one of the strangest dine and dash incidents I’ve ever seen,” said Martinez. “We had no idea who this guy was. But then with all the publicity about the CIA and Congress, I saw his picture and I kept going over and over it in my head, comparing it with that Thanksgiving night. It’s definitely him, that CIA lawyer guy.”

Robert Eatinger is no stranger to controversy, and attorneys are notoriously abusive and fetishistic. Still, Martinez confirms that the turkey was definitely deceased (and not merely pining for the fields) when first delivered to Eatinger. It seems that no animal cruelty laws were violated, nor any article of the Geneva Convention. There are no laws against torturing a dead turkey, just as there are apparently no laws against torturing a live detainee. The worst charge Eatinger could face is dining and dashing, technically known as “defrauding an innkeeper”– a misdemeanor in Virginia, though one youth was shot dead by police for scarfing pancakes at an IHOP and attempting to flee.

When asked if there was any hard evidence linking Eatinger to the Olive Garden incident, Martinez replied: “His whole bizarre dining room performance was caught on security cams. I reviewed the tapes myself and locked them in the safe. But two nights later we were burglarized. Strange thing is, the safe was sitting there wide open with a pile of cash left untouched. Only the videos were gone.”

Robert Eatinger was unavailable for comment, but did issue a general statement saying:

“I took my loved one out to dinner so we could get a bite to eat,
and though we both had been much thinner she looked so beautiful I could eat her. When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years, then they expect you to pick a career when you can’t really function you’re so full of fear. There’s room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill if you want to be like the folks on the hill. People say we got it made. Don’t they know we’re so afraid? Isolation… We’re afraid to be alone.”

No one is quite sure what he meant by that.

*  *  *

Yes, We Have No Small Olives…

It all started when I was trying to explain America to a resident of Blighty. “America is a big country,” I wrote, “and nobody wants anything small, or so the marketing theory goes. There’s simply no such thing as a small olive on American supermarket shelves! One has to choose from such official USDA designations as large, extra large, jumbo, extra jumbo, colossal, super colossal, mammoth, and super mammoth. (Whether the “mammoth” olives are the least bit woolly is something I am unable to confirm.) This obsession with largeness is a tedious feature of American culture: large cars, large superheroes, large wars, large political scandals…”

Somehow, the rumors started flying… Hot Tin Cat went to the supermarket in search of small olives and couldn’t find any. What on earth were the small olives for? Small salads? Martinis for munchkins? Ammunition for an outsized peashooter? It’s gotten so bad that young schoolboys (and first-year law students) send me raisins surgically altered to look like olives with notes scrawled in crayon saying, “Hey Hot Tin Cat, are these small enough for ya?”

Time to clear up the confusion: I have never gone to the supermarket in search of small olives, nor would I have any particular use for them. I was merely citing them as an example. Nobody in America wants to buy anything labeled “small.” It might make them feel inferior. That’s why the official USDA designations are all transmogrified synonyms for “large.”

To be perfectly honest, I learned everything I know about the subject from educational television, specifically The Great American Dream Machine. Let’s grade the olives with Marshall Efron:

Spiritual Feminism

I had posted a series on cyberharassment including potent quotes from women bloggers, activists, and feminist law professors. Careful readers may have noticed that some people referred only to women’s rights, while others referred to the rights of women and racial minorities. Hardly any referenced the rights of religious or spiritual minorities. Why is this? It seems unfortunate. After all, most cyberharassers are equal opportunity harassers, employing roughly the same tactics whether going after women, racial minorities, or religious/spiritual minorities.

There can be various reasons for the omission. Perhaps the political taxonomy is such that feminists identify themselves primarily with the left, don’t see religion as relevant to their lives, or harbor persistent stereotypes of religion which arise from their dealings with right-wing Christian groups who oppose freedom of choice for women. In Recognising Religious Women as Feminist Subjects, Louisa Acciari writes:

“The position of white Western feminists regarding religious women, and more specifically Muslim women, is increasingly contested. In Western discourses, religious women are considered either too oppressed to speak for themselves or too dominated to express a real ‘free choice.’ By locking them in this subjugated position, feminist theory denies religious women agency and capacity to be part of the feminist movement. Though not religious myself, the exclusion of religious women — or of any woman — from feminist theory and practice seems very problematic to me. I find it crucial to rethink common assumptions about religion, secularity and feminism, and to question how part of the feminist movement has become so intolerant of the religious ‘other.'” [References omitted.]

American and European feminists may tend to see themselves as both “modern” and “Western,” while viewing religion as “primitive” and “patriarchal.” The feminist movement is predominantly secular, and may therefore fall victim to familiar secular disdain for the religious or spiritual. The balkanization of movements of liberation may imply that religious minorities had best fend for themselves.

Feminism tends to include both liberating concepts as well as normative values suggesting limits on behavior. If feminism is part of the larger category of (predominantly) left-wing politics, its normative values may include self-reliance rather than reliance on any God or spiritual authority. To expand the liberating concepts of feminism to include and even embrace religion and spirituality seems relatively easy. It may be more difficult to question normative values which place feminism and religion in altogether different bins.

Put more simply: in some feminist circles, religion is dreadfully unfashionable. To the extent that mainstream feminism has developed its own social codes, overt expressions of religious faith may be somewhat taboo. What’s paradoxical here is that this seems to deny women support for making any choices other than politically correct ones. While my own politics are liberal left, I define left-wing politics in terms of personal freedom. I want the freedom to choose whatever brings me wisdom and happiness. If I can’t pray, you can keep your revolution! But of course, the subtler point is that left-wing politics shouldn’t be about conforming to an agenda or social code. It should celebrate choice in all areas of life. True diversity includes not only political, ethnic and gender diversity, but spiritual diversity as well. No one should be forced to choose between religion and feminism. Feminism could ideally expand to include a variety of religious and spiritual choices, not just Neopagan ones.

To understand how this is possible, we need a mind which is free from preconceptions and is able to embrace paradox, e.g. the paradox that a person could be fiercely independent in their political thinking and yet also submissive (dangerous word!) to the will of God. It’s easy to find articles which laud Muslim women for increased political activism, but hard to find articles which address the latter paradox.

Scratch beneath the surface of left-leaning articles on religious women and feminism and you may see signs of condescension, e.g.: Despite being horribly oppressed and deluded, these women are nonetheless taking their first nascent steps toward something resembling feminism. They may not be welcome at the finest New York cocktail parties, but we should at least tip our urban sombreros to their efforts.

To my mind, that’s not a good way to view things. One should rather consider that spiritual feminists may be tuned in to a whole different reality. They may be politically aware and spiritually aware, and may have found their own personal pathway through the contradictions by working hard, persistently asking tough questions, and daring to believe that their own spiritual experiences are real.

If you believe in an inclusive and equalitarian society, then don’t exclude or grudgingly accept spiritual feminists–embrace them!

Earlier I stated (perhaps somewhat enigmatically) that to expand the liberating concepts of feminism to include and even embrace religion and spirituality seems relatively easy. I see three immediate pathways to this.

The first is to recognize that what many feminists are struggling for is a world governed by compassion and empathy. These qualities are in short supply in the material world, but are found in abundant measure in the spiritual world. To discover that the spiritual world is brimming with the qualities needed to achieve feminist ideals is to recognize the spiritual world as a valuable feminist resource.

The second pathway entails sweeping away stereotypes. One of the features of feminism is a personal search for what is true, apart from limited attitudes inherited from the past. Feminists often go on their own type of vision quest to discover who they are as individuals, beyond phenotypes acquired from family life, educational institutions, fashion mags, and even political tracts. Whenever the question Who am I? is asked deeply and with persistence, it leads naturally to the spiritual realm. The deep realization that I am a spiritual being, and I am an integral being is a feminist realization, or at least a realization not hostile to feminism.

The third pathway — related to the other two — is to recognize that the spiritual realm itself is already equalitarian. There the feminine principle is not relegated to second-class status, but is extremely powerful, active, dynamic, and in no way inferior to the masculine. To discover that the spiritual realm — far from being a hostile, male-dominated region — is in fact a kind of feminist paradise, is to again affirm its value as a resource and model.

If one defines feminism as a predominantly secular, intellectual, and political movement, then this may leave little room for personal discoveries of a spiritual nature — or such discoveries may be cordoned off from feminism and relegated to the private self, seen as unfit for polite conversation. But if one views feminism as a process of personal liberation and discovery with no preset limits, then to become spiritually aware and spiritually empowered no longer seems like an irrelevant preoccupation, but rather a central puzzle piece in the whole question of identity. The realization I am a spiritual being, and I am an integral being implies a holistic approach to feminism which does not exclude or cordon off the spiritual.

To embrace spiritual feminism, one is (in a sense) forced to challenge the pervasive view that modernity equals secularism equals individualism equals intellectualism equals rejection of religion. This may ultimately reduce to a conflict between the mind and the heart.

The message of spiritual liberation is more easily discovered in the heart than in the mind. In the personal struggle for liberation, to listen to one’s own heart in a mind-obsessed society is itself a radical act!

The various heart-based spiritual movements which people often join are nonconformist in relation to the secular/intellectual mainstream. So even if you’re not religious, consider that women (and men) who define themselves as explicitly spiritual and participate in minority religions have rights worth defending. Don’t limit discussion of cyberharassment to women and racial minorities. Please also include religious/spiritual minorities, since they too are targets of such harassment, and are often at a particular disadvantage to defend themselves.

Marissa Mayer–Hatred Still In Vogue At Yahoo–Part 4

At the end of Part 3 of this series on cyberharassment–focusing especially on Yahoo and subsidiary Tumblr– I mentioned that intellectual discourse and threats of violence are not equivalent (as site owners often claim).

The right to free speech is not absolute. The courts often distinguish between high-value speech such as intellectual discourse, and low-value speech such as vile name-calling and threats. When people engaged in intellectual discourse are subjected to thousands of vile and threatening messages, this doesn’t form an equivalence.

One of the “big lies” encountered when discussing these issues is that threatening and harassing speech is somehow essential to free speech. But see Mary Anne Franks in Huffpo: Free Speech Elitism: Harassment Is Not the Price ‘We’ Pay for Free Speech. Two takeaway points here are that it’s possible to distinguish between different types of speech, and that the cost for threatening and harassing speech is disproportionately borne by women and minorities. Franks writes:

“[H]arassment is not the price that ‘we’ [all] pay for free speech. It is the price that certain groups and not others pay. … Free speech elitism is the pretense that ‘everyone’ shares equally in the costs and benefits of unfettered expression, when in reality the powerful receive the benefits while the marginalized bear the costs. Free speech elitists urge ‘tolerance’ for toxic expression because they know the burden of this tolerance will not fall on them.”

Just because a woman posts online that she thinks video games have a problem with sexist tropes doesn’t mean she should reasonably expect, or tolerate, or be complacent about receiving messages threatening to commit violence against her. That this occurs points to serious problems in our society, some of which need to be addressed by fine-tuning Internet law. See Danielle Citron, Law’s Expressive Value In Combating Cyber Gender Harassment. This is one of Citron’s most important works, since it goes beyond mere analysis and takes a stronger advocacy position on cyber civil rights.

One thing I understood better from Citron about the nonequivalence of intellectual discourse vs. threatening and shaming speech is that intellectual discourse invites participation, while threatening and shaming speech tries to silence the speaker and force him/her offline. Citron writes: “Self-expression should receive little protection if its sole purpose is to extinguish the self-expression of another.” Laura Bates echoes this view at TheGuardian.com: “[I]n all this hand-wringing over free speech, nobody is talking about the free speech of the women and girls who, as long as this [harassment] continues to go unacknowledged and unresolved, are effectively being driven out of online spaces altogether.”

It’s easy to forget in the passion of the moment that it’s not exclusively women and girls, but also other groups who suffer from cyberharassment. This includes ethnic and religious minorities, whose harassment often goes unreported. As hard as this is to believe, some groups have even less power than women do as a bloc, and are more afraid of reporting incidents lest the authorities become mere surrogate harassers.

Our highly diverse society includes many micro minorities living in small communities, and about whom little is known. They’re not the time-tested and approved minorities who, as good liberals, we’ve been taught by rote not to harass. They are “low information groups,” and are therefore especially vulnerable to Internet harassment and rumor panics.

“Low information group” is a term sometimes used in poly sci to describe voters who vote without complete or accurate information about candidates and issues. But here, I’m talking about something different: small groups or communities which comprise micro minorities, and which tend to live below the radar screen of populist media so that little is known about them, providing maximal opportunity for hate material containing misinformation to be circulated about them.

The concept of a low information group is easier to understand if we start from the individual. Suppose you’re a young teen whose family moves to a new town where you enroll in junior high. As the new kid, you’re a question mark: nobody knows anything about you and you get picked on. This might include somebody starting a Facebook page, Tumblr blog, or Yahoo group about you containing false information.

Consider the way certain pathological personalities operate on the Internet: they look for weaknesses and sensitivities to exploit. A support group for at-risk teens finds itself infiltrated by a harasser who keeps urging them to commit suicide. Women struggling with body image issues are hounded by a harasser who defaces their weight loss photos and tells them they’re “worthless pigs.”

When individual teens are harassed online, the harasser typically looks for some weakness, sensitivity, or question mark that can be filled in with hate material. This might include race-baiting, gay-baiting, or pandering to any available cultural stereotypes. Post 9/11, anyone who looks South Asian or Middle Eastern may be subjected to Muslim-bashing and use of the “T” word (terrorist), regardless of whether or not they are Muslim, and even if they are the most pacific of souls.

By my definition, low information groups are micro minorities about whom little is known by the general public. Scholarly knowledge about them may exist, but has not filtered down to the populist level, or may be eclipsed by stereotypes appearing in populist media. Because little is popularly known about them, low information groups are like the “new kid in town,” especially easy to pick on. And under conditions of Internet pseudo-anonymity, adults frequently act like teenagers, indulging their immature impulse to target vulnerable people with hatred and ridicule.

In America, there are always new low information groups. This is true for a number of reasons, but especially because America is not only a crucible or melting pot where people lose their distinctive cultural identities; it’s also a potter’s wheel and kiln where people forge new cultural identities based on beliefs and affinities.

Alienation seems to be an enduring feature of modern American life. The combination of capitalism, populism, technocracy, and media integration tends to create a uniform mainstream culture which is aimed at the lowest common denominator, but leaves many people feeling unsatisfied, searching for alternatives. Some people break away from the mainstream (if they were ever part of it) to create alternative communities based on different religious, cultural and political assumptions, or differing lifestyle choices.

Perhaps the nature of mainstream media is to primarily report on people seeking to join the mainstream and lose any baggage associated with their ethno-historic identity, to be melted down. But there are also people seeking to distinguish themselves from the mainstream by creating small intentional communities or affinity groups which reflect a more painstaking search for what is true, or what is a livable and sustainable set of values. The freedom of America increasingly looks like freedom to join the melting pot and become average. There is often a great deal of hostility and suspicion directed against people who, rather than melting themselves down, are trying to build themselves up by searching for what is cosmically right and true.

The classical role of the hero or heroine often involves gaining some distance from the mainstream, going on a journey, and returning with some new knowledge or insight which can then be used to solve problems, end injustice, or transform society. But the hero or heroine does not return unchanged. Upon returning from the journey, he or she may no longer be recognized as “one of us,” but instead be seen as “one of them.”

Much of this (currently four-part) series has been couched in terms of feminism, because women are the largest group to suffer from a power imbalance leading to Internet harassment. Those women who have gone in search of knowledge and insight and come back proposing changes to the status quo are those most likely to be harassed and threatened, or (more mildly) misunderstood and mischaracterized. But what most of them are proposing is a society which is more compassionate, more caring, more just, and rooted in the fundamental human dignity of each individual. Such a society would benefit men as well as women.

When resources are scarce, people compete for them. Tolerance, understanding, and freedom from hatred can seem scarce at times; therefore different groups sometimes focus on their own narrowly defined issues. The perceived political solution becomes creating a power bloc which must reckoned with, rather than creating a society in which the powerless are not ill-treated.

The power bloc approach has its value in terms of realpolitik, but tends to create a system of approved and unapproved minorities. One of the distinguishing features of low information groups is that they typically have no power bloc defending them and may therefore be described as “unapproved minorities” — not because they’ve failed any test or background check, but because in a highly politicized society, no one is looking out for their interests. They are beggars at the table, hoping for scraps of tolerance, understanding and human rights, but unable to politically leverage fair treatment. There may be laws on the books theoretically guaranteeing their rights, but those laws are not self-actuating in the absence of a power bloc ready to insist that their rights be upheld. Unapproved minorities may be too poor to wage protracted legal battles which would vouchsafe their rights.

In Part 3 of this series, I wrote that: “Section 230 has the effect of giving companies like Yahoo carte blanche to practice blatant discrimination during the complaint resolution process (if any), turning victims of online harassment into abject supplicants who can only hope or beg that the company might be willing to lift a finger to help them.” Under Section 230, Yahoo/Tumblr is a fiefdom exempt from laws of general applicability that tend to protect minorities elsewhere in society. If Yahoo handles complaints from victims of harassment in a negligent or discriminatory manner, such malfeasance is subsumed under the immunity granted by Section 230.

Moving from the theoretical to the practical: Suppose you’re a Vietnamese Buddhist being harassed for both your ancestry and your peaceful religion. And suppose the person handling your complaint at Yahoo is someone trapped in white male techno reality. Here I must apologize and explain: It’s human nature to be stuck inside one’s own reality, whether that be white male reality, black lesbian reality, Iraq veteran amputee reality, etc. I’m not criticising white male techno reality as such, or suggesting that it’s any more narrow than other realities which people experience and come to embrace. It’s just that white male techno reality tends to rule the Internet, so to the extent it’s oblivious of other realities, and to the extent that Section 230 has the practical effect of enshrining it with kingly power, it poses a danger to people whose lives are defined by other realities and who have lesser power.

To further clarify: In Part 2 of this series I suggested that some corporate women are invited to join the “boys’ club” and participate in policies which continue to disproportionately disadvantage women and minorities. As modified and interpolated by Mary Anne Franks’ article about Free Speech Elitism, this means that women like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and former Yahoo Vice President & Associate General Counsel Anne Hoge essentially embrace the white male techno POV that threats and harassment are “the price we pay” for free speech on the Internet (and for corporate profits at Fortune 500 tech companies like Yahoo). So to continue…

Suppose you’re a Vietnamese Buddhist being harassed for both your ancestry and your peaceful religion. And suppose the person handling your complaint at Yahoo is someone trapped in white male techno reality. Suppose he’s been programmed to spout the cliché that threatening and harassing speech is just “the price we pay.” Suppose he’s also had it drilled into him that Yahoo always hangs onto free content because that’s what pays employees’ salaries. Suppose he’s a low-level grunt who’s never been exposed to any sensitivity training or education in comparative religion that would lead him to feel any sympathy for Vietnamese Buddhists. And suppose it’s been explained to him that the company doesn’t have to worry about lawsuits because Section 230 gives them bulletproof immunity. What are your chances of getting the harassing material taken down? Close to zero under current law.

More likely, you’ll end up feeling like you were violated twice: once by the original harassers, and once by the insensitivity of Yahoo Customer Care. But maybe we shouldn’t blame them; after all, the telephone booth they collectively inhabit might have been jostled during the renovations needed to make way for Marissa Mayer’s on-premises nursery. 🙂

Believe it or not, it gets worse. In Part 3, I discussed how Yahoo’s TOS talks out of both sides of its mouth: We have a no-harassment policy, but don’t expect us to actually implement it. Just use our site, click on the ads, and be comforted by our feelgood policy statements. Now suppose you try and fail at getting harassing material taken down. All Yahoo does is send a form e-mail to the permanently established neo-Nazi group telling them they really ought to play nice (but of course, they don’t have to). Now the harassers know you tried and failed at getting harassing material taken down, so how do they use this to their advantage? Of course, they brag about it: This is proof our hate material is really accurate because, after all, Yahoo has a policy against harassment. We couldn’t say these things if they weren’t true. Yahoo didn’t take down this material because they know we’re right! Vietnamese Buddhists really are a bunch of commies and faggots who deserve to be shot on sight!

So not to wax Lionel Ritchie-ish, but you’re “once, twice, three times a victim.” Yahoo’s marketing pretense of having a no-harassment policy ends up hurting victims more, because Yahoo’s inaction is treated as proof that whatever hateful lies are published on their site are really true. The Yahoo-ABC News partnership adds credence to the Yahoo brand, with the distinction between news and user-generated content getting hazier and hazier. The mainstreaming of hate.

Low information groups are unapproved minorities who have even less power than approved minorities to defend themselves. When Section 230 gives companies like Yahoo carte blanche to handle complaints not at all or any way they feel like, low information groups tend to get short shrift. This is because, like lone individuals, they have no power bloc sticking up for their interests. Cecilia Barnes wasn’t able to get Yahoo to take down harassing material until she finally filed suit.

This dovetails with concerns I raised in a post about human rights: We need policies protecting people’s rights to be applied neutrally, not based on whether or not we like them, whether they’re socially popular, or whether they have a large power bloc defending them. Members of low information groups or unapproved minorities often don’t report harassment because they rightly fear (based on real world experience) that the people to whom they would report the incidents may harbor the same prejudices and stereotypes as the harassers.

Are there things feminists can learn from the harassment of religious and ethnic minorities? One (possibly controversial) item would be that it’s not fundamentally about gender, it’s about power imbalances wherever they occur. This includes power imbalances between men and women, whites and nonwhites, rich and poor, etc. On the Internet, it also includes power imbalances between anonymous harassers and highly visible professionals.

Anonymity on the Internet is itself a huge and controversial topic which I won’t presume to tackle here. But see feminist law professor Nancy Leong’s blog post Anonymity and Abuse:


What is it about the Internet that brings out this ugliness [of harassment]? Some have hypothesized that the lack of face-to-face contact loosens normal social inhibitions. A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Why We Are So Rude Online,” credits MIT Professor Sherry Turkle with the insight that “[b]ecause it’s harder [online] to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other.” Or, as Louis CK puts it, the Internet keeps us from building empathy.

Online anonymity worsens the empathy deficit. Unsurprisingly, evidence suggests that people behave in antisocial ways when granted anonymity. Research such as this classic study has long implicated anonymity in group antisocial behavior, thus explaining the way that anonymous posters often seem to encourage one another. And Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum’s excellent anthology The Offensive Internet explores the role of anonymity from a range of perspectives. (Of course, anonymity is far less ironclad than some posters seem to think — indeed, I was easily able to discover the identities of a few of my harassers using google, one in less than ten minutes.)


Elsewhere, Prof. Leong confirms that within the realm of anonymity, we can still make a distinction between high value speech (such as intellectual discourse) and low value speech (such as crude name-calling and threats). Anonymity is a blessing to people who are powerless but hope to speak truth to power, and a curse when used to harass innocents who have placed their professional reputations on the line in support of noble ideals. Prof. Leong puts it this way:

“[A]nonymity might empower some marginalized speakers to engage in discourse who would otherwise remain silent. But when anonymity facilitates harassing and abusive speech directed at marginalized identity groups, society has a strong First Amendment interest in regulating anonymity. Harassing and abusive speech results in a net loss to the marketplace of ideas. Online racial and gender harassment silences the speech of many women and people of color, diminishing the diversity of perspectives represented in online discourse and impoverishing the ‘free trade in ideas’ within ‘the competition of the market’ that Justice Holmes first discussed in his famous dissent in Abrams v. United States. If we really care about the marketplace of ideas, we should care about eliminating online racial and gender harassment.”

This implicitly states a paradox: Free speech is only maximized when speakers from marginalized groups are not silenced by threatening and harassing speech. Thus, the white male lawyer working for Internet media company truism that “the answer to bad speech is more speech and never less speech” turns out not to be true! To maximize free speech, we need to do a better job of protecting women and religious/ethnic minorities from threatening and harassing speech which aims to silence them. That (inherently) means creating, approving, publishing, and distributing less of such threatening and harassing speech.

However, the vested economic interest of many Internet media companies (and the lawyers who shill for them) is in using threatening and harassing speech as free content to draw eyeballs and run ads. Thus, to create a more compassionate society where hate speech is not tolerated one has to go up against well-trenched economic (and political) interests. Who drafted Section 230 so that it gives bulletproof immunity to site owners and requires them to do absolutely nothing in response to complaints of serious harassment? My guess is: politicians who were in the pocket of the telecommunications industry.

And while this gets a bit legal-geeky, if you look around the Net you’ll see that every time some poor consumer (like Cecilia Barnes) who was harasssed on Yahoo or elsewhere loses a Section 230 case, there are a bunch of entertainment lawyers whooping it up, crying Yippee! Section 230 still stands! We don’t even have to go to trial on most of these harassment cases, just quote Section 230 as an affirmative defense! Life is good! Our clients love us! They never have to pay out to the people they screw! Sad, truly sad.

That’s why — although I think the work that Danielle Citron, Mary Anne Franks and others are doing to get revenge pr0n laws passed is amazing — I wish more people would drum up support for pressuring Congress to amend Section 230 so that it no longer reflects regulatory capture and contempt for consumer rights.

Serious problems of harassment on Yahoo and Tumblr, but CEO Marissa Mayer continues to blow smoke. Do we really need a "biggr" Yahoo? Photoshopped image by doctorPS.

Serious problems of harassment on Yahoo and Tumblr, but CEO Marissa Mayer continues to blow smoke. Do we really need a “biggr” Yahoo? Photoshopped image by doctorPS.

Note: I didn’t discuss everything I planned to here in Part 4. Might need to do a follow-up.