Top Ten Posts of 2014

I’ve been blogging pretty consistently this year. This site has slowly been gaining a bigger following as well. What’s been your favorite posts? Here are the ten posts that resonated the best with you, the readers.

  1. Six books that prove book banners don’t read.

Back in August I wrote a tongue in cheek post about books that conservative book banners have overlooked, because most are not avid readers. Apparently you enjoyed that post because it’s been the most viewed blog post of the year.

  1. Ten Adult Dystopians to read now that you’ve read Hunger Games

Dystopians are all the rage these days. Or maybe not, publishers and agents have been quietly spreading the word through writers conferences that “dystopian is dead.” I’ll believe that when the sales start to drop. Until then, many young readers don’t realize that dystopian is nothing new. I posted a list of classic dystopians for those who have already whet their tastes on the likes of the Hunger Games but want something more adult.

  1. How to Kick an Internet Troll, Right in the Freedom of Speech

After the gamergate uproar, I got so sick of trolls trying to justify their actions with the freedom of speech mantra, I decided to shut them down. I guess most readers must have been sick of it, too.

  1. Ten Problems with being a Werewolf

I am guessing that people already know the good parts of being a werewolf, because the ten best things about being a werewolf didn’t even come close to making the list. However a lot of you were curious about the problems.

  1. Hiding in Plain View

Not my favorite post of the year. I hate bringing the news that a heroine to many was far less of a heroine after all. But abuse likes to lurk in the dark. If we are to ever live in a better world, we need to face the truth about sexual abuse.

  1. Shield Maidens, Bell Curves and Strong Women

My post about viking shield maidens didn’t get many hits at the time and I was pleasantly surprised to see it so high on the list at the end of the year. As in ancient times, viking women keep on coming.

  1. Books Everyone Talks About but Almost No one Reads

Another tongue in cheek post, poking some gentle fun at book snobs. There are books that lots of people talk about, but they rarely read.

  1. The Suckiest Superpower

The suckiest superpower arose from a conversation with my son, and like that conversation it was a fun one. I still get a chuckle every time I think about Chicken Man, he can’t really fly but he can sort of flutter places.

  1. Reviving an Old Manuscript with Scrivener

Scrivener is my go to piece of writing software. I love scrivener. It’s so versatile and useful for all sorts of writers. This tip on using Scrivener to revive old manuscripts was well received. I guess my writer friends like Scrivener, too.

  1. Trivia Time: Florence Nightingale

This humorous post about the founder of modern nursing, ends my top ten list. I am happy you’ve enjoyed these and other posts throughout the year.


How to Kick an Internet Troll, right in the Freedom of Speech

From Gamergate to homophobia to this piece of crap, trolls are everywhere on the internet. When challenged about their behavior their first fallback position is almost invariably freedom of speech. “You are violating my freedom of speech. I have a right to my opinions.”

In making this argument they are taking the moral high road. The argument ceases to be about their behavior and becomes about some higher principles.

It’s also pure bullshit. Yes, freedom of speech is an important right. However it’s not as gray as trolls would like you to believe, nor is it applicable to their behavior.

Here are three simple ways that the freedom of speech argument fails and how to shut down trolls when they try to use it on you.

1. You have freedom of speech, too.

When you speak out on an issue you feel strongly about, that’s freedom of speech. When a troll responds in the comments, or in person, trying to shout at you to shut you up, that’s not freedom of speech. That’s the exact opposite. When Gamergate “activist” attack feminist who critique gamer culture, they aren’t expressing their opinion, they are attempting to silence their opponent, and then trying to claim that is freedom of speech.

2. freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequence

Remember in high school when you had to debate that ludicrous situation where someone yells “fire!” in a crowded movie house. That always drove me nuts because the solution seems so obvious. Having the freedom to do what you want or feel is right doesn’t mean you are free from all the consequences of your behavior.

The right to bear arms doesn’t make murder legal. You might have the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded movie house, but if people die in the stampede to escape and it turns out you just thought it would be funny to see people run, you can still be charged with manslaughter.

Yes, trolls have the right to their opinion. But when they phrase those opinions as insults or threats, they may face consequences. That’s life.

3. Speech may be a right but publishing is a privilege.

You have the right to free speech but no one owes you a platform. I have the right to write whatever story I want, but I can’t force HarperCollins to publish my thousand page rant on how mice don’t really like cheese. HarperCollins gets to choose what it publishes.

What we often forget is that anything posted on the internet is actually being published. Most of the websites we use don’t belong to us and the owners have a choice of what to publish and what not to.

If I am running my own personal blog, I don’t have to publish any comments. I can, and most bloggers do, because it builds a sense of community around a blog and brings readers back. However if I feel a comment is from a troll, or has no value to the discussion, I can choose not to display it. If you disagree, you are welcome to start your own blog and respond there.

Most public websites have clear terms of service. They vary in details but most clearly forbid certain behaviors. It is Facebook, Google plus or Twitter’s prerogative to decide what these are and to decide what is acceptable on their website.

The users are faced with the choice of playing by the rules or not using the site. Sometimes that means they allow posts that we personally find offensive. Sometimes that means they remove our posts because someone else found them offensive.


Trolls may be a fact of life in the internet age, but the damage they do, and the number in your life, can be controlled. It starts by realizing that insults and attacks in comments aren’t free speech, they are an attempt to silence the original poster’s free speech. It’s possible to respectfully disagree with someone without being a troll.

Second we need to recognize that online behavior does have consequences. If someone violates the rules of a given website by posting threatening or derogatory language, flag them. If they want to cry that their freedom of speech has been violated, they can do so somewhere else. Believable verbal threats, doxxing someone and adding rape threats, for example, might also violate the law. Contact your local police to see what sort of evidence they need and how to gather it.

Finally, all of us are webmasters, even if all we have is a Facebook page. You control, to a large extent, what lands on your webpage. If you are a journalist or a blogger, you are also an editor. It’s up to you to make sure that each comment on a post adds to, rather than detracts from the discussion. You have the right to delete or unapprove comments. On social media you have tools to delete, block or untag people and photos. Use your power wisely, to strip internet trolls of the one thing they were never guaranteed in the first place, an audience.


An Outsider’s View of #Gamergate

Even if you’re not a hardcore gamer, you’ve probably seen the hashtag #gamergate on social media lately. It’s the scandal/movement/troll bait that doesn’t seem to want to die.

What is Gamergate?

I am only a casual gamer and a late comer to this. I do have a tendency to call it like I see it, and here is what I’ve discovered researching Gamergate on Twitter and in the Blogosphere. Gamergate is a many-headed hydra, an elder black pudding ooze if you’ve played D & D. There is no simplified what is gamergate paragraph to be written because it’s something different to everyone involved.

A rough construction of Gamergate is that it either started with a bunch of guys harassing a female game developer or a spontaneous protest of corrupt journalism in the gaming field. Gamergate has spawned a number of other hashtags, the two most important being #notyourshield and #stopgamergate2014.

Version one is that Zoe Quinn released a game about depression and some gamers didn’t like it. They showed their dislike by a sustained campaign of harassment. Her harassment led to a long needed discussion about women in gaming, sexism and misogyny in the gamer community. A few gamer fought back under the hashtag #Gamergate and it slowly coalesced into a movement of sorts.

In the other version, Zoe Quinn’s boyfriend accused her, in a public blog post, of sleeping with Kotaku journalist Nathan Grayson. The gaming community saw her relationship with Grayson as a conflict of interest. This lead to a discussion of nepotism and cronyism in the gaming world. The horrible vitriol, death threats and misogyny found on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, 8chan and elsewhere under the hashtag is simply trolls trying to stir the pot.

The biggest challenge with this second version has to do with the #gamergate timeline. It appears that Zoe Quinn was experiencing harassment before anyone knew of her affair. She hadn’t even met Grayson yet when he reviewed her game. Several of the other women who have been taking heat in this debate have experienced a great deal of harassment before this whole thing erupted. Women like Anita Sarkeesian have been talking about sexism in gaming for sometime and are not directly connected to the original scandal in any way I can tell.

Still its almost impossible to pin gamergate down because it means something different to everyone involved. Everyone has an opinion about what gamergate is, and everyone’s opinion manages to discount the worst behavior on their side and emphasize that same behavior on the other side.

Why Should I Care About Gamergate?

I’ve already indicated that I am only a casual gamer myself. Why should I care? Let the gaming community have it’s little drama, right?

There are two problems. The first is that gamergate has spread well beyond the confines of the gaming community. Anyone who attempts to discuss the issues of women in tech gets sucked in. Anyone who attempts to discuss how women are treated online, gets sucked in.

Gamergate has ripped open and ugly can of worms. Women field threats online every day. Often it’s simply the price of being a woman online. Gamergate has taken those threats to a new level. One gamergater threatened “the worst school shooting in history” if Anita Sarkeesian spoke on the issue at Utah State.

Gamergate has become a feminist issue, because some women aren’t allowed to have an opinion about it without being threatened. This is not right.

Everything wrong with Gamergate in one paragraph

I came across this article in Techcrunch. Sadly it’s been heralded by some as the most “balanced view” of what gamergate is about. Here is the paragraph that stopped me in my tracks.

“Have they raised money for a mental health charity? Don’t report that! Did they kickstart a project to help young women get ahead in game development? Definitely don’t report that! Did one of them send someone a death threat? Stop the presses, we need to get the story out now!”

Yes, stop the fucking presses now. Death threats are kind of a big deal. Especially since these aren’t your average random troll comment sort of death threats that women frequently field; anonymous comments that are impossible to track. Brianna Wu had her address posted online along with many threats. She alerted the police and left home.

My day job is a night job on an acute mental health unit. Over the course of fifteen years I’ve dealt with hundreds anti-social personalities (AKA sociopaths). I’ve had my share of death threats. I have a simple rule, when the threats start, we are done talking. I will talk about your anger at the doctor, judge or family member that committed you to my facility, but only after you take two steps back, sit down and stop threatening me. If you can’t do that, we can talk through the tiny window in a seclusion room.

When the women at the center of this controversy started getting believable death threats, we crossed that line. Anything, and I do mean anything, that you have to say about ethics in game journalism can wait. First we need to discuss this.

Gamergate and Misogyny

Gamergaters are insistent that the movement is not sexist or misogynistic. Their argument seems to be that the content of their message (that game journalism is corrupt) is not sexist therefore they aren’t either. They fail to realize that if the message is delivered in a sexist way, it doesn’t matter what the content is. Pretending otherwise is like using racial or homophobic slurs and then trying to say “I didn’t mean it like that.” It just doesn’t work.

What do I mean by sexist delivery? If a female game developer gave sexual favors to a journalist for a positive review, that would be an ethics violation. If you attack her “slutty” behavior while ignoring the journalist’s part, that’s sexism. If you respond by threatening the female with rape, that’s misogyny. If you try to silence any woman who disagrees with you by harassing them, belittling them or threatening them, that’s sexism.

Why Gamergate matters to all of us

Some people will no doubt say that since I am not a gamer I shouldn’t have an opinion on Gamergate. Gamergate is a feminist issue, because the tactics that gamergate activist are using are familiar to all feminist. They belittle women’s opinions. Just wanting to discuss how women are treated in games is tantamount to taking away their freedom, their freedom to enjoy those portrayal without thinking about them. When that doesn’t work they resort to anonymous threats, threats of rape and violence.

Suffragettes faced the same barrage of threats over a hundred years ago when they tried to argue for a woman’s right to vote. Equal rights activists have faced the same violence again and again.

This is why, regardless of what is going on in game journalism, gamergate has become a feminist issue. You can respectfully disagree with what people like Anita Sarkeesian has to say. But if you think that respectfully disagreeing includes the right to make rape threats, you and I have a problem. I will stand beside her right to speak out on this issue.

But it’s just a few bad apples, right?

The gamergate issue might rise above the vitriol of a few misogynist trolls and become a respectful and much needed debate about gaming journalism. I might win the lottery tomorrow, too, even though I don’t play. The two seem about as likely.

Right now the gamergate movement is awash in bad apples. Despite the regular protest of gamergate activist that the threats and harassment is only a few bad apples, the movement has failed to condemn these actions, instead many have taken the stance that such harassment is, or should be, protected as free speech. Using threats to silence opinions is the antithesis of free speech in my books, and using the free speech argument to defend your threats hypocrisy.

The really short version of #gamergate:

There are two sides to this issue, but one side is using harassment and threats to silence the other.