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Free Speech via Debate

I may talk about this Ezra Klein/Sam Harris debate more, because it’s really interesting and rewards close reading. However, quickie before work: this is exactly how I want to platform controversial ideas. I believe strongly that free speech is important. That doesn’t mean you get to completely control your context.

In this piece, Sam Harris gets a big platform to make his case. He just has Ezra Klein sitting there debating him in good faith every step of the way. Compare this to the Milo tour of college campuses, in which Milo has no interest in defending his views. He’s just there to whip people up with a big megaphone. Context matters, and if you’re interested in advancing ideas that are reprehensible, you maybe need to deal with some pushback in real time.

One detail from early in the Klein/Harris debate:

Ezra Klein
I think you should quote the line. I don’t think that’s what the line said.

Sam Harris
The quote is, this is the exact quote: “Sam Harris appeared to be ignorant of facts that were well known to everyone in the field of intelligence studies.” Now that’s since been quietly removed from the article, but it was there and it’s archived.

[I went back and looked into this and, as far as I can tell, the original quote that Harris is referring to is this one: “Here, too briefly, are some facts to ponder — facts that Murray was not challenged to consider by Harris, who holds a PhD in neuroscience, although they are known to most experts in the field of intelligence.”] (This is Ezra Klein writing.)

That’s gold. In other contexts, Sam Harris gets to recount his version of events as filtered through his aggrieved ego, and people hear him, and sure, it sounds likely. Here, he gets called on it and fact-checked post facto.

Much of this is better expressed in an editorial by Michael McFaul, on the topic of a Francis Fukuyama/Charles Murray debate at Stanford.

Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

This is a perfectly good movie about fighting giant monsters, even when judged on an absolute scale. There is a plot with an interesting twist. Steven S. DeKnight has a good feel for action; the fight scenes play out clearly, even the ones in the middle of dense urban centers. I never lost track of where the combatants were.

There are no characters really. I apologize to John Boyega for this but he really doesn’t have much to do. He’s kind of a bunch of swaggering dialogue and charisma draped on top of a mannequin. He does what he can with the role, it’s just not a convincing part.

Our leftover trio from Pacific Rim is the exception. They’re all fine.

The big flaw is that the jaegers and kaiju don’t have any personality either. This is a fatal flaw. In Pacific Rim, it was a huge deal that there was one three-pilot jaeger. It fought differently, the pilots had a different relationship, it was cool. There’s a three-pilot jaeger in Uprising, which gets no exposition. “Oh, that’s where they’re sticking the extra pilot.” Very unfortunate.

On the other hand you get a decent number of fights, which are well filmed and satisfying. The plot is good, as noted, and it sets up a third movie well. I am happy I saw it even if it reminded me that it took Guillermo del Toro to make such a goofy concept awesome the first time around.

The NFL Is Not About To End

No, wrong, no.

Yes, the new NFL rule is going to change the game on the field. But that’s OK. The game on the field is too dangerous. It won’t fix the danger completely. Who cares? Concussions are literally ruining minds. Any steps to limit this are good. It’s ridiculously reckless to complain about safety measures on the basis that the game will change in a way you don’t like.

Freeman quotes a player who worries that application of the rule might “throw out a star player that impacts a game.” Have you not been paying attention to how brutal this game is? Did you not see Gronkowski get knocked out of a critical playoff game by a helmet hit?

Freeman doesn’t read like he’s obtuse otherwise, so I imagine this is clickbait designed to get people like me all worked up. Bleacher Report, man, it’s the sports Web site I suppose we deserve.

Solosocks

It’s a personal blog, so it must be time for some minutiae of my personal life! Gonna get all 2005 around here. I’m gonna tell you about my socks.

Last year I picked up a bunch of Solosocks by way of Kickstarter. The gimmick is that they come in packs of 7 socks, and each sock has a slightly different pattern in the same general theme and color scheme. When you lose a sock in the dryer, it doesn’t matter.

My review is this: they’re a bit lightweight. Three months in I’ve already ripped a hole in the heel of one sock out of the 14 I bought. Other than that I like them a lot. They’re warm enough for Seattle winters, and if I’m going someplace colder, well, I have other socks available.

The larger sizes are sized large enough for big 11″ wide feet like mine. This beats the hell out of most interesting socks you can buy. Go Denmark.

Dice and Clocks

Apocalypse World introduced the concept of clocks to tabletop gaming. They’re basically a countdown timer; you increment the clock by a bit every time someone gets closer to a goal. They’re also used as health bars. Not insanely novel but it’s useful to have a visual representation of impending doom or success, as the case may be.

In my Bookhounds of London game this weekend, I ad hoc used a six sided die as a clock. I hadn’t been planning on it, but a chase scene arose spontaneously and the 13th Age escalation die came to mind, so I plopped down a six-sider with 1 showing. Then I said “OK, the one goon just vanished around the corner while the other goon stands to hold the hallway against you,” and flipped the die to 2. My players needed no other explanation.

So that’s a cool trick.

ToC Conversion: Bad Company

I picked up a bunch of Cthulhu Britannica material in a Bundle of Holding sale a while back. Glad I did, since Cubicle 7 has pulled the line after their license expired. As a sort of a warm up exercise for my efforts to write more, I started working through the original book to convert the adventures into Trail of Cthulhu.

It’s unclear how many I’ll get through, but I had an excellent time converting the first scenario, Bad Company. The work necessary to understand and adapt the scenario turned out to be a great way to internalize the material. Wish I had a good place to run it; alas, it doesn’t fit into my current campaign.

Best Guitarist In The World Speaks

Hey look, Richard Thompson is writing an autobiography! This is stupendously exciting to me, particularly since he’s apparently going to focus on the late 60s and early 70s. Nothing against his prodigious and high quality output subsequent to those years, but that was the period of tumultuous change. I am curious to see what he has to say.

I assume that Scott Timberg is doing the heavy lifting on the writing. I don’t know his work but he has a blog. He says “Few living musicians fascinate me as much as Richard Thompson” in a brief blog entry which links to a longer chewy interview. Getting Thompson to open up on the process of learning Classical Greek is kind of cool. I am optimistic.

Waiting for a year and a half for this is no fun at all.

“Powered By Reason”

I’ll admit it: when you pop up an ad on my Twitter feed telling me about a debate platform powered by reason, the only thing I see is a hazy red cloud of danger surrounding the words “debate” and “reason.” I blame Gamergate and the alt-right for implanting this reflex deep within my soul. Why are you avoiding my attempts to rationally discuss your inferiority?

But I will rise above my bias and check it out… oh god.

Yes, that’s the problem. Not all claims are created equal; demanding that we put equal time into attacking the argument that oceans would flow away if the Earth were round is a bad idea. The quality of a debate is in part determined by the quality of the claims made during that debate.

Kialo tries to mitigate this by allowing users to vote on each statement’s impact, but that means the displayed validity of points is determined by who can turn out their side the best. Obvious flaws are obvious. More subtly, this concept accepts the assumption that all claims are worth engaging with. Consider the (decade-old!) concept of the social denial of service attack.

Are You Happy?

A long long time ago when I was a desktop support grunt at Sun Microsystems, I encountered the best support feedback mechanism in the world. Every time you closed a ticket, it generated an email to the person who opened the ticket. The email had three faces in it: a smile, a frown, and a neutral. Each face was linked to a URL. Click the appropriate face, register your opinion, go on with your day.

We had a target percentage of smiles. If you ever got a frown, you went down and talked to the person who was unhappy and got the issue resolved; then you told your manager about how you fixed the problem. This process cut down on the number of people who submitted spurious frowns. When your casual expression of dissatisfaction results in a human being asking how she can make it better, you start getting in the habit of saving the frowns for real problems.

The system was very easy to implement. The URLs were something like http://feedback.sun.com/?ticket=XXXXX&happy=1. You don’t need a web app to process that, you just need to run the logs through a bit of perl to aggregate stats. Sun probably was dumping the results into a database cause that’s very simple, but even that wouldn’t take barely any programming. No authentication or anything.

It is, therefore, quite satisfying for me to read this article on HappyOrNot. They’re a Finnish startup that makes a physical version of the smiley face feedback tool. They’re smart, they get the requirement to be frictionless, and they kept the product simple. You just press the button.

The All-In Wrestlers of 1930s London

True fact: tens of thousands of Londoners happily attended professional wrestling shows during the 1930s. This resurgence in the “sport” was thanks to one Sir Edward Atholl Oakeley, whose autobiography I really gotta read. (In his later years, long after his wrestling career ended, he became the 7th Baronet of Shrewsbury. Wild life story.) He dubbed his wrestling style “All-In,” since it allowed for wrestlers from a variety of traditions. Sir Oakeley always maintained he was promoting real sporting matches, but given that US pro wrestling had already become mostly staged by 1930, it seems pretty likely that All-In wrestling matches were also fixed.

This phase of British professional wrestling history lasted under a decade. By 1940, the quality of the wrestling had degenerated as demand rose. It became more a spectacle, less a sport, and unacceptable in the eyes of civil society. By the time promoters were running mixed gender matches, judges were handing down decrees preventing public shows.

Let’s talk about gaming!