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Elephant in the Election

I was gonna be snarky about Corey Bliss in this New York Times piece because of how he manages to pretend health care and insurance costs totally don’t exist and shouldn’t be mentioned when you’re talking about the economy. Frank Bruni gets zero points for going along with it. This is literally just letting a Republican strategist control the message while pretending to be objective; well done, Grey Lady!

But then Kevin Drum went ahead and dropped a few charts about wage growth on us and I decided that was a way better reason to snark. Bliss can be laser focused on taxes if he likes but wages aren’t looking so hot. Think the mostly illusory tax cuts will make up for stagnant salaries? Me either.

Bliss also claimed progressive radical candidates are gonna get steamrolled the day after a pretty moderate set of candidates won in primaries. To be fair he’s actually just trying to get Bernie fans angry there.

More Books Than That

Susan and I visited a whole bunch of bookstores on Saturday. Seattle goes all out for Independent Bookstore Day — 19 participating indie bookstores run this program where you get a passport and get stamps at each participating store and if you get to all the stores in one day, you get 25% off purchases for the next year. Last year we missed it. This year it was a priority.

It involved two ferries, ten hours of driving, and a lot of cookbooks. This… is our story.

On Track for a Beating

There’s this cool story about a pair of gamblers who figured out how to beat the odds at the Jockey Club in Hong Kong. Read it if you like that sort of story. If you’re a Feng Shui player, first read it, then have five plot hooks:

    1. Your friend Bill Menter, professional gambler and statistician, calls you. His system is failing for the first time ever and someone’s clearly messing with the odds. As it turns out, it’s a Lotus sorcerer making some cash to fund a more dire scheme. If a player character is a Gambler, the system may be an unnecessary component of this plot hook.
    2. No, the system really is bullshit. Bill Menter is a front for the Jammers and he’s been screwing with the odds by implanting cyber tech into horses. Your friend at the Jockey Club knows something is wrong and needs you to fix it. (The falling out between Bill and his partner was really because his partner went with the New Simian Army.)
    3. Bill has cause and effect reversed. His code is interacting with the complex Chi flows of Hong Kong in such a manner as to create a temporary feng shui site, which the Ascended notice and object to. You are making some extra cash as a runner when they show up to shut the operation down.
    4. Yeah, that whole story about how Bill didn’t cash in that winning ticket? That’s a lie. Bill is using it as a prize in a martial arts tournament, with the intention of trying to hire the winner for certain plans of his own. But the real prize would be stealing his methodology, and some of the tournament competitors know that.
    5. The system really works by stealing luck away from other people — but not in the current day. Rather, the horses Bill bets on are stealing luck from the past. Much to nobody’s pleasure, they’re specifically stealing Wong Fei Hong’s luck — the young Wong Fei Hong played by Jackie Chan. The Guiding Hand cannot allow this to stand.

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.