Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Dating Advice

I was watching a stream when one of the people in chat asked the streamer what to do in a romantic situation. The asker liked a girl but had done something to put her off. I didn't see the details because I don't real chat.

The streamer started answering that the best approach was to find ways to spend more time with her. Like walking home alone the same path she does. It doesn't matter if you actually live in that direction if she doesn't know where you live, the streamer explained. If she doesn't want to walk with you that's fine because it's not illegal to walk down the street. If she started running, you can run alongside her, because it's not illegal to run.

The streamer was joking. I was glad they clarified that because there wasn't really a way to be sure.

I can't rule out the possibility that the asker wasn't asking because they had a real problem but because they thought it would be funny, so maybe everyone got what they wanted. But it wasn't the first time that I've seen people in a chat for a Twitch stream treat the streamer like a kind of father figure who can provide advice about life. It feels odd to me. I don't think I have any reason to believe someone who streams videogames is going to also do well in a Dear Prudence type role.

But whatever the reason it got me thinking about what advice I have for the young people who see me as a source of wisdom. To be clear, there are none of those, but because of that, I want to offer the following.

If you are a
boy and you like a girl
and she doesn't notice you or doesn't seem to like you or just doesn't like you the way you like her, use that as an opportunity to learn that you are capable of tolerating your emotions.

First, realize that the feelings that are tormenting you are your feelings and they aren't something she is doing to you. There is nothing she can do to help you feel your feelings. Even if it turns out she's crazy about you, you are still going to have feelings. Sure, you'll recontextualize them as wonderful instead of agonizing, but you still need to deal with them.

Second, remember that feelings tend to get more intense when you try to deny them or avoid them but get less intense when you accept them. That doesn't mean you should profess your undying love so as not to "deny" you feelings. Professing your feelings to someone else is asking that person for help in dealing with your feelings, not dealing with them yourself. I'll borrow from Jalaluddin Rumi's "The Guest House" and say that we ought to treat emotions as welcome guests in our mind and invite them in to entertain them. That's not an easy thing to do, which is precisely why it's a good idea to get some practice in with your highschool crush.

Third, I said that telling someone else about your feelings was asking for help. I didn't mean not to do it. In fact, you should ask for help, but ask an appropriate person for help. It is pretty obvious that going up to someone you are infatuated with and saying, "I don't know how to handle my powerful emotions about you, perhaps you'd help me even though you don't really know me?" is not a strategy for a successful relationship. But going to a friend and talking about the anguish you are experiencing might help. If you don't have friends who you think you could talk to, that's actually a bigger problem than the infatuation situation, and you should probably seek some emotional support in the form of counselling. If you are a teenager or in university/college you undoubtedly have free resources available to help you.

Do not grow up to be a man who thinks that every time he is tormented by a powerful feeling there must be
someone else
to blame. That's way more important than getting someone to reciprocate your infatuation.

Also, if you want to get laid, start a band.

Friday, 8 September 2017

I'm Not Really An ACLU Fan

So I read an ACLU blog post today about a case where a wedding cake designer is discriminating against gay customers.

The case is clear cut discrimination. A gay couple went into a bakery that makes custom wedding cakes, asked for a wedding cake, and were turned away because the shop did not make custom wedding cakes for gay weddings. Anyone who doesn't agree that is
discrimination
is not sufficiently engaging with reality. A state-level court agreed with this obvious conclusion, though the decision that it was illegal discrimination was a little more complicated than you would think. I'll get back to that in a moment.

The government of the United States of America has decided this is a really important case that they'd better get themselves involved in. So they've filed an
amicus brief
in favour of the cake shop owner. That's no surprise because the Department of Justice is run by a bigot. But even though it's obvious straight up bigotry, the brief does actually make a legal argument, and one that might sway a judge.

The defense of the cake shop owner is that making wedding cakes is a matter of personal expression. He would sell any baked good in his shop to a gay couple, but he won't engage in a personal creative effort to express support for a gay wedding. That is, he's saying it's his first amendment right to not express himself in a way that violated his religious beliefs.

The court that ruled on the case originally considered this argument, they didn't dismiss it out of hand. The question was whether creating the wedding cake was a sufficiently expressive thing to trigger the first amendment. They said it was not, but part their reasoning noted that the couple hadn't actually discussed details or custom messages of the cake before leaving the shop. So the cake shop owner hadn't refused to write, "I love butt sex" on a cake, he had refused to make a cake merely on the basis of the couple being gay. If he had kicked the couple out of his store for wanting him to write that on a cake,
we wouldn't be having this discussion
.

The ACLU post engages in a very silly slippery slope argument where they suggest that if this ruling was made a doctor might refused to treat people who are transgender or a restaurant might refuse to follow food safety laws citing food preparation as a kind of free artistic expression.

Neither of those make any sense at all. You don't trigger first amendment freedom of expression protections by employing technical skills like medicine. Your right to free expression has never included the right to poison other people and never will.

I think what the ACLU is doing here is encountering cognitive dissonance as they realize their position on the first amendment generally is a pro-discrimination opinion. When Charlottesville tried to deny a permit to hold a rally to neo-Nazis, the ACLU came to the defense of the Nazis and precipitated the events of August 12. Their position was that it is more important to protect free speech than to prevent Nazis from marching in our streets. They've been grappling with that position since, and they've decided they won't support violent hate groups that plan to bring weapons to rallies. So basically they will continue to stand up for first amendment right to advocate genocide, but won't do it if people are also exercising
second amendment rights
. Fundamentally, their position hasn't changed, though: crowds shouting pro-genocide slogans in the street should be protected.

If someone wrote custom poetry to be read at weddings and didn't want to write poetry about gay love, the argument the US government is making on behalf of the cake shop owner would work. In fact, based on the factors considered in the lower court, we'd never be at this stage, as the lower court would have supported this as
protected first amendment speech
.

Legally speaking, the constitution of the United States protects freedom of speech and does not protect gay people against discrimination. Well, it seems to protect them from discrimination within the legal system by guaranteeing equal protection under the law, but it doesn't protect them at a bakery. The case for the baker rests on a legal quibble about whether the first amendment applies, but if the first amendment applies, the ruling is clear. The argument that the baker is using to defend his decision not the make the cake is legally the same argument that another baker would use to refuse to make a cake with a swastika on it. The difference is that in one case a baker is refusing to acknowledge the validity of gay people's love, in the other they are refusing to acknowledge the validity of Nazi ideology.
Without noting that this is a question of rights butting against one another
, we can't tell those two things apart.

If I'm being kind, I think they ACLU, and Americans in general, have to grapple with the fact that giving one kind of human right - freedom of expression - primacy over other kinds of human rights - the right to be treated equally without regard to race, sexual orientation, etc. - means devaluing the latter right. It means being against the latter right in some cases. There are decisions to be made about how to proceed with that information.

If I am not being kind, I'd say the ACLU's readiness to engage in spurious slippery slopes from wedding cakes to doctor's visits combined with their unwillingness to engage in factually supported slippery slopes between Nazi rallies and violence means
they are an anti-semitic hate organization
.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Race to the Bottom

How do we know what a thing is worth? That's easy, the marketplace will reveal it's value by assigning a dollar cost to it.

But if a thing is worth the amount it costs then buying it isn't a good deal, it's a neutral proposition. So we'd better try to get a better price.

If we can't support our concept of value with something other than the revealed value of the market then it is a race to the bottom for everything, and the only thing we value is money itself.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Void

Trigger Warning: This post contains apparent sympathy for Donald Trump

Here's a slightly outdated article about Trump being a vessel of positive emptiness (via BoingBoing). I'm not sure if I recommend you read it. If you do you may have to overlook the rocky beginning in which it is implied that
dogs don't have emotions
.

The point of the article is that we should be beyond the point of wondering what Donald Trump believes or thinks. It doesn't matter whether he really supports Nazis, because his calculation on the matter is probably something more akin to, "People are saying I'm bad for what I did so I will tell them I was right," rather than anything that factors in real world consequences beyond his own emotions. I think that's probably right.

What I don't think is right is that this makes him a "blank sucking nullity" or a "human void". Ordinarily I'd be fine with a novel insult for Trump, and in this particular case I am also basically fine with it. Still, this also awkwardly strikes home for me in a way that is a little tough to explain.

I am not much like Donald Trump as far as human beings go. I certainly have some similarities but I think personality wise most people would say I'm extremely far away from him. There are, however, a lot of dimensions on which you can measure things, and two things that are very different in an ordinary sense of how those things would be compared might be very similar along an unusual axis. If we believe a certain dossier then people who are into golden showers may have something very much in common with Donald Trump despite them being generally nice people who might bristle at the comparison.

That is not what I have in common with Donald Trump.

The thing about Trump that makes him so hard to understand for most people is that he seems to exist in a different dimension of personality. Most people will lie or tell the truth, and a person might be a liar or very honest. Donald Trump says things without regard for whether they are true or not, substituting an entirely different axis of decision-making. Some people know etiquette and some people don't, some people who know etiquette for a situation obey it to be polite and other flaunt it to be rude or to show rebelliousness. Trump behaves how he is going to behave regardless of what etiquette may or may not exist.

Trump isn't a liar or a boor, he exists on an axis orthogonal to those considerations. I keep hearing political commentators try to return to what they think the point is - how will this help or hurt Trump's agenda. But Trump doesn't have a political agenda, he has something perpendicular to that.

You probably have a moderate-to-good understanding of other people. Maybe that's a very intellectual understanding or maybe it's a very emotional one. However you came about it, the reason I can say you probably have it is because you have to have it to get on in your life. If you have or have had a job, or a romantic relationship, or friends, or a twitter following, you must have at some point figured out how to relate to people in some way they understand. You figured this out because your brain is a pattern matching machine and you were perpetually exposed to hundreds of data points on how humans behave.

If a human comes along who is a real decision-making outlier - who operates on decision-making axes largely independent of those that you are used to - they are going to seem inscrutable. That's why you don't understand Trump. There are few enough people who are like that that you've never had enough data to put a model together. Analogies to five-year-old children help, but it really is more like trying to understand the mind of a cat. If you've spent years around Trump you'll get better at it, but that's by developing a Trump-specific model, not by assuming you can work him into your human model.

There's only one place I could be going with this, and many of my readers may be tempted to stop me right here and say, "Come on, you aren't that different."

I am.

In my life there are a number of people I've strongly related to. People whose thoughts and feelings look like mirror images of mine even if they aren't the same. I wrote about this years ago when I wrote about John Campbell and his Kickstarter meltdown. Somehow his huge explanation of his life and himself seemed totally relatable to me while most people found it nonsense and
hardly a reason to burn books
.

There is someone who is widely regarded as a troll on a forum that I sometimes visit who just makes sense to me. To others, they must be trying to derail the discussion because their posts are too disconnected from what everyone else is talking about. To me, it makes perfect sense, and when I respond to them I get
coherent
responses back.

And yes, seeing Donald Trump spoken of as someone who can't be comprehended made me think of myself. Sure, that's probably only because I think of myself as
essentially bad
. But I've never really had much trouble understanding what Trump was like or who he is. I'm not troubled by questions like, "Does he support nazis?" because it's just not a hard question to answer - that is, unless you are caught up on what the word "support" would mean if you "supported" something and you are trying to look for an analogue in someone who just doesn't do that.

I've always gotten conflicting results on introversion vs. extroversion scales on personality tests. In
Jungian terms
introversion vs. extroversion is about your flow of energy: extroverts get energy from being around others and need energy to spend time being alone. Introverts need to spend energy to be around others and need to be alone to recover energy.

The reason my results are conflicting is because I am an extrovert - I get energy from being around other people - but I find having energy to be an intolerable state that I can't handle, so I need to spend time by myself to allow it to dissipate and return to being sedate. Being around other people makes me manic, and mania is terrible. That's a recent realization that fits a general pattern. I'm a funhouse mirror of a normal hedonic scale. Sometimes I'm better at my job because I'm depressed. I can have a negative reaction to feeling good. Most people probably wouldn't even know what that could mean.

Our zeitgeist tells us that people act out of self-interest, and that's embedded deeper in our thought processes than we are aware. While Trump is the ultimate example of someone who acts only in terms of immediate self-interest, I am probably as close to a counterexample of that as you will find. My actions are usually governed by the interests of others that I substitute for my own because I don't know what my interests are or by the desire to just stop, regardless of the cost.

The best strategy for most people to deal with Donald Trump is to stop trying to understand his internal workings and instead just look and how he works on a cause-and-effect level. I am the same and opposite to that - the best strategy for most people to deal with me is to assume my internal workings are the way they assume everyone's are because I will do the work to limit the possibility of challenging that assumption.

I was once told that fundamentally there are two kinds of mentally ill people - those that take it out on others and those that take it out on themselves. I think it's possible that Trump and I - aside from that one very important dimension - are much more alike than we appear.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Look, I'm Seriously Just Trying to Help

Another CBC article, another complaint from me. This time it's "The left is alienating its allies by shutting down free speech."

The arguments in favour of free speech are actually very few. That's not because it's a bad idea to think carefully about laws restricting what people can and cannot say, it's because free speech as an ideal has basically been accepted as right for generations and there's little reason for people on the victorious side of history to be particularly thoughtful in the defense of their position.

If you support
free speech
, here are the arguments you will use, and why they are, as arguments, utter failures:

If we give the current government the power to outlaw speech, the next government, with whom you disagree, will have that power too.

OR

If we make saying a thing you disagree with illegal, maybe next we will make saying a thing you agree with illegal.

1. There are already many things you could say that are illegal (threats, harassment, copyright violation, sexual solicitation, etc.). These have
not lead to such a slippery slope
.

2. In any nation with constitutionally codified right to expression, it is the role of the judiciary to balance the rights of the individual against laws that are there to protect society. You will find that sometimes the judiciary goes one way and sometimes it goes the other way. You'll also find that they carefully spell out multi-part tests to ensure that their rulings aren't used out of context for precedent. This argument, therefore, is that the judiciary is broadly failing to apply the law and that
you know better
.

3. This isn't even a principled argument about law, it's a personal appeal. All I have to say to shut it down completely is the following: "If I express myself in ways that are similarly harmful to society, then I agree that society should step in and stop me." The argument essentially assumes that anyone who disagrees with the strong free speech position being taken thinks they ought to be above laws that they propose.

4. This is a "
we can't tell the difference
" position that says we ought to be able to cut other people because otherwise we might lose our right to cut meat. Freedom to use knives.

By protecting the rights of a well known and privileged person we protect the rights of everyone.

I addressed this argument in this post.

1. You have no evidence to defend your claim.

2. This is trickle down human rights. People's rights are being violated all the time, and they don't all have a national spotlight or enough money to fight for their own rights. We can't protect the rights of a poor trans black woman who has been illegally fired by lending our voices in defense of a rich white cis man who is saying that trans people deserve the death threats they get. If you want to protect free speech, use your political influence to ensure better legal representation for the poor.

We've seen from [specific instance of someone getting in trouble because of what they said that we've already swung too far in favour of censorship.

This one comes down to the details of the case, but if you are going to bring this kind of things up, at least be knowledgeable enough about the case to:

1a. Explain why the ruling in the case didn't adhere to the principles in the law as they exist. That is, make sure you can out-argue the judge. Remember that judges are applying the constitutional rights you are arguing in favour of as they really exist in our society now.

OR, if you think that the current law results in unfair consequences:

1b. Explain why the consequences were dire or at least significantly disproportionate to the action. Do this using the actual consequences to the actual person you are talking about, not imagined catastrophic consequences. If a speaker has a gig cancelled because they said something terrible, if a person loses their job, or if a group of people are made to experience the pain they caused to others by saying something awful, what happened to them after that? Are they living on the street with post traumatic stress disorder from the incident or are they worth millions and still appearing in major motion pictures? An unjust thing is still unjust if it is minor, but if we are devoting our lives to arguing about famous minor injustices when the world is full of severe injustices, it really ought to make us question that values that led us to that point.

2. Explain why this case is a useful example and not an aberration. A case will really stand out as an injustice if is stands alone in a sea of cases that were ruled on quite well. People are wrongfully convicted of murder and child abuse, we can't expect any law to have no wrongful convictions. When we look at how sexual assault is prosecuted, or how crimes committed by police are prosecuted, we can see systemic problems that run like a thread through multiple unjust outcomes. Having one or two go-to anecdotes rather than an analysis of a systemic problem actually gives other people reason to believe you are wrong.

And now, the argument from the article that set me off today.

You are going to alienate your allies by going against free speech.

OR

These are the wrong tactics.

1. This argument assumes that the majority, or at least a large portion, of people already agree that free speech is very, very important on principle. Most of the time, if someone finds a speaker odious and that speaker is told to get out of the public square, that someone is going to just be glad they shut up, not sympathetic to the speaker`.

2. The idea that you know what the right tactics are to get your point across seems to be disproven by the fact that I am not even remotely convinced by your argument. You don't know how to convince me of anything,
so I have no reason to think that you know how to convince anyone of anything
.

3. My issue right now is that we have a really big white supremacist problem. If you are saying that by taking aggressive tactics against that problem you may be alienated, or you may stop being an ally, you are saying that you may be convinced not to battle white supremacists by me being an asshole. But I think you should be ready to fight against white supremacy - in the way you think is best - regardless of whether you think other people are doing it wrong. I don't care if you like me, I care about results. If you are going to give up doing what you think is right because someone else is doing it wrong, then you don't really think that's the right thing to do in the first place. In other words, when you make this argument, it kind of
makes you sound like you are indifferent to white supremacy
.

4. This argument is entirely reversible. You risk alienating
your allies
by talking about free speech when there are white supremacists to fight. That doesn't concern you. Either you are not an ally or you don't think this argument really matters. Essentially the argument can be restated as, "It is very important that I am on your side because I am very important, so you'd better appease me."

Now that you know why your arguments are stupid, let me explain to you how to argue in favour of free speech in a coherent way.

1. Acknowledge that there are many existing restrictions to speech and provide a reason why you think these existing restrictions are defensible. Alternatively, argue that no existing restrictions are defensible. Then we can argue about whether those are the right principles on which to restrict what people can say, perhaps using individual cases as sort of test cases to see if our principles achieve the right results.

2. Back stop your reasoning about the value of free speech in itself by asking yourself what underlying value you are trying to protect. Are you trying to protect people's lives, people's dignity, people's range of choices? What is it that you think is important that supports the idea that free speech is important? That way, we can avoid advocating pyrrhic strategies to support free speech.

Without doing both of these, you are going to end up making an ill-informed nonsense argument in favour of free speech. Free speech to advocate genocide can only be argued for if it can be meaningfully differentiated from free speech to make death threats. Free speech to share nuclear bomb designs can only be argued for by someone who thinks that eliminating government controls on speech is so important that it's better if we're all dead so there's no government to institute such controls.

Of course by suggesting these things, I'm basically telling you that in order to be sensible you have to basically agree with me - that free speech shouldn't be considered holy and should instead be reasonably balanced against other rights and objectives.

The reason I'm saying that is because it is objectively true. If you want to burn 10% of your income in sacrifice to the free speech altar in your basement I have
no objection to that
. But blind appeal to a heartfelt principle isn't part of any reasonable argument in favour of anything.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Equivocation between Legal Free Speech and colloquial Free Speech

All my ranting about free speech is unhinged and disconnected from reality, but probably not as unhinged and disconnected from reality as the defense of free speech that is invoked when we talk about nazis. People have to realize that their common language argument about whether to censor nazis doesn't look much like the legal reality that would implement that argument.

Free speech advocates say there is a slippery slope between saying "nazis aren't entitled to free speech" and saying "Trump voters aren't entitled to free speech." This would be a great argument against someone proposing to create a constitutional amendment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Bill of Rights to clarify that free speech rights are not given to nazis. But no one would ever draft or pass such an amendment.

When the public debates something, the public debates it in terms close to their hearts. So a person saying they don't think nazi websites should be hosted by DNS services is taking a feeling they have and communicating to us they best idea of what they would like done to address that feeling. That doesn't necessarily mean they want that thing done, they want to feel the wrong they sense has been righted.

In Canada all rights are explicitly balanced against the public interest. The government can invoke section one of the charter and pass a law that violates the rights granted in the charter is they argue it is necessary for them to do so. Thus, in Canada when someone threatens violence against another person, they can't claim that they were exercising free speech because the right to free speech is outweighed by society's interest in having people not threaten one another.

In the US, as I understand it, there is no such balance to be made. The free speech right can't be violated. That leads to a kind of legal pretending in the US, where they say that some things you can say simply aren't "speech" in the sense that is meant in the constitution. So you still can't make a freedom of speech claim if you threaten someone, because a threat is not protected speech.

So if someone wanted to make marching with nazi flags illegal in the US, they would argue that promoting genocide ought not be considering protected speech for the same reason that incitement to commit a crime is not considered protected speech. They would then argue that waving a nazi flag is promoting genocide. There wouldn't be a novel legal argument or a whole new structure for making exemptions to the first amendment, there would just be a fairly common sense idea that the nazi flag stands for "we ought to be killing Jews" and that doesn't deserve more legal protection than "we ought to be killing people in terrorist attacks," which is already not protected.

So while I advocate extreme and crazy points of view on this blog, a person calling for a ban on people marching around with Nazi flags is not really calling for anything extreme at all. I think you could argue that such a ban would actually be more consistent with existing exceptions to protected speech than the current lack of ban is.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Warning: This post is adversarial and angry. On re-reading, I realize it is going to feel like I'm accusing you of something personally.

I've made a few posts saying free speech is not as great as we think it is and it doesn't accomplish what we think it does. I don't know if I've mentioned my alternative. Here it is: "We shouldn't make bad laws."

That sounds awfully childish and ridiculous. Today I was discussing the issue with someone who pulled out "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

First, I'd like to say that if you feel you can use a latin phrase to argue for your position with the expectation that the other person will know what the latin phrase means, that means that the other person is already aware of that argument. I get it, most people haven't necessarily thought through an argument just because they are aware of it. I have.

People want to say, "If the government can regulate speech, who gets to say what speech they regulate?" I've got an answer for this: "Someone - more likely a group of someones - gets to say, and they might be morally wrong when they do so."

If that answer seems unacceptable, I'd like to ask for an alternative. Either you are taking the position that somehow "free speech" can give a free pass to moral outcomes or you are accepting that we might be making a mistake. I mean, you are being confronted with someone right this very moment who thinks that holding up free speech as a special right - beyond the general right to do whatever you feel like doing - is a bad idea at this point in history. If you are a free speech advocate then one of us is right and one of us is wrong. You think you can tell the difference. You don't, however, think someone else would be able to tell the difference between harmful speech and non-harmful speech.

If you are tempted to answer, "Yes, but I support your right to argue against free speech" that isn't an answer to the problem I'm posing at all. It's once against assuming the conclusion that free speech is always going to make things okay. All that would be saying is that you don't think the government should make it illegal for me to speak against free speech. I honestly don't care if you think the government should make it illegal for me to speak against free speech or not.
They aren't going to
.

Here are two separate public policy ideas:

We should always protect free speech.
We should make denying the holocaust illegal as they have in some
countries
.

You are telling me you know which one of those is right. I am telling you I am pretty sure you are wrong about which one of those is right. History - assuming history has any future - is going to judge one of us wrong. There was never any possibility of taking a position that couldn't end up being just as wrong as whatever
terrible historical event you think free speech will keep us from repeating
.

"Who watches the watchers?" My answer is "We all have to whether we like it or not." The free speech answer is, "We've set up a system where there are no watchers, trust us!" Maybe my answer isn't so childish compared to the alternative.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Enlightened Middle

Today there was an opinion piece in the CBC that I had for force myself to read, but I don't recommend you do the same. Attacks on due process are coming from both sides of the political spectrum, says Jonathan Kay.

There are two things that Kay might have chosen to argue in this piece: The first would be that due process is important and innocent-until-proven-guilty is a hallmark of our society that must be defended. The second is that he is in the enlightened middle in the midst of a political shitshow where left and right are equally guilty.

Now I could talk about how the "left and right are basically the same" argument is always a defense of fascists. I could talk about the about false equivalences. I could talk about the outcome of the enlightened middle; we've seen in recent days where the argument leads. It leads to the president of the United States feeling he has cover to keep his white supremacist base happy by refusing to denounce a murderer. I'm happy to address all that with throwaway statements.

I will take a moment to marvel that in his effort to prove he's the middle he defines the Liberal party of Ontario and the Liberal party of Canada as "the left." Supply side economics is not he left. Basically everyone Kay himself is polarized and irrational.

But back to the supposed subject, due process. Due process isn't trivial to defend. No one can reasonably argue it's outcomes aren't racist and misogynist. No one can reasonably argue it doesn't favour the wealthy over the poor. A person can reasonably argue that it is still the best system we have, that we should support it and advocate for incremental change within the system rather than attempting vigilante justice. That argument can be made, but it has to be made.

The only argument that Kay has to offer is that if we don't defend due process, the mob might come for us next. Not only is that an argument that literally
everyone has heard before
, but it's also a very flawed argument. If society is descending into barbarism as two factions vie for supremacy, and your only interest is looking out for number one, you can either keep your head down and not choose a side until you have to, or you can pick the side that you judge to be stronger. The idea that the best way to protect yourself is to stand steadfastly by the law is nonsense.

Give some reason beyond immediate self-interest. Self-interest amidst a system that is failing is why people join the factions that Kay denounces.

I am a decidedly unreasonable person. Crazy even. I have satirically suggested we get rid of due process for sexual assault and assume guilt based on accusations. But my argument that such a society would be on no worse moral footing than our own wasn't satirical. I've challenged people to argue why presumption of innocence does any of the things they think it does. The idea that an oppressive state will oppress people only if it is within the rules is a farce.

Should the black citizens of Maycomb have stood up for due process because Atticus Finch did his best to defend Tom Robinson? It's not hard to find examples where any person of principle would stand against "due process." I don't think it is reasonable, with our current system, to stand up for due process when it comes to sexual assault, or to believe on a personal level that a person actually didn't sexually assault another person just because they were found innocent in a court.

The vast majority of people who want people tried by public opinion don't have a bizarre principled stand on the subject, they just don't like what they see going on and they want things to be remedied. Actually believing in the law in a real way is so rare that we might think it's a neurodiversity issue. So in a way I basically agree with Kay. It's just that I see people losing faith in a system that needs to be fixed, and he sees an opportunity to talk about how virtuous he is.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Tribalism

When I talk to people about inter-party hatred in the western English-speaking world the idea of tribalism comes up a lot. People are easily persuaded to act in favour of an in-group and against an out-group. It is very, very easy to get people to distinguish those things. Take a room full of people, give half of them blue shirts and half green shirts and you'll immediately see divisions.

When we talk about tribalism we are always invoking images of inter-tribal warfare and slaughter. People from one tribe hate other tribe. People from one clan hate the other clan. People from one racial group hate the other racial group. But, of course, there's another side of tribalism.

I think it's fairly safe to say that for most of human history tribes have coexisted peacefully and gotten along just fine. There always seems to be a war going on somewhere, but most of the world is not in a state of war most of the time. Neighbouring tribes fought. They also cooperated. They also intermarried. Tribes behave in self-interested ways but also in altruistic ways. I'm not going to say that tribes are no more or less evil than the people who compose them, but they aren't orders of magnitude off in either direction.

So I don't think the "tribalism" explanation is much of an explanation at all. It doesn't say why these two tribes are at war right now. I'm instead thinking about why it makes sense for people to act the way they act instead of relying on a model of human behaviour that predicts what we already know to be going on and fails to explain what is or was happening in other places or times.

"Tribalism" strikes me as an extension of "self-interest".
It's the guiding principle of what has gone wrong. Whether I call it neo-liberalism, neo-conservativism, Thatcherism, Reaganism, or whatever else, the world has been riding a big wave since the late 70s or early 80s. What I'm going to call it is technocracy. It's the idea that the system can run itself without political wrangling - without people getting in the way.

Built around the incoherent assertions of an 18th century philosopher, the idea is that the world is too complex to understand or control, and the best results arise from allowing each person to act according to their own interests. From that interaction we generate the best way to organize things, without having anyone in power planning them.

The hypocrisy of this idea would be transparent if we weren't living inside it. That people self-organize according to their own chosen behaviours is a bland and unavoidable fact that is true in every system of government. The rise of the idea that we should dismantle a democratic consensus in order to replace political decision-making with economist decision-making is exactly the kind of radical take over that a real "things can run themselves" philosophy ought to be against. "Small government" parties are bent on radical social restructuring.

But the big wave caught us all, not just the "small government" proponents. When financial crises hit, everyone from "right wing" and "left wing" political parties are turning to the same experts for advice: economists from a very specific school, legal experts who act like the powers of corporations are immutable, bankers, CEOs of successful companies. When people say this is terrible, what they hear back is that the experts know better than they do.

This is all very appealing. Science tells us how to make things better for everyone, and we smugly tell people who don't understand science that how great everything is and that they don't know what they are talking about. But that smugness is justified by the idea that the experts who run everything do know what they are talking about, and it turns out they don't.

The big experiment is a failure. The more a country adheres to the technocracy, the more median wages stagnate, the slower infant mortality falls, the slower life expectancy rises. In America indicators of well-being have actually started to reverse themselves and get worse instead of just getting better more slowly.

So the trouble became increasingly hard to ignore, but the experts kept saying that things were actually going well. The governments listened to those experts to figure out how to run things regardless of the political stripe of the governments.

So maybe there is an alternate explanation for our hyper-partisan politics. It's not that tribalism is inherently baked into human nature, it's that in reality politics has been largely just sport for a few decades now. You weren't going to get much of a different result if you voted for one person or another, so it's just the green shirts against the blue shirts.

I want to stop to say there have been huge differences between the green shirts and the blue shirts. But what we've chosen has basically been a choice between the pet projects of the leaders. If one leader has a pet project of saving the environment and another has a pet project of protecting human rights and another has a pet project of starting a foreign war, then that is a choice that matters.

But the overall way that society was structured and the way the government evaluated which laws to make and which programs to implement wasn't going to change by voting Republican vs. Democrat, Liberal vs. Conservative, Labour vs. Conservative. Technocracy is antithetical to democracy, and democracy has been greatly diminished.

We feel like we want to cheer this on precisely because we think people are stupid, tribal, selfish things. But we are stupid, tribal, selfish things that largely cooperate with other people and other tribes to generate incredible outcomes. We ought to stop being so dismissive of one another.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Giving

I don't know how to interact with people soliciting donations in public spaces. It's not so hard with the professionals who are looking for donations to some organization that is paying them to be there. I don't mind simply walking past those people and refusing to engage with them. It's much more difficult when people are looking for donations to support their own sustenance.

I don't want my ability to sustain my life to dependent on going into a job and filling time sitting at a cubicle, but I'm pretty resigned to it now. Other people may not have the luxury of resigning themselves to my fate. Yet others may have simply chosen not to resign themselves to this, but there is no point in me being resentful of them for that.

But I rely very heavily on social customs to get by in my interactions with people. I mimic socially acceptable behaviour and have no idea what to do if I am to genuinely interact with someone. Sure, I can interact with some people on a genuine level, but the thought of being exposed to a stranger's actual emotions and thoughts is bone chilling. I'd really rather they just shut up. This kind of personal soliciting makes me uncomfortable because it it outside those social norms so I have to default to reacting by being honest, which is paralyzing.

Someone was standing outside the Tim Horton's where I often go to get tea during the day, asking people to buy them a coffee. At some point in my life I would have thought that I really shouldn't buy them a coffee because it's undesirable to have him standing there and I am rewarding that - I'm being part of a system that reinforces having people stand outside Tim Horton's to ask other people to buy them coffee.

But I'm already part of that system, and I participate in it every day. People aren't asking for donations on the street because they have been positively reinforced to do so, they are asking for those donations because they need to eat and here we are in a system that takes enough-for-everyone and turns it into starving people.

I want to qualify "need to eat" because I think a lot of people would respond to that by saying that there are places people can go to get food if they can't afford it, but here's the thing: I don't have to go to those places. I get to walk into Tim Horton's and get what I want. Do I get to start putting conditions on how someone else lives their life because I make money and they don't?

The answer is yes. That's what money is. But if I have the capacity to do that then I also have the capacity to decide not to do that.

So I asked them what they took in their coffee. Five creams and four sugars. Sadly I exercised the power of my money and ordered only a triple-triple because I just couldn't bring myself to order so much cream and sugar. That wasn't a judgement on them, it was just that it was too uncomfortable for me to actually place the order, I felt nervous. Some of that came from me thinking that the person at the counter might recognize the mismatched and tremendous quantities and might realize I was helping the crowd-funded person at the door, some of it came from my internalization of the idea that anything over double-double is sickeningly too much. I have to imagine that the person would rather get the triple triple from me than not, so I don't feel too badly about it.

But what a luxury my wealth affords me: The luxury to avoid associating myself with that person, the luxury to avoid feeling uncomfortable ordering a coffee for that person, the luxury to assume they are happy that I got it for them even though I didn't actually get them what they wanted.

None of this seems right to me.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Confusion about Conservativism

Tomorrow Theresa May will likely be elected the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This is despite her best efforts to lose the position in a snap election she called for no reason. Try to find an opinion piece that says May did a good job running the campaign. If you find one, I'll lay down a substantial bet it's on a satire site.

One of her biggest flops was proposing a new charge for people who are receiving home care who own their homes. The idea ran that rich people ought to pay something for government assistance to make it more affordable for everyone else. Owning your home is basically being rich for the most part - you are sitting on this valuable asset while begging for help.

Dubbed the "dementia tax" by her opponents, this didn't go over well.

I can understand why Conservatives would be confused by this. Means testing programs and charging except in the case of dire need is a right-wing idea. Charging people for the programs they use in general rather than funding them from taxes is a right-wing idea. Why would it not be popular in this case?

It's not popular in this case because it is their own constituents who would largely be affected and paying for it. Older people - and, consequently, people who are most likely to own houses and to receive home care - are overwhelmingly Tory voters and Tory voters are very heavily older people.

Ring-wing ideology may once have been about conserving. Upholding traditions and institutions. Being responsible to the community. That kind of stuff.

Contemporary ring-wing ideology has two mottos. First, get yours. Second, fuck everyone else.

A problem with these two mottos as a political idea is that legislation isn't targeted toward people based on their party affiliation. You can't directly implement a policy of handing stuff over to people who voted for you and screwing over people who didn't. Parties sometimes seem to try their best, but it has to be done through obfuscation and proxies.

Another other problem with these mottos as a political idea is that you are not the people you elect. So when they implement "get yours" and "fuck everyone else" it is them who gets theirs and you who are part of the everyone else.

I'm unsurprisingly on board with a policy of taking old people's homes from them since, as anyone who knows me knows,
I hate old people
. But that's me in my most burn-it-all-down anti-conservative mode. I doubt the UK Tories want to go to that part of me for advice, since that voice thinks the people of the UK should be breaking out the guillotines.

That serious people with serious positions can be so openly destructive and hateful as a way to success makes me angry. I think it probably makes me jealous.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Oracle Review - Reflecting Mirror and Season of the Witch

Two last cards from the Dark. The Dark had fewer bad, difficult or interesting wordings than I thought it would. This owes, presumably, to it being one of Magic's smallest sets. Still, I found 50% more cards in Homelands than in the Dark in my first-glance reading. Maybe the dark isn't quite as strange as I thought. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the rules have evolved in a way that make a card like Dance of Many easy to word and understand.


Reflecting Mirror
Very badly costed artifacts were everywhere in the old days of magic. Basically reflecting mirror requires you to sit with all your mana untapped while you opponent plays spells that don't target you, then when you finally have to react they get to target you. But even bad cards need good Oracle wordings.

Variable Colorless
, Tap: Change the target of target spell with a single target if that target is you. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of that spell.
This wording is way off the original and there are no reprintings where things got changed. First of all, the original wording doesn't say to change the target of a spell if it targets you, it said to change the target of a spell that targets you. You can't use Reflecting Mirror on your opponent's
Nicol Bolas
for no effect, let alone using Reflecting Mirror on your opponent's
Lightning Bolt
that is targeting one of your creatures only to then have that lightning bolt's target changed to you before Reflecting Mirror's
ability resolves
.

Second, the original wording does not specify the spell has to have a single target, it only says the spell has to target you. I understand the desire to put this in: if you leave it out, the mirror doesn't work at all the way most people would assume.

Suppose we take that clause out and you attempt to Reflecting Mirror an entwined Barbed Lightning. What do you think would happen? The correct answer is that you would be unable to change either target of the spell:
114.6a If an effect allows a player to “change the target(s)” of a spell or ability, each target can be changed only to another legal target. If a target can’t be changed to another legal target, the original target is unchanged, even if the original target is itself illegal by then. If all the targets aren’t changed to other legal targets, none of them are changed.
Using that same rule, what would happen if someone case
Blessed Alliance
to gain 4 life and make you sacrifice an attacking creature? Well, if it were a multiplayer game, you could change the target opponent to another opponent of the caster, and also change the target of the life gain to you, since reflecting mirror allows you to assign new targets to be players. Suddenly you are playing with Attracting Mirror.

But the current wording has problems too. What if someone hits you with a
Kolaghan's Command
to make you discard a card and take 2 damage? It has two targets so you can't reflect it, even though both targets are you.
114.8a An object that looks for a “[spell or ability] with a single target” checks the number of times any objects, players, or zones became the target of that spell or ability when it was put on the stack, not the number of its targets that are currently legal. If the same object, player, or zone became a target more than once, each of those instances is counted separately.
I know why the single target wording is there in the Oracle text. I was around when the mirror was printed, and what it meant to change the target of a spell was not as clearly defined then as it is today. They had to make ruling to try to make sense of weird situations. The simplest thing was to say that Reflecting Mirror didn't work unless the spell had only a single target.

If you read the original wording on
Deflection
, two sets later, you'll see that it even specifies that the new target must be legal since that wasn't implicit.

But I regard this as an "we don't know what else to say" ruling, not a as a real errata. I'd prefer the Oracle wording of Reflecting Mirror go back to the original wording, and possibly the original intent. Back in The Dark we were still in the days when most Magic players were playing based on flavour judgments rather any actual rules, so what do we expect the mirror to do?

I think with the imprecision of the original wording we have two options. One is restricting it to spells that only target you - which is very different than spells that only have a single target, if that target is you. The other is allowing it to change only targets that are you.

One wording would be:
X, Tap: Change the target of target spell that targets only you. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of that spell.
The other is really, really akward. Magic basically lacks a vocabulary to talk about the targets of a spell. But still, I think this restriction is plain enough to read in the English language:
X, Tap: For each time target spell that targets you targets you, change that target of that spell. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of the spell.
Both have the problem of allowing you to use Reflecting Mirror to split a spell with multiple player targets to two different players. and it's not Reflecting Beam Splitter. I like the former a little better, the idea being that the mirror should reflect the entire spell, but it might not reflect the entire spell anyway, so I'm happy to go with the latter to make it more compatible with a fix to make sure you reflect the spell in just one direction.

All in all, I think this is the probably the best way to word it:
X, Tap: Choose another player. For each time target spell that targets you targets you, change that target to the chosen player. X is twice the converted mana cost of the spell.
I'd definitely want to workshop this with other Oracle experts, though. This is the first time I've acknowledged in an Oracle Review that I might not simply know best about everything. It will also be the last.

As for the current wording:


Season of the Witch

This card caused some consternation in it's day. What does it mean to say that a creature "could have attacked?" Let's see how the Oracle resolves this:
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice Season of the Witch unless you pay 2 life. 
At the beginning of the end step, destroy all untapped creatures that didn't attack this turn, except for creatures that couldn't attack.
Oh. Um... how unexpected? Let's see what the rules say about things that "could have happened"... nothing there. Are there a bunch of rulings explaining it? There are two:
At the beginning of every end step, regardless of whose turn it is, the second ability triggers. When it resolves every creature that could have been declared as an attacker during that turn’s Declare Attackers Step but wasn’t will be destroyed. 
A creature won’t be destroyed if it was unable to attack that turn, even if you had a way to enable it to attack. For example, a creature that had summoning sickness wouldn’t be destroyed even if you had a way to give it haste.
So what does it mean to say a creature could have attacked? It means it could have been declared as an attacker during that turn's Declare Attackers Step. You know that that means.

You know.

You know

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Oracle Review - Gaea's Touch and Mana Vortex

Sometimes I try to group cards thematically, but there are a few things working against me in the Dark. First, it doesn't have that many cards. Second, it doesn't have very many themes other than just being weird. Last time I found two cards that remove things from graveyards. This time, well, check this out:



Gaea's Touch
I think I really underestimated this card when it came out. The idea of spending two mana on your second turn so that you could have access to six, possibly even seven, on your third turn probably didn't strike me as game breaking the way it does now.
0: You may put a basic Forest card from your hand onto the battlefield. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery and only once each turn.
Sacrifice Gaea's Touch: Add GG to your mana pool.
I disagree with the interpretation of the original wording. In current wording, "you may put ... [a] land in play" would be "you may put a land onto the battlefield" and putting a land on the battlefield is not the same as playing a land.

However, putting a land into play and playing a land weren't quite so clearly delineated the The Dark. And I think there are two very good reasons to think Gaea's touch should allow you to play lands rather than put them into play.

The part I skipped with ellipses in my quotation of the original wording was "an additional". You can't put "an additional" land in play unless it is in addition to something. The only thing it could possibly be in addition to would be your land play for the turn.

Secondly, unlike the play land vs put land into play distinction, the format for an activate ability was quite well defined by The Dark. Our friend Eater of the Dead has the familiar "0:" to indicate an activated ability that can be used without spending anything. If Gaea's Touch was meant to have a zero-cost activated ability, it could have had one with the templating of it's time.

So I'm convinced the better wording would be that Gaea's Touch allows you to play an additional land each turn.

There is a problem with that, though. There just isn't a way to give someone an extra land drop that has to be used for a specific kind of land. It would have been pretty easy prior to July 2014, but with currently land drop rules, it can't quite be done, at least not neatly.

Rule 305.2a says:
To determine whether a player can play a land, compare the number of lands the player can play this turn with the number of lands he or she has already played this turn (including lands played as special actions and lands played during the resolution of spells and abilities). If the number of lands the player can play is greater, the play is legal.
There's no point in that process where you check to see if the suite of lands you have played this turn is legal or not.

This isn't trivial to solve. If you simply keep wording similar to the original: "You may play an additional land on each of your turns, but this land must be a basic forest" you run into the problem that you never actually check to see whether the land you are playing is the one from Gaea's Touch or not. You have a lands_played value and a max_lands_per_turn value and you compare one to the other, you don't assign each land drop to each thing that allows an additional land drop. I have an intuitive sense of how that ought to be read, but I can't back that up technically.

So what can we do within existing wording? One question is how we know how many forests we have to play. Do we count the number of Gaea's Touches we have in play right now? We could do that by saying that we need to play forests equal to the number of permanents named Gaea's Touch we control, but I am loathe to start counting permanents with a given name when the original card didn't say to do anything of the sort. Imagine your Starfield of Nyx is turned on animating your three Gaea's Touches and your opponent targets one with a Dance of the Skywise. It has no abilities, but it's still a Gaea's Touch so you'd only be able to play basic forests.

And how do we put the restriction on anyway? Should we do a replacement effect for playing a land that checks against the number of forests already played? Or just word it as a restriction on playing the land?

So with the current rules, I think this the best wording that can be mustered:
To determine you whether you can play a land, you may ignore up to one additional basic forest when determining the number so lands you have already played this turn, and count the number of basic forests ignored. The play is legal if either the number of lands you can play is greater than this modified number of lands you have played, or if the land you are playing is a basic forest and the number of basic forests you may ignore is greater than the number of basic forests you have played.
The solution is not to find a replacement ability or a restriction on land plays. It is to rewrite rule 305.2a on the card.

Gaea's Touch could have a number of different wordings that I'd consider flawed but passable. A wording involving an activated ability is not one of those:

Too harsh? For an activated ability where there should be
a continuous one? I think this is just about right.
Mana Vortex
Just think of it, if you have a Gaea's Touch then you can play two lands a turn while your opponent can only play one. They'll break even or gradually run out of lands, but you can keep building your lands up. That's what they call a combo.
When you cast Mana Vortex, counter it unless you sacrifice a land.
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player sacrifices a land.
When there are no lands on the battlefield, sacrifice Mana Vortex.
I don't have much to say about this wording. It's basically the original wording given a formalized reading. What I will say, though, is that if you cast Mana Vortex and choose not to sacrifice a land, you get a 1/1 merfolk from your Lullmage Mentor. Unlike a certain creature from last week.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Oracle Review - Eater of the Dead and Frankenstein's Monster

By popular demand, Oracle reviews have returned.

I'm moving on to The Dark. Presumably as I get into later and later sets, there will be fewer and fewer cards to review, but I've done cursory scans up to Mirage so far, and the notable Oracle texts are still flowing.

Today, I'm featuring two cards that remove creatures from graveyards.


Eater of the Dead
Eater of the Dead has an odd bit of text in the Oracle wording that goes back to a bit of Magic history I've tread over before:
0: If Eater of the Dead is tapped, exile target creature card from a graveyard and untap Eater of the Dead.
"If Eater of the Dead is tapped" is a phrase that appears to come out of nowhere. Let's remember Serra Angel and Maze of Ith, though. You can find my recounting of it in my review of Mishra's War Machine.

When Eater of the Dead was printed, the rules team could rely on "you can't untap things that are untapped" as a shortcut to avoid spelling certain things out, much in the way that they have relied on spells with no targets being countered for most of Magic's history. Really, they never intended Eater of the Dead to be able to hit the table and immediately devour all creatures in both graveyards.

But they never intended a lot of things. I don't think they ever intended people to tap Basalt Monolith to get the mana to untap itself. I don't think they ever intended for people to use Galvanic Key on Time Vault. At some point they had elaborate power-level errata to remove these kinds of abuses, but it's been a long time now since power-level errata was stripped from cards, and they've settled on a "who cares, it's vintage" approach instead.

Eater of the Dead existed during the transition from the vague trying-to-untap-something-that's-untapped-nullifies-the-entire-effect rules and the much more sensible trying-to-untap-something-that's-untapped-just-doesn't-do-anything rules. As a result, it was issued official errata clarifying that you can only use it to remove cards from the graveyard if it is actually tapped.

Might I suggest replacing this with a "who cares, literally no one will ever play with this card" approach?

At 4B for a 3/4 no one could possibly argue that Eater of the Dead is problematic if it can remove an number of creatures from graveyards. At 4B playable only in Vintage and Legacy, I don't even think anyone could argue it would be problematic if we interpreted the original wording as a "choose" instead of a "target" and allowed the Eater to untap any time for free. Is someone really going to make an Eater of the Dead / Fire Whip deck in a format where someone can draw a Kozilek's Inquisition and still die on their second turn?

Eater of the Dead ought to say this:
0: Exile target creature card from a graveyard. Untap Eater of the Dead.
I give the present wording:

I'm more disappointed than I should be.


Frankenstein's Monster
There's a lot to be embarrassed about with this card. Three kinds of counters, out-of-lore literary reference, a lot of text for virtually no playability. The Oracle text doesn't rank high on that list, but it's not exactly perfect either:
As Frankenstein's Monster enters the battlefield, exile X creature cards from your graveyard. If you can't, put Frankenstein's Monster into its owner's graveyard instead of onto the battlefield. For each creature card exiled this way, Frankenstein's Monster enters the battlefield with a +2/+0, +1/+1, or +0/+2 counter on it.
Replace remove-from-the-game with exile, use counters to keep track of permanent stat changes, and you have a nearly unchanged wording, which is kind of impressive, but it's only nearly unchanged, because the original wording had problems.

When you bring the card into play, you do a thing, but if you don't do it, you counter the card. You can't counter a creature that is already in play, though. By the time it checks whether to counter the spell, the spell can't be countered.

Clearly there are two ways to fix this problem. The first is to sacrifice the monster instead of countering it if the creatures can't be removed. The second is to have the creature be removed as it enters the battlefield instead of when it entered the battlefield. I think it's kind of an open question which makes more sense. I do side with the approach taken by the rules team's choice as the monster was never intended to be in play as a 0/1, vulnerable to Gut Shots and such before taking on its larger size. I'd accept either decision, however.

What I'm not thrilled with is that being countered was replaced with being put in the graveyard. According to rule 701.5:
701.5. Counter
701.5a To counter a spell or ability means to cancel it, removing it from the stack. It doesn’t resolve and none of its effects occur. A countered spell is put into its owner’s graveyard.
So what's the difference, you may ask. Countering a spell means putting it in your graveyard, that's just what happens to insufficiently fed Frankie. The only difference I can come up with is having Baral or a Lullmage Mentor in play. If you cast a Frankenstein's Monster with X higher than the number of creatures in your graveyard, then it would be the ability of the Frankenstein's Monster that countered itself, that would be an ability you controlled, and so you could use it to loot or to create a merfolk token.

A Frankenstein's Monster/Lullmage Mentor deck is probably several orders of magnitude less likely to see play than an Eater of the Dead/Firewhip deck, so you may wonder why I'd make a big deal of this. The answer is that I'm not actually making a big deal of this. Still, I feel the Oracle is in error, so I'm only able to give the wording:
I almost want to give two stars just to contrast with
Eater of the Dead which is considerably worse than this

Friday, 28 April 2017

C. S. Lewis and the "soul" of freedom

Freedom of speech is a high ideal that I've complained about before because it's stupid and good for nothing.

Recently a person who makes a living saying horrible things about other people chose not to deliver a speech at the University of Berkeley because they weren't going to get paid to do so and it's thrown a lot of people into Freedom of Speech despair. We're talking about a well-to-do person who could, at a moment's notice: get hundreds of thousands of views on youtube, organize a TV appearance on a major network, or fill a venue of their choice with listeners. They weren't coming to Berkeley to finally have their voice heard, they were coming to promote their most recently published book - the latest of a at least a dozen. This is not a person whose freedom to espouse their ideas is in jeopardy.

But it's the principle of the thing, you see.

Here's a great passage from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in which senior devil Screwtape gives advice to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt humans from "the enemy":
It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very "spiritual", that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother—the sharp-tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one. I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment's notice from impassioned prayer for a wife's or son's "soul" to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.
There is a lot of prayer for the soul of Freedom of Speech going on, but very little care for actual freedom of speech.

Defending your actual right to free speech if it is threatened means spending time and resources in courts - time and resources that most people do not have. Getting the sort of national attention to the suppression of your speech requires already having a platform, already being famous.

If we, as a society, have a positive duty to protect the rights of famous people to say odious things, where are we in protecting the rights of marginalized people to express themselves? You spend your day defending the right of a privileged asshole to advocate racism at length, and meanwhile transgender people still get beaten to unconsciousness for a single use of a pronoun. Might as well fight hunger by delivering 10 tons of steak to Bill Gates.

Trickle-down human rights. Voodoo liberties.

Talking about Freedom of Speech on the internet because an asshole isn't getting paid to incite hatred and violence against identifiable minorities isn't defending a high ideal. It's using "Freedom of Speech" as a racist dog whistle. Increasingly, I think that's what all the term is now.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Unintended Consequences

"Unintended" and "consequences" are two words in the English language that we understand pretty well on their own. Further, modifying the noun "consequences" with the adjective "unintended" is pretty simple to understand. But when you see the words "unintended consequences" together, you aren't looking at a noun you understand modified in an understandable way by an adjective you understand. You are looking at technical jargon, and it doesn't mean what you think it means.

Today, Don Pittis wrote a piece for the CBC on the unintended consequences of meddling in the housing market. It spells out various things that could happen if you try to reduce housing prices with government intervention. Everything from popping the bubble to creating a rental shortage. I might stop to point out that popping the bubble is actually the intended effect of the policy, and a rental shortage is something we already have, but as I said, neither "unintended" nor "consequences" mean what you think they mean here.

"Unintended consequences" means, "I'll apply confirmation bias to pretend that any bad outcomes were things I predicted." "Unintended consequences" means, "I've generalized from the fact that government sometimes intervention causes problems to the position that not only does it always cause problems but that the problems are always worse than the problem it was trying to solve." "Unintended consequences" means "at some point in the future, something will go badly, and when it does, we will use our position as experts to retaliate against you for this move by saying it is your fault."

That last one is made explicit in the article, where the Ontario government is essentially threatened that they will lose elections if they intervene in housing markets. Which is a little like predicting Halloween will be on October 31 if they intervene in housing markets, true in classical logic but extremely misleading in English.

The only prediction worth anything on the list is the point that targeting housing prices in Toronto may simply spread the problem to another part of the country, like police cleaning up a notorious drug-buying corner to find that the next block over is the new notorious drug-buying corner. Of course this doesn't argue against intervening, it simply argues against pin-point intervention and for consistent widespread intervention.

If economists used the term "unintended consequences" to mean results that we didn't mean to happen, they might notice that the current problem in the housing market is an unintended consequence of the kinds of markets they advocate for. I don't think it was the intention of any economist advocate of markets that houses big cities would have houses that no one can afford to live in, that literally sit empty because their purchasers don't care if they are put to and use. That's a tremendous inefficiency from any perspective. But it's also an outcome of a system were money takes precedence over things that are actually of use to people - where our metric of well-being has become more important than actual well-being.

But this isn't just a screed against economics. Every time I hear someone talk about this problem I see they've failed to grasp the essential underpinnings of it. The point of capitalism is that people with more money are supposed to have things better than people with less money. People talk about how a family in Toronto can't afford a detached home anymore but they have no idea how much they think that home should cost or how much money that working family should make. People talk about how people should have housing "choices" but they haven't thought through what that means. The market is going to provide you with a choice of this $1.5M home or that $1.5M home, not a choice of whether you have $1.5M to spend.

I like the idea of a vacant home tax because it's an expression of society's interest in land being put to use. I really dislike the idea of a foreign buyers tax because it's an expression of society's idea that it's the non-white people who are to blame.

But if we think it is absurd that a person can decide to sit on homes, leaving them totally unused, as an investment the same way a person might sit on gold or famous works of art, then what we really ought to do is be seizing properties. Not without notice, and not without them being empty for a substantial time, but a vacant home tax is society saying, "You can do that as long as we get a cut," when we should have a law that says, "You can't do that." The "unintended consequence" of this would be a sudden collapse in the value of investment properties, and the "unintended consequence" of that would be that in the future people wouldn't think it was a good idea to invest their money in empty homes. The only way to prevent the spread of the contagion is to make the current investors take a bath.

I've got nothing against Don Pittis who I think does fine work. But I was actually being quite generous when I called "unintended consequences" jargon. Jargon is a term for language that means something specific or technical when used in a particular field or setting. This isn't jargon, it's a coded phrase. Depending on whose saying it, it is either a religious mantra or a veiled threat. It doesn't really mean anything, it is an example of performative language, trying to achieve the outcome of increasing the standing of the speaker.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Sex in the Witness Box, but Only if Necessary

An Ontario couple has just set an incredible new legal precedent: You can adopt a child and co-parent the children with their birth mother even if you aren't having sex. Crazy I know.

I think this is probably the kind of breakdown of traditional marriage that opponents of gay marriage were worried about. Once marriage is no longer about a man and a woman, what's next, will parenting children cease to be about having relations with a co-parent? Or, in the event that it isn't about doing the nasty with a co-parent, will it cease to be about one partner begrudging the lack of nookie, choosing to bump uglies with someone else and being discovered, all leading to an epic battle that traumatizes the children and leaves them with only one parent?

That's the proper, non-society-threatening way to raise children. Having two moms is an abomination, and having two moms that don't even fadoodle... what is the world coming to?

I read about all this on the CBC this morning, and you can too. If you aren't that interested in personal details about the co-moms and the child, you can skip it since basically that's what the story is about. The child has some very severe disabilities stemming from a knot in their umbilical cord that deprived them of nutrients and oxygen before birth. No matter how irrelevant I feel the disabilities of the child should be, I'm pretty sure they were important to getting the decision these women got - the judge probably saw the importance of the kid having two parents - and may have had a role in this situation coming up in the first place. Future similar cases will be made easier by this empathy-generating circumstance though, so I'll call this a case of bad facts making good law.

I'm glad this happened. It was, I think, predictable, given the current state of the law, but predictable doesn't mean it was easy. If the court had not accepted their application, their only recourse would have been a charter challenge, and that is time consuming and costly. It's easy for me to sit at a distance and say that this ruling made sense, but it is pretty hard to be the one going through it when recognition of your relationship with your child is on the line, despite both parents knowing the law themselves.

The troubling part of the law is the word "conjugal". You have to be in a conjugal relationship with someone to co-adopt a child with them. The google-search dictionary definition of conjugal is "relating to marriage or the relationship of a married couple," but colloquially I'm pretty sure it's more like, "relating to joining paunches or the relationship of people who are playing at rantum-scantum." Legally I guess there is some case law on the matter, but basically you have to ask yourself - if you moved to live together and you are raising a child together, I'd say that is related to the relationship of a married couple, though it isn't one. That somehow adding some night physics to the relationship would suddenly make it sufficiently like a marriage to count seems pretty weird.

If it were me I'd have been very tempted to take the, "What evidence do you require?" route, where you simply ask the court what evidence is needed to demonstrate that you are willing to fulfill their absurd requirement. Appealing to the courts graces, as these women did, is a much better idea than being openly contemptuous to the law, though. And frankly, the answer to the question is "a sworn statement" not "nug-a-nug in the witness box" so it's not really that defiant or even funny.

People who are married can surely confirm that horizontal refreshment isn't really the defining factor. Dancing the Paphian jig sometimes falls out of marriage and yet the marriage continues. Yet somehow the fact that two partners have - at some point in the past - arrived at the end of a sentimental journey together remains a requirement for the relationship that isn't at all about that to be considered conjugal.

This ruling doesn't change the law, the court simply made the ruling in the best interests of the child. What I think it does do is open things up for people to argue that a relationship can be conjugal without any houghmagandy involved. This matches literally everyone's common sense about what marriage is. Two people who live together, sleep in the same bed, raise children together, visit one another extended families on holidays and share finances are an awful lot more like a married couple than flatmates who occasionally have benefits when they are drunk.

So hooray. Hooray for the now-official mom of her now-official son. Hooray for a boy whose future is considerably less vulnerable and uncertain if something unfortunate befalls his birth parent. Hooray, if applicable, for any new grandparents involved who previously probably had to use multi-sentence phrases to explain the relationship they had to the kid. And hooray for the continued degradation of traditional marriage, and its replacement with an actually useful social construct which may or may not include fucking.