Archive for December, 2016

Final Vacation Status …

December 31, 2016

So, my vacation is now pretty much over except for the crying, and so I can look back on it and see what I managed to do:

What worked in the last half? I finished watching Charmed, sorted out all of my Legendary cards, got well ahead on the blog, ripped most of my CDs over to a USB drive so I can listen to them at work (and drown out the stereo swearers on either side of me [grin]) and watched all of the Captain America movies, the Avengers movies, and Deadpool (twice). I also did a fair bit of cooking over it, defrosted my freezer and shoveled snow as appropriate.

What didn’t work in the last half? I did no writing, no programming and played no games except for sessions of Pinball Arcade. I also didn’t do all that much other housework.

Other than the blog — which is well ahead — I didn’t get much done over the break that I really wanted to do while I was in my busy streak. That being said, I’m content with what I got done, as a lot of what I did get done was more useful or beneficial. As an example, watching Charmed would have taken me about four months in my regular schedule, and I’m not sure that I would have been able to take it for that long, but at least now I can say that I finished it. And the other things can be done once I go back to work as well.

Overall, it was an okay vacation.

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Did I Ever Mention How Much I HATE Appeals to Empathy?

December 30, 2016

So, over at Brute Reason, Miri is talking about how liberals failed to empathize with conservatives, which to sum up is essentially that they didn’t realize that conservatives really were terrible, evil, racist and sexist bigots out to hurt women, LGBT people and blacks/people who are not white even if it meant that they lost in the bargain. It’s how she justifies this that I want to talk about here, because she appeals to, you guessed it, empathy. And not only empathy, but her own super-duper special ability of empathy that can cut right through all the clutter and get at what these people are really thinking.

I know this because I listen to right-wingers and read what they write.

And because I have a relatively high empathic ability, which I train for hours each day in the course of my job, I can actually put myself right into a hypothetical conservative’s shoes and see why they’d feel what they feel given the beliefs that they have. If I had those beliefs, I would also feel (and vote) the way they do.

And when I put myself in the headspace of a white conservative, and run a simulation in my mind of their beliefs and values, their support for Trump and other Republicans makes complete sense to me.

So, the question is: how does she know that she’s right? How does she know that they really have the beliefs that she’s imputing to them, and that she’s not importing other beliefs and values that she has into the simulation and thus coming to a conclusion that works for her? It seems to me that believing that these people actually were bigots and thus it’s not that the Democrats and liberals failed to address reasonable concerns has some potential benefit to her mental image of herself and liberals and Democrats, and so doesn’t she have to be concerned that she’s coming to the conclusion that she likes best rather than the one that’s really true? So, then, on what basis can she argue that her empathy-based rationale is, in fact, the correct one?

Well, she can’t really do it on the basis of her past history and training. As I’ve talked about repeatedly on this blog, simulation and empathy break down when the person you are trying to simulate/empathize with is, in fact, radically different from yourself. It’s a lot easier to empathize with people who are mostly like you than it is with people who are completely different from you, which is one if the reasons I despise using empathy to determine things like moral obligations. So, in the past it might well be the case that her successes with empathy were due to similarities or even a limited scope than with superior empathic ability. Additionally, as a therapist she is in a position to fall for confirmation bias, where she can assume that her conclusions are always correct, and that when she succeeds it’s because she got the conclusions based on empathy right, and when she fails it’s not because her empathy failed, but for other reasons, including that they were deluding themselves into thinking that she was wrong about those empathic conclusions. So she needs an objective way to tell if her empathy is working in these cases.

She also can’t do it by appealing to the argument that it makes the results of this election make sense, or that it in fact predicted a number of things in the past. It’s way too easy to make any theory fit past facts, and the sample size is too small anyway. This would then run the risk of her rationalizing the results to fit her theory, and also run the risk of her missing another explanation that would explain the results equally well if not better.

So, how would you go about determining if your empathy is working or not in a specific case, if you can appeal to history with other groups, and you can’t appeal to predictions? Well, typically, the easiest way is to ask them if you’re getting it right. Sure, you can do long-term predictions, where you predict what the person will do over a number of relevant situations and not that your predictions work out, but that’s not what we have here. So Miri, then, ought to look at what conservatives say and determine if her views of their beliefs and values and actions really works.

Unfortunately, when it comes to discussing how to have actual empathy towards conservatives, she actually neatly cuts herself off from any such testing:

1. We take them seriously.

When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

2. We learn to read and listen critically.

On the other hand, we can’t take people’s statements so literally and interpret them so shallowly that we fail to understand what they actually mean.

Which essentially means — or at least runs the risk of meaning — that when they say things that align with your theory, believe them, and when they don’t, then they “really” mean something else. This is a recipe for never having to or being able to correct any misconceptions, because every time they tell you you’re getting it wrong you read out the code words and interpret them in line with those misconceptions. You can do this if, in fact, you already do know that you are interpreting them correctly, but Miri does not and cannot know that. Given this, she tries to make some arguments on that basis, but she isn’t careful to separate what she knows and believes from what they know and believe. Take this part:

There’s little evidence that they voted “against their interests,” because as much of a failure as Trump will be at improving their economic circumstances, that wasn’t the only interest they had. They were also very interested in reducing the number of people of color (especially Muslims) in the United States, maintaining Christianity as the dominant American value system, making sure that women don’t take what isn’t theirs, and preventing LGBTQ people from further corrupting American culture. They accomplished all of this and more by electing Trump.

Sure, many of them shot themselves in the foot economically in order to do that. But there’s nothing surprising about it. Psychological research (which I unfortunately can’t find right now, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt) suggests that people may willingly lose money in order to harm someone that they want to harm.

But even if we take it as a given that electing Trump does shoot them in the foot economically, we’d still have to establish that they knew and believed that it would when they elected him. If they really thought that he was their best choice economically and that their economic health was the most important thing to him, then Miri’s analysis here fails. And this holds even if Trumps platform wasn’t perfect; they would be voting for what they perceive to be the best, not what is a) actually the best and b) what is perfect or ideal. Heck, a number of liberals thought that Clinton was far from perfect, but thought that she was the best option; the same courtesy ought to be extended to conservatives, methinks.

So, again, we have potential confounds in Miri’s claim to be properly empathizing with conservatives, and she’s shut herself off from any possible evidence that could overturn those confounds.

And then we get into identity politics:

Conservatives don’t simply believe that climate change is a hoax; they really, really need to believe that climate change is a hoax. If they stop believing that climate change is a hoax, they will lose part of their sense of who they are, not to mention cause conflict with their friends and family and also start fearing that we’re all literally going to die. That’s some powerful motivation to keep believing that climate change is a hoax. Avoiding cognitive dissonance is a much stronger drive than your calm and reasoned arguments can possibly provide.

Okay, two questions here:

1) How does Miri know that climate change being a hoax is actually part of their identity and their sense of who they are?

2) Even if she’s right, how is it that a specific matter of fact became so critical to their identity?

Any matter of fact does not become part of one’s identity naturally. If people think that opposing climate change is part of their identity, it likely became so as the result of other commitments, beliefs, and identities that they have. One obvious one here is the idea that stopping climate change is a liberal position, and opposing it is a conservative one. If they see themselves critically as conservatives, then of course they’d make opposing climate change part of their identity. But this would only be because they identify as conservatives, and climate change is seen as something critically part of the identity of conservatives and individuals. Thus, if this is correct, then one could make great strides in changing that by decoupling the issue from the liberal/conservative divide. After all, there’s no inherent reason why positions on climate change would be necessarily liberal or conservative positions; there would be conservative or liberal approaches to combating it once people accept that it is happening. So turning it back into a matter of fact as opposed to a political football seems like a good start.

And all of that presumes that they do see it as an integral part of their identity, as opposed to simply not being convinced by those claiming that it exists.

Ultimately, Miri claims to really understand Trump supporters, but has no way of testing her conclusions or demonstrating that they are correct. All she has is her belief in empathy, which could very easily be impacted by her own beliefs, and that she’s built up a strong framework to defend no matter what evidence is adduced against her. Thus, empathy pretends to be objective while, really, being far more subjective than it should be. If anyone wants to claim that they are right based on “proper empathy”, the minimum reaction ought to be being skeptical, if not being outright hostile.

Final Thoughts: Knights of the Fallen Empire

December 28, 2016

This story arc was of such quality that not only am I going to cancel my subscription to “The Old Republic”, but I’m hesitant to try the next Mass Effect or Dragon Age game in case it turns out the same way.

(more…)

Notes on “Ancillary Trilogy”

December 26, 2016

“Ancillary Justice”:

First Reading: 100 pages in (after leader arrives in the flashback):

– Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: the use of “she” as the third person personal pronoun. I don’t really see the point of it. It does require some mental gymnastics — which I avoid most of the time — to translate it all out, especially when you get phrases like “she was definitely male”. So it’s a bit of a burden on the reader. If you put a burden on the reader, you have to make sure it pays off, or else you risk them giving up on the work or disliking it for the extra work they have to do. The problem is that I don’t see what using “she” actually does so far. If Leckie wanted to reverse the typical presumption of the male personal pronoun, then a) someone’s almost certainly already done that and b) that doesn’t come across because we don’t use the male personal pronoun when referring to a specific person. So since it does more than that, it’s not a good way of presenting another viewpoint. Additionally, given the circumstances, using Shale’s “it” would work better: the AI would be thought of and referred to as a thing, and so by it, and yet that’s how the consciousness would have learned to refer to persons. This then would play into the struggles to pretend to be or act human, as it would refer to people as if they were things, but then people would be genuinely offended by that. Referring to them by the wrong gendered pronoun isn’t anywhere near as off-putting. And doing this would avoid the “she was clearly male” lines.

Now, what I find myself doing here is assuming that every character is female, and so the point might be to get people doing just that, and so again challenging the male presumption. However, an easier way to do that would have been to simply make all the characters female, especially if specific gender doesn’t make a difference (and so far it doesn’t seem to). So this is a bit of an awkward structure that doesn’t seem likely to have a big payoff in the series. But maybe it will later.

– The story is somewhat interesting, but the backstory sections are so long and detailed compared to the present day details that so far the present day seems like an aside to that story … and it isn’t clear yet how the two are actually related. So, so far, they don’t seem to be. And being 100 pages in should mean that I have a better idea why the two stories matter to each other.

– So far, though, the book is a solid “Meh”.

Second reading: 200 pages in (after Severeiden)

– It might be just my imagination, but it seems to me that the nastiest characters are all eventually identified as male …

– The use of “she” still gets confusing — especially when Leckie mixes in people using “proper” gendered pronouns — and doesn’t seem to fit the civilization. How is it that their genderless pronoun came to be what we would consider the female one? This would be an interesting exploration that is, so far, completely ignored.

– World building is lax. 200 pages into the first book, I should understand more about the culture that’s driving the plot events than I do. Butcher’s book did this so much better (and I still found it a bit lacking).

– Events drag.

– Severeiden seems to be a pointless addition. The scenes with that character were short, the character didn’t contribute to much if anything in them, and ending it here seems to be an attempt at character building that doesn’t build character. Given that these scenes were also the least interesting of the two and featured the least interesting secondary characters, it would have been better to just document the journey to Strigen and have the conversations there.

– Awn is an interesting character, but the scenes after the massacre drag.

– Still in the “Meh” category, which is a boon after “Seveneves”.

Third Reading: Up to Chapter 20.

– I still think it would have been better to have done the race like the Asari, all female, using only artificial means for reproduction. Some sort of disease that wiped out all the men could demand it and make sense of the use of the female pronoun, plus having no idea of what identifiers identified gender.

– There are interesting scenes and some action, but it drags and the conversations meander. If we cared more, we might sit through the ruminations, but as it is the conversations definitely seem to meander too much.

– The risk with Seivarden is that making a character that the protagonist hates might cause us to hate them, too … and since Seivarden is an important cog in this part, that might mean disliking this part.

– I’m 300 pages in … has anything happened yet? Sure, it’s the first book in a trilogy, but it’s building up too quickly to carry this one story the entire trilogy, and yet nothing has HAPPENED in this story.

Fourth Reading: End “Ancillary Justice”

– From reading this and reading the blurbs for the last two … ah, this is THAT kind of trilogy, where we follow the adventures of one character in a new world with its own problems. Given that … the book fails. Breq is an interesting enough character, but the book neither builds the characters or world enough to serve as a sufficient introduction to the world. Again, we are left wondering why all of this matters and is important. The structure of it itself is confusing, and while it might be meant to be Breq itself doesn’t really seem to be. Which side are we supposed to be cheering for? Breq hates them all, and yet is still sucked into being a captain to make things better? Really? Seivarden moves from pathetic to suddenly exceptionally competent, just in time to drive those plot points.

– The plot points and character points often get buried under what seeming is supposed to be clever banter, or internal ruminations. But the banter is generally not clever because it doesn’t really GO anywhere. It meanders too much to work as exposition but doesn’t have the consequences to work as verbal fencing.

– Overall: As the first book in a trilogy, it doesn’t really work because it doesn’t leave an interesting enough conflict to drive us to read the next book in the series. It’s all driven by wanting to read more of the series itself and more about that character, which is hampered by the lack of interesting plot or character conflicts and the idiosyncratic “she” pronouns; it’s harder for me to work through the book because I either treat all characters as women or have to consciously remind myself who’s who, but the characters and plots and world aren’t interesting enough to make me want to do that extra work. As a standalone work, it’s a “Meh”, as the plot and the resolution to it are too quick, and the fact that the main character is interesting doesn’t overcome that.

“Ancillary Sword”

First Reading: 100 pages in

– Why is this book Ancillary Sword and the next one Ancillary Mercy when in this one the main character captains a Mercy? Progressing the character from a Justice to a Mercy and finally to a Sword makes sense and reflects planning, and then the titles reflecting that would give us a nice sense of that progression.

– Why is Breq still alive? The leader doesn’t trust Breq at all, Breq is willfully defiant, and cannot be trusted at all to do what the leader wants. Surely there’s a way to get through that armour, even if by surprise or with poison. Or blowing the entire ship out of space, which the leader is certainly ruthless enough to do. What does Breq bring to the table that makes them so valuable, other than being the viewpoint character?

– Breq is WAY too competent for this, defusing almost everything interesting with knowledge or skills or whatever. For example, Breq foils the leader’s insertion plan by seemingly knowing about it from the start. More time working out the puzzle would have made the resolution more entertaining, but instead it’s just a quick “Oh, rip the implants out and we’re done”, and everything is mostly settled. One of the more interesting plots is resolved in about 20 pages. That’s … not good.

– Is it Leckie’s intent that I find it so easy to ignore any thoughts of presentation and real physical gender and just picture all of the characters as female, given the pronoun? The bad thing about that is that when she tries to talk about presentation or real physical gender I get annoyed, both because I don’t care and second because it drags me out of the story for a bit while I briefly wonder if I should care and adjust my mental model. Since it almost never DOES matter, I’m getting better and better at simply ignoring those parts and getting back into the work. That doesn’t seem like an attitude that justifies Leckie’s move to deliberately do it … and leaves me thinking that having all of the main citizens BE all female would have been so much better than what she’s doing here.

Second Reading: After translator killed

– Leckie sets up the translator in a brief scene before killing her. This is a constant flaw in this series, as things happen WAY too quickly to be interesting.

– The pacing is relatively good; the book moves quickly so you’re never really bored reading things. However, nothing really happens, so we have a lot of conversations that are detailed and often interminable that don’t work for either plot advancement, character development, or verbal fencing.

– This might have worked better as a political work than as … whatever this is. At least then all the conversations could be reworked and cast as verbal fencing and political maneuvering, which we don’t really have here.

Third Reading: After the greenhouse goes boom

– Leckie tries to add in romantic and sexual relationships here. This is both awkward given her pronouning and is, in fact, still mostly irrelevant, so it gets in the way of the story.

– About the only thing of interest learned here is the overall corruption of at least the system, and perhaps of the entire empire … but it would have been better to show that in the earlier books instead of focusing so much on the protagonist’s backstory. Since we’ll be with this protagonist for the entire series, certain aspects of the history could have been brought out later.

– It might pay off later, but so far the translator’s death seems to be nothing more than an excuse to get them down to the planet.

– Because the culture hasn’t been established yet, all of the mourning requirements seem like things pulled out to allow Leckie to get the main character into the situations she needs her to be in. As I’m over half-way through the series, this is not the time to try to introduce stuff like that.

– The dishes thing was a cute aside at first. At this point, it’s just WAY overdone.

– It’s interesting that I considered Rhegaud (the abuser) to be male. I’m not sure if Leckie said that or if I’ve been so conditioned to think of abusers as male and the abused as female. If Leckie had made a big deal of this and inverted it — the abused is biologically male and the abuser is biologically female — then that whole pronoun thing might have paid off. It might still be the case — I can’t remember what she said and am not going to look back to look it up — but it needed to be highlighted more to allow for a revelation. But the structure of the book itself doesn’t allow for it.

Fourth Reading: End.

– The supports breaking between the Garden and Undergarden was WAY too convenient. Just because you set something up and make references to it doesn’t mean that it can’t be seen as being too convenient, especially if it works to the advantage of the protagonist (working against them just gets classified as “Everything always happens at the worst possible times). And here it meant that Station wouldn’t hesitate to intervene and wouldn’t worry about risking the life of the hostage.

– So, about page 200 – 220 or so, another ship was introduced with another Fleet Captain, which I recall wanted to take over command. What happened with that?

– The resolution of the bombing and the Captain’s plan and ring again was too quick to matter.

– Breq, the protagonist, is too competent for good drama. Conspiracies don’t work because she figures them out too quickly and is hardly ever if ever surprised, and she somehow always knows everything before anyone else does, even if it relies on having information that we are not really given. As a first-person work, it would be better if she struggled a bit with this. But as she’s so competent every move is met by “I knew that, and I know what I’ll do next, and everyone will do what I want and what I expect.” This gets very boring.

– I’m getting sick of this series.

Ancillary Mercy:

Pre-book thoughts: The final book in a trilogy has to wrap up all the loose ends. But I’m not sure there ARE any really interesting loose ends that NEED to be tied up. Sure, the ancillary civil war might be one, but if it stayed in a detente that would be reasonable; do we REALLY expect Breq to be able to settle all of that? I guess the Praesger issue might be one, but they’ve been an aside for two books now, and so only rate as a complication that we might not have needed. Breq has seemingly resolved relations with Awn’s sister here, so that’s gone away, and neither Seivarden’s nor Tsarwart’s stories are interesting enough for us to care about their resolutions. And there’s not much of an arc to complete with Breq either, so her going on as before would work as well. I think the first two books did not really do much to help the last one turn out well … and, as I said, as I’m starting to get sick of the series because of the second book they might have actually very much hurt it.

First Reading: 100 pages in

– A third of the way through the last book, and it seems like Leckie is still stage setting. All of that should have been done by now.

– Leckie lampshades Breq always being right, but dismisses it. Lampshading something does not make it go away.

– Leckie reminds us of the other Fleet Captain only to do nothing about it in the first third of the book.

– The big issue here is that everything has been a background event in the previous two novels. The Civil War has been in the background, the Undergarden has been in the background, the Praesger have been in the background, Serivarden has been in the background, Breq has been in the background, the ship AIs have been in the background, and so on and so forth. So up to this point, all this book can do is talk about background events that we don’t really care about. But this is a clear flaw in the work because things that could be serious are treated dismissively. The new Translator shows up early in the book but only acts strangely up until now. The other palace falls, ships might arrive from the “other” leader … and when they arrive Breq merely comments to keep an eye on them and that she’ll be back in a couple of days. Leckie makes a big deal of the Ship in the Ghost Gate … but then the reaction to finding one of those ancillaries is “Give it a job”. We don’t care about Seivarden’s arc and relationships because it hasn’t been brought up much in the other books. And Leckie can’t get us to care about the kef recovery because most of the time it’s irrelevant and Leckie only brings it up when she wants to talk about Seivarden having “emotional turmoil” that requires medication. We don’t care about Tiswart’s issues because, again, they’ve only been background. This is a prime example of a work that seems to want to express ideas but doesn’t want to actually do anything with them, explore them, or make an interesting story out of them.

– Two examples: 1) Leckie talks about how bulky and beautiful Celar is, which could be an attempt to go after “fat shaming” … except that we don’t have any actual context for it, Leckie herself doesn’t focus on it, and so we are unaffected one way or the other. We don’t really know — or care — about how that alien humanity judges beauty. Also, Leckie talks about AI issues at the end here, and about making the Station AI control itself completely … but it is too late to RAISE those issues, and besides there doesn’t seem to be much potential for a pay-off here. If the AIs were presented as being the only rational agents that might be able to take over, rule, and govern, then you’d have the interesting dilemma of releasing them and risking them having a completely different view than humans, and so risk vs reward. But it’s clear that other than caring about their own inhabitants a lot, they aren’t any better than anyone else, not more competent, more caring, more honest, or anything like that. Their short-sightedness makes them unqualified to lead, and they are just too much like the humans to replace them. So bringing it up here adds an idea that can’t be explored properly to an already cluttered set of ideas. Again, expressing ideas but doing nothing with them.

Second Reading: 200 pages in.

– Were we supposed to cheer and be impressed and happy when Seivarden apologized to the other lieutenant? It’s been a sideshow the entire time, an aside, an afterthought. Why should we care?

– Gee, that gun can destroy entire ships! Maybe there’ll be a problem with it being used! That will come up in the last 100 pages! Meh.

– There might have been some drama and excitement around finally confronting the other leader’s forces, but it went way too quickly and then got buried under the internal conversations that went no where and weren’t that interesting.

Third Reading: To end.

– And nothing got resolved at all. Sure, nothing needed to, but it leaves the last book with nothing at all to do.

– Small spaces of dramatic action buried under interminable, pointless conversations.

– The final “resolution” is all the worse from being blind luck — Translator and the other ship would have had to come with her for it to work, but she had to think it up during the shuttle ride — rather than from her exceptional and unbelievable competence … especially since it still required incredible competence for her to pull off the arguments.

– Leckie hinted at the issues with mistreating non-Significant species before, but never explained anything about it. So we have no idea why the Translator would even go along with any of that.

– The Seivarden sequence continues, but again why in the world would we care?

– Overall: the book is very disappointing, but that’s mostly because the rest of the series fails to give it anything of interest to do.

The tradition continues …

December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

Don’t you mean the readers?

Nope, WordPress still says it’s pretty much just the one.

(Note: the second part of this tradition — my actual stats — should be out around New Year’s, WordPress permitting.)

Encarnacion Leaves Toronto

December 24, 2016

So, a couple of months ago I talked about the Toronto Blue Jays and their free agent considerations. Specifically, I said that they wanted to keep Edwin Encarnacion and didn’t want to keep Jose Bautista. They qualified both players, and both declined the qualifying offer. At the beginning of the free agent seasons, the Blue Jays offered Encarnacion a 4-year, $80 million deal, which he declined. Soon after Encarnacion turned down their offer, they signed Kendrys Morales, making a return to Toronto for Encarnacion difficult. Not long after, they also signed Steve Pearce, which made it pretty much impossible. On the Bautista front, there doesn’t seem to be much action, although Bautista has said that he wants to come back to Toronto. Finally, Encarnacion signed with Cleveland for a deal with roughly the same money per year as the one Toronto offered, but potentially less term (it’s 3 years guaranteed with a buyout option on the fourth year).

So, what happened? From listening to and reading all of the various discussions, it seems to me that the Jays put together a fair offer for Encarnacion that he thought he might be able to beat, and so he replied to the Jays not that he wanted more money or term, but that he wanted to test the free agency waters and see what he could get first. The Blue Jays didn’t want to wait for someone who might walk, especially since the DH position is one that’s theoretically easier to fill; Encarnacion was a great DH and a clutch one at times, but in general you can even platoon DH and do reasonably well. There are less qualifications and considerations in a DH, and they don’t even have to be power hitters; good on-base with speed works well as well. So rather than risk losing Encarnacion and losing out on Morales, they quickly signed Morales, who gave them some options that they needed. Then, as it dragged on a bit, they signed Pearce who also gives them more options. Meanwhile, Encarnacion waited for offers that, it seems, never came. Some of the big teams that might have been interested weren’t, and so he had to settle for what he could get.

I think the big issue here was that early in the process — and even late — Encarnacion’s camp was talking about how he wanted to test the market, while later in the process there was more talk about how he always wanted to come back to Toronto. He might well have wanted that, but saying that he wanted to test the waters made the Jays fear that they’d lose him anyway, and would put other acquisitions on hold. If he had made it clearer that the Jays were his first choice if they could match the market value, they might have waited longer … although they might have believed that they’d be priced out of the market value anyway, and still moved. At any rate, it’s hard not to believe that Encarnacion’s side over-valued the market and so ended up with a worse deal and not in the city that he says he wanted to stay in.

As for Bautista, the Jays still need a corner outfielder, and he is now talking like he’s turned down deal just because they didn’t come from Toronto. However, I think the Jays believe that Bautista isn’t really capable of playing in the field, and they don’t have room at DH for him, and so I don’t think they have much interest in him, no matter what he says. About the only benefit now is to avoid ticking the fans off by losing both fan favourite free agents after losing Price last season, and his bat is still strong enough to make that potentially a risk worth taking. But I don’t really expect it unless it’s a really good deal; don’t expect the Jays to overpay for Bautista.

Shame, shame …

December 23, 2016

Stephanie Zvan made a post about a Twitter storm about how shaming is a good and proper thing. It will likely surprise no one that I’m not a big fan of “shaming” as an attempt to change the minds of people or to influence their behaviour. But one of the biggest problems with her post is that she is justifying something that doesn’t actually look a lot like “shaming” at all, and is much, much worse. Let me start by outlining some typical forms of “shaming”, essentially using the emotion of shame to motivate people.

First, you can “shame” by proving to someone that their actions are improper, which triggers a feeling of shame inside them, which they then use as motivation to correct their actions, either by changing their behaviour in the future or, most commonly if you’re using shame in any way, to make restitution for what their actions caused. While this is generally benign, being Stoic-leaning I don’t approve of it. The reason is the heart of Stoic morality: one ought to be able to determine rationally and strictly from arguments what restitution — if any — one needs to make. Knowing that, one should feel sufficient motivation to do right by the love of the right, and so not need any other emotion as motivation. But if one relies on shame as the motivation, then one’s main goal is to eliminate that feeling of shame in themselves. However, the emotion of shame doesn’t have to align with what is indeed right and proper. So if the main goal is to eliminate that feeling, the person will likely pick the options that will eliminate that feeling in themselves the fastest. But the restitution that they really do need to make may not do that the fastest, and in fact may not do that at all. So, in the end, it comes down to the idea that if someone really knows what they did wrong and knows what they need to do to make up for it, then they don’t need to emotion to spur themselves to do it, and if they don’t really know what they did wrong or what they need to do to make up for it, they can’t ensure that what the feeling of shame is promoting is the right thing to do. Thus, shame is superfluous at best and wrong at worst.

Which leads to the second form of “shaming”. This is where someone tries to instill the emotion of shame in someone in order to convince them that they are wrong, by essentially triggering the emotion and then arguing that if they feel shame then they must be wrong. This, of course, completely short-circuits actual reasoning, and so runs the risk of convincing them that they are wrong when they are right. So, as a tool — and Zvan wants shaming to be used as a tool — this can only be used when you are certain that you are right and when actually arguing for your position isn’t going to work. But as this short-circuits reasoning, it’s incredibly dangerous, especially since shame isn’t all that great an emotion at picking things out in the world. While almost all emotions depend on the person for their triggering, shame is actually even more dependent on that, because at best it’s triggered by a subconscious reaction of “I’m wrong and bad” … which depends greatly on what the person thinks is wrong or bad. If one finds a “universal trigger” where by appealing to certain emotions — or empathetic connections — they can trigger shame, then they can use that to justify any proposition. And if they can’t, then this sort of shaming will work better on people who already align with your idea of what is good and bad. Either way, you cut reason out of the picture entirely, which is not a good thing and, generally, not what people who want people to act on the basis of reason and evidence ought to way.

However, Zvan is going for another type of “shaming” here:

Shame is that emotion that tells us we’re failing our tribe. We’re not living up to our part of the social contract.

I’d love to see where she gets that definition from, because typically shame is the emotion that tells us, as I said above that we’ve done something wrong. That might align with “tribal” ideas, but it doesn’t have to.

However, Zvan admits that she’s not using the standard definition:

Some people may use a different word for this. I tend to consider that the kind of language drift that happens when we declare a concept unacceptable. I’m sticking with “shame” just like I stick with “privilege”.

In short: I’m totally aware that almost no one uses the word that way, but I’m sticking with it anyway. For reasons.

Let me use one of those other words to highlight what’s wrong with that idea: honour. And I’ll quote from Aaron Alston’s “Starfighters of Adumar” to show the issue:

…Balass ke Rassa finally summed it up in a way that pleased Wedge: “If I understand, General, you are saying that a pilot’s honor is internal. Between him and his conscience. Not external, for his peers to see”

“That’s right, ” Wedge said. “That’s it exactly.”

“But if you do not externalize it, you cut yourself off from your nation,” Balass said. “When you do wrong, your peers cannot bring you back in line by stripping away your honor, allowing you to regain it when you resume proper behavior.”

“True,” Wedge said. “But by the same token, a group of people you respect, even though they don’t deserve it, can’t redefine honor for their own benefit, or to achieve some private agenda, and then use it to control your actions.”

Zvan wants shame to be something triggered based on external rather than internal considerations: you feel shame when you don’t do what the tribe or society expects you to do. But Balass has a point here as well, in that if shame is only what you feel when you personally think something is wrong then there’s no way for someone to “prove” that you’re wrong, and then correct your thinking. The solution to this conundrum is to drop the “external vs internal” dichotomy, and instead note that shame or honor must be objective. I should feel shame or lose honor based on objective standards. In short, shameful or dishonorable behaviour must have an objective standard to appeal to. That way, if I think I ought not feel shame for something and someone else does, I can appeal to those objective reasons to prove it to them, and they must provide objective reasons why I’m wrong. In theory, the evidence then would decide who is right. But “shaming” typically sets aside reasoning to instead invoke emotions, either the emotion that you have done wrong, or for Zvan the fear of being cut off from society. And that’s incredibly dangerous, as outlined above.

Now, Zvan both claims that shaming is powerful and yet weak:

Shame is one of the most powerful social tools we have.

If you look me in the face and call shame “making you” do something, I will laugh at you. That’s your conscience talking, dude.

Now, this would be fair to say about the first two notions of “shaming” outlined above, as all they do is try to trigger someone’s conscience to get them to act in certain ways. But in order to invoke the fear that one is going to be excluded from or has been excluded from society based on their actions, the threat of exclusion has to be plausible. Whether they agree with society or not, they have to feel that society is going to push them out and remove all of the benefits and protections they enjoy from being a part of society. So, either Zvan is bluffing and can’t really exclude people, or she is indeed making people act the way she wants them to under the threat of societal exclusion. But either way, the threat is what’s doing the work in her form of “shaming”, not the person’s conscience.

As she confirms:

Shame can paralyzing. That’s because it signals that your participation in society is at risk.

If you want shame to work, to change behavior, shunning can’t be automatic. There has to be a way back based on the behavior you want.

Which also makes the link to the shunning used in the honor example above.

No individual is responsible for allowing people back into their society, but someone has to do it. The person who chooses to holds power.

If you can decide to accept someone back after bad behavior, you become a gatekeeper. That may not be an option or what you want, but….

Which is the problem with using shunning as a tool, and leads right to Wedge’s comment: the “gatekeepers” become the ones who get to decide what constitutes shame or dishonor, and so use that to promote their own agendas: right or wrong, conscious or not. Zvan herself tries to use shaming in the tweets:

Shame is one of the most powerful social tools we have. If someone isn’t hurting people, leave that shit alone. (Yes, I’m applying shame.)

If you put our society at risk? If you make decisions that will kill people, hell, yes, I will shame you. I’ll grind your nose in it.

And if they don’t agree that they are putting society at risk? If they think that either it is the decisions of others that are killing people, and they are demanding too much of them to solve that problem? If they disagree that they are invalidly hurting people? If they argue that you are hurting people? Why are we to assume that your views are the proper ones and theirs are wrong? Why do you get to be the gatekeeper for all of society?

If you can prove that what others are doing are wrong, then all of these concerns go away. But if you don’t and instead rely on social disapproval you run into a couple of issues. First, your method won’t work or will at least be less effective on people who are less reliant on societal approval. If you try to, say, exclude people from social institutions and socializing — by, say, banning them from your comment threads — those who need or care about that less can easily say “I don’t care”. Thus, the social shunning has to be quite strong, and thus often has to be threat to one’s livelihood … which then explains the Social Justice love of trying to get people fired for disagreeing with them. The second issue is that this is defined by what at least most of society agree is worthy of shunning. If you threaten to exclude someone for actions that most of society shrug off, the threat of social exclusion becomes toothless … or, at least, it becomes toothless once someone calls their bluff. And a lot of what we’re seeing in the Social Justice world seem to be cases of people calling the bluff of Social Justice activists. Gamergate, the Hugos, and even Trump are people essentially saying that they will still say what they want — right or wrong — because they don’t think that the shunning side can actually do enough hurt to them for it to matter.

Shunning only works when you can muster enough people that the target cares enough about that excluding them from that group matters to them. If they don’t care, then shunning doesn’t work. At all.

First Thoughts: Knights of the Fallen Empire

December 21, 2016

By the time this post gets posted, I hope to have finished the entire sixteen chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire. I started it early in December, creating a level 60 character based on Isabelle from Babylon 5. A little background on the character:

My original Sith Sorcerer was based on Galen from Crusade and other Babylon 5 works. The general idea was similar to the technomages in Babylon 5: they were cyborgs who were created to serve the Sith and so had implants that allowed them to work or at least appear to work the Force. Galen was the motivating force behind all of my other characters, recruiting them to work to unify the Republic and the Empire, knowing that the violence was pointless and that they’d need to work together to face a larger threat.

At the beginning of Knights of the Fallen Empire, he was busy on a mission so Isabelle took his ship and crew and went after the Emperor, leading to her capture and imprisonment for 5 years before being released. In-game, Galen waits despondently, going about his other duties, waiting for her to send him a message in the Force, as she promised, but hasn’t. So, a lot like the novel series on the technomages.

So, with a background that’s so much more fun than the actual background, what do I think of Knights of the Fallen Empire so far?

Meh.

The Old Republic’s combat, I think we can all agree, is not exactly entertaining. We put up with it to get from place to place and to get the levels and credits and equipment we need to get on with the rest of the game, and we keep moving around to new quests and planets enough that it doesn’t really matter. But we’re at level 60 here. We don’t really need more XP or more credits. I already have about 300,000 credits starting from 0, about half-way through the chapters, and I could get more from one of my other characters. At times, it seems like there’s combat just for the sake of combat here, and that’s the last thing we need in a story like this.

The story is serviceable, but not particularly interesting. It hits a lot of the standard tropes shown in the class stories, and the characters are somewhat interesting, but it really can’t hold a candle to the more focused RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age in that regard. It also moves too quickly to be that interesting as well. We seem to have combat sequences to pad out the time, but that doesn’t leave too much space between story elements for us to be shocked at betrayals.

Ultimately, it’s okay, but it would almost have been better to not do anything if they weren’t prepared to do a full-on KotOR-style RPG. This hybrid of MMORPG and pure RPG-elements doesn’t really work.

Vacation Status …

December 21, 2016

So, I’ve been off on vacation for a few weeks, and am pretty much just past the half-way point. As usual, I had a lot of things that I wanted to get done going in. How am I doing?

The first thing to note is I set a schedule with rough precise times for doing things … and that schedule is completely blown. There are a number of reasons for this. Curling interrupted it for the first week. Snow interrupted a few days. I started watching “Charmed” and other things which cut into the time for other things. The weather wasn’t great and so cut into my schedule outdoor exercise (walking). While the very rough outline of the schedule still works — stuff in the morning, lunch, stuff in the afternoon, quit for the day — in general what was supposed to be happening there, well, isn’t.

This means that I haven’t accomplished much of what I wanted to do.

So have I done anything useful? Well, I did manage to get ahead in blog posts. I also managed to finish reading and commenting on the Hugo Awards (watch for those to come out on Mondays until mid-January). I finished “Knights of the Fallen Empire”. I’m currently on Season 5 of Charmed — watch for comments on the first four seasons to come out right after New Year’s — which is great because if I tried to watch the entire series in my projected available time once I get back to work it would have taken me almost four months. I played Legendary — the card game — twice. I got some walks. I mostly cooked enough for the week every week. I got in my Christmas shopping run (that’s when I got Charmed).

So, then, what’s likely to not get done? I was looking at doing some little programming projects, playing with RAGS and other things. But I don’t think I have the time to get anything useful done before the end of my vacation, and that was the main point of putting a push on that over my vacation. I’ve also not really played video games over my vacation, and so likely won’t finish two runs of Bloodlines, if I even finish one. Right now my fear of having to go through repetitive combat is making me nervous about playing it. I may or may not move on to another game.

So, finally, what’s left? I want to keep pushing to get ahead on the blog, and finish up a few things, like my comments on “Unapologetic” and the latest two videos from Anita Sarkeesian. You won’t see them until mid-January, however. I also wanted to do some writing in terms of short fiction, one of which is a fan fiction, and I still hope to get those done by the end of my vacation. I’d also like to play three other board games — Star Wars Rebellion, A Touch of Evil, and Albion’s Legacy — by the time I go back. And I’d like to be almost finished “Charmed”.

So, so far, so okay. We’ll see how the rest of it goes.

Hugo Award Assessment: Ancillary Mercy

December 19, 2016

The last book in a trilogy has a specific purpose that it must be measured by. The last book in a trilogy needs to wrap up the main plot and character threads in a satisfying way, and so in general it is judged by how well it manages to do that.

“Ancillary Mercy” was betrayed and destroyed by the previous books in the series. They developed absolutely no interesting plot or character threads that in any way required resolution. And a big reason for this is that this entire trilogy is a prime example of a work that simply expresses ideas but fails to develop them.

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