We failed to win a single battle, but we won the war! (Hugo Awards edition)

Well, we went through a lot of popcorn this year, didn’t we?

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I’ve never paid much attention to the Hugo Awards before this year. I read the sci-fi I enjoy and I’ve never cared whether or not it won any awards or not. The only reason I paid any attention this year was because of the extremely unusual events related to the Hugos.

In short, a small group of people and an even smaller group of hardcore trolls decided that they didn’t like the way the Hugo awards were run and decided to use a legitimate but asshole-y tactic of lockstep nominations of a certain slate of books to ensure that they won awards. It turns out that most voters disagreed wildly with their tactics and voted not to give an award when the only nominees were on slates.

John Scalzi posted an excellent recap of the results and I agree with the majority of what he has to say:

The Hugo vote against the Puppy slates was not about politics, or cabals, or one species of science fiction and fantasy over another, no matter what anyone would like you to believe — or at the very least, it wasn’t mostly about those things. It was about small group of people acting like jerks, and another, rather larger group, expressing their displeasure at them acting so.

That’s how I read the results as well. I can’t know the intentions of all the voters, but the ones I’ve spoken to have said much the same thing as Scalzi. One person who read it very, very differently is Lou Antonelli:

They proved Vox Day right when they nuked five of the most important Hugo categories rather than let “the wrong kind of people” win them. He said they’d do that all along, destroying the credibility of the award, and they did.

Let’s do a little analogous thought experiment here.  Here’s a one question, multiple choice quiz:

What is the spiciest food in the world?

A) Wonder Bread

B) White rice

C) Frozen peas

D) A potato

E) None of the Above

For my money, the obvious answer is E and I suspect that’s true for you as well. I do not see how it can possibly damage the integrity of the quiz for most voters to select “None of the above.” Likewise, it is entirely possible, I would even say likely, that in every category where a slate was nominated, the best candidate for the award wasn’t on the ballot. If that’s the case, then the only way to maintain the integrity of the award is to vote “No award.”

And as for “proving Vox Day right…” I suspect Antonelli is aware that literally everything in the world proves Vox Day right. Day is the trollish alter ego of Theodore Beale, who may be a lovely person, but his Day character is a piece of work. He’s not a liar; he goes way beyond that to something I’d call “anti-truth.” If a liar punches you in the face, they might say “I didn’t do it!” An anti-truther would say “No, you punched me in the face!” Day will claim victory no matter the outcome in every event because he’s a persona designed to infuriate people, not to engage in thoughtful debate. As such, he has no commitment to any belief or any facts.

Anyway, the idea of claiming victory when all of your nominees are defeated is a little disingenuous. For that to be the case, then having their candidates walk away with awards would have been a defeat, and that’s just nutty. Even a child would see right through that one.  The awards emerged with their integrity intact and the Puppies roundly (and, for the most part, deservedly) defeated.

That doesn’t mean the Hugos are out of the woods Eric Flint’s post-mortem has some very wise words of warning:

Fact Three. Yes, there is a problem with the Hugo awards, but that problem can be depicted in purely objective terms without requiring anyone to impute any malign motives to anyone else. In a nutshell, the awards have been slowly drifting away from the opinions and tastes of the mass audience, to the point where there is today almost a complete separation between the two. This stands in sharp contrast to the situation several decades ago, when the two overlapped to a great extent. For any number of reasons, this poses problems for the awards themselves. The Hugos are becoming increasingly self-referential, by which I mean they affect and influence no one except the people who participate directly in the process.

This is essentially the complaint of the Sad Puppies before they were co-opted by their Rabid brethren. It’s a valid concern, but I don’t think the fix for a failure to reward popular books with a Hugo is to bulk-nominate even less popular works. That seems to kind of defeat the purpose, doesn’t it?

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Was Ramsey Offside? (Arsenal vs. Liverpool)

Short answer? Yes. Absolutely, demonstrably, yes.

Now, most pundits, as well as referee Graham Poll, say that Ramsey was not offside and that the goal should have stood. They have years and years of experience behind them, but I have geometry and video evidence and there’s really no questioning it: Ramsey was slightly, but unquestionably, offside.

Let’s use the (regrettably low-res) still from the Daily Mail:


This shot is presented as evidence that Ramsey is onside. He appears to be directly level with Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel (or at least Skrtel’s rear end.) Appearances, however, can be deceiving. The lines on the pitch are parallel, but because the camera doesn’t line up with any of them, it’s tricky to determine exactly who is where in relation to each other. For example, the Arsenal player in the foreground appears to be further towards the Arsenal goal than the player on the ball. But…notice that the player on the ball is to the left of the line on the pitch, while the player in the foreground is to the right of it.

In this case, perspective is everything.

Here’s a crop of the area near Aaron Ramsey, blown up 400%. This makes for a lousy image, but it’s better for our purposes:


It still looks as though Ramsey is barely onside and if one didn’t both to correct for perspective, one might think the linesman got it wrong. But how to correct for perspective? I’m going to use the easiest, ugliest way possible. First let’s select the unoccupied area at the bottom of the image.


This is a section of the penalty box line. It is exactly the same angle as the line at the top of the penalty box. Now, let’s hastily and sloppily remove most of the grass:


This is the angle of the line we should be using to determine Ramsey’s position relative to Skrtel. Actually, it should be a little more severe since Skrtel and Ramsey are further away from the center of the camera than the penalty box line, but it’s by a pretty negligible amount. Now, all we need to do is paste this line between Skrtel and Ramsey:


First of all, note that this line is exactly parallel to the penalty box line. The inside of the line touches Skrtel’s rightmost point (nope, I’m not gonna say it.) Then notice that the inside of the line hits Ramsey is to the left or Ramsey’s rightmost point. His shoulder, and part of his chest, are closer to the goal than any part of Skrtel. Let’s go ahead and draw a thin red line and extend it just to be sure:


A line parallel to the penalty box, drawn from the tip of Martin’s Skrtel’s buttocks, goes right through Aaron Ramsey and actually hits him about where his neck meets his shoulder. Based on the photo on the Daily Mail site, Aaron Ramsey is offside.

The reason I chose this simple method was because it’s super-easy to reproduce. I didn’t do anything to create the result I was aiming for. Anyone could do the same thing, and they’d come up with the same result.

Or, if you were lazy, just skew the image 12 degrees to the right to make the penalty box line a vertical line, then drop a vertical line on Skrtel’s kop end:


Same result. Ramsey is slightly offside. Honestly, it’s so close, I don’t know how a linesman could be expected to get it right. I don’t think either club could seriously argue the call. It’s really that close. But, so many people are piling on about the call being “wrong” that I just wanted to point out that the evidence says otherwise: The linesman got it right; Poll and others got it wrong. Ramsey is offside.

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Republican Debates: Good television, good work from Fox, unfortunate group of candidates

Well, that was surprisingly diverting, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting the aggressive nature of the questioning. It wasn’t anything remotely resembling a debate, but it was interesting and, in the end, I think a very profitable evening for the GOP. I think Fox did a good job working with a group of candidates ranging from mediocre to bizarre. Yeah, I said it: Fox did a good job.

Megyn Kelly was the biggest winner, in my not even a little bit humble opinion. She’s the only Fox employee who can ask tough questions of Republicans and get away with it (who can forget her withering remarks to Karl Rove on election night?). The tactic of asking difficult questions of the candidates this early in the campaign cycle is, in my opinion, a slyly clever strategy. It gets the candidates’ weaknesses out in the open so they aren’t subject to “gotchas” when it’s time to take on the Democrats.

Interestingly, many of the candidates took issue with the line of questioning after the debates. The Trump, Paul, Cruz, Christie, and Walker fans all felt like their candidate had been singled out for especially rough treatment. Of course, there’s this weird tendency for pro-establishment candidates (and conservatism is nothing if not pro-establishment) to try to run as maverick outsiders, so maybe they were just trying to position their candidate as “they guy the insiders are afraid of!” If so, it came off as a little disingenuous. I hate to invoke bogeymen at this early stage, but if you’re financed by the Koch’s? You ain’t an outsider and no one’s afraid of your candidacy.

Don’t ask me to tell you which candidate “won.” They debate format was so scattershot and each had such different agendas that trying to declare a winner seems like a pointless exercise. For the most part, they stayed in character: Trump blustered. Paul raged. Kasich and Carson were calm and reasonable. Jeb! was Jeb minus the exclamation point. Huckabee and Cruz both sounded reasonable while saying some seriously batshit stuff. Christie was the Jersey Giuliani. Walker acted like “being selfish” is a family value (he scares me more than any of ’em.)  They were very much themselves. Everyone appealed to the people who already liked them. I doubt any of them made inroads with people who weren’t already behind them.

The ratings for Fox last night were fantastic. They should hope with all their might that Trump sticks around because he brings an audience if nothing else. I think it was a good night for the Republicans. They got challenged a little more than they expected, but they had a huge number of eyeballs and none of them flubbed their lines enough to drive away their supporters. Sure, it was a terrible debate (as far it being an actual “debate” is concerned) and I agreed with approximately nothing that was said, but I think they achieved their goals.

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Taking a deep breath before returning to the fray

You may have noticed that the year-long election season is starting to pick up steam.

You may also have noticed that the Republican debates are set to being Thursday.

You may even have noticed that Donald Trump, of all people, is the current leader in Republican polls.

Now that the Hugo Awards voting is ended and the Rabid Puppies have been unmasked as unremarkable trolls who don’t actually believe anything, the next item on the agenda is watching the circus of the GOP nominating process. I do not take this responsibility lightly. I just needed a breather before embarking on what is sure to be the silliest of silly seasons.

I’m up for this. Who’s with me?


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Jeb! Bush May Be The Best Gift To Unions We’ve Had In Years

You’ve probably seen the Jeb!* Bush quote making the rounds on the Interwebs this week, but let me go ahead and drop it in here just to make sure we’re all on the same page:

“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

Wow. He packed a whole heap o’ wrongness into one statement, didn’t he? Where to start? So many choices!

Let’s start with the idea that American workers need to be more productive. The New York Times noted:

From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent…

Worker productivity is already at a high-water mark. Call me crazy…wait, no, call me “someone who can recognize really obvious things,” but if the premise is that the economy stinks and productivity exceptionally high, then “more productivity” may not be the right answer.

Now, is “workforce participation” at an all-time modern low? Well, only if you narrowly define “modern” as “post-1977.” Otherwise, no. Now, it is trending downward, so even though Jeb!’s statement is false, it hints at the truth.  If productivity is up, then each worker is doing more work per hour which tends to reduce the need for more workers. There are strong reasons to suspect that productivity and workforce participation are inversely related.

He then applies the Limbaugh-esque conclusion that the solution is to “work more hours.” That is, of course, the opposite of what the situation he’s describe calls for. If workforce participation is already too low (and I agree that it is), then asking the people who are already in the workforce to work more is going to reduce the amount of work available. This is not terribly complicated.

The best bit, the cherry on top, is the claim that increased productivity will lead to more income for their families. You’d think so, but you’d be oh-so-very wrong. Let me complete that quote from the New York Times:

From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent, while median hourly compensation, after inflation, grew by just one-eighth that amount, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. And since 2000, productivity has risen 23 percent while real hourly pay has essentially stagnated.

That makes sense if you think about it in a capitalist mindset (and it would be un-American to do otherwise): If one worker can now do twice as much work, and there’s no increase in demand, it makes no sense to pay them twice as much. The smart move is to ask one worker to do the work of two, and then fire the second. This is super-duper important: Increased productivity, in a vacuum, decreases workforce participation and does not increase earning power. It’s great for the job creators, but the job doers kind of take it in the shorts.

Look at it this way: Let’s say you are a wheat farmer and someone comes up with a process that doubles everyone’s yield. So hurray, everyone produces twice as much wheat. Unfortunately, there’s not need for twice as much wheat, so all you’ve accomplished is cutting the price you get for your wheat in half, thereby getting paid the same amount for producing twice as much.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Jeb! is sending a coded message to the captains of industry that he “gets” it and he’s on their side. I honestly don’t think it’s anything that sinister; I think it’s just an incredibly tone-deaf and naive bit of campaigning. It’s disappointing in the sense that he’s supposed to be the moderate, level-headed one, and he’s prescribing a cure that would have seemed needlessly cruel in a Dickens novel.

The good news is that most every news outlet has picked apart Jeb!’s plan and said that this is pretty much the opposite of what a good policy would look like. The question is: What would a good policy look like? It would encourage more people to work, it would protect jobs against the temptation to cut them when productivity increased, and it would reduce, not increase, the hours each person worked. And, it would increase demand by increasing the amount of money in the hands of the people who will spend it, rather than increase the wealth of those who won’t. That, my friends, is what unions do. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if Jeb! is wrong, unions are right. But it makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it?

* I hate that we have so many Bushes in the American political scene that we have to specify which one we’re talking about. Please let’s not have Chelsea Clinton go into politics as well.

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Congratulations to the U.S.A. on winning the World Cup


That was a dominant performance. The final result, 5-2, was flattering to Japan. The U.S. team played with swagger, technical and the kind of teamwork that should have Jurgen Klinsmann taking notes. Up 4-0 on 16 minutes, the U.S. could have just have just put it in cruise control.

Instead, hat-trick scorer Carli Lloyd was sliding into tackles in the defensive end of the pitch in the 85th minutes.

It was a master class in team football and the U.S. were deserving of winning their record third world cup. I’d like to give a special shout-out to Title IX for helping to make this possible. It turns out that, when you open the door, some pretty amazing people make their way through it.

P.S. Vox has this nice piece on the same subject.

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To my friends in the U.S.A.

Happy 4th of July, you crazy nutters. Congratulations on winning your independence some 239 years ago (a prime number!). For all of my snark aimed at your ridiculous politicians and celebrities, you’ve done a pretty good job in these ensuing centuries. America was founded on the idea that power should reside in the hands of the people and, while your definition of “people” started out pretty restrictive, you’ve made steady progress on that front.

Still a lot of work to do, of course, You’ve still got a lot of racist DNA in you, you’re not quite there with respect to gender equality, and your treatment of your poor is absolutely appalling. Like I said, you’ve done pretty well moving the bar, and I’m not sure you’ll ever get it 100% right. Just remember, when you’re deservedly patting yourself on the back, that you’ve still got a way to go.

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It’s probably mean to keep picking on Ted Cruz

…but man, is he the gift that keeps on giving or what?

Cruz has decided that Supreme Court rulings only apply to the states who are party to the particular case being decided. No really. Here’s what he said:

“Article III of the Constitution gives the court the authority to resolve cases and controversies. Those cases and controversies, when they’re resolved, when you’re facing a judicial order, the parties to that suit are bound it. Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it.”

I don’t think I’m misreading that. This isn’t just “novel,” this is “pulled completely out of his ass.” I’m reasonably sure that Cruz himself doesn’t believe it. He seems smarter than that.

I’ll be the first to admit: I’m enjoying watching conservatives twist themselves into knots trying to find a way to oppose a pro-liberty ruling by the courts. It’s like watching Democrats trying to line up behind the President on the TPP.

Cruz is, I think, sunk as a serious candidate. He’s gone so far out on a limb trying to appease the Brotherhood of the Incredibly Credulous that he’s lost the ability to appear rational. If he gets any further out there, he’ll be claiming that the U.S. is now a theocracy because gays can marry. Surely no one would be that wacky

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Cruz and Huckabee completely miss the meaning of Obergefell v. Hodges

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the United States, but that’s not really what the decision was about. The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to discriminate with regards to the legal right to marry. It’s an important distinction. This wasn’t the Court saying “Yes, gay marriage is in the constitution,” despite what some pundits and presidential candidates would tell you. Instead, the Court say “You cannot extend the legal right to marry to some people but not others just because a majority of people in your state don’t want the minority to have that right.”

That’s an important distinction. It means that, rather than legislating from the bench, the Court was doing nothing that is outside of it’s normal scope of work. Or, more succinctly, the Court was simply doing its job.

So, when Mike Huckabee says:

“The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do-redefine marriage. I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

He’s flat-out wrong. He says this is a religious liberty issue, and it is, but not the way he means. Huckabee is fighting for the right of the government to enforce his religious views on other people. This isn’t religious liberty he’s talking about; it’s about establishing a state religion.

When Ted Cruz says:

“This radical decision purporting to strike down the marriage laws of every state, it has no connection to the United States Constitution. They are simply making it up. It is lawless and in doing so they have undermined the fundamental legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court.”

He’s either a liar or a fool. Cruz fancies himself a constitutional scholar, so he’s got to know he’s the one who’s simply “making it up.” The 14th Amendment makes this sort of discrimination Cruz longs for illegal, and the 1st Amendment makes it very clear that the government has no business recognizing one faith’s practices as gospel.

I’ll close by noting a section of Justice Alito’s dissent:

“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers and schools.”

I happen to agree. I don’t see this tag being applied to people who marry someone of the opposite gender any more than it’s applied today. However, people who believe that marriage is a privilege reserved, by law, for people who their church believes should be allowed to marry will very likely be labelled “bigots.” As well they should.

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I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself (about flag-removal)…

…so I’ll let Will B. Mackintosh say it:

But I think it’s important to remember: removing the Confederate flag and other Confederate symbols from public display is not nothing.  Sure, it’s symbolic, but as historians we should recognize how incredibly important and powerful symbols can be.

Just so. It’s a symbolic thing to remove the confederate flag from government buildings, but it’s not an unimportant symbolic thing. That message is:

…removing Confederate iconography sends and equally important symbolic message: overt defenses of white supremacy are now beyond the bounds of acceptable political sentiment.  This has not been the case, even recently.  So a national, bipartisan consensus that the iconography of the Confederacy is fundamentally white supremacist and has no place in mainstream politics represents very real progress.

Flying that flag on the statehouse and putting it on license plates provided the thinnest hint of legitimacy to people who used the flag to send it’s most obvious message: “You are not welcome here. We are still in control. Know your place.”

As per usual with Mackintosh, the entire article is well worth your time.

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