Bad Cupid!

A recent statement on OKCupid’s blog unapologetically shows its contempt for its users. According to their own statement, “we took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match.) Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible.” They intentionally misinformed users, they observed that users acted on the misinformation, and rather than apologizing, OKCupid founder Christian Rudder is bragging:

We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook “experimented” with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.

For Rudder, dishonesty is the norm. It’s “how websites work.” Annoying and intrusive as Facebook’s manipulation of its feeds may have been, it’s unlikely to have inflicted real harm on anyone. OKCupid, on the other hand, subverted its primary purpose just to see what would happen.

On Salon’s website, Andrew Leonard points out why OKCupid’s “experiment” is contemptible:

There’s a big different between straightforward A/B testing — presenting two different versions of a site to different groups of users in order to see what works better — and consciously presenting false information or otherwise skewing emotionally laden data. One is completely acceptable tinkering designed to improve usability, while the other is irresponsible behavior that treats human beings like lab rats and their emotions as play toys.

Not that I’d expect anything better from the company that led the witch hunt against Brendan Eich. Maybe that started out as just an “experiment” too?

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How the Globe rewrites the news

A few minutes ago, I saw an article on the Boston Globe’s site which began:

Arthur T. Demoulas’s offer to buy the Market Basket grocery chain is the only bid left on the table, and both sides of the family are furiously negotiating to complete a sale and end the daily losses crippling the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Market Basket controversy is one I’ve been following closely for personal reasons, and I tweeted a link to this story. Then I clicked the link in the tweet for verification, and discovered the story now began:

Negotiations to buy the Market Basket grocery chain continued Tuesday and the company’s board of directors said offers from several potential buyers were under consideration by stockholders.

Former president Arthur T. Demoulas made an offer last week to buy the 50.5 percent ownership stake owned by cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and his side of the bitterly divided family. But the board said other potential suitors had expressed an interest in the company.

This is an annoying habit of the Globe’s website; they completely change their stories in place. The revised article does mention that “earlier Tuesday, the Globe had reported that the board was negotiating exclusively with Arthur T. Demoulas”; but it doesn’t mention that it did so in the same article, which got overwritten. This can be frustrating to people who link to a story as I did, only to discover later that the story doesn’t remotely match what they thought it said, and can even make them look silly or dishonest.

Here are screen shots of the two versions of the story:

Screenshot of old Globe article
Rewritten version of Boston Globe story
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Another good harassment policy

We can add OVFF’s anti-harassment policy to the list of ones that address the actual problem in simple terms, without any bans on causing embarrassment or prohibitions on discrimination in personal choices:

Harassment of any kind is not tolerated. If someone tells you “no” or asks you to leave them alone, your business with them is done.

Your right not to be harassed is not a right not to be offended. All of us have different things that we find offensive. If you are offended, the best solution may be for you to walk away from the person who offends you. Should that person pursue you and continue to offend you, that could be harassment.

There are probably a lot more good harassment policies than bad ones among science fiction, fantasy, and filk conventions. The ones that have good policies are just trying to solve a problem and don’t make a lot of noise about it. Those who want to control people’s behavior, speech, and thoughts in detail like to brag about it, so we hear more about them.

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Griffith’s “Intolerance”

I’ve just finished watching D. W. Griffith’s movie, Intolerance. It took some effort; it’s over three hours long and quite rambling, with four alternating storylines. It addresses themes which modern libertarians can appreciate, such as prohibitionism, religious suppression, and unfair criminal justice. It has scenes with spectacular sets and huge numbers of extras, especially in the Babylonian storyline. Anyone with a serious interest in pro-liberty themes in movies should consider it.

We can’t call it a “libertarian film,” though. Griffith also made Birth of a Nation, which is as far from libertarian as you can get. It’s a puzzle how the same person could have made both movies, though the fact that his father was a Confederate officer gives one clue. (It’s true that Intolerance doesn’t address racial hostility and that every actor looks like a light-skinned European type, but that wasn’t unusual for 1916 movies.) As for the idea of “libertarian films,” few movies are made primarily to promote a political view, and they generally aren’t very good. Let’s just say that Intolerance presents values which are consistent with libertarian ideals. How we judge Griffith is a separate matter.

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Be virtuous, or else

The reasons people support power and coercion can be easy to understand. They want something somebody else has. They’re looking for the favor of the powerful. They can pursue their violent inclinations. They feel safer from real or imagined dangers. But when they feel virtuous about it, it can be harder for libertarians to understand. Why do some people want to kill those who disagree with their notion of God? Why do others want to take away people’s freedom to decide whom they’ll do business with? And why do they feel they’re better people for pushing these things?

There are lots of contributing factors. One which comes to my mind right now is the belief that you can force people to be virtuous. If you can make people be good, that’s a good thing, right? It’s possible, of course, to make people do things, if the alternative is going to jail or worse. But can doing this really them better? (Let’s leave aside, for the moment, what “better” really means.) Can force and threats make people believe in somebody’s ideal and live by it? The answer isn’t a clear “no.”

There’s something in many minds that equates power with moral authority. Signs in stores say “It’s not just wrong, it’s illegal,” presenting penalties as a higher standard than mere rightness. Punishment can induce a sense of guilt, not just fear. It’s as if people equate the humiliation of being overpowered with the humiliation of wrongdoing. In the extreme case there’s “Stockholm syndrome,” in which people take the side of those who hold power over them.

This has to be related to social pressure and tribalism. In an earlier post, I wrote about social pressure as a substitute for argument. Being afraid of disapproval, people pretend to themselves to accept what they think is the dominant view. Fear of punishment works much the same way, and if people imagine they believe something, then eventually they’ll start really believing it.

It makes a difference whether people see authority as part of their own group or not. Prisoners of war don’t often feel guilty of being on the wrong side, unless their captors are expert at brainwashing. Clever authorities play the good cop-bad cop game, acting as if they could be friends instead of punishing you. These tricks let authority seem less like an enemy and more like a “big brother.”

The exercise of power really can change people’s standards. The problem is that it can promote any standard, whether it’s good or horrible. Boko Haram uses brutal power to spread the idea that education is evil and rape is good. In a “debate” based on force, it’s the side with better armaments, not better arguments, that wins.

But when people decide they’re right anyway and don’t need reasons, force looks like an attractive option. They forget that the only way they can know they’re right is to use the best reasoning possible, or perhaps they never knew it. If a bludgeon can beat sense into people, they think, why not use it?

A complaint to St. Mary’s Bank

I’m sending the following letter to Ronald H. Covey, the president of St. Mary’s Bank. St. Mary’s is actually a member-owned credit union, the oldest in the United States. If this were a large-readership blog, I’d urge everyone to write to them; but my readership is small, and the number of readers in Nashua can probably be counted in the fingers of an amputee’s hand.

Today, after getting to the head of the line to use the ATM in the Nashua branch of St. Mary’s, I saw a notice that it will be shut down next week because of alleged low use. I am extremely unhappy about that.

The ATM in the Spring Street branch is the only St. Mary’s ATM in Nashua. That leaves all the members in Nashua having to go to Hudson, Milford, or somewhere else. This is a serious disservice to all of us in New Hampshire’s second largest city.

Usage was low? That’s understandable. It’s inside the main customer space, which means it’s only usable when the branch is open. This is substandard; I can’t think of any other ATM that has that restriction. Yet we’re supposed to take the blame for not using it enough. Why not put it in a 24-hour location, like almost every other ATM?

You tell us we can just go looking for a SUM machine if we want to avoid charges every time we need our money. Do you ever use ATMs? Are you aware that the SUM-participating ones been disappearing at a rapid rate? Most of the online guides I find are useless because half or more of the machines they list are no longer SUM, if they’re still there at all. lists five locations in Nashua, one of which is the St. Mary’s branch. I hope some of the others are still valid.

Since I could only use the ATM when the branch is open, it’s true that I can just wait in line for a teller. This will take longer, and the burden on the employees will just get worse because they’ll have to serve people who just want to cash a check.

I’ve been a member of St. Mary’s for many years. I stuck with it when the alternative was banks being acquired and changing their names every few months. But if the management of St. Mary’s just has contempt for their own employers (i.e., us, the members), I may have to change.

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A couple of weeks ago there was a political post to a list that I subscribe to, even though they’re forbidden for the sake of avoiding flame wars. He claimed it wasn’t really political because “this issue should be a no-brainer for anyone who isn’t a billionaire sociopath.” He didn’t get away with it, and it’s hard to imagine how he could; if there are any billionaires on that mailing list, they’re keeping quiet or using an alias.

Of course, he didn’t really mean that only billionaire sociopaths differ with him; he was just declaring any opponent unworthy of consideration, outside the debate. In effect, he was saying, “If you disagree with me, you aren’t one of our tribe.”

People like belonging to the social groups they’re used to. The fear of not belonging can affect what they do and say. If they think they’ll be less accepted for saying something, they’ll stay quiet. But this makes them feel like cowards, so they’ll try to forget they ever thought it, or pretend to themselves that they agree with the group. Sometimes everybody will claim to agree, even though nobody really does. No one wants to be the first to point out the emperor’s lack of clothes.

When people do speak out, the enforcers of conformity have ways of dealing with them. They’ll pretend not to hear. They’ll claim to feel sad that someone can’t understand something so obvious. They’ll denounce the dissidents. The parents of the kid in the Andersen story probably told him to shut up. Name-calling is an old standby. “Billionaire sociopath” isn’t going to stick very well, but other epithets can work, and what counts as an epithet depends on the group. “Liberal” can be a term of praise in some groups and a deadly insult in others. “Isolationist,” “racist,” “soft,” “insensitive,” “intellectual,” “populist,” “atheistic,” “religious,” the list can go on and on. I’ve even seen advocates of Agile development use “waterfall” to dismiss any practice that doesn’t fit their view.

Some governments will torture or kill people for having dissenting opionions about God. Is this because it’s so obvious that Muhammad was a prophet that only a billionaire sociopath could fail to see it? No, it’s because it’s impossible in principle to offer a shred of evidence. Where there’s no place for reasons, all that’s left is to denounce heretics and blasphemers. But no country has a death penalty for disputing Newton’s laws of motion. It’s unnecessary. Ignore them persistently enough, and they’ll enforce themselves.

What people say can reflect what they consider acceptable more than what they consider true, and what they take on authority more than what they’ve thought about. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to convince them, not easier. If better reasons would make people change their minds, a good argument might stand a chance. But when people’s chief concern is what somebody will think of them, the most airtight proof won’t help.

People can be passionate about what they believe, and that’s often a good thing. They can get angry at people who do bad things or say stupid things. But when they’re denouncing disagreement and resorting to social pressure, rather than offering counter-arguments, that’s a good indicator that they haven’t thought much about what they believe.

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Filk and Cookies

Today I came across an album called “Filk and Cookies”, by Vanessa Cardui, on Bandcamp. I can’t recall hearing of her before, though I’m so bad at remembering names that that doesn’t prove much. I certainly should have heard of her before, and it’s clear from her YouTube announcement that she understands filk.

I’m really enjoying the songs and recommend the album. The only problem is that the full album is available only as a CD, not electronically, and that means $5 CDN shipping to the US and a week or two before I can hear all the songs. Seven of the songs are available for immediate download when you buy the album.

She reminds me in several ways of Kari Maaren. If you like Kari’s songs, I think you’ll like “Filk and Cookies.”

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Observing Independence Day

Paul Revere rode through the streets of Medford and Lexington shouting, “The Redcoats are coming! Hurry to Boston to let them search your possessions and put on a fireworks show!” Well … At least that’s what our assorted governmental units want you to think the American Revolution was about. Here’s how Boston “celebrated freedom” last night (the event was moved up a day due to the weather):


There are two secured areas for the event — the Oval and the Island. You will be required to pass through a bag/screening entrance to these areas and will receive a wristband specifically for that area. …

Prohibited Items:

No backpacks, shopping bags, or similar type containers

No coolers on wheels (coolers must be carried by a shoulder strap)

No firearms, weapons, sharp objects, or fireworks

No glass containers

No cans

No alcohol or pre-mixed beverages

All liquids will be carried in sealed clear plastic containers and cannot exceed 2 liters in size

No grilling, propane tanks, or open flames

No unattended bags

No bicycles will be allowed through the checkpoints

Allowed Items:

All personal items must be carried in clear bags (Wondering about purses and diaper bags? Here is what Mass. State Police Media Relations Director David Procopio told us in an email: “Small purses are fine to carrying into the Esplanade, and diaper bags also should be fine, within reason. We will use our discretion, but if we are satisfied at the checkpoint that it is a standard diaper bag, that will be okay.”

If you wanted to celebrate the surveillance state, you could have had a great time last night on the Charles. If you still have the weird notion that July 4 is about celebrating freedom, you probably stayed away, but there are lots of ways to celebrate Independence Day today. Here are just a few thoughts:

  • Got a “Don’t tread on me” or “Live free or die” cap or T-shirt? This would be a good day to wear it.
  • The movie 1776 is always worth watching, and there are lots of other liberty-themed movies. If it’s not to your taste, there are lots of other liberty-themed movies to choose from. Here’s a list from the Mises Institute and some suggestions from David Boaz at Cato. I’m not much of a movie-watcher, so I can’t vouch for these recommendations; just treat them as a starting point for research.
  • Do something that’s illegal but doesn’t violate anyone’s rights.
  • Get together with friends, sing songs of freedom, and discuss the American Revolution.
  • Leave a comment here with other suggestions.

Happy Independence Day!

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