12 Angry Men

Poster for 12 Angry Men Last week I spent some time with a German criminal judge — a very nice-looking one who sings beautifully. We talked a bit about the differences between the German and American legal systems, and she expressed her concern about how clever lawyers can sway juries who aren’t used to their carefully designed emotional appeals. I mentioned the movie 12 Angry Men, and she said she’d seen it several times. I remembered loving it the last time I’d seen it, decades ago, so I got it from the local library and watched it again. It’s as good as I remembered. All but a few minutes of the movie consist of people talking in a jury room, yet it kept me glued to the screen more than most big special-effects movies do. (Spoilers follow!)

Its focus is on how to judge the facts. A young man has been charged with murder, and the charge carries a mandatory death sentence. Eleven of the jurors are convinced he’s guilty, but one, played by Henry Fonda, expresses doubts. At first he seems to have little to go on, but he notices inconsistent and implausible aspects of the testimony. His main opponent is a loud-mouthed bigot, who unintentionally does as much as the skeptic to undermine the case for conviction. (None of the jurors are referred to by name, only by number.) The skeptic doesn’t crack the case all by himself, but his example encourages other jurors to think more carefully and bring up more questions about the testimony. He’s almost always calm and reasonable, seeking to raise questions rather than to dominate.

It’s a movie about reason vs. emotion, groupthink vs. the individual mind. It points out that what people say they’ve seen isn’t always the truth, even when they’re trying to be honest. It’s not just about juries and crime, but about people who support what’s popular in their group and don’t consider difficult questions. It’s also about their ability to change their minds and think more carefully when someone else sets an example. It’s refreshing to see reason overcome stubbornness, and it invites us by example to think carefully, evaluate the arguments of others, and avoid letting emotions direct our judgment.

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On the Sad Puppies

I’ve kept my distance from the “Sad Puppies” controversy in the Hugo Awards. I’m not registered for the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention, and I don’t follow a lot of current science fiction, so I couldn’t cast an informed vote without a lot of extra work. I have noticed quite a bit of nastiness from the anti-Puppy faction, including sniping at the people nominated because of the Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy slates. If you dislike the methods of promotion, that’s fine, but attacking people for being nominated and failing to decline the nomination isn’t. It exemplifies the growing illiberalism and intolerance that I’ve seen in fandom.

I’d like people to read Gray Rinehart's article on this year’s Hugo situation. Though we’re both filkers, I don’t really know him personally, and his Christian philosophy is quite different from mine, but his core point is important:

Suffice it to say that various people, in various places, have characterized the “Sad Puppies” ringleaders and their “Rabid Puppies” counterparts — as well as those of us whose works were nominated — in … uncharitable terms. Words like racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and even neo-Nazi have been bandied about. Likewise, strong and often unduly harsh language has been used against those on the “anti-puppy” side, i.e., toward those on the side of the Hugo Award traditions and WorldCon fandom. …

I will, however, say this: I find myself somewhat ambivalent about the possibility that people I do not know might characterize me in unfriendly terms, whether directly or through guilt-by-association. The fact is that most of the commentators do not know me, personally or even by reputation, and their reports can hardly be taken as reliable. I admit that I am somewhat concerned that other people, potential fans or potential friends who read such things, could come away with a false impression; however, I am confident that those who know me, who have interacted with me on a personal basis, will not be fooled into believing falsehoods about me.

I also recommend Jeff Duntemann’s series of posts on the controversy. He clarifies the distinction between the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, which some people, including me before I read his posts, have had trouble following.

There’s an outside chance that my Tomorrow’s Songs Today could be nominated next year in the category of “best related work,” and I’ve thought about whether I’d want that. Some people would very likely lump me, because of my views, with the Puppy faction, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few alleged friends turn on me. If it happens, I think I’d do more good by giving them reasoned responses than by running away from the situation.

The assault on Reason (.com)

I hadn’t paid much attention to the Silk Road case. It looked like a serious miscarriage of justice, but there are only so many issues I can focus on. However, something’s happened now which makes the matter of vital concern to any libertarian. An article on reason.com severely criticized Judge Katherine Forest’s delivering the outrageous sentence of life without parole on Ross Ulbricht for running a site that enabled anonymous business transactions. Forest doesn’t like having her way questioned, and a US Attorney delivered a ludicrous grand jury subpoena to Reason demanding identifying information on some commenters who made hyperbolic comments. Among the comments which the subpoena is investigating are “I hope there is a special place reserved in Hell for that horrible woman” and (in reply to that one) just the two words “There is.”

The letter with the subpoena “requests” that Reason not tell anyone about this outrage. Ken White, in demolishing its legality, says only that “a source” provided him with a copy; people who’d attempt this stuff certainly wouldn’t be above further retaliation against whoever provided it. White is a well-known lawyer on the Internet, and so a bit safer.

I hope there is a special place reserved in Hell for US Attorney Preet Bharara for this blatant abuse of office, and I’m an atheist. I’m easy to find. If this Bharbarian wants to try prosecuting me for sedition, it will be an interesting attempt.

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The Twilight Zone

My latest Netflix binge is The Twilight Zone, which I think is the best TV show ever. Here I’m talking about the original; I haven’t seen enough of the revivals to form an opinion on them. Rod Serling says in the introduction, “You are about to enter another dimension: a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.” He isn’t kidding; almost every episode has something to make you think.

A frequent theme is second chances. If you could go back to your own past, could you recover something you’ve lost or avoid the mistakes you made? In some stories the characters end up no better than before, but in others they learn something. Other episodes are about the consequences of getting what you wish for.

Twilight Zone imageThe episodes tell us something about the times. People are smoking everywhere. A genie grants a couple’s wish for a million dollars, but the IRS promptly takes over $900,000 of it. Some episodes reflect the belief that the primitive computers of circa 1960 were capable of superhuman knowledge or soon would be. “From Agnes, with Love” is intentionally humorous in its portrayal of a programmer’s relationship with a computer, but it’s become unintentionally funnier over the decades.

Some of my favorite episodes:

“The Invaders” pits a woman, played by Agnes Moorehead, against tiny aliens who have landed on her roof. Never mind that they look as if the prop department bought them at a toy store. The tension doesn’t let up, and the courage which she shows is impressive. There is no dialogue until near the end, when … If you’ve seen it, you know, and if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you.

“The Quality of Mercy” is set on a Pacific island near the end of World War II, and it makes a bold anti-war statement.

“The Last Night of a Jockey” is an impressive one-man, one-room play starring Mickey Rooney, and an example of the “be careful what you wish for” episodes.

A small number of episodes are clunkers. I’ll be happy never to see certain other episodes again, such as “It’s a Good Life” and “Queen of the Nile,” not because they’re badly done in any way, but because I just don’t like nightmares.

For some reason, Netflix has seasons 1, 2, 3, and 5, but not 4.

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Personal note

Some lunatic created an account on Twitter just to post multiple variants of the following lie:

Tweet falsely claiming I killed four children.

Tweet falsely claiming I killed four children.

For those who have trouble viewing images, it’s a tweet by “Lance Manload”, saying “In 1997 Gary Mcgath ran over and killed four children whilst high on crack cocaine. Don’t let Gary kill your kids too.” I’m not worried that anyone who knows me will believe this, but this person is clearly nuts, so I want to have the action on record. “Lance Manload” is probably an assumed name. I’ve reported it to Twitter, of course. There are no other tweets from the account.

Update: A Twitter account called “Ken Rutkowski” posted a slightly rephrased version of the libel. That is the name of an associate of Dan Schulz and Scott Wirkus, two loonies who ran a harassment campaign against me for many years. “Rutkowski” and “Manload” are probably the same nut, whoever it is, and there’s apparently some kind of connection to Schulz and Wirkus. I’ve updated my website on them, though I’d thought the issue was dead. This decades-long obsession with me is weird.

Update, June 8: I’ve been whack-a-moling their accounts with reports to Twitter; as one account gets suspended, they open another. They’ve started harassing people I follow on Twitter. I suggest not engaging them or arguing with them; you’ll just get pulled into their obsession. Just report and block them.

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Tolerance is unpopular with some people. We hear institutions bragging that they have “zero tolerance” policies, which means that they punish even the most trivial infractions with full force. People say you shouldn’t “tolerate the intolerant.” (Then should you tolerate people who are intolerant of intolerance?) Threats of violence seem to have become common currency on the Internet.

A lot of people measure their own tolerance by how civil they are to people whom others don’t like, but this misses the point. The measure of your tolerance is how you treat people you don’t like. If you say you’re tolerant of people whose skin color is different from yours, that’s a pretty poor thing. It says you aren’t really happy with their appearance, but you’re willing to put up with it. If you’ve grown up in a culture where it’s a reflex to dislike people who look different, you might have to go through a period of tolerating differences before you’re comfortable with them, but it’s better still to get past the dislike and reach the point where mere tolerance isn’t necessary.

Poster for D. W. Griffith's movie 'Intolerance'When a friend went trans almost two decades ago, it made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t think the worse of her/him for it, but I had to work my way through understanding it. You might say I had to be tolerant of what he was going through (not of him). I was able to work past the discomfort, so it no longer makes sense to say I “tolerate” trans people. On the other hand, Mike Huckabee’s remarks about wanting to pretend to be transgender to get into girls’ locker rooms really sicken me, so I have to exercise tolerance if the occasion arises; I shouldn’t tear up his campaign signs (not even inexpensive ones) or spit on his campaign volunteers. It’s better to ask pointed questions, such as whether he thinks that people who falsely call in sick invalidate concern for people who are actually ill.

Being tolerant doesn’t mean being uncritical. If people hold views that you think are wrong, tolerance says you shouldn’t abuse or intimidate them. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t point out that they’re wrong, even in forceful terms, provided your criticism is reasoned and based on the facts.

The value of tolerance is that it lets people with different views live together in peace. It doesn’t mean that they have to compromise with ideas that they consider seriously wrong, but that they should favor debate over denunciation and intimidation.

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