More Validation

Not gonna comment on the Hugos, not yet anyway. But something did come up about one of the OTHER rules changes that are floating around at the Business Meeting. One of them, “A.4 Nominee Diversity”, sounds awfully familiar.  Despite the name, it isn’t SJW bait. It addresses one of my other suggestions from a year ago, but Implements it in a bass-ackward, voter disenfranchising way.

The idea, according the the camera shot of the projection screen I saw, was to stop a single author or TV show from dominating a category. I hadn’t really considered it an issue with authors, but Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form was turning into “Which was your favorite episode of Doctor Who this season?” Their solution: If there are more than two works from the same show, or more than two books with the same author (or that have two authors in common for multi-author works), then the third and subsequent entries get dropped from the ballot and replaced with things from further down in the pack.

What that means is that if nearly everybody nominated 4 or 5 Doctor Who episodes, and a few other items filled in the rest, you could, in theory, when combined with the 5% rule, get a ballot with two Doctor Who episodes on it. Okay, I exaggerate, it’s an edge case, and who knows what the other anti-slate measures proposed would do to a set of nominating ballots like that… they could end up with nothing. Or maybe something that just cleared the 5% threshold would be on the ballot as the third highest nomination getter.

It’s a pretty distorted way to solve the real problem. Now, I hadn’t considered multiple books by the same author as a problem (I’m guessing this is just a reaction to a certain, *sniff*, undesirable writer getting 6 nominations in the past) but in terms of TV shows, my suggestion was to nominate a program, rather than an episode. That way, a show everyone liked could get a lot of nominations, rather than having them spread out over 4 or 5 different episodes, AND they would leave four other slots open. It just seemed fairer, and didn’t have this nasty aftertaste of eliminating things that people really liked. There’s just too much emphasis lately on finding reasons to replace things that got a lot of nominations with something that got fewer.

If there is hope, it lies in the Proles Fans

I am greeting with endless amusement the recent movement among Hugo circles to embrace three stage voting. This comes in the wake of the analysis of that ridiculously complicated system they proposed last year using last year’s data (which the rest of us mortals have no access to because they claim they can’t sufficiently anonymize it – yet they DID give it out….) turned out to not be as good at eliminating all the puppy candidates as they hoped.

I’m so amused, because anyone who’s read this blog knows that it was April last year in “So you want to Fix the Hugos…” where I first suggested three rounds of voting. For those who can’t be bothered to look, I proposed that there be a second round of ballots among the top N nominees (I said 25, but some categories won’t support that many) so that all of the fans who made nominations that were at the tail end of list would have a chance to have some actual input on what makes it to the Finals. This idea was soundly ridiculed by the folks who thought their multiply-renamed system was going to be a panacea.

You see, the reason I thought this would be a good idea is because one of the most common complaints among fans is “Nothing I nominated made it.” This leaves the fans feeling like they have no investment in the award. They aren’t interested in the results, they don’t vote again, and the voter pool remains small and, ahem, manageable. The problem all along has been that there are SO many candidates, and fannish tastes are so broad, that if one were to sort the nominating votes in order of popularity, you have one of those long asymptotic graphs. Dozens or hundreds of nominees who only got one, or a few votes, and then finally the top few who got dozens to hundreds of votes. But if you total it up, those top nominees still only got a small percentage of the total votes, on the order of around 10%. This was the vulnerability that made the Hugos susceptible to manipulation (And long before the Puppies came along). The part of that graph where 90% of the nominations exist has been referred to as the “Tail.” Part of the problem is that people have been spending WAY too much time looking at the “Head” of the list and trying to figure out how to knock out the nominees they don’t like that they’ve missed the obvious.

The problem, and it’s a problem common to most folks of a particular political vein, is that they’re trying to counter human behavior with Mathematics. This never works. But the other problem is that they’re ignoring the SOURCE of the data they’re feeding into their formulae — the Fans. The Fans are an incredible resource, and a solution to their problem that they are afraid to make use of, because fans are a Wild Magic, and unpredictable, and hard to control. Math is Safe, math is predictable, but math can’t tell you what is good SF (The Cold Equations notwithstanding).

Even with the Three Stage Voting idea, they’re coming at it all wrong. Some proposals involve “Negative Voting” which they want as a way of getting a gang together to knock out entries they don’t like (They do love them some of that No Award veto power!). They propose empowering the administrators to add or remove entries, or even remove individual voters they don’t like. It’s like they still don’t trust the fans to vote the “right” way. And let’s not even think about the canned Medusa’s head of their mathematical Slate Detection dream, which they swear would NEVER generate a false positive….

They also forget the axiom “Never give the [Government/ConCom] a power that you don’t want used against you.”

My answer is still the same as it was a year ago. Trust the fans, let them pick who should win the Hugo. Have a second round of voting to re-enfranchise those whose choices didn’t make it through the “Primary.” When the finalists are chosen by the entire electorate, rather than just the ones who voted for the top 10%, you really can’t argue with the decision being that of the Fans.

And for those who say “Where are they going to find the time to read the 15 semi-finalists?” They’re fans, what do you think they’ve been doing all year? Waiting for the Hugo packet to decide what to read? (Besides, you had no trouble before with people voting AGAINST things they hadn’t bothered to read in the last couple of rounds.)


Oh, and I’d also like to reiterate my other proposal, that Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form consist of nominating a PROGRAM that had a new episode in the target year, rather than individual episodes.

Don’t Pirate Indies

A buddy of mine has a very successful book series that he self-publishes on Amazon. Popular enough that he started earning “Quit Yer Job Money.” Although writing is actually a new job. The fans were voracious, and couldn’t get enough (Some even bitched when he tried to branch off and start a second series). Then one day, a week after a new volume came out and was flying off the virtual shelves, suddenly sales plummeted to about 10%, which killed his rise through the Amazon rankings – a key to getting new fans and continuing sales – and decimated his income. He had seen this pattern before. His new book had just been pirated. He went to the usual pirate sites and did his best to persuade them to take it down, but of course, the pirates were adamant. His sales were disappearing, but his bills were not. Now he is back in the day job market, which will slow down his writing, meaning the fans will have to wait much longer for new books. And that’s provided he doesn’t hang up his writer’s hat for good out of frustration.

Now, I understand a bit of what’s going on, there’s an awful lot of piracy going on out there, and yeah, in strictest terms, virtually every picture you’ve got on your phone or hard drive that you didn’t take yourself is some kind of copyright violation. I’m not going to go down that puritan road. But let me go through the usual excuses and explain why they don’t apply to indy books.

Information wants to be free! – Yeah, sure, the most facile argument of the bunch. Okay, the information should be accessible, but who is going to pay the person who went through the effort to gather it? Hey, Global Temperature data is out there, all you need is a thermometer. Oh, you don’t want to go measure it yourself? You want to get someone else to do it? Either get volunteers or pay someone. Making someone a volunteer after the fact, involuntarily, by not paying them for their work… there’s a word for that.

But Big Corporations make all kinds of money, what’s it matter to them if I pirate a copy of Photoshop? – You know, on an individual scale, that’s probably true. Lots of people took advantage of the “Free” Creative Suite 2 “mistake” Adobe made where they published lists of valid product keys and provided downloads of what is in reality, 10 year old versions of their products, with the winking assertion that it was only for people who actually bought it because the authentication server was being shut down. Technically, if you grabbed that without owning the product, you’re a pirate. (It’s now behind a sign-up wall, and pirates are a little less willing to put their real names up for that kind of thing). Frankly, it was probably a shrewd marketing move that also takes the pressure off their newer products. But, when it comes to industrial scale software piracy like what comes out of China, yeah, that’s a significant problem, which is why they aren’t going to come after you for that single copy you use non-professionally five or six times a year. But this is also why we don’t really own software any more, and have DRM out the wazoo and license codes and online verification servers that screw us when things go wrong.

But I’m broke! – No, you’re not, you just can’t prioritize, or childishly can’t manage your budget. We’re talking an e-book in the $2.99 to $5.99 range. Hell, Comic books are about that much apiece these days. You just bought the latest video game for enough to buy TEN eBooks. You could stock a library for what you spent on that Con. Give up ONE Latte? (Furries are particularly notorious for pleading poverty when their favorite artists put out a $10 portfolio, then drop $50 for a single commission of their personal character in some sexual position – go fig.)

Hey, I’m doing you a favor, it’s free publicity! – Bullshit. In my friend’s case, it’s costing him plenty – hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Free publicity is writing reviews, having discussions, all that stuff they call “Word of Mouth”, and actually BUYING the book so that its Amazon Rankings go up. If you actually Love the author’s work, why are you destroying it?

But you pirate Anime, you hypocrite! – Anime fandom is pretty unique when it comes to piracy. They make the effort to be symbiotic rather than parasitic. They know not to kill the golden goose. For one thing, Fansubbers add value – they put actual work into doing translations. They also target a market that the original publishers do not, foreign languages. The popularity of a particular fansub is often used as an indicator of which shows will resonate with the American market, and can be beneficial when it comes to negotiating licensing deals. And the producers actually know this, and allow it, because they know the value to adds to their offering. But the single biggest difference is that once a show is licensed in the US Market, the torrents come down. The fans stop circulating the tapes. They don’t cannibalize their own fandom, and often buy the dubbed DVDs of the shows they liked as Fansubs. In short, they don’t fuck over the creators.

Unlike the Anime Fans, the book pirates are not adding any value to the things they are stealing. The financial justification isn’t there when eBooks are so cheap. And they are NOT hurting a “Big Corporation.” Amazon only gets about 30% of the book price for eBooks in that price range, 70% of the money you’re stealing from the author you claim you love. Wanna prove it? Find the author’s web page, and see if they have a PayPal button, and send them 70% of the cover price and an apology for costing them rankings and not giving them a positive review.

Of course, a lot of these pirate hosts don’t actually read the books, they just want bragging rights to having the most files, or the fastest release times, or most downloads (that is, if they’re not actually Russian Mafia sites looking to infect your computer with Botware). They don’t love your favorite author, and they couldn’t care less if he’s driven out of writing by the financial losses they cause. There will always be hopeful new writers whose dreams they can uncaringly crush.

The Antonelli Affair

A lot has been written about the Sad Puppies campaign and this year’s Hugo awards, but I thought I’d shine a light on one aspect that hasn’t gotten too much coverage, and the lessons that can be learned from it.

At one point, during a Podcast, Lou Antonelli let slip that after having read something horrible that David Gerrold had posted on his Facebook page, something he decided to take seriously, something that if it were true would foretell harm befalling someone at Sasquan, the 2015 WorldCon, he decided that the Spokane Police Department should be made aware of this potential threat.

This should be perfectly reasonable, considering how much people complain these days about being made to feel “Unsafe” and demand that authority figures do something about it even before anything happens. Although from all evidence, the Spokane PD took it about as seriously as a report of a UFO, and absolutely nothing came of it. This is an important point: Absolutely no harm was done to anyone.

On the other hand, I find it perfectly credible that Lou had seen something loathsome and worrisome on Gerrold’s Facebook page. I have a Liberal friend who would quite often Like or Comment on items from Gerrold, and to a one, they were vile, evil and spiteful screeds against those not of his political stripe, frequently wishing for ironic harm to befall them. And the comments from his fans seemed to be a contest of who could amplify the hate to the highest shriek. I finally found the way to stop those posts from appearing in my feed without having to unfollow my misguided friend – I simply replied to one of these vituperative calls for conservative blood, I can’t recall what it was exactly, and posted a disagreement. Mr. Gerrold promptly blocked me. (Certain idiots over on File 770 refused to believe that I couldn’t see Gerrold’s feed, and insisted that I was lying, right up until he came on the thread and confirmed that I was blocked, at which point the issue was dropped as if it had never been, and that they had never been wrong. They also refused to believe that he had been sanitizing his timeline leading up to the Con. I leave the proof of that as an exercise to those internet warriors who make extensive use of archive.org.)

If one takes the position that Gerrold is merely an internet blowhard, and that he doesn’t actually mean any of it to take place outside of his fevered imagination, then contacting the police over an internet crank was probably taking things too far. And to Lou’s credit, he did what any proper gentleman should have done, he admitted his mistake (such as it was) and apologized.

His apology fit all of the criteria I’ve spelled out before for what makes up a proper apology. He laid out exactly what he had done, owned it, admitted that his actions were inappropriate, made it right by retracting his police complaint, and promised to not do it again. He did not try to justify it by saying anything about what Gerrold had said that concerned him enough to think a police report was necessary. That would be trying to shift blame, and not proper for a true apology.

Mr. Gerrold graciously accepted the apology, and in any civilized society, this would be the end of the issue.

Of course, this is not a civilized society we’re talking about, this is Fandom.

In any case, the SJW side of fandom rose in coordinated furor over this revelation, making all kinds of demands for Lou’s head, literally and figuratively. They wanted his career ended, they wanted him to be collectively shunned, and especially they wanted him banned from WorldCon. Indeed, one fragile flower who had some minor position on the Con staff, who didn’t know Lou, had never met Lou, who was utterly outside Lou’s acquaintance, became so worked up over how horrible and dangerous this Antonelli fellow must be, that she felt “Unsafe” that he would be in the same hotel as her during the con, and was utterly dismayed that the ConCom wouldn’t act on her vague feelings of unrest and Do Something about it. She felt so Betrayed by the lack of action, she quit her post.

The objections did get some attention. Somehow these events, taking place months before the convention and not involving the Con in any official capacity might have run afoul of some vaguely-worded anti-harassment policy the ConCom had concocted, and considering how voluminously the hate-speech had been flying over the whole Sad Puppies campaign, it was sure to be applied one-sidedly. But Sasquan issued a statement on their Facebook page stating that after consulting with Mr. Gerrold, they would not be sanctioning Lou in any way, and that Lou had already promised to be on his best behavior at the Con in his apology. On the surface, this was a perfectly reasonable position. I’ll get to what lay underneath it in a moment.

Needless to say, this did not sit well with the screaming SJW faction. Lou was a Sad Puppy Nominee! He’d borne (not so) false witness against one of their heroes – The host of the besieged Hugo Awards! Even if Gerrold had accepted the apology, as utterly uninvolved parties, they could not! All of the usual suspects came out on that thread, inventing stories about how they felt personally threatened by Lou’s presence at the Con, and how it was only right that he be banned, shunned, and destroyed for his crimes. Remember, the only offense was that Lou reported Gerrold’s public statements to the police, but to these fanatics, it was as if a serial killer was being welcomed with open arms. How could it possibly be that the Con would not take this opportunity to savage and destroy one of the hated Sad Puppies? (Oh, they didn’t say that in so many words, but it was clearly implied.) But there was a reason.

This coordinated overreaction extended to other venues too. One ‘zine editor ignored the 72-hour rule to her detriment, and in the eager rush to be seen as being on the right side and “Do Something,” broke a publishing agreement with Lou for one of his shorts. It really wasn’t her place as an uninvolved party to take steps to punish Lou, and if she had waited a prudent amount of time, she would have learned about Gerrold accepting the apology. And instead of stepping back from that position in light of the new information, she became adamant. This did not reflect well on her, except among those who were calling for Lou’s destruction.

So, getting to what I alluded to above. On the surface, The Sasquan ConCom and Gerrold’s actions were honorable and gentlemanly. Granting forgiveness, especially when the affront caused no actual harm should have been ultimately to their credit, but the events of the Hugo presentation revealed their true motivation. Of course, all of the SJW Fen screaming for Lou’s head couldn’t be let in on the plot, which left them angry and confused (moreso than usual). If the Con had given in to the internet lynch mob, Lou would not have been present at the ceremony, and he would have been missed by Gerrold’s long-planned public insult to everyone nominated by the Sad Puppies campaign. After all, the “Assterisks” had been commissioned a month or two in advance, so pretending to be the better man was necessary in order to foist one upon Lou. Remember, according to the Sasquan ConCom’s statement, it was Gerrold who insisted that they not exclude Lou. In the face of all the enmity between them, why else would he do that? It was pure strategy. And if it took making a farce out of the Hugo awards, and destroying their credibility in order to drive out the Sad Puppy upstarts the ConCom was willing to make that sacrifice.

Too bad it didn’t work.

The Elements of an Apology

Apparently, in this day and age, people have forgotten how to properly apologize for their misdeeds. We now live in an era where Ego and Hubris have reached the point that offense is not an objective thing, but in the eye of the offended, who CLEARLY must be delusional, since we can all do no wrong. Well, others can do wrong, and when they do, they MUST be compelled to make an apology. But since they are subject to this same attitude, they only mouth the words that will get other people off their backs.

This leads to a lot of shitty non-apologies that never accomplish what a public apology is meant to do, which is serve as a form of social correction for doing wrong.

There are four things that an apology should contain.

First, and most commonly absent is an admission of responsibility. Most non-apologies entirely omit the role of the offender, and entirely put the burden of the offense on the offended. Sometimes they barely admit the existence of the offended. You can pick this out easily by the presence of the word “If”.

For example, compare these two apologies:

“I’m sorry you got hurt.”
“I’m sorry I hurt you.”

The first, you will note, is not actually an apology. The offender doesn’t even appear as the actor of the verb hurt. There is no responsibility taken. The second is an apology of a most basic sort.

The “If” implies a lot that is left unsaid. So let’s try to make it explicit.

“I’m sorry if anyone got hurt.”
(But if nobody got hurt, then I’m not sorry at all, as I think I did nothing wrong).

“I’m sorry if anyone feels offended.”
(You feeling offended is regrettable. I was hoping you’d be driven to suicide by my cutting characterization of you.) or (You FEEL offended, and your feelings don’t really count. You weren’t actually offended, because I did nothing wrong in calling your entire bloodline retarded mongoloids. But if any mentally differently-abled or Downs Syndrome sufferers are out there, obviously I wasn’t referring to you. Just using your stereotype as an insult. I’m sure you don’t mind, it was entirely justified.)

The next thing an apology should include is a recognition that the behavior being apologized for is wrong.

“I realize now that shooting a gun randomly into the air is wrong, whether anyone gets hurt or not is immaterial.”

Excuses and rationalizations have no place in an apology.

“But everybody else was doing it. I thought it would be a harmless prank. It really shouldn’t matter to anyone. Why is everyone acting all serious?”

Third, It should include a promise to never engage in the bad behavior again.

“It was a stupid thing to do, and I will never do anything like that again.”

And finally, optionally, it should include a statement of what measures will be taken to prevent a repetition of the offense.

“And just to make sure of it, I am giving up the business of Billy-Bob the Sixgun Birthday Clown”

So, can you think of any recent apologies you’ve heard that don’t contain even one of these essential elements?

So, You Want to Fix the Hugos…

But you don’t want to “fix” the Hugos.

J. Greely over at .Clue Snagged a comment off of “Making Light” that caught my attention.

“My view is that when we specifically try to change the rules to exclude the Sad Puppies, and we judge how well the changes work by how well they would have excluded the Sad Puppies given historical data, we will have some difficulty explaining to journalists that we are not doing it to exclude the Sad Puppies.”
– J. Thomas, commenting on changing the Hugo rules at Making Light

Those folks have been spinning themselves in circles trying to figure out how to change the rules for Hugo voting to try to prevent Slate voting. They are, of course, ignoring the causes and looking at the effects, and the causes have been known to the WorldCon TruFen for ages, but they never wanted to do anything about them because they benefited them.

Okay, enough sniping, lets look at the REAL problems with Hugo voting. And it’s not something that’s going to be fixed by Weighting and exponential multipliers and block vote detection (Which assumes characteristics of the current vote that are not in evidence until the results are released later this year, and could have unintended consequences in the future).

First of all, if you want to protect against bloc voting, you need to have a Hugo Electorate large enough that assembling a truly effective bloc is impossible. Some have said that lowering the supporting nomination price would increase participation. That may work, but others have said that the costs of processing the Hugos are at break-even at $40. Not having a crack team of Combat Accountants at my disposal, I can’t say if that’s true, or if the increase from circa 500 voters to 2100 has made it more or less expensive per voter to count. (If there are no economies of scale, someone needs to look at the process.) Maybe you could have random prize drawings, or, maybe you could make a bigger deal of the value of the Voter’s packet.

But perhaps you need to look at discouraged voters, people who want to participate, or who have participated in the past but have dropped out, and see why they don’t feel all that great about voting for the Hugos.

One of the typical complaints I’ve seen is that the voters don’t think their vote is effective. Every year they pay their membership, cast their nominations, and feel like they’ve accomplished nothing when nothing they voted for makes it to the ballot. I know that must suck, and the TruFen have certainly gotten a taste of that this year, so I’m sure they understand (Bad Mauser! No Cookie!). They also seem to get disenchanted by the things that do get through that they think are not worthy of the Hugo name. See the previous post for more on that.

The problem is, there are thousands of works published every year, and only five slots per category. And as has been pointed out in many posts about the system, that makes a lot of stuff get lost in the noise. But it also makes the system very vulnerable to small cliques and blocs who can force anything onto the ballot with 10% of the votes (again, a larger electorate makes 10% much harder to achieve). Thus putting factions on the horns of a dilemma, how to keep the other faction out without hurting their own chances. (Okay, I get it, no Cookie, but I’m on a diet!)

Well, forgetting factions, the real problem here is the dilution of the nominating votes. If five hundred things each get a single vote apiece, that’s a significant number of ballots that have no effect on the outcome. No wonder people feel disenfranchised. Some folks are proposing all kinds of complicated formulae for adjusting the cut-off of the asymptotic curve, but they’re trying to fix a dynamic problem with a solution based strictly on their perception of this year’s data. The approach is doomed to fail merely because of its overcomplexity, and it’s only aimed at salving their bruised egos at losing, rather than addressing the basic problems of voters on the fringes.

So, what is my proposal?

The Two Stage nomination process:

Here’s how it works. As before, each supporting member gets a nomination ballot where they can enter five items, unranked, per category. Then, the top twenty-five vote getters are announced as the Nominee Pool. Next the Voters get to vote on which five of those 25 they think should be on the final ballot. And then finally, the ranked, Australian-rules ballot is cast as normal.

Why would this work? First, with regard to slate voting, the best they could take with their five nomination pool slots is five places. Even two competing and opposite slates could only get 2/5 of the slots. Second, with regard to disenfranchised voters, even if all five of their nominees fail to make the pool, they still have a chance to make a difference when it comes to deciding the final five nominees. All the marginal voters are now up for grabs. They are still a part of the process. They may not have gotten the works they want on the ballot, but they’re still involved instead of being shut out. So now, a slate would have to get a majority of the votes to advance itself, rather than the typical 10%.

To be sure, there are fine tuning details to work out. For example, I would lean towards including all the results of a tie in the pool, unless they are single vote getters, or maybe two vote getters, so long as the pool doesn’t get too big. The threshold should be set to keep it between say, 25 and 50.

I’d also suggest making the process electronic only. It allows automating the process, and we’re practically there already, with only three paper votes this year.

The Second Problem

There is one other common Hugo complaint. The best Dramatic Presentation Short Form being all episodes of Doctor Who. I will give the SP campaign props for bringing actual diversity to this category this year. But how can this be accomplished without a slate? Only allow one episode per series? That could get ugly.

My suggestion: Nominate a Series, rather than a specific episode. Not even a Season, since seasons so often span a year end. If a series airs an episode in say, 2016, it is eligible for 2016, regardless of whether it was the last episode of Season 5 or the first episode of Season 6 that tickled someone’s fancy.

What do you think, sirs?