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.

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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?

The Missing Narrative

Amid all the back and forth between the Sad Puppies contingent and the Puppy Haters, we’re seeing a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to relate their own experiences with the Hugos, and how it illustrates Larry and Brad’s point. The typical post goes something like this:

“I’ve been reading Science Fiction for (30/40/50) years, and I used to always look for the books that said they were Hugo Award winners on the cover, because they were the best. But then after a while, I started to like them less and less, until now I see the Hugo Award sticker as a warning sign. I never knew that I could have a say in the award before, until I heard about this.

I’ve started enjoying SF less and less over the years, and I’ve been reading less in General. But now I’ve found some new authors, and I’m really enjoying what I’m reading. Write more!”

And that is rather telling. This is your typical Sad Puppy voter, someone who has been disappointed by the politically correct drek put out by the major publishers, who don’t even seem to care that their sales are falling as long as their message gets out. These are not gamers, or fly-by-night political operatives looking to get a shot in at the SJW’s. These are people who care deeply about the genre, and who are just now discovering that they have a voice, and that it’s worth the $40 to them to try and bring it back to greatness.

The Puppy Haters dismiss them at their peril. And they are imperiled. The more they talk about the Sad Puppies having “Gamed” the system (without apparently being conscious of how they supposedly did so) the more they miss out on the most important question. WHY? Brad could have put up his list of recommendations, and perhaps nothing at all could have come of it. But instead, something about the campaign resonated with people. People who love science fiction. People who had given up on voting in the Hugos when their nominations never made it (not knowing about the Cliques and their power-brokering, which was much easier when the electorate was a fifth of the size it is today.) and those who never knew they could vote for what they think is best.

If the Puppy Haters don’t take a moment aside from their reflexive hate and pause to think about where all these people have really come from, they will find themselves even more overwhelmed and cast aside on the ash-heap of irrelevancy.

But they are so un-self-aware that they don’t even notice that when they talk about the great authors and novels that have won the Hugo in the past, the names and titles they rattle off are all the ones that pre-date their influence. They don’t list the people they’ve rewarded for their politics among the greats (And at least in this, they are correct).

2015 Hugos

I suppose, since I’ve been commenting so much elsewhere, I should make an entry here, in a blog that nobody really reads.

My first, and most salient point is, anyone who declares a work to be bad, merely because of whoever else nominated it, or recommended it, without having read it, if they REALLY want to protect the “honor” of the Hugo awards, should recuse themselves from voting. Otherwise they are engaging in exactly the same kind of politics they claim to be wailing against.

Put more bluntly, the Hugo process is that each voter is supposed to read all of the nominees and rank them accordingly, or else abstain from voting. And if at this stage of the game you can’t follow the rules, you have no business participating, let alone complaining about things that are not against the rules.

The Rules for nominating are simple too. Anyone with a membership for last year’s, this year’s, or next year’s WorldCon has the right to nominate up to five works in each category. The fact that anyone posted a list of suggestions is meaningless. It’s like a voting ballot with five blank lines, and every work is a write-in candidate. There have been recommendation lists and suggestions galore in the history of the awards, and there is NO difference between someone plugging a single work for a category or a complete slate. But each nomination ballot is filled out individually, nobody pulls down a single lever labelled “Sad Puppies” or “Rabid Puppies” or “Puppy Free” or “Whatever” and automatically votes a slate.

And the numbers from last year bear this out. If people had been voting a slate, you’d expect the same number of votes to appear for each candidate, from Best Short to Best Novel. It wasn’t even close to that. So accusations of “Bloc” voting are bullshit. As are comparisons to various award-buying campaigns in the past (Two have been mentioned, the trademark being a whole lot of ballots with only one work in one category on them.) It’s easy to tell, because there have been other, more obvious Bloc votes in the past – like for TOR published works in 2008 – that have that characteristic.

A second major point is that if you vote on a basis OTHER than the quality of the work, such as the writer’s politics, race, ethnicity, you are also going against the spirit of the award. Alas, it’s impossible to run the awards in a double-blind experiment, so we have to depend on responsible voters to overlook irrelevant factors. Imagine having Jury Duty, and you’re on a panel where one guy refuses to listen to the evidence, determined to convict someone because he “Looks like a criminal.” Don’t be that guy.

And encourage other people to approach the existing ballot with the proper respect and intent of equanimity. Anyone who says, “I’m going to put every one of those guys on the slate below “No Award” without reading them,” is being at least as bad as they (falsely) claim the one’s promoting the works are.

If you don’t like what’s on the ballot, next year make your preferences known for what you would like. After all, when people complained about the liberal bias of the recent awards, they were told “If you don’t like what’s on the ballot, vote for what you do want.” and they replied, “Challenge Accepted.” (Of course, some folks suggested instead they go away and make their own award, which just shows that their elitism is cranked up to 11.)

ETA: Some people accuse the SP list of being all of the usual “-ists”. “We were making great strides last year to use the Hugos to promote Female/trans/POC writers! How can they oppose this?”

How? The Hugo is supposed to be for the Best Novel/Novella/Novelette/Short Story/etc. not the Best Novel/Novella/Novelette/Short Story/etc. by a Female Genderqueer writer of Color. If you WANT to have an award for that, attend the business meetings a couple of years and get them to add one. It could be analogous to the Campbell award, since that one is directed at an Author. The Hugo is for the WORK, not the creator. And if you really want equality, you have to TREAT the works equally.

Let me re-emphasize that. The Hugo is not about the authors, it’s about the works. Make it about the authors and you’re doing it wrong.

One other point. All Sad Puppies Three was was a LIST. Brad made a single blog post with the names of a bunch of works he thought were worthy. That’s really all it was about. And a whole bunch of people ON THEIR OWN decided to register, and vote, using that list as a guide. It was all individual decisions, made by the voter’s own volition. Attributing any more power to it than that is delusional.

Besides, making the Hugo Electorate bigger and bigger will help make TRUE bloc voting impossible.

My response to Mike Glyer of File 770 on Sad Puppies 3

Over at File 770, the web form of one of the longer running SF Fanzines, Mike Glyer is mocking the “Sad Puppies” campaign to present WorldCon/Hugo voters with a broader spectrum of authors than just those on the left,

I’m not going to get into the whole history of the campaign, It’s all around, although best explored on Larry Corriea’s blog, Monster Hunter Nation.

Anyway, after reading the post this morning and mulling over a response during idle moments at work, I decided to post a reply. And if, by some chance, it would end up mysteriously lost in the Ether, I decided to copy it here as well. Now mind you, I don’t have a dog in this hunt. Technically, Kiwi is eligible as a Novelette, but the chances of it getting nominated, let alone winning are infinitesimal. But the whole experiment in exposing the political bias in the electorate and the unbelievable shitstorm it generated last time was pretty amazing to watch. And I thought I’d inject a little reality into the discussion.

So, without further ado:

Getting a Hugo for Larry Correia was never a part of the agenda. Indeed, if he had actually won an award, he would have lost his argument.

The overall question is: Is it appropriate to judge a work on the basis of the author’s personal/political views, or only on the work’s actual merit? This is a question fandom really should reflect on.

If the Hugos could be voted on in some kind of double-blind method, where the name and personal history of the author wasn’t known, would that help make the award truly reflect the best of that year’s SFF?  Well, this is of course impossible.

So we are left with: Are the Hugos an award based on the quality of the fiction, or are they an award for authors based on their political views? And does the Hugo/Worldcon electorate specifically lean Left/Liberal? The starting assumption, based on the recent nominees/results was yes, but to test that assumption one would need to put some quality fiction from authors of different political viewpoints on the ballot. (The fact that this took a special effort tended to reinforce the premise). If the vote was based purely on quality, some of these works could at least be expected to place well. If the vote was based on the author’s politics, that could also be seen by the results.

Indeed, in the frenzy of reaction and attempts at blacklisting, and the promises of so many to not even CONSIDER reading the works on the proposed slate, so that no proper judgement of quality could be made, the premise was proven to be correct.

Now the experiment should be repeated for validation. And if the Hugos truly are being awarded based on politics instead of quality, calling the Hugo an award for the best in SFF would be an utter falsehood.

If you read the comments on the File 770 post I linked above, you can see what I was talking about in my second to last paragraph, when one fellow said:

Well, now I know what to autorank below No Award should any of the obvious Puppy only items make the final ballot.

No consideration made that any of these items might actually be good, well, other than the carve-out he made for Guardians of the Galaxy, which was on Brad Torgersen’s list.

So in consideration of that comment, I appended this to my response:

Oh, and Tom Galloway, are you suggesting that you would vote against anything on Brad’s list, REGARDLESS OF QUALITY? Would that not make you part of the problem? You should vote for quality regardless of who is supporting the nomination. Brad’s list is no different than TOR pointing out which of its products are eligible this year. It has no power beyond informing the electorate of possible candidates.  They must still make the ultimate decision.

So, we now wait to see if the comment ever comes out of moderation. It was posted 2/3/15, at 12:36 AM.

[ETA: for some reason, Search engines direct a lot of people to this particular article. But if you’re interested in the issue, there are a lot of better ones on this site. Please stick around and check them out.]