Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Sustaining Injustice

Canada should legalize cannabis pretty soon now, supposedly this summer. I've been a long time supporter of legalizing cannabis, so I'm very happy they are doing this. I plan on going to my government-run cannabis-selling shop, making a purchase, and using cannabis
for the first time in my life.

But being a very negative person, I tend to see what is going wrong more than what is going right. And on this front, despite following the right overall plan, my federal and provincial governments are doing a hell of a lot wrong.

The War on Drugs was an American policy started under Nixon in order to attack American democracy. Prohibition and restriction of intoxicants has been around far longer than Nixon, but highlighting drug abuse as a particular societal ill and treating that illness with long prison sentences was a way to try to arrest hippies and black Americans for felonies. In many states a felony conviction strips you of your right to vote, so by making a common and nearly harmless drug a serious offense, Nixon could suppress the votes of people who didn't tend to like Nixon.

It worked. America has a massive prison population that is extremely disproportionately black. The New Jim Crow, which talks about mass incarceration as the post-civil-rights-movement tool of choice to maintain racism, opens with a story of Jarvious Cotton who cannot vote, whose father and grandfather and great grandfather could not vote. At some point his ancestors couldn't vote because they were slaves. One of his ancestors was killed by racists when he attempted to vote. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he has a felony conviction for cannabis possession. One way or another, America will keep political power away from its black citizens.

America exported this policy all over the world. I feel very safe saying that Canada's laws against cannabis are largely what they are because Nixon wanted to suppress the black vote. In Canada this isn't about disenfranchisement. Canadians with criminal convictions don't lose their right to vote. But whether Canada started it's own war on drugs as an explicitly racist campaign or not, its effect is racist. It's non-white Canadians who bear the brunt of the enforcement of drug policy. After all, there's more to being convicted of a crime than
losing the right to vote
. And people with criminal convictions are marginalized by Canada
in other ways

So are we legalizing cannabis as a way of righting this wrong? Well, no. We are legalizing cannabis because wealthy white people who have had effectively legal access to cannabis for more than a decade just want to recognize their lived reality in law. They'd rather be able to google the closest place to buy it than to have to find a seller through a word-of-mouth network.

Canadian legalization of cannabis is not about trying to right a historical wrong. They aren't going to open up the prison doors and let everyone who sold or possessed the drug go free. It might be easier to apply for a pardon for possession, but it will still be a pardon. The rare child of a wealthy family who got caught in a sting that was intended for people of colour will have no problem convincing a board to expunge their conviction. Many of the people most abused by the law won't be able to afford
the application fee

And for people who applaud this purely as a person freedom issue, it's not going to work out that way. Many small dealers will be made worse off by the change in legislation. They will be competing with a government monopoly selling cannabis
specifically to run them out of business.;

The black market will still persist. The black market is doing fine in Colorado where cannabis has been legal for a while now. That's partly because it's not really legal - it's legal under state law but not under federal law. It's partly because it's safer for organized crime to grow cannabis in Colorado and smuggle it to neighbouring states where it is illegal than to grow it in those states. Some people just like their old dealers and didn't want to go to the new, legal dispensaries. But most people would rather buy milk at the grocery store even if they knew a guy who could hook them up with discounted milk on Friday night. The dispensaries are doing just fine.

In Canada if you like your dealer will you be able to keep your dealer? No, they will face fines and charges. Imagine finding out that your the illegal product sold by your small, illegal business was being legalized, only to find out that it will still be illegal for you to sell it. I'll be very interested to see whether the bulk of those fines and charges are handed out to black and indigenous Canadians.

I try not to see malice where there is more likely incompetence, but it sure feels like the government must have put together a committee to figure out how to maintain cannabis-related institutional racism while making the drug legal.

The right way to legalize cannabis would have been to retroactively strike the criminal laws against it the first week they were in power. That would have resulted in a chaotic and difficult transition. As much as we should avoid such transitions in public policy, we should also avoid the incarcerating tens of thousands of people for the colour of their skin. For me, the latter principle takes precedence over the former. Unfortunately Canada's governments at both the federal and provincial level disagree.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Oracle Review - Hand of Justice and Tourach's Gate

I was just about to start complaining about how
Arcum's Weathervane
doesn't put counters on lands, and I realized that Fallen Empires was also a Magic set. It's time to do a conjoined review of two very different cards:

Hand of Justice and Tourach's Gate
Here's the Oracle wording for these two cards.
Tap, Tap three untapped white creatures you control: Destroy target creature.
Enchant land you control
Sacrifice a Thrull: Put three time counters on Tourach's Gate.
At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter from Tourach's Gate. If there are no time counters on Tourach's Gate, sacrifice it.
Tap enchanted land: Attacking creatures you control get +2/-1 until end of turn. Activate this ability only if enchanted land is untapped.
There's obviously only one thing that links these two cards - they both tap something that isn't them as part of an activation cost. And there's something that links them to maybe hundreds of others cards - they do so with an unnecessary clause about the thing being untapped to begin with.

Every single card that requests that you tap another permanent to pay an activation cost either specifies that the permanent in question must be untapped, or specifies that you cannot play the ability unless the permanent is untapped. This goes right up to a 2018 set where
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
says, "Tap another untapped merfolk you control:" as the activation cost of the ability.

Why specify an untapped zombie or an untapped white creature? Why say that the ability can't be played unless the land is untapped?

Once again, I think we have to go back and think about
Maze of Ith
Serra Angel
. After accepting that tapping an tapped creature means doing nothing and untapping and untapped creature means doing nothing, Wizards ran into a problem with the card
Tradewind Rider
. The rider said that you had to tap two other creatures to activate it. Players pointed out that if you are instructed to tap a creature and you can't, you do nothing, so if you tapped Tradewind Rider with two other tapped creatures, the cost would be "Tap, do nothing:" and then you get the effect.


The entire argument was silly on it's face but it passed muster at the time with the rules team who issued errata. Since then, the rules have been clarified in a way that obviously obviates the need for extraneous "untapped" on our cards, but they just keep putting it on.

By the same logic that required "untapped", if you had a
Platinum Emperion
and a
Yawgmoth's Bargain
you could draw as many cards as you like. You can't pay 1 life because your life total can't change, if something told you to lose 1 life you'd do nothing, therefore you have to do nothing to draw.

In fact, the precise same argument would justify activating an ability with a tap symbol in its cost while the permanent with that ability is already tapped. Let's check out the definition of the tap symbol from the comprehensive rules:
Tap Symbol
The tap symbol {T} in an activation cost means “Tap this permanent.” See rule 107.5.
Yeah, it just means to tap the permanent. It doesn't mean "Tap this untapped permanent". Then how do we know we can't activate that ability when the permanent is already tapped?
117.3. A player can’t pay a cost unless he or she has the necessary resources to pay it fully. For example, a player with only 1 life can’t pay a cost of 2 life, and a permanent that’s already tapped can’t be tapped to pay a cost. See rule 202, “Mana Cost and Color,” and rule 602, “Activating Activated Abilities.”
Even though it's just an example, it's written there explicitly in the rules. Hand of Justice doesn't need to specify that the creatures are untapped because you can't pay a cost if you can't do whatever thing the cost tells you to do.

A permanent that is tapped can't be tapped and a permanent than is untapped can't be untapped. When an effect tells you to do something and you can't, you shrug and move on to the next thing the effect says to do. When a cost tells you to do something and you can't, you can't pay the cost.

These are the rules of magic that I intuited in 1995, these are the rules of magic that are written in the current comprehensive rules. If we want reminder text to say that the permanent you tapped to pay the cost had to be untapped then put it in, even though that would be the equivalent of putting in "(If you can't pay 3 life you can't activate this ability)" on Tavern Swindler.

Hand of Justice, Tourach's Gate, and a lot of other cards that have been printed as recently as this year all get:

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


If one thing defines my life, it is finding people who are being snobby because they think they are smart and out-snobbing them to make them feel the way they are trying to make other people feel.

I had this idea for a book about the idea of god. I'm clearly an atheist by any sensible definition. But the point of my book wouldn't be to say, "Hey, jerks, there's no God, stop doing all that stupid God stuff." No, people who believe in a god of one sort or another have no shortage of books to say that to them. Instead, I'd being going after ignostics.

Ignoticism is the idea that any discussion of God's existence is meaningless because the term "God" is not sufficiently well defined to discuss. It's an extremely snobby point of view held by people who just want to tell other people that what they are talking about isn't worth talking about. I don't know what could be more infuriating to me.

Anyway, I've got the general outline of the book. I've got eleven chapters mapped out and the argument running through them in my head.

But writing books is daunting hard work with no payoff. It would be my third. My philosophy manifesto, world changing as it was, didn't exactly pick up steam. I've been rewriting the second half of my novel about a magical girl from a magical world who finds herself in mundane Toronto for about ten years.

I want to share my prophetic genius with the world, but it seems very hard to find the time. Maybe, though, the idea of sticking it to some snobs will motivate me.

It's hard to say.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Where the Line is

I literally have a half-dozen half-written posts from the last month and a half but here I am starting a new one. It's because I've had an epiphany on why free speech for white supremacists is such a problematic issue.

We all agree that killing people is a net negative. We agree on that to such an extent that my tepid description of it a "net negative" makes it sound monstrous because it doesn't convey the extent to which I should condemn killing people. We also recognize that there are various reasons why people kill other people:

  • The killer is angry that the victim was cheating on them
  • The killer is disturbed that the victim is unresponsive to their demands to stop eating the face of another person who appears to be unconscious, maybe dead
So killing people is a bad thing but we are able to draw a line and say: on this side of the line where you are just struggling to deal with your anger the killing is unacceptable; on this side of the line where a possibly-still-alive person is being mutilated by someone who has been driven to psychosis by bath salts, killing is acceptable.

Let's make a five point scale. At five we have situations that are so over-the-top that we all agree that shooting someone is pretty much the best possible option. From
one to three
we have varying degrees of sympathy for the shooter, but we still find it very clear cut that shooting someone was unacceptable. At four we run into the problem cases where we understand why the shooting was justified in the mind of the shooter but think they ought to have made more of an effort to escape the situation, or we think that a reasonable person ought to have known better, or some other set of facts makes us question whether it was justified.

Let's imagine a similar scale for suppressing political speech, for trying to deny people a platform which to spread their views. Just like killing, it's weighted towards allowing people to say what they want. A one might be "I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for." and a two or three might be, "Ice in November? What happened to Global Warming?"

A five would include things that are obviously already illegal. If you specifically ask people to kill your someone of an opposing political view or threaten to kill them yourself, for example.

A lot of people who argue that white supremacists should have the same speech platform as the Green party seem to think that advocating genocide of a group of people based on their ethnicity, religion or skin colour is a four and we are haggling over how far we ought to go. Actually, a lot of them seem to think it's a three.

It's a five.

I've made the joking-not-joking analogy that if we want to protect my freedom to cut vegetables we have to protect someone's freedom to stab people. Free use of knives. That analogy may seem unfair, but that is the degree to which people who say that white supremacist recruitment events are just another kind of free speech sound insane to me.

They think that banning the Communist Party's speech is the equivalent of shooting someone because they killed your father, while banning nazi speech is the equivalent of shooting someone because you felt afraid when your level of fear was totally irrational and you weren't really in danger. I agree with them on the Communist Party bit, but to me banning nazi speech is shooting that drug-addled face-eater. It's shooting the blood-axe-wielding berserker running for the maternity ward. The line is way over there and there is no question that we are across it.

So while they think they are arguing principles of free speech, a tacit part of their argument is that promoting genocide just isn't that harmful. It's not harmful the way saying,
"smash every window in this place"
would be, or the way that
drawing an unauthorized picture of Mickey Mouse
would be.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Bill Maher is a Small, Skinny Dumbass

I don't watch a lot of
Bill Maher's TV show
. I don't watch it mostly because I find him hideously smug and overly concerned with stupid issues. He loves to act like political correctness is ruining things. He also loves to make fun of people for being fat.

I also don't watch it because he's short. If I were standing next to him I could put my chin on his head.
I don't respect short men

In Bill Maher's mind he's doing the right thing
. He talks about the obesity epidemic and how being fat is tied to diseases and how this is a health crisis. He says you shouldn't support people who make bad life decisions in their bad life decisions, that it makes sense to shame people for things that should be shameful.

Through my twitter
feed I'm sometimes exposed to articles on fatphobia. If you aren't attuned to this issue you might not really know what is going on out there. Fat people endure mockery by strangers, they endure nasty looks and comments, they even endure physical violence from people who find fat people's bodies disgusting. Of course there's more to it than being fat. Fat men aren't going to take the same kind of harassment as fat women, for example.

The idea that there is something acceptable or right about treating people this way is stupid. Of course I'm sure Bill Maher would agree with that. He'd say it's terrible to assault someone because you disapprove of their body. He'd say that calling out people on his show for living unhealthy lifestyles isn't the same as making nasty comments to strangers or hitting them. Of course since he's a defender of free speech absolutism there's no point making a comparison between insulting fat people and insulting any other marginalized group and how that promotes this kind of behaviour.

I was watching clips of the View one day and I saw Trevor Noah. Joy Behar brought up the issue of political correctness and how you can't say anything these days without someone getting offended. Trevor Noah took a different view:

Maybe it's a good thing, he said. Earlier in his career he used to make jokes about fat people and he thought he was being edgy, but really he was just being mean. Being mean and propping up the status quo. Maybe it's good that people are learning to be better.

If I have an opinion on an issue and I'm told that one of Bill Maher and Trevor Noah agrees with me, while the other disagrees, I'm going to be thinking, "Oh please! Please let me be on Trevor Noah's side!" For one thing, Trevor Noah is
still funny

I don't know why I'm so fixated on Bill Maher with this. Fatphobia is baked into our culture pretty deep. It's just that I wish I could have five minutes to talk to him about his position.

I remember when I was young people criticized the term "homophobia." They said it wasn't fear, it was hate. I think the affix "-phobia" to describe bigotry is often right on the mark. We used to joke that all those bible thumping Republican pastors going after gay people were themselves in the closet. Years later when one after another was "caught" I started to wonder if it was really a joke at all. Lots of people don't like gay people for stupid reasons, but they don't all found a megachurch so they can have a platform to talk about it every day. It seems it takes someone who is afraid of their own sexuality to make a life-time cause of really going after other people's.

The "-phobia" affix seems even more apt for fatphobia. The story our society tells us is that all of us have the potential to be fat or not fat. Almost all of us like cake. So
're in the position of the person who is attracted to people of the same sex but who has convinced themselves that this is wrong. If we give in to temptation we become something we don't want to be - something we know we will be judged for being. The temptation is always there.

So I think calling Bill Maher "fatphobic" is probably right on the money. I bet he is terribly afraid of being fat. Terribly afraid that if he doesn't do the things that make him thin he will be subject to the kind of judgment that he currently dishes out. I don't think a person would go on TV to loudly proclaim that shaming fat people was a good thing if they weren't afraid of being shamed for being fat themselves.

Bill Maher presents his idea of shaming fat people like it's revolutionary. Like we now have lots of scientific evidence that
being fat is a hazard to your health
. We have more and more people who are getting fatter and fatter. We have a rise in weight-associated diseases. So it's time we all finally get on the bandwagon and shame fat people!

But Bill Maher probably made fun of fat people as a child, or was made fun of for being fat as a child. He probably made fun of fat people as a teenager or was made fun or for being fat as a teenager. He probably refused to consider dating women because he thought they were too fat. He probably hit on a woman and then when she turned him down
pretended that she was too fat for him

People made fun of fat kids when I was kid. People said girls and women were sexually unattractive because they were fat when I was a teenager and when I was in university. Due to my inability to take my own perspective seriously I once followed a societal script and deeply hurt someone I cared about because of their weight when in reality I actually thought they were beautiful. I've heard people my age imply that fat women don't get raped because they aren't attractive enough.

Making fun of fat people is not some revolutionary act, Bill. It's just being the same kind of zero-empathy dipshit that you were
when you were five.

If fat shaming made people thinner, there wouldn't be many fat people around. It's been the policy of our culture to shame fat during the entire growth of the "obesity epidemic" that Bill Maher is so concerned about. And that's not some coincidence, at least some of
are fat because we use sugary foods to medicate our mental health issues. Shaming is not a very good solution for that. That's the kind of how-things-work-in-real-life thing that I'd think Bill Maher could understand. There's no always a straight line between incentive and outcome. He gets that making weed illegal doesn't make people stop smoking weed.

And I don't want you to read that paragraph and think I'm buying into the idea that being fat is a bad thing we should minimize. Fatphobia means a lot of bad policy. It means we measure health far too much using
a very bad proxy for health
. It means that we when we talk about "ideal weight" we define it to be a weight that is statistically
not even maximizing longevity
. Not to mention that the way we measure fat, and research into how being fat affects health
is racist
. We have a lot more to gain, healthwise, by accepting people's bodies than we do by warping our assessment of health around a bigoted classification of bodies.

Which is all totally secondary to the fact that we are dehumanizing people, and we have been our whole lives, and we are pretending it's okay. If you eat something you think you shouldn't and say you feel fat, you are saying to everyone who is fat that you use their body as a proxy for "bad". If you are prone to do that, try doing something you think you shouldn't and mournfully saying you feel like a member of a racial group that has been stereotyped as stupid. You probably won't try that since it would make you feel awful about yourself. What was that nonsense about short people being untrustworthy that I wrote near the beginning of this post?

Reasons why some people are fat and some people are thin are extremely complex. That cultural idea I mentioned that people choose whether to be fat or thin may not be quite as nonsensical as the insistence from some bigots that people choose whether to be gay, but it's in that direction.

I don't think Bill Maher is all that stupid. But intelligence can be just as useful in rationalizing a bias as it can be in examining it. Of course he gets why making weed illegal is bad policy but doesn't get how shaming fat people is bad. He smokes weed, he isn't fat. It's all about what works for him.

You don't have to be stupid to be a dumbass.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Schrödinger's Axiom

Schrödinger didn't believe in Schrödinger's Cat. He created the story of the cat to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the idea of superposition. Einstein praised his thought on the matter, noting that, "Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation."

The wikipedia entry on the cat has brief summaries of numerous other interpretations of superposition and collapse, some of which I'm pretty familiar with but some of which I'd never heard of. My favourite is the Relational Interpretation which is summarized by saying:
To the cat, the wavefunction of the apparatus has appeared to "collapse"; to the experimenter, the contents of the box appear to be in superposition. Not until the box is opened, and both observers have the same information about what happened, do both system states appear to "collapse" into the same definite result, a cat that is either alive or dead.
Which sounds a lot like saying
"different people might know different things and that's okay."

I've been thinking about the cat recently, and about the idea that some things in reality are undetermined until they are observed, and it struck me that this is circular reasoning.

How does science work. We craft hypotheses based on information we have, we concoct tests based on those hypotheses, we either disprove our hypotheses or we give them weight by conducting our tests. The key to this entire process is that there is something in the world that would let us know the difference between a world where we are correct and a world where we are incorrect.

Victor Stenger made this point very well in his book "God: The Failed Hypothesis". While one resolution to the debate about the existence of God is the idea of "
non-overlapping magisteria
", Stenger points out that a great many of the things that are asserted about God can be tested.

For example, if God exists in the way that God is described by some Christians, then praying for another person's health would help them recover sooner from an illness. We can test this and know that it isn't true. As long as a claim has any observable result, it's the domain of science. If a claim doesn't have any observable result - that is, if the universe as we are capable of knowing it would be the same regardless of whether the claim was true - then that claim would fall into the other magisterium.

We might say, well, if it makes no difference that is possible to detect in any way, then it doesn't matter, it doesn't exist. But that statement isn't the conclusion of quantum physics, it's the bedrock on which the entire idea of science is built.

Science is the idea that the way to know thing is by observing them. Science is the idea that is a thing cannot be observed then it is not real.

So it seems that the whole observation issue is sort of a breaking point for science. It's coming full circle and proving your first axiom as an important theorem. We already know that is a thing is not observed then science necessarily has nothing to say about it.

This is all just me thinking, and there's a good chance someone will read this who has a better understanding that I do. I guess my question is, what would be observably different about the world if it were the case that things that couldn't be or that had never been observed were still very real? This might be letting philosophy get in the way of reality, but it strikes me that the answer to that question can't possibly be anything.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Cloak of Invisibility

If you've read the title of the post, you might wonder whether I'm going to be constructing some elaborate metaphor about marginalized people or whether I'm posting about video games again.

It's video games.

I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone dungeon runs. It's very fun single player content which is what I want out of computer card games. I find Hearthstone fun to play, but when I play against other people, those people use up an
entire minute
deciding on their mulligan and then another entire
before passing the turn without doing anything on turn one. I open up video games to play video games, not to fantasize about other humans beings choking.

I've written about hearthstone single player content previously. Sky at Bright Cape Gamer had written about the challenge in single player content and I had a very different take where I largely disparaged the idea of challenge in single player content. This time I am also launching off of something Sky wrote but instead of woe I am writing with incredulity. I agree with Sky's assessment - I like the dungeon run, there is challenge but it doesn't feel like just rolling the dice over and over, it's fun to keep doing even after you win. He's also right about
Potion of Vitality
. But he raises something I find super weird:
I have found it super interesting that people have wildly differing ideas of the power level of various items.  Some are obvious, such as the Captured Flag which gives your minions +1/+1.  It is excellent, one of the best for every class and strategy.  However, there is one in particular, the Cloak of Invisibility, that seems to have some serious disagreement on its strength.
Okay, so I guess I'm not surprised that Hearthstone players are not sold on the power of Cloak of Invisibility. Apparently people weren't sold on Dr. Boom when he came out. I heard people disparaging Darkshire Councilman when it was first available. The Hearthstone community is not good at evaluating how good cards are.

As above, Sky is right. It's good. Partly because it allows you to have good trades in combat, and partly because it has the potential to break the game against some encounters, particularly the Darkness, leaving them stranded with a full hand and unable to do anything for the rest of the game.

But what struck me is that anyone could even debate whether it's good or not in a general sense. I'm sure no one is debating whether doubling your battlecries is "good". There are a couple of decks that effect is very good in, but for most decks it's very close to useless.

Cloak of invisibility gives all your units stealth permanently. That doesn't obviously interact with cards the way double battlecries interacts with battlecry cards or sceptre of summoning interacts with cards that cost 8, 9 and 10.

Hearthstone is full of minions that have devastating effects while they are on the battlefield. It's
pretty obvious
that if your opponent can't remove your KelThuzad you win, but there are plenty of other cards that are very problematic if they stick around. Pirate and murloc decks that have cheap minions that buff other minions become very difficult to beat. Cards with powerful inpires like Thunder Bluff Valiant and Nexus Champion-Saraad are brutally overpowered when they can't be attacked. Frothing Berserker sometimes seems outrageously unfair when you can attack it, but when it can't be attacked it's easy to trade other minions while you beat them dead with a 15/4.

Cloak of Invisibility is the most broken effect of any of the passive treasures. Breaking the game is good, but you have to make sure it breaks in your favour.

It would be silly to try to say whether Robe of the Magi or Ring of the Justicar are good without thinking about what class you are playing. Khadgar's Scrying Orb is sometimes good and it sometimes isn't that good, but you can't evaluate it the same for
a warrior and a shaman

Active treasures lend themselves a little better to a strict ranking list where some are just plain a lot better than others. But aside from
a few
that are just all-around good and
that is all-around bad, the value of all passive treasures is "it depends."