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[sticky post] 55 Simple Rules for Debate in the Modern World

It’s my own fault really. Because I like to see different sides to an argument before making up my own mind (see Rule 9 below) then I am unfortunately exposed to comments from people whose opinions are badly argued, uninformed, prejudiced, immature and just plain stupid. And this does annoy me at times.

I like to think that the 55 rules below are ones that I at least try to stick to when commenting online. I wish other people would too, even though a few of my ‘rules’ are actually opinions. Some of the rules are not so much rules for debate, more rules you should live by if you want me to value your opinion. Put it this way, the more of my rules that you break, the less highly will I rate your opinion.


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Some EU Referendum questions...

Poll #2047763 Some Referendum Questions

If you intend to vote 'Leave', would you change your mind if you discovered that UK exporters would suffer significant tariffs when exporting to the EU?

Yes
0(0.0%)
No
3(8.1%)
SEWIWEIAC
1(2.7%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Remain'
33(89.2%)

If you intend to vote 'Remain', would you change your mind if you knew that within your lifetime the EU would transform into a single state, and individual nations were abolished?

Yes
8(21.6%)
No
22(59.5%)
SEWIWEIAC
5(13.5%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Leave'
2(5.4%)

If you intend to vote 'Leave', would you change your mind if you learned that UK exporters would suffer increased tariffs when exporting to countries outside of the EU?

Yes
1(2.7%)
No
2(5.4%)
SEWIWEIAC
1(2.7%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Remain'
33(89.2%)

If you intend to vote 'Remain', would you change your mind if you knew that in future, the EU would control member states' fiscal policies, for example setting tax rates and stopping countries from running budget deficits?

Yes
6(16.2%)
No
22(59.5%)
SEWIWEIAC
7(18.9%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Leave'
2(5.4%)

If you intend to vote 'Leave', would you change your mind if free access to public benefits and services was restricted to British citizens?

Yes
0(0.0%)
No
3(8.1%)
SEWIWEIAC
1(2.7%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Remain'
33(89.2%)

If you intend to vote 'Remain', would you change your mind if you knew that net immigration would increase significantly past current levels, say to 1million a year?

Yes
3(8.3%)
No
26(72.2%)
SEWIWEIAC
5(13.9%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Leave'
2(5.6%)

If you intend to vote 'Leave', would you change your mind if you knew that it meant that the UK would not enjoy the kind of trade deal with the US currently being negotiated by the EU?

Yes
1(2.7%)
No
2(5.4%)
SEWIWEIAC
1(2.7%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Remain'
33(89.2%)

If you intend to vote 'Remain', would you change your mind if the EU successfully negotiated a free trade deal like the proposed TTIP with the US?

Yes
2(5.4%)
No
29(78.4%)
SEWIWEIAC
4(10.8%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Leave'
2(5.4%)

Free trade is...

...good, and that's why I'm voting 'Remain'.
21(60.0%)
...bad, and that's why I'm voting 'Leave'
0(0.0%)
...good, and that's why I'm voting 'Leave'
3(8.6%)
...bad, and that's why I'm voting 'Remain'
4(11.4%)
SEWIWEIAC
7(20.0%)

If you intend to vote 'Leave', would you consider changing your mind if only the 'Remain' side weren't so obnoxious?

Yes
1(2.8%)
No
2(5.6%)
SEWIWEIAC
1(2.8%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Remain'
29(80.6%)
No, but I don't think the 'Remain' side is obnoxious.
3(8.3%)

If you intend to vote 'Remain', would you consider changing your mind if only the 'Leave' side weren't so obnoxious?

Yes
4(10.8%)
No
28(75.7%)
SEWIWEIAC
1(2.7%)
n/a - I'm voting 'Leave'
2(5.4%)
No, but I don't think the 'Leave' side is obnoxious.
2(5.4%)

Fitting the narrative

One of my occasional hobbies is social media (usually Facebook) hoax-slaying. I think I'm pretty good at spotting hoaxes. You can usually recognise something in the wording that doesn't seem quite right. Maybe it's my auditing experience - professional scepticism and all that.

Usually these hoaxes are crime scare stories - marks on the pavement are signs left by dognappers, look out for axe-wielding maniacs who get into your car at petrol stations - or chain letters purporting to be from Microsoft or Apple. Today though, we've had a political one. It's this:

"The most perfect thing I have ever seen just happened on the replacement train bus service between Newport and Cwmbran:

White man sat in front of a mother and her son. Mother was wearing a niqab. After about 5 minutes of the mother talking to her son in another language the man, for whatever reason, feels the need to tell the woman "When you're in the UK you should really be speaking English."

At which point, an old woman in front of him turns around and says, "She's in Wales. And she's speaking Welsh."

Perfect."

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Phligm Phlagm 3

The latest target of the PC police - Gilbert & Sullivan.

"Controversy as Chester Zoo opens 'Wrexham Scally Enclosure'". (I should point out that Homo Wrexhamius Scalliensis Chavus is pretty much confined to the southern part of Wrexham, not the nice bit where I’m from…)

Why Gandhi is such an asshole in Civilisation.

The Curious Case of the (Medieval) Weapon that Didn't Exist

Why you can't just have more quantitative easing to get rid of the national debt.

This is not a 512gb microSD card.

The worst football kits of all time. They’re all bad, but Colorado, seriously…?

This month's best headline is from an astronomy website.

"A lousy, stupid, no good, bad, law is being proposed."

Star Wars Episode IV in a single image. (OK, it’s a very big image, but still…)

Minimalist, anonymous rooms are probably not a good place to do teamwork.

"We all owe a significant debt to Richard Murphy." No, really.

I'm an only child, so I can't really relate to this. Nevertheless I thought it was a sweet film about growing up being “Player Two”.

Woman accidentally joins search party looking for herself.

Today's most widely misinterpreted piece of economics, from the IMF. There are two arguments put forward in the paper. The first is that there are risks associated with capital account liberalisation (allowing money into and out of the country with less regulation). The second is that although high public debt is bad for growth and welfare, for countries with excellent records of debt repayment, like the US, the UK and Germany, a “credible medium-term fiscal consolidation” makes more sense than a “fiscal noose today”. In other words, slowly bringing down debt as a percentage of GDP, not slashing everything to balance the budget as soon as possible. Now that’s pretty much what the UK’s current fiscal policy is. Still I suppose “IMF economists broadly agree with George Osborne” isn’t quite as good a headline as “You’re witnessing the death of neoliberalism – from within”. Seriously, this is a paper that says “There is much to cheer in the neoliberal agenda. The expansion of global trade has rescued millions from abject poverty. Foreign direct investment has often been a way to transfer technology and know-how to developing economies. Privatization of state-owned enterprises has in many instances led to more efficient provision of services and lowered the fiscal burden on governments”… and Facebook (and one of our less reputable newspapers) is full of idiots claiming that “we are witnessing the death of neoliberalism”.­

Book review: Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Here's a longer review by someone who liked it more than me: http://louisedennis.livejournal.com/331044.html

Far future revenge space opera*, where the lead character used to be a starship and now isn't. Has won lots of awards, but as much internet reviewery has pointed out, that doesn't mean as much as it once did. Space opera doesn't often win awards nowadays, even science fiction ones**, which makes it all the more remarkable that this won lots of them.

As Louise mentioned, there are a couple of literary tricks / gimmicks in this book. The first actually worked well for me. It's a revenge tale and some of the chapters are present, telling the tale of the revenge, while other chapters are past, showing what happened to cause the lead character to seek revenge in the first place, and against whom. It could have been annoying, but it allowed the author to drip feed you with events from the past in a very coherent way.

But I had a big problem with the other gimmick, and it pretty much ruined the book for me. The main character comes from a culture where there are no distinctions between the sexes, and while he/she/it appreciates that there are two sexes (and often struggles to identify which one a particular character belongs to), he/she/it defaults to referring to everyone as "she". And he/she/it continues to do this even after it is established that a particular character is male. It's massively confusing, and it's made far worse because the book is written in the first person. Where we discover a character's sex, they turn out to be male more often than not, so I can't help thinking that of the three possible pronouns, "she" was less sensible as a default than either "it" or "he". Better still would be to make up a word to represent in English what a genderless pronoun would be.

I'm a very visual reader - I want to picture what characters look like. If you introduce a character as "she" and then several chapters later mention some detail that makes it clear that the character is actually male, then you're just going to annoy me. And in fact that's what happened. I gave up careful reading and visualising and ended up skimming. So I read the book pretty quickly without really enjoying it.

Actually something else of note. Although I liked the fact that the book was relatively short*** compared to others in its genre, one of the reasons it's short is that there really isn't much description. So even without the pronoun stuff, it's not a fantastic book for visual readers anyway.

It's a shame really, because there is much to like. The villain(s) of the piece is(are) interesting, the setting is quite good (lacking in detail or hinting at greater complexity are perhaps two sides of the same coin), and the writing (except for the bloody pronouns thing) is very readable. So probably a two stars out of five book for me. But it would have been four without the pronouns thing. And even then, there are far better modern space operas out there. I can't quite see why the SF elite who give out awards rank this as so much better than more popular works by the authors listed below.


* Although not the sort of space opera involving people daringly flying space fighters a la Star Wars, which the cover illustration rather implies it is. I know some people get annoyed by cover art which gives a misleading impression of a book, and I would have to put Ancillary Justice in that category.

** Total number of Hugo awards for Best Novel won by Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, David Weber, James S.A. Corey combined: Nil.
They don't even get nominated:
Total number of Hugo nominations for Best Novel for Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, David Weber, James S.A. Corey combined: Two.

*** It's probably only about one-fifth or even one-sixth the length of your typical Peter F. Hamilton brick.