Monday, April 21, 2014

More Thoughts From Coachella

Last time's thoughts here and here.

-Concert festivals are one of the very few ways to a get a relative price measure of the popularity of artists at any given point (other than record sales, but ain't nobody got time for anything that boring). Award shows will rank artists who came out with new records that year, but what about ones who didn't? How do you compare the likely popularity/impact of old classic bands (e.g. The Pet Shop Boys) with relatively new but rising stars (e.g. Lorde)? Simple - see who gets scheduled later and on the larger stage. The promoters must make an estimate of who's going to be popular and who's not, and are one of the very few head-to-head comparisons we observe. This isn't a market price of course, just one sampling of informed demand, backed up by actual valuable time and resources. There's a second estimate, of course, which comes from the crowds, which is what the promoters are mostly trying to assess. Sometimes they get it wrong - they badly underestimated the popularity of Bastille (who really became hot since the lineup was first set), and this drew crowds away from the relatively overpriced Neko Case. If you want a sense of the distribution, look at the font sizes used in their poster.

-Sooner or later, corporate organization beats hippie organization, even for hippie events. So you want a chilled out vibe and cool art installations? That may be so, but do you think a massive tent, pyrotechnics and copious numbers of portapotties are going to organize themselves? Not likely. All the art installations in the world aren't going to count for squat when there's nowhere for people to take a dump, believe me. You're better off worrying about logistics first and outsourcing the damn art installations. There's a reason that Burning Man, the ne plus ultra of hippie festivals, is organized by a group called Black Rock City LLC.

-After attending a few of these, it's clear that concert promoters really value professionalism. The bands that get invited back multiple times are those that can be relied on to turn up on time, play lots of songs that are polished and well-rehearsed, and keep boring blather between songs to a minimum. The artists that get passively aggressively cut off halfway through the last song when the set time is up are those that droned on about worthless nonsense (Kings of Leon last time, Beck this time) or worse, those who turned up late (Cee Lo Green). It's fine to smash your guitar, as long as you wait until the set is finished or have another one ready. In this case, Empire of the Sun are the first band I've seen to smash a guitar and then perform an encore (not involving a guitar) afterwards.

-Among the odd list of unacceptable items to bring into Coachella is 'flags'. Yes, really. I couldn't tell if they were more worried that their audience are nationalistic soccer hooligans waiting to form running gangs based on the presence of a Mexican flag, or children who might poke each other in the eye with the sharp stick the flag is attached to.

-I thought I was in denial about adulthood and the appropriateness of attending massive festival rock concerts. Then I got there and saw a lady pushing a child who was either 2 or 3, sitting in a pram. In 37C heat. There is no way that ended well for either of them.

-Seeing some of the big name DJs perform (Calvin Harris, Fatboy Slim) made think that the type of performer they most resemble is not actually a musician, but rather a conductor. They command a massive wall of sound, as often as not prepared by others, and their skill is in putting it all together. Listen to the Faint's memorable description of a conductor, adjust for the slight differences in the mechanics, and see if the rest of the words ring true:
Confident with your back to the audience.
Tremolo strings begin with your gesturing wrist.
Start the orchestra slow with an elegant aire,
Then a circular sweep crescendoing swell.
Your arms are calling out,
They wave like a swarm of sound.
You pull the sound from scores of notes,
You step the stage and take control.
-The combination of attractive young people and general atmosphere of a paean to hedonism made me think of both Dylan and Goethe. From Dylan:
God bless them pretty women,
I wish they was mine,
Their breath is as sweet,
The dew on the vine,
The riposte comes from Goethe:
If e'er upon my couch stretched at my ease, I'm found
Then may my life at that instant cease.
When to the moment I shall say
"Linger awhile! so fair thou art!"
Then mayst thou fetter me straightway,
Then to the abyss will I depart!

This post brought to you by the Greek and MW, who both hate my music posts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dalrymple on Leading Questions

Some excellent thoughts from the good doctor:
“Do you care about the health of the planet?” is a question not quite in the class of “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?,” but it is approaching it. As it turned out, reading further, the health of the planet meant the health of the people on the planet, with a little biological diversity mysticism (the new paganism) thrown in. “Our aim is to respond to the threats we face: threats to human health and wellbeing, threats to the sustainability of our civilisation, and threats to the natural and human-made systems that support us.” The saintly editor was vouchsafed a vision, though expressed in the first-person plural: “Our vision is for a planet that nourishes and sustains the diversity of life with which we co-exist and on which we depend.” Hands up, then, all those in favor of spreading as widely as possible the threats to human well-being and of eliminating all forms of life but our own. 
It must be a terrible thing to have such boring thoughts, not occasionally but repeatedly, if not constantly, and feel obliged to express them. 

The last point is something I reflect on from time to time - most recently while standing in line to order at a restaurant counter, and listening to some boorish buffoon talking at full volume about insipid nonsense to his two friends. Truthfully, the two friends seemed a little uncomfortable at the volume, or at least the visible unpleasant looks and enforced distance the people nearby were applying. Though since they chose to spend time with our voluminous subject, maybe they didn't mind, and it's just me applying the false consensus effect.

One of the things I use to try to avoid getting annoyed in these situations is to reflect that I have to hear this clown's drivel for 2 minutes. His friends have to hear it for 30 minutes of a meal. But he has to hear it all the time, even when alone, even when in total silence. What a horrifying thought.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

An Open Letter to OKCupid Regarding your Campaign to get Brendan Eich Fired

Well, Moldbug was certainly prescient on this one. (Isn't he always?). The technology brown scare has really started to flex its muscles, rooting out any indications of right wing though among people in technology. First Pax Dickinson, chanelling Milan Kundera's descriptions of Communist Czechoslovakia, got fired for making jokes about feminism.

This time, Brendan Eich got forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla (the company the makes the Firefox web browser). It's hard to tell whether he jumped, was pushed, or some combination of the above. What was his big sin? Well, it turned out that back in 2008 he...wait for it... donated $1000 to a cause supporting Proposition 8 to overturn the intrusive California Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Oh Noz! OMG! Never mind that more than half of California supported this ballot initiative at the time (that's how it passed). Never mind that Brendan Eich's view on gay marriage in 2008 was the same as Barack Obama's view on gay marriage in 2008. Never mind that all the evidence suggests that Eich was totally even-handed in all his personal and professional dealings with staff. The man invented javascript, but he appears to have a sincere belief in at least some views identified as conservative. Out he goes! The professional grievance lobbies come out demanding blood, and Mozilla caves.

You might think that this beast would thus be sated, if you had no concept of how beasts work.

Flush with success, we now see the next iteration - a campaign to get users to boycott file storage company Dropbox over the fact that they appointed Condoleezza Rice to their board.

My favourite part of this ridiculous screed was the point where they displayed a brief moment of dim comprehension only to swat down the cognitive dissonance immediately. They begin with a hypothetical query about the true nature of the campaign to boycott Dropbox over Rice's appointment:

Why is this? Because she was a part of the Bush administration? Because she is a Republican and we should hate Republicans? I mean, come on, isn't Al Gore on Apple's Board? He's no saint!
No. This is not an issue of partisanship. It makes sense that Dropbox would want an accomplished, high-level, well-connected individual on their Board of Directors as they prepare for their IPO. ...
Choosing Condoleezza Rice for Dropbox's Board is problematic on a number of deeper levels, and invites serious concerns about Drew Houston and the senior leadership at Dropbox's commitment to freedom, openness, and ethics. 

Red hot tip, this is exactly the same as Al Gore being on Apple's board. Except that a) Al Gore isn't a prominent Republican, and b) nobody much seemed to know or care that Al Gore was on Apple's board. I sure didn't.  Hmm, I wonder if the two might be related?

How can you tell this? Let's look at the much vaunted concerns about freedom, openness and ethics raised. Point 1 was, you can guess:
She helped start the Iraq War. 
I presume you'd have started a similar campaign if, say, Hillary Clinton had been appointed to the board then?

On and on it goes, citing such other non-partisan concerns such as 'she was involved in the creation of the Bush administration's torture program' and 'Rice was on the Board of Directors at Chevron'. To add to the hilarity, the site doesn't even explain what exactly is wrong with being on the Chevron board, it just presumes readers will know.

Buried in the middle is the marginally relevant concern that 'Rice not only supports warrantless wiretaps, she authorized several'. But what has this got to do with Dropbox? Do you think she's going to set up a rival NSA within Dropbox to snoop on your stuff? Why would she do that?

More importantly, when you're sandwiching this between complaints about Chevron and the Iraq war, you'll forgive me for being somewhat hesitant to take your complaints about privacy at face value.

You may think I'm just beating up on some random no-name group of punters complaining about Dropbox. Not so. This came to my attention because it got voted to the front page of Hacker News. As of now, it has 1810 points, which is a huge amount for a story on there. The only thing that got it removed from the front page relatively quickly (given its points) was a campaign of downvotes from long-time users who were disgusted at the (sadly probably inevitable) trend of Hacker News turning into yet one more Reddit-esque bastion of approved liberal opinion, rather than an apolitical place where hackers can talk about tech stuff.

The problem with witch hunts is that, as Monsieur Rabelais put it, the appetite grows by eating.

As Moldbug described during the Dickinson affair:
The logic of the witch hunter is simple.  It has hardly changed since Matthew Hopkins' day.  The first requirement is to invert the reality of power.  Power at its most basic level is the power to harm or destroy other human beings.  The obvious reality is that witch hunters gang up and destroy witches. Whereas witches are never, ever seen to gang up and destroy witch hunters.  By this test alone, we can see that the conspiracy is imaginary (Brown Scare) rather than real (Red Scare).
Think about it.  Obviously, if the witches had any power whatsoever, they wouldn't waste their time gallivanting around on broomsticks, fellating Satan and cursing cows with sour milk.  They're getting burned right and left, for Christ's sake!  Priorities!  No, they'd turn the tables and lay some serious voodoo on the witch-hunters.  In a country where anyone who speaks out against the witches is soon found dangling by his heels from an oak at midnight with his head shrunk to the size of a baseball, we won't see a lot of witch-hunting and we know there's a serious witch problem.  In a country where witch-hunting is a stable and lucrative career, and also an amateur pastime enjoyed by millions of hobbyists on the weekend, we know there are no real witches worth a damn.
We do not see Pax Dickinson and Paul Graham ganging up to destroy Gawker.  We see them curling up into a fetal position and trying to survive.  An America in which hackers could purge journalists for communist deviation, rather than journalists purging hackers for fascist deviation, would be a very different America.  Ya think?
Whereas the real America, the America in which a journalist little more than an intern, with no discernible achievements but a sharp tongue, a Columbia degree and trouble using MySQL, can quite effectively bully one of the most accomplished hackers of his era, not to mention a way better writer - this is the remarkable America that we live in and need to explain.

Thugs love power. They love to control other people, and no control is as absolute as the ability to decide another's fate. This is as old as man. In tribal societies, people were open in their desire to rule. The modern political thug prefers mainly to destroy ideological components.

But I think the point about inverting the reality of power is not just about convincing the masses, although that's important too. At least equally important is that modern witch hunters are trying to convince themselves that their cause is that of the righteous underdog. Nobody is the villain in their own narrative. If I am strong and Brendan Eich is weak, why I would be simply a mean bully who liked getting people fired for disagreeing with me. It must be the case that Brendan Eich is the real oppressor, heinously depriving me of liberties by virtue of the fact that a) he's standing in the room, and b) six years ago he once made a political donation supporting a ballot initiative that has since been ruled unconstitutional. Be honest, you cowards. Do you really think that in modern California you are more likely to be fired for being gay than you are to be fired for being a fundamentalist Christian who thinks that homosexuality is a sin? Being fired for being gay is illegal in the State of California. Ironically, so is being fired for one's religion. Of course, religion is interpreted rather narrowly here. If Brendan Eich makes a donation to a cause that he believes in because of his religion, that's totally different. Unless his religion were Islam, maybe then he'd have a better chance of succeeding. In the end, it's just politics all the way down.

The modern thug adds insult to injury with the consummate hypocrisy of their position.

What does a totalitarian society look like? Totalitarianism is a world where the ruling ideology must be adhered to in every corner of life. It is a world where the smallest indications of dissent must be stifled. It is a world where in the limit every action must become a political action, as the existence of even independent and non-political groups is a potential challenge. As Il Duce put it, 'all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.' Replace 'state' with 'ideology' and you've got a pretty good working definition.

America, obviously, is not a totalitarian society. Pace Jonah Goldberg, the gay lobbyists who sought Eich's ouster were certainly not Fascists, or even fascists. But are they totalitarians? Or would they be, if they got their way? This depends on the person, but also on the level of dissent being discussed. On the question of whether gays should be lynched, or whether it should be acceptable to advocate as such, I'd say that many of them would probably quite openly admit to totalitarianism. And quite reasonably, too. They would be sincere in their belief that this is something that would make the world a better place, in the same way we'd be better off in a world where it were socially unacceptable for anyone to say that they support murder or child torture.We're mostly all totalitarians on that.

But where down the line should dissent still be allowed?  What about if one wants to publicly argue that that homosexuality should be made illegal and punishable by a prison term? Should the social consequences of that speech be social shunning? Being fired? Being imprisoned itself, like some of Europe's Holocaust denial laws or German laws against displaying Nazi propaganda? What about simply saying that homosexuality is a sin and should be discouraged? Or to say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman?

This is the way it always goes. My causes are aspects of fundamental rights that no conscionable person should disagree with. Your causes are mean-spirited, naked partisanship. Condoleezza Rice supported torture!

So between a world that I favor, where pretty much anyone can say anything about political matters and not be fired, and a world where rigid ideology is enforced and dissenters are hauled away to re-education camps, where is modern America?

I don't know, exactly. I don't even think there's a definite answer. But it's worth pondering the possible truth of Conquest's Second Law:
Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.
Would you say that Mozilla's actions are consistent with this law, or not?

I resent the intrusion of politics on more and more aspects of life. I resent this even on causes that I'm personally minded to support, such as gay marriage.

During the Eich furor, dating website OKCupid decided to publicly weigh in by displaying a message to Firefox users when they opened the OKCupid website, telling them they'd rather they not use the browser due to Eich's views.

As it turns out, this was one area that I was actually able to do something small about, as I was (I blush) paying for their A-list membership.

Well, you d***heads, here's $4.95 a month that you'll no longer get, to indicate in my own small way my disapproval of your pathetic and cowardly lack of commitment to free speech, and in particular to thick liberty. Yours is the thinnest gruel of free speech - in theory you can say anything you want and you won't be imprisoned by the government. In practice, you can't say anything that departs too far from mainstream opinion without being fired and shunned. I understand that government action and private action aren't the same. Does that mean we should celebrate every private action taken to restrict the sphere of what one can utter in public life?

For Mozilla, they were in a tight spot. Keep Eich, and the liberals boycott. Cave, and the conservatives and free speech types boycott. I still think their decision was pathetic, but predictable.

But you, OKCupid, deliberately decided to insert yourself into this fray, without any prompting from anyone else. You decided to lead the charge for a browser boycott.

Screw you, OKCupid, you miserable worthless popinjays. Screw you, for making me decide which dating website to use based on politics. We can now have the conservative dating website and the liberal dating website. What a triumph for an inclusive society devoted to pluralism and thick liberty.

I do not wish to have to think about politics when deciding which brand of soft drink to buy, which petrol station to fill up my car at, and which dating website to patronise. Maybe you want to live in a society of the blues and the greens. I do not.

But by George, if you do make me decide my dating website choice based on politics, it won't take me long to figure out where I stand regarding you.

And you know the part that galls me the most?

In your smug self-satisfaction, you will almost certainly take boycotts like mine as proof that there really was a massive homophobic mob out there that you bravely took a stand against. You will tar those disgusted by your speech-stifling actions as bigots motivated only by hatred, while congratulating yourselves on your courage. The tiny lost revenue is proof of your suffering and martyrdom for the great liberal cause.

When bullies on your own side decide to form a lynch mob to expand their political success, do as principled gay rights advocates like Andrew Sullivan did and tell them to go screw themselves.

We mercifully live in a society where the vast majority of our decisions can be made without thinking about politics at every step.

You give that blessing up at your peril.