NYT Praises War

The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth

Not enough broken windows lately, The New York Times reports some supposed economists saying. Sort of. They claim what they mean is that people get fat and lazy during peace, and the threat of war keeps everyone on their toes better.

Maybe we should start using the death penalty on people who don't produce over $20,000 of wealth per year in order to better motivate them. What do you think?

Explanations of how destruction results in economic harm are easily available. (I suggest Economics in One Lesson.) Advocating war for its own sake, and own intrinsic benefits, is disgusting. The only legitimate purpose of war or other uses of force should be defense (including indirect defense).

These people are advocating death and destruction – literally – because of their half-baked theorizing. They don't think about human suffering, or how the equivalent of whipping people to motivate them might not work well in reality. It's ivory tower "intellectuals" at their worst.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The New York Times Lying with Statistics

Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own from The New York Times:
By comparison, Microsoft says that, on average, it donates $2 million a day in software to nonprofits, and its employees have donated over $1 billion, inclusive of the corporate match, since 1983. In the last two years, Apple employees have donated $50 million, including the match.
The dishonest implication here is the Microsoft employees donate over 20 times as much money to charity, compared with Apple employees. Over $1 billion compared with $50 million. But the time periods compared are 31 years against 2 years. The per-year figures here (in millions) are over $32m/year for Microsoft against $25m/year for Apple, a much smaller difference.

A more meaningful comparison would compare the same time periods. It would also consider the number of employees of each company as well as their salaries. That would have made for better reporting.

The New York Times presents Microsoft's employee culture as being over 1900% more charitable than Apple's, but their own figures make the correct statistic 29%. By comparing absolute numbers from different time periods, they misled their audience by a factor of 65 in terms of the percent difference.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Ari Armstrong

The fact that the Bible advocates the murder of homosexuals (as well as the murder of “witches,” of those who worship other gods, of blasphemers, of children who “curse” their parents, of adulterers, and of non-virgins whose husbands hate them—among others) indicates that the Bible, far from being a guidebook for morality, is largely an absurd book of mindless and evil prohibitions and commandments rooted in nothing more than ancient superstitions.
In the original, six of those claims about the Bible saying to murder people are linked with sources. One is non-virgins:


What the Bible actually says is she needs to be a virgin when they marry. If a man hates his wife and accuses her of shameful things and says she wasn't a virgin when they married, then she is to be stoned. (Unless it was a false accusation and she actually was a virgin when they married, in which case the man is fined and has to keep her as a wife. I'm unclear on how it's to be decided whether she was a virgin or not using a garment.)

Armstrong said if a women is hated by her husband and a non-virgin (now), then the Bible advocates her murder. But the Bible actually only advocates her murder if her husband hates her and she was a non-virgin when they got married. The difference is her husband's taking of her virginity doesn't count against her.

After finding this scholarship error, I decided to check the other four claims using Armstrong's own links. The witches, children cursing parents, blasphemers, and adultery ones are accurate. The worshipping other gods one is wrong.


This Bible passage is saying if a family member or friend tries to "secretly" "entice" you to "serve other gods", then don't do it and kill him. So it's specifically about people who worship other gods and try to convert you. Armstrong misrepresented it.

To be clear, in none of these cases do I agree with the Biblical position.

Two misrepresentations of the Bible out of six references is a really bad error rate (33%). And this is basic stuff. Did Armstrong click on the links he gave, and read them? I'm not even sure. I don't think Armstrong should tell people they "must discard" a Bible he misrepresents and misunderstands.

Armstrong claims to offer Objectivism as a rational alternative to the Bible. But bad scholarship is irrational. Reason demands using methods of scholarship that are good at avoiding error and finding the truth. Armstrong linked this on twitter. I've tweeted him back informing him of the problem, and will update my post if he fixes his mistakes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alex Epstein Scholarship Problem

Alex Epstein wrote:
In the US, 30 years ago the average household had 3 electronic devices—today it has 25, overwhelmingly thanks to fossil fuels.
For a source, he linked this youtube video from "Alphanr" (Alpha Natural Resources). It's titled "Did You Know" and has no description. It's 89 seconds long and packed full of factual claims including the one Epstein asserted, but lacks sources. It ends with a link to their website. Searching for "Did You Know" on the site to try to find extra details results in an error. Their site says, "Alpha is a leading global coal company and the world’s third largest metallurgical coal supplier". I doubt they have expertise at surveying household electronic device usage.

Sourcing your assertion to someone else's unsourced assertion isn't scholarship. It's how lies spread.

I've investigated this topic. Several studies have been done about electronic device usage in U.S. households. However, none of them would be acceptable sources. All the ones I found have a large methodological error. For example:
Of the 37 CE [Consumer Electronic] devices surveyed, the average U.S. household owns 24, the same number as last year, and spent $961 on consumer electronics over the past 12 months, down more than $200 from last year. The average adult individually reports spending $552 on CE in the past 12 months, down $100.
They are surveying how many devices U.S. households have from a list of 37 devices. That list is incomplete. The number of devices from the list that a household has is different than the number of consumer electronic devices the household has.

There is an additional problem here. When the surveys use a specific list of devices, they change it over time. Today we would expect smartphones to be on the list. Thirty years ago, they would not have been. Changing the list of which devices count means the surveys from different years are not comparable because they measure different lists.

When you pretend what's being measured is "(consumer) electronic devices", then it would make sense to compare studies from different years, because they appear to measure the same thing. But really one survey is about list A and another survey from another year is about list B, and calling the two lists by the same name doesn't make them the same thing. Epstein's comparison between the present and thirty years ago, using two different surveys of two different things, is a mistake.

I informed Epstein of these scholarship errors and he did not fix them. He should not repeat unsourced claims from Youtube that are presumably based on misusing the readily available invalid research. The truth matters.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Applying Philosophy to Politics

In part 1, we took a look at some "He said, she said" reporting. (Read that first.) It was poor reporting because it didn't do any research into which claims are true, nor did it suggest the reader investigate. It left people to simply listen to the claims of whoever fits their political affiliation. It's not a rational approach to listen to and believe the unargued, uninvestigated claims of Democrats if you're a Democrat, or of Republicans if you're a Republican. But Fox News didn't aim for anything better.

Correctly understanding a political issue like power plant emissions regulations requires philosophical background knowledge. Most political pundits do not have this knowledge and therefore do their jobs incompetently.

A good example of philosophical background knowledge is an understanding of the role of government in society. Without a concept of what the purpose of government regulations is, and when and why they should (and shouldn't) be created, the issue cannot be rationally evaluated.

This raises a tricky issue. Everyone has philosophical ideas. They are not avoidable. Political commentators do have ideas about the proper role of government. The problem is they don't treat their ideas about the proper role of government as a major issue to talk about. So the topic doesn't get an appropriate critical examination. Unexamined (and sometimes even unstated) philosophical ideas are no substitute for ones which are stated clearly, critically considered, and integrated into one's explanations.

I know where my philosophical ideas come from. I know which authors I'm agreeing with, and why. I know the history of ideas I've accepted. I know what the competing philosophical claims are, who advocated them, their history, and why I disagree. This is what it means to take a serious philosophical approach, as opposed to just having some philosophy you picked up somewhere and don't think about much. Everyone should do this, especially people involved in intellectual pursuits like politics. Most people do not do this. (I don't know every detail of everything. But I know a lot about this stuff, especially for issues I write about.)

The proper role of government in society is to protect its citizens from force. That is my philosophical position. Arguing for it in full would take a long time, and I don't want to go into that right now. I want to illustrate how to use this philosophical position to sort through political claims. Fortunately, arguments on this topic have already been written down. If you're interested, you can read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, especially "The Nature of Government". Atlas Shrugged also helps explain. If you read those two books and still have any questions or arguments, contact me and I'll be happy to talk about the issue more.

Now let's look at some of those political claims:
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
At face value, it's hard to tell who is right. I don't know the details of these proposed power plant regulations, and I doubt you do either. Different prestigious groups are making directly contradictory claims. At least one group must be mistaken. Many people would decide which group is mistaken by political affiliation, but that method is incapable of figuring out the truth.

However, this issue is easy to evaluate using an understanding of the role of government. The key issue here is not whether it will create or destroy jobs. The key issue is not whether it will cut bills or cost billions. A more fundamental issue is whether the government is acting according to its proper role.

Creating jobs is not the role of the government. The free market should take care of that. The government is like a giant bureaucratic company with 20 levels of management, except way bigger and with less accountability. The government is huge, heavy-handed and clumsy. I don't mean that as an attack on the government, merely facts (for details, see the books mentioned earlier). That is OK. The government doesn't have to be agile and efficient. It has a particularly hard job to do; as long as it does that job decently then that's good enough. It should not try to do everything well, it should stick to its purpose.

Given this perspective, we can ignore a lot of claims being made. Given that its government action designed to hinder companies from making the choices they think are economically best, I would expect it to do economic damage (that's another philosophical issue, though I've just mentioned it briefly and don't have space to explain today). However, that isn't the point. The government should not be in the business of creating or destroying jobs, raising or lowering bills, or otherwise trying to control the economy. The government should stick to protecting people against force.

The only defense of a regulation is that it protects people against force. The Obama administration does mention this by saying, "save thousands of lives". Saving lives is a legitimate purpose of government. The political commentary should focus on whether the regulation will or will not protect people. (This is complicated because doing economic harm does cost lives in the big picture, e.g. by leaving less wealth left over that can be used for medical research. As emotionally awkward as it may be, saving specific lives in the short term does not have unlimited value.)

So, key issue: Will burning less coal in power plants save lives? Will it protect people? No. (And neither side of the political debate is focusing on arguing this key issue.)

Coal power plants provide electricity which saves lives. Coal-based electricity helps people better control their lives and environment (for example, air conditioning saves lives during heat waves), and do less back-breaking manual labor. It dramatically improves quality of life. Reducing access to electricity does not protect people, it hurts people, so the government shouldn't do it. In part 3, I elaborate more on this view of electricity, and the related philosophy.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attitudes to Criticism

in the social popularity game, criticism is a negative.

in the truth-seeking game, criticism is a positive.

you can get an idea of which game people are playing by their reactions to criticism.

if someone wants public praise and private criticism, they may be trying to play both games. but the games contradict, and the contradiction will destroy them.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

ARI's False Statistics

What could your share of the national debt buy? The Ayn Rand Institute says 5558 iPhones.

ARI is using $199.99 as the price of an iPhone (16gb 5s). That is not what iPhones cost. They cost $199 (not $199.99) when you sign a contract agreeing to pay more money later. "Bill Me Later" type plans are not lower prices. The actual price is $649, meaning you could buy 1712 iPhones for your share of the national debt. (Which is still a ton, so why fudge the numbers?)

ARI's purpose is to complain about the large US national debt. By pointing out how big it is in concrete terms like 49 cars per American, they hope to help people understand it better. Campaigning for smaller government is a good cause. It should have the truth on its side. But using bullshit stats ruins that. Please don't taint good causes with irresponsibly sloppy, false claims.

In a competition with only true claims allowed, ideas like capitalism, liberalism, science and reason can win. In a competition of who can tell the most appealing lies, true ideas lose their inherent advantage. If you want to help promote the truth, stick to rational competitions only. Don't sanction irrational truth-ignoring competitions based around the most shocking headlines, popularity, social status, etc...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

"He said, she said" Reporting

Obama to announce controversial emissions limit on power plants. Coal-state lawmakers rally against power plant emissions crackdown. Fox News' prominent reporting of this major issue, unfortunately, falls short.

"The Environmental Protection Agency will ask existing plants to cut pollution by 30 percent by 2030". Major changes to power plants is a big deal, which could affect our use of power and the economy. But Fox News reports on it poorly. (In fairness, I don't think their major competitors do better.)

The first problem is visible in the headlines. Obama's attack on the free market is not objectionable only to people living in coal-states. It will hurt everyone. Fox News incorrectly treats opposition to Big Government as a special interest group issue only affecting the particular market segment under attack. (It's an "attack" because it's ultimately backed by government guns if disobeyed.)

It may be true that Coal-state lawmakers are rallying. However, plenty of other people are concerned too. By framing the issue in terms of a single biased group, Fox News discredits the opposition to Obama's expansion of government regulation.

Obama claims his policies will benefit everyone. "We don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children". He's lying and we all know it. His policies will at least be bad for the coal industry. He's trying to sacrifice some to benefit others. Fox News reinforces Obama's approach by giving the more realistic claims Obama doesn't want to personally admit to. Fox News is helping spread the idea that there is a conflict between the coal special interest group, and everyone else, and that Obama's policies could sacrifice a few to benefit the many.

Fox News fails to point out that this is not an issue of favored or disfavored groups. We aren't dealing with a special interest group. Coal accounted for 39% of US electricity production in 2013. We all need power, and coal is providing power to the country. Without coal, there would be a massive electricity shortfall and we would all suffer.

There are bigger problems with Fox News' reporting than shoddy thinking that plays into Obama's storytelling. Fox News presents the issue as a "he said, she said" debate. This treats which side you take as arbitrary (or perhaps chosen by class interest). It leaves readers confused, without knowing how to objectively evaluate the issue. Treating issues in this way always helps the people who do not have the truth on their side.

Fox News reports:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
[Obama said] “As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”
Among the plants that have to comply will be hundreds of coal-burning plants, which has resulted in strong opposition from the energy industry, big business and congressional Democrats and Republicans, who argue Obama’s green-energy agenda is tantamount to a “War on Coal.”
Coal-state lawmakers, accusing President Obama of using a back door to impose strict emissions limits on power plants, are rallying to slam that door shut -- claiming the plan would cost jobs and jack up electric bills.
(Note again the implications that opposition to this regulation is biased by being part of the energy industry or big business.)
"We have a moral obligation to act," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, in announcing the plan Monday morning.
"We will introduce bipartisan legislation that will prevent these disastrous new rules from wreaking havoc on our economy in West Virginia," Rahall said in a statement.
On Saturday, Obama tried to bolster public support for the new rule by arguing that carbon-dioxide emissions are a national health crisis -- beyond hurting the economy and causing global warming.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, called it a "dagger in the heart of the American middle class" -- and predicted higher power costs and less reliable energy as a result.
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
Can you tell what's true from these contradictory assertions? I can't. It's a mess. Fox News simply lets people claim whatever they want, and then repeats it if they're prestigious enough. Fox News should investigate the issues and provide some useful research or context to help readers understand the actual facts.

By presenting a "he said, she said" debate and implying that respected Americans take sides according to bias, Fox News is doing a disservice to the truth.

Imagine for a moment, hypothetically, that the claims on one side of this issue are largely true, and the claims on the other side are largely false. That'd be important, right? And useful writing on the topic would help readers learn about that and make intelligent judgments. And when Fox News discourages rationally considering the issues, and promotes acting on bias, then it would be betraying the side which is speaking the truth, and aiding the side which is in the wrong.

Instead, Fox News repeats assertions without investigating whether they are true. It even does this with factual assertions, which is inexcusable. And if Fox News doesn't want to take sides or do research, it could at least hint that maybe its readers should. Does Fox News have no respect for the human mind?

This is not just the fault of Fox News. Everyone quoted could have made better statements. No one is attempting to guide the public to use rational thinking methods to find the truth of this issue. No one is bringing up the key philosophical issues which allow a person to correctly work out arguments like this. In part 2, Applying Philosophy to Politics, I use philosophical methods to sort out the confusing mess of competing claims. In part 3, I discuss philosophy, progress and coal.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Duet (iOS) Finesse

Want to get an amazing score in the hit iPhone and iPad game Duet by Kumobius? (View on the App Store.) I can help. I love the game and have played a ton. I wasn't very good when I started, I've died thousands of times, but I'm now one of the best players (there's hope for everyone!). I am tied for first place in the competitive Total Finesse category. That puts me ahead of 409,613 other players as I first write this.

I'm also tied for first in Revolution and Quickening Finesse, and I have untied first place for Resilience Finesse (edit: FYI my current Resilience Finesse score of 36 is a bug, my real score is 50). I also have every achievement except for completing 100 daily challenges.

Finesse is the number of touches you use to complete the levels. The fewer the better. When you replay any level, it counts the touches you use in the top left corner, so you can see how you're doing. If beat the level when the counter hits 0, without getting into red territory, then you have perfected the level and a small green triangle appears for that level on the level selection screen.

Perfecting every level is a good start. But how do you get a really world class score? The secret is some levels can be completed with a better than perfect score. But how do you find them? It's a lot of work, but I'm going to help you out. Here is a list of all my better than perfect levels and the number of touches possible to save. This took a lot of work to create, which you won't have to do. Use my list and you can save time by not carefully analyzing levels where the "perfect" score really is the best possible. (But analyzing the levels is fun, so it's up to you!)

Denial VI +2
Anger IV +1
Bargaining III +1
Bargaining IV +1
Bargaining V +1
Bargaining VI +1
Hope I +1 (Thanks AWPrince)
Hope III +2
Hope IV +4 (Had +3, several people told me +4, thanks)
Hope V +1 (Thanks Adrian Ensan)
Acceptance IV +1
Acceptance VI +1
Acceptance VIII +1
Acceptance IX +1

If you get every level perfect and then match these scores for better than perfect results, you will achieve a total finesse score of 384, pass hundreds of thousands of other players and reach the very tip top of the leaderboard.

Epilogue Finesse:

July 31, 2014 brought Duet version 2.0 with 48 new Epilogue levels with their own finesse leaderboard. I scored 311 right after release which was first place by a large lead. Want to see me learning the game for the first time? I've got videos with commentary:

Epilogue patch day part 1 video
Epilogue patch day part 2 video
(Two parts because Windows crashed.)

My current score is 260. I was the first player to get every level perfect, which I did in under 24 hours from release.

Here are the Epilogue Finesse tricks found so far:

Trust VI +1 (Thanks Keiran)
Control VI +1 (Thanks Keiran)
Initiative V +1 (Thanks Keiran. VERY HARD)
Identity VI +1 (Thanks Keiran. left-touch-death, spin through first arrow)
Intimacy VII + 1 (Thanks Adrian Ensan)
Intimacy VIII +2 (Thanks Keiran for the +2)
Intimacy IX +2
Integrity III +1 (2 spike tricks then very hard spin around block and end at glide through 5th spike angle. VERY HARD)
Integrity IV +3 (left-touch-death, see below)
Integrity V +2 (Thanks Keiran for the +2)
Integrity VI +1
Integrity VII +2 (Thanks Keiran for the +2)
Integrity XI +1 (perfect angle can go between last 4 squares)

Duet's Three Positionings: To do all the tricks you have to understand a bug in the game. When you die, you will start the level in a slightly different position depending on whether you were holding left, right, or nothing. When you first enter a level, you will begin with right-death positioning. The slight change in positioning changes which tricks are possible. The change is visible if you watch the animation very closely at the end of the rewind after a death. It's easier to see with a left-death. With a right-death, there is a tiny stutter that's barely visible.

Some levels require you intentionally die while holding the right direction before you can do all the finesse tricks. Note that you have to do this on every other life, because the effect only controls your next life.

The best level to test the death positioning physics on is Revolution 1. If you do a left-death, you can then do two right edge spinners with one touch on your next life. If you do a right-death, you can then do two left edge spinners with one touch on your next life.

This bug was very hard to find and understand, but is easy to use. Try to appreciate the work that went into it, lol. Although a specific death is only required on a couple levels, it makes a number of other levels a little bit easier. If you're having trouble with any level, try right and left touch deaths and see if either one helps. For example, I believe Integrity III might be easier with a right-touch death.

Videos: I also made some videos to show tricks:

Understanding II Perfect Finesse Video
Integrity VII Finesse Trick Video
Integrity VIII Finesse Trick Video

If you get everything perfect, you'll score 279 finesse. Add these tricks to reach 260 Epilogue Finesse.

And here's a general tip: for the two moving small dots, or the two spike pieces that move together or apart, you can go through infinitely many in a row in one touch, if they are all lined up at the same angle. If they are straight up-and-down vertical, you just have to place your top ball at around 1:30 or 10:30 on the clock and then don't move. This works even if you get both different types of small dots (the ones that are together or apart when you pass them).

The concept of how to get the right angle before these blocks, and then go through them without moving, is really important for getting good finesse on the early levels which introduce those types of blocks. It's also needed on more complicated levels. But just to get started and do early levels, you need to know this!

My endless score is currently 29,100 (in the top 25). Practice, practice, practice!

Secret Bonus Level: Did you know Duet has a secret level? It's called "Transcendence S", and it's like a cross between Transcendence and Quickening. It's hard, but tons of fun. To play Transcendence S, beat Transcendence III without dying. (If you die, you can exit out of the level and restart it.)

To further help your Duet leaderboard aspirations, I've also decided to share my scores and notes about the other finesse categories. This will help you understand what a good score on each level is, where you can improve, and the odds of getting really good level layouts on the randomized levels. All of the B-side levels are randomized except for Resilience III. The numbers in parentheses are the number of touches the level considers "perfect", and a +6 would mean I saved 6 touches better than "perfect".

revolution score: 14, untied first place
revolution 1 ( 7) +3 (cannot improve)
revolution 2 ( 7) +3 (cannot improve)
revolution 3 (13) +7 (cannot improve. note +7 requires estimated 1/359 odds layout)

The trick to Revolution is to do two spinners at a time with one touch. This requires both spinners to go the same direction. Think of direction as which thumb you press to spin around it. If both spinners use the same thumb, then they are the same direction, and you can do two of them with one spin. This is easiest when both spinners are in the middle. If one spinner is in the middle and one on the edge, it still works but the timing is more exact. If both spinners are on the edge, then it's impossible to do those two spinners together with one touch.

Edit: Getting above +0 on revolution 1 requires using a bug. See the information above about killing yourself while holding left or right.

quickening part 1 score: 3, first place
quickening 1 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 2 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 3 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening part 2 score: 3, first place
quickening 4 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 5 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 6 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
Note: Estimated 1/50 chance for 1 touch quickening layouts
Edit: Adrian Ensan pointed out that you might be able to get a level with all middle blocks for some quickenings and get a 0 touch (+7) result.

I recommend playing through all the quickening levels in a row until you have the no death achievement, don't die very often, and get several one-touch levels completed. Doing it that way is fun and good practice. Then to finish things up at the end, you can play individual levels and reset the moment you're forced to use a second touch.

resilience score: 50
resilience 1 (25) +13 (good score, better is possible)
resilience 2 (35) +20 (good score, better is possible)
resilience 3 (25) +2 (This non-random level was formerly "Acceptance VI" in older versions of Duet, and was the hardest A-side level which blocked many players from finishing the game)

transcendence score: 14
transcendence 1 (12) +11 (cannot improve)
transcendence 2 (25) +21 (good score, better is possible)
transcendence 3 (50) +41 (good score, better is possible)

Do you know somewhere to save finesse that I missed? Do you have a better score than me in anything Duet related? Got any good strategies? Post in the comments below.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (50)

Anti-Israel Bias at Hacker News

Paul Graham created the social news website Hacker News, associated it with his well-known Silicon Valley startup Y Combinator (which is hosting President Obama in May), and ran it until recently. It works similarly to reddit, so you would expect democratic content determined by its users. What most people don't know is how much behind-the-scenes moderators are controlling the stories. They were recently caught penalizing a story on SpaceX merely because a space launch didn't seem like a "major story" to them, and they routinely edit the titles of front page stories.

Covert moderator slant on a user-run news site is a problem. But I want to talk about something more serious. Graham is a political ideologue, and Hacker News is used to present a slanted perspective on Israel and Jewish issues, while claiming neutrality. When it comes to Israel, rather than enforce the site rules, a disturbing double standard is applied.

Israel is a free, democratic country, and a key U.S. ally. It made the desert bloom, turning a wasteland into a modern civilization. Israel is a humane, tolerant country and has Arab members of its government. It has a free press, productive industry, and contributes to scientific progress. Israel provides a home to millions of Jews, who were persecuted in most other countries around the globe. Now some anti-Semites hide under the guise of only being anti-Israel.

Israeli culture values life, while many of its enemies don't. Despite – or perhaps because of – these virtues, Israel has been under attack for pretty much its entire history. It has been violently attacked by Arab states and terrorists, and it has come under political attack from many Western countries which have a history of persecuting Jews. Israel has repeatedly faced existential threats, and survived. In this context, bias against Israel is particularly unwarranted, dangerous, sad and important.

Paul Graham

Let's begin with some background on Graham. His personal website has a revealing 2004 essay. Graham shows us his political leanings by comparing Winston Churchill's speeches to a German "purge". And in the full context of the essay, he is actually setting up Churchill's political opponents as brave Galileos, with Churchill as the Inquisition.
The word "defeatist" ... in Germany in 1917 ... was a weapon, used by Ludendorff in a purge ... At the start of World War II it was used extensively by Churchill and his supporters to silence their opponents. In 1940, any argument against Churchill's aggressive policy was "defeatist". Was it right or wrong? Ideally, no one got far enough to ask that. (emphasis added)
In 1940, Germany was waging an aggressive war in which it conquered a large chunk of Europe and then started bombing Britain. In this context, Graham thinks Churchill was too aggressive, while London was under attack. Now that you have a sense of what kind of political ideologue Graham is, and what sort of essay he wrote, let's examine what it says about Israel:
I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. When I read ... that pro-Israel groups are "compiling dossiers" on those who speak out against Israeli human rights abuses ... part of me wants to say, "All right, you bastards, bring it on." The problem is, there are so many things you can't say. If you said them all you'd have no time left for your real work. You'd have to turn into Noam Chomsky.
Graham is misquoting from this article. It reads:
No school has announced plans to divest from Israel, but leaders of the [academic divestment-from-Israel] campaign are seeking to ratchet up the pressure, and plan to plot strategy at the University of Michigan in mid-October.

Supporters of Israel in academia have been organizing as well. The Middle East Forum, a non-profit organization led by several scholars and writers, this week began compiling "dossiers" on professors who criticize Israel and offer "biased" views about the Middle East, Islam, and foreign policy issues.
Graham, in a rejection of scholarship, removed the quotes around "dossiers". Worse, he misrepresented the article and cited it out of context. The article was saying how anti-Israel academics have an organized campaign going on, and some supporters of Israel are organizing as well. Their defense of Israel includes gathering information about biased professors, which isn't sinister. The article isn't, as Graham would have us believe, saying something bad about "pro-Israel groups".

What does Graham think of defenders of Israel? They are "bastards" who he implies are trying to silence their opponents with underhanded tactics that his own source doesn't back up. And in the full context of his essay, Graham has compared professors who oppose divesting from Israel to the Inquisition.

Now you know who Graham is. But what hidden role do his political views play on Hacker News?

Banning Dissent

While running Hacker News, Graham enforced the rules in a selective manner and banned dissent. The most stunning example occurred when the anti-Israel article Propaganda war: trusting what we see? by Paul Reynolds was posted. Reynolds himself received hundreds of emails regarding his inflammatory political article. The article is inappropriate for Hacker News, which has the following policy:
The focus of Hacker News is going to be anything that good hackers would find interesting ... anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

It may be easier to say what that doesn't include. It doesn't include most stories about politics ... Basically, if they'd cover it on TV news, it's off-topic.
Reynolds' political article is something that would be covered on TV news, not something to gratify intellectual curiosity. Recognizing that it was inappropriate for Hacker News, user qqq wrote, "No politics. No anti-semitism. Go away. Flagged." (Disclosure: qqq is Elliot Temple.) Graham replied, 'Following the sentence "no politics" with one equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is a bit hypocritical. It does show why stories that intersect with politics are dangerous though; the topic seems to bring out the most irrational in people.' After implying that qqq is irrational, later that day Paul Graham banned qqq from Hacker News without giving any further reason.

Graham was saying the article merely contains criticism of Israel, and was appropriate for Hacker News, even though it blatantly violated the site guidelines. This shows how Hacker News works: off-topic political articles are allowed when they have the right slant but (as we'll see below) are buried when they don't. The selective enforcement of rules creates a biased environment. Graham doesn't keep his political positions separate from Hacker News.

Anti-Israel or Anti-Semitic?

Does Reynolds' article contain anti-Semitism, as qqq said, or is it merely legitimate criticism of Israel as Graham claimed?

Reynolds calls Israeli public relations "propaganda". That is a strong term. You don't normally see it used when discussing the public relations of others countries like USA, France or Japan. When Israel is attacked in a way other countries aren't, that is a vicious double standard, not reasoned criticism. Now let's look over a condensed version of the article, quoting key parts:
Israel released video of an air attack on 28 December, which appeared to show rockets being loaded onto a lorry. The truck and those close to it were then destroyed by a missile.

a 55-year-old Gaza resident named Ahmed Sanur ... claimed that the truck was his and that he and members of his family and his workers were moving oxygen cylinders from his workshop.

Mr Sanur said that eight people, one of them his son, had been killed. He subsequently told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "These were not Hamas, they were our children... They were not Grad missiles.".

The Israeli response was that the "materiel" was being taken from a site that had stored weapons.

But the incident shows how an apparently definitive piece of video can turn into something much more doubtful.

It is reminiscent of an event in the Nato war against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. In that case, a video taken from the air seemed to show a military convoy which was then attacked.

On the ground however it was discovered that the "trucks" were in fact tractors towing cartloads of civilian refugees, many of whom were killed.

Whether Israel retains any propaganda initiative is not all certain. Pictures of dead and wounded children have undermined its claim to pinpoint accuracy...
Take note of the methods Reynolds uses.

Statements of the free, accountable and democratic Israeli government are held up against the claims of the unknown and unaccountable Ahmed Sanur. Is that a fair comparison? Should those be given equal credence? Would other governments have their statements treated as equally credible to the unsubstantiated story of a hostile foreigner? No, this is a double standard.

Notice how the unsubstantiated claim that Israel killed "children" is echoed later in the article. But has Reynolds determined that Israel killed the children in the unspecified pictures? Or has Reynolds analyzed whether Israeli military actions are justified due to necessary self-defense? No. He's taken events out of the context of ongoing terrorist actions against Israel in order to demonize Israel as child-killer.

Another tactic Reynolds uses is, rather than accusing Israel of murdering civilians, he reminisces about a different unsourced incident. Then he describes "cartloads of civilian refugees" being killed. How do you argue with someone who is just reminiscing? The point isn't to present critical arguments, it's to paint a picture which blows the incident out of proportion.

The thinker Natan Sharansky has published a 3D test for judging anti-Semitism. The three Ds are demonization, double standards, and delegitimization. It only takes one to qualify for anti-Semitism; Reynolds' article fits two. "[W]hen Israel's actions are blown out of all sensible proportion", that is demonization. "When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out", that is a double standard.

For more information about these issues, I recommend starting with The Israel Double Standard by Victor Davis Hanson. In it he argues: "The prejudice against Israel in diplomatic matters is as troubling as more crude bigotry against Jews."

So, Reynolds' argument meets criteria for anti-Semitism. But Graham sided with it, claiming it was merely legitimate "criticism of Israel". Despite it violating site guidelines, he kept it on the site. He even banned a user for dissenting. This demonstrates how Graham's anti-Israel views guide Hacker News moderation and create bias.

Continuing Legacy

Several weeks ago, Graham put Daniel Gackle in charge of Hacker News. Gackle is following in Graham's footsteps. He promptly buried a USA Today article reporting on anti-Semitism.

Gackle explained, "The story is (a) off-topic, (b) designed for outrage, (c) if it isn't propaganda, would require careful sourcing to show it—something that HN is the wrong place for." When an article has the wrong politics, it's promptly moderated as off-topic.

Two days later Gackle's integrity was tested. The political article, Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States? from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was posted. Gackle refused to take any action against it, even though it met the same criteria he'd said justified "killing" the USA Today article.

The Bulletin's article was (a) an off-topic political article. It was (b) designed for outrage, as you can see from the title accusing Israel of stealing. And, (c) it would require better sourcing. As I explain below, The Bulletin isn't a reputable source. Unfortunately, Gackle moderates with the same double standard as Graham, selectively burying articles with political views he doesn't like, while keeping articles he agrees with.

Gackle ignored a prompt email explaining the problem in time to act. During the six hours the article was on the front page, he wrote in detail about some minor downvoting issues, proving he was available to moderate. When pressed about the issue, he admitted two days later that he had made an intentional decision as head moderator. Gackle then told the user who raised the issue to stop sending emails. He expressed his unwillingness to consider facts or arguments which contradict him about Israel.

Gackle also emailed, "I see no double standard or even any particular connection between the two stories", ignoring the explanation he'd received. He added that the USA Today story "was a sensational article about an ongoing political battle" and "obviously off-topic". But an article accusing Israel of stealing is also sensational, political, and off-topic. So why doesn't Gackle see any double standard?

In defense of The Bulletin's article, Gackle simply called it "a fairly substantive historical piece". That was after he had already been informed that The Bulletin publishes extreme anti-Semitic revisionist history:
First, Israel cannot be said to face an existential threat when, in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts that have occurred since World War II, Israel has almost always been the aggressor.
This kind of historical lie goes far beyond mere criticism of Israel or a factual error. (Israel has not been the aggressor in its wars. For the real history, read this or any reputable source.) It's so far away from substantive historical analysis that it boggles the mind. But Gackle closed his eyes to his role in spreading this kind of anti-Semitic material. Like Graham before him, Gackle lets his political views guide his moderator actions, and applies a vicious double standard when it comes to Israel.

I call on Hacker News to make immediate changes. Instead of working behind the scenes to promote political biases, take responsibility for creating a fair and neutral forum. Or at least admit how the site works, instead of trying to mislead readers. Israel deserves better treatment.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Anti-Semitism at Hacker News

EDIT: I wrote a new more detailed article about this.

Paul Graham created the social news website Hacker News (HN), associated it with his company Y Combinator, and ran it until recently. Graham's website contains anti-Israel material. Graham also compares Winston Churchill's speeches to a German "purge". As head HN moderator, Graham banned the user qqq for referring to an inflammatory, off-topic anti-semitic article as "anti-semitism" and suggesting it shouldn't be on a non-political technology news site. The article stayed on HN; anti-semitism, Graham (username pg) believes, is merely legitimate "criticism of Israel".

The article, by Paul Reynolds, applies double standards to Israel, such as calling their public relations "propaganda", when the same public relations by the USA would not be called "propaganda". Reynolds also questions whatever Israel's accountable, democratic government says, while promoting the unsubstantiated claims of a random, unaccountable Palestinian. That is an evidential double standard. Double standards like this are not merely "criticism of Israel", they are anti-semitism.

Reynolds posted updates admitting it was an inflammatory political article that caused outrage. Reynolds acknowledged and commented on the accusation that he was siding with the anti-semitic terrorist organization Hamas. To his slight credit, Reynolds considered it par-for-the-course that his article – which took some similar positions to Hamas – could draw serious complaints, so he spoke to the issue. Graham, on the other hand, has more extreme views than Reynolds and won't admit there's any controversy. Graham banned a user for a criticism that even Reynolds would find understandable, thus trying to silence any defense of Israel on HN.

The new head moderator of HN, Daniel Gackle (username dang), is following in Graham's footsteps. He took moderator action against a recent USA Today article reporting on anti-semitism. Then he applied a double standard by refusing to take action against an anti-Israel article meeting the same criteria which he had said justified burying the other article.

Gackle ignored a prompt email explaining the problem in time to act. At the same time, he replied at great length to some minor comments about downvoting, proving he was available to moderate. When pressed about the issue, Gackle admitted two days later that he had made an intentional decision as HN's head moderator. Gackle told the user who raised the issue to stop sending emails; Gackle is unwilling to consider facts or arguments which contradict him about Israel.

How bad is it? Gackle's best defense was to claim the anti-Israel article was a "fairly substantive historical piece". But we are talking about a site which Gackle had already been informed publishes extreme anti-semitic revisionist history like this:
First, Israel cannot be said to face an existential threat when, in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts that have occurred since World War II, Israel has almost always been the aggressor.
Gackle closed his eyes to his role in spreading this kind of material. HN moderation has a clear bias. It's fair to call it anti-semitism.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (16)

Philosophy - Fill In The Blanks

My answers to some philosophical prompts (try answering the prompts yourself in the comments below!):

Initiative means... It's important because...

Living life. Doing things instead of doing an impersonation of a rock.

Personal, individual responsibility is... It's good because...

Living life. Doing things for yourself instead of doing an impersonation of a rock.

Taking responsibility for your life means recognizing that other people won't solve your problems for you, and taking initiative to solve them yourself.

Taking responsibility also means choosing to control your own life. (You cannot be responsible for things you do not control.) That requires initiative rather than passively letting things happen – you have to actually do stuff to have any control.

Living irresponsibly-passively means letting external stuff control you, like memes, people ("authorities" or not), or even the weather (e.g. a passive person outside could live in the sun and die in the snow, the weather chooses).

One thing a responsible person does is never evade. He deals with things. Evading is irresponsible because it leaves you with no control over the evaded issue.

Criticism is... It has the following benefits...

A criticism is an explanation of a flaw an idea has. Identifying and understanding flaws makes it a lot easier to fix them (to figure out how to change your ideas to no longer have those flaws).

Persuasion is... It is good because...

Persuasion is about suggesting an idea that someone prefers over some idea(s) they already had. It's straightforwardly good if someone changes ideas to ones that they judge to be better.

Persuasion does not require multiple people. It can be self-persuasion. Persuasion, including self- and external, is how rational learning works.

Fallibility is... It is important to understand because...

People commonly make mistakes, so it's important to use methods of doing things which can identify and correct mistakes that occur along the way, rather than relying on everything going perfectly.

Learning and knowledge...

Want something? Prefer anything? What you need is knowledge. (Learning is getting knowledge.)

Learn how to get what you want. Learn how to meet your preference or goal. If you know how, you'll succeed.

The only exception is if you want something impossible or immoral. In those cases, learning is still the best approach. You can learn that it's impossible or immoral (and why), learn what a better preference/goal/want would be (and why), and learn how to change your mind to have that better preference/goal/want instead with zero hesitation or regrets.

Have any doubts about this? Any questions? The answers are all learnable knowledge. You can learn whether your doubts or correct or not and what's best to do about them. You can learn answers to questions (or learn that a question has no answer, perhaps because it's self-contradictory or nonsense, in which case you can learn how to make better questions, what related questions you'd want answers to instead, etc)

All of this is pure awesome with no drawbacks. It's the right way to live.

Reason has to do with correcting errors. What I mean is...

Rationality is commonly confused with being right. Actually, it's about how one takes into account the possibility of being wrong. Rationality is ability to find and correct errors. It's about being able to make changes going forward.

Without rationality, it doesn't matter how great one is today; long term one is screwed without change, because all people are only at the beginning of infinity. There's still unlimited progress, change and greatness ahead. However great you are today, if you don't change, you will be passed. (That you might die before this issue has maximum effect is not exactly comforting.)

Authority is... It is bad because...

Authority is the enemy of all of the above, especially life.

Following authority means not living on your own initiative. Following authority means not taking responsibility for your life and controlling it, but rather letting the authority be the primary responsible party making choices and controlling outcomes. (One would still be responsible for the choice to follow authority, thus allowing for plenty of moral guilt, but not much else.)

Authority isn't rational. It doesn't control things by having the best most persuasive ideas that have been exposed to lots of criticism in order to figure out the best ideas. It's not about learning, it's not designed for each person to control his life using his judgment and knowledge.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)