Unfogged Mobile

Guest Post - "I did enjoy debating people"
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 02.21.18

Nick S. writes: I liked this (slightly too-long) profile of Sherri Nichols, a woman who was influential in the early development of SABRMetrics.

I'm not a baseball fan, so the details of the debate don't hold much significance for me, but it made me nostalgic for a time when online debate actually felt satisfying and productive (and the bolded description would fit right in at unfogged).

Nichols and her husband, David, whom she met at CMU, had been introduced to the Abstracts through a friend of David's, so [rec.sport.baseball]. was a welcome environment, full of like-minded thinkers who were still very much in the minority among fans. "This was still the days when most people focused on batting average and RBIs," Nichols recalls by phone. "There was a group of us that had noticed the importance of on-base percentage and the effects of park effects, and lineup effects on RBIs, and stuff like that--and then the people who called us stats-drunk computer nerds" (which r.s.b. regulars often abbreviated as "SDCN").

Nichols's affinity for math, coupled with her literate and irreverent but no-nonsense communication style, made her a perfect fit for the r.s.b. board. "She's good at seeing patterns and noticing correlations; she has a [broad] set of interests and education ... and she can write," David Nichols says via email. After Sherri discovered the nascent community, she gradually started spending more and more time there. "Since I was in grad school, it was an easy way to avoid doing stuff that was driving me nuts," she says.

Although Nichols's [Bill] Jamesian philosophies fit in seamlessly with the r.s.b. ethos, her name still stood out. "I was pretty much an outlier," Nichols says. "I can't really remember any other women." ...

More than 20 years after Nichols stopped posting in the group, those who frequented it at the time speak of her status at r.s.b. in appreciative (bordering on reverent) tones. "She was actually kind of a queen-bee, authoritarian voice," Huckabay remembers. "People didn't mess with Sherri too often, simply because she was usually right. And she was really influential on me personally. I can't speak for others, but I got the impression that she was a real opinion and thought leader." In Huckabay's foreword to BP96, Nichols was the first person he thanked after the four cofounders who'd helped him write the book. "Sherri has taught me more about baseball than anyone else in the entire world," he wrote.

Heebie's take: Thinking about "nostalgic for a time when online debate actually felt satisfying and productive" - some of the best debates came from the fact that everyone was still sort of working out the kinks of the problematic corners of their views. I can't remember the last time someone otherwise-sensible said something sexist and then defended it to the mats, but that sure used to be fun to watch.

Comments (3)

Black Panther
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 02.21.18

Minivet suggests a Black Panther thread, saying "Lots to discuss. Definitely worth watching, including for people not into cape movies."

I haven't seen it yet, and I want to, but I move on glacier speed on such things, so the thread should probably take place without me. I'll post something else to entertain us losers.

Comments (85)

Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 02.20.18

Sometimes you have a scrappy Jamaican Bobsled team or plucky disadvantaged team for whatever reason that makes it to the Olympics despite the odds. Freestyle skier Elizabeth Swaney is so not that. I still sort of love her. And at least she's not turning her particular brand of genius towards tax evasion or running insurance companies.

Comments (92)

Guest Post - Drones and morality and stuff.
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 02.19.18

Mossy Character writes: Long piece on the psychology of drone operators:

We found that, given adequate access to information and a culture where it was safe to discuss such things, crews would engage in deep and nuanced moral reasoning during the quiet hours of watching a target. The RPA [Remotely Piloted Aircraft] community would come to a consensus about the 'why' of a strike, and that agreement provided purpose and focus in the pursuit of the target.
The truly concerning space is 'Just Killing,' or the second zone on the graph. This zone has the highest potential for moral injury due to the conceivable sense of meaningless life-taking. Sensor resolution clearly establishes the humanity of the target and Cognitive Combat Intimacy (CCI) is established, but crews are deprived of relevant information to make moral sense of the strike order for a specific human target.
The third zone, or the 'Just Kill,' is the space where the crews can ratify the strike order through additional knowledge about the target and have had time to consider the implications of that knowledge.
Therefore, endeavoring to keep crews in this Zone of Moral Clarity, allows them the best chance to judge for themselves regarding the use of deadly force. Doing so requires two conditions: First, crews must know as much as possible about their targets. Second, they need the time, space, and boundaries to perform the moral homework to keep pace with their tactical actions.
crews must also be furnished with the moral reasoning tools required to wrestle with, and ultimately to work through, difficult moral dilemmas.
Unmentioned: one also needs a workable ethical system acceptable to the operators. Somewhat separately:
We will not always face enemies who are so clearly evil, but so long as we currently do, honestly communicating that narrative to the crews engenders both morale and focus, and reduces the potential for moral injury. Perhaps the distinction between tragic enemies and malicious enemies might prove a more useful differentiation for re-civilizing an emerging hybrid warfare without uniforms and boundaries. By abiding by certain rules, tragic enemies are afforded certain protections, while malicious enemies enter a different category as hostis humanis generis (enemies of all mankind.) The contours of these distinctions we leave to more qualified ethicists.
I gather the legal concept of hostis humanis generis was muddied and maybe abused by the GWB administration. The contours of this discussion I leave to more qualified legalists.

Heebie's take: long, dark, fascinating.

Contrary to popular cultural beliefs, remote killing is an intensely personal experience. In his book, On Killing, Lt. Col. David Grossman (ret), the professor emeritus of the psychology of killing, describes how human faculties for relationship and empathy become entangled in the act of taking a life. In order to successfully hunt a target, you must anticipate their actions; in order to anticipate their actions, you must empathize with them. During an attack, a sensor operator might think, "If I were him, I would sprint when I hear this missile," and then shift the crosshairs appropriately. In doing so, his mind creates a connection, as the thought itself implies both a 'him' and a relationship between 'him' and 'me.' One researcher goes so far as to consider this empathy as an activating factor for mirror neurons--brain cells that reflect other people's actions within our own brains, considered a neuropsychological basis for empathy. Once connected, severing the connection in a strike becomes potentially traumatic. The relationship between empathy and killing is challenging, especially for a technology that requires a "hunter's empathy" in order to anticipate target responses.

I remember reading once (years ago) that the military had suspended studies on the trauma of killing to the soldier because the emerging results were that it was psychologically devastating. Maybe I misread or misremember, but I'm glad that the work is being done.

Comments (110)

Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 02.19.18

Tumbling down through the economic levels after a divorce. They were grotesquely wealthy, and then after the divorce she finds herself living precariously, with three kids.

I'm not sure why I feel so exasperated reading it - she's very matter-of-fact and not particularly self-pitying. The lifestyle pre-divorce is so absurd that sure, feel angry about that extravagance, but that's already over.

She's settled in her new life:

My ex-husband now lives in Manhattan with his new family. My children and I live in a nice split-level house in the center of my hometown in New Hampshire, and they attend the same excellent and safe public high school from which I graduated. We are, relatively speaking, very lucky. But my days, which used to be filled with personal trainers and spa appointments, planning parties and reveling in being class mom at school, are now consumed by working to make ends meet -- pitching and writing enough stories as a freelance journalist to bridge the shortfall between the support I receive from my ex-husband and my monthly bills. There are some weeks I have to wait to go to the grocery store until I am paid for a story.

You can argue that she's making some dumb choices: the excellent and safe public school codes (to me) like she overpaid for a house in a white district. But it's certainly the same exact dumb choice that white Americans all over the country are constantly making - it's not unusually dumb.

And certainly if you're going to be angry at anyone, be angry at the dad, who left her for his pregnant girlfriend - maybe he should be paying more. There's several extra links about this writer and her ex here, but I haven't read them, but the link claims they mitigate your anger for him.

I guess at the end of the day it's just exasperating to read about how someone wrestled with the transition from stupid amounts of wealth to living like a plebe.

Comments (210)