Thursday, July 2, 2015

What to do about Zach Jesse, with a little (a lot of) help from my friends

I want to share a couple of my friends’ reactions to the Zach Jesse suspension below after some brief thoughts of my own.

It is deeply troubling that Wizards (and Hasbro to the extent they are driving) is acting this way.  To those claiming this is protection of their legal liability rather than their public image – not in any defensible way it is.  All the information shared about Zach Jesse on social media was part of the public record.  If letting a sex offender in the door created liability at events, they’d ask everyone on a form to confirm they were not a sex offender.  Actual knowledge and constructive knowledge of a 10+ year old crime are nearly the same thing – what they are is not enough to amount to actionable negligence should an incident arise in the future.  If their legal team is behind this, the policy is just as bad, and the reasoning just as wrong. 

More likely than this being an attempt to limit legal liability, this is an attempt to control public image. 

The way they chose to do this was just as frustrating, if not more, than what was done.  No announcement, no explanation (and here their legal team may have said “sure, you can ban him, try not to comment” but if they stuck to statements of true fact they could have made a statement).  A frozen MTGO account.  A call to Zach Jesse from a lawyer with the non-negotiable terms of his removal.  Talk about a sloppy broom used to sweep this under the rug.  Of course this got out and went viral. 

They acted without articulating a policy, but I don’t want them to articulate a policy for these things and then proceed under that policy to sweep up the next Zach Jesse and the one after that.  I want them to back away from this and reinstate Zach Jesse.  I’ve never net Zach Jesse in my life.  But I know that if I only advocate for the most well-known, the most respected members of our community, I’ll just be rubber stamping the “in crowd” vs. “out crowd” dynamics already in play.

To those who think this action that Wizards/Hasbro took is justified for reasons other than their own public relations, as yourselves, “Who does this action serve?”  Perpetrators?  Victims?  If not either, is WotC helping itself not both despicable and short-sighted?

I’d like to share two very important perspectives from within my circle of friends, and from within our community.  Thanks to both for giving me permission to share!  First, on the victim impact, Magic player and Magic judge Tasha Jamison
“I find this really troubling.
 I've been following this story as it unfolded, so here's the short version as I understand it:
Zach Jesse made top 8 at Grand Prix Atlantic City, during which it was noted on Twitter (by Drew Levin) that he was convicted of felony sexual assault. He served his time and was complying with all legal requirements of his conviction. According to his own post on reddit, he commits a significant amount of time to volunteer organizations and community service. (He quantified it, I'm summarizing.)
 The rhetoric around the ban is that this serves to make Magic environments a safer place for all participants. Likewise, rhetoric leading up to the ban questioned whether his mere presence created an unsafe or hostile environment.
 There's a lot swirling around here about criminal justice, rehabilitation and risk of recidivism, and restorative justice that's beyond my depth. The thing is...
 As a woman, as someone who has experienced domestic violence and sexual assault, one of the ideas that has held me back from reporting is the idea that "reporting would ruin [the accused]'s life." This makes me sick to the stomach because it reinforces that idea: here is a person who has served his time, who has complied with all requirements, who appears to me to be genuinely remorseful and committed to public service...
 ... and he gets what is effectively a lifetime ban from the competitive Magic community when his prior conviction came to public attention due to his strong performance.
 Since he has a conviction, I hesitate to bring in the rhetoric of "false rape claims," but it's going to hover around anyway. It seems to me that this ban *is* something that gives credibility to the idea that women have the power to ruin men's lives through false rape claims, which reduces the credibility of anyone who accuses someone of sexual assault (even when the evidence is sufficient to satisfy a court of law), which in turn reduces the willingness of a victim to pursue any sort of formal action.
What strikes me as especially troubling about the rhetoric that this is about "safety" is that it seems to be implying that this is somehow pro-"women in Magic" (or is a result of efforts to make tournament spaces less toxic to women in Magic). I don't see any outcome where this makes Magic tournaments more inviting to women, and a whole lot of outcomes where Magic tournaments become more *toxic* for women.”
 The part of Tasha’s post that really struck me the most was the discussion of one of the reasons rape is underreported, and how this feeds right into it.

Next, my friend Noah Weil, a practicing criminal defense attorney on the perpetrator impact.
“As a criminal defense attorney, especially when I was a public defender, I have worked regularly with people whose criminal histories have marginalized them. Many of these individuals, unfortunately, fall back into crime through frustration and a lack of opportunity to meaningfully participate in the community. While they are responsible for their choices, society suffers when its members are pushed to the fringes. We lose diversity and we increase recidivism.
 Mr. Jesse pleaded guilty to felonious sexual assault in 2004. This was apparently a plea deal approved in part by the victim of the crime (this is common). Mr. Jesse will be a felon for life. I’m sure he could share many stories on how his criminal history has affected his life.
 Are we defined by the worst choice we ever made, or are we allowed to see what we’ve done with our lives since then? Mr. Jesse’s crime should be condemned, his actions reviled. But can we also celebrate his successes? In my work, those successes are all too rare. In my work, I treasure them.
 I am concerned a contingent of players think that certain individuals should be shunned forever based on their past actions. These players feel any punishment is too light. People are allowed to feel whatever they like, but there’s a reason we want sentences handed down by an impartial judiciary. Mob rule is a poor way to run a community.

I fear that WoTC’s capriciousness won’t change; feel free to make your financial decisions accordingly. But when you encounter someone who has done something heinous, and you certainly will, consider whether publicly calling for their head is best for you, your community, and the people affected by those actions.”
If after reading what Tasha and Noah shared, you’re inclined to say it doesn’t matter because someone other than the perpetrator and the victim should be considered here, make sure your concerns are as tangible as theirs, as real, and have as large in impact on our society before you say someone’s “safety” or discomfort from a by-all-accounts-reformed criminal should override the impacts outlined above. 

Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro, make this right and we will move on from this.  That is possible, but you have to allow for it.  That’s the lesson here.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

38% of Claims on Tumblr are Unsubstantiated

“According to some research I can’t share with you, __________” can lead to a frightening amount of emphasis on a small set of studies that may be very flawed.  Beware the man of one study, and turn and run full speed from the man whose one study has not been examined carefully. 

When the qualifying phrase “According to some research…” is omitted and the conclusion, _________, is given as fact, things get even more frightening. 

Mark Rosewater started citing WotC market research of some kind, without revealing the methodology or definitions used, a few months back, and in another Tumblr reponse that went MTG-viral last week, he decided to drop the context and fully embrace his man-of-one-studydom.    

MaRo writes, “That’s what this conversation is about. Women make up 38% of Magic players yet this isn’t remotely reflected in in store play. Why? What factors are causing this to be so? And if it’s going to change, it requires those of us in the majority to stand up and say, ‘You know what? This isn’t right. We need to change this.’” [emphasis mine]

This is now clearly being used to drive discussion about policy, and by all indications it is about to drive actual policy (diversity initiatives).  And the figure 38% is now stated as fact.  By releasing just the conclusion in a way that cannot be intelligently scrutinized in detail, motivated by the fact that this statistic lines up with his narrative, MaRo is being careless at best and dishonest at worst.

Let’s go back to that original, more complete citation: “Our most recent market research shows the gender breakdown of male to female is 62% to 38%.” 

Is this 38% of people who know what Magic is, have ever played Magic, have ever purchased a Magic product, play Magic at least once a month, purchase Magic products for their own use at least twice a year, have opened an MTGO account, or something else entirely?  Before we get to the accuracy of their measurement, what are they even measuring? 

Once we know what is being measured, and how, I suspect we will better understand why the number is so high – shockingly high relative to the ratios we observe in tournament attendance.    

Why do I think they MaRo owes me the courtesy of showing his work?  MaRo is making a claim that contradicts popular wisdom based on an avalanche of lived and observed experience.  This popular wisdom isn't the end of the story, but it's upsetting to see people toss it aside so easily, without even asking MaRo to show his work.

MaRo is in some ways absolving himself of his responsibility when he pins it on us and implies that it's our responsibility to shape up out there and make a more welcoming environment for girls and women who want to play Magic.  "Hey, it's a healthy 38% when it leaves my nest, women love my work."  Out there in the tournament halls, we're doing work to improve the tournament environment, but we'll get more done measuring our progress using a reliable baseline rather than an inflated one.  Importantly, MaRo leaves us no choice but to take (a hypothetical) 10% female attendance as a sign that things are horribly broken when my intuition is that if we have 90/10 and everyone is having a good time, we've done great (not saying we're there today).  

But Matt...
a)      Isn’t even one or a few studies better than your anecdotal experience?
b)      You play tournaments, of course you think 38% is high, but more people play casually than in tournaments!

First of all, I hope MaRo doesn’t cite my experience on his Tumblr either, it may be horribly unrepresentative.  Even over 20 years a person's experiences can be biased, and selection pressure can operate such that a person never encounters a true cross-section of the population.  

We need to try to paint a composite picture from many data sources, each of which has to be unpacked and examined, not presented as a black box.  Terms have to be defined.  For example, how do we define "Magic player?"  Is it possible that changes in the gender ratio we observe as we change contexts are a function of implicitly swapping out the definition of "Magic player" to include only more deeply interested players?  Perhaps the odds of ever buying a single booster are 62:38 male, but that initial gap is present at every level of interest such that you're 62:38 to buy that next set of packs, then 62:38 again to visit an online retailer to get singels, etc. etc.  The cumulative impact on the ratio of men to women participating in, say, a Grand Prix might be 97:3 if these layers of selection have occurred.  If so, then we're back to asking what causes an interest-level gap, and we can't be as confident as MaRo is that it isn't primarily the game and which demographic it appeals to most.  More stats and more detail on how things were defined and measured will help us see what is actually going on, what is causing the gap, and ultimately whether guys being immature and rude at the local store is a deck chair or an iceberg relative to the titanic lack of diversity we face at that level.

And yes, I play in uber-competitive Magic tournaments.  But my brain doesn’t shut off when I leave the tournament hall.  Every week, I tell men and women I meet that I play Magic.  I can tell you that the odds I get a “me too” response based on the sex of the person I tell does not correspond to anything close to 62:38.  People tell me their kids play Magic and it’s not 62% sons and 38% daughters they speak of.  Again, I don’t offer my experience as an alternative to MaRo's stats, but as an explanation of why I'm asking for more than just his word.  I'm skeptical based on how I'd defined the terms, and I want to see how they defined the terms and gathered the data since that might explain their finding.

Wizards of the Coast, show me that my experience is not representative.  Please, show me.  But don’t just tell me.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

On the Envelope Problem

A continuation of a discussion from Facebook, with hopefully enough context that others can catch up using this post.  (or pose questions in the comments that I can respond to).

The Envelope Problem:

Omega (who never lies) walks up to you and states "these envelopes contain the values X and 2X" He then SHUFFLES them up [this informs us our subsequent switching strategy should be irrelevant], slides one over to you. He states "I have given you an envelope containing either X or 2X. You can open it, and then decide whether you'd like to switch for the other envelope." You open it up, see a $100 bill. Do you switch? Some decision theory has to take you from probabilistic knowledge about the world to an action you should take, if you care about acting (VNM) rationally.

Premises and Conclusion of EV Calculus Using the Same EV Calculus Rules We Normally Use:

1) Your envelope contains $100.
2) the other envelope contains $50 with .5 probability, and $200 with .5 probability
3) Half the time, switching costs me $50.  Half the time, switching gains me $100
4) therefore, I stand to gain an average of $25 by switching.

Which numbered part do you think is false?

If you think it's 2) because the state of the world is already fixed by Omega, rather than variable, then I offer this: when something has a fixed state, but your knowledge of it is probabilistic, ev calculus treats it as if it is not determined but will be at the stated probabilities.  If you disagree, then your next task is to explain how we calculate the odds of being dealt an ace from a shuffled but now fixed-state deck of playing cards.

We can solve this using logic other than EV calculus, namely an observation that since the envelopes were shuffled and fixed, switching can't change our actual EV unless we know something new about the other envelope, and we do not.  We know as much as we did before our envelope was opened.  But why are steps 1-4 above so persuasive under the same logic we correctly apply to cards being dealt from a shuffled deck, despite leading to the wrong conclusion (that switching is +ev)?

"When we switch we stand to finish with 1.5x, if we don't switch, we stand to finish with 1.5x" is incomplete work.  You observe $100 in your envelope.  So at the very least you should be able to redo your math and get us an actual dollar amount EV.  It has to be $100 since your premise is switching doesn't matter.  That means X = $66.66 in the earlier formulation of "we are guaranteed 1.5x."  Well, if X = $66.66, your envelope must contain either $66.66 or $123.33 by reference to the rules of the game.  So your solution is not well formed, it is not coherent.

[EDIT 1 Below]

Stolzman is arguing that EV calculus doesn't apply here, but that's not an issue.  Well, it's a major issue if EV calculus gives you neither the correct answer nor an indication as you work through steps 1-4 that you shouldn't be using this method.  In other words, it doesn't just fail to return an answer, it returns the wrong answer!  Only because we have access to other logic do we even realize it has failed.  This is a big problem.

[EDIT 2 Below]

Well, I correctly predicted Step 2 is where the action is, but people don't seem to agree with my note on it above.  Yes, the state of the universe is fixed.  No, your knowledge about the state of the universe does not therefore use only 1 and 0 as probabilities.  If a coin is biased (unfair) but you do not know in which direction, your probability estimates of heads and tails are each .5.  Probability is in the mind.

Omega may have filled the envelopes with $50 and $100 because his son was born in the galaxy his people call "50zba100".  Or he may have filled them with $100 and $200 for any other whismsical reason.  We do not have access to his algorithm.  But since he has not given any hints as to which he picked, why should you not switch?  Why should you not act under P(50) = .5 and P(100) = .5, which most closely approximates your state of knowledge?  Furthermore, NOT switching is implying that $50&$100 is LESS likely than $100&$200 (otherwise you're a fool).  That is your implied conclusion when you do not switch, having seen $100.  How did you arrive there with such confidence?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Introducing: Team Work!

For Magic: The Gathering's Pro Tour Fate Reforged, a few players who don't have the time to show up early and test on-site decided to test online and communicate via Facebook.  The men and women who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as "Team Work."  This is their story.

Not all were able to attend the Pro Tour or were qualified, but they still helped prepare the team.

Team Work:

Bob Maher

Pro Tour Hall of Fame
Pro Tour Champion
Slightly outplayed Brian Davis once
Immortalized as a blob on Modern Masters Dark Confidant

Ben Stark

Pro Tour Hall of Fame
Pro Tour Champion
Fashion consultant for Men's Denim Cut-Offs magazine

Paul Rietzl

Pro Tour Hall of Fame
Pro Tour Champion
Dice Roll Angling National Champion 2006 & 2009
Portuguese Vendetta Holder, 2011 - present

Sam Black

Platinum Pro
Pro Tour Top 8 Competitor
Designed a deck good enough to win Tom Martell a Pro Tour
Tells interesting stories

Matt Sperling

Gold Pro
Pro Tour Top 8 Competitor
One SCG Open Top 8
Author of this blog post and most underrated player in the world

David Williams

Pro Tour Top 8 Competitor
World Series of Poker Bracelet Winner
Broke People Vendetta Holder, 2004 - present

Gary Wise

Pro Tour Hall of Fame
Pro Tour Champion
Almost All of You Had No Idea About the Above Two Facts
Always knows what to Shock

Lucas Siow

GP Top 8 Competitor

Andrew Baeckstrom

U.S. National Team Member
GP Top 8 Competitor
Solid Internet Connection

Orrin Beasley

GP Top 8 Competitor
Team's Best Mustache and Google+ Profile Image
Working his way up to Team Manager

Justin Cohen

PTQ Champion
Here's a name you already recognize (assuming Justin himself is reading this)

Matt Severa

Grand Prix Top 8 Competitor
Does Jazz Hands above his cards each turn for good luck

David Heineman

PTQ Champion
Looks like one of the guys who invented fantasy baseball

Keep an eye on those up and comers from Madison (Justin and Severa and David)

Ben Rasmussen

GP Top 8 Competitor
Is that a leather polo??

Adrian Sullivan

Top 20 Deckbuilder All Time (Next Level Deckbuilding)
GP Top 8 Competitor
Plays his cards upside down
(I pulled the image from Tinder)

Brian Kowal

GP Top 8 Competitor
Underrated deck builder
Your grandpa might recognize the name (if he's from Wisconsin)