Please read this if you think we are experiencing the same pendulum-swing of power we were used to. You are probably confused by the fear you have been seeing after the election.

I'm surprised by how little of my fear has to do with the same old partisan fights. What you are about to read is not a partisan article. It is not an attack on you, or on Conservatism, or on Republicans, but a recognition of something larger than that which I hope will concern you as a citizen.

We are used to the pendulum of authority swinging between factions. Millions of well-intentioned Americans thought they were voting for that. They saw the label "Republican" and thought it still referred to a stable party structure and its policy agenda.

Instead, something else is happening in American society, with parallels to the autocratic regimes of weak democracies such as Russia and Turkey.

The winning campaign was based on unprecedented insults. And unprecedented threats. The threat of jailing a political opponent. The threat of suing journalists. The threat of refusing to accept the election as legitimate if the nation had not put them in power. And yet our society rewarded that.

There is nothing intrinsically conservative or Republican about the fringe faction now coming to power. They center around, not ideology, and not pragmatism, but taking for themselves as much as they can seize by force from our bank accounts and our bodies, and allowing you and me, the "losers", to have as little as possible in a zero-sum game. The principle of working together to solve a shared problem is being replaced by enemy-creation.

We now see our incumbents continuing the peaceful transfer of power which is the envy of the world. What if it is our last free election? We have our work cut out for us to counteract gerrymandering, unlimited political spending by corporations, and the threat of violence or imprisonment against journalists, dissidents, or any citizen who declares a willingness to vote against those in power.

The disrespect for peaceful political resolutions, with checks and balances on power, is irresponsible. During the campaign, we already saw the willingness to use nuclear war as a bargaining chip.

A President can be elected without releasing tax returns. How many corrupt Americans will now run for office, realizing they no longer need fear exposing their conflicts of interest?

Possibly the most frightening quote of the campaign was that the candidate claimed he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters. We are exhausted by wondering whether bluster is a threat or just a joke. Especially when the global economy must also suffer this uncertainty, and our livelihoods are inextricably tied to it. Especially when nuclear-armed global powers must wonder what is a threat and what is a joke.

The Democrats lost the 2016 Presidential election on November 8, but in an important sense, the Republicans lost on May 4, to a demagogue with no party loyalty. Party elders lacked the organization to stop it at their convention. Their own Speaker resigned last year because the party's five-way electoral coalition between the 1. Establishment, 2. Tea Party, 3. Moderate, 4. Evangelical, and 5. Libertarian wings of the party could not hold together to get anything done. Anything goes. Don't tell me this transition is business as usual.

For those readers who are confused by why someone you know is freaking out about the election:

Please do not conflate these points about institutions and norms with an attack on specific conservative policy goals you may have.

Bush, McCain, or Romney bore very little resemblance to any of the above.

There is nothing calming about "anything goes".

There is almost certainly someone in your life who needs a conversation in which their emotions are acknowledged as a problem they are experiencing, regardless of the legitimacy of their factual conclusions. They do not necessarily need you and I to agree with their conclusions, but a response of mockery or outrage does not make emotions go away.

When interacting with a scared person, consider that a year ago, everything about our current President-elect was a joke. When the news told us about famine, genocice, and insurgencies in far-away autocracies, we reassured ourselves it could not happen in America. Almost everyone I knew was prepared for election night to result in a boring Democratic candidate perpetuating the status-quo. Suddenly, we found ourselves far closer to collapse than we thought was possible. Now we are wondering how much worse it can get.

So, when you reassure us that we are not living the plot to an outlandish James Bond movie, if you can only do so with insults, please do not bother. No one will listen to you until they trust you. Why double down on a Presidential campaign like this one, with further escalation of insults?

You could scoff at someone you know, who is wondering if the next four years presage food riots or World War 3. We are not there yet. Again, for emphasis: We are not there yet. But it's scary that your friend who you are scoffing at had to wonder about it at all.

We were just proven wrong about what we do not need to worry about.

All the factors listed above used to be disqualifying. Those factors are no longer a barrier to becoming the most powerful person in the world. And you can't blame someone for spending some time thinking about where the bottom is. It's not like you liked the ugliness of this election either. The prospect that this campaign style is the future of every election is troubling, regardless of which side of the aisle you are on. Reach out with compassion.

For those readers who have been freaking out about the election:

First, do not allow this to be normalized. I'm posting this because it is not normal. Someday the normal practice in politics may become the complete lack of a filter between the mouth and the lowest impulses. Then we are lost. Speak up every time you hear that this is a normal shift of power, and tell them both parties lost this election to a demagogue.

When looking for empathy, stop scooping the bottom of a dry well. Always remember the words "family" and "friend" cease to have any meaning in relationships involving shame and intimidation. Do not waste your time counter-attacking the insults and threats. Set limits on those interactions to whatever degree possible. Try to build other relationships which start their disagreements from a place of empathy first.

Let's get to work. No one can afford to be politically inactive.

Every day for about a year, for stress relief, I looked at infographics on Sometimes it gave our current outcome a one-in-four chance. Sometimes a one-in-three. That meant my work was desperately needed. But I was complacent.

In my imagination, I now see that same infographic, but it looks like this.

What will America look like in 2020 compared to 2016?
Status quo; Physical and economic safety comparable to 2016: 10%
Recession; Two or more quarters of negative GDP growth: 50%
Depression; American GDP declines equal or more than Great Depression: 25%
Militia insurgency uses IEDs on food trucks, attempting to starve out an American metro area: 10%
Conflicts occurred on earth using nuclear explosives: 5%

Do not despair. America is far from "over". Physical danger and economic destitution is not a certainty in our future. We have another chance. And this time, we can not fail. Our work is cut out for us. For one thing, I want to contribute my software development skills to Give some thought to how you can contribute.
I wish I were exaggerating when I say the objective of the Neoreactionary movement is the reversal of democracy and human rights, and an intention to install a monarch CEO over America. Alas, that is how they describe their stance in their own words.

Recently, the most famous Neoreactionary thought-leader (one of the founders of the movement) was scheduled to speak about technology at a major software conference. When his detractors pointed out the content of his online writings to the conference organizers, the conference decided to un-invite him.

A flood of complaints emerged about persecution of the right wing by the left. Can Neoreactionaries really be called "right wing"? And if you're right wing, do you really want that connection? This is one of a series of distinctions which the complaints repeatedly conflate (including "They are no longer inviting him to speak" conflated with "They banned him").

Do you see the gulf between "right of center" and "James Bond villain"? At least "right" and "left" are dimensions on a political continuum-- the same perhaps cannot be said of overt advocacy for world domination. So if you ask "Is it wrong to un-invite a speaker from a convention for political views", that is the wrong question for this situation. Is establishing a dictator really politics? Extolling the Middle Ages is so far outside the Overton Window that it is not politics.

Scott Alexander wrote "The Anti-NeoReactionary FAQ". While describing this scenario on his blog, even he expressed concerns over removing speakers who are "insufficiently leftist".

The uninvited Neoreactionary speaker once blogged as follows:
As the King begins the transition from democracy, however, he sees at once that many Californians – certainly millions – are financial liabilities. These are unproductive citizens. Their place on the balance sheet is on the right. To put it crudely, a ten-cent bullet in the nape of each neck would send California’s market capitalization soaring – often by a cool million per neck.
That's only "insufficiently leftist" if the Pope is "insufficiently Satanist". No, scratch that. It's not even the opposite of leftist.

Consider another case; this case is of another software developer who invented an innovative new file system. He would be giving talks on it right now, were he not in prison for the murder of his wife. Would you look forward to sitting in an audience, listening to him on a stage with a microphone? If you weigh his dead wife and her family on one hand, and your enjoyment of file systems on the other, and if you have a sense of proportion, your answer is "no".

Your lack of desire to hear him talk will not bring his wife back, so what's really behind it? To give a stage and a microphone to a person is to communicate that you honor a person. That person must, at the very least, be bare-minimum honorable in public life. Are you "politicizing" the conference in this case? No.

If that's not politics, why is the original case of the Neoreactionary one of politicization of the software conference? When a Neoreactionary says he wants feudalism, this is not like when some leftists call America "feudal" and its citizens "serfs". In light of conditions in North Korea, we recognize that is hyperbolic rhetoric. Well, the Neoreactionary openly wants a return to non-rhetorical feudalism, in which you would be a non-rhetorical serf. When publicly pondering whether millions of Californians should be shot in the back of the head, he finds this concept troubling, but does not reject it out of hand. I am not blowing his views out of proportion for hyperbolic effect. You have a first-amendment right of freedom of association, which includes not associating with this person. His freedom of speech doesn't include the right to a megaphone.

Only with a complete lack of perspective is it possible to characterize the conference's decision as having anything to do with politics. If you would like to wring your hands over your uncertainty over where the line is drawn, this incident is not your test case. This software conference is so far from the slippery slope, they can't see it with a telescope.


Dec. 18th, 2011 04:10 pm
I just encountered the word "offended" again, spoken in a public relations apology. "Offended" is a word that takes facts off the table, and centers the conversation on subjective reactions. "I apologize for offending you." Translation: "I'm right, but I'm willing to lie and pretend to agree with you because your emotional reaction is more important to me than facts. Later, I'll complain in private over cigars and scotch about how political correctness is pressuring me to live a lie."
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is reviled in some circles for being about date rape. If you're interested, I would like to explain why this interpretation is perfectly reasonable depending on what lens you look through, and at the end, discuss something I learned about lenses.

To start with, let's face it. Mid-twentieth century America was not a sterling example of sexual equality. But they were too wholesome to accept a song about a woman being roofied and date-raped. Times really have to change for this interpretation to emerge. For purposes of illustration, I will construct an amalgam from actual blog posts I've read, and call this person Christmas Carol.

Carol grew up around no one but sexists. They considered it only to be expected when a man pressured a woman for sex. If he wouldn't stop turning up the pressure until he got it, they considered this an understandable and forgivable offense. Later, in Carol's early adult life, she and every woman she knew filled their lives almost entirely with men who thought that way. Those men abused every substance imaginable and tended to be in and out of jail a lot. Her life was in constant danger. At some point in adult life she decided she neither deserved this treatment nor had to endure it, and escaped.

After she got used to life without constant threats, Carol had a revelation that she was not the only person who considered her personal boundaries normal and acceptable. It no longer felt like Carol vs. the world-- a world of harrassment, molestation, and excuses for it. That was only the world she grew up in. There are other, better people. At that point, Carol became a little less angry.

So if this is the case, Carol wondered why we wrote, and sung, and listened to (much less enjoyed), a song in which a cornered Doris Day tried to escape from a pushy and demanding Bing Crosby who spiked her drink and is likely to impregnate her, thereby ruining her life. Unfortunately, people from warm and happy places thought every place was warm and happy. They had no clue why Carol was hating on a cute little Christmas song in which Doris Day tried to come up with excuses to do what she wanted to do (instead of what a sexist society told her she ought to do), and Bing Crosby passively provided those excuses. Carol became a little more angry again.

So in these blog posts, Carol did some consciousness-raising. She explained to the rest of us that there exist entire invisible subcultures, right here in our wholesome suburbs, which enculturate men and women to tolerate sexual entitlement. You don't know because you don't see their home lives. I won't go into the harrowing details of Carol's biography, because I just ate. Suffice it to say that people with that upbringing have given me a new perspective every time I encounter a woman I don't know. I try not to stand between her and a door. Because I'm a man, she might be scanning for escape routes.

This week, a lawyer who works with a domestic abuse charity told me the highest rate of domestic violence around here is Oakland County. Pretty, idyllic, prosperous Oakland. I look in the mirror, and it's difficult for me to imagine anyone feeling threatened by me. Then again, it's difficult for me to imagine feeling threatened by Oakland County. I never thought I would be OK with the idea that someone can go ahead and think something horrible about me that I don't deserve. But you know what? I'll be fine.

The people inside rape culture and the people outside it mostly don't know the other culture exists until they're told about it. The way their world works seems like the way the whole world works.

Imagine something you think everyone knows. There are probably entire communities walking around on this planet, not only unaware of that obvious thing, but not even aware that anyone in the world thinks otherwise. The first time they are exposed to disagreement on that topic, they will react with incredulity. Not incredulity that they were wrong. Incredulity that you believe the obvious thing. Even hostility, depending on how much they cherish their misconception. For that matter, you might react that way in return.

I can tell you from personal experience that consciousness-raising is more difficult to do graciously when you think the entire world sings songs to celebrate what happened to you. Mistreatment by an isolated jackass: this, you can roll your eyes at. When you feel like the isolated one, the isolation itself brings on a whole new level of rage. This is why I try not to listen to Christian radio. The holiday season is a bit harder, because it's pretty much every channel, but it gets easier every year.

I'm not equating the seriousness of my own grievances with someone else's. I'm saying many examples like "Baby It's Cold Outside" have opened my eyes to how a person's background colors their interpretations. That includes me and my background. It also illustrated to me that when someone blows something out of proportion, there are constructive ways I can react.

I came from an incredibly insular self-validating subculture. The thing about fundamentalism is that it doesn't just fall into this human failing; it calls it faith. It admits it, celebrates it, promotes it, and criticizes you for not doing it. Since I don't want to fall out of the frying pan and into the fire, these days I'm constantly checking my own social environment for the insularity and self-validation inherent to human groups. It's as if I'm scanning the room for an escape route.

Of course, we all fall prey to this weakness. Once you oppose something, you might think you're not vulnerable to it any more, but that just makes you more vulnerable. Basic drives like sex and groupthink need to be channeled and managed in a healthy way. Groupthink scandals are embarrassingly common in the secular community, the same way sex scandals are embarrassingly common to Christians. In fact, the analogy is perfect. Religious devotees embrace groupthink the way secularists embrace safe and responsible sex. Fundamentalists embrace groupthink the way thugs embrace gangbangs. I meet religious moderates who sincerely have no idea how bad it gets, much less how prevalent it is. Our experiences will color how we overestimate or underestimate threats and put-downs when we hear expressions of religious sentiment.

Enjoy the Christmas music!
I've watched people establish norms in their communities and organizations. I've done some of it myself. Here's what I have seen work: Never leave, never shut up for long, keep questioning yourself and looking at the viewpoint of others, and make sure to contribute. The first person to take their ball and go home loses. Those who remain define the culture of the organization or community.

A community always belongs to those who act like "this place belongs to me as much as anyone, and I'm not going anywhere". If you don't act like that, you automatically define yourself on the outside. What will happen will surprise you. You can oppose practically anyone this way-- founders, eminence gris, it doesn't matter-- and win just by wearing them down. Just make sure to contribute value, make sure you are fair, make an effort to be visibly fair, to make sure people feel you are listening to them. Other than that, it's just an endurance competition. You can make the world the way it should be, one piece at a time.

To the atheist feminists right now, I would suggest you keep going to atheist conferences. Instead of you being so uncomfortable being around Richard Dawkins that you give up and concede that social space, contemplate the idea of making Richard Dawkins so uncomfortable that he leaves. (Or apologizes. I wouldn't put that past him.)

I don't know, what do you think?
Brandon Sanderson, a Mormon, a fantasy author (I'll leave off the easy joke), and Penguicon's Author Guest of Honor, recently took a position similar to mine; that the government should get out of the marriage business. Everyone should just get a civil union, and if you want to also get married, you can get that in any ceremony of your choice. If you're religious, you get it through whatever ceremony your religion involves.

He also claimed that homosexuality is sin; but only a minor impediment to spiritual growth, like littering. We see this all the time these days. "I have to say homosex is a minor speed bump on the path of spiritual growth, I guess?" *SHRUG* I think it should be called the Shrug Maneuver. Or maybe the Palms Upturned Shoulder Shrug Evasive Equivocation. I remember being in the same place. I give it ten years, and he'll have changed his mind about this too.

Then there's the second classic maneuver: "But the gays are not nearly as bad as I am! If I call myself bad too, then it's OK!" (Imagine the equivalent: "I think blacks smell funny, but I'm not racist, because smelling bad is not some great evil, and because I think I smell terrible!") It's just not a fact.

No matter how milquetoast and apologetic he is about it, he himself would be outraged at the very thought of such a position if it weren't for his faith shoving this baloney down his reluctant, gagging throat.

He describes the tough place one is in when trying to reconcile tradition. There is a unique irony in this. It's kind of like the way he was chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. How many pages long was it when he got it? Like the Book of Mormon, it must have landed on his desk with a thud. Here, Brandon! You're stuck with thousands and thousands of Robert Jordan's judgements and decisions and have to figure out how to work around it. Most of them are pretty good, but none of them perfect, and some of them atrocious. but they're canon now, and you've got to act like God gave the Wheel of Time series to Robert Jordan on gold tablets.

Now, you might think it is consistent with an iconoclastic style to say "screw the Wheel of Time canon" or "Star Trek is better in J.J. Abrams' reboot" or "I like the new Battlestar Galactica". Actually no. I'm just advocating for original work. At the risk of stretching this metaphor too far, atheism means original work. Which is why you can't get atheists to agree on very much.

Trying to retcon stupid doctrines basically constitutes fanservice. In a long history of bad ideas, the idea of a god's perfect word through a prophet is the worst idea this species has ever had. Gods do not hand down perfection to man, whether it's Joseph Smith or anyone else. That just gets in the way of correcting mistakes. God had some good characters but seemed to get lost in a cult of personality bigger than Heinlein, lost the plot, and vanished up his own ass somewhere around Leviticus, when he wasn't even four books into the series. The reboots made some improvements, but not near enough.
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
We need a new term for a particular blogging/tweeting phenomenon in which internet crowds form sides and square off for a smackdown. Opposing cultures are exposed to each other by the web, are shocked and appalled, and express more and more shock, claiming greater and greater magnitudes of hurt, used to justify worse and worse behavior, culminating eventually in threats or stalking. The most recent example is springing up around Penny Arcade Dickwolves Debacle which resulted in speakers cancelling their appearance at Penny Arcade Expo. (Of course there is an obligatory timeline to collect links to the drama.) There have been several such phenomena in recent years. Some have called them "Fails". That doesn't seem to express what it is. But it seems most likely to catch on.

Very few of us are likely to join triggered trauma victims in their emotional cave-- other than those with an automated guilt reflex. I mean, it is just not going to happen. I wish there were no victims of grievances stuck in a cold, dark, joyless mental place, with padding on the walls so that it's a safe space. But when they are, there seems to be nothing the rest of us can do about it except join them there. A "trigger"-- that event for which a "trigger warning" is issued-- is not just a case of hurt feelings. It is a brain event similar to a panic attack, which grabs the traumatized person by the hindbrain and shakes. Imagine living in an entire world made out of knives. You never know when you're going to get cut. That's what it's like.

In extreme cases we are talking about literally avoiding the entire humor genre. That is not an exaggeration, interpretation, or straw man. That is exactly what the words say in the blog post which (next to the Penny Arcade cartoon "The Sixth Slave") forms one of the twin centers of the controversy. Shaker Milli A offers me the stark choice of conforming my emotional world to the limits of her trauma cave, or look her in the eye and say "I do not care about your rape". Well, put like that, we have clearly discovered how much I care about your rape. We cannot co-exist in each others' social environment. If we accommodate each other, we will both be indescribably poorer for it. It appears we must walk away from the negotiating table.

I'm male, white, cisgendered, heterosexual, non-obese, abled, non-bullied, non-anxious, non-depressed, non-traumatized, and pretty much all-around non-oppressed. This comes with a long list of privileges. I don't really like the word "victim" associated with me. I also possess no automated guilt reflex whatsoever. The rare occasions on which I am capable of the emotion of guilt about anything, it is based on evidence, not social pressure. Then I set it right if possible. If there seems no way to do so, I don't think about it any more, so I am free of the pressure, if not the knowledge, of guilt. For me, guilt does not involve anything larger than me, such as society, the world, humanity, identity groups, demographic segments, or culture. I don't want a cookie, or a trophy: I have no interest whatsoever in whether I am deemed sufficiently liberal.

I said all that to head off any outraged surprise from activists down the road. If that's a problem for you, you might wish to unsubscribe from me on social networks. You might also wish to stop attending the cons, gaming groups, and other locations I frequent, in order to avoid me. Some of you already have, which makes those places dramatically better, because I don't want them to be a padded cave. If you want a dirge instead of a celebration, you have better options for your recreation dollars.

There are other victims who have elected to cut non-victims a lot of slack. For that I thank you, and admire you. I follow and read oppression-related links, when my friends post them, and have become gradually less ignorant. If you have a social justice grievance at a con, and a solution to suggest, and if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between your problem and your solution, bring it up. (For instance, there is certainly such a thing as a terrible rape joke, or murder joke. Pretty much any tragedy joke can go too far or be used in the wrong context.) But the cave is not an option.
In my adult life, I have lacked health insurance almost as often as I have had it. Reading through the effects of last night's passing of insurance industry reform in the Washington Post, I discovered that it expands Medicaid to cover those who make $29,327 a year (for a family of four). That's more money than I've ever made. That might mean, had the Republicans not defeated similar insurance reform in the Clinton era, I would have had health insurance all this time.

I might be misinterpreting the phrase about a family of four-- it may be a stipulation of coverage. I don't know of any government incentives for the responsibility I have exercised with my reproductive system. It is its own reward. I have seen countless cases to convince me that reproductive irresponsibility carries with it more consequences than I would wish on anyone. So I'm not resentful.

Of course, here's hoping that by 2014 when this Medicaid expansion goes into effect, I will be making enough not to need it. But it's nice to know.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I found this slideshow very informative.

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Here is a link to the controversial blog entry by obscure science fiction author John C. Wright. The conversation surrounding his remarks will only involve talking past each other, until we see it as an argument over the three moral dimensions unique to social conservatives: purity, obedience, and loyalty. His hostility will only make sense in that light. By contrast, social liberals have two moral values: fairness/reciprocity, and avoidance of harm. Conservative moral intuitions share those two dimensions, but subordinate them to the other three.

The odd thing is, the more dimensions to an author's morality, the more cardboard the characters and settings are likely to be. Liberals have been around the block enough that they have seen loyalty, obedience, and purity prop up organizational heirarchies that create harm and inhibit reciprocity. A commitment to harm-avoidance and a level playing field must precede all other values. Otherwise loyalty is nepotism and cronyism; obedience is a jack-booted thug; and purity is obsessive-compulsive disorder. In short, they are all forms of corrupted governance, hoarding worldly power through self-serving double-standards. There are countless ways for us to appeal to the two values we share with conservatives. Countless examples to illustrate how they cannot honor both sets of their values because one set sabotages the other. Spend the time doing that.

And by the way: yes, it is our job to educate them. Do you like it when they tell you to change and then say that the reasons are beyond our understanding, so they don't have to support it? Pretty obnoxious, isn't it? With that attitude, there is no way to ever find out that you're living under the wrong rules. Well, I've seen liberals do that, and it's no better. Never tell someone to change and then say "It's not my job to educate you". Any time anyone asks anyone else to change, the burden of proof is on them that the change is for the better. Skepticism is healthy, never forget that. It is our job to back up our claims as to why loyalty, obedience and purity can be taken to destructive extremes. Otherwise we ask them to obey our inscrutable demands through blind faith. Quit it, please. We have the facts on our side, and may as well use them.

In the meantime, a point about this boycott on Mr. Wright's obscure books. Were you going to read them anyway? Don't get me wrong, there are some extremely good stories written by authors who you could look up in your Monster Manual under "Dire Amish". But I'm comfortable missing out on throwback work with a shallow understanding of the world. My reading pile is too full already, and the competition too fierce, to shed much of a tear. Most of us are less concerned with the quality of writing than we are about the issues that literature addresses: science, business, religion, politics, philosophy. Authors can get obsessed with writing skills. It's their job, that's understandable. But when we read the last page and close your book, we readers continue to exist! And then we do those other things, which we usually care about more.

I would bet that the saving grace for Orson Scott Card's career was that he was already famous for his literary work before starting to write ultra-fundamentalist newspaper opinion columns. Whereas the recent kerfuffle surrounding Mr. Wright has probably garnered more attention than most of his novels, and is likely the height of his fame. Few are likely to explore the work of an author if their first and only exposure has been to find out he hates their friends and family on blind faith. There are just too many equally good authors and good books to direct our scarce exploratory reading in that direction.

I don't expect Mr. Wright to stop saying what he thinks just because I am no longer interested in his books. His stories would not somehow become richer if he stopped slandering and put in some characters who he doesn't understand at all. Let's not make this a boycott. I don't intend it as a disincentive-- just a helpful new way to winnow down information overload. It takes a really good reason for me to pick up a new author, and any excuse will do to avoid one. Look at the supply and demand ratio. The audience for fiction is what these days? Twelve people? Thirteen? (I kid, but you get the point.) And how many really high-quality novels and short story collections have accumulated? Several human lifetimes' worth. As Cory Doctorow says, writing is almost a non-economic activity now. A hobby. Which kind of author do we want to be among the few for whom it is an economical profession? Screeching red-eyed lecturers, or warm, genial sweethearts?
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Found on the internet:

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as regulated by the US Congress, and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US National Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile, and set to work on roads built by the local, state and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank. On the way out the door, I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US Postal Service, and drop the kids off at the public school.

I then log onto the internet, which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration, and post on and Fox News Forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.
Inspired by a blog post by Scalzi, here is a Venn diagram I made to speculate on proportions of denialists.

I have been paid to draw a salesperson deceiving people in exchange for money.

What gender and race should the salesperson be?
After listening to the Obama inauguration speech, I rewatched Star Trek: Insurrection and noticed a serendipitous resonance of themes.

The most powerful political entity fears decline, so its leaders violate its founding principles in secret. Individuals take personal responsibility to sacrifice in support of ideals which, while undisputed, had been compromised for expedience.

One scene depicts a band of figures, very different from each other, standing shoulder to shoulder on a hilltop in defense of a weak nation not their own. It worked very well with some of the heroic imagery I was reading in the speech transcript. I don't really have a point, I just liked how it worked out.

There is an episode of The West Wing in which Josh tells a staffer not to wear a Star Trek pin at work, and she says "Starfleet and the whole Star Trek series is about honor and loyalty and civic duty." He tells her it's fine to be a fan, but don't make it a fetish. Of course he's right, and I don't make it a fetish, but on the other hand, this sort of thing is the reason that maybe it makes sense that Josh also says in the episode that he watches Star Trek.

By the way, if you're interested, here is an article about Obama's Sam Seaborn, Jon "Favs" Favreau.
YouTube is failing me. Where can I get video of the inaugural address that doesn't just constantly pause and eventually stop downloading?

edited to add
I listened to audio from The Guardian.

He started not with "My fellow Americans" but "My fellow citizens." That set the tone of responsibility.

We don't need big or small government, but government that works.

He included nonbelievers in the list of united factions. That is consistent with someone who believes if we face reality with courage and imagination, living in denial of reality is not required in order to sustain hope. His message is everything I like about being nonreligious.

"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." He pointed out that the founders were in dire peril when they signed the Declaration of Independence. They were willing to sacrifice safety to give us a Constitution with a Bill of Rights. I am thinking of certain people we know who I'm sure are smarting right now, having been identified as cowards beneath the macho exteriors.

And finally, there was more than one rebuke to me in the speech. It was far from preaching to the choir, and I'm not used to that in speeches from politicians.
I want to be a good citizen. I also don't want to be taken advantage of in the service of foolish and harmful causes. It's pretty overwhelming to figure out how to get both of those, but I've been posting on this blog from time to time to work through it. This post will illustrate where I think the problem lies, and one out of several solutions that might mitigate it. Don't think this is a post of pessimism or despair; if that were the case, I wouldn't bother posting this. I think it's solvable and I'm going to discuss a proposed solution. The thing is, before you can fix a problem, you've got to acknowledge it.

I thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I still cannot account for the fact that they didn't. But wait a minute! Am I supposed to have an opinion on the war based on that question of expert fact? The civic arena in which we participate relies on increasingly complicated truth claims. Maybe one reason Americans are so unmotivated to get involved in politics is because it goes like this:

Step One. I start from a set of values. Everybody's got values. This is easy. I could define for you what I consider to be metrics of success that matter to me as goals, intrinsically worthy in and of themselves. I think something is being neglected, or we stand to lose it, and I want to keep it. Let's say I want to lower crime.

Step Two. I'm expected to pick a policy that I think will achieve lower crime. My favored policy, let's say it's gun control, is likely to be wrong-headed and not successfully achieve a lower crime rate, because I'm not an expert specialist, and the information environment rewards deception by powerful interests.

Step Three. I'm expected to pick a politician to enact gun control (the policy that I suspect I am probably wrong about). I don't even know if a given politician will keep her promise to enact it.

Step Four. When I have picked a politician (the one who, remember, I don't know whether she will enact gun control, which may or may not lower the crime rate), I don't know if she is "electable". So I'm expected to vote for some other politician, who doesn't even want to enact gun control, just because she might make the political climate easier for somebody to enact it someday. In order to get closer to that she's cut a compromise deal, to go along with a policy from the NRA which she doesn't even believe in.

At this point it looks for all the world like nothing more than a grab for empty power by a political party. Power for its own sake, devoid of the values that I started with. It seems to me our attention as good citizens would be better spent on stepping back and solving the system itself, and on winning the hearts and minds of our friends one person at a time.

To sum up my thoughts on the matter: If you can't tell what's true, and there's no one with credibility, the main problem to solve is
A. the difficulty in establishing actual facts, and
B. a political system that is rewarded for acting out of accordance with facts.
Until this is solved, solutions can seldom be judged, much less implemented.

Did you know that Professor Lawrence Lessig, of the Creative Commons, a public figure in the forefront of the fight for digital civil liberties, announced he would stop his work on those issues in order to spend all his time fighting government corruption? He says until that is solved, other problems he has been working on will not be solved. I was reading his book "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace", and listening to an interview on The Command Line Podcast in which he discussed this switch in his life's work, on the day I attended the Digital Citizenship Symposium.

As a follow-up to the post about that Symposium, I'd like to introduce a thought-provoking idea about a potential institution to mitigate the credibility crisis. I first heard about this in K. Eric Drexler's book about nanotech and the pitfalls of forecasting the future, Engines of Creation. I strongly recommend you read Chapter 13. It's called Prediction Markets, and its political extension is Futarchy. "Vote on values, bet on beliefs."
Read more... )
I was very upset to miss the speech The Good Citizen and New Forms of Political Participation by Russell Dalton. I was running all over the Wayne State University campus trying a half-dozen different methods of printing a Penguicon flyer, and failing because the PDF file was rendered as the wrong page size when I made it.

I managed to get back in time for the Q&A followup with Professor Dalton, but couldn't ask my questions because I didn't know if it had already been covered: I don't know how to be a good citizen as traditionally defined. When my friends talk to me as if I should join them in handing out flyers supporting empty-suit candidate X who is playing along with the system, I look at them goggle-eyed like they are from another planet. I do not understand what happens to intelligent people sometimes.

For instance, one of the slides in today's first speech happened to depict someone who illustrates my point. (I am not saying the speaker, Fred Stutzman, is like that; he was talking about something else entirely.) It was Barack Obama's Facebook profile. I saw that his campaign described him with that traditional bluff made by all presidential campaigns: "the next President of the United States". Are they delusional? Surely they know that this claim has been refuted by the example of every loser in every previous election. The only explanation must be that they are deliberately to manipulate easily-manipulated voters. They have identified themselves as professional spin doctors, and I simply cannot take the campaign seriously. The dillemma of democracy is that campaigns cannot speak effectively without manipulating the gullible.

I know people who work full-time for causes I believe in, and distort the truth on a regular basis in service of the good guys. If this is civic engagement in democracy, I cannot stomach it.

Professor Dalton clarified the point of his speech for a questioner, from which I gathered:

  • Guilt trips to make us work out of duty, for a political system we see as gullible and manipulative, will absolutely not succeed. (Thank you!)

  • Politicos need to convince us factually (not with emotional distraction) that by changing the outcome of an election, we would change the outcome of public policy in favor of a noticable improvement in the best interests of someone we care about.

  • Politicos need to readjust their definition of a good citizen to the reality of how we are actually engaging with our communities, not how they want us to.

I like this last point. When I reject preachers, politicians, or any other boondoggles on which others lean for hope, I don't feel hopeless. I am an imaginative person, and innovation is the answer to all cynicism. The person who would describe my attitude as cynical merely lacks the imagination to innovate alternatives.

Here's one alternative I've found. We have this cultural story we tell ourselves of the legendary hacker, whose mode of changing the world has got nothing to do with politicians; in fact, they can do it from their mom's basements. They write software that changes all the rules, and give it to everybody for free. Help dissidents circumvent the Great Firewall of China. Put Linux on free laptops for kids in the third world. Use peer-to-peer filesharing to protect traditional limits on copyright. It's like hackers are standing on a streetcorner handing out boxes of pure, shining empowerment to passing strangers. If it turns out that this self-image of power and virtue is a lie, I'll find something else. That's not cynicism, it's adaptation.

No wonder Virtual Citizenship needs a whole symposium to wrap our heads around it.
Is there signifigant climate change? If so, are humans causing it? If so, is it catastrophic? If so, can it be averted? If so, why will a given plan work?

It bothers me very much that my current knowledge of the facts about human-caused climate change is no better than my knowledge about evolution was in the days when I accepted Creationism as actual science. I want to attack my area of ignorance, since the ramifications are important enough that a strong opinion is going to be morally required of me, and since I don't have the right to strongly hold an uninformed opinion. (Did you ever consider that? You don't have "the right to your opinion" on a topic on which you aren't going to do the work to get informed.)

My current reading is not making the picture any clearer. What bothers me even more than my state of ignorance is that I don't see a way to resolve this through any amount of diligent research if I don't know who to trust. I trust the scientific community, but I don't trust the political process. (In a moment I'll go into part of why this is.)

Years ago, I was a Creationist, quite well-versed in the arguments across the breadth of Creationist literature, only to have it devastated when I engaged in a massive Manhattan-Project-style reading binge of I hope that a thorough reading across the breadth of environmental literature will yeild conclusions that firmly. But in the case of climate change, the signs of junk science are everywhere, supporting every conclusion. Every scientist quoted in the debate appears to be cowed and censored with funding at risk, a mis-quoted and edited sock puppet on the hand of industries seeking exploitative profit, or of regulatory government seeking election to pass the rest of their platform. Scientific testimony appears to proliferate to discredit opposing scientific testimony on this topic, accusing it of being fatally compromised by a political faction that desires to use it to justify an economic system. That discrediting evidence is then, itself, discredited in what may turn out to be an endless cycle.

The experience of watching An Inconvenient Truth -- a feature-length political advertisement which was just as much about the irrelevant details of the biography of Al Gore as it was about global warming -- was marked by the constant awareness that everything I was being told could be true and vitally important, and the knowledge that everything I was being told might turn out to be a deliberate deception.

Gore said, "Out of 925 recent articles in peer-review scientific journals about global warming, there was no disagreement. Zero." It turns out those 925 articles were not about the climate at all. (Or were they? The claim they were not could be a lie.) Footage is shown of collapsing glaciers, and this turns out to have been what glaciers have always done. (Or is it? How can I believe that either?) On and on it goes.

I would like to always be cautious before casting accusations of lying. It's a serious charge, and it's immoral to make it to soon or too lightly as I did against the scientific community when I was a Creationist. But have you noticed that in politics, the statements of fact are so opposed that the only recourse is to accuse the other faction of deception? One side or the other obviously has to be lying. It could be both. The consistent Lysenkoism of the current Republican administration does not mean that the Democrats are not also turning science into Lysenkoism.

What motivates scientists? Science is supposed to be the business of finding things out. It makes no sense to go into that profession if you only do so to lie and cover up the truth for an ideological agenda. The pay and job security are rotten. Only one percent of the top one percent is likely to become famous. There is virtually no prospect for putting together a massive conspiracy to conceal climate change, or a conspiracy to reveal it where it doesn't exist, since other scientists have so much to gain in their careers by exposing your mistakes. There is no such conspiracy in the international scientific community.

This is where politics comes in, which is the source of science funding. Politics is not about truth, it's about getting things to be the way you want them to be. It's like a corrosive acid on the good and decent people who choose it for a career. When a seasoned and successful politician results from that starry-eyed youngster, it is no longer that idealistic person; it has become an image marketed by careful handlers behind the throne like Karl Rove or James Carville, sweet-talked by corrupt lobbyists who protect all that wealth and power at stake. The ones who stay idealistic and don't compromise are the ones whose brief and failed careers you never hear about. It seems to require playing fast and loose with the truth in order to accomplish something that one hopes will be, on balance, good. One is swept into a machine of compromise in the hope that the ends justify the means.

You know that the issue I think about the most is this: how to tell what is true. An individual can't possibly study everything in the world, and has to trust the credibility of experts. When we can't trust our institutions, it's a disaster. Where can a lay person turn for scientific answers that are free of activism? Why are there no Science Courts or Idea Futures Markets?

I'm going to diligently pay attention to climate change until a picture of the scientific fact emerges from the political activism, even if it takes so long that the economy collapses from the burden of un-necessary and misdirected regulations, or I die in a flood from a melted ice cap, or both.
The Logical Language Group received an email from a gentleman in France who is with L’Union Française Onixienne. An AltaVista babelfish translation of their website yields the following:

The French Onixian Union is an association which has the aim of promoting, adapting, and developing the creation of a federal State, called "Terran Federation", including all the current Sovereign states such as the Eurasiatic, Oceanic, American, African countries ... such as recommends the French author E. Onix in his work entitled "My Utopia: the Terran Federation".

Here is an AltaVista babelfish translation of the email (written originally in French), in which he asks us five survey questions.
Read more... )

I personally have very little desire for a one-world government; mainly because if you don't like your government you should be able to move somewhere else. Furthermore, here we see how such an institution would surpress personal freedom in terms of language. Is the concept of one-world government inherently opposed to personal freedom?

There's something to be said for language diversity. I'm very fond of science fiction stories such as Tom Purdom's "Fossil Games" in which technology keeps the characters alive and young for so many centuries that they have time to learn dozens of languages, including artificial ones. I do not savor the prospect of all languages boiling down to one universal monoculture.

Here are my answers to Stephane's questions: Click here. )
What would your answers be?
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Last year conservatives made a big deal about a supposed "War On Christmas" because some private business choose of their own free will not to participate in publicly decorating for the Christian holiday. There is a certain kind of Christian who feels persecuted if cities don't pay out my tax dollars to display Christmas creches on public streets and squares that are paid for by my tax dollars.

But now witness the terrornoia reaction when some girls did a cool and fun art project for April Fools' Day. Click here for a link to the article in the Akron Beacon-Journal and the article in the online Record-Courier. I have put in a call with the Beacon-Journal's Metro Editor in charge of local news to confirm that this is not just an April Fool's Day joke on the part of the paper and that the events really happened as described.

The teenage girls followed the instructions on a cool website to make life-size Super Mario Bros. power-up blocks and spread them all over the town. The bomb squad was called out to disarm these pinatas. According to the instructions on the website, the foil-covered cardboard boxes should contain a prize as a gift to whoever is lucky enough to find them. As anyone knows who has not lived under a rock for the last twenty years, question mark blocks traditionally dispense help and not harm. These decorations were intended to delight, not threaten.

Criminal charges are being brought against the five girls ages 15 to 17. Are we now criminalizing random acts of kindness toward strangers? Some artists put up beautiful decorations for April Fool's Day, and are actually being persecuted for it. See, this is what it would actually look like in December if there were a war on Christmas. The internet is banding together to make an outcry, and pay their legal fees if this laughingstock of a case actually makes it to court.

One of my favorite comments to the article was from a user named "disgusted by cowardice": "Hello Police? Yes, there have been several unidentified packages left under our Christmas tree. We saw a bearded man leaving the scene. Can you send in the bomb squad?"

To which I would add, "Hello, police? Someone has made a rainbow and sprinkled it with dew. I feel that the security of my homeland is all tingly."

The nice thing about decorating a public place with privately-funded question blocks is that the first person to find them is supposed to destroy them. If people put out their own privately-funded manger scenes which yield coins, flowers and mushroom-shaped chocolates when smashed with baseball bats, I'd be all in favor of it. Sounds like a fun holiday season.

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