11/13/16

What matters and what's lofty irrelevance

11/13/16
In the long run, we're all spiritual servants of a spaghetti monster who manages a universe of self-replicating paperclips. Which is to say, we're all dead, but it's still super cool to think of nascent spaghetti-run paperclip economies and galactic culture dynamics. I guess.

I mean, I wouldn't know since I'm not getting a comfortable salary to think about that stuff.
And all three of these [Trump v. Clinton & historical] differences are small compared the variation in such things across the history of human-like creatures so far, and also compared to that history yet to come.
Put your crypto-nihilism down and deal with life and loss like a reasonable human being.

There are bad ways to deal with adversity and there are less bad ways. I'll go out on a limb and say that pretending to rise above and see this through some pantemporal lens is of the worse bad variety.*

Then there's the less bad, where at least some introspection and change is considered:
People don’t seem to understand this: you need to adapt and change and look outside of your tiny enclaves not out of some moral obligation, but because you are losing on every imaginable frontYou don’t have to get in touch with the rest of the country because that’s the right thing to do. You have to get in touch with the rest of the country because they’re kicking your ass. The Republicans will control the House, the Senate, and the presidency, have the chance to appoint at least one and probably several Supreme Court justices, run 68 out of 99 state legislative houses, and hold 31 gubernatorial seats. That is domination on an unimaginable level. Every minute you spend signal-boosting people who say that it’s Republicans who have to get on board with liberal values is a minute you’re not doing anything to change that condition.
Despite the Republicans winning pretty much everything, this election was close, percentage-wise. If a few more democrats turned out in a handful of states, we would be having a very, very different conversation. Unfortunately, neither conversation is good.

I agree having an "insular, self-aggrandizing book club that treats looking at other parts of the country as an anthropology exercise" is extremely off-putting. But maybe the assumption behind this thinking is also insular, self-aggrandizing, and so far off from much of the country that it is equally off-putting.

So here we are, talking about changing strategy just so we can stop getting our asses kicked. Fuck flyover country's backwards ideas, we just need to trick a few more of them to give us a win.

Apparently the old liberal maxim of re-evaluating one's views when faced with contrary evidence, only applies to peripherals, like strategy and messaging. You're so smart, therefore you must be right. Heaven forbid you soften or change some views.

If you want something to look forward to, then rest assured, Donald Trump will face much more scrutiny and criticism than George W. Bush. Why? Because you and your book club hate him, and you now have, more than ever, good reason to:
Yet, beginning in his first month in office and continuing through today, Obama not only continued many of the most extreme executive-power policies he once condemned, but in many cases strengthened and extended them. His administration detained terrorism suspects without due process, proposed new frameworks to keep them locked up without trial, targeted thousands of individuals (including a U.S. citizen) for execution by drone, invoked secrecy doctrines to shield torture and eavesdropping programs from judicial review, and covertly expanded the nation’s mass electronic surveillance. ...

The president-elect frightens them, so they are now alarmed. But if they want to know whom to blame, they should look in the mirror.
If you want to start genuinely courting the Other, start befriending people like Rand Paul. Most Republicans will probably just go along with whatever power grabs Trump can get away with. There are some however, like Senator Paul, who not only disagree with Trump on several major issues, but would be a far more tolerable opposition leader in the future.


* I'm not saying discussions of the future, even distant future are folly, but I am saying that it's a poor way to accept and deal with loss. And holy hell is it out of touch. It's fine if all you do is think about far-off and lofty ideas, but it is by no means constructive or helpful for those dealing with real or perceived adversity in the here and now.

11/10/16

Reactions and Reflections

11/10/16
Lefty bubbles. Insulated warm, fuzzy cocoons. Walled gardens. Epistemic closure beguiled by positive feedback loops. The pleasant echos lulled half a country and its "elite" into a false sense of authority.

And then it all came tumbling down. Crashing. I think it was a surprise for nearly everyone. Good for some, bad for others.

I'm not sure I have much to say given what's already been said. So what follows is a roundup of reactions to the election, a bit of the more poignant commentary, and my thoughts on each. Some of which I don't quite understand, but am trying to. Some of it I agree with wholeheartedly and think needs a bit more sunlight, and then some I disagree with.

When bubbles burst, it's usually a shock to those inside. Their thoughts and behavior during the aftermath can be illuminating.


The Left

I'll start with J. D. Vance at the NYT, who like so many others after the election, acknowledge the bubbles they've been living in:
Failed political prognostication is hardly a grievous sin, but it raises difficult questions about the other bubbles I live in. Few would accuse me of lacking compassion for the Trump voter, but the same can hardly be said for many other coastal elites.

Meanwhile, our country has other groups deserving of compassion. Shortly after Mr. Trump’s victory became clear, a black friend told me that his kid brother had been subjected to racial taunts at school. I wonder now whether I’m empathetic enough to my friend and his family, and I worry whether those who cast their ballots for Mr. Trump have much understanding for why so many fear a Trump presidency. The benefits and prejudices of a life lived within a bubble are hardly limited to urban progressive professionals.
You will see this narrative over and over. "Out of touch," "living in a bubble," "we have some reflecting to do," but also the usually subtle implication that the racists have taken over, and super-racist Nazi America is but a shoe drop away.

How do they know? Because Trump once said he wants to ban Muslim immigration. Trump then walked back that stance. Also something about building a wall. I'll admit Trump is brash and far from eloquent, but wanting tighter, more secure immigration and the occasional verbalization of stereotypes does not a Hitler make. And of course, the only kind of person willing to vote for that kind of a man, is a racist.

But people are scared now apparently. I get that for some, relatively very few, discrimination is a real and ugly thing they have to deal with and I want to help them. But for most in modern America? Call me skeptical, but I'm going to have to ask for proof.

Still, for a lot of people, this election is proof enough for them. From Reddit:

click image to enlarge

"I'm a Muslim living in the States. Trump doesn't scare me as much as his supporters do."

"I'm Jewish and I'm right there with you in fearing his supporters..."

Am I in my own bubble? I've never personally witnessed racial or political violence, or threats thereof. Such reports I see are from the same news sources (mostly) "coastal elites" use. I don't see large-scale racial violence or discrimination happening, or even medium-scale. It's generally the occasional something-bad-happened-to-one-person story. Like police going too far, but even then it's not always so clear.

Are they afraid, like we're living in Europe, or the third world hellholes many leftists fetishize?

I want to say I did some looking around for this fear, but no. Just skimming the various newzy and social sites it became abundantly clear. Trump really is the next Hitler to them. The following images are screenshots I took in the hours following the election results:





















There was even a "homophobia" in there! Despite Trump being the first Republican presidential nominee to embrace marriage equality, and prominently supported by Peter Thiel. Fucking come on, the Republicans are, and will continue to get, on board the LGBTQ train--so long as it's compatible with individual and religious liberty.

No matter, frequently fallible Paul Krugman will set things straight:
What we do know is that people like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in. We thought that our fellow citizens would not, in the end, vote for a candidate so manifestly unqualified for high office, so temperamentally unsound, so scary yet ludicrous. ...

There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy.
He says he truly didn't understand the country, then in the very next paragraph, half a day after the election, he now claims to know: and its name is backwardness. Jesus Christ; and they wonder why half of America collectively gave them the fucking finger. Arrogant condescending pricks, the whole lot of them.

Might as well get it all out. What insulting buzzwords are America you say?






















Way to be civil. Want some grace from the winners? Maybe try not spitting on them.

Trump wasn't my preferred candidate, but the racist labeling only made me want to support him more. Why? It was unfair. If he said the N-word in the last several years, and/or displayed any other overtly racist behavior I would be calling him that myself. But now, in many circles, merely opposing lax immigration is 100% straight-up racist.

But it doesn't even matter. If he's a scumbag then he's a scumbag. What matters is what he'll do as president. What policies he'll bring. What judges he'll appoint. Scumbagerry doesn't translate well into policy, although there are exceptions.

Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Jr., and a Republican congress didn't overturn Roe v. Wade. There was some pushback on gay marriage, but look where we are now. We're even legalizing drugs!

After all the hysterics, I feel it's time to Voxplain a thing or two.



Oh my. Vox can't even keep a cool head. People sure aren't taking this well:












































So there's the reactions. Fear, sadness, anger, resentment, disgust, combinations of denial and acceptance. But what does it all mean? What brought about this Trump victory?


The Democrats

To paraphrase President Obama, we need to spread the blame around. Hillary's campaign miscalculated. Badly:
“They are saying they did nothing wrong, which is ridiculous,” said one Clinton surrogate. “She was the wrong messenger and everyone misjudged how pissed working class people were.” ...

In interviews with close to a dozen top Clinton allies and former operatives, who did not want to publicly criticize the losing campaign or candidate, many expressed a deep frustration that the party had pinned its hopes on a divisive establishment candidate. ...

The issues were crystal clear as early as January 2015, but the campaign thought it could overcome it.
“Make a virtue of her longevity,” Palmieri advised in an email that month to Podesta, released by WikiLeaks. “Embrace all the Clinton-ness — the forty years in politics, the decades on the national stage...”

A lot of commentators are saying Trump won because Hillary and the Democrats colossally fucked up. All that nastiness you see above, well Trump supporters were experiencing that every time they opened their mouths prior to the election. Not the best persuasive technique. The left in general and Democrats in particular really didn't do much to dissuade that strategy. There's more to it than that--which I'll get to later--but Jonathan Pie nails it:




The Media

Lets not forget the media. For a long time the left and the media would mock the right for complaining about bias. What a time we live in when they openly admit it, and try to justify it. Of course, it was the wrong thing to do. Not because it was unethical, you see, but because it backfired:

From Jim Rutenberg at the NYT:
John King of CNN proclaimed to his huge election night audience that during the previous couple of weeks, “We were not having a reality-based conversation” given the map he had before him, showing Mr. Trump with a clear opportunity to reach the White House.

That was an extraordinary admission; if the news media failed to present a reality-based political scenario, then it failed in performing its most fundamental function. ...

They think something is so wrong that all the fact-checking of Mr. Trump this year, the countless reports of his lies — which he uttered more than Mrs. Clinton did — and the vigorous investigation of his business and personal transgressions, bothered them far less than the perceived national ills Mr. Trump was pointing to and promising to fix.

In their view the government was broken, the economic system was broken, and, we heard so often, the news media was broken, too. Well, something surely is broken.
Ya think? That's the end of the article. The time for coyness has long passed. Why don't you grow a pair and just say what you think is broke. It hit you square in the nose and you still don't say it. Ah but then you might have to risk appearing to agree with those racist cavemen. 

I think I know why. Because the same Jim Rutenberg rationalized away the disparate treatment of Trump, by the media, a mere 3 months ago:
If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.
Whoops! I don't want to say I accidentally helped elect Trump, but I accidentally helped elect Trump.

And even a few days before Rutenberg's August piece, Justin Raimondo writes prophetic:
Any objective observer of the news media’s treatment of Trump can certainly conclude that reporters are taking a side in this election — and they don’t have to be wearing a button that says “I’m with her” for this to be readily apparent. The irony is that the media’s Trump bashing may wind up having the exact opposite of its intended effect.

Polls shows that journalism is one of the least respected professions in the country, and with Trump calling out media organizations for their bias, widespread slanted reporting is bound to reinforce this point — and to backfire. Trump’s campaign is throwing down the gauntlet to the political class. If journalists are seen as the mouthpiece of that class, they may soon find themselves covering Trump’s inauguration.
The schadenfreude never ends. I hope Trump's presidency brings about positive change, and is otherwise uneventful, but the dark twisted part of me is cheering on for more entertainment.


The Trump Voters

If you want to know what was in the minds of the people that voted for Trump, you should ask them, but Matt Flegenheimer and Michael Barbaro at the NYT aren't far off:
The triumph for Mr. Trump, 70, a real estate developer-turned-reality television star with no government experience, was a powerful rejection of the establishment forces that had assembled against him, from the world of business to government, and the consensus they had forged on everything from trade to immigration.

The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs. Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism.
Ah yes, the establishment. The establishment Republicans didn't want him, nor the Democrats, nor Wall Street. I couldn't think of a better endorsement.

Sarah Baker at the Liberty Papers is even more to the point:
5. Listen when they say the jobs have left their areas. That they can’t afford their health insurance premiums or the penalties for not having it. They can’t afford their tax rates. They can’t afford to take their kids to see the doctor, can’t afford to take vacations with their families, live in fear one-paycheck-to-the-next of missing their mortgage payment. Listen when they say they are afraid of losing jobs to overseas and to immigration. Listen when they say they are afraid of terrorism inside the U.S. Listen, and don’t reflexively dismiss their concerns as closet racism.

6. Listen when they say how seriously they take their right to own and bear arms. Don’t reflexively dismiss them as redneck fetishists. Don’t sneer on social media about how they must have some anatomical shortcoming for which to compensate. Listen when they say they will die on the hill of the Second Amendment because they are afraid of an authoritarian leader taking control of the country.

That burning?
That’s irony.

7. Listen, as well, to why they didn’t like the other candidate. How they feel about entrenched political dynasties who sell access to make millions, who conspire to rig the economy for their friends in the 1%, and do nothing while the poor and middle class fall further behind.
Is Trump authoritarian? I don't know. I hope not, but he's displayed a mildly alarming tendency to favor an authoritarian style. Will that, if it's his thing, translate into authoritarian policies? Maybe, thankfully he's not a religious zealot, nor a drug warrior, nor a hawkish warmonger. At least he wasn't more often than he was, while campaigning.

He's not a very consistent politician. He's just not a politician. He's a blank slate with a few stains.

Trump might be easily compared to a comic book villain, but that doesn't make his supporters one-dimensional minions. Ken White (Popehat), bless his heart, insultingly explains that Trump supporters aren't racist, they just have a little attention deficit problem:
... attributing a Trump victory to racism and misogyny is a quick, cheap, easy way out. People aren't that simple. Americans didn't conclusively reject racism by electing President Obama, and didn't conclusively embrace it by electing President Trump. Trial lawyers know this: people don't make decisions like computers. People don't tend to weigh all the evidence or consider all the factors or evaluate every counter-argument to every argument. People tend, in small decisions and big ones, to latch on to a few main ideas, come to a conclusion, and then stop considering contrary evidence. A man sees what he wants to see, and disregards the rest. Obama's election didn't mean Americans were free of racism; it meant that Obama effectively communicated big ideas that connected and shut down the other voices whispering in our ears. Certainly some Trump supporters are avowedly racist, but some of them latched on to big ideas and stopped listening to the rest — like his troubling flirtation with evil.
I get what Ken is saying; it's a lot like confirmation bias, and perhaps a little laziness. But for an eloquent lawyer, that paragraph is damning with faint psychological process explanation.

And the "Troubling flirtation with evil!" Did I miss some evil Trump speech or something? Did he say he likes to kill puppies?

I have some disagreements with protectionism, nationalism, strict immigration, and "locker-room talk," but I wouldn't go so far to call them flirtations with evil.

I honestly don't get this Trump-is-evil stuff. Everybody says it, but damn if I can find direct evidence of it. I guess I'm supposed to "latch on to [those] ideas, come to a conclusion, and then stop considering contrary evidence" regarding Trump's evilness.

A loudmouth politically incorrect dirty old man, sure. An evil man, I don't see it. Popehat continues:
Hillary Clinton won an epic, historic struggle to be the worst Presidential candidate ever. Ultimately she won that struggle — and thus lost the Presidency — because she did not persuade. She did not articulate her core ideas effectively enough, and so not enough people latched onto them and disregarded the bad things about her. Trump dallied with racism — hell, Trump nailed racism in the coat closet and walked out smirking — but Clinton still did worse with Latinos, African-Americans, and Asians than Obama did. It may be that she was doomed from the start — too much baggage, too many vulnerabilities. Or it could be that she lacked Obama's power to persuade. She couldn't get them to accept her simple pitch and shut everything else out. Trump could.

It falls to realistic Trump opponents not to crush the people who voted for him, but to persuade them. In this election the GOP showed that it could fight back against demographic change — not just by marshaling high percentages of white voters, but by persuading higher-than-expected percentages of minorities. The Democrats can't respond to that by writing 40% of the country off as irredeemable.

Hubris and Entitlement: The catastrophic polling failures of 2016 reflect the fatal pride of Clinton's team and what I'll call "the establishment."

Americans are stubborn and proud. They'll be persuaded, but they won't be told who to vote for like you'd tell a recalcitrant child to eat his vegetables. The media, childishly obsessed with Donald Trump (and frankly unenthused with Hillary Clinton) promoted a us-versus-them mentality. It was far more class-based than race-based — it was the message "isn't it unbelievable and hilarious that those people support Trump." The message was "of COURSE vote Clinton, you idiot" or "you're pretty dim but at least you can see how to vote on THIS one." Generally people can't be expected to embrace stories that demean them.

There was another way, but hardly anybody took it. There was the way of "let me earn your vote by persuading you why these policies are right," conveyed as part of an effective set of ideas. There were far too few forceful and effective advocates of how free trade makes us richer and freer. There were too few people willing to risk a genuine discussion of the costs of frequent military intervention. Everyone was too busy arguing what immigration policies they didn't support to debate specific policies that they did support.

The anti-Trump message was based too strongly on entitlement — based on who you are, we are entitled to your vote, by right. You can see that in the frothing rage at third-party voters after Clinton's defeat. You'll see it in the ugly backlashes coming at the minority voters who didn't vote "correctly." But voting isn't a matter of entitlement. "Vote for me because the other guy's horrific" is not an effective method to persuade or get out the vote. It's an idea that focuses on the other guy, not you. You've got to deserve victory. Clinton didn't. Clinton stank of entitlement to rule, the media conveyed that message, and that message fatally amplified Clinton's scandals, conveying that Clinton was entitled to follow the rules differently, to act differently, to be treated preferentially.
This is what a lot of Hillary voters don't get. Just because Trump was a terrible candidate, doesn't automatically translate to the alternative being a saint. Especially when accompanied by name-calling, silencing, and plain old bullying. I was an undecided voter right up until the last day. I didn't want to vote for Trump, nor Clinton. But everyday on my GAMING twitter feed, there was some insult lobbed toward Trump supporters, liked and retweeted several times. If they weren't racist, misogynist, homophobic, or xenophobic, then they were called idiots. Who wants to join a bunch of assholes? Keep your circlejerk of political hate.

I wanted to vote for Trump just to stick it to those guys. I ended up voting for Johnson, but it was a difficult decision. Even in a safe state where my vote didn't matter.

Before I ramble further, I really want to quote at length from John Michael Greer at Archdruid Report, hardly a Trump supporter, who wrote this a week before the election:
The talking heads insisted that handing over tax dollars to various corporate welfare queens would bring jobs back to American communities; the corporations in question pocketed the tax dollars and walked away. The talking heads insisted that if working class people went to college at their own expense and got retrained in new skills, that would bring jobs back to American communities; the academic industry profited mightily but the jobs never showed up, leaving tens of millions of people buried so deeply under student loan debt that most of them will never recover financially. The talking heads insisted that this or that or the other political candidate would bring jobs back to American communities by pursuing exactly the same policies that got rid of the jobs in the first place—essentially the same claim that the Clinton campaign is making now—and we know how that turned out. ...

We’ve got the news articles insisting, in tones by turns glowing and shrill, that things have never been better in the United States and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong; we’ve got the economic pronouncements predicated on continuing growth at a time when the only things growing in the US economy are its total debt load and the number of people who are permanently unemployed; we’ve got the overblown displays of military might and technological prowess, reminiscent of nothing so much as the macho posturing of balding middle-aged former athletes who are trying to pretend that they haven’t lost it; we’ve got the tame intellectuals comfortably situated in the more affluent suburban districts around Boston, New York, Washington, and San Francisco, looking forward to their next vacation in whatever the currently fashionable spot might happen to be, babbling on the internet about the good life under predatory cybercapitalism.

Meanwhile millions of Americans trudge through a bleak round of layoffs, wage cuts, part-time jobs at minimal pay, and system-wide dysfunction. The crisis hasn’t hit yet, but those members of the political class who think that the people who used to be rock-solid American patriots will turn out en masse to keep today’s apparatchiks secure in their comfortable lifestyles have, as the saying goes, another think coming. ...

Thus the grassroots movement that propelled Trump ... might best be understood as the last gasp of the American dream.
Maybe it's true people are voting for memberberries. Things were nice for them back in the day. Now everything seems to be going to shit. And it is for them. It is for me. Health insurance prices go way up every year. Roads and bridges are falling apart, jobs haven't really come back, there doesn't appear to be an end to terrorism or the war against it. And now the American dream that nearly every adult prior to 2008 could reasonably expect, is absurdly out of reach for millions. Even if you're college educated. Stick to a tiny apartment, ramen noodles, and in 40 years you too could own your own small house! Or retire. Pick one.

So some guy comes up to you and says, "I feel you. I will bring the jobs back. I will make America great again." And then this lady you know, but aren't so sure about says, "What's he talking about, America is already great. Don't be a racist."

The election was in the bag. Only fringe racists supported Trump. Who cares about some email thing, you racist!


The Future

I have to admit, I am a little bit glad to see the hubris explode in their faces. And now I feel icky. That's another thing. The level of vitriol and hate toward the opposition is worse than during the Bush years, worse than either Obama election. 

Greer hits on this as well, and after the election writes:
I’d like to suggest, furthermore, that the fixation on personalities—or, again, malicious parodies of personalities—has played a huge role in making politics in the United States so savage, so divisive, and so intractably deadlocked on so many of the things that matter just now. The issues I mentioned a few paragraphs back—US foreign policy toward a resurgent Russia, on the one hand, and US economic policy regarding the offshoring of jobs and the importation of foreign workers—are not only important, they’re issues about which reasonable disagreement is possible. What’s more, they’re issues on which negotiation, compromise, and the working out of a mutually satisfactory modus vivendi between competing interests are also possible, at least in theory.
In practice? Not while each side is insisting at the top of its lungs that the other side is led by a monster of depravity and supported only by people who hate everything good in the world. I’d like to suggest that it’s exactly this replacement of reasoned politics with a pretty close equivalent of the Two Minutes Hate from Orwell’s 1984 that’s among the most important forces keeping this country from solving any of its problems or doing anything to brace itself for the looming crises ahead. ...
I’m not sure how many people have noticed, though, that the election of Donald Trump was not merely a rebuke to the liberal left; it was also a defeat for the religious right. It’s worth recalling that the evangelical wing of the Republican Party had its own favorites in the race for the GOP nomination, and Trump was emphatically not one of them. It has not been a propitious autumn for the movements of left and right whose stock in trade is trying to force their own notion of virtue down the throats of the American people—and maybe, just maybe, that points to the way ahead.
It’s time to consider, I suggest, a renewal of the traditions of American federalism: a systematic devolution of power from the overinflated federal government to the states, and from the states to the people. It’s time for people in Massachusetts to accept that they’re never going to be able to force people in Oklahoma to conform to their notions of moral goodness, and for the people of Oklahoma to accept the same thing about the people of Massachusetts; furthermore, it’s time for government at all levels to give up trying to impose cultural uniformity on the lively diversity of our republic’s many nations, and settle for their proper role of ensuring equal protection under the laws, and those other benefits that governments, by their nature, are best suited to provide for their citizens.
It's hard for me to disagree with Greer. The "coastal elite," the liberal bubbles, all the people who don't understand flyover country--you've seen them, you know many of them have difficulty accepting political loss. When you've sufficiently defined your opponents as bigoted, then summarily dismiss them (as civility demands), your brain interprets losing to such people as totally unacceptable, virtually unconscionable, as if the Joker killed Batman, as if the world is suddenly just wrong. "This wasn't supposed to happen!"


There's a good chance they won't understand. A good chance they won't listen. A good chance they will crawl back into their bubbles and ignore and/or dismiss us. Decentralizing the federal government might well be a good idea for both sides, but power is addicting. And I doubt the "coastal elite" will willingly trade in their heroin for some weed.

Besides, it's back to business as usual, according to Kos:
If Trump wants to pass a new Voting Rights Act, or renominate Merrick Garland, then we can work with him. Anything else, he can go fuck himself. Infrastructure spending? Let him get the votes from his own caucus. Anything else he might propose, even if we might agree with it? Let him get the votes from his own caucus while we hurl metaphorical molotov cocktails from the sideline.

They broke it, they own it.
Soon the president will no longer be black; it'll be okay to oppose him guys. Remember when we used the nuclear option to overcome vote hurdles and filibusters? Remember when we used executive orders to bypass congress? Well, times change and it's not cool anymore.

Seriously guys, it's NOT COOL:
https://twitter.com/RobProvince/status/796770005471916036
via Instapundit


We will witness their withdrawal symptoms shortly. It won't be pretty, but it's necessary.

11/8/16

Election night in a nutshell

11/8/16

10/25/16

Social authoritarianism

10/25/16
Several years ago I quit consuming political news on a daily basis. With seemingly rare exceptions, political news largely consisted of partisan hacks screaming about the other partisan hacks. Then the ignorant would take their cues and proceed to yell at each other.

Having an ignorant, naive, and/or biased media report on such goings on only contributed to my despair. So I quit. Mostly. I kept a healthy distance.

As the years went by, the increasingly toxic political atmosphere only served to reinforce my decision. Things got worse. The concept of "loyal opposition" seemed to have gone out the window.

Even now, even after Hillary walked back her "deplorables" comment, you can't step foot in a political forum without Trump supporters being called racists/sexists. And as we all know, people labeled racist or sexist tend to lose their jobs, friends, social media privileges, etc. Essentially, you risk being ostracized for voicing a political opinion. Sometimes, even for not voicing the right one.

It's not Republicans vs. Democrats. It's the more extreme leftist factions (stupidly united under the big Democrat tent) vs. anyone threatening their narrative.

The parallels to oppressive authoritarian regimes aren't always hyperbole. They may not go to the same lengths as the Stasi or NKVD, but the difference is in degree, not in kind.

In a perverted way, this was kind of tolerable, at least in Western democracies. Because we Westerners don't have (by most observations) secret police. There is no significant government-sanctioned thought-policing going on. It's all social. And we all knew it was coming from the same loudmouths we try to ignore.

But I'm not sure it's going to stay that way. This social authoritarianism is growing, and I worry it may catch on as a viable strategy for other groups. Only because we're letting it work.

What am I getting at, you ask? Well, I'm still sick of political hacks yelling about each other and don't think that will change anytime soon, but this social authoritarianism is another beast. I hate it, and won't sit idly by while we are relentlessly nudged and prodded into safe-space Ingsoc chambers.

There's good news and bad news about this. The bad news is that the gains made by this newly empowered social authoritarian beast haven't gone unnoticed. Like I said, we're letting it work. Because it's working, the political hacks are allying with, co-opting, doing whatever they can to use it. Hell, maybe they invented it. But the scope of the beast is much larger than politics.

The good news is that even while most ignorant people are blind to partisan hackery, and most informed people are blind to their own side's hackery, the social authoritarianism is much harder to miss.

I've been sporadically blogging about this kind of stuff for awhile now. The phenomenon got me consuming news and commentary on a regular basis again.

So it's refreshing and reassuring to see more and more people take notice, re-examine their views, and wise up. Like Dave Rubin. He hosts my new favorite talk show. It surpasses the quality of any talk show on cable. He talks a lot about this kind of stuff too, including his most recent interview:

 

10/20/16

More recommended tv shows

10/20/16
It's about that time of year where a new season of fall television shows gets rolling, the spring and summer shows have concluded and I have a bit of time to reflect on what I've watched and enjoyed recently.

Everything I watch is available online (via Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or in rare circumstances, other means); I haven't watched via cable or the airways in several years, so most, if not all of my recommendations shouldn't be too hard to find and watch at your leisure--that probably goes without saying at this point.

A couple things I should note: on occasion I will include shows which are more than a few years old. Most are at least somewhat popular, so apologies if you've already watched them. [I've tried watching many obscure shows and most are disappointing.]


Fargo. Coming from the Coen brothers based on the homonymous film, this is clearly and deservedly a popular show. The first season is better than the second and sticks to a more coherent plot, but both are quite good. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton have an interesting dynamic and really give the first season the feeling of a quality feature film. It's a graphic, intense, and wild ride.

While I will maintain that the second season is good, it is annoying, especially the end. I won't spoil anything, but the season persists with a pointless distraction--with deus ex machina qualities (metaphor or not, it's really dumb), and a not particularly satisfying or clever ending. Regardless, as with the first season, the performances and several plot points are fantastic. And despite what the show says, it's all fiction. Well worth the watch, if only for the first season.





Westworld. Only three episodes have aired at the time of this writing, and while nothing huge yet has happened, I get the distinct feeling something will soon. The performances and writing are all top notch so far, slowly hinting at and escalating things; it almost feels like we're marinating what we all know will be a wonderfully delicious roast. We just have to wait. Maybe I'm blinded by my own high expectations, but I'm a sucker for good sci-fi and westerns, all the more when they're blended so carefully that they don't clash.

If, like me, you haven't watched the original film, then here's a few things you might want to know: Westworld is pretty much an amusement park for the very wealthy. It takes place decades (I'm guessing) in the future, where rich customers fulfill their fantasies in an Old West setting, among hundreds or thousands of very life-like androids that have all passed the Turing test. The AI is pretty good at conversation and improvisation, keeping the park and web of narratives alive. Of course things aren't so perfect, and you get this constant feeling that the whole thing is about to unravel in a spectacular, bloody failure. But we're not quite there yet.




Stranger Things. Another extremely popular Netflix show. Perhaps owing to the 80s nostalgia and the
near perfect execution, the hype was absurd. I don't think it was as great as most seemed to claim, but still I enjoyed it very much. It's reminiscent of J. J. Abrams' Super 8, the Goonies, and other 80s films with an adolescent cast, but now in episodic form.

It follows a group of D&D playing boys in suburban America, who happen upon a lost girl, and crazy stuff that they have to investigate. Yeah I can't say it's original or unique really. It was just done well. Definitely worth checking out.







Wentworth. So I was about to give Orange is the New Black a try based on a few recommendations, but then I noticed this other show about a women's prison. A comedy inside a women's prison doesn't sound all that appealing to me, so when I read about Wentworth and its more serious tone, I gave it a chance.

I was not disappointed. The first season is pretty damn good. The second season however is incredible. The third and fourth are very good as well, but the second alone is some of the best television I've seen. If you want proof an all female cast (well, virtually all female) can deliver excellence, this is it.

I have a few nitpicks with the setting and its plausibility, but then I have no idea how women's prisons are run in Australia. I mean, if I had to go to a maximum security prison, I'd want to go there (at least as far as amenities and personal freedom are concerned). It's just a little hard to believe sometimes.

Wentworth is an Australian show and it's pretty much just about life inside an Australian women's prison. It tends to focus on the main character, Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) and her struggles. She grows into a compelling character, as do many others, but so, so much more is weaved in that you end up with this complex richness, and just watching it evolve and adapt gives you a wonderful apprehension. I've probably missed a lot, but the show is great at subtle hints and setting up future plot points, so rarely if ever do you end up scratching your head. The set ups do their job and the subtleties make you smile.

I want to say the writing, directing, and acting are all superlative, but that's like saying the entire show is awesome. And well, it's true. Other than my nitpicks I am at a loss to criticize this show. Highly recommended.

10/14/16

Star Trek: Discovery

10/14/16
I thoroughly enjoyed the last Star Trek movie. It felt like a good TOS episode, keeping the spirit of Trek true to itself. It didn't have to blow up the planet Vulcan, didn't have to threaten Earth. Didn't have Spock become a violent psycho. It wasn't perfect (warning: link contains spoilers). But it was nice. I strongly recommend it.

That being said, after recently re-watching Star Trek Beyond, it got me curious about the planned tv series. I know next to nothing about the planned show; nobody knows much about it, there just isn't much information out at the moment. But it is coming.

From the little I've read, I am both cautiously optimistic and worried. They are taking risks, which is good. But risks are risks--the direction they're taking things might not pay off. And Trekkie fandom could suffer.

Here's what I know: The show is called Star Trek: Discovery and is due to be released in May 2017. It's a CBS show of course, but at this point is not planned to be on television. Rather, it will be released online, on CBS All Access (the premiere will air on television, but after that it's all online). If I may be cynical for a moment, it could mean the suits at CBS aren't very confident in it. But I could be wrong: exclusive online media is the new hotness, so maybe Star Trek will be their flagship online draw. Like Netflix's House of Cards. Maybe.


The setting will take place 10 years before the original series, so they are limiting themselves. It's a Star Trek show so it has to be futuristic and fancy, but it takes place before a show made in the 60s. They'll have to cram a new square peg in that round hole. But that's not too worrying, since the new movies got few complaints there. Which means this exclusively online show will have to look something like those big-budget movies. People are tired of reboots, so I doubt they'll be inventing a new ST universe--which means they can't mess up existing canon (or should painstakingly try to avoid it). Fifty years worth of canon. I hope they pull it off.

And there will be diversity. Diversity in Star Trek is a given, but this time we're talking what will probably be the SJW dream team of diversity. Which is fine. It's the 23rd century. Crewmates can be having gay, transgender, alien, android orgies and marriage ceremonies in their quarters for all I care, but it shouldn't be a focus where we get didactic stories about tolerance, especially arising from conflict among the crew. We don't want or need a Zootopia in space.

Also, apparently the captain of the U.S.S. Discovery will not be the leading character. Like I said, risks.

I want so much to vicariously go to space with the new Star Trek, but I damn sure don't want to be hit over the head with the politics of the last 10 years. Give me the politics of 2250 and Orion slave girls. Give me Vulcans and Klingons and new aliens. Give me violence and give me high-concept sci-fi. Give me Star Trek. Please.

10/11/16

None of the above?

10/11/16
I really do not like Donald Trump. And I like Hillary Clinton even less. I will say that Trump has made the debates vastly more entertaining. If only we were voting for fake TV-show presidents.

I tend to disagree philosophically with much of the big Democratic Party positions, and have since I first started researching politics. I am theoretically open to voting for Democrats, and have liked a few of them in the past. It's just that even among the ones I like, they tend to go along with and support their caucus on everything that matters.

And that's another of many weird things about American politics. At least for the ideologically aware, even superior candidates on the other side of the isle you like are more likely to be worse than a bad candidate on your side of the isle you dislike. And when I say worse, I mean worse for the party line (or political philosophy) you tend to agree with. [This view may and will likely not hold true for small, local politics.]

Unless you're a centrist with little care or knowledge of political issues, supporting a perfect, brilliant, charismatic, and caring politician who happens to be with the Bad Guys is very difficult to justify.

I don't think most voters even think about this, let alone have put much thought into their political philosophy. So unfortunately, the point is largely moot. But I'm a nerd and nerds like to talk about stuff that barely matters.

This is why this election has been difficult for me. Not because Hillary Clinton is a perfect candidate, but because a twisted version of my point is what ideologically aware, right-leaning voters are facing.

Hillary Clinton is a bad candidate and Donald Trump is a bad candidate. Hillary Clinton is the devil we know and love to hate, but Trump is a devil we're not very sure about. He says he's on our side, but it seems that his side is how he defines "our side," at least for the times he hasn't explicitly opposed our side.

Maybe we should vote for Trump because that way, at least we have a chance of getting the things we care about, as opposed to guaranteeing getting things we don't want with Clinton--or so the thinking goes. Maybe that's enough for some. It was for me in the past. It's a gamble, but now the odds of "my side" getting what we want are the lowest ever. Trump is no conservative. Trump is definitely no libertarian. Clinton less so. In hyperbolic terms, it's like choosing Hitler or Stalin. Yea so Stalin killed more people, but he had a nicer mustache.

From there I just venture into wildly speculative questions about who would do the least damage. I can't answer that. Nobody can. We shouldn't even be in this situation. It's Douches and Turds all the way down.

But we still try. Scott Alexander suggests we support Clinton, because least variance. That makes sense, if you don't want variance. I however, am very open to variance. And I have my doubts any presidential candidate, from Jill Stein to Gary Johnson would introduce significant variance into the American equation. I guess it depends on what you think is significant, but it's all hypothetical at this point. If we were electing dictators it would be another matter (the office of the president holds enormous power, but we're still a constitutional democratic republic, or however the hell you want to label it--checks 'n balances yo). Judging by history, every new president will attempt to gain more power and will probably acquire some for the office. But short of revolution or coup, will not become a dictator.

So the implication is that the Donald will mildly shake things up just enough to allow the opportunity for things to worsen, or possibly improve. One attractive thing about Trump is that he is the FU vote. A revolution without the actual revolution. A cheap and easy signal that you're fed up. A tempting turd to vote for in that regard.

Let me collect my thoughts and summarize where I'm at after all this back and forth:
  • Political philosophy is out the window, there is virtually no hope for that.
  • Both are terrible candidates I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.
  • One is maybe kinda sorta more likely to change things for good or ill.
  • One is maybe kinda sorta more likely to keep things the same.
  • In either case, the power of the president will increase some.
  • Things will probably not change much, either way.
  • Third party candidates have no chance, and may actually help elect someone you don't want.
  • My vote is insignificantly small and won't help decide the election, so the only thing that matters is how I'll sleep at night (If you live in a swing state, this point is slightly less applicable).

In my right-leaning libertarian mind, this thinking points me in the direction of Johnson, maybe Trump, or abstention. Clinton represents no change. I want change, but I don't want to roll the dice for a low chance of getting things I want, with a moderate chance of getting things I don't want, from a person I dislike. I won't be sleeping well if I vote for either of them.

That leaves Johnson, who I agree with more than the other candidates, but believe would make a bad president. Which is a good thing since he has no chance.

He's a libertarian, I'm a libertarian. He doesn't seem crazy or corrupt. Not too smart about foreign affairs, but that's what advisors are for. Besides, the foreign policy guru candidate doesn't exactly have the best record on foreign policy. This might be a plus for Johnson.

Since he and third party candidates in general have no chance at winning, this is a luxury vote. At best, I can hope to send a message to the political powers that be that more of the country is more libertarian-oriented than they are, and nudge them to accommodate me and my interests. That's a nice thought. And even though Republicans and some Democrats seem to be tending libertarian more here and there, the trend of increasing statism is vastly more prominent.

At best, I will be able to sleep at night by hoping to send a signal to Washington by voting for Johnson, or any third party candidate. In fact, voting in any safe state your best hope for change via your vote is signalling. Strength in numbers. Does the winner have a mandate? Are the third party candidates really cutting into Pepsi and Coke's bottom line? Do we have to start paying attention to this bloc of voters?

At this point you're looking at poll numbers, thinking of how your vote could possibly have the most impact for the things you care about--strategic voting. This is all nice and nerdy except in the year 2016. Donald is the signal vote. If you're fed up, you vote for Trump. If you hate Trump, or want least variance, you vote for Clinton.

If you're both fed up and hate Trump, you still kinda have to vote for him--if "fed up" is what you're really wanting to say. Otherwise it's very likely your vote for Johnson will be interpreted as a right-leaning anti-Trump vote. In the world of Clinton v. Trump, your Johnson vote will be interpreted through that lens. Libertarian what?

I dislike Clinton enough to vote for Trump. I'm fed up enough to vote for Trump, but I'm wary of and dislike Trump enough to vote for Johnson. And yet I'm pretty sure my Johnson vote, if it even matters, will be misinterpreted.

I'm at a loss. Logic has failed me. I can't endorse anyone. I can at least endorse not voting for Clinton. Abstaining is weak, but it is there, and it's about as tempting as Trump or Johnson. Good luck deciding.

7/31/16

A little bit about effective space travel

7/31/16
We can get to the space station, moon, and arguably even Mars in reasonable amounts of time. But if we want to get past what's essentially our front porch and explore the neighborhood, or beyond, we're kind of screwed. Unless you're totally fine with having burning questions you've asked answered several hundreds or thousands of years later.

"Hey doc, this don't look so good. Is it cancer?"

"Let's run some tests. I should have the results back sometime around 3pm, in 2096."

I'm not saying Earth has cancer and we need to jump ship, I'm just saying the sun has cancer and Earth has a ton of other shit going on and we'll need to jump ship within at least the next billion years. But probably a lot sooner because meteors of death and probably other unforeseen calamities. And that's just the stuff we are pretty sure about. The stuff we don't know literally fills a universe.

But also, there's a ton of cool stuff out there we are missing out on, very important questions that could be answered, and a billion other things we didn't even think about.

So here's some videos I thought were interesting/enlightening, and I've wanted to share them for a while.



Another day I might discuss the ideas and ethical concerns the video presented further (like how it uses reproduction strategies from nature--plants and some insects) but for now, this will do.

The next one is much longer and slightly more technical, but still easy enough to follow. It's essentially a kinda-sorta-almost proof of concept Warp Drive presentation by Harold "Sonny" White. According to him, we'll get there soon.

6/14/16

Thought leaders, cool kids, signalling, & the beast

6/14/16
I don't want to talk about this, nor feel obligated to. Yet it nags at my soul. The feeling is like that Somebody is Wrong on the Internet phenomenon only exponentially worse; it's like a cultural/meta-tribal mass signalling ritual gone wrong sort of thing.

It happens everyday. It becomes really pronounced when something big and bad happens. I should note that it's only painfully obvious when you, yourself, aren't instinctively compelled to mimic or repeat what are increasingly the culturally sanctioned memes. When you are on the outside looking in.

I'm talking about the verbalization or other use of such memes.

There's the pleasant and harmless variety:
  • "Please" and "Thank you"
  • "Good morning/afternoon/evening"
  • "Have a nice day" 
There's the questionably sincere and/or thoughtless variety:
  • "My thoughts and prayers are with you."
  • "Bless you"
  • "I'm sorry for your loss"
There's the ignorant political variety (these tend to be thematic and narrative-based):
  • "America's guns/assault weapons/culture of violence is the problem."
  • "Muslims/immigrants are the problem"
  • "Democrats hate the wealthy"
  • "Republicans are bigots"
  • "Liberals are pussies"
  • "Conservatives are idiots"
  • "Libertarians are selfish"
Not to forget the image variety, often found on facebook, twitter, instagram, etc, showcasing how normal/awesome/fun that person is.

These aren't all bad. A good many are probably good. We are social animals (most of us) after all, and I think all of us engage in some kinds of social signalling rather frequently. A lot of it is unthinking instinctive stuff we learned in order to smooth out our interactions within the cultural landscape.



Some of it is status/reputation building/maintenance (hereafter referred to as "status-bullshit"). Some of the status-bullshit really bothers me. I'm not sure why. It comes across as phony, even unnaturally forced at times. (I even find myself questioning why phonyism bothers me as much as it does. I have some theories, but don't want to get too far off track.) But even most status-bullshit is harmless.

The big issue I have is with this fuzzy, trickle-down, meme-based, in-group status signalling. It's like fashion, only it's pseudo-intellectual and all ego. You signal your peers: you are with the cool kids, therefore you are not of the uncool; you are better. If this sounds like high school bullshit, that's because it is; status-bullshit is high school bullshit, which is collective animal behavior. We are stupid social animals who really have to hurt our brains to not be, and rarely does it pay off.


Create a Meme, Master the Universe

For a long time I assumed most people weren't particularly influenced by "thought leaders." For a long time I thought that Mr. Famous News Editor had virtually zero impact on anybody's choices. It was all at the margins--only a few on the fence might be swayed. Well, I now think that I was both right and wrong at the same time. I still think a "thought leader" has virtually zero impact on any one person. But now I believe many "thought leaders" have a significant impact on a large number of people over time.

The key parts: many and over time. I used the term 'fashion' earlier, and for lack of energy I'll use it again, in a shitty analogy:

Think of fashion being the direction of a raging river. The masses are that river. They follow the fashion. In a perfect natural world, the raging river forges its own direction as allowed by the environment--that is, the masses choose the fashion where possible. While a few drops might escape now and then, the vast majority of the water follows along, reinforcing the fashion.

But what could one idealistic droplet do to change the course of the river? Practically nothing. What can many idealistic droplets do over a long period of time? Well, they can slowly direct a few more, and a few more, and a few more in another direction. Carve out some trenches here, fill in some sand there, and after a while, you've got more water going in your desired direction than in the old.

Forgive allusions to social engineering, since I know that's a bad word and the idea muddies the water (I don't like easy puns, but wrote it--almost memetically--before I caught it) doesn't help discussion.

That, I think, is what is going on. I won't and probably can't prove the who/what/when/where/why behind the intellectual culture shift--the broad, laymen & academic alike, kind of intellectual culture. But I think the sheer likelihood of information having a not insignificant effect on culture is too much and too obvious to deny. The only slightly controversial claim I make, is that it tends to go in more or less a certain direction, as opposed to any other direction if all else being equal.

Most right-of-center bloggers will say "Duh, what the hell do you think we've been pointing out for the last 15 years?" or "Welcome to the culture wars Captain Obvious McBornyesterday." I'm sorry if this sounds too much like me praising the awesomeness and practicality of the wheel, but I'm going somewhere and attempting to spit out the nuance on it I have in my head.

It's more than political, more innocent than "culture war" implies, and I think ultimately, more dangerous. I mean innocent and dangerous in the way a child with a gun is both of those things.


The Joneses

What the hell is it, where is it going, and why, you ask? While there probably is some relatively small-time colluding, bias, and other activist "journalism" being perpetrated, I seriously doubt there exists a large Illuminati style mass-media conspiracy to manipulate the public.

What I think is happening is a lot of status-bullshit stuck in a positive feedback loop, equipped with a megaphone. There is an intelligence to it, and a sort of purposeful direction. But probably not the way you think. I mean there's an intelligence guiding the general direction the way a superorganism does things, on purpose. Like an ant colony, or even coral. Many argue that the human species, or at least modern society is a superorganism, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about a subgroup in a subgroup driving a species where individualism, disagreement, and critical thought are things that really matter.

I'm talking about pretty much anyone who works in the media industry. Directly or indirectly, those in the industry are exposed to the masses. That's their job. No exposure equals no job. Because of this, they want to appear sophisticated--who wouldn't want to appear sophisticated in front of the masses? Sophistication means many things, but it typically means intelligence, education, respectable fashion, and holding ideas that aren't widely considered to be bad.

With feedback loops it's easy to shrug it off as a chicken or egg thing and not think about it. My problem with chicken and egg thinking regarding social issues is that it tends to imply revolutions or massive shocks to the system to "reboot" things, and overturn the chicken and egg cycle. I'm not sure that's necessary. In any case, putting on airs to appear sophisticated is probably something we're all guilty of, especially in the presence of a lot of people. Most of us will study and rehearse before public speaking, put on a suit/dress or something "respectable," and avoid spouting our more unpopular opinions. We signal our inness with the cool kids, consciously or not. We call people who don't do this, "crazy." Bam, reinforcement.

Our kids, our students, our peers see this. They learn, they mimic what appears to be "success." This is human nature. This is all fine; except when it's not. I would call this a potential shortcoming innate to humans and most social animals. Everybody is keeping up with the Joneses, but what happens when the Joneses drive off a cliff? A lot of people will be fucked. Thankfully, we're not literally mind-controlled drones and are fairly diverse, but sometimes the herd-like stuff is scary.


Aliens

So what specifically are you talking about, you ask? Like I said, it's kind of fuzzy. To me, right now, at least it seems kind of fuzzy. It may seem like I'm dancing around something without pointing out what I'm really talking about, and that's partly because I'm not quite 100% sure on what it is. I agree, that's lazy and weaselly, so I'll attempt to get specific.

Let's take Fox News and Drudge Report for example. I feel so refreshed naming such specific shit. You're welcome. These two organizations are both media giants in their own ways. They have a lot of influence, not so much as telling people what decisions to make (although that is probably something), but influence in what actually makes the news and what people are talking to each other about. You may have heard a lot about "gatekeeping" with respect to news organizations. Well that's a thing, it by necessity exists, and for good or ill it shapes conversations around the world and in other newsrooms. They have a butterfly effect, merely by putting text on a screen or words through television speakers. Let's pretend they made something up, really bad, very scandalous about President Obama. Drudge says one thing and Fox says something similar. Totally made up. Well, fake or not we are going to be talking about it for days at least. The White House will probably make some kind of a statement denying things, other news orgs will have to at least discuss it. People around the world will be talking about it. Ideas are exchanged, information repeated, billions of times. That shit has an effect.

That was nothing. That was small time shit. Let's say there's a new thing that happened. One few people have even thought about. Aliens sent a package to Lima, Peru, detailing methods to make the best coffee mugs in the galaxy. First contact, and it's about coffee mugs. Before the leaders of the world can put out statements, editors and columnists are already working on their articles and how their take on things is what really matters here:

  • Peru's curious alien relationship and why the international community should permanently establish a headquarters in Lima and take the lead in coffee mug design. -Washington Post
  • Quality mugs bode well for a peaceful coexistence, but what about the Coffee Mugs Union of North America and the EU's Artisans de Tasses à Café? -New York Times
  • The Top 10 Reasons Alien Coffee Mugs are Really Signs of Invasion. -Buzzfeed
  • Why Peru Should Disseminate All Coffee Mug Designs Freely Over the Internet, and What That Means for the Future of Open Source. -TechCrunch

One or two of something along those lines will in large part be the discussion. Sure, we'd talk about how cool/scary/weird first contact is and all that, but we'd also be talking about fucking unions, open source, or prepping for a global invasion. And coffee mugs.
"Are you pro-coffee mug? Yeah, I used to think that too, but now with everything going on, and you know things have changed, man. I've learned that, over the years, I've really come to understand the other side, and never really thought about it until recently. It just kinda seems like the right thing to do. Oh crap, gotta go. Game of Thrones is on, whooo!"

"#NoCoffeeNoProblems"

"#MugsRthugs"

"Senator Smith was found disheveled in his home today with an arsenal of Peruvian coffee mugs. He is scheduled to give a statement later today; sources expect him to announce his resignation."


Sharing is Caring

Perhaps my made up examples got out of hand. I don't watch tv, and haven't read newspapers in a long while, so a bunch of it I honestly can't point to. Still, a lot seeps through to the internet. Well, now the internet is usually the first stop for meme-sharing. I don't socialize very much at all, so yeah, I think that's why it's both super easy for me to pick up on this, but also fuzzy to see how it spreads.

On twitter for example, one of the few social things I engage in--and I use it mostly to follow gaming news--I seem to end up staring at what often turns into a hyper-liberal clique. WTF does gaming have to do with politics? Very little.

I casually paid attention to the Gamergate thing. My impression was that gamers were more often than not, indifferent to feminist critiques of games and against bullshit journalism. Today, I find my gaming-specific twitter feed to be mostly comprised of gaming news with a good dose of lefty mantras. After something like the terrorist attack in Orlando, the politics come out in force. Lately it's been dressed up as "not about politics, just common sense," which of course inevitably calls for something rabidly partisan. I'm not telling them to shut up, I'm not saying stop talking politics, I'm not even complaining about my oddly political gaming news feed. I'm just saying this is what it looks like.

In my mind, much of the twitter politics is virtue signalling. What do I mean by virtue signalling? Well, on twitter you cannot really go into detail, nor explain any opinion beyond the equivalent of monkeys throwing poo at each other. So twitter is not for debating. It is not for engaging people and changing minds. It is not there to better understand one another. It is there to share bite-sized info and memes.

If you aren't very knowledgeable, but really, really want to shout your tidbits of political genius at your enemies, then twitter is the place for you. If you aren't one for confrontation, and still want to share your political genius, my friend, twitter is the place for you as well. My liberal game developers and various other gaming personalities I follow usually don't follow anyone not liberal. In my feed, there are two kinds of political opinions: the ones on the left, and the ones not spoken. So what good is it to share a political opinion (which by definition is at least a little divisive) with people who all agree with you? To remind them that they are like them. "Yo peeps, almost didn't get to my phone in time to tweet that I am, in fact, still a progressive, in the wake of this horrible tragedy." "We still cool?"

I don't think they are consciously thinking "hey, I need to keep saying stuff like this to appear thoughtful and cool," I think it's mostly unthinking. Maybe they spent a few minutes or even a few days thinking about some of their political beliefs years ago, then they just retweet Mr. Super Popular Liberal's political tweet, or repeat some old lefty meme. Whether they agree with what they tweet and retweet is one thing, but it has the added benefit of signalling to others in their circle that they are with the cool kids. People signal back. "Hey man, saw your tweet. Totes agree, I hate coffee mugs too."

The gaming industry is part of the media industry. The old media industry is and was largely comprised of left-leaning people. These people interact with one another frequently. Networking is a powerful thing. Would you want to alienate yourself with most of your potentially lucrative network? If you're human and not dumb and want to keep working, you won't start sharing your pro-coffee mug opinions all over the internet. You want to stay all chummy with your liberal friends. Sooner or later, you're surrounded by apparently like-minded people all singing the same tune. Kumbaya.


A Big Fat Phony!

Go ahead and regurgitate Noam Chomsky, or Thomas Sowell, retweet that celebrity who just wants some common sense. Don't spend the hours it takes to actually study the intricacies of politics, or why the Democrats voted against subsidized coffee mugs, or why Republicans voted to increase Peruvian tariffs. It's far easier to appear smart and assume your political rivals are evil.

It's not just politics. Like I said, it's more, it's innocent, and it's dangerous. I watched the Warcraft movie the other day. I loved it. As a fan of the games and the lore, it was heaven for 2 hours. The movie doesn't suck. It's got some pretty neat stuff in it. I'm obviously biased here, as a fantasy genre fan and Warcraft fan, I am in double jeopardy territory. But if I can give my worst, but still honest, critical opinion of the film, leaving no flaw unpunished. I would still rate it on par with, if not above, most blockbusters in recent memory. It felt a little bit rushed and a little bit jumbled at times. But I felt very entertained both times I saw it, satisfied with the story, satisfied with the acting, very satisfied with the scenery and CGI. It was a solid, competent movie. The international box office earnings show that.

But the American critics have a stick up their ass and few of them can find any love for it. I know, opinions, especially on artwork, are matters of taste. Maybe many of them genuinely didn't like it. But damn they were excessively harsh, and I can't take them seriously anymore. Maybe they thought it was supposed to be a one-and-done story, beginning, middle, end. But that's not really what it is. It's an introduction to Warcraft. An introduction to the world, the saga, the characters. It's a story within a story. The marketing here was bad, sure, but I thought it was fairly obvious the movie was an intro to something bigger.

A big dumb action video game movie it is not, and yet that's how critics and many noncritics treat it. What I'm trying to get at here is that the movie did somewhat poorly in the U.S. on opening weekend, and several of the gaming tweeters and youtubers I follow gave lukewarm reviews at best. Anecdotes are worthless I know, but that shit bothered me. These were guys and girls who were in the same fandom as I, yet they could barely crack a smile when discussing the movie. And what really bothered me the most, was that here they were, goofballs suddenly putting on their glasses, getting all hyper analytical, and upping their vocabulary just to piss on a movie that was made for them. They said they liked it as a fan, and would give it a 9/10, but if they were "to be objective about it" they'd "rate it a 4.5/10." Okay smart guy, even though you really liked Transformers 3, thanks for taking the cue from all your smart friends and giving us an objective rating.

Seriously, go see Warcraft. If you like fantasy, magic, stunning visuals, or something different from typical Hollywood, you will probably enjoy it.

Most of you probably don't care about Warcraft, so thanks for putting up with my barely-related anecdote. The interesting thing about it is the disparity between the international markets and the U.S., and between the foreign critics and the American. It's so big, that there obviously is something going on. We watched the same movie. We just happened to feel differently about it, because America.
 
It's not just movies that reveal these odd disparities with the wider Western world. It's politics--and I mean that in like, the nonobvious stuff, but politics you think we'd more closely agree with. Like abortion, immigration, even taxation. I'm too tired to get into it here, but it's like how America as a whole is further to the right than most of Europe. Yet on many issues we are further left. Even in the Democratic party, they are further left than many European leftist parties on various issues. Republicans are further left than many rightist parties, and some leftist parties on certain issues in Europe. Generally speaking, the Republican platform is rather centrist compared to European rightist parties. Some of that is situational--political stances forged by global pressures, but some of it is still philosophy. We do not neatly fit in a political philosophy to the right of Europe.

So what's with these odd differences? You think I'm going to say it's a culture thing? Or do you think I'm going to say it's a phony/status-bullshit thing? It's both. I think what is happening, to a certain extent, is that we're in our own little (maybe big) bubble. And it's exacerbated by the media status-bullshit feedback loop.

Ace of Spades talked about the bias inherent in media and academic institutions a lot. Wish I could find some of his more salient posts, but they are buried deep in his archives and my searching skills aren't that great. But he has chipped away at the chicken or egg thing, explaining why such institutions are like that. The gist of it is pretty damn plausible, if not very likely: Academics and journalists are self selected. It takes a certain kind of person to want and succeed in those positions. While there are no apparent political quotas, it's easier in life to get along, to sync with your network and colleagues. At some point in the past, the political and cultural leanings of a critical mass of the academics and journalists on some level synced. It probably wasn't hard. Roughly half the country belongs to either one major party or the other. I mean, just by random chance roughly half of an industry will lean one way, and it won't be perfectly symmetrical.

Throw in some time, memesharing, mimicking success, and you have a feedback loop. Soon it's not roughly symmetrical, it's wildly asymmetrical. It's important to remember, it's not about politics, even if it started out that way (perhaps it didn't). It's about appearing sophisticated. Keeping up appearances, gelling with your network, colleagues, peers, those you look up to, and those you want to impress. While there maybe tens of thousands of different companies, schools, and people all with their own goals, they collectively become this superorganism thanks to this feedback loop. And it sort of pushes them, and directs all of us one way.

But the academy and media hold a special place in our culture. And it's a really powerful place.


The Anti-Climax

It's should be perfectly okay to disagree, and publicly without jeopardizing your professional or social life. Just not with me. Because I will screenshot your pro-coffee mug opinion and share it with your employer, and shame you all over cyberspace. Nah, I'm not that rude. I, myself used to be pro-coffee mug, but I changed my position when it was fashionable to; you know, right before the President did (we've all changed positions, I'm making fun of myself here).

I guess my biggest concern is not that we're being pushed in a certain direction, or that by and large, the media and academy are all culturally and politically monotone (those things still really suck), but that it has a chilling effect. What's really insidious, is that the chilling effect only feeds the monster, which makes the chilling worse.... feedback loop. Now I'm venturing eerily close to advocating revolution, or a shock to the system, but I don't think that's necessary. Not yet. Because this beast isn't controlled by some sinister Illuminati, it's got a mind of its own, and one day it will go where the "thought leaders" don't want it to. It may not be good for us either, but when it happens it will shake things up.

You may have got the impression that I think this is a liberal beast heading us in a leftward direction. I think that's only partially true. It just happens to be a left-leaning beast, that happens to be heading us in what appears to be a leftward direction. But it could've easily been a right-leaning beast heading us in a rightward direction. It may yet still. But it's a beast, and it's controlling our direction. That's the part I don't like. That's what is dangerous.

Humans tend to do bad things. Groups of humans tend to do worse things. Superorganisms however, are amoral, and we've given this thing the keys to our future.
Image credit: JeffChangArt

Now is where I fail at creativity and fully embody weaksauce, advocating unoriginal shit that probably won't work. Solutions are hard. But if we can perhaps dig a trench here, fill in some sand there, maybe one day, we can change a thing or two.
  • Stop the unthinking memes. Maybe once in a while, think about something before repeating the standard phrase. Come up with something sincere, thoughtful. Maybe you won't come up with anything, but at least you thought about it.
  • Respectfully disagree. Diversity in thought is interesting. It leads to innovation. Conflict sometimes, but can we not be civil? 
  • Support someone's right to do something you really despise. Coffee mugs aren't so bad, even alien-inspired Peruvian ones.
  • Read, and try to understand the other side, whatever it is. Maybe come up with your own "side."
  • Assume, at least sometimes, your rivals aren't evil or stupid. 

I'm not talking about stuff like flat-earthers, Nazis, or total racists. But stuff that is perhaps on the other side of the mainstream, and perhaps a tad outside of the mainstream. Some of that crazy stuff at least makes for good reading.

1/29/16

On the LaVoy Finicum shooting

1/29/16
I didn't really follow the whole Oregon occupier thing, much less support it. But I saw this video. About 9:00 minutes in, just before things go down. Then you see what looks like a man, clearly nervous, outnumbered, arms in the air, and shot.



If all it is to justify police shooting someone, is some combination of fear and/or hands briefly unseen, then we need to rethink things. Whether or not that is the legal standard, is, as I understand it, iffy, but seems to be de facto law on the more questionable police shootings.

According to the FBI, Finicum indeed had a pistol in his jacket. All good then, right? Hell no. There's almost zero chance any of the officers on the ground saw a gun on Finicum. Watch in full screen, slow motion if you have to, there is a snowflake's chance in hell either of those two officers saw a weapon.

So let's do a thought experiment. Let's say Finicum had no firearm that day. Which leaves you with two possible conclusions:

1. Finicum was shot because he may or may not have appeared to reach for something, and the officers feared for their safety--pretty much the go-to defense in every questionable police shooting.

2. Finicum was murdered, by the police.

Both of those are terrible, and it's ridiculous that in all too many police shooting cases we walk this ultra fine dichotomy between murder and virtually complete & guaranteed legal immunity for officers of the state.

If Finicum had actually pulled his gun, that obviously changes things and nobody would dispute the shooting. But he didn't. I know this isn't the fantastical Wild West with a gentleman's code of chilvarly, necessitating complete brandishing of deadly weapon prior to shooting, à la Tombstone. But we need something more than fear and subjective amounts of furtiveness. Otherwise we have no law, regardless of what's written.

That said, it'd be interesting to see the shooting officer's body cam footage, in the unlikely event it exists or will ever be released.

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