On the LaVoy Finicum shooting

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.


Tyler Cowen, you're talking out of your ass

Read this:
3. There are the libertarians, who hate martial culture on the international scene, but who wish to allow it or maybe even encourage it (personally, not through the government) at home, through the medium of guns.  They are inconsistent, and they should consider being more pro-gun control than is currently the case.  But I don’t expect them to budge: they will see this issue only through the lens of liberty, rather than through the lens of culture as well.  They end up getting a lot of the gun liberties they wish to keep, but losing the broader cultural battle and somehow are perpetually surprised by this mix of outcomes.
Okay. There are so many assumptions and loaded concepts here and in the rest of his blog post, that if he unpacked it so as to minimize the risk of significantly different inputs--and therefore outcomes--from his many different readers, it would be dozens of pages long, if not more. Such is the semiotic nightmare of politics, but it should be avoided, even, I daresay, in extemporaneous and pithy blog posts.
This image sort of works. Can't find who to credit however.

Cowen is generalizing of course, but still, it's god damn lazy to throw around the term "culture" and "martial culture" only to mix it in with broad categories of political philosophies and movements and end up with 2+2=everybody's stupid.

Maybe it's not the point. Maybe there is enough truthiness to his argument to where it has value when considering future foreign and domestic policy. I mean, it rings true, kind of, but only because you or I agree with the implied stereotypes and our input into those loaded words and phrases closely resembles Cowen's meaning.

But what the fuck is "martial culture"? What the fuck is "martial culture on the international scene"? What the fuck is "the lens of culture"?

I identify with libertarians and consider myself to be one. But I could be wrong. It could be that most competently self-labeled libertarians would not label me such. I'm no anarchist. I'm not even really much of a minarchist if you want to quibble over the size of the state, or semantics, but I do favor a push in that direction... much smaller government and fewer, less cumbersome regulations. But that doesn't mean I don't want a powerful military. Or an "active foreign policy" whatever the fuck that means. Maybe that makes me a cardinal sinner of inconsistency. I'll see you in hell, pro-gay marriage, anti-drug war progressive nannystaters.

When I read words I try to avoid applying the simplest most idiotic meanings to and assumptions behind them. So when I read "active foreign policy" I think, well it could mean having diplomats all over the world, engaging with various other foreign officials, for whatever purpose, peaceful or otherwise.


And then the politics are all wrong. Day-to-day politics doesn't mean anything, other than partisan hackery for the most part. Conservatives are winning Cowen says, because Obama wants to get all interventiony on Libya and Syria's asses. Obama must be a conservative and conservatives must like what Obama's doing overseas then, right? No that makes no sense. So lets ramp the complexity up to infinity by throwing in martial culture bullshit and tie it into relevant news by implying guns=martial culture.

For libertarians, Cowen is asserting that we can't have our cake and eat it too. With guns, comes jingoistic international militaristic adventurism (maybe imperialistic too?), or "martial culture" for short. Guns must be pretty powerful, so much so that they're indivisibly part and parcel of "martial culture" and perhaps only that culture. Can't get rid of one with out getting rid of the other. Which is utter crap.

Broadly or narrowly defined, culture is not a rigid, unmalleable artifact of humanity. Want proof? Try defining "American culture". Have fun and good luck. Even if Cowen is right, we can still have our cake and eat it too, even if that means we have to culturally appropriate and/or excise a few things.

I can look through the blurry cultural lens while still clinging to my guns and liberty. It's not hard; you should try it sometime Mr. Cowen.


Mass Shootings and Earthquakes

I don't mean to downplay the terribleness of the San Bernardino shooting, nor the value in seeking preventative measures. But let's state the obvious: this sort of thing has happened before and will happen again.

Despite existing laws. Despite new laws.

I am opposed to virtually all gun control, not because it's proven to be completely ineffective, but because they take away from all for the actions of a few (I understand this argument is meaningless when taken to extreme, but so is anything: why have freedom at all if people violently misuse it?).

So let's step away from the philosophy and the triggery politics, and maybe look at it with a cold, practical perspective.

Let's assume there are no deus ex machinas around (always a good idea), i.e., everybody will not magically agree to ban guns and destroy every last trace of lethal projectile weaponry; nobody will come up with a new gun control plan that everyone agrees with AND is super effective; nobody will cure or effectively prevent crazy from happening; etc.

That doesn't leave us with much. My view on this is that there are essentially two approaches to crime:
  1. Stop bad people from doing bad things.
  2. Empower good people to stop bad things from happening to them.
For most things, #1 is good enough. Reasonable law enforcement, jail, fines, prison, social pressure is enough to deter and prevent most crimes, or force restitution. We can live with a few burglaries now and then, knowing that burglary is out of the ordinary. Even most bad people will go along to get along if that means they stay out of jail.

For everything else that isn't easily fixed, there are no good collective/top-down solutions. You can't stop an earthquake, but you can prepare for it. I don't think that means making our kids wear bullet-proof vests to school, but I do think it means making the average citizen a higher risk target for potential mass murderers.

In most places people are defenseless, which is nice and all, and is perfectly fine 99.9% of the time. But nobody ever shoots up a police department. And that .01% (or whatever the number is, I'm guessing, but I'd imagine I'm fairly close) is a big deal. If more good guys concealed carry, the average citizen would be higher risk for potential mass murderers. And what's nice about concealed carry is that for 99.9% of the time, it looks and feels just like those nice defenseless places, except they're not defenseless.

I guess the question comes down to what balance are we comfortable with? If we encouraged and trained a lot more good people to carry concealed, I'm pretty sure mass shootings would occur less often and with fewer casualties.* That's something I would be comfortable and happy with. But maybe not for others. That's the discussion I think we should be having, not the same gun control debate that goes nowhere and is largely made for easy political points and/or virtue signalling.

*Unlike most crimes and the criminals who commit them, there are far less data on mass shootings & shooters, but there is some. Counterfactuals are hypothetical and sketchy at best, but the logic is sound and the scant evidence that does exist, suggests that good guys with guns tend to stop bad guys with guns (plus it's impossible to calculate, even fuzzily, the number of shootings prevented). I'm lazy so I'm just going to say don't take my word for it and do your own research.


Couch Potato Suggestions

Not counting the samey-same day-to-day stuff, my life has little routine: in fact I have failed to identify a monthly or yearly routine. I don't have a meta-routine. One year, I'll read 25 books or so and the next I might not even read a newspaper. Some months, I'll watch hundreds of hours of tv shows (online mostly), and others months I'll just read blogs. Then sometimes I start playing video games to the exclusion of almost everything else. Hell, 7 or 8 years ago I used to blog voraciously, but now I can't be asked.

My brain is like a small child: it will want to play with a new toy for days on end, but after a while when it loses interest, it tosses the toy aside and gets all whiny upon finding there isn't a new, more interesting toy to play with. And just as I'm about to crawl back to crossword puzzles (or the entertainment equivalent in a Youtube video) in despair, the heavens open, and a new Netflix show gloriously descends, lights up our screens and whiny brains everywhere rejoice.

If you're anything like me, you really want to know about the good shows out there, to rekindle that high of watching high quality, well-written, cathartic stories. But desperately wanting to avoid all the mediocre let-downs, or worse, into your precious time. It's hard to do that, even if you read a lot of reviews. And reviews are usually bad anyway; they're either way off or so spot on they spoil it.

That's partly why I don't do reviews. I do minimally informative suggestions (or cautions if it's bad). I like to think that I have high standards when it comes to tv shows, so even if you disagree with my suggestion, you might be able to at least appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into such a show.

To make all this rambling resemble some coherency, the point is that my spoiled brat brain doesn't tolerate low quality entertainment when it realizes it is consuming low quality entertainment in a shiny new wrapper--despite creators' attempts to hook you with character/story development by the time the shine wears off. (Some shows are deceptive. E.g., LOST, which was a bad story* but a great show, and it worked well until the ending--imagine if LOST was low budget with poor acting, the story wouldn't have been enough to carry it) My spoiled brat brain does however, become addicted to the good stuff, usually until the good stuff runs out.

So, without further wall of text, I present my strongly encouraged shows to watch:

Halt and Catch Fire.
Wow. It's been a while since I last watched this, but it does have staying power--I can't wait for the next season to start. I want to say Lee Pace carries that show because his performance is just superlative, but I shouldn't because it's a damn good show on its own.

Halt and Catch Fire is like the 80s dramatic version of HBO's Silicon Valley. A good dose of nostalgia for 70s and 80s kids but that's just the icing. Once you get into the cake that is the twists and turns of cutting edge 1980 PC technology/culture and the dynamic between Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy's characters, you know you've hit couch potato gold.


Speaking of Silicon Valley...

Hilarious show that doesn't sacrifice good drama for comedy nor vice versa. Every episode tends to feel like it topped the last one in entertainment value. There's the occasional bit of ribaldry type stuff in there, but it's woven so flawlessly into the dialogue and mood that it works well, and is actually funny--it's not just there for shock value.

Silicon Valley is the funnier more dramatic version of what I imagine life is like inside a somewhat promising tech startup in Silicon Valley. One of the show's creators is none other than Mike Judge, so you get that fun kind of comedy that pushes and crosses the boundaries of political correctness that only he can provide. Only 8-10 episodes per season (2 so far) and each is just 30 minutes long (which really is too short for good shows) so it won't swallow up too much time. Definitely worth a look if you haven't already.

Better Call Saul.

Well, I was wrong. This is good. There's something about it, maybe it has to do with being in the Breaking Bad universe, but I just cant put my finger on it. It starts slow, and I mean slow. If memory serves, it takes at least 3 episodes to get things moving. I mean really the whole first season is pretty much just exposition--setting up the character that is Saul, and getting a glimpse of the bigger story. That sounds terribly boring, but there is just the right amount of bread crumbs and just the right amount of pay-offs without going too far. It's serious but tastefully sprinkled with humor. You can't help but like Saul Goodman. I feel like we've just barely covered the first page of the first chapter that is the thick book of Saul, in a good way.

If you haven't seen Breaking Bad, well, Saul Goodman is a sleazebag lawyer helping criminals of every income bracket, and himself, to beat the system. But he sure didn't start out that way--and that's what you'll be watching in this show. Whether it's early Saul or later Saul, he's always a wisecrack. I still can't wait to see the next episode.

Peaky Blinders.

Yet another British-made period drama that takes place in Britain. Heh, but seriously, the Brits must have so much practice at this by now that they can't help but make great period dramas, and that's what they did with the Peaky Blinders. Imagine Sam Neill. Okay, now imagine Sam Neill as a bad guy. Intrigued? I was. But it gets better. The bad guys (members of the Peaky Blinders) are actually the good guys--at least that's who you sympathize with--and the good guys (the cops) are well, not necessarily bad, but the chief cop Neill plays definitely is not a good guy.

There's really nothing new here--a show about gangsters from their point-of-view set in 1919 --but it's so well scripted and acted that the only thing I could really complain about is the soundtrack (some of it really sounds like dive-bar rock bands, but the actual main theme works well). The music is only occasionally distracting, but you either get used to it, or they eventually started using a lot less of it--I'm not sure which. What I've written about it isn't very compelling, but the show is. This show is up there with the best of them, or I wouldn't have included it. It's almost as good as...


Handy Netflix Link
Who would want to watch a show about a drug dealer? I didn't think I did, but then I watched Breaking Bad and fell in love. But surely a show about a scumbag terrorist drug trafficker from Colombia would be off the table, right? I gave this show a chance, feeling skeptical, ready to stop the moment it got boring. It never did, and I watched all the episodes made so far in short order. Just amazing, captivating, graphic, and it's pretty much a dramatized documentary. Don't get me wrong, it feels like a normal fictional tv show. It's just that, you know.

The bad guy is a truly bad guy, and the good guys are sometimes bad, but usually good. But the way this show, the story is told is different. And you don't even notice it! There is well-written narration from the perspective of a DEA agent, but most of the show is from the Drug Lord's perspective. So you kind of sympathize with the bad guy, but not completely, because he's a really really bad guy. You also sympathize with the good guys, but also not completely, because they're not really so good. How does a show like that keep your interest? It just does, compellingly.

Rick and Morty.

Yes, a cartoon. And it's awesome. A crazy fun sci-fi cartoon that doesn't take itself too seriously, nor does it insult your intelligence. It explores sci-fi concepts and general wackiness without getting bogged down, nor failing to deliver the laughs.

The show follows the adventures of Rick, an uninhibited alcoholic mad-scientist type grandpa and Morty, the slightly under-achieving naive moral compass teenager and their family. The show isn't for kids. Lets just say Morty's conventional moral compass often gets them into trouble, followed by lots of gore and/or risqué dialogue. Just the same, Rick's total lack of a moral compass also leads them into hilarious troubles, but I don't want to spoil anything.

Rick's got a sharp tongue, and the way Morty interprets it is just gold. Every show is an adventure, a quickly-paced joyride, and it's a damn shame the next season isn't coming for like a year or more.

*Shows are about stories. The characters are a part of the story, not THE story--even if it's a story about one person. Right around the time LOST was coming to an end, I distinctly remember the creators spinning it as a show about the characters--which is just another way of saying the LOST story sucked and they couldn't fix it.


Dear webmasters,


is unacceptable.

It's nearly 2016. The endless tentacles of javascript and hordes of third party crap NEED TO DIE (I have a soft spot for flash, but that really needs to die as well)

HotAir is just an example, and yes, it is pretty bad, but it's hardly the worst offender. A lot of seemingly reputable sites are chock full of this kind of shit, not to mention what the more shady sites are like.

I was guilty myself, but I'm rectifying it by deleting most of the ad scripts here--don't care about a few potential bucks anymore--and pointless, obsolete javascript, but some of it is baked in embedded media (of which I'll be more careful about).

Recommended and related links*:
Adblock Edge Apparently Adblock Edge was discontinued and has since stopped working. For now Adblock Plus will do for that extra layer of security and ad-free browsing, just be sure to uncheck "Allow some non-intrusive advertising" in the filter preferences if you're so inclined.

*I don't know if any of these work in non-Firefox browsers, likely not. Firefox-based browsers are better anyways, in certain important ways, such as if you like total control of your browser (old, but relevant article here).

Plus, of course, the obligatory Motherfucking Website
and Better Motherfucking Website


Rabbit holes and sundry

I haven't gotten around to reading or even skimming the recent SCOTUS opinions, other than a few excerpts on various blogs.

I'll just say that I'm mostly content with gay marriage being available to anyone in the country. This argument has been so thoroughly debated since the early aughts, and now with the finality of that decision, I don't see it being an issue much longer.

But I'm a cynical contrarian, and I feel the rebel urge to go against the seemingly and increasingly popular majority opinion in favor of it. And my libertarian tendencies repel me away from the tired and conventional arguments. It's like there's some little-explored nuance that I've yet to discover, and it's calling my name. I'll always be for equal rights and opportunity, but the way most of the coverage has been is like "YES, we stuck it to THE MAN! Take that, anachronistic evil old white puritan who still somehow controls all the levers of society! A long-awaited win for the little guy!"

There's just something grating and disingenuous about that, and I don't think it would be particularly useful to explore why. Maybe I'm misperceiving it all?


I haven't been the voracious consumer of blogs, politics, and current events as I once was not long ago. But now and then I stumble onto a few things and follow them down rabbit holes to other things which I cannot help but drop everything and completely absorb.

Such as this excellent short sci-fi story from the seemingly sage polymath Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex:  ... And I Show You How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes. Just a very fun, well-written adventure story for all personalities.

And three blog posts about libertarians, anarchism, and utilitarianism:
Caution: nerdfight zone ahead

The Incredible Vanishing Minarchist
  • This and the comments following it kind of surprised me. I simply assumed most libertarians were not anarchists, and perhaps not even "true" Minarchists. I'm sure not an anarchist. While I think that anarcho-capatalism is an unachievable utopian ideal, I think minarchism is, while slightly less utopian and ideal, still unachievable for the indefinite future. So, while I can nod my head and agree with the principles behind AnCap and Minarchism, in practice I'll support just about anything that has a realistic chance of pushing us in that direction. I guess that makes me a lINO (small 'L' libertarian-in-name-only.) I don't care what anyone says, but big 'L' Libertarians I'll always consider to mean members of the Libertarian Party.

5 Reasons Why I’m Not An Anarchist
  • A generally okay argument that I mostly agree with, but feel the author is being way too disingenuous regarding what it means to follow the non-aggression principle. To me, following the NAP is like being a lawful citizen. You're not a total pacifist, but you never initiate violence, or threats thereof. You will, however, be willing to defend yourself, significant others, personal property, and perhaps even innocent people to the death from those things. Preemptive attacks are just taking things to another level. Reasonable persons would agree, that most of the time, preemption is going too far. However...

    There are the super scary, but totally obvious, yet still loaded with liability, exceptions where preemption feels and is compulsory. It's like there's a de facto threat, whether or not explicit, and is therefore consistent with the NAP.

Not So Hard to Argue
  • A short post which I thought was interesting. Utilitarians in favor of redistribution often leave out a few important factors in their calculations.


The power of gardens

Note: This is a long post and it is not about gardening. 

I could probably start anywhere: The Baltimore riots, #Gamergate, the Sad Puppies and the Hugo-versy, human nature, ingroups and outgroups, social media activists, etcetera, and on and on, and so forth.

I suppose I'll start with Through the Worhmhole, season 6, episode 1: Are We All Bigots? This episode is suspiciously and fantastically salient right now.

It was particularly cringe-inducing for me at first, because I remembered a conversation cut short that I initiated with an African-American.

Having been a poli-sci major I tend to have politics and topics of national debate not far from the front of my mind. It's all too easy to reach into that well of poison in an attempt to be topical and raconteur. Years ago, during this conversation I said, "you know, on some level, I think we are all a little bit racist or prejudiced." I was thinking about human history and its tribalist nature, but I see how it could be interpreted very differently. My undiplomatic mouth and the resulting angry stare I got ended what was an otherwise interesting and cordial dialogue. Every time I think about that moment I cringe.

Then this show, hosted by Morgan Freeman no less, comes on and asks (and answers) the same damn thing. Short answer: yes, we are all racist scumbags.

Longer answer: A lot of it is subconscious, and is both learned through cultural exposure and a part of human, even mammalian, nature. This seems obvious to me. But we're not talking about the KKK or making a minority sit in the back of the bus, we're talking about non-overt stuff in modern civilization from millions of people adding up over time where we end up with huge disparities. And it's not just race, it's religion, nationality, sports teams; it's all tribalism. Ingroup vs. outgroup stuff. It's how humans behave. It's how monkeys behave. It's how rats behave!

We have a lot of groups in Western civilization. Western civilization itself is a group. I am a member of that group. I am also a member of the U.S. group, the white group, the male group, the dogs-lover group, the right-handed group, the sci-fi geeky fan group, etc. I am a member of a lot of different groups mostly with parallel, complimentary, and/or non-conflicting interests. Rarely do those interests conflict; more often, obviously, groups with demographically distinct memberships and different interests conflict. I guess you could try to stay out of it, but typically people get at least emotionally invested in a conflict their group is engaged in. Because human mammalian nature.

A relatively harmless example can be the airing of eSports on ESPN. Traditionally, ESPN has aired mostly athletic sports competitions. Although they have on occasion aired poker championships. There's nothing athletic about poker, but it is a sport that a lot of people are interested in. It's a good bet that many fans of athletic competitions (ACF for short) are also poker game enthusiasts (PGE). For ESPN to air a poker game is like Michael Jordan going golfing. No big thing.

But times, they are a changin'. The other day ESPN aired teams competing against each other in the video game, Heroes of the Storm, on one of its channels and I'd venture to guess that the older ACFs and PGEs are generally not fans of this new video game, nor any competitions in it. Which prompted such people to say, "It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition…. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports." That was ESPN president John Skipper. And one of ESPN's hosts, Colin Cowherd had more colorful things to say about covering eSports. Ingroup vs. outgroup.

While I don't care much about Heroes of the Storm or MOBA competitions personally, I do like games and the idea of watching intense video game competitions by pro-gamers. So, not only am I in agreement with TotalBiscuit's sentiment in his video below, but with his specific point--that it doesn't matter whether or not it's called a sport. What matters is that eSports/gamers already has a lot of people in its group, and that group pays the bills by watching.

So yeah, I'm a member of the eSports/gamers group. I was a member of the more traditional ACF group in my youth, paying close attention to my favorite NBA teams, as well as playing Mario and Zelda as often as I could. While I still can identify with the ACF group, I felt the urge to take a side in this little conflict. Go eSports coverage! Yay more-relevant-to-me ingroup!

We tend to think of tribalism as inherently bad, but I don't think it is. I think tribalism is more like gravity. It's amoral. It just is. What we do with tribalism can be either good or bad. Lately it seems, as some of us intend to promote a kind of civility with the tools and weapons of tribalism, we're becoming demonstrably uncivil.

Enter the Prussian, speaking on the recent Hugo awards controversy, who is simultaneously upset and dismissive of SJWs:
Author Larry Correia (not read him, yet) attended one of their cons when he was starting out, and what he found was what he described as a whispering campaign against one of his books.  Not because of the book, mind you, but because of his politics.  Hence he was smeared as racist, misogynist, homophobe and all the rest of I – to the point that his wife started getting concerned phone calls from people worried that she was living with a wife beater.

All of this is drearily familiar to anyone who has experienced the tolerance and fairness of the western left, above all the American left.  The bad faith, the vicious insults, the attitude of throw anything at all and hope some of it sticks – it’s boring and routine at this point.  Forget those of us who are loud and proud rightists, we’ve seen this guff dished out against such bona fide lefties as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens…

In effect, anyone who didn’t toe the extremely thin and boring line of the US center-left was being ostracized and kept out of the awards – there were apparently organized cliques getting together to work out what books to nominate and put forward, and that decision was strongly driven by politics . . .
. . . Despite all their viciousness, SJWs are paper tigers. . . . if you are relying on SJWs to defend issues that actually matter – anti-racialism, women’s emancipation, free speech, the defense of civilization – you are relying on people who cannot even rig an award competently.
I sort of both agree and disagree with him. They're not very good people for using the blunt tools of tribalism like shaming, name-calling, harassment, and general thuggish outgrouping just because they disagree with their victims' ideas. And to some extent, they are paper tigers. But in the internet age, even a small group of paper tigers can make a loud voice and cause a lot of problems.

The Hugo thing was about leftists vs. the at-least-not-overtly-left-enough. Or from the perspective of the SJWs: Decent human beings who happen to be good authors vs. racist/sexist/bigoted people who may or may not be good authors. In the world of tribalism and ingroups vs. outgroups, the sci-fi/fantasy fan group was beset and torn by other warring groups who happened to have members in the sci-fi/fantasy fan group (much like #gamergate). The Worldcon and Hugo award group, for good or ill, deliberately or not, was commandeered for other sociopolitical interests. Rightist and non-leftist members of the group took notice and responded in kind with the Puppies. Whether or not the Sad and Rabid Puppies were justified (I tend to think they were), the Hugo awards will never be the same and will always have that stink of corruption.

Suffice it to say that the leftists occupying other groups use the tools of tribalism to prod those other groups in a direction they want it to go. Don't get me wrong, everybody engages in  tribalism. The problem is that the relatively recent prodding isn't so gentle, or civil; it might be even be quiet and secret. It's not always a rightist group that reacts and fights the prodding, it can be any group content with the way their group is/was. Sometimes rightist groups will take notice and join forces with the prodded group. Other times the prodded will surrender.

And the prodding is Oh-my-God-freaking everywhere. It's the outrage of the day, it's the national shame campaign. But why is it a bad thing? It's taking peoples reputations and ruining them, it's destroying careers. You can't have an old-fashioned opinion and say it out loud anymore. You can't think outside the sociopolitical box without the shame campaign threatening your job. And these are over little more than social faux pas! The ingroups and outgroups will clash, the rhetoric and tactics get sharper with every use. What's next?

Whatever it is, it can't be good. Indeed, the logical leap to the next level has already been mentally considered and accepted by at least one of the prodding leftists.

I'm going to quote Scott Alexander at length, and I hope that's okay with him (you should read his entire post anyway). Here he is at SSC quoting (and responding) to a somewhat-famous leftist:
That post [the one debunking false rape statistics] is exactly my problem with Scott. He seems to honestly think that it’s a worthwhile use of his time, energy and mental effort to download evil people’s evil worldviews into his mind and try to analytically debate them with statistics and cost-benefit analyses.

He gets *mad* at people whom he detachedly intellectually agrees with but who are willing to back up their beliefs with war and fire rather than pussyfooting around with debate-team nonsense.

It honestly makes me kind of sick. It is exactly the kind of thing that “social justice” activists like me *intend* to attack and “trigger” when we use “triggery” catchphrases about the mewling pusillanimity of privileged white allies.
In other words, if a fight is important to you, fight nasty. If that means lying, lie. If that means insults, insult. If that means silencing people, silence. . . .
Compare to the following two critiques: “The Catholic Church wastes so much energy getting upset about heretics who believe mostly the same things as they do, when there are literally millions of Hindus over in India who don’t believe in Catholicism at all! What dumb priorities!”

Or “How could Joseph McCarthy get angry about a couple of people who might have been Communists in the US movie industry, when over in Moscow there were thousands of people who were openly super Communist all the time?”

There might be foot-long giant centipedes in the Amazon, but I am a lot more worried about boll weevils in my walled garden.

Creationists lie. Homeopaths lie. Anti-vaxxers lie. This is part of the Great Circle of Life. It is not necessary to call out every lie by a creationist, because the sort of person who is still listening to creationists is not the sort of person who is likely to be moved by call-outs. There is a role for organized action against creationists, like preventing them from getting their opinions taught in schools, but the marginal blog post “debunking” a creationist something something is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things rationally has already formed a walled garden and locked the creationists outside of it.

Anti-Semites fight nasty. The Ku Klux Klan fights nasty. Neo-Nazis fight nasty. We dismiss them with equanamity, in accordance with the ancient proverb: “Haters gonna hate”. There is a role for organized opposition to these groups, like making sure they can’t actually terrorize anyone, but the marginal blog post condemning Nazism is a waste of time. Everybody who wants to discuss things charitably and compassionately has already formed a walled garden and locked the Nazis outside of it.

People who want to discuss things rationally and charitably have not yet locked Charles Clymer out of their walled garden.

He is not a heathen, he is a heretic. He is not a foreigner, he is a traitor. He comes in talking all liberalism and statistics, and then he betrays the signals he has just sent. He is not just some guy who defects in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. He is the guy who defects while wearing the “I COOPERATE IN PRISONERS DILEMMAS” t-shirt.

What really, really bothered me wasn’t Clymer at all: it was that rationalists were taking him seriously. Smart people, kind people! I even said so in my article. Boll weevils in our beautiful walled garden!

Why am I always harping on feminism? I feel like we’ve got a good thing going, we’ve ratified our Platonic contract to be intellectually honest and charitable to each other, we are going about perma-cooperating in the Prisoner’s Dilemma and reaping gains from trade.

And then someone says “Except that of course regardless of all that I reserve the right to still use lies and insults and harassment and dark epistemology to spread feminism”. Sometimes they do this explicitly, like Andrew did. Other times they use a more nuanced argument like “Surely you didn’t think the same rules against lies and insults and harassment should apply to oppressed and privileged people, did you?” And other times they don’t say anything, but just show their true colors by reblogging an awful article with false statistics.
. . .

But then someone else says “Well, if they get their exception, I deserve my exception,” and then someone else says “Well, if those two get exceptions, I’m out”, and you have no idea how difficult it is to successfully renegotiate the terms of a timeless Platonic contract that doesn’t literally exist.

No! I am Exception Nazi! NO EXCEPTION FOR YOU! Civilization didn’t conquer the world by forbidding you to murder your enemies unless they are actually unrighteous in which case go ahead and kill them all. Liberals didn’t give their lives in the battle against tyranny to end discrimination against all religions except Jansenism because seriously fuck Jansenists. Here we have built our Schelling fence and here we are defending it to the bitter end. [Emphasis mine]
Scott uses the apt metaphor of the walled garden (a group/tribe/community), and the uncivil tribalists as boll weevils. As both supporters of a classically liberal society, Scott and I might disagree on the finer points in its execution and the occasional issue here and there, but I feel we're a part of a polite and healthy garden where disagreement on many things are acceptable provided both parties remain civil, which includes intellectual honesty.

(At risk of mixing metaphors I'll continue using "gardens.")

There are many overlapping gardens, but some gardeners don't seem to mind the boll weevils, and even assist them at times.

So far, I've mostly discussed shaming and what basically amounts to ad hominem attacks as the methods of which the uncivil prodding tribalists employ. Mostly to punish mildly sexist, racist, or anti-gay marriage opinions. But there are boll weevils and there are BOLL WEEVILS.

This comes sharply into focus when you look at the two biggest feuding tribes in America, the Republicans and the Democrats, or more broadly the liberal/progressive left and the conservative right.

When a conflict takes on a political characteristic, whether real or imagined, things get out of control and your garden becomes untenable:

It's getting harder and harder to maintain a civil garden because Everything is Political. Video games are now politicized. Glorified book clubs. Wedding cakes. Commencement speeches. Bad jokes. innocuous-looking T-shirts are politicized.

And where does that leave real, dyed-in-the-wool, actual politics? Are the loyal opposition members safe? You might think so, given our robust constitutional political protections. But I wouldn't be so sure:
Don’t call your lawyer.

Don’t tell anyone about this raid. Not even your mother, your father, or your closest friends.

The entire neighborhood could see the police around their house, but they had to remain silent. This was not the “right to remain silent” as uttered by every cop on every legal drama on television — the right against self-incrimination. They couldn’t mount a public defense if they wanted — or even offer an explanation to family and friends. . . .
Most Americans have never heard of these raids, or of the lengthy criminal investigations of Wisconsin conservatives. For good reason. Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets’ homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do?

This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform.

Largely hidden from the public eye, this traumatic process, however, is now heading toward a legal climax, with two key rulings expected in the late spring or early summer. The first ruling, from the Wisconsin supreme court, could halt the investigations for good, in part by declaring that the “misconduct” being investigated isn’t misconduct at all but the simple exercise of First Amendment rights.
That, along with the IRS scandal, are extreme examples of what happens when powerful people with different opinions use the weapons of tribalism to punish the outgroup. The prosecutor behind the Wisconsin raids, John Chisholm is just ahead of his time. Maybe. But that's escalation, that is the next logical step.

So it doesn't surprise me that people want to avoid all this nastiness they see in the not-so-distant future and request a divorce. The blogger Ace, tweeted the rationale behind his idea:
there is a pragmatic value to liberalism-- liberalism permits strongly-disagreeing peoples to live among each other peacefully.
if we no longer have this sort of liberalism--if the left is determined to simply "win"--then we shall no longer live together peacefully
that's not a threat, that's just an obvious observation.
I think it's pretty clear the left no longer wishes to live peacefully among us, and, for my part: The sentiment is shared.
i think we're beyond electoral matters.
notice the lack of "that's crazy-talk" responses
I don't see this working, geographically or otherwise.

Even if there were a smooth way to secede, conflicts will still arise, the differences are still there. It's just that now there's a bunch of innocent bystanders who are no longer considered innocent nor bystanders. While that may be good for political participation, it would be bad for civility. The boll weevils, or the prodding tribalists would be in charge, unencumbered by considerations for outgroup feelings, emboldened by their newfound situation and ripe for group polarization.

But we already live in our own ideological garden sanctuaries. We may wish the walls held up better with fewer shame campaigns and less name-calling, we don't want to suffer the externalities nor direct attacks from discordant groups.

And so we often just sort of excommunicate the people who're mucking it all up:

What the video doesn't show is what happens after everyone catches on to the repeat takers. The sharers move to another table eventually becoming a big table full of sharers, and the takers are left to themselves. This is the ideal walled garden where everyone reaps the rewards from cooperation. It's the divine grace Scott references.

Yes, we must be kind and civil, especially in disagreement. And when the boll weevils or the prodding tribalists don't cooperate, well, just ignore them.

But if we can't ignore them, everybody loses and it's time to start creating new countries and breaking up families and watch out for thought police and our gardens go to crap.

May 3rd update: So that's how it's going to be, then:
A 250-strong meetup of GamerGate supporters, which included game developers, journalists and think-tank scholars were evacuated from a bar in Washington D.C on Friday after an anonymous bomb threat was made against the gathering.
Is it possible the uncivil activists fail to realize that the double-edged sword they insist upon using does, in fact, cut both ways? Do they expect by starting a war, the other side just quietly goes away? 


Improving Democracy

There's a fascinating back-and-forth between Joseph Heath and Alex Tabarrok on democracy and its rationality, or lack thereof.

I'm tired and my brain has mostly given up critical thinking for the day (I should vote on something now!), so I'm just going to link all of it.

Tabarrok gave a critical review--which was good--of Heath's book (which I haven't read).

Heath responded to that review, which was also very good.

Tabarrok then sort of responded to Heath's response.

I look forward to more of this.

I'm reluctant to comment on this at the moment, given my current tired state, but reforming democracy, at least American democracy, has occupied my thoughts in the past. Lately, however, it just hasn't felt worth my time. Politics in general hasn't felt worth it.

Truthfully, they're not worth my time, or any one person's time (which is discussed in the links). I've thought about this tragedy-of-the-commons phenomenon in democracy too.

All of which urges me in the general direction of less centralization and more localization of politics. Of course, localizing more state power and democracy is fraught with its own problems I'm sure. But on that level at least, voters have more influence and control, more incentive to be rational and informed.

And yet a part of me is vaguely wary of localizing politics: why did Western civilization move toward centralization if localization was better? For many good reasons, like economic efficiency and war for example. Perhaps a better balance could be struck.


Stupid with Authority

Is a terrible combination. I honestly don't think it could ever be emphasized enough.

Stupidity alone is just awful, but give it some authority: a badge, a title, a position of influence, and that isolated case of awful just became a rabid werewolf with smallpox.

I just thought I'd lob a pebble against the roaring tsunami of stupid, at the very least, as a symbol of  protest.

I'll start out with my somewhat mundane example: A whole lot of people on the internet well and truly believe that violating a company's terms of service is illegal. Often criminal. As in you're risking prison time if you don't do exactly as the fine print on some website tells you.

I think a lot of otherwise semi-intelligent people conflate the law and TOS because not only do they not think about it, the TOS often reiterates the law.
  • So a website tells you not to steal their stuff or you will be prosecuted. That's a no-brainer. Stealing is illegal and nobody likes to be stolen from.
  • After a few of these reiterations of the law, they slip in some of their own rules: You may not download any content on this website unless otherwise noted. Or you may not view this content without the provided functionality, or something similar.

Such TOS are, of course, all in legalese, making it sound all law-ish.

Theft is illegal and against many TOS, but viewing a website in your custom-built browser, is NOT illegal. Also, once you initially view online content in whatever browser, you are in fact downloading it, regardless of whatever the legal definition of "download" is. If your device couldn't download content, you would never be able to see or hear that content. I'm no IT expert, but I believe most online content you experience is stored in some temp file, browser cache, or both.

With the right knowledge, you could store and access this temporary memory, permanently. Businesses don't own your personal device, nor the memory on it. But I'm getting off track.

Say someone views some private, exclusive content, without signing an NDA, and they want to tell their friends about it. But they did read a very scary TOS. According to an alarming number of forum mods and commenters, you'll get 20 years in rape-prison for blabbing your mouth. You might even get scary Cease and Desist letters from soulless lawyers, even though the act of free speech is, for the moment, theoretically perfectly legal.
Hell, I'm sure ad-blocking software is against a plethora of TOS, but that doesn't stop millions of web surfers and Stupids with Authority from ad-free surfing.

What it boils down to is that TOS are not the law of the land (nor cyberspace). If you don't break the law, you're legally safe to break the shit out of any TOS you want. Businesses might try to sue you, especially if you caused them harm, but they can't tell the Sheriff to arrest you.

Despite what Captain Badass McForum Mod tells you. Do a google search and shut that stupid down. Or show him this link. But I fear stating the simple common sense that private companies do not make laws probably won't shake the stupid, because they don't think, and any repudiation diminishes their "authority."

So please, throw your pebbles at this kind, or any kind, of Stupid with Authority. It has far-reaching, hard-to-see chilling effects, and just sucks for everyone. Fight the good fight, friend.

Does this sound like legal advice? It kinda does, so take it to the bank despite the fact that I may or may not be a lawyer, despite every fucking lawyer and non-lawyer on the planet putting up an idiot warning disclaimer saying it's not legal advice. In other words, use your brain and fight the stupid.


3 TV shows you might want to watch

The Village

It's hard to describe this show without comparing it to Downton Abbey, so I'll just go ahead and compare it. The first season of The Village is better and feels more realistic, if depressing, than much of Downton. The first season is just very good. The second season is good, but--and maybe it's just because it's more uplifting than the first--it falls a bit short of the bar they set.

The show is like Downton, only from the perspective of poor and working class families, and a little from the wealthy. Contrary to Downton, while it tends to focus on one poor farming family, it does well by diversifying and giving us insights into many lives of those in the village--you get to see what it's like from not only the poor, but the factory workers, the women, the politicians, and the young.

My one gripe: The farmer's wife evolved rather quickly, and I'm not talking about her foray into politics. The first episode shows her as a caring, but submissive wife. A handful of episodes later, and especially in the second season, she's a very independent woman, speaking her mind and standing up to everyone in her way, including her husband. I can understand the change, but it seemed sudden.

Still, probably one of the best shows I've seen in a while.

Marco Polo
Handy Netflix link

A great series so far. I'm sure it's taken quite a few artistic liberties with the history, but history lessons are probably not why anyone is watching it. Marco Polo is like Vikings (it's a little better than Vikings), only with a lot more nudity. It's all very great but for a few things.

It follows Marco Polo during his time with Kublai Khan, who only wants to conquer the world.  Kublai is set up as some great conqueror, but has a hard time with one particular city. There's almost a contradiction there and it just doesn't feel like the show hashed it out enough. Couple that with the allusions to warring the West and it's almost unbelievable. A few fight scenes are over the top, but those moments are sort of few and far between.

And then there's Marco's character. He's almost genius, with encyclopedic knowledge--which is fine, it's TV--but just prior to and during his trip to the East, Marco is portrayed as a complete dumbass. Apparently, we're supposed to think that some martial arts training, fed to us via montage of course, turns the naive idiot into a savvy, worldly go-getter.

Other than that, Marco is a great show. It's got that stranger in a strange land thing going on.

Old School

This is a show from Australia. You'll need to get creative, if you want to watch it in the U.S. It's not a perfect show--I found myself wanting to skip some parts--but it pays off. Every episode is solid crime-drama-comedy fun.

Maybe other shows have done the cop-teams-up-with-robber thing, but I can't seem to remember any. In any case, this is not your ordinary rinse-and-repeat cop show. It's a season long story, developing every episode, and wraps up nicely. So nicely in fact, that I wonder if there will even be another season.

The acting is very good, and the comedy just flows from the dynamic of the two protagonists. If you're bored, and have already seen (or aren't interested in) the other shows mentioned here, definitely give Old School a try (if you can find it).


Free Speech vs Extremism

Juan Cole has a thought-provoking post on his blog about the recent terrorist attack in France. His post surprised me, really.

Ever since I first heard about the attack, I just assumed it was carried out by crazy Muslims who are among the type that get super pissed off about cartoons. I just kinda assumed they were an invisible subset of young males among the Muslim population, teetering on the edge of sanity for various reasons. They exist, they are out there, and we almost never know who they are until someone draws a cartoon and they snap.

But I'm wrong about that.

No, they don't exist in a vacuum. Of course Islamic culture plays a role in the disproportionately huge representation of Muslims in terrorism (it's stupid that this factoid is almost considered hate-speech).

Yet they aren't remotely representative of (at least) Western Muslims. Else we wouldn't be talking about attacks here and there, we would be discussing the latest news from the front lines in World War III.

So we've got a small group of people that keep popping up from within a large Muslim population that not infrequently kill innocent people. This has not changed since 2001. Actually before then.

I see two solutions to this kind of problem:
  • (1) Get rid of all the Muslims (preferably by deportation); or 
  • (2a) Vigorously engage in an expensive, long, drawn-out campaign against the cancer that keeps popping up while 
  • (2b) winning the hearts and minds of the rest.
There are problems with both approaches, but #1 looks especially icky, is illiberal (to put it mildly), and may prove counter-productive.

I think we tried option 2a at first without much of 2b--well, mostly the U.S., Britain, and a few other allies in the months and years after 2001. I don't think 2a works without a lot of 2b. It seems, I hope, the world caught on sometime between then and now. It's still expensive, long, and drawn out though.

But I don't know if this new and improved war on terror has been remotely successful. I don't even know how to define success here. No more terrorism? That's like trying to achieve light-speed: The closer you get to the cosmic limit, the more energy you will need, increasing to infinity. It would require an infinite amount of resources to utterly stop all future acts of terrorism. I admit my analogy is terrible--insurgencies have been put down, revolutions squashed, seiges overcome, wars both cold and hot were won, so it seems entirely likely Islamist terrorism can be reduced to a satisfactory extent. But, and answer honestly, do you see light at the end of this tunnel?

I'm not sure what the answer is.

It's just that it finally dawned on me why national leaders' early reactions to Islamist terrorist attacks are to defend Muslims and Islam. It's it's ham-fisted, condescending, insulting and borderline offensive--as if we were all on the verge of forming a lynch mob--but I understand it now.
The operatives who carried out this attack exhibit signs of professional training. They spoke unaccented French, and so certainly know that they are playing into the hands of Marine LePen and the Islamophobic French Right wing. They may have been French, but they appear to have been battle hardened. This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering...
My first reaction was wondering how the hell Juan Cole knew these murderers were 'professional' terrorists. Is he sleeping with François Hollande too? But he's probably right: the cartoon-hating murderers had MACHINE GUNS, methodically wiped out their targets, then shot everyone else they could, and successfully (so far) fled.

So these aren't random Muslims who just snap at an offensive cartoon; these are guys who are trained, have a support network, plan in advance, and may have just been waiting for an excuse (or opportunity).

If they truly hate us, or "hate our freedom," or "hate infidels," or whatever you want to define their motivation as, why are they targeting cartoonists and journalists? Why shoot innocent civilians, or blow up public spaces? I mean, if you want to deliver a blow to your enemy, wouldn't you rather hit some important industrial or government building?

They did that on 9/11 and since then I assume it's probably a bit more difficult to pull that kind of an attack off. I'm sure they try, but for a 'professional' attack, Charlie Hebdo seemed a relatively mundane and sort of Pyrrhic target. Maybe they are so sensitive they feel murder is the only way to deal with blasphemers.

Maybe it's a morbid marketing strategy:
Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.
And that is how terrorists fight option 2b. So I get it. Howard Dean says of the terrorists, "they're about as Muslim as I am" despite them actually being Muslim. The media hypes #illridewithyou during the jihadist-wannabe hostage situation in Australia, without much fact-checking. Obama says "ISIL is not Islamic." Not once do you see the words "Muslim" or "Islam" in national leaders' responses to the attack unless they are used to demarcate the religion from the violence. We love the Muslims, but we hate the terrorists.

It's just so tiresome:
The “tiny minority of extremists” read on jihadism to the same end was a staple of Bush’s administration, but that concept implies that they do indeed function within Islam in some sense. That’s what it means to be a minority within a larger population rather than a population in your own right. Lately, though, that concept seems to have slid towards insisting that jihadis simply aren’t Muslim in any sense of the word. Sure, they may swear by the Koran, and sure, most of them come from the Middle East, and sure, they act with plenty of moral support from Salafist clerics based in the same country where Mecca and Medina are located, but hey — that doesn’t make them Islamic. ...

If you feel obliged to remind Americans for the thousandth time that it’s unfair to punish one individual Muslim for the actions of another — and if you do still feel that need after the first 999 iterations, you should probably reflect on your own prejudices — then just say that. Shifting into Imam Dean mode and issuing a fatwa rendering the Charlie Hebdo terrorists haram looks ridiculous...

The 2b rhetoric is, I think, getting better. Other than Howard Dean's inept comment and a few others, the race to defend ordinary Muslims and oikophobically preempt any 'Muricans from committing hate-thoughts is well, not as ham-fisted as it was, seems to me. An Islamophobic backlash would be bad, and undermine the 2b strategy. Just try not to be so condescending about it--not all non-Muslim Westerners are cavemen.

This attack was about religion. It was about free speech. And it was also about murderers being murderers. Despite what the politicians and liberal blogs tell me, I know those three are not mutually exclusive. I'm not going to speculate as to what goes on in a murderer's mind. And I don't want to get into the religious aspect, other than to say it's so obviously there that it must feel smart to ignore it, and even smarter to say that it's not really there at all--which is just stupid. I'm not ignoring it, I just don't have the expertise nor energy to go there.

Which brings me to free speech. Apparently some news organizations decided to censor out the cartoons Charlie Hebdo was famous for, cartoons which brought the explicit ire of the terrorists. Will Wilkinson says it better than I can:
It seems that satire especially riles those most ripe for it. Those who murder in the name of God, or other high ideals, are monstrous, but also, somehow, ridiculous. In the gap between the true-believer's moralising self-righteousness and the vicious reality of what he defends there is a fog of delusion. The satirist minds that gap, despises the fog and shines a merciless hot light on the nonsense. The wider the gap, the greater the sustaining delusion, and the more damaging, and dangerous, the satire will be felt to be.
Which is why it is so important for satire, the simple but powerful tool to shine on the ridiculousness, and reveal it for what it is. Ross Douthat makes a similar and equally salient point:
[W]e are not in a vacuum. We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more [emphasis mine].

These were silly cartoons! And people are censoring them! I don't know if it's more offensive to act like most Muslims are precious little snowflakes that we may or may not be afraid of, or to show the most blasphemous cartoon fullscreen! It's lose-lose, might as well err on the side of free speech and showing highly relevant news material. When the federation of united aliens sends a delegation to review our application for entry into the galactic community, they will ask, "Why were some of your people murdered in Paris?"

    "Because they drew some cartoons that ..."

    "They were murdered over cartoons?!?"

    "Well, yes, but the cartoons blasphemed a prophet, which ..."

    "Application denied. Please try again in 3000 years. Have a nice day."

Yes, a short sci-fi allegory about humanity. That's how ridiculous this is, that's how ridiculous most terrorism, especially the Muhammad cartoon-controversy is to the civilized world, and Charlie Hebdo kept pointing that out.

So I debated with myself on whether or not to post the cartoons in question here. I don't wish to offend anybody, but these are just cartoons. I think the world is grown up enough to handle blasphemous cartoons, and if not, a little push in that direction wouldn't hurt. The more these cartoons are spread, the more commonplace and expected they become. Repeated exposure desensitizes. Hopefully, in time, this tiny fig leaf of justification the terrorists are claiming will get even tinier.

From left: I think the bubble text says "Must not mock!"
The center cartoon says, "The Koran is crap. It does not stop bullets."
Cartoon on the right says "Love is stronger than hate."

There's a bunch more (translated) here.


Bending space-time in his garage?

As I understand it, space and time are indivisible. And just by having mass, we are able to bend it, a very, very, insignificantly, virtually unmeasurable, tiny bit. That's not news; that's just what the documentaries and various Wikipedia articles tell me.

What is news, is this guy compressing space in his garage with some kind of motor. I assume, if this is real, the effect is measurable and not insignificant.
[A] strange instrument made up of V-shape panels with fractal arrays on the surfaces. . . is the latest version of what Pares believes is the world’s first low-power warp drive motor.

He turns around and points to the back of his garage door, where a red laser — beamed at the weight and reflected back against the door to demonstrate the movement happening in the case — drifts from its original spot. Slowly, in incremental amounts, the weight is drawn toward the V-shape motor.
I must digress here: unfortunately, those few sentences and one further in are the extent of the 'news' in the article. The other two dozen plus paragraphs are exposition, fluff, filler, and crap.

I really wish journalists would provide a little more detail as to what exactly is happening. If you don't understand it, then please explain what you saw in detail, and if you didn't see it (you shouldn't be writing the article then), try to explain in more than 2 sentences what is occurring with as little technical jargon as possible. Is not that the point of journalism?

If true, this is pretty big news. Compressing space is a key ingredient to any kind of plausible FTL or near light-speed travel. Professor Pares says he should have a "spacecraft" to demonstrate in 6 months.

Again, take this with a cubic light year of salt, because if it's not one thing with Warp Drive scientists, it's another.

Try googling David Pares and you'll run into more than the recommended dose (zero) of UFO idiot sites. This guy has no qualms about being interviewed by quacks. You're not helping reduce the stigma of Warp Drive science by associating with UFO fetishists, Pares.

(I mean come on, at this rate we'll have singularity-level AI robots before we get out of the solar system. They'll be building Warp Drives before we are.)

Then there's NASA's Harold 'Sonny' White, who is apparently working on a Warp Drive, but either smartly, or trollishly, won't say anything useful about it. But hey, at least we got a sweet artist's rendering, so I guess that's something:

Quickie review of The Interview

Better than expected, which is not saying much, but still not completely terrible. I enjoyed it, and laughed a few times (the cringe-inducing teenage ribaldry was there, but sparse). However, if this movie took place in a vacuum with no other context, it would be among the many mildly entertaining comedies which were utterly forgotten.

Yet, as is obvious, it was more than that. Not only was it an international political jab at a terrible regime, which approvingly* depicted a current dictator's assassination (I don't think that has been done from these high echelons in Hollywood since Hitler--and even then I'm not sure), but brought the ire of some (maybe North Korean) hackers leaking sensitive info and making 9/11 style threats.

Which in turn made the headlines and now our president and government got involved.

Who would've thought Seth Rogen and James Franco would have played a significant role in global politics, or what might be the opening of a major cyber front in the technically ongoing Korean War?

So, I guess this mildly entertaining comedy will be remembered. And despite the crude humor, that's a good thing. I hope the controversy around this movie enlightens a few million more people as to the ridiculousness that is the North Korean government. And perhaps its other, more subtle point, that international politics are ridiculous as well (and I almost think the world is reflexively trying to prove the movie right).

The movie is available everywhere online and some theaters. Even right here:

*There's a tiny bit of nuance and a bit of a plot twist they can hide behind there, but I would be spoiling the movie if I explained why.


Now I just want to see The Interview

Since Sony canceled it.

I never read nor cared much about the hacking and various leaks. From what I understand, it paints Sony leadership in a very bad light. I still don't care.

But I do like the idea of having movie companies able to operate without fear of some douchebag dictator, much less without fear of getting people blown up. Even if it's making awful turd sandwiches like what The Interview appears to be.

A month or so ago I watched the trailer and I was mildly intrigued. There aren't many movies about North Korea you know. But after watching the red band trailer it became painfully obvious that the movie relies far too heavily on idiotic teenage ribaldry. No thanks.

Then the #GOP (Guardians of Peace)--not to be confused with the GOP (Republican party), or the GOP (Gross Old People), or the oft underrated GOP (Grizzly Owl People)--threatened violence on the scale of 9/11 over a stupid movie.

This whole thing is either an elaborate and cruel prank, or the workings of a highly sensitive, self-absorbed, narcissistic douchebag. It is difficult to tell which.

Maybe Sony really went there and portrayed a petty dictator as a petty dictator. Or maybe it's just a red herring or convenient excuse for the hackers to hurt Sony. Or maybe Sony's got the most convoluted marketing campaign ever! Whatever it is, it kind of makes me want to see the movie now.

Content Warning: Strong Language

A few words on Cuba

It's about time.

If Obama will be remembered for anything positive, it's probably going to be this. While not ideal, still, good job. Props to the Obama administration.

I don't know if the theory about free trade and its liberalizing influence still holds much merit, but I think even while states are increasingly adept at avoiding such liberalization, exposing the masses to more trade and outside influence is generally a good thing.

Human rights: the not-so-ideal part about normalizing relations with Cuba. What is there to say besides that it sucks, and will take time to improve? Even the horrendous violator China is begrudgingly, slowly improving its human rights conditions.

I am reminded of that old Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon could go to China." It's funny, I don't think a Republican president would have dared, nor could have gotten away with this. I tend to doubt Hillary would've done so either--she seems hell-bent on appearing hawkish.

Perhaps only Obama could go to Cuba.*

*Except he didn't actually go to Cuba.


Short people rule the world.

Yesterday, I was doing a lot of handwashing, dishwashing, and other sink-related tasks. Today, my back really hurts.

I am barely 6' tall. That might be considered "tall", but increasingly it is nearing average; and soon, I'm willing to bet that it will be below average for American males (at least black and white males). People are getting taller and it's obvious.
What is that, like 3 inches off the ground? Who is this made for?

What I'm trying to say is that I am pretty damn close to average, and yet the standard countertops, bathroom sinks, toilets, and other miscellaneous surface heights are designed for 4 1/2 foot pygmies. 

I get it. Why make it difficult for short and disabled people to use the sink when we "tall" people can just bend down a bit more? Got to check your privilege, you entitled snowflakes.

Well, I checked my privilege, and have found that while I enjoy the idea of being "tall", the vast, vast majority of all furniture, surfaces, and utilities found in everyday America are not accommodating to anyone near my height. You must accept your back pain and awkward positioning, for the short people demand it! They can't be bothered to get a fucking stool.


I can dream. I dream of waking up in a strange new place. A world where I am the short person. Where I walk into what appears to be a bathroom, and have to use a stool just to climb atop a majestically behemoth toilet. Where every single thing is designed for 8' giants. I have no back pain. In fact, I probably have better posture than most because I'm always sitting or standing as tall as I possibly can, just to get by. That's a world I could get used to.

But I'll settle for a few more inches height on everything. Anything less is accepting the oppressive minoritarchy!


The Hobbit: 5 Armies, Mad Max trailers

Either you've seen these already or you don't care. My target audience is the .001% who were born yesterday and stumbled onto this blog with an interest in sci-fi/fantasy films. Rare birds.

Unlike most nerds, I have not actually read The Hobbit. So I don't know whats going to happen. I'm pretty sure Smaug will destroy a bunch of stuff and kill a lot of people. And Bilbo keeps the ring. Frankly, I'm just in it for the ride:

Also, a new Mad Max movie. I don't care much for the ritualistic torture, but that opening scene and the contrasting palette! They piled on the aesthetic frosting:

Our thought leaders

Perry over at Samizdata boldly went forth and commented on a Guardian article, which refers to the Pakistani and Arab rapists as "Asians."

Perry's comment:
I have never… ever… heard a person of Pakistani or Arab origins called ‘Asian’ in the UK other than in the mainstream media. Never. Not even once. ...
It was deleted of course. So what kind of comments aren't deleted on such an article?

This kind:
Perpetrators of abuse are members of society that come from all walks of life, all nationalities and creeds. How many members of society have known or know of a child that is being abused and do nothing about it. If you want to live in a civilised society then society has to take collective responsibility for their actions, otherwise it is just a veneer. It is the people that create and choose what kind of a society they want to be. Maybe some soul searching is in order.
I lol'd.

That comment isn't only not deleted, it is a recommended comment!

So a bunch of non-native "Asians" go on a raping rampage and the proper response is to "take collective responsibility" and do some "soul searching."

I may not be a fancy Guardian editor, but if a bunch of Americans went on a raping rampage in Pakistan, the last thing I would expect from Pakistan is for them to do some collective soul searching and ask how society contributed to it. That would be absurd. Comically absurd.

It's not because I think the West is superior or Pakistan is primitive, but because that kind of a response is a priori absurd. It's self-freaking-evident.

The only "soul searching" and "collective responsibility" going on should be about why the raping wasn't ended much, much sooner: Fear of being labeled racist. Nobody wants to be called "the nigger guy." That's a societal problem, that's an environment we created--Guardian editors probably more than others.

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