Social authoritarianism

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:



More recommended tv shows

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.


Star Trek: Discovery

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.


None of the above?

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.


A little bit about effective space travel

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.


Thought leaders, cool kids, signalling, & the beast

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.


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!"



"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.


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? 

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