HermBack when I was born, some complete stranger picked me up by a hind leg, kinda thought he could detect an “outie” in my doughy undeveloped bits between my legs, and checked the MALE box on my birth certificate. And that was that. I was officially a boy – one of two choices on the official 1960s form. They took my foreskin and my tail without even asking, wrapped me up, and sent me home with a copy of that little form to start my “blue” training.

There was an unofficial third option, which basically meant leaving the form blank in the event of signs of both sets of genitals being present, or neither, until the parents chose which they’d prefer after a brief discussion with the obstetrician about what the kid would be more likely to find useful at puberty or after, moderated heavily by what sorts of surgery caused what lasting types of damage at the time. This was the 60s, remember.

A couple hundred years before that, before you were required to check in with the government in the event of being born, there were no official forms to inconveniently lock things down – and if there were, the local courthouse tended to burn down every fifty years or so anyway, making it moot. If things rearranged themselves “down there” the closer you got to puberty, you just kind of dealt with it the way you felt you ought to and tried not to make a big fuss. Everybody just kind of shrugged and there were a few unkind whispers maybe and the older folks just nodded because they knew that sometimes these things just happened, but it was personal stuff and nobody talked about it in polite company.

Everybody knows sex is more complicated, and I’m talking strictly medically for the moment, than whether you were born with an “innie” or an “outie”. At the extremely noticeable end, a kid is born with reasonably functional versions of both sets of genitals about four times in a million. If you had maybe 10,000 people in your biggest city, back in the day, this was seriously “once in a blue moon” territory. If you were in the Abrahamic traditions, maybe you dashed its little brains out with a rock and called it “stillborn”. Elsewhere, maybe you handed it over to the priests for “special training”. But these days, pick a metropolis and know that there are half a dozen, maybe two or three dozen full hermaphrodites walking around. Maybe their parents picked their favorite gender and had doctors “correct the situation” with no more thought than they give circumcision these days. Maybe they didn’t.

I call that noticeable, but it really isn’t, unless you have one of those obnoxious scanners they use at airport security.

It’s not just related to X and Y chromosomes either. Even more frequent than hermaphroditism is a condition called CAIS – Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. You’re born with a Y chromosome, but nothing in your body responds to the presence of the male hormones you produce. You develop as a female – the default condition – and frequently don’t find out you have undescended testes instead of ovaries until you try to find out why your period is weak/sporadic/not present or why you and your chosen man can’t seem to have babies. This condition happens to maybe one person in 50,000 with a Y chromosome, maybe one in 20,000 – and that range is so iffy because a lot of times it’s never diagnosed. Before the 90s, doctors used to just not tell the people who had it (or even their families) that their girl-child was kind of a boy, maybe.

And yes, that word “Complete” up there implies that there are “Partial” forms that are at least as common. And “Mild” forms as well.

When it comes down to it, there are literally thousands of genes that control or influence sex and gender and sexual preference, and not all of those are on the X and Y chromosomes. You do, in fact, have more than 20 other chromosomes, doubled, one from each parent. Probably. And some of the gene groups that are typically on an X or a Y chromosome can occasionally be duplicated elsewhere and passed down by one parent or another. What kinds of pheromones you’ll find yourself attracted to seems to be heavily influenced by your major histocompatibility complex, which is on chromosome 6. There are probably other clusters elsewhere that make sure you aren’t attracted to the scent of family members, and somewhere else that influences the degree to which you might be attracted to the pheromones produced by individuals with traditionally male and/or traditionally female hormones, and yet another set for whether you yourself produce a “male” set of pheromones or a “female” set or some mix of both.

And then there are more genes that influence things that are only socially associated with gender, like whether you like to wear bright colors (that trait seems to switch genders every few generations, along with several others) and what your endurance is like for extended shopping trips and how easily you cry when you’re upset. Since there’s a boat-load of things like that that we have been trained since coming home from the hospital to associate with sex and gender, how we find ourselves responding to a ton of different cues can affect our feelings of how we should identify ourselves with respect to sex and gender and sexual preference. Especially if we were raised to think there were two tiny immutable boxes on a government form that we need to make ourselves fit in.

The Bible doesn’t help much with this situation. Genesis 5:2, in the KJV (the oldest translation the fundamentalists care to train themselves to understand), it says, “Male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” Unless that “and” in “male and female” is interpreted to be the inclusive “and”, as in “both at the same time, maybe”, then the rest of this verse needs to have the words “with about a ten percent margin of error” added into it somewhere – or else be relegated to the pile of “about as scientifically accurate as the Creation story”.

People are born outside those MALE and FEMALE checkboxes on the official birth certificates (that we’ve only been taking seriously for a hundred years or so), in terms of sex and gender and sexual preference, about one time in ten – about as frequently as people are born left-handed, and for analogically similar reasons. It’s barbaric to pretend otherwise, barbaric and ignorant, and it’s barbaric and ignorant to treat the very common phenomenon of the misgendered, the sexually misidentified, and those who are attracted to genders we traditionally don’t expect them to be attracted to as disgusting, as damaged, as pariahs, or as disposable people or human garbage. These people are brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, coworkers, members of our communities and churches and clubs and groups and voters and fully-fledged &@#^#% human beings.

If you secretly think they’re going to Hell, then fine. That’s just ignorant bigotry and nobody can stop you. But leave bunk assignments in Hell to the god of your choosing. If you try to make life for these people Hell on Earth, you are so far out of line that the line is over the freaking horizon.

[*]

June 3, 2015 · Posted in Everything Else  
    
Chaotic mixing

A two-dimensional, zonally-symmetric tracer advected in the Northern Hemisphere. Reference: Peter Mills (2004) “Following the Vapour Trail: a Study of Chaotic Mixing of Water Vapour in the Upper Troposphere.” Master’s Thesis, University of Bremen CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain

It’s time for me to let you in on a secret. It’s not a big kind of secret secret, but it’s something that a few people out there would prefer you didn’t know. Kind of like a stage magician guild doesn’t want one of their members explaining how all the tricks work.

Look, it’s of interest to a lot of people — agencies and groups of people, too — to map who talks to whom. And to map what groups of people believe. And to see who in those groups are more influential, and who is more connected. The more totalitarian a government gets, the more interested in this sort of thing it becomes. For all the reasons you’d think, if you ever thought about it.

The trick is the Statistically Improbable Phrase. The made-up or misspelled word or grammatically ignorant clause or clever turn of phrase. These things are radioactive dye injected into the bloodstream. Barium enemas. Colored smoke in the air. Blood in the water. And they’re used to map human networks through social media. Through email and telephone calls too, if you’ve got the access.

An example: Google “dhimmitude“, a word invented in 1982. It’s use marks a network dominated by anti-Islamic sentiment, and the transmission vectors of this network are, by semantic analysis of their public communications, under-educated and fearful of outside domination or loss of privilege. The latest payload inserted into the network, detailed here in Snopes, uses a classic “dogs barking” opening (messages expressing fear or anger are far more likely to be forwarded than anything delivered in a neutral tone, much the way one dog barking at a raccoon in the night will start all the dogs in the neighborhood barking) and then blatantly lies about something that would take a lot of trouble to verify in a transparent attempt associate (high-energy) anti-Muslim fear with (lower-energy) distrust of the Affordable Care Act, thereby using the higher-energy carrier to spread the anti-ACA propaganda further. This also has the side-effect of enlarging the “dhimmitude” network for future propaganda purposes.

Then, of course, social networks can be polled on the “dhimmitude” keyword campaign to track any growth in the human spambot “dhimmitude” network. And provide feedback on the effectiveness of the last “dhimmitude” transmission to make sure it was worth the money spent developing the draft of the message. (Yes, these things are done for money — and the pay-by-the-word rate is the best a writer can hope for.) And then set a price for future access to the network to be paid by people who want to send them more propaganda.

These days it doesn’t take a lot of effort to see what networks someone active in social networking is a part of (or has been infected by, if the detected networks are insidious). A quick scan for the usual suite of keywords and statistically improbable phrases in perpetually scrolling timeline feeds is quite an excellent mapping tool, made tons more useful by a list of links to friends and followers who can also be mapped. A few lines of programming script makes it all a trivial task. And if you “like” a page of mine on Facebook, even something harmless that just shares jokes and funny pictures, this gives me an “in” for looking at your content and scanning your connections to friends and other known networks.

Blood in the water.

So next time you “like” something cute or funny you see on Facebook (from someone you don’t know personally) or “Share This if…” or forward an angry-sounding email that has already passed through numerous hands, please understand you are being studied for use as a propaganda vector and human spambot. By people who will be paid very good money to use you, who have no reason at all to have your best interests at heart. In fact, it is in their best interests to keep you ill-informed, angry, and ignorantly barking.

 

[*]

October 2, 2013 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

Chaos on the trading floorI keep seeing suggestions that we pay our senators and representatives minimum wage, and it’s kind of funny, picturing them living four to a two-bedroom rat-hole in a student/immigrant ghetto somewhere, pooling recycling deposits for a bottle of cheap liquor to split and/or reimburse the chump who picked up the dry-cleaning. The funniest part, though, is that they wouldn’t notice if we stopped paying them altogether.

Here’s a tiny, tiny piece of the reality of how our lawmakers actually get paid.

The House Agriculture Committee is in charge of regulations on complex financial derivatives. Once upon a time this made sense, because these derivatives originally existed as hedges against commodity failures. Blight, drought, livestock culls, etc. And you used to only be able to speculate in commodities (food futures and such) if you actually traded — i.e, bought or sold — commodities, because otherwise you could be in a position to deliberately tank a commodity the nation depended on so you could sell short or collect insurance and make a crap-ton of money while causing a good deal of actual misery to the populace in general.

Sounds complex, does it? Well thank God Wall Street doesn’t have to worry their simple little heads about how to get around tough regulations like that anymore. Protections like that are a thing of the past, baby.

Speaking of regulations, we nailed some back together, kind of haphazardly, after Wall Street tanked the Real Estate market and sold it short/collected insurance/got bailed out when the insurance firms collapsed (looking at you, AIG). Dodd-Frank, we called it. Anyway, some of those regulations are kind of, well, restricting to the Big 4 “Too Big to Fail/Too Big to Jail” banking monstrosities, so they flip a few grand (only counting the 2010/2012 election years) to their buddies on the Agriculture committee.

 

AgCommittee Contributions Bank of America Citigroup Goldman Sachs JP Morgan Chase   Grand Total
Rep. Randy Neugebauer [R, TX-19] $20,000 $9,000 $14,000 $9,000 $52,000
Rep. David Scott [D, GA-13] $16,000 $7,000 $11,000 $7,500 $41,500
Rep. Frank D. Lucas [R, OK-3] $12,000 $2,500 $15,000 $10,000 $39,500
Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher [R, TN-8] $10,000 $2,000 $10,500 $7,000 $29,500
Rep. K. Michael Conaway [R, TX-11] $5,000 $16,000 $1,000 $22,000
Rep. Christopher P. Gibson [R, NY-19] $5,000 $15,000 $20,000
Rep. Mike Rogers [R, MI-8] $2,500 $11,000 $3,500 $17,000
Rep. Juan Vargas [D, CA-51] $3,500 $5,000 $6,000 $14,500
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge [D, OH-11] $6,500 $4,500 $11,000
Rep. Mike McIntyre [D, NC-7] $1,000 $1,000 $8,500 $10,500
Rep. Jeff Denham [R, CA-10] $4,500 $3,000 $500 $1,000 $9,000
Rep. Kristi L. Noem [R, SD-0] $2,000 $5,500 $7,500
Rep. Collin C. Peterson [D, MN-7] $5,500 $5,500
Rep. Vicky Hartzler [R, MO-4] $2,000 $2,000 $1,000 $5,000
Rep. Dan Benishek [R, MI-1] $5,000 $5,000
Rep. Kurt Schrader [D, OR-5] $2,500 $2,000 $4,500
Rep. Jim Costa [D, CA-16] $1,000 $3,500 $4,500
Rep. Bob Goodlatte [R, VA-6] $1,000 $2,000 $1,000 $4,000
Rep. Austin Scott [R, GA-8] $3,000 $3,000
Rep. Doug LaMalfa [R, CA-1] $2,000 $2,000
Rep. Timothy J. Walz [D, MN-1] $2,000 $2,000
Rep. Pete P. Gallego [D, TX-23] $1,000 $1,000
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney [D, NY-18] $1,000 $1,000
Rep. Chris Collins [R, NY-27] $1,000 $1,000
Rep. Scott DesJarlais [R, TN-4] $500 $500
TOTALS $85,000 $34,000 $123,000 $71,000 $313,000

That’s not a lot. Not a living wage, anyway. But the Big 4 Banks have to pay the rest of the legislative branch another $4.5 million for other good and valuable considerations and can’t be bothered to be the sole patrons keeping these poor chumps alive. Fortunately these guys in the Agriculture Committee alone racked up another whopping $50 MILLION DOLLARS since the start of 2010 from other generous donors in other industries. That’s all 47 of them, not just the 25 listed above, so that’s only a million a head, and split over four years. On average, of course. Only one person gets to be the chairman after all. So some members of congress have to be on BUNCHES of committees so they can grab enough from a number of different troughs to get by.

Please, don’t take my word for it. I’m hosting a copy of this free-to-download set of spreadsheets over here on Google Docs just in case you don’t want to pay Microsoft money to view the misery. (For some reason LibreOffice choked trying to open this, but I fear that was simply disgust. Or the pivot tables.)

My personal view is that this crap shouldn’t be remotely legal. There’s a reason we have words for “bribes” and “graft” and “corruption”. But the truth is that our legislators would have to be the ones to make the laws to make buying the favors of our officials illegal. Or to restore any that they’ve previously repealed. Could be an issue. Because obviously publishing a list of their names and the size of the bribes and who they came from doesn’t #^@&ing work.

MapLight.org has their much under-viewed expose over here. Go look.

[*]

April 3, 2013 · Posted in Everything Else  
    
Wealth Inequality in America

Wealth Inequality in America

Every day I see claims that we are risking a nationwide uprising by proposing to restrict the rights of irresponsible gun owners. I think that’s hysterical. Because what’s REALLY going to trigger the next revolution is when half of the nation can’t make ends meet because the lazy, layabout, entitlement-seeking, non-working INVESTOR CLASS has hijacked the bulk of the GDP of this growing economy and stashed it in offshore accounts.

The starving poor might not be able to afford guns to stage an armed uprising, but they for damn sure can afford a cheap cigarette lighter from the corner convenience store. And someday soon every house in this nation worth more than a million dollars will be on fire.

The American Revolution had nothing to do with the British trying to take away the colonists’ guns. It wasn’t even really about taxation without representation, as the taxes being levied were only a means to an end. And that end was to keep they people who earned the money for the British landowners and merchants from having enough money to buy themselves out of what was effectively slavery — working their asses off every day for not quite enough money to live on and being unable to put back enough to retire or quit or found ventures that could compete with the few who already owned everything.

Tell me, do you smell smoke?

March 4, 2013 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

A couple of words for you gun owners out there. First of all congratulations on your recent major accomplishment. Here’s what you did.

1) Raise unfounded panic that the President is out to take away your precious guns — because a legal gun owner let her precious guns slip out of her protection and get used by her disturbed son to massacre a bunch of elementary school children and their teachers.

2) Take this panic to all of the social media outlets and spark the hugest boom in gun and ammo sales in modern history so that anyone who can afford several hundred dollars of hardware can now protect themselves from the criminals and assassins — who I can only assume are their own disturbed children, considering the recent event that triggered the cascade.

3) Ammunition sells out everywhere, meaning that cops — you remember cops? Those friends, relatives, and neighbors of yours who protect your OTHER friends, relatives, and neighbors who are too young or too old or too poor to buy their own guns and stockpile their own ammo? Those guys? — COPS can’t buy any ammo for their own guns, either to carry on the street or to practice with down at the range.

Congratulations. Your selfish fake-fear-driven panic — triggered by a failure of legal gun ownership to require the discipline that responsible ownership of weapons requires, I might add — has screwed the only people ever given any training to deal with the use of deadly weapons in a civilian arena and ensured that the predators we have to live with constantly will further narrow their targets to the poor, the sick, and the elderly. Because #^@& them, right? Maybe some cowboy-wannabe in the neighborhood will put in a good bullet in their defense, if they just happen to be in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time and feel like putting their own ass on the line for the kind of people who have to live in the crappier areas of town.

You #^@&head cowards. You gullible chumps. You stupid, simpering, parrot-mouthed tools of the fascist, bigoted, hate-fueled corporate greed-machine. You are the loving broomhandle used to caress the underprivileged into submission in the dark corners of the world you keep yourselves blind to.

I’m sick of how easy you make it to stampede you off any convenient cliff. You sign up for it. You volunteer.

You want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, gun owners? Obviously, seeing as manufacturers and retailers only sell them to the law-abiding, the answer is that you guys have to STOP #^@&ING TURNING INTO CRIMINALS. Right? That’s the only logical answer, right? YOU have to stop being criminals, or giving guns to criminals, or selling guns under the table to criminals, or letting criminals break into your exceptionally well-defended houses and apartments and cars and handbags and stealing your precious guns. YOU are the #^@&ing weak link, here. YOU buy guns. YOU give your guns up to criminals. And then you whine because you’re afraid things will change so that you can’t buy more guns to hand over to criminals. You’re afraid someone will take away your remaining guns BECAUSE YOU KNOW IT’S BEEN YOUR #^@&ING FAULT ALL ALONG.

Alternately — and understand this is a bit of a wishful-thinking stretch — you can STOP MANUFACTURING CRIMINALS with your bigotry and hate and fears and slapping all the opportunities to make a legal success of oneself out of the hands of strangers so your ungrateful and undeserving children can have the first overprivileged chance to screw it up to spite you. Let’s see you build new and better schools out of your stockpiled boxes of ammo, rural OR urban. Let’s see you build the after-school enrichment programs that encourage entrepreneurial thinking and invention with your marksmanship. You’re so afraid someone who isn’t white will get a leg up, someone who isn’t straight, someone who isn’t your religion, maybe even some uppity woman, that you’ll deny the best opportunities to your own children, making it just that tiny bit more likely that even they will have to cheat and steal in order to compete or even survive.

Anyway, there’s your answer. And, as you’ve been saying forever, it has nothing to do with guns themselves, but everything to do with gun owners. To recap:

1) Stop being criminals.

2) Stop putting your guns in the hands of criminals.

3) Stop manufacturing criminals by spreading hate and poverty and oppression.

Tell me I’m wrong. I #^@&ing dare you.

[*]

February 19, 2013 · Posted in Everything Else  
    
2012 US Presidential Election, State by State, Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight.nytimes.com

2012 US Presidential Election, State by State, Nate Silver, http://FiveThirtyEight.NYTimes.com

So the 2012 Us Presidential Election is over and went exactly as predicted by Nate Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times website. This is unsurprising to me, as Silver has had many years of practice at collecting this kind of data and analyzing its worth based on the sources involved and is a competent mathematician.

Still, a huge number of people are surprised. And angry. And crying foul. Because these facts — the measurement of the universe in its current state — are not consistent with what they knew in their hearts to be true.

I blame a combination of things, the chiefest of which are sadistic manipulators who set out to lie to these people deliberately so as to milk their wallets to back a lame mule in a horse race (said sadists being under a separate delusion that the world is cynical enough that a tarted up mule with the best press money can buy can win a horse race). Also I blame Walt Disney.

Stern denial of a fact one does not like, whether one’s heart is filled with bitter hatred or sorrow or the strong emotion of one’s choice or not, will not alter that fact. Ask anyone who has ever watched a loved one die. Neither will wishing really, really hard. (I’m looking at you, Disney.) Facts aren’t poisoned fairies that one can cure with child-like (read: naive) belief and clapping one’s hands.

Nor can one simply apply money and go shopping for facts one likes better, or have them manufactured to order in “fact”-mills. Because people are predictable, they will take your money and give your something in return, but the thing they give you will be something known in common parlance as a “lie”.

And paying huge wads of money to distribute these lies to the largest number of people possible and having them all clap their hands and believe really hard (paying attention, Disney?) will never make your lies true. All it does is leave a large number of people angry, with hands sore from clapping, soaking in the lovely feeling of what it’s like to be bilked for a chump.

Some national cultures have quaint traditions for ridding themselves of this chumpy feeling, frequently expressed in terms of taking to the streets and smashing up stuff and setting huge stacks of tires on fire — when they can’t get their hands on the bilkers and include them in the festivities. These celebrations are too huge and colorful to be fully described with such a tiny word as “riot”, but we’ll make do.

Facts are the way things are. If it helps, you can think of facts as the expressed will of the god of your choice. Many do, and those are typically happier people, and less bilkable. Also, if it helps, you can think of faith as sticking to your guns in the face of inevitable unfavorable outcomes — again, many do — instead of a childlike naive magical belief that, if performed strongly enough, backed firmly with unwavering, profound yet unfounded emotion (thanks again, Disney), will warp the world in the direction of your strongest and most selfish desires.

Screw you, FOX NEWS — and screw your owners and programmers — for the misery-spreading propaganda engine you are, and, yes, also, screw you, Disney, for lying to five generations of children about how the world works and what faith means.

 

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November 7, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

I write fiction. Here. Let me spin you a lie for the sake of pure entertainment.

There’s no such thing as truth. Words are everything. Regardless of what you see or hear or feel yourself, it’s nothing but confusing noise. Because of your limited powers of understanding you recognize only bits and pieces, trying desperately to concentrate only on the parts that make sense to you, and you understandably forget the noise. In fact, you don’t even remember the stuff you recognize. You remember only the words that you encode the noise into, and those words become your paltry substitute for truth and experience. And you, with your limited vocabulary, do a piss-poor job of it.

To try to make up for this, you turn to the words of more eloquent and charismatic bastards and let them overwrite your impoverished encapsulations in order to allow a more important and more memorable version of reality to thrive — a version that you can discuss with other people who have heard the same speeches and who, in general, tend to agree with you.

For the sake of belonging to this group — people who you hope will get your back in a scuffle and help take care of you in your declining years — you’re happy to allow this to happen to you, this overwriting of your sketchy approximation of reality. Further, the duty of belonging requires that you propagate it to others — less to convince outsiders, because that’s frankly impossible as they are undergoing their own onslaught of words from inside their own groups — but more toward reinforcing the subjugation of reality among your peers so that everyone stays together in these dark and confusing times.

If you don’t allow this corruption of your memories and thoughts and attitudes, and reinforce it among your peers, you will be outcast. And if you do cooperate, reality itself bends around you to enfold you in a comforting shape. And eventually the reality of the largest group of people will win out, thereby forcing their version of reality on their enemies and the undecided. This is the power of belief, the power of faith.

This is the necessary process to shrink the scary and unfathomable world to a manageable size, the critical parts of which you can now stuff in your head and thereby know how to be a righteous human being — this process of willful ignorance of your own experience and this subjugation of your impoverished view of the world to the goals of those who’d expend you all you hold dear for a greater good that you must not doubt exists, that you must not doubt has objective merit, because you know you’ve wagered your soul. And willingly participated in encouraging the same in your friends and family.

Just so that if it all goes wrong and you stand wanting and hideously embarrassed at the Final Judgment you can point to the serpent and say you were deceived. It’s a pathetic defense, but when you face the God of Infinite Mercy it should suffice, right?

I write fiction. I know the stuff of lies because I tell them. I invent them for my own amusement and to entertain others — and occasionally, as do we all, to protect the feelings of those I care about and to defend myself from the consequences of my actions when I act selfishly. I know lies the way a carpenter knows wood. The way a sculptor knows marble.

Beyond lies, I know there’s an objective reality that’s much deeper than the ones people build out of a foam of clever words, even though actual reality can look different from different vantage points. I know there’s a universe that, from our viewpoint embedded in time and space, is ancient and vast, but not uncountably or immeasurably so, and that doesn’t require any kind of miracle to explain either itself or its mechanisms. And while I’m still subject to the power of wonder, I don’t require any belief that it has any parts that are beyond my capacity to understand if I give it the time and study it deserves.

Our senses might limit the amount of the universe that we may directly experience, but we can know more about it than we can encode into words, regardless of the relative sizes of our vocabularies. And despite the limitations of both our senses and the machines that we build out of logic and science, we can measure the bulk of it and extrapolate as far as we dare.

We aren’t required to live our lives in a fog of other people’s lies, in denial of the evidence of our own sense and senses, and hope for the best. We can — and must — test everything we are told to see if it’s made out a foam of lies or if it can bear weight.

Here’s a test, especially relevant in today’s “post-truth” era of rampant greed.

Where does the message come from? Who paid money to have the message constructed and disseminated? What profit would the originator reap in having the message widely accepted as truth? Does this message contradict any information from sources that aren’t profit-motivated? If so, which source has better access to the equipment and personnel to make direct observations of the phenomena in question?

It’s a simple and effective test, but we balk at applying it because we’re afraid we’d be ostracized by our chosen side if we’re seen to show any doubt in our side’s doctrines. We’re afraid, more than of being wrong and knowing it, of being unsupported and alone. That makes us a planet full of chumps and cowards. It makes us tools capable of atrocities we can only barely comprehend in the hands of wealthy and charismatic fiends that killed their own consciences in the cradle. Or ate ’em in their respective wombs.

And that’s no lie.

 

[*]

October 27, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

The hypothetical ship is exceptionally unlikely; we must refer to it only in the subjunctive.

If this ship were to exist, it would be called Torquemada’s Conscience.

Are all boats female? Should I refer to a hypothetical vessel as “she”? Or should we be just as likely to assume the possibility of an alien gender incompatible with a typical human grasp of biology, subject to a certain amount of drift with respect to maturity and/or environment? It’s possible the best course here is to maintain a tone of casual and detached neutrality.

The crew of the hypothetical ship is less hypothetical and more simply undefined. I am the closest thing to a skipper at the moment, the chief servant to the hypothetical ship itself and to all of its terrible purposes. Elsewhere is the first mate (the chief officer and organizer), the second mate (navigator and signaler), the third mate (nurse and emergency management), the boatswain (foreman of the crew), the engineer, the cook, and all of the hands. Elsewhere in space and time, mostly in the future.

I don’t pretend to have any serious maritime training or academy certification. I have a minimum of sailing experience. On an actual sea-going vessel I’d be somewhere between able seaman and living ballast. I understand which bit goes in the water and which bit sticks up and all the basic physics that makes that happen. I understand how sails and keels and rudders work and how to keep a sail trim. I know to duck when someone calls “jibe ho!” — and I will possibly even duck if not on deck. I can tell which direction is north on a clear night and I know how and when magnetic compasses lie. But that’s about it. I will not belittle a holder of an actual maritime license by an inappropriate comparison.

But the capricious seas of the subjunctive are different waters. They require a different kind of vessel that steers by different stars, buoyed and blown by an entirely new kind of physics, of which I am one of a very small number of experts.

Even that is a fairly weak claim. Any position I have by default is certainly only temporary while I wait to be surpassed by those who come after me, just as I supplant the ones who have come before. But it’s not about me. It’s about the ship and the seas it would sail, and its crew, and cargo, and passengers, and various routes and destinations and ports of call.

To what purposes must a hypothetical ship be put? And how, terrible? What can it carry? Where can it go? What possible point could it serve by, hypothetically, existing? In what way is it different from Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot, or, for that matter, any arbitrary divinity?

Believe me when I say I understand why you must ask these questions. I assure you I have answered these questions for myself, and a thousand more like them. I am who I am in relationship to the Torquemada’s Conscience, partially but measurably defined by it even though it might not actually exist as more than a construct for the sake of argument. As a concept, it has weight easily the equal of all the others adrift in the currents of the subjunctive.

Like any other object, even hypothetical, the ship has inherent properties. Until and unless it were to physically exist, it would not have to have any physical properties, but that does not mean Torquemada’s Conscience is free of all properties. It has a name. It has, for the sake of argument, a provisional skipper. Even this close to complete nonexistence, it can have.

What else can it have?

It can have a terrible purpose.

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September 18, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

Death Playing Chess by Albertus Pictor (1440-1507). Täby Kyrka, Diocese of Stockholm. Photo August 2003 by Håkan Svensson (Xauxa).I am not “pro-life”, because if I were I would have to revere life wherever I found it, and I can’t do that. I see life where it doesn’t belong, in the hands of people who would use the gift to cause tremendous misery. We have no choice, in any of ten thousand situations, but to keep the confiscation of life on the table as an option to prevent suffering and misery.

Every action we take as a nation promotes life and causes deaths, shifting the balance points around, increasing and decreasing the odds of continued survival for various individuals en masse. The nation-state murders dangerous felons and occasionally innocent people we thought were felons. Wars murder people — enemy soldiers, any civilians who were too close to targets or who were mistaken for enemy soldiers, and occasionally our own soldiers and allies by mistake. Soldiers who can’t handle the conflict, or who can’t handle the life that they return to after they return from conflict, take their own lives, and we are responsible.

Embargoes starve the poor in nations with which we refuse commerce and humanitarian aid. Reduction of aid to our own citizens who have nowhere else to turn causes starvation and sufficient misery to provoke murder over what resources there, suicide in those who can’t handle the pain, and the death of sacrifice in those who simply wish to leave more to go around for their families.

Failure to clean up chemical spills and radiation and pollution kills by degrees upping the rates of sickness and cancer in those who can’t afford to leave the land we’ve fouled. We even wreck the weather. The misery from poverty and loss and lack of hope causes increases in addiction and violent crime and suicide and increases in any of a number of risky behaviors that people seek out to escape the pain.

With nearly every decision we make, we opt to kill people all the time, sometimes in ignorance, sometimes in hubris, and sometimes in deliberate acts — and most of the time people consider those deaths acceptable consequences. It’s stupid even to pretend we think life is sacred.

And I, consciously, do not so pretend. I think hugest portion of the killing we do is ignorant and pointless and wasteful and beyond reprehensible, but, and this is extremely rarely, sometimes I think it’s justified, and, I am forced to admit, sometimes I think death doesn’t happen to some of the people who most need killing. I do not hypocritically pretend that life, as a phenomenon, like fire perhaps, is sacred and must be preserved wherever we find it. Life isn’t sacred. Life, like fire, or anything else, is sanctified — or desecrated — by what you do with it. Life, like fire, requires resources, and sometimes those resources are in short supply. Also, sometimes death is welcomed as a mercy, as an end to suffering and misery, when all hope of other options has failed.

Every mother that is of a species that has to care for the children she gives birth to faces the same choices. After the travails of birth, she does a headcount. Every mouthful she feeds to a new child is a mouthful that she cannot feed to her other children and that she herself cannot eat — and her first duty is to stay alive and healthy well enough to care for her helpless charges. Thus, the headcount. Thus, the decision of who lives and who dies. The eldest and the strongest get preference, because they’re closest to being able to help out. Those she cannot afford to feed are destroyed or left to starve.

Humans are not absolved from this choice.

Humans are not absolved from this choice, and anyone who thinks we are, that we could be, that we ought to be, is so far removed from the realities of life and death that I’d have to say they’ve never even met reality. Humans are not, can not, will not be absolved from this choice until money rains from the heavens like manna — and pregnant women and mothers are allowed to keep the lion’s share. How likely is that?

And even then there would still be a choice, because a woman can only do so much, and she is the only one qualified to know how much that is.

Yes, there is charity. But face it — charity comes from poor people who can see one another’s pain. A slower trickle comes from those who can finally make ends meet, because they remember what it was like. And the people who could afford to feed whole villages, towns, even cities of hungry children toss off the odd thousand dollars here or there and use the rest to buy yachts. The churches could empty their coffers every week, staffed only by volunteers instead of employees, and we would need ten times that amount of money, even for a country as well-off and church-ridden as ours.

And abortion is a mercy, to both the potential mother and the unaffordable-on-so-many-different-scales children, because it is so much more merciful than a pillow held over a newborn infant’s face — the only safe-to-the-mother solution where abortion is not available. And that, of course, is hands-down better than leaving a newborn to the wolves and trying to forget the crying as you walk away.

It’s cheaper, too, and way less risky to the health of a woman who has other critical responsibilities.

So-called leaders who cannot understand this fundamental choice that must be made by women now and then have no business making any other life-or-death decision anywhere else, because their judgment is clearly flawed. Pie-in-the-sky idealistic. Ignorantly hopeful. Divorced from reality.

God is in charge of life and death, they say. Only God should decide who lives and who dies. Well God doesn’t start wars or declare embargoes or dump filth into the drinking water and poison the fish and livestock. All of those distant people are murdered without a second thought — except the murderers know enough of guilt to hide like cockroaches when the lights come on when someone demands an accounting.

God is in charge of life and death? Really? Then sometimes God is a woman, bawling with tears over the agony of the choice, motivated by the goal of the survival and comfort of the survivors. That other God must be away on business then, steering hurricanes after homos and wrecking entire impoverished nations with earthquakes.

Life and death is in our hands, not just might-be mothers, every day, shifted from one place to another with the shovel of every decision we make. This is why each of us has a conscience. This is why I will never understand yachts. This is why I know that people who don’t understand the choice a woman sometimes has to make kill the people they kill with blindfolds on and their favorite music cranked at maximum volume on their iPods to drown out the screams of the dying. Because God will save the ones he likes and kill the ones he doesn’t and that’s why it’s A-OK to force His hand and fire bullets into the sky, not caring where they come down.

Those people are the biggest single source of misery on earth, and some of us nearly worship them. To say I don’t get it is a massive, massive understatement.

If you want to go save the life of a child that would otherwise not get born, by all means, go save one. Find one of the thousands of women every year who desperately wants a baby, for whom the only reason they must choose abortion is not enough money to quit her job (even temporarily) and then be able to feed and house and clothe herself and the child, and dedicate the next couple of decades of your life to help support her and the baby, free of any obligation to yourself. You will never see the kind of joy that you would see then.

Go on. Do it.

Go to the overflowing orphanages and foster homes and adopt a couple of the kids you know you could support to make room in the system, so that mothers who are willing to give birth if only someone would take the child in would know that there is room in the system for their baby to get the care he or she will need.

Go on. Do it.

Go round up a couple of the violent bastards — fathers, husbands, boyfriends, whatever — who stand ready to beat or kill their daughters or wives or girlfriends if they ever find out she got pregnant. Get them out of the way however it needs to be done. Put them in jail. Consult any of a number of easily obtainable references on how to cleanly dispose of bodies. Whatever. Remove these diseased threats to the life of the woman and the child she would love to have.

Go on. Do it.

And then there’s prevention. Talk to your daughters and sons about birth control and get them whatever they need. Grab a bat and work over that old college buddy who you know has a serious habit of getting women drunk and taking advantage of them while their defenses are down. Lurk in the favorite dark alley of your choice and remove any rapists you find from the gene pool. Put coasters in bars with built-in test strips so women can tell that their drinks are free from GHB and rohypnol and ketamine and benzos and Ambien. Lobby your lawmakers to make getting caught with such substances in a bar or concert or other public gathering the crime that it is, with attendant horrific punishment.

Go on. Do it.

And unless you’re trying to have a baby with someone who is willing and ready to have a baby, make sure a damn condom is in the way. Use a couple of different methods, just in case, because sometimes any method can fail. Make birth control part of foreplay.

You’ve heard of foreplay, right?

Or, you know, just fire your bullets into the air, for both yourself and the horny teenagers under your roof, and pray for God to sort it out. But you know how well that works.

Women have been playing the “How many can I fit in the lifeboat?” game since the beginning of time, aided by mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters and midwives and daughters and cousins and nieces, and you’re a chump and a fool if you think outlawing abortion is going to put an end to that. It will just up the stakes of the misery your daughters go through — infection, a womb too scarred to bear children later, gangrene, bleeding out, disgrace, disownment, jail time, maybe even execution if some have their way. Because sometimes even that risk is preferable to being beaten more often, or watching all of your children sit around and get skinny, or being thrown out of the only home you know.

So what’s your call? Order everyone into the lifeboats even though you know it will swamp a few and send all of their human contents to the bottom — or let the people who are stronger than you quietly make the soul-breaking decisions that will save as many as possible?

Either way, you never have to know anything about it. No one is taking away your precious blindfold or iPod.

 

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August 29, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

petroglyph logoWell, I’d promised not to cross-post everything I put up at the Journal of American Hoodoo, but my latest article, One of Many Problems with Religion, is an excellent follow-up to my previous post, The Trouble with Science.

Here’s a sample, with the main thesis:

Octopus uses empty shells to hide-Wikimedia Commons-Nick Hobgood

…this is the problem concept: that humans are special, are blessed, are chosen to be God’s favored children, are somehow above the animals and plants and everything else that lives, and have a God-given right of power over life and death with respect to them.

I’m not sure how all of that made it into the dominant narratives, because much of the scripture it’s based on stops well short of the worst of that in wording. But religions are made out of a huge body of traditions that, in those that do have scriptures, have very little support in those scriptures.

One of those traditions is a magic invisible body that inhabits the physical body and is the seat of awareness — a soul, the presence of which is a distinction between legitimate humans and animal kind. For instance, Judaic stories that pre-date the days of the Babylonian exile make no mention of this concept, and all the terminology bears strictly upon the ability to see and hear and breathe and react, a property shared with all of the animals and, as we dig deeper scientifically, present analogously in all living forms.

The concept of an immortal soul and possible attendant resurrection — either spiritual or physical — was obtained abroad, most likely in Egypt and surroundings, and brought back to be incorporated piecemeal into canon in the words of the more wild-eyed of the post-Mosaic prophets. [….]

[…] The soul is the biggest poorly-founded artificial division between Us and Them that many take as divine license to disregard Their merit, as it were. Because the dominant narrative says we can bedevil and torture and kill the soulless without consequence. We have a nasty tendency to claim the absence of a soul in anyone we don’t like, calling them monsters and animals and things instead of people, making them the embodiment of Other, and then the only consequences we have to deal with involve cleaning up the mess — and occasionally fending off the people who take issue with our declaration of the absence of a soul in our victims.

Prior to the assumption of the presence or absence of a soul in ourselves and various creatures, we managed to empathize enough with our livestock and prey and sacrificial victims to make it a matter of policy to kill them quickly and painlessly and with mercy. It seems quite plausible that it’s the assumption of the presence of a soul in Us and an absence in Them that turns US into monsters.

If you want to read more, go check it out.

 

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August 27, 2012 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

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