"I'm lost."

“I’m lost.”

Okay, let’s break it down.

The most primal and basic unit of social organization is the parent-child bond. The parenting instinct. Then there is the slightly more secondary need for a child to support the parent as the individual approaches maturity so that the parent can produce more siblings. Then a parent-like caring for younger brothers and sisters so that they can live to maturity. Then a caring for nieces and nephews, and grandchildren, and so on.

Organisms that experiences these urges for family care have a much better chance to have their genes passed along, outside of extraordinary personal genetic fitness, than those who do not. These are the urges that balance personal survival against the survival of the group. The ones that encourage personal sacrifice and loyalty in exchange for past sacrifices made on your behalf as a child, and the promise of loyalty to you in the future. Some minimal amount of mutuality, based on who needs it more. A sharing of burdens and resources.

The tribe is the next larger unit. Your know your tribal breeding population is made up of family members, some close, some more distant. Political strife begins to occur as families compete for dominance within the tribe, for better access to food and shelter, for elevated breeding privileges. But when there is a threat to your tribe from the outside, you fight for your tribe.

And next you have your community of tribes, more tolerated than loved, and kept around for exchanging maturing juveniles to prevent the horrors of prolonged inbreeding, each in subtle competition with the others, so that perceived elevation in tribal status draws the best candidates for sexual transfer from the other tribes.1

This is basic baboon stuff. We are primates after all. As the Chinese Crested Dog is to a wolf, we are the weak, body-naked, pouf-of-hair-on-top, tongue-lolling, shivering-in-a-sweater embarrassment to our remaining cousins in the Great Apes.

Every human organization — every cult, every religion, every club, every company, every gang, every military unit, every fraternity or sorority, every political party — every organization that survives does so by co-opting one or more levels of the familial-tribal-community bonds, by making us form physical neural associations with those built-in bonds through verbal language or body language or the more intimate language of pats and grips and hugs of mammalian oxytocin-releasing human contact, and demanding that these proffered strangers be treated as close family, with known roles and rules of interaction between members. Known roles, plus those two or three more insidious piggy-backed rules from the Creed or the membership booklet or employee handbook….

The point of vulnerability for being inducted, in every case, is a lost-and-alone state of alienation and the attendant feelings of exposure and endangered access to critical resources — when you are down and lonely and poor and sick and need help and comfort. And continued membership is enforced with threats of the ultimate social punishment for noncompliance and misbehavior — expulsion, the removal of the membership component of your individual identity, ostracism, and the potential future identification as an enemy of the group. A return to that agonizing lost and lonely and broke/broken state. And then possible attack on the other side of that.

And then there’s depression.2

A tendency to depression is anything but a survival trait for an individual, and I’m sure we all have a curiosity concerning how it gets passed down, but, see, it’s a survival trait for a family or tribe. It is a survival trait for a family to breed members who can be useful, but if the circumstances don’t allow them to be useful, they can lay down and die on demand. If your family, or tribe, or community, or an artificial surrogate for any of the above, declares you to be a worthless burden, it is a survival trait for them to be able to tell you to lay down and die and stop consuming resources the rest of the group needs — for you to die without fighting, risking injury to a more valuable member of the tribe.

For you to volunteer to feed the circling predators. For you to sacrifice yourself.

Which makes depression, like addiction, a social disease.3,4

Our own families can be a bit of a let-down sometimes. They are our first line of defense against crushing and frequently murderous social isolation, where we can make the mistake of letting disapproval cause debilitating distance. And that’s leaving out the fact that some family relationships can turn so toxic that we have to create that break ourselves. But frankly that’s just (occasionally lethal) primate familial wear and tear. A disease of a different order.

Where I’m going with this is that if someone who is not your flesh-and-blood relation calls you brother or sister, and they are merely co-members of an organization that you have joined, then your basic primate familial connectivity protocols have been infected by an organizational parasite that is using these bonds to create a super-organism that can use you and discard you like you use and discard cells.

Like with many parasites, it could be beneficial, or at least not actively malign. But, like with most parasites, that’s not the way to bet. Look for an emphasis on being a team player, on the extent to which personal risk and self-sacrifice is rewarded or even worshiped (coded in terms of glory and honor), and … look in the nearest gutter for your fallen “brothers” and “sisters”. Because an actual family (or a decent family-surrogate) takes care of its non-earners — children, the sick, the elderly, the retired, the crippled — and in a day where there are no wolves does not throw anyone to the wolves. In a day where there is enough food for everyone will not make someone lay down and cry themselves to death so that the healthier children and laborers can eat.

Well. Some actual families do do that. You should get well away from those, too.

I look at companies that kick out their longest-serving employees to prevent paying them the worth of their experience, that exile them before retirement and pensions become mandatory, and I see a vicious parasite. I look at cults that shun the members that question their authorities, and I see parasites. I see the US military branches and the suicide rates among their veterans, I know them to be parasites. (If they cared about how their soldiers end up, they should stop accepting new oaths of service until things are fixed.) I see the police and how they are turned into angry dogs and pitted against racial “undesirables”, and I know they have been infected. Infected and armed. I see gangs that turn the lonely into soldiers and use them up so that the big dogs at the top can rake in money, and I see the same kind of parasite that infects Wall Street to chew up MBAs. I see political parties with the exact same memetic markers.

And I see these organizations competing with one another for resources for themselves and expending humanity in the scuffles like we spend cash for dinner.

I see parasites the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization should be studying with an eye toward isolation and eradication.

When you have become infected by one of these organizations, you give up the power to them, to use you, to discard you, and to crush you down until you feel like dying because of the way they can pretend to be your family.

Just, you know. Keep your eyes open, and try to find your real family before the fake ones convince you to lay down and die because you’re not useful to them.

 

[*]

 

____________________

1  Cf. The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins.

2  Seriously: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ . Or on Twitter, @800273TALK . It’s okay if you need some help.

3  Before you hit up the infamous Rat Park stories on addiction and social isolation, be aware that there are plenty of actual relevant-to-human studies, with better controls and less serious flaws, that point to social isolation as being a huge factor in human struggles with addiction.

4  And before you go whizzing away on the idea that depression is all in your head, with no physical medical component, please remember that your brain is, for the sake of an oversimplified analogy, a computer made out of meat, and that “programming” is represented by physical reconfiguration of said meat, and that means medication works. You can’t cure everything with a hug.

January 30, 2018 · Posted in Everything Else  
    
Colombian symphylan, head and anterior legs. Tömösváry organ (arrow) near base of antenna.

Diego Alberto Salazar Moncada, Jaime Calle-Osorno, Freddy Ruiz-Lopez – Salazar-Moncada DA, Calle-Osorno J, Ruiz-Lopez F (2015) Morphological and molecular study of Symphyla from Colombia. ZooKeys 484: 121-130. doi:10.3897/zookeys.484.8363

“If you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.”

Zabs-Dkar Tshogs-Drug-Ran-Grol. The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin. Albany: SUNY Press, 1994. p. 295.

 

I was just doing some light Sunday morning reading, William S. Burroughs and the Dead-End Horror of the Centipede God over in the BoingBoing archives, and it got me thinking. But to get you caught up with where I am in my head, it might take a bit of preliminary work.

Humans are kind of natural-born exceptionalists. We grant ourselves a special position at the top of the hierarchy of life on Earth based on our badassness as predators and raw destructive power … in the face of the evidence that 90% of us will scream like a little girl to find a centipede is sharing our chair with us, and in the face that any serious weather releases more energy than literally millions of our biggest bombs. We grant ourselves the position at the top of the pyramid even though we know that 97% of the inhabitable volume of the skin of our still mostly molten ball of rock is drowned in salt water at pressures that would crush us to jerky-nuggets before we have the luxury of drowning, supporting a huge wealth of life, mostly invertebrates by gross tonnage, that is not us. Meanwhile, on land, we only kind of thrive wedged between deserts and mountains and icy wastes, sandwiched between the sea and sky, outperformed by … grass. Trees. Roaches. Pigeons. Tardigrades. Bats, even. But we’re super-nifty because we got guns and iPhones.

We also have bacon, and cigarettes, and poverty — any one of which is more lethal than any conscious actions humans take to demonstrate their deadliness. As if that’s a valid measure of the value of a species regardless. If we try for a more positive measure, well, none of our largest contributions to Earth will last more than 250 years after the last human dies — and most of it will be gone inside of 50 years. Even the flags planted on the Moon will be bleached white into flags of surrender.

But, well, that’s just a tangent. A little context. We’re not all that, and centipedes are just cousins we kind of lost touch with not long after the Cambrian Explosion. But for all of our kinship, they seem monstrous. Alien. The only thing we respond with more revulsion to are other human beings — the sick, the deformed, the ones just different enough from us to trigger that “is it communicable?” reflex, that “uncanny valley” rejection of just like us, but … off. The reason we feel unease in the presence of too much inbreeding (cue “Dueling Banjos“). The reason there are no other remaining species of genus Homo.

Burroughs wrote in The Place of Dead Roads of people who were “being processed into centipedes. The centipede eyes are already in place. Eventually the centipede will emerge from the forehead, leaving the dead gray hulk behind.“… and that’s what made me think of the centipedes of the mind. That there is a way of thinking of a centipede in such a way that it manifests inside your skull, such that you can feel it climbing the walls of your skull with its needle-feet tickling the inner surface of your meninges, wriggling around aquatically in your cerebrospinal fluid….

And it can be transmissible.

And it can multiply, and divide us humans into opposing populations of infected and … yet to be infected, in which situation both populations see each other as inhabitants of that Uncanny Valley of the diseased. Because once you know about the centipede, even the absence of it leaves it defined in your mind in negative space in such detail that the exact shape of the centipede-hole behaves precisely as the centipede itself, and is also transmissible.

And then the presence or absence of the centipede itself becomes the defining characteristic of a new pair of subspecies of human, seeing as a principal defining characteristic of whether populations are different species is whether they interbreed or, for whatever reason, hold themselves separate from one another.

Once you have your centipede (or anticentipede) fully formed and pricking around in your little rubbery ventricles, the centipede eyes are already in place. Only they’re not really eyes. Well, let’s be accurate. They have eyes, but their eyes aren’t the best in the world. They also have Tömösváry organs, which, frankly, nobody is very clear on what they do, except we’ve known about them since the 1880s. But let’s be honest here as well. The centipede’s evolutionary path has not been idle since Great Uncle Pneumodesmus beat Grandmother Titaalik to shore by about 50 million years back in the Devonian days, and we may still have access to some of his stranger elder and eldritch apparati through their relationship.

But if nothing else, your new centipede senses let you detect the presence or absence of centipedes in the brains of others, do declare them once and for all, friend or foe.

[*]

January 23, 2018 · Posted in Everything Else  
    

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.

 

[*]

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