Friday, December 7, 2012

Not having fun

Done making myself write. Not having fun any more, so don't expect regular posts.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Deep Thoughts

I knew that Nieto, the new Mexican President, talked a good game, but I had no idea that he was SO PRETTY!

Why can't our politicians be that pretty?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Context

Watching last night's Elementary (a perfectly mediocre Sherlock Holmes show). The start of the show shows a web design company, a small group of men in an office full of computers. A beeping starts and they take no notice except to ask whose phone it is. After a moment one man hunts down the beeping, somewhere deep in the air vent. The beeping, of course, is a bomb, which is the mystery of the week.

It occurred to me to wonder how far back in the past one would have to go before that scene would be completely without context to an average viewer.

  • The very notion of a web design company would have been beyond thought before about 1990.
  • The notion of a technology company as opposed to an engineering company (like IBM would have considered itself in the 1940s) probably began no earlier than the garage companies of Gates and Jobs in the 1970s, and largely outside of general awareness for another decade after.
  • The sort of office environment these men worked in would likely be unfamiliar to most before the 1940's, though not completely alien, as professional groups of accountants or lawyers would have worked in analogous spaces at least as late as the Renaissance.
  • The air vent holding the bomb would have been an unfathomable feature to anyone around before the construction of the Dubois House in 1906, and most people for decades after.
  • The explosion would have baffled any European born before the Battle of Mohi in the 13th century, and most of Europe for centuries later. No medieval or earlier European would have ever seen an explosion in their entire lives.
  • Curiously, the internet provides no source for when clock activated bombs were invented, though surely it is a Victorian era invention, since the reliable and inexpensive clockwork necessary was not around before then. Meaning that a ticking time bomb scenario would have been completely alien to anyone before then.
  • The very language spoken would be nearly incomprehensible in Chaucer's time (1400AD) and completely unknown as William the Bastard landed in Pevensey Bay.
  • Of course, the notion of a group of men, aged 20-35, banding together to engage in cooperative economic activity outside the home would be unquestioned around the globe any time after urbanization, and likely well before.
It then showed me an advertisement. The advertisement features a little league game, a fixture of American culture for a hundred years. It shows a somewhat clueless umpire asking his telephone to explain the strike zone. Now, it is possible that my perceptions are skewed by nostalgia and such, but I feel like fifty years ago it would have been exceedingly difficult to find an American man in his twenties who did not know what the strike zone was, and would have been regarded by audiences as unreasonably ignorant.

There exist people (I have met them, I swear) who have told me that they would not like to live forever because they would get bored. Those people are fantastically stupid, and this sentiment is one of the few that a person can express that will make me think significantly less of them. Because we live in the goddamned future and there is still more to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Assorted

Is Assorted the opposite of sorted? If so, how does it differ from unsorted? Does unsorted imply that the thing has never been sorted? Or, perhaps, is it a reduction of "A sorted [something]", implying that everything assorted should, in fact, be in some sort of order?

I enjoy pop linguistics, but find etymology to be varyingly maddening or dull.



I was walking home, running my usual internal monologue.

Hey, that patch of grass sure is dead.

There aren't very many squirrels out today.

Why do I have so much trouble with the Gangnam Style dance?

Then a car went by.

Oh, that car has a Baylor sticker. I went to Baylor!

At which point I stopped, standing on someone's lawn by the street, my face falling into an even more stupid looking expression than normal.

Wait.

What?

No I didn't. Why would I think that?

And, indeed, I never went to Baylor. I never even sort of went to Baylor. I never considered it and rarely think of the school in any capacity. I have no ill will towards the institution, but no particularly good will either, just the vague positive impression of "That's a good school" as everyone nods their heads and one person recounts the tale of how "My [relative] went to that school and says it is good." More head nodding.

Two things are possible. Either my brain is noticeably sub-optimal (very possible) or my brain is generally the same as the sort of brains that discover general relativity and performed the tremendous logistics of the holocaust.



I think it was Richard Feinman, though I could well be wrong, that used to go up to other academics and ask them "What is the biggest unsolved problem in your field?" They would give an answer (or three, them being academics) and Feinman would respond "Then why aren't you working on that?"

The answer, of course, is that hard problems are hard, popular problems are crowded, and important is not the same as enjoyable. If you can walk all the way out there, the extensive margin can be a lot of fun. If you profoundly enjoy a very specific thing, the intensive margin can be quite rewarding. Everyone else should blog and play video games.

N.B. I find that the following questions are the right mix of interesting and important:

  • What do we owe the future
  • What do we owe the dead
  • Sperm do not have rights. Jimmy Carter has rights. Why, how, and when did that change occur
  • Is there an instruction set for theoretical AI that ensures that they are safe for humanity and permits singularity levels of intelligence



What was one supposed to do after "Catching them all"?



Re: the Fermi Paradox. Is it more depressing to think that the universe is almost completely devoid of intelligent life, or to think that the universe is full of intelligent life but the costs of interstellar travel are prohibitively expensive under any technological conditions. I would think the latter to be worse.



I could have watched an entire episode of the Vampire Knight anime in the time it took me to write this. How does one weigh a small amount of immediate pleasure against a small amount of the vague sense that I am "improving myself" by continuing to write everyday?



I was considering ending the post with something like this
but in the same Google search I found this

Happy Wednesday

This meme has made me so preposterously happy. More here.

Related:
Ok, maybe not related.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Links!

Just an assortment today.

  • Not sure what to make of this. On one hand, there are only four historical sources of arts funding. Government funding has serious potential consequences, which America has fortunately avoided, but is also a very conservative source of funding. Commercial art is flourishing like never before, but I suspect that none of these people would consider it "high art". Starving artists do not have nearly as much fun as is often portrayed, and the starving bit certainly hurts their productivity. The highest periods of visual arts have been funded by the very patronage that these people are rejecting (or the city-state patronage of the Greeks, which I would contend looks more like Medici patronage than NEA funding). On the other hand, it seems clear to me that the high visual arts are A) not generating radically new ideas and B) at a ceiling in terms of technical proficiency, since there are already artists that can produce photo realism in a wide variety of media. Given this stagnation (or perhaps assuming it), I can't imagine that a radical structural change in the provision and funding of high art can seriously damage the current low level of innovation, and may generate improvements. 
  • A reminder that money is not the end in politics, only a means of speech. It is not speech that counts on election day, but sentiments, and speech is only useful to the extent that it can shape sentiment. It is this, far more than things like GOTV infrastructure, that underlie the huge amount of political influence among unions.
  • Our president is fairly monstrous. "No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Says Man Who Regularly Bombs Pakistan and Yemen
  • Sensationalized? Yes. A problem nonetheless? Absolutely.
  • The president absolutely knows that what he is doing is wrong. But that doesn't stop him.
  • Data point on the correlation between strong families, personal responsibility, and inter-generational success. Not sure the dependent variable is the strongest possible, but it may have been the strongest available, and is relevant in any case.
  • A conservative imagines a debate between a moderate and a liberal. I would prefer to see this article written by Krugman, Greenwald, or Chin.
  • I have to say: We have the largest prison population on the planet. Obama murders people willy-nilly. And Our President issues the first and likely only pardon of the year went to a turkey. As a photo op, I don't really care, but as a stage show it really bothers me this time around. Certainly a good deal of mood affiliation going on, but seriously, are there no cases of injustice in America?
  • The ghost island which sank into the sea countless ages past where dread Cthulu slumbers. IA! IA! CTHULU FTAGHN!
  • Black Friday as a truly American holiday.
  • Intensive vs Extensive margins. Consider this a reminder of an underutilized model.
  • Der Speigel on the decline of America. I have little patience for this article, but especially the claim that our infrastructure is crumbling. I live in Texas, so perhaps I am missing something, but our roads are almost uniformly excellent and the ones that I notice to be in the worse shape are the heavily trafficked downtown roads that would seriously disrupt traffic flow were they to be closed down. I can tell you that when I was interviewing for teaching (high school) positions last summer, perhaps a good half were undergoing renovations and almost all the rest had been renovated or built in the last decade. Wisconsin seemed pretty well maintained as well when I was there, as did the thousand miles of highway down Illinois, across Missouri and Oklahoma, and down into Austin. Hardly a scientific survey, but contrast that to the article's first reference. Thomas Friedman (there is the first mistake) talks about the poor infrastructure on the Acela line from NY to DC. There he was, riding a straight line through high tax, unionized blue states that spend money on prestige rail projects but cannot find the funds to sustain their infrastructure and have been in almost constant decline since the 1950's. Again, anecdotes are not science, but these are the data points which inform my priors on the issue, and said priors leave me in askance whenever calls for more infrastructure spending are issued. Perhaps Brian Caplan's point in my second bullet point above plays a role.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cross Cultural Understanding

I always wondered about those ancient Chinese women who bound their feet (or, rather, who had them bound). Did people really get excited by these horrible disfigurements. I can barely look at the pictures without getting slightly nauseous. It is one of those things where I can see that other people did them, so it must have made sense at the time, but the thinking behind it is so terribly alien and foreign that I am literally unable to comprehend how this is a good idea.

Contrast this to plastic surgery, where the methods are similar. That is different for a number of reasons relating to professionalism and consent, but also because most plastic surgery operations, when successful, appear natural, as in, they exist at a more beautiful part of the continuum of human appearance. There are no natural people born with feet like that, and if they are it is a birth defect and really gross. Seriously China.

And then I see that apparently foot binding is merely a reflection of a more universal human desire. One that I am completely separated from. Don't know how real of a trend this is, but if this is how normal human beings think then I may have to rethink my opposition to genocide.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Local History Part 1: Scientific Prehistory

It has come to my attention that my internet tubes are spilling out all over everywhere, dousing literally an entire planet with the untreated sewage that is my mind. Ha, ha. Sucks to be you.

I was going to write more, but that really covers the important concepts.

UPDATE: Ok, fine. What actually came to my attention is that there is a whole world of people that do not live in Texas, and their lives are so blighted that they have never been blessed with Texas History classes in school. Well, I, a jan-u-wine Texan, will be putting an end to your sorry ignorance with a multiple part series on Local History, as understood by the only people who really matter, our robot overlords Texans. For those in the sewage overflow zone (the part of the world that is not Texas) local happens to be Austin, Texas.

The founding of our great city is a tale shrouded in myth, which means, like all Texan myths, it is absolutely true. However, the mere founding of one city in the middle of Texas is hardly the beginning of what history can tell us, and through the power of Science we can know that the world existed even before the historical records housed in the University Library.

Now, Science applies to Texas just like everywhere else, except whenever performing scientific calculations about or relating to Texas, you have to introduce an additional factor. Since everything is bigger in Texas (Science Fact), all calculations must be multiplied by 5.

Science, in the guise of a nice German fellow named Einstein, and not the bagel guy, a different one, tells us that everything in the universe, and even space itself, is relative. Except for Texas, which has existed since existence was possible and will continue to exist long after the heat death of the universe. Texas is an invariant throughout all of space and time.

So in the beginning was the big bang, but that involves lots of math and not a lot of pretty pictures, so we will just skip over it.

A little while later there was a slowly spinning cloud of dust and such floating off in space about to form a solar system. This solar system, mind you, not some damn foreigner solar system, cause we don't have much truck with the exotic ways of Canadians or whatever even more baffling beings may exist in this vast and awesome cosmos.

Smack dab in the center of this cloud, which sat smack dab in the center of all existence, around which the material that would later become the sun, eight planets, and an assortment of other space gunk, was a single, irregularly shaped dust cloud 773 miles wide and 790 miles high. Beneath the dust was oil, above the dust was cattle. Now, this was still outer space, so them cattle didn't last long, and what I reckon we ended up with was a vast primeval killing field of suffocated cattle unable even to decompose in the vacuum of space. But they were there, tied to the land as surely as a side of rice is tied to a side of refried beans.

Around that central core the earth formed. Now, this ain't a geology lesson, but the short version of that is that there were a bunch of volcanoes, and volcanoes are pretty neat, and the rest of the world eventually coalesced around Texas. Then they started really giving her the once over and were all, "oh boy, they sure have some fine clear springs and aquifers, maybe the rest of the planet should develop liquid water" and they did, but it was just a little bit off, which is why no experience in a human life can come close to sipping cold spring water atop a lake on a hot summer day in Texas. Then the rest of the earth did all the other stuff, which isn't important because Texas had already done it all first, bigger and better, and a whole lot of this story is just Texas sitting clean and easy while the rest of the world tries to get its act together.

Now we get to the first point of contention in my tale, the origin of life. It is a well known fact that every fishin tale has two sides, and this fishin tale ain't no different. I will attempt to play the neutral arbiter, even though I am know to have, shall we say, certain sympathies. My best intentions aside, that means I gots opinions, and everyone knows that a Texan and his opinions are more inseparable than a boy and his dog, because when the dog goes rabid you gotta put her down, but when a Texan's opinions start frothing at the mouth there ain't a damn thing to be done about it.

Now, there ain't no doubt that life got started, after all, I am sitting here now. But if you just happen to be out in West Texas, there stands no loyal Texan who will not swear up and down and sideways that life began in a dried up ol' creek bed a few miles west of San Angelo, and his cousin's brother-in-law saw it happen, swear for true. If, on the other hand, you happen to be moseyin along through East Texas, you will get the same swears and the same eyewitnesses in support of the proposition that life began right there in the heart of downtown Lufkin, in the alley behind the coffee shop on 1st Street. I have my inclinations, but as your guide through the feud I will take no stand here, except to say that a number of foreign scientists from exotic places like North Dakota and whatever other countries exist in this world have weighed the data impartially and found that the Science equally supported both sides, implying that perhaps life began twice. Now I don't much cotton to that notion, since a man should pick a side and stick to it without all that pussy-footin around.

Anyway, it is clear enough that life got started right here in Texas, and like cowboy hats, Dairy Queen and Blue Bell Ice Cream it spread like wildfire once the lesser places caught wind of what we were cooking up up here. Now at first it was just tiny bacteria too small to see. These little buggers had a devilishly hard time of it, since being too small too see made it difficult to do the sorts of things all life needs to do, like tie lasso knots and drill for oil, but here in Texas we barely noticed, since a man ain't much more than a boy until he has faced some adversity. But up in New Jersey they just wouldn't stop complaining so we told them to try fixing it themselves. And we do give 'em credit for trying, but the notion they came up with, de-evolution, was not a very effective solution. They all de-evolved into a thin layer of smoggy grease-scum that hangs in the air even today. Well, a good Texan is a good neighbor so we stopped by and showed them how to do it right, with evolution, and before long you had everything from slime molds to trilobites roaming free across the planet.

Well, then the other parts of the world started getting jealous because Texas always had the biggest and best life forms, so they went off and evolved them some dinosaurs. Now, dinosaurs are pretty neat, but Texas was content to let the rest of the world have its fun, except then they started mouthing off about it all the time, and if there is one thing a Texan cannot stand, it is a braggart. So Texas flooded everything from the Corpus coastline to the edge of El Paso (also flooded some nearby states as well, but that's what happens) and evolved the biggest sort of dinosaurs-- the underwater dinosaurs. Now, in retrospect this may have been a mistake since it seems having the biggest and best dinosaurs was the only thing keeping the rest of the world feeling good about themselves, and when we showed them up they fell into a bit of a funk. And then they hurled a meteor at Texas, but it missed and hit just off the coast of Veracruz, but still managed to wipe out a good chunk of life on earth.

Except for the mammals, like hogs and cattle and ranchers. They survived. Then they had some real lean years for the next sixty five million years, but ranchers know how to tighten their belt and toughen up when times get hard because they know that fate is as fickle as anything, and that Texas will always endure.

Then the lean times ended and human civilization really got started. But the chili is good and simmering, the cattle are quieting down, and the moonlight has been shining for hours, so we will leave our tale here and rest up. Tomorrow will be another long, hot Texas day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cats and Sand

Without a doubt, the most fascinating thing I do every day is feed the kittens. From the moment I walk in to the moment they bury their faces in kibble, every action I take is judged against the metric of "Am I eating right now" and until they adjudge that the Being Fed meter is full my actions are criticized with the harshest of meows and judgmental glares.

The second most interesting thing I do is clean the litter box.

Before I begin I attempt to explain. "I am going to clean this out and as soon as I am done it will be a pile of clean sand, which is vastly preferable to soiled sand." This completely rational explanation is apparently beyond them, probably because cats can't talk, and would likely not be inclined to listen even if they did.

So I kneel down, grab the scoop, and begin digging through the first box. Any sort of interesting noise draws the both of them and Charlemagne pitter-patters up behind me so that she has a clear view of exactly what is occuring. And the look she gives me indicates that she does not in any way approve.

"Who do you think you are," She asks, "To consider yourself worthy of the task in which you are presently engaged? Do you know," She gives an exasperated huff, "Do you know who I am? I am Charlemagne, emperor of the Franks and god-granted ruler of half a continent. And you, filthy blogger who vanishes inexplicably for hours during the day, are quite literally unworthy to handle my excrement. I demand, nay, I require, that you honor this authority granted to me by all the very heavens, put down that shovel, and remove yourself from my sight."

"But," I reply, attempting reason, "If I don't clean the box, it will just get dirtier and dirtier. Who, if not me, will clean it?"

She blinks with all the hauteur that only the most majestic beings are capable of and replies, "Obviously, I will order it to be clean and then it will be so."

"But it doesn't work like that."

"FOOL! YOU WILL SILENCE YOURSELF! HOW DARE YOU SPEAK SUCH BLASPHEMY! WERE I NOT SO MERCIFUL I WOULD REMOVE YOUR EYES AND PISS IN THE BLEEDING SOCKETS."

Oh, dear, I think to myself, and continue to clean as she continues to glower. By this time, King Solomon, who has been watching the exchange with droopy eyelids, chimes in. "Wha-what are you doing."

I remain under strict orders of silence from her high empress, so I merely continue scooping. He catches a glimpse of the focus of my task and his eyes widen. "Wa-Wait, noooo... that's, that's omygosh that's my poos! Yer stealin my poos!"

"No, I'm just-"

"That's my poos! Why would you take those from me? I put them there for a reason. Quit stealin my poooooooooos!" At which point he springs into action, bringing himself up on all four legs and quicksteps into the sand. "Noooo! NOOO! Thems is mah poos." He steps on the scoop, buried half in the sand and containing a fair bit of nightsoil and uses every one of his six pounds to pin it down lest more be removed from the sandbox. I am not in the best of shape, but I do outweigh him by a factor of twenty five, so after a great struggle I manage to life the scoop and let the clean sand flow through the holes. King Solomon looks up at me, eyes wide and wetted with tears and gives a single, small "Meow". Every shameful deed and every scrap of guilt I have ever experienced follows that squeak and reminds me that maybe death is the last honorable option left to me.

Then I finish scooping and proceed to the next box, where the cycle begins afresh.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanks!?!!??

As an atheist I am rather hazy about who I am supposed to be thanking. Certainly there are certain good things in life that I can attribute to the deliberate action of a particular individual, but even then it would often be a bit awkward even with the intervention of the holiday.

Imagine if I went up to my boss at the real job and spontaneously thanked him for allowing me to work there. This may end well, but it would still be awkward, and it would be vastly more awkward than thanking a bronze age sky patriarch who had no discernible effect on my hiring.

Thanks should be given in response to a direct positive happening immediate as or after the happening happens. When I purchase a sandwich at Subway, I thank them for the sandwich and they thank me for my money (hooray capitalism). When the boss hands out paychecks, I give thanks, and when I work late on a project he says thanks (he is a pretty nice guy). Perhaps in the context of a long term relationship where a little bit of good is done every day which accumulates imperceptible arbitrary thanking may be appropriate, but I am a lonely miserable person who has no time for that lovey-dovey shit.

I do, however, like the tradition of taking time once a year (and never again) to appreciate the world and all the good things in life. Obviously there is no bearded man in the sky (all the astronauts were clean shaven) who had anything at all to do with good things, so instead of thanking anyone, I will take this opportunity to simply be glad.

Gladgiving, gladbeing. and glad day are all stupid, so I will allow the official name to remain thanksgiving for historical reasons.

  1. I am glad I am alive, because overall my life has contained more good things than bad.
  2. I am glad for every day, because every day is more good than bad.
  3. I am glad to be American, because there aren't too many other places where I could enjoy this much wealth for this little effort.
  4. I am glad that I am a straight, white, generally healthy male, because it makes everything so much easier.
  5. I am glad that I am alive now, because every historical point before now (broadly defined) was poorer and more miserable than now. Future points may be improvements on today, but that option was not presented to me, and who knows the future anyway.
  6. I am glad that my kittens are well behaved, because I don't like cleaning and would get frustrated if they peed on the carpet.
  7. I am glad almost no one reads this blog, because if it was a big deal I would start to feel all obligated and shit and it wouldn't be as fun anymore.
  8. I am glad for a bunch of other things, but I can't think of them
  9. Lists should go to ten.
  10. Lists should go to ten.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gahh Time Magazine is Stupid

They titled an article "The Many Ways You Taxes Could Go Up (Even If You Are Not Rich)". The article itself is unoffensive, though hardly recommended reading. The point is the title.

Every single person reading that article is rich. Every single person reading this post is rich.

Simply by virtue of your internet access you have

The fact is that this list reads like a list of sci-fi ideas rejected for being too good to be plausible, but if "Rich" means that you having more of the things you need to be happy, then the act of purchasing an internet-connected computer makes you one of the wealthiest people to ever live.

And if you are still not happy then it is your own damn fault.

Most Subtle Ad I Have Ever Seen

I suspect a more accurate title would be the most subtle ad I have ever noticed, since anything more subtle would have gone over my head.

Try to guess who the corporate sponsor is before item 18, where the video makes it pretty obvious. Also the  author is up at the top if you are still having trouble.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Links

It has been a week for re-assessing previously held opinions and twisting my way past mood affiliation.
  • Occupy, for all their silliness, is doing something commendable
  • I had always taken the claim that we have soldiers all over the world at face value. We are still in way too many countries (the writer seems to assume that troops in Germany makes perfect sense), but the article and attached report have been a reality check.
  • The British have been working at it longer than we have, but this is still pretty impressive, in the sense that the logistics behind the holocaust were impressive.
  • America has more software engineers than farmers.
  • I found a new blog (added to blogroll), War Nerd. A dyed in the wool jingoistic reactionary who is nonetheless terribly intelligent and knows what he is talking about. Here he talks about Air Force procurement, singling out the astonishgly sleazy Michael McCaul (Note: he is not Dallas area, he represents the conservative parts of Austin and Central Texas, and is, shamefully, my representative. The very first campaign I ever worked was a failed attempt to get him out of office). Here he demolishes a number of criticisms of drone warfare. He doesn't get at my problem with them (because me! I am special!) that we shouldn't be running around the planet killing people willy-nilly and it would be just as objectionable if we heli-dropped marines to slaughter everyone at a wedding.
  • Superman as a democratic figure.
Of course, I have read somethings that were less disputable:
  • This is spot on. I have never in my life seen a police officer who was not placed there to make my life more difficult, from highway patrol to security checkpoints. I know that there exists a romantic notion of an officer who walks around helping people and deterring crime, but I have never personally encountered such a cop and it has definitely skewed my perceptions of the force. They probably don't care what I think.
  • Why doesn't this article tell us how far away the planet is? I suspect that whenever people read articles about space, the question in the back of our minds is, can we send a rocket there.
  • How does even the most scummy of scumbag pro-lifers justify two abortions before marriage? One could well be anything from medical concerns to not being ready, but seriously, if they don't want children there are less expensive ways to manage that. More than any hypocracy, it makes me wonder if these two are stupid or incompetent or what.
  • The American justice system at its finest.
  • Buried in this article is something I have been meaning to write for a while, and now I don't have to. There is very little of value that can be gleaned from textual analysis.
  • A magnificent and less controversial article from War Nerd.
  • And another. Seriously, quit reading this and go over to his archives. Here is the video he links, and here is an unrelated video with explosions.

Finally, where would we be without good old Japan? They make the world's best toilets, and they also make this:

WARNING: THIS VIDEO MAY NOT IMPROVE YOUR LIFE.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reccomendation

I read this fellow with some regularity. Not sure why I didn't stick him on the blogroll earlier, but that has been fixed. From his most recent post:
Imagine a large corporate machine mobilized to get you to buy something you don't need at a tremendously inflated cost, complete with advertising, marketing, and branding that says you're not hip if you don't have one, but when you get one you discover it's of poor quality and obsolete in ten months. That's a BA.
Truer words were never spoken.

Monarchy for a Modern Age

I am now a co-blogger here with Entirely Alive!. Mr. Alive! is at work right now, but forgot to turn his computer off, so now he has co-bloggers and you have to listen to me. Not like at home where even when I meow really loudly it is only fifty-fifty that he will get off his lazy butt and fetch me some treats. I expect this blogging business to be rather like meowing, except far more effective in that not only will I get treats but I will also subvert the global order and pave the way for a restoration of monarchy across the globe.

I am Charlemagne, emperor of the Romans, sovereign of every living Frank and rightful suzerain of every inch of land from the Ebro to the Elbe. I am also a black lady-cat, and if you even think an inappropriate thought I will claw the fuck out of your genitals. I am also very pretty and enjoy planning how to murder everyone around me and eating their still warm flesh.

Mr. Alive! spends far too much time at home swearing and shouting at your silly person government and not nearly enough time feeding me treats and otherwise entertaining me. This, it goes without saying, is a huge problem, that I will now fix.

Apparently, you silly people have this thing where stupid people are considered "part rulers" of your nation. Sure, the smart people are also considered "part rulers", but in my experience smart people have much more important things to be doing than managing a country, like fetching me treats. But the fact that you let stupid people vote gets you results like a country where only seventeen percent you you approve of the job congress is doing, yet over 90% of congresscats (and congresspeople, we are not discriminatory here at EA)  who wanted to be re-elected got re-elected. Only two Senators (neither of whom were cats) who wanted to be re-elected failed at being re-elected. This is stupid. This is even stupider than taking a bath, because at least with a bath you can lick yourself clean in a few hours, but it takes a whole two years to clean the stench of a congresscat out of a district, and then after two years you go and get congressthings all over everything again, as if you hadn't learned your lesson the first time.

And anyway, the thing you have now, it's pretty close to exactly what a government should look like. There is one person who has supreme executive power to go to war whenever he wants, kill whoever he wants, regulate any displeasing part of his subject's lives, and to whom all land ultimately belongs. As far as I can tell, the only reason you don't call him a king is because you don't vote for kings. All you really need is to phase out congress, turn the pretty building into a cat shelter, and make the supreme court subordinate to the new American Emperor. I expect that if you are not currently a congresscat, you won't even notice the change.

Then the only thing left to do is enjoy this bit of chicken that my junior co-blogger King Solomon has pulled out of the trash can while pondering why, exactly, you don't vote for kings. At first glance, it would seem that  lithic sword extraction is obviously an inferior method for monarch selection than voting, but first glance is often wrong. This is why cats stare at things for so long. I have stared at America for my entire life, all seven months of it, and as far as I can tell, a rock, even one dumb enough to have a sword stuck in it, has vastly superior decision making skills than the American public.

Consider what just happened. Two politicians blew a whole year and a billion dollars dashing around your unreasonably large country trying to out Santa Claus the other. If one promised chicken treats, the other would promise twice as many, with a variety of flavors. Back in March, when I was a mewling kitten who had yet to open her eyes, such promises excited me. It has since become clear, however, that neither politician has any treats to speak of, or if they do, the odds of me getting any are basically zero. Your system doesn't select for the person most capable of providing me with treats, it selects for the person best at lying about giving me treats. Perhaps this is better than Mr. Alive! who just sits on his fat butt all evening, feeds me kibbles and doesn't even promise any treats, but it is still insufficient in a noble personage.

On the other hand, it doesn't matter how many stupid promises a candidate for king makes, because at the end of the day, they still have to pull a sword out of a rock. Not only is this cheaper and quicker, but it also avoids the problem of selecting for the biggest liar and instead selects for physical strength, an important quality since when they purchase all the treats and entertainments I require it will take a tremendous amount of physical strength to carry them from the store to me.

However, lithic sword extraction, and even sword distribution by damp females are antiquated methods of monarchical succession. While they are both superior to voting, history has shown us that there is an even better method of selecting for a monarch, murder.

Your election just by happenstance ended up selecting the most provenly murderous candidate, but it was a close thing there for a while. Even then, Mr. Obama only campaigned on having killed one person, Osama bin Laden. Now, I have seen Mr. Obama on the computer screen and not only does he appear to be completely lacking in claws, he is also only about four inches tall. Killing one person may be a substantial accomplishment for a four inch tall clawless and dull toothed man, but, the average outdoor cat can hunt and kill three birds or rodents a week. Why, if I had been allowed out of the apartment, I am sure I could have hunted down Mr. Laden and clawed his face up until he bled to death. Cats are, after all, the world's best predators.

Wouldn't you rather have a king who is selected through a process that requires him to husband resources, form coalitions, build, manage and juggle armies, assassins, and mobs and ultimately picks only the best candidate from a purely results-driven process? This is what happens in every militarized monarchical succession crisis, and while it may not raise up the most benevolent ruler, it does prove definitively that a king can get things done, and with the worsening economy and accelerating rate of overseas military interventions, getting things (for things read killing) done is exactly what you need.

Ultimately, though, monarchy comes down to self-interest. A popular anti-sufferage pamphlet reminds us that "Clean houses and good homes, which cannot be provided by legislation, keep children healthier and happier than any number of uplift laws." This is doubly true today. Not only will the end of popular politics save everyone a great deal of time and money that can be used for desperately needed self-improvement (i.e., kitty treats), but since you are all, in the eyes of your government, children, it is time to let an absolute monarch step in to care for you like an all-seeing father.

How else could you possibly manage to live moral and productive lives? You don't even feed me enough kitty treats!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

L-L-L-Links!

I have been letting them fester, and a few of them are moldy, but they all improved my life. Some more than others.

Dessert first!
  • The best thing I have found on the internet in a while. It takes any song, chops it up into discrete beats, and then puts random loops where a song is identical. Works best for songs that have a similar affect throughout, since it can jump from the middle to the beginning in a flash, and it gets jumpy when you do that. A repetitive chorus is also good. I think Tenohira and Kakusei Heroism come out well. Best feature: Just copy and paste the URL and you can send anyone your infinite song. Some songs process very poorly, but such is life.
  • Sarte's (fictional) blog. The New Yorker sticks to its snooty arrogant demo and does quite well at it
  • A fine Xmas list for the people of high taste in your life.
Vegetables :(
Meat.
Tyler Cowan points us to a model that is simple. It is also wrong in every aspect.
People will have few really happy phases in their lives.
Then they need to quit moping around and do something they enjoy.
Indeed even if you lived forever you would have only finitely many spells of happiness.
Happiness is not a fixed resource. If you live infinitely, you will have infinitely many spells of happiness, moron. At the very least, Youtube uploads 72 hours of video every minute. Every 72 hours contains more than one minute of enjoyable content. If we do not assume immortality, you are set for any currently feasible life span even with nothing but that one place on the internet.
Most of the happy moments will come when you are young.
I cannot speak to that, having not yet grown old. This guy certainly seems like a miserable twit, though I know plenty of old people who seem quite happy. Especially with modern technology, there are fewer and fewer reasons why a very old person cannot enjoy life like a middle aged person, though that may not be the relevant comparison.
Happiness will be short-lived.
Then you are doing it wrong, dumbass.
The biggest cross-sectional variance in happiness will be among the young.
Possibly, though an adult in the same peer group can range from wealthy new parent to bankrupt in an abusive situation, while a child can be in an abusive situation at the bottom and, what, pop their cherry at the top? Certainly the ranges are different, and it is impossible to compare interpersonal utility, but at the least this point is substantially weaker than it is presented.
When expectations adjust to the rate at which your fortunes improve, chasing further happiness requires improving your fortunes at an accelerating rate.
I have very low expectations and very low standards, and am almost constantly happy. YMMV.
If life expectancy is increasing and we simply extrapolate expectations into later stages of life we are likely to be increasingly depressed when we are old.
Then try having realistic expectations, moron. I though age begat wisdom, but it certainly isn't in this guy. From visiting Grandma's retirement home, it sounds to me like the main cause of elder depression is the fact that your body is failing and all your friends are dying. If they die slower, and your body holds out longer, that would seem to argue for lessened depression.
There could easily be an inverse relationship between intelligence and happiness.
No. Stupid people screw up their lives. Intelligent people are smart enough to figure out how to live well. There are, of course, a number of external variables, but, all else equal, if you consider yourself intelligent and are unhappy, you should rethink your life or rethink your assumption.

More Dessert!

After dinner mint :)


Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A man I met

So today I went back. Slow day again so I took off early. I asked my boss, and he said it was fine but asked where I was going and I gave a shockingly incoherent and evasive answer. His eyebrows rose and he gave me the most conspiratorial wink I have ever seen a real person give. I quiver in dread wondering where, exactly, he though I was going and what sort of person he thinks I am.

Anyway, I still wasn't certain where the little sandstone archway was. I have been replaying it in my mind and when I walk the usual route home there is no place along the drainage ditch where I can say, "There. The tunnel started there and ran to, oh, say, here." I looked for the two slits of light to no success, though they did look rather overgrown from below, so they may just be well concealed.

Yesterday I brought a small flashlight to the office, but forgot to bring it with me on the way home so I didn't go exploring. Today I made sure to put the flashlight in my pocket as I walked out. It is starting to get chilly here. Nothing compared to my Wisconsin winters, but definitely hand-in-pocket weather. I crossed the street (looked both ways, though it is a one way section of road) where I had seen the squirrel run across last week and went down the ditch. The creek bed was a bit more damp, with puddles collecting in places, I assume from the local businesses watering their lawns since it hasn't rained in a while, so I walked a little bit up the slope.

Walking for a little bit I thought I knew exactly where I was. The sky overhead was the uniform grey of a chilly November, what Paul Simon called a hazy shade of winter, and dimmer even than usual as the sun set somewhere behind the uniform blanket of rain-less clouds. These were the sort of clouds that were basically fog in the sky, the sort we get so often here in Texas that pass by as quickly as they can looking for any excuse to avoid raining on us, so insubstantial that they will burn off if the day gets too warm. These clouds exist to contrast against the other sort of cloud we get here, the sort where you can see the top of the cloud on the horizon and then a few hours later see the bottom and each billowing form, black as the oil patch, rolls up ionizing the air even before it starts with the lightning and every aspect of its demeanor says that this cloud, and all twelve of its individually distinguishable cloud buddies filling the mighty Texas sky, will rain the fuck out of you so kneel down, bend over, assume the position, and pray that this storm washes someone else's car into the river, because you don't want it to be you but that hellish cloud will be thrice damned before it passes by without some form of severe property damage. No, it wasn't that sort of cloud.

I looked forward down the walls of the ditch, not quite able to remember and visual cues that had previously preceded the archway. I guess I stopped really paying attention at some point (it happens), since if I hadn't ducked under a low hanging tree branch I would not have noticed that I had just passed it. So I stop, feeling a right fool, and pull out my pocket flashlight.

Under the slight blue of the LED flashlight, the interior of the archway emits an otherworldly glow, but then again, so does my cat when I shine this light on him, so I ascribe it to the interplay of the yellow sandstone with the blueish hue. Also contributing is the fact that not only is the interior of the tunnel perfectly smooth, it is also perfectly clean. The stone itself is unblemished, and the striations run all the way from here to the far door, wrap around the door and end up back at the other side of the archway. It is almost enough to make me assume I am ignorant of the local geology, but I have too many oil men in my family to get away with that, so it just leaves me unsettled.

I duck down to fit into the archway and walk down to the door. Distances are very strange in the corridor. The far wall is clearly flat, with the cracks of a perfectly smooth door visible, but no angles can be seen anywhere. Even when I get up there and run my fingers along the wall, it doesn't crease anywhere, and the curvature is so subtle that I cannot tell where it is the side wall and where it is the end wall, I just get surprised when my finger is going left to right instead of back to front. A neat little trick from whoever carved out this great hunk of rock.

The latch is the only thing out of place, and looks as if it was added long ago, but still long after the tunnel had been dug out. It is metal, cheap, shiny where it isn't rusted and the bolts have left a ring of orange stain around the cleanly drilled bolt-holes. It is a simple mechanism, a flat latch on a hinge that snaps into place against a similar metal piece on the door frame. I pull it open and am rewarded with the satisfying snap, followed by the less rewarding shriek of rusted hinge.

I pull open the door and shine in the light. It falls on a seated man. The man is doing a passable impression of a homeless person, from the unkempt beard to the malodorous feet. It is not beyond possibility that he was, in fact, a jan-u-wine homeless man, afflicted with a full catalogue of ailments and maladies. I don't remember our exact words, but what I have below captures most of what was said.

"Well, howdy. Come for a visit, have you?" He gave a cough. Each word sounded a bit worse than the last, as if he had a sore throat yet was determined to fight through it.

I couldn't say anything for a bit. Here I was standing there in the doorway, head and shoulders hunched over beneath the low hallway ceiling, having unexpectedly trespassed upon someone's residence. I hope dearly that any nervous grinning did not appear shit-faced. Eventually I got out an "uhh.." and almost made with the apology, but he picked up the thread.

"Sit, now. It isn't like you are supposed to not be here." This was news to me, but, after a bit of timorous hesitation I decided to believe him. I stepped in and unslouched a little, though I kept a bit of bend to mark that I was not completely shameless.

I stood there, two steps in front of the slightly ajar stone door.

"That is pretty bright" he said after another awkward silence.

"Huh?"

"That" he said, nodding at the flashlight I had shining right into his eyes. I hadn't really noticed because he had been sitting so impassively, also because I am a huge dickbag who doesn't consider the impact of my actions on other people. I waved it away, casting the harsh blue light on the peculiar designs engraved into the walls. No particular design seemed familiar, but in that chaotic jumble it would have perhaps been more noticeable if something had. I continued waving the light, not quite sure where a socially appropriate place to shine it might be, and eventually settled on the floor in front of my feet. The dim, scattered daylight slipped in through the two slits in the ceiling, illuminating the man as a detailed shadow. I stood some more.

"Sit." he said again, putting an arm out. I looked around again. The two cabinets seemed a bit fancy to be sat upon, and he wasn't really gesturing at either of them. The easel still rested in the corner, twinging my guilt nerves with its vacancy. An easel is not a thing to sit on.

The man must have seen my confusion, or was perhaps reacting to my hesitation. "Oh, of course," he said as he stood up.

He then did the damnedest thing. He stepped away from his chair, a heavy wooden frame of a type to match the rest of the room, though I did not recall seeing it in my previous trip. He then took three or four steps forward, turned to face the chair, and sat.

He did not sit on the floor, he sat as though there were a chair identical in form to the one he was offering to me. But, to my eye at least, there was no chair. There was no anything. It looked to me that he did not so much sit as make a sitting gesture, and yet at various points he would lean back in impossible moves as if supported by the high back of a heavy chair. Sitting here now in front of a computer I cannot help but give even odds to the proposition that he was mad beyond belief or that he was royally fucking with me.

I took his former seat, and repeated my chorus of umms. They broke through into an explanation of what I had done previously, explaining to him that I had stumbled upon the archway and explored the previous week and had thought it to be uninhabited and absolutely did not touch anything and was very sorry to intrude and this took about ten times more words than it needed to, but the man stood there- sat there in his imaginary chair- and listened with the patience of a man utterly convinced that no matter how trivial my tale, he had nothing in the world better to be doing.

When I finished, or rather when the narrative and apologies had run out and I was left with some extra vague umming, he spoke. "The stag hasn't brought anyone by in quite some time."

I let that remark hang for a moment, but the man seemed as immune to awkward as I am hyper-sensitive to it.

"Let's sacrifice a goat." Those, I swear to the high holy heavens, were his exact words.

"I haven't got a goat." I didn't think, the words just happened, and I swear again that it was those words in that order.

"Oh," he said, as disappointed as his overall flat affect would allow. "I have one around here that I keep for special occasions." He stood up and began to walk off.

Now, obviously there is nothing suspicious about raising goats, but in the context it was particularly creepy.

"I don't want to cause any trouble."

"Oh, no trouble at all."

"But you said for special occasions. This isn't a very special occasion."

"Hmm." He sat back down in his non-existent chair. "I suppose I might have a more bigger need soon."

I tried to lighten the mood a bit by saying that I probably wouldn't know how to sacrifice a goat anyway.

"Oh, new to this, are you? Let me..." He stood again and walked over to the cabinet closer to the easel and opened a thin wooden door. His shadowy form blocked my vision of the contents, but he pulled out a brightly colored brochure that looked like something a family-oriented museum would hand out.

Except it had a time series of photos of the ritualistic dismemberment of a goat on the inside. In the first few frames, up to and including the one where a pair of ungloved, bloody hands are pulling out intestines, the goat is clearly alive.

I took the brochure from him, I remember that much. I then left and remember nothing at all of the mechanical walk back until I threw that brochure into the trash can at the bus stop.

Tarrant County Has Amused Me

I didn't think I would ever be amused by Tarrant County, but the world is full of surprises. Investigating their elections website for unrelated reasons and found that they had a "rumours" section. I expected Fleetwood Mac, but instead I got this:


RUMOR:
Is it true that voters who have unpaid traffic tickets can be arrested if they show up to vote?
FACT:
This is not true.  Section 276.005 of the Texas Election Code provides that a voter may not be arrested at a polling place or while going to or returning from a polling place except if the voter commits one of the following crimes on the day of voting:  treason, any felony, or a breach of peace.

That seems reasonable enough. Except for the treason bit. Not that I wouldn't want people arrested for treason, but it just seems a bit out of place. First off, treason is a federal crime, and elections are a state issue, but more than that, treason is one of only three crimes described in the Constitution (treason, piracy and counterfeiting) and has a very specific list of requirements. Only twelve convictions have ever been handed down (and one pending), so the fact that the state legislature would specifically carve that out is a bit particular.

Further, the very notion of someone who is actively seeking to destroy America going to a voting booth is slightly farcical. Unless we take the idea that everyone not voting for our candidate is treasonous, in which case we should be arresting everyone who walks out of the voting booth having voted for the wrong candidate. I rather suspect this latter proposal would have a great deal of support in Tarrant County.

Also, if you look down two subsections from the voter's privilege from arrest subsection, you see this:

Sec. 276.007.  STUDENT ELECTION AUTHORIZED.  (a)  An election for the participation of students in kindergarten through 12th grade may be held in conjunction with a general, special, or primary election as provided by this section.
(b)  A student election may be ordered by:
(1)  the commissioners court, for a student election held in conjunction with an election ordered by the governor or a county authority;
(2)  the governing body of a political subdivision, for a student election held in conjunction with an election of the political subdivision;  or
(3)  the county executive committee, for a student election held in conjunction with a primary election.
(c)  A student election may be held only on election day or the day before election day.
(d)  The authority ordering a student election shall specify in the order each grade that may participate in the election.  A student in a specified grade may enter a precinct polling place for the purpose of casting an unofficial ballot in the student election on the same offices and measures that appear on the official ballot.
(e)  The authority ordering a student election shall make the results of that election available to the public but only after the polling places are closed on election day.
(f)  The election officers serving in the official election may not serve in the student election.  The authority ordering a student election shall appoint a separate set of election officers to conduct the student election, supervise the participating students, and tabulate and report the results of that election.
(g)  Expenses incurred in the conduct of a student election, including any personnel expenses, may be paid only from private grant funds or donations.
(h)  The secretary of state shall prescribe any procedures necessary to implement this section and ensure that the conduct of a student election does not affect the proper and efficient conduct of a general, special, or primary election.
This particular section is full of miscellaneous provisions, so I don't think there is any additional context here. It looks to me as if the state has the authority (though I have never seen them do it) to hold a completely independent election in parallel with students as young as six on the same ballot as their parents, the results of which would be tabulated in parallel.

A) Who the heck came up with this and took the time to write it down and get it passed through the legislature.

B) This idea is such a wonderful combination of stupid and delightful that am I saddened that we don't do it and simultaneously glad we do not.

Anyway, the first time I read that I thought that the state was authorizing student council elections to be held alongside the November general elections in the voting places. Which was a terribly silly notion.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that Tarrant County did very little of the actual amusing here. Rather, it really just pointed me to the far more reliably hilarious Texas Legislature. Still, Fort Worth has so little going for it that it probably needs my compliments to prevent it from withdrawing into itself and eventually committing a depressing sort of suicide. On the plus side, the official abbreviation of Fort Worth is FTW. 

Ideas

My head is unusually of ideas today, but all of them are crap (more than usual, that is), so I feel that pressing urge that something needs to be posted, but nothing is leaping over the very low hurdle of my crappy content bar.

I hate poetry. When re-reading the Lord of the Rings, I skip the poems. When I read anything with poems embedded in it, I skip the poems. I don't like them. If they have something valuable to say, then surely it can be said better without a meter, and if you have a meter, then you might as well put in some music. Poems on a page do absolutely nothing for me. Humorous limericks and the like don't really count for this, nor do the bits of Shakespeare which are intended to be read as dialogue more than as poetry.

Except this one; the only poem I have ever appreciated:


Ozymandias
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.' 
-P. B. Shelley.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Veteran's Day

Perhaps I am just bitter that I don't get a day off for the second-tier American holidays, and perhaps I have lingering issues with the fact that I get memorial day and veteran's day confused (specifically, my grandfather was a radar officer in WW2, and thus we often did veteran's day things with him. He has since passed on. peaceful-like, so does he get memorial day now, or is that reserved for "shot in battle" types, and does he still count for veteran's day? These are the questions that fill my nightmares).

Anyway, Veteran's day is crap. Certainly, any day that the vast federal bureaucracy is not actively working to undermine my liberty is a good day, but there are plenty of unsung heroes to make holidays for without lionizing warriors.

Let me say this once- No living veteran, as a soldier, made America better. Now, certainly after they got back many of them led full and productive lives filled with varying amounts of joy, but the civilian aspect of their lives is not what veteran's day celebrates. It celebrates a time in the lives of these men when they took resources taken, at gunpoint, from the American people in order to destroy resources, at gunpoint, from foreigners. In one war a roundabout argument may be made that America's freedom was defended and in another war one can justify our acts of vengeance. Winning WW2 may have made the world a better place, but the truth is that the only power in that war who had any intent on violating our territorial integrity was on the back burner until the ideological interests of the ruling president could be satisfied. As bad as 9/11 was, Al-Qaeda has never been, even at their peak, a genuine threat to America and the Afghan war was nothing more than a nationwide act of vengeance.

Consider the following:

  • Since 2011, there are no living veterans of wars before the second World War.
  • World War 2: The Japanese attacked and we spent the next two years fighting Germans. Eventually we got around to the last foreign power who has dared to initiate a war against us and committed atrocities that are remembered to this day. This was the last time we bothered to declare war on anyone.
  • Korean War: We cut a nation in half, and then slaughtered our way through a backwards nation until pissing of someone strong enough to push back.
  • Lebanese Civil War: Christians and Muslims fight. Our government, which has no official religion, sends tens of thousands of soldiers to fight with the Christians against the Arab Nationalist Muslims.
  • Vietnamese War: We backed a regime that cancelled elections when the people who would have overwhelmingly won said election fought back. Added bonus: We bombed the tar out of neighboring nations just to make them bleed.
  • Dominican Occupation: A duly elected government was overthrown by a military coup who dissolved the constitution. When the Constitutionalists complained, we invaded to defend the coup and then sat on them for a year before flying home.
  • Invasion of Grenada: Duly elected government is overthrown by a man named Bishop. When the former government regains power four years later, we invade to avenge the death of Bishop.
  • Lebanese Civil War: Remember how we propped up the minority Christians in Lebanon to rule undemocratically over the majority Muslim population? That ended badly, so we went back in to shoot us some Palestinians (What were they doing there? Maybe they got lost). Then we got sick of it and left.
  • Libyan bombings of 1981 and 1986: We funded Anti-Gaddafi rebels, so in retaliation, Gaddafi funded anti-Government rebels in the West. So we bombed the tar out of him until he stopped, and continued funding Anti-Gaddafi rebels.
  • Iran-Iraq war: We worried that our oil supplies would be disrupted, so we sent the largest naval force since WW2 to protect the oil tankers, and blew up anyone who got in our way. This was what a war for oil looks like.
  • Invasion of Panama: A military leader that we had funded to run rampant around Central America decided to settle down and get into politics. So we invaded. The official answer to the question of why we invaded Panama? "Just 'cause".
  • Gulf War: Totalitarian oil state invades another totalitarian oil state, so American soldiers fight and die to protect the totalitarian oil state. Then we fly around the country menacingly for a decade, just to remind them that we could fuck them over at any moment.
  • Bosnia: Bunch of ethnic groups get sick of each other and try to separate, but end up genociding each other instead, so we carpet bomb the whole lot of them.
  • Somalia: A post-colonial relic amalgamating a whole host of tiny nations gets sick of living together and tries to separate, so we send in the marines, but then leave when it isn't fun anymore, so maybe this one doesn't count.
  • Haiti: A president who supported the practice of "Necklacing", putting a tire around the neck of a political opponent and lighting it on fire, is ousted by a military coup. Bill Clinton invaded, probably due to cross cultural confusion over the term (NSFW).
  • Operation Infinite Reach: If that name doesn't tell you that something is wrong with our military apparatus, then put your head back in the sand and wave your flag until you choke on it, you jingoistic twit. This is where Clinton bombed a pharmaceutical plant hoping that the headlines would knock his sex scandals off the front page.
  • Kosovo: A bunch of ethnic Albanians start claiming territory in Serbia on the principle of "all the cool kids are doing it". The Serbians are a bit put out by this and make the Lincoln-esqe decision to hold their country together. So we bomb the tar out of them.
  • War on Terror: Terrorists, the scourge of modern life, commit a terrorist act. So we invade a country and start bombing everywhere we think there might be Muslims. Ten years later we find the guy responsible, celebrate for a bit, and get back to the business of killing Muslims across two continents.
  • Iraq War: We fly heavily armed aircraft over a nation for a decade to remind them that we could fuck them up at any moment if they step one toe out of line while their belligerent neighbor keeps talking about how belligerent they are feeling today. They threaten that if anyone messes with them, they have a huge bomb. So we fuck them up. They were bluffing.
  • Libya bombing: Didn't even bother with the half-assed unconstitutional "war resolutions" on this one. We saw a chance to finally get a political opponent of America, so we bombed the tar out of his nation.
By my count, I see twelve times in the last fifty years that we intervened in civil wars that had nothing to do with us, and a majority of those times we intervened in favor of despotism. I see two times that we fought in someone else's war to protect American interests. I see two times that we just up and bombed some Muslims because we didn't like them.

I sure am glad that we are the great international force for good! Think of how much more arbitrary and violent this list would be if we were the bad guys!

Now, some of our veterans were draftees-- American citizens taken from their homes at gunpoint and enslaved for four years to do the hard, dangerous, and morally questionable work of murdering foreigners. They do not deserve our scorn, but our apologies, and certainly not a whole day celebrating their enslavement.

Also, I don't blame the servicemen nearly as much as I do our political leaders that got us into these wars. But whether or not they thought they were volunteering to defend American lives and liberties, what they actually did was fly around the world and kill people who had neither the desire nor, typically, the capability to cause any real damage to our nation.

When we get invaded-- or should a true despot ever take power-- then I will not only commend the actions of our soldiers, I will join them. 

Until then, ask yourself whether we should be celebrating the world's most expensive pack of killers, or if instead we should have a holiday for Jonas Salk, Edward Jenner, or Norman Borlaug.

(We have attacked all the countries in blue since 1950. Except the US, don't know why that is blue)

Postscript: One good thing came out of the 1986 Libyan intervention:


Friday, November 9, 2012

Justice is Baffling

Imagine that I have a stick, and I use that stick to hit another person. Justice will demand that I be thrown in a cage for a specified amount of time, I may have to forfeit a portion of my property, and could face execution.

The notion of Justice hangs only inches from my grasp, yet those few inches may as well be the chasm between stars for all the progress I have made along it. I certainly accept the general consensus of Justice, that bad things deserve punishment. I even accept that it is right for the sufficiently wicked to receive punishment and attempt restitution. And yet I find myself curiously unable to prove to any satisfactory degree that this is a morally good order.

Let us assume, as I attempt to work through this, that the system of justice is flawless, though in reality we know it is not.

Pretend I have a stick and a rock. I own both these things, for the strongest conceivable value of ownership possible. Let us say I hit the rock with the stick. Then a courtroom appears and the court is asked the question, should I be thrown in a cage for hitting the rock with a stick. The answer, I hope, would be no. A rock is an inanimate lump of matter possessing no rights of its own, as well as being my property-- in effect an extension of my own will. Without context it seems clear that the act of hitting a rock with a stick is morally neutral, and certainly not an act to inspire disapproval.

Let us now assume the rock is owned by another person, and I hit the rock with a stick. While a stick is unlikely to do a great deal of damage to the rock, when our courtroom appears they will find me guilty of a crime. Not a large crime, something like vandalism or unauthorized use, but still a crime. This is not because the rock has any rights of its own to be violated, but because the rock is now owned by a different person, and through that ownership becomes an extension of the other person's will, an extension of the other person, and in hitting the rock with a stick I have caused harm to another person and brought myself into the hypothetical at the 

Now I have a stick and a goat. I own both the stick and the goat, and have the goat reasonably well confined. Let us say I hit the goat. My reasons are irrelevant at the moment, even though I hate goats with an abiding passion and believe they deserve absolutely everything bad that happens to them and none of the good things. Our court appears and notes that my actions are not identical to hitting a person, since the goat does not have agency, and not identical to hitting a rock, because the goat is animate. Ultimately, the court must decide that no criminal act has occurred. After all, the goat has no property right over itself, since I am the one who owns the goat, and no right to liberty, since there was no problem with me confining the goat. The goat does not have a right to life, evidenced by the fact that goats are killed everyday for food and leather and glue (and whatever else). If killing the goat is within my rights and not a violation of the goat's rights, it is clear that merely hitting it with a stick cannot be a criminal act. In the real world, there are certain jurisdictions which would hold this as a criminal act, but there are also jurisdictions that would hold the possession of marijuana to be a criminal act. Clearly the laws of states are not perfect proxies for the Laws that should guide justice.

Now I am sitting on the fence, watching two goats. One goat has a stick and hits the other goat with it. Since neither goat is a moral actor with rights or agency, this is no more a crime than when a rock falls upon another. Crimes cannot be committed against goats, only against moral agents.

While no crime has been committed against the goat, you are, of course, free to judge my actions as less than neutral and scorn me appropriately, but my considerations today encompass only those things for which a court would be justified in throwing me in a cage for.

Now I have a stick and there is a person in front of me. I own the stick, though obviously I cannot own the person to the same extent I own a goat. If I hit that person, who I do not own, I am violating the property rights of another person in the same manner that I was when I hit the rock, since a person owns their own body, with the added bonus that I am now directly diminishing the life of that other person as well. It is right that I get thrown in a cage for this.

Now let us assume that I have signed a contract with that person. In exchange for some compensation (nominal or substantial) that person has given me the right to hit them with a stick. Having signed the contract, I hit them with a stick. Should I be thrown in jail?

Another way to put this question is: Are the fundamental rights to life, liberty and property truly and completely inalienable? The founding fathers believed so, but they also held slaves. If such rights are truly inalienable, then a slaveholder (of imported Africans) must necessarily believe that Africans are less than human, and more akin to goats. If we are to hold slaves and still consider them human, at least human enough to be created with rights, then those rights must not be inalienable. Similarly, in the first case a person cannot sign a contract allowing me to hit them with a stick while still remaining a person, while in the second case such a contract would be allowed. Let us proceed without resolving this by holding both cases in mind. As an aside, the notion that all men possess inalienable rights is a far more troublesome notion than is popularly believed, though I believe it is a sufficiently worthwhile sentiment to go through that trouble. Not today, though.

Now, again, I have a stick, and there is a person in front of me. There are no pre-existing arrangements or relationships between me and the other person. I own the stick outright, with no contracts or conditions. That person takes my stick from me and refuses to give it back. This person has violated my property right as surely (though to a different degree) as when I hit the rock owned by another person a few paragraphs ago. While the precise nature of appropriate punishment is beyond this screed, let us agree that a crime has been committed against me.

Now I have the stick again, and another person, with whom I share no history, stands before me. I hit that person with the stick, thus committing a crime. As I wind up to hit them again, they take my stick from me. When I ask for my stick back they refuse to return it. The act of taking my stick was an act of self defense, since I am now no longer able to injure the other person when I was clearly intending to previously. This, intuitively, is not a crime. Let us also state that an analogous situation would be if they broke my arm to prevent me from continuing to hit them, with or without pairing that action with stick theft. Let us ignore the notion of proportionality in self defense for the moment.

We now have three intuitive results. 1) When I hit someone, it is a crime. 2) When someone takes away my property, it is a crime. 3) When, I hit someone and they take away my property, it is not a crime. I believe that all of these results are true, for some substantial value of truth. If my fundamental rights are alienable, then we can reconcile these things by stating that I have, by violating the rights of others, forfeited some portion of my own human rights. If my fundamental rights are truly inalienable, then we are forced to conclude that in violating the rights of others I have forfeited my very status as a human being.

Note that in extreme cases, these equate to the same thing. If I commit a crime so heinous that the death penalty is imposed (and remember that we are assuming the justice system to be perfect, whatever that may mean), then whether that is interpreted as me having forfeited completely my right to life, or if that is interpreted as me no longer being a human being and thus my execution is no more morally problematic than the slaughter of a goat, the outcome is the same. Where this matters is in the smaller crimes, the arsons, the burglaries, the petty assaults.

We have two options, and cannot reject both of them. If I, as an upstanding citizen in full possession of my full complement of rights and secure in my humanity, am abducted by government agents in the night and locked in a cage, that is an unjust act. If we deny that I can lose my status as a full person, and we insist that the fundamental rights to life, liberty and property are inalienable, then by locking me in a cage a crime is committed against me, no matter what the circumstances. Since we are assuming the justice system to be perfect, it cannot commit any crimes, and is thus unable to arrest me while I am in possession of a full complement of human rights.

This gets us to another point. Either our fundamental rights are alienable, or prison rape is acceptable (uh, oh. Tipping my hand here a bit). If our fundamental rights are alienable, at least through the violation of the rights of others, then it is implicitly the task of a court, in sentencing, to carefully circumscribe those rights that are to be taken away and for what period. If, for the crime of hitting someone with a stick, it is decided by the court that my liberty should be restricted to a cage in a prison for a certain time, then it remains a violation of my remaining rights for someone else in the prison to subsequently hit me with a stick during that time. Even those rights removed temporarily may in fact still be retained to a certain extent. If the court decides that my right to avoid bodily harm has been forfeited for a set period of time, then a case could still be made that harm which we can reasonably anticipate will last beyond that period of time, like amputation or death, is a crime against the future rights I hold. I will not investigate this possibility further today.

If, however, my rights are inalienable, then the task of a court is to first determine that I am no longer a person, and thus no more in possession of rights than a goat, and then to determine how to best dispose of me. Assume for the moment that the sentence in this case as well is confinement to a prison for a period of time, and in that confinement I am hit with a stick by another similarly confined criminal. This scenario is no different from that of two goats attacking each other. It may be in the interests of any onlookers or prison managers to intervene, but there is no moral quality to the incident. Nor would there be if the hitting was instead rape or murder, any more than there is a moral quality to the killing of a rabbit by a fox or a rape among baboons.

Which of these two systems do we generally practice? On one hand, you could look at the fact that when two prisoners fight, and are caught, there is typically some additional punishment imposed. And yet that is hardly definitive evidence for the alienability perspective. When my parent's dog, not a moral actor, pees in the house he is punished with loud noises and by having his nose placed in the offending area. This is not a case of the dog losing his right not to be so punished, but rather a Pavlovian correctional measure done without regard to the dog's rights.

We could consider than many criminals are not allowed to vote or purchase weapons, which, on its face seems consistent with the theory that they are no longer people, merely beasts allowed after a correctional period to join society, though to a lesser extent than full people are permitted. However, these laws have been around for quite some time, and it is more likely than not that a judge considered the post-prison aspect of the crime at sentencing, and could be, in effect, removing specifically the right to not be in prison for five years, as well as the right to vote for a longer duration.

I believe that the best single piece of evidence is to compare this bill in Nevada with the effects of the recently passed legalization of marijuana in Colorado. Since it is no longer a crime in Colorado to possess marijuana (all caveats aside), people will no longer be sent to prison for possessing marijuana. In contrast, it was previously the case that every sex offender in Nevada was, upon release, allowed to live within 1000 feet of a playground. If we assume alienability, then the judge, at sentencing, had the option of removing that right for life and chose not to. Therefore this bill, under that theory, would only apply to new sex offenders. It does not, indicating that at the time of conviction the sex offender is no longer considered to be fully human, and thus it is acceptable to modify any terms of his imprisonment or reintegration at any time. To give a similar example, I last night I told my kittens that they would only get one treat each that night, and yet I changed the terms of that one sided agreement and ended up giving them three each, wholly at my discretion and without regards to any rights they might possess. 

Because in the current US justice system, we act as if fundamental rights are inalienable, and thus that criminals are not people. That is to say, we act that way to the extent we act in any sort of consistent manner. I would, I think, prefer an environment where fundamental rights can be given up under certain circumstances, typically with direct consent or consent implied through the social contract.

It is also possible that there are no consistent, simple rules for any part of morality and everything is completely ad hoc.