Saturday, April 27, 2013

Publishing a Null Result

Tyler Cowen, a man much more intelligent than me, noted in the recent GDP release that a substantial part of the quarter's underperformace comes from defense spending cuts. He notes, correctly, that we should recognize this to be the best sort of underperformance, since the point of economic outputs is to ultimately make us happier (for a broad definition of happy), and bombs don't really do that.

So this set off my long dormant econ-alert alarms. Is this a thing which happens often? Have we underestimated how much the economy has recovered since the end of the crisis, especially considering the fact that the recovery coincidentally coincided with the drawdown in Iraq?

In order to answer that question I took a run to the BEA and grabbed the nominal GDP accounts going back to 1995. I then built a secondary GDP set that included the usual C+I+G+nX, but then subtracted out the defense spending breakout data to produce a Non-Defense GDP. I rather like this measure of national income as an aesthetic and philosophical choice, since the money we spend murdering foreigners does not improve the lives of US citizens, but the aesthetics are beside the point. Since 1995, have there been any differential trends between GDP and NDGDP?

The answer is no.

Click for bigger
There have been a few blips, and indeed the last two quarters have seen GDP growing more weakly than NDGDP, which tells us that anyone not paying attention is likely underestimating the nominal growth in the consumer economy, though only by .15% last quarter and about twice that in Q4.

2011 2012 2013

GDP %chg 0.54% 1.27% 1.06% 1.04% 1.03% 0.69% 1.45% 0.34% 0.92%
ND GDP %chg 0.71% 1.18% 1.05% 1.28% 1.13% 0.72% 1.34% 0.67% 1.09%

I conclude that this is not a trend, only an interesting tidbit from the GDP report. Which holds to our prior which says that if anything was happening it would have been noticed a long time ago by people smarter than me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Getting Pumped (and Hyped) For the Future

I like to say, both here and in real life, that we are living in the future. After all, I own a device that fits easily in my hand or pocket, which I acquired for "free" (two-year telecom contract) that can;

  • Store 1,000 songs (or more) and play them back at high quality at any desired time
  • Connect in under a minute to any page on the Wikipedia, which holds a substantial portion of the collective knowledge of mankind
  • Connect in under a minute to Reddit, which holds a substantial portion of the collective moronic circlejerking of mankind
  • Store thousands of books including the collected works of Shakespeare (haven't read), Arthur C. Doyle (partly read), nearly all popular modern authors, and a whole host of popular or serious non-fiction.
  • Automatically download and display the results and highlights of professional sports games.
  • Synchronize with my email and schedule
  • Find and purchase movie tickets
  • Find and display weather, news, and other sundry information
  • Store and index a complete Japanese-English dictionary, as well as study materials for my failed attempt to learn another language
  • Store note, both text and voice
  • Tune a guitar
  • Measure a heartrate through a camera
  • Take pictures or video
  • Connect to youtube to watch or send videos
  • Listen to a song and tell me what the title and artist are
  • Play recordings from various intensities of thunderstorms to provide soothing ambient noise
  • Play an assortment of games and puzzles
  • Emulate an old-style Game Boy Color to play even more games
  • Connect to the internet to find and interact with anything left off this list
  • And make telephone calls.
If that isn't some mad future shit right there, I don't know what is.

But the great thing about the future is that it is not an end. Like the horizon it will always stretch out before us, holding our view with a still more glorious dawn, and while Sagan's dreamed of "galaxy-rise" is still out of reach, the next decade is bearing witness to the adoption of some absolutely mind-blowing awesomeness.

Oculus Rift:

Oculus Rift is a pretty awesome name for a pretty awesome device. The short of it is that VR, virtual reality, is finally a thing. This is not pie-in-the-sky; thousands of kits have already been sold to developers for under $1,000 each and the first generation consumer version is expected to be out in Q4 of this year.

If you don't play immersive video games, the first generation may not do that much for you (though wait a few years for 3D Planet Earth documentaries narrated the David Attenborough). If you do, however, this video here, featuring the omni treadmill input device, should be all it takes to convince you:
This time next year, I will be gaming with Oculus Rift. Just thinking that gets me tingly.


People are chemicals. Food is just window dressing for a chemical input system, and is expensive, time consuming, and not even optimized for human consumption. Soylent is an idea that has been around for a long time, but the current incarnation is the brainchild of one Rob Rhinehart, a dedicated amateur in the true enlightenment mold. Fundamentally, he takes all the individual nutrients necessary for survival, pours them in a cup of water, and drinks it down. The brown sludge is supposed to taste less bad than you would imagine, which sort of makes sense since there is a minimum of volatile benzenes and it is mostly oats and sugars by volume. After three months, he has mostly perfected the solution and now has created a single cheap, easy food that it is possible to live (and live well) consuming exclusively.

Certainly, this is also not a product for everyone all the time, especially not people who are anything other than healthy, non-pregnant adults, and the creator recognizes that. But the theory is absolutely sound, and in practice it seems like he has hit most of the rough patches he is likely to encounter (mostly by forgetting to include key micronutriants or by poisoning himself on phosphates) and by the time the year is out and his kickstarter has succeeded this looks like it will be an actual product that actual people can actually buy. By this time next year, the hassle of food will be completely optional.

Now, I have the same hesitation I suspect many of you have. Present-me quite enjoys certain foods. Present-me worries that my life will be duller for giving up chicken and bacon and homemade salsa. However, my conversations with vegetarians and other restricted diet types seems to indicate that future-me is likely to have his preferences change as his diet changes and that he will miss the favorite foods much less than present-me expects. Additionally, even the creator says, "This past month 92% of my meals were soylent. I haven't given up food entirely, and I don't want to." He cites times of eating out with friends, going to sushi places, and eating occasional bacon, stressing, "I didn't give up food, I just got rid of the bad food."

"Soylent doesn't force you give up food any more than email forces you to give up talking. The point is having another option. Perhaps this does not constitute the ideal diet, but I am quite confident that it is healthier than any easy diet, and easier than any healthy diet. I'm touched so many people are concerned about my intake of possible unknown essential nutrients. No one seemed to worry about me when I lived on burritos and ramen and actually was deficient of many known essential nutrients. The body is pretty robust. If you can survive on what most Americans or Somalians eat, you can surely survive on Soylent. I'm no longer just surviving, though. I'm thriving."

3D Printing:

Everyone is really excited about 3D printing already, and the fact is that there are enough 3D printers, design shares, and 3rd party manufacturers that a real renaissance in small scale production is well underway. As 3D printers get cheaper, easier, larger, and more durable, these will become the physical counterpoint to the internet. Much as the internet has made the problem of not having the answer to a trivial problem obsolete (apparently people used to argue about who played what role in a film), a good Makerbot will make the problem of not having exactly the right part for a repair or improvement project obsolete. You will have every size screw, every type of fitting, and every sort of pipe. You will always have the exact right size part to stick under a wobbly table leg, or a snap in arm for your child's broken action figure.

And, of course, beyond the practical applications, 3D printing supports a whole new field of artistic endeavor  Already a very particular wiry aesthetic has emerged that could well define fashion and decor for the next decade or two. The great thing about a Makerbot is that it isn't a thing, but a platform for other things onto which the creativity of humanity can step and find itself elevated ever closer to godhood.

I am unlikely to participate actively in this particular revolution for quite a number of generations, simply because I don't have the time or general inclination to create novel physical items and because my need for arbitrary spare parts is minimal. But this is the sort of rising tide that I will benefit from simply by having it existing and growing in the background.

Personal HUDs:

Already we have stodgy sorts bemoaning the dystopian potential of Google Glass, which is probably just a testament to the power of Google, but once the input UI is perfected (no, voice only is a terrible idea) there is no doubt in my mind that these or their successor devices will be replacing smartphones, and will be doing so within five years of the first successful model. I have to make myself get excited about my phone, chiefly because I view it as a poorer, though portable, version of my PC, and my PC is an incredible machine, so I suspect I will be no more than a mainstream adopter of this technology, which means I am looking at a five year horizon for my Glass.

Automated Cars:

Yea, we have all seen these. A really cool way to save lives, but I drive like once every two weeks and if I actually paid all the vehicle fees I am supposed to (instead of panicking every time I see a cop) I would probably give it up for a motorcycle and rain jacket. So we are ten year from mass adoption, and probably longer before I get one (except in the likely case that they become mandated for safety reasons).

Delivery Drones:

This is already a thing: UAVs loaded with tacos and GPS navigation were deployed in San Francisco until the Government, the staunchest enemy of peaceful progress, shut them down. This is no longer a problem waiting for the right technology, it is a great idea waiting for a good team of lobbyists and lawyers. There was a similar project in Germany, for those still skeptical.

After all, the most important part about moving into the post-scarcity society of the future is automation, allowing people who would otherwise have to spend countless hours in the mundane task of pizza delivery to instead pursue higher (or at least more enjoyable) activities.

The bottom line is how could anyone living in America be anything less than super happy and super excited all the time by how many amazing things surround us all the time? A starving Ethiopian child has something to complain about, but the fact is that being unhappy in America is either character flaw, a temporary shock, or a medical condition.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Credit Where Due

Sometimes the legislature goes back and fixes mistakes. In Texas, the legislature for whatever reason has imposed a price cartel for defensive driving classes (which you take after getting a ticket to keep marks off your insurance and license). But now they are considering removing the minimum fee for DD classes, and someone on the internet thought that was a bad idea. So I set him straight rather comprehensively over on reddit.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Privacy, Anonymity, and Apathy

I don't like to talk about work on the blog, partly because I am often blogging on slow days at the office, and also because I really, really like being paid. But no one reads this, and if I ever get big enough that even my boss has heard of me, then I will probably be big enough to live off ad revenues anyhow.

The FCC enacted a regulation a few months back. I haven't actually read the regulation (it isn't fun when you have to do it), but essentially it says that polling firms need to provide a contact number for complaints. I, by the way, work at a polling firm. As an aside, this tremendously small change is mandated by the federal government and ultimately backed with the full force of the strongest band of professional killers and kidnappers to ever gather in the history of the planet. All that power, the power to fine, imprison, or ultimately kill, as the unconvicted suspect in Boston learned yesterday, employed for the earth-shattering purpose of making sure the complaints line is manned by our company and not the call center, and invoked at the whim of one man, Julius Genachowski, who was appointed by a man elected by a group of people who were in turn elected in statewide elections where their names were often not displayed anywhere on the ballot. Of the five hundred fourty-six individuals who could be said to comprise the leadership of this country, who are paid attention to and held accountable at regular intervals, it is entirely possible that not a one of them is even aware that this policy has been promulgated in their name to be backed with the full faith, force, and credit of our unshakable union.

Prior to this, it was sufficient for the call center (who directly interacts with the respondents) to have a complaint line. This makes sense because nearly all of the complaints are either "take me off your list" or "the guy on the phone is a jerkface", neither of which affects us, who just sends scripts and phone numbers and gets back data (they compile their own do-not-call list that they apply to all their clients). Once in a blue moon they will forward some actually relevant complaint that we can deal with.

But now we have to give them one of our telephone numbers. We didn't set up a whole new line for complaints, ain't nobody got time for that. Instead they just gave out my line. So I get complaints. So far we have gotten three requests to be removed from our lists, which were "forwarded to the relevant department heads" snicker. For all that I like to style myself "Chief Post-Processing Analytics Engineer And Majestic Potentate Of Internet Programming, Collections, And Synergies", we don't have department heads because there are six of us. I once looked at getting a plaque made to put on my desk, but a nameplate that large was all kinds of expensive, which I guess makes my paygrade above my paygrade, or some such.

Also, pro-tip; If you want to be removed from a phone list, tell the person on the phone RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Either it is a volunteer who doesn't give a shit and will be ignoring your complaint anyway, OR it is a professional phone center that has a process in place and will put you on the call center's centralized DNC list, exempting you from that call AND ALL OTHER CALLS FROM ALL OTHER PHONE SHOP CLIENTS. If you call me after the fact, I have no idea who you are, am going to do the absolute minimal shit job I can do, and you will still be on the lists of everyone else in the entire world.

Anyway, today I was really busy, had all sorts of important things to be doing that demanded my total concentration. So that's when the phone rings.

"Hello this is company, how can I help you?" I say that, not the caller, because it would be weird if people were calling the complaint line trying to improve my day.

"So," she hems and haws for a bit, "I am taking your survey right now." Oh, great, because we only have one survey in the whole world, lovingly handcrafted and sent right to you, "and I am on the question about [topic redacted]" well, praise Christ that I happened to hear about that particular topic when a co-worker was bitching about that survey so I know what you are talking about, I must be a goddamn mind reader, "and I was wondering, if I give a negative answer, will they know it was me?"

To this question I give The Correct Answer, "All responses will only be presented in an aggregated and anonymized format. Privacy is very important to us at company." This is considered to be The Correct Answer for two reasons:

  1. It makes the respondent feel better, and more importantly it makes them go away.
  2. It is true. Technically true, which we all know is the best kind of true.
Certainly, when the data is presented, it will all be anonymized and aggregated. The chart will say that 73% said yes, 20% said no, and 7% had popsicles so far up in their colons that they were unable to respond intelligibly.

Note: Not An Actual Chart From My Employer. We use SPSS, not R.
That is because our clients want to know about the very important issue. They want to know if their product launch will succeed, or if they will get re-elected, or why their customers are such whiny bitches all the time. What they absolutely, positively, do not care about and would not even if they had the time, is YOUR OPINION. You are not a special snowflake, your are not made of magic, and just going by the numbers from our recent survey, you are eight times out of ten A) wrong, B) ignorant, C) borderline illiterate, and D) stupid. When we (not actually we, more of a they because the boss doesn't let me get within ten miles of clients, and for very good reason) present the results, the executives in the presentation do not say, "Yes, but what does Alonzo down on Maple Street think?". They do not say, "That sure is an astute response there, what are the rest of that person's opinions so we can do that." Your privacy is safe because nobody gives a fuck.

However, every economist has two hands (My macro professor had no fewer than eight), and on the other hand the absolute fact is that your privacy is dead. We at the office have to seek out data on people, but all we really want to know is the general area you live in, your phone number, and occasionally whether you have voted or not. Just by looking for that, we end up finding your exact street address, your partisan preferences, your annual voting history in November, Primary, and minor elections, your voter registration, your name, your spouse's name and some or all of your children's names, all of which just sits on the file, regarded by us as junk data that we aren't going to use, because, again, nobody gives a fuck.

But when you have this much data, you wonder just how much more there is out there. So once I did a search for myself in all the databases. So if I actually wanted to hunt that caller down and give them hell for expressing a negative opinion, what could I do?

Since they called, they are on my radar. The office, just like nearly everyone, has caller ID, so I have at least a last name, and it was a fairly distinct and memorable name. Let us say it came up as Joe Smith. When the data comes in, because it ultimately came either from a voter registration file or a membership list the client provided (or both), it will have Joe Smith's name on it, tied to a unique internal ID number. Joe mentioned on the phone the gender of his children (more than one) just in passing, so if there is more than one Joe Smith I can look for the one making negative comments, and the one with more than one children of that gender, which in a sample of a few hundred to a thousand is almost certain to net me the correct Smith. Joe will have not only answered all the questions for our client, revealing his opinion on the client's actions and behavior which could well be embarrassing or socially awkward depending on the opinions, he will have also at the end answered questions (completely voluntarily - refusal rates rarely exceed 5%, or 10% for the very most sensitive subjects like income) about his demographic status like race, ethnicity, income, home ownership, religion, church attendance, ideology and partisanship, age, gender, marital status, number of children, preferred news sources, existence of a Facebook account, existence of a twitter account and years residing at current address, mostly honestly, all of his own free will. Then I can go into our standard database, which attaches to just about everything we do, and find complete vote history, any cohabitants (and repeat the process on them), voter registration number, address, alternate address, alternate phone numbers and an assortment of demographic information. So far everything I have gotten is either public record or freely provided. From there I can jump into our secondary database of semi-private things, all of which are either public record or freely provided by Joe Smith at some point in his life, but which you can only access by paying a fee, a few thousand dollars for everyone in the State of Texas, and will tell us things like magazine subscriptions, hobbies, "target demographic", partisanship, general partisan beliefs (pro-life, Christian, ACLU supporter), specific partisan beliefs (supported a border fence proposal, opposed a bond measure) and credit card profiles. Already I have a pretty good picture of what Joe Smith looks like, just from the massive databases we accumulate almost by accident going about our daily business. Also, we update our file every two years, so I can check against the last fifteen years of records to see if Joe Smith has taken any previous surveys, but the odds of that are pretty slim.

Still, armed with a name, address, phone number, and a bevy of confirming demographics (to help select a particular Joe Smith when facing an array of them), we can really start to invade some privacy. I close out of our databases, save all of Joe's information and get up out of my chair. Then I sit right the fuck back down and get online because I can know all manner of shit about you without leaving the computer. First thing I do, since Joe is in a large Texas county, is check the appraisal district website. Sticking in the address and confirming the name, I can find out what his house is worth, all the improvements to his house, the chain of title, the taxable value, every taxing district he is in (and thus the school district, and thus make a guess as to what school his children attend and then cross reference with cohabitant ages on file to find out what grade) and any tax penalties like non-payment which could indicate financial troubles. As an added amusement, I pop over to Google Earth to get a top down view of the house, a street view, and detailed driving directions from anywhere in the world. Since Joe is also in a big city, I can check the zoning office online, just in case he is trying to add on a new pool or some such. While we are having fun, I check the sex offender registry, both to find Joe and to see if he has any sex offender neighbors I can tell about his children, then county arrest records, then the occupational licencing records (here is a list of every licensed boxer in the State of Texas). Finally, I check to see (or know in advance, because we ask it as a question) if he has a facebook account and what fun stuff is on there (possibly confirming the size and type of family, as well as uncovering any drunken shenanigans).

If I get more ambitious, I can get up out of my chair and drive down to the Environmental Quality Commission records office (worked there for a few summers) and get a complete environmental report of his property (and then check it against the current state of the property, with fines for every misstatement or violation). I can check PACER and Lexis-Nexus for court reports and news accounts of Joe. 

Then I can compile that into a huge dossier. This is, from what I understand, exactly what modern private detectives do for a living. But I don't, because I don't care. When I get complaints I fantasize about compiling their information and mailing a thousand slanderous leaflets to all their neighbors. In fact, the cost of printing and mailing a thousand letters would be the most expensive and time consuming part of the entire enterprise.

But I don't.

Because I don't care.

And neither does anyone else.

Unless you get famous or piss someone off.

My new favorite person in the entire universe

This post used to be titled, "My new favorite person in the whole world", but that isn't even accurate, because my new favorite person is Commander Chris Hadfield, Astronaut, Science Enthusiast, and Really Great Guy.

His youtube playlist is here. This guy is all the charm and good nature of Mr. Rodgers, and the science love of Bill Nye, with the added bonus of being IN SPACE RIGHT NOW.

If I had children, this is who they would be watching.
Also he tweets from space! Lots of photos.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sales and Scams

Sitting at the office today and the phone rings. No one is around so I pick it up. The recorded voice of a robot is on the line. By the way, how absolutely amazing is it that we have a global network to transmit sound in real time, and that network is used by robots to engage in commerce with humans.

Anyway, the robot tells me that because my company accepts visa and mastercard, we are eligible for a free super fancy card reader. Now, I don't know enough to say with absolute certainty that we don't accept credit cards here at the office, but I do know that we really aren't a customer/credit card business, more a client/invoice/check business. Maybe someone in accounts got us set up at some point, and maybe we use it occasionally, I don't know.

Anyway, I hung up at that point because we don't need a card reader and I had more important shit to be doing. And yet I wonder; that could well have been a completely serious, legitimate offer. Perhaps one of the new payment system companies that have started advertising are trying to gain customer adoption by driving business adoption. Maybe it is an established company hoping to gain our business with free samples. But it could just as easily have been yet another scam like the business listing robot calls we get three times a week.

And I realized that I have no way to tell the difference.

What if I, notable inventor that I am, actually invented a penis enlargement pill? I don't have a lot of funding sources, and what money I could get my hands on would have to go towards manufacturing. But how would I get off the ground? The most effective way to get the word out is advertising, and I doubt there are many people left on the internet who would consider a person selling penis enlargement to be legit even if it really was. What if one Iowa mom really did discover a weird trick to beat belly fat? After all, good advertising is pretty hard and a new company getting off the ground, or even an inventor distrustful of ad-men but supremely confident in her invention, might well run a whole lot of shitty ads.

Take 5-hour energy, as an example. I had already tried that product, and knew it was legit, but when they started running shitty TV ads, it really looked like a scam. It wasn't a scam, but I have been trained by all the hucksters on the internet to just assume that anything other than the slickest, most professional ads are probably advertising sketchy services.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Privilege Guilt

So first off, I never, ever manage to spell privilege correctly on the first try. I get it wrong, and the little spell check line pops up, and I never ever get it right. Let that be the background for tonight's entertainment.

I took the last allergy pill yesterday. Not the last in the whole world, just the last one in my apartment. So, of course, I don't go down to the store to purchase more until tonight about three hours after my usual dose so it is dark and scary (though not actually all that scary). I get a different brand than usual because the stuff I was taking wasn't working all that well. The stuff I do get is pink and the size of my thumb. Seriously, this shit better work, because I will be swallowing a thumb every day for a month and that is not my idea of a good time. Also I get some more toothpaste, because I totally would have run out pretty soon.

So I am walking back home, in the dark, along the sidewalk. I cross a driveway as a car is coming out, so I pick up the pace a little. There is a man in front of me with a pretty hefty cane and two prosthetic feet. Possibly more than just feet, but he is wearing those shorts that cut off halfway up the shin, so I can't really tell. Anyway, with the cane and the prosthesis he isn't walking very fast and I have always been a fast walker, so I walk around him on the sidewalk and carry on about my business.

At which point I think to my self, oh shit, did I just do something insensitive and offensive without realizing it? Was passing him on the sidewalk another slap in the face, another taunt of why you going so slow, cripple? Have I just made his evening substantially worse?

But what should I have done? Should I have slowed down and followed like a creeper? Gone real slow and hope he didn't notice? But wouldn't that be treating him differently, drawing attention to his disability? Or should I call it a condition?

Or I could walk up and talk to him, enriching both our lives and providing an excuse to match his pace. NO. SOCIAL INTERACTION IS UNACCEPTABLE.

And then I thought, wait, shouldn't I be blind to this sort of thing? Am I a bad person for worrying about it, because I have defined this fellow in my head, a guy who could be all sorts of things like a painter or a brain surgeon or what have you, by his disability/condition/differently-abledness? Or should I be worried about how I react to it, because there is something I should be doing in this situation but I am not and somehow the only thing I can be certain of is that I am racist, but for crippled people (also regular racist, and sexist, and religionist, and probably directly responsible for slavery, genocide, and the cancelling of Firefly).

Then I thought to myself; That guy probably has problems in his life. I also have problems in my life, though probably I have fewer problems. I am going to worry about my problems, and not worry about the problems I don't have, and instead be happy I don't have problems. Then I am going to watch some Dr. Who, because apparently (another word I never spell correctly) the season started two weeks ago and no one told me.

Way to let me down, internet.


Had my first migraine in a number of years this morning. It still hasn't gone away, even after pills, and is sort of resting behind my right eye as I type, twinging a bit with each jerk of my eyeball.

I used to get migraines all the time before I got glasses, and since then I think I have had two, so yay optical science!

I still remember the first migraine, and my mind casts back to it with each new episode. It was in middle school, at a friend's house, the morning after a sleepover. I woke up feeling poorly, but it wasn't like there was school to skip so I didn't complain. We were playing basketball in the driveway and I was sluggish as hell, but still doing alright because I had about a foot and a half on my friend and his moves were slick but I had gotten a good feel for them.

That devolves into free form shooting and I keep missing about a foot to the right. Friend says "you can't hit anything today," to which I respond, "yea, its this thing in my eye like a hole in my eye," and he looks at me and says "a hole in your eye?" with as much skepticism as is appropriate and I say yea, a hole of like fuzzing empty light. But it doesn't really register on either of us because we are small children in this story.

The lethargy grows gradually. First I stand a bit too long after moving, then I sit down, and then I give up completely and lie down. It was in the standing too long phase that the nausea hit and the sitting down phase that the headache began. At this point you may be wondering why on earth I was still in uncomfortably bright driveway making any attempt at basketball. But hell, I make astonishingly poor choices now, how much poorer must my decision making have been in middle school.

Anyway, at some point I do go lay down causing my friend to go into the kitchen and seek out the kitchen-residing problem solver who calls my kitchen-residing problem solver and tells her that I need to be fetched. I am left in a dark room. Every sound, no matter how slight, is a sledgehammer to a spot right behind and above the eyes. Every photon becomes a bullet punching through the back of my eyes and halfway into the front of my skull. The nausea floats just below the point that would let me purge breakfast, and instead makes it swirl around endlessly. If there are any parts of the environment that I could manipulate to lessen my pain, the lethargy which sank into every bone, a lethargy unequaled until I nearly died of swine flu in college, made damn sure that I left it as it was.

Eventually I was fetched and medicated, though once a migraine has gotten started regular headache medicine only does so much. The headaches would re-occur about every other month and about a year later I got glasses and the world was a miracle again.

So here we are this morning. I did not want to get up, but the cats were like "Fuck you, feed me" for an hour so I did, and ended up stepping on poor Solomon, and out of habit I turned on the computer and the screen came up and it was like a million needles being jabbed into salted wounds where my eyes and the few inches of bone and skull around my eyes used to be. And in that moment I felt the nausea, the lethargy, the malaise that separated itself from early morning sleep inertia. And of course the headache which previously was just a budding throb flowering into a full grown knot of anguish.

So it is pill time. Then it is hot shower time. Then it is lie about in the darkness moaning in pain while the cats paw at me going "Is it dinner time yet" NO IT IS NOT DINNER TIME YET.

There are people in this world- real, live human beings who are probably better people than me on the whole- who do not have access to pills, and even more who could get them, but at ruinous expense (not actually sure which is worse). There are people without plumbing, people with plumbing but no heat, and maybe even people with plumbing but no shower. There are people who cannot afford to live alone, who live in houses so small that they cannot kick everyone out of a room and turn out the lights. There are even people whose houses will not properly block out light until the sun goes down, and maybe not even then if there are streetlights. There are people so desperate for work that they cannot take the morning off, not just because they will be fired subsequently, but because the labors of the morning are necessary for dinner that night.

And all of those deprivations, in their most extreme form, are the natural state of mankind in which most of humanity ever and much of it still today has lived.

I make $34,000 a year and can mitigate nearly all the suffering of a migraine. I am not middle class, and I am certainly not poor. I am fucking loaded. I am astonishingly wealthy. I am the 1%.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why has Reddit stolen my life?

Because it is full of shit, but also sometimes includes gems like this:

Right, enough of this.

So my one commenter was commenting about how glad he is I am writing again, but writing has never been enjoyable for me, it is just that the stories push against my mind until the disutility of not recording them exceeds the disutility of writing. Definitely a sub-optimal equillibrium. There will certainly be more posts as the years roll by, but nothing on any sort of regular basis. That last post about Peter Pan took me two whole weeks to get out, and it passed like a bloody stool though I do feel lighter now that it can be flushed down the metaphorical toilet of this blog.

I am trying a new project, one that may decrease my disutility of writing and compliment my other pasttimes. So far all I have is a web site, so expect a masturbatory purpose statement tomorrow and maybe the first of one actual post in time for the weekend, or simply ignore it.

Peter Pan and Entitlement

Once upon a time, on an island upon a planet a few stars from ours, lived a boy named Peter Pan. Young Peter was a natural leader and had attracted a small following of younger boys, the Lost Boys, and had a penchant for the color green.

Peter and his Lost Boys spent years on that island playing and adventuring and generally behaving childishly, which was somehow seen as acceptable given that they were, in fact, children. The boys circled countless times around the beach, climbed repeatedly to the top of the mountain, found every hiding spot and secret cache, fought off villainous pirates, and occasionally kidnapped children from the real world for heartwarming adventures about the power of belief and the virtue of childhood. Then one day, after a spirited round of capture the flag, Peter Pan gathered up all the Lost Boys for an island council.

They had, he announced to general agreement, played all the games there were to play on the island. It was time for a bigger and grander adventure. They would construct a boat and sail the ocean as pirates, merchants, and explorers and have a grand old time seeing the world and singing pirate songs and becoming fantastically wealthy. The Lost Boys became excited. Children no less than adults are always thrilled by the prospect of novelty, and what novelty could be greater than exceeding the finite confines of the island.

As was their way, the proposal was approved by unanimous acclamation without too much consideration or debate. As was also their way, the boys took months to slowly accumulate wood and piece it together in between games of tag. But finally they completed a ship that was, in their minds, worthy of Blackbeard himself. They pushed it out to sea and it promptly sank. A few months later they had it all fixed up and leak proof and they pushed it out to sea and it sank again. They gave up for a while, but a year or so later in a fit of boredom Peter had them all haul the sunken wrecks back on shore and they built a better boat and this time it didn't sink. And there was much rejoicing.

In the intervening months the Boys had all fashioned for themselves the costumes of pirates and mariners and had perfected their pirate slang and nautical knots. They had composed new pirate tunes and told tales of the adventures that they were sure to have. Their mid-afternoon games of Cowboys and Indians had turned into pirates and navy. With the ship finally sea worthy, Peter called them all together for the final island council after which they slept, dreaming of the sea.

They launched their ship with the dawn, but it washed up against the beach in the rising tide. They launched again as the tide went out and before they knew it, they were waving farewell at a distant island, racing back and forth across the deck and climbing the rigging like demented monkeys. For the first time in their innocent lives they tried adult entertainments like grog, swearing, and non-sexual homoerotic male bonding. They were disappointed with the former, surprisingly excited by the latter, and largely unimpressed with swearing after the novelty wore off.

But their good fortune fled as they lost sight of their island. A storm blew in from the east, tattering sails and swamping the lower decks. The boys were no sailors, and by the end of two days of rain and wind and thunder they were huddled in the bilge, up to their knees in sweat and shit and seawater. They crawled up on deck and leaned over the railing and cleared out their new-found seasickness. They sun was out. The boys were dry soon enough. But the romantic spirit that had seized them so powerfully fled with the receding line of clouds that stretched clear across the far horizon.

The provisions, never plentiful, were exhausted in the first day of calm. Illness and emaciation began to claim the boys. The terrible storm did not claim a single life until the sun had shone clear for three days. There was no more fun to be had on the ship.

Peter called out from his cabin as the sun turned the sea red on the fourth day. The boys who could walk dragged those who could not and they assembled around the fallen mast, covering the ill with ragged strips of fallen sail. The cabin door opened above them and out came Peter, shuffling where he once skipped.

"Did you think up a new game?" Asked one intemperate boy. But a weight of silence followed those words, a pressure of disillusionment to temper, or at least silence, any other childish outburst.

If we would go forward, Peter announced, we must work to repair and man the rigging  If we wish simply to stay alive we must work to catch fish each day. If we decide simply to waste away into painless oblivion, we must still work to to battle the daily decay of the ship, lest we sink and drown.

And work they did.

For months they remained thin, but as they fished and hammered and pulled rope the thin became wiry, then ropey, all the way into a lithe, toned musculature. Faces darkened, hands hardened, faces weathered, and feet grew steady. As they fixed the ship, they became better at fixing the ship, leading them towards improvements for the ship that in turn improved their carpentry. They learned the merits of specialization and hierarchy. And, even though they had stopped singing their sailor songs, and even though they had long since stopped wearing their sailor costumes, and long since let their nautical accents fall away, they had become sailors.

And while the work never crossed over into fun, they learned that there were lesser levels of unpleasant and subtler sorts of satisfaction. And after the meals that they had purchased for sweat and pain the men began to sing again. Sometimes they sang the old songs and sometime they sang new songs, but they never sang of the old island. The old island was not fit for song or story.

Though, slowly, with their songs and stories, a new tale emerged. No one came up with the story, and if you asked every man on the ship from Captain Peter on down they would tell you that they heard it from someone else and simply passed it along un-altered and not a one of them would be lying. The story told of a land where they could finally lay down their daily burdens and rest, where food would be available to all who stuck their arm out, where they would not be hunted as pirates or castigated as foreigners.

And they sailed the seas with that tale in the back of their minds. The crew gained and lost fame and wealth, accumulating memories and scars with each hard season.

Many years later they were on the run. They had never been averse to pirate work, and had thus often found themselves fleeing the various powers of the world. The previous job had seen them shipping carved statuettes halfway around the planet and the job before that had been even more exotic and hazardous. But after so long in the salt air the men's bones began to complain. Muscles that had long since grown accustomed to the strains of nautical life healed quicker than the bones and joints beneath them, and even they were not recovering from a day's toils until perhaps the noon-time after. But while complaints would always be voiced, there were no excuses on the ship. A day ended when the day's tasks were completed and not a moment before.

The south edge of a storm carefully avoided brought them that evening in sight of land. Behind them a less careful merchant ship burned in the silhouette of the sunset, but rather than view the blood seeping into the salt water as the red sun glistened against the waves, they placed bets speculating on the nature of their next landfall.

They set anchor half a mile out of a lush green island and the captain with a small band of his best scrappers loaded onto a boat. With steady legs the captain stood at the bow. His pock-scarred men rowed in powerful, uniform strokes. The men looked backwards at the receding ship but the captain's eyes roved up and down the island as they would on a captive lady as he considered his options for exploitation. Without thinking he pulls off his prosthetic and wipes the sweat of his right wrist stump on his long red coat before fastening it back on, loosening the strap, and re-tightening in the manner of a long practiced habit.

As the small boat came to a stop on the beach the captain stepped forward in the last bit of momentum, giving his coat a flourish and unsheathing his sword in a dramatic gesture that had over the years proved useful in establishing his dominance over any shore he set foot on. That there were no visible onlookers on the beach aside from the crew put him off not even a bit. Still moving forward with the momentum of the boat, the captain strode up the beach to the light wall of vegetation that began at the high tide marker. A few cursory strokes cleared a thin tangle of vines and he came to a stop beneath a fruit tree. Hooking a low hanging specimen with his metal hand he peered at the yellowish flesh and gave a little sniff. Mostly convinced, he took a tentative bite and was rewarded with a sweet rush of sugar-water held in the porous fibers. The captain turned to the men, already pitching camp and lighting fires, and held up his arms, fruit in one hand, sword in the other. They had, he announced, finally found a place to set down their burdens.

The men on shore cheered and went to ferry the rest of the crew. By nightfall an abundance of cool, sweet fruit and fresh roasted pork fed a revelry unparalleled in the tales of the crew. The long, straight trees could be felled with a few quick strokes of an axe and even in the midst of the feasting a fairly comfortable impromptu settlement arose.

In the morning every single boat was gone. One could be seen peeking above the waves having been carried out by the tide nearly a third of the distance back to the ship. Before anyone could stop him, a crewman blessed with more stamina than sense leapt into the ocean and began to paddle out. The boat continued it's journey to the anchored ship, but the crewman's head stopped bobbing with the wave crests before he realized the cause was lost. The men still on shore watched without illusions.

They were none of them young and had not been so for longer than they had been. The ticking of death had begun to approach beneath the waves louder with every passing season. And here they were on the fabled isle of plenty. Was it, they asked themselves, so terrible a place to be stranded? The sun was barely up and they had all eaten and faced a day of sunny idleness, the first, they assumed, of many. How long, asked one cannoneer to a general chorus of guffaws, until they dreamt of the hard labor of ship life? Still they began to search for the missing boats, though they only covered a third of the island before evening came.

It was the navigator who spotted the native in the treeline as they all reclined for an evening meal. The boy, a young child, fled as he called out and vanished in the time it took to give chase. He thought nothing of it until he awoke that night in a burning shanty.

Racing out of the flames half dressed and singed he heard the pure and vibrant laughter of children. Forty young boys stood at the edge of the beach pointing at him and laughing with every fibre of their being. One stood taller than the rest and began to smack his cohorts to gain their attention. Attention gained, he called out to the navigator. "You mad, bro?" was the line delivered and the laugh track rose on cue as the boys scattered into the forest.

The crew had come awake at the noise and come alive at the flames. A few shovels of sand smothered the conflagration. Then the crew gathered, shaken loose from their brief respite and returned to their baser marauding natures. Cutlasses were unsheathed, torches were lit and pistols were loaded. The men formed into well practiced hunting parties and fanned out through the forest, slashing through impediments with bestial strength.

Six men followed the captain as he took lead entering the jungle where the firestarter had darted in. His razor sharp sword sliced through plant and air with equal ease, dancing before him almost independently. His long red coat was stained imperceptibly with blood, but aside from that it draped over his shoulders and arms in fine condition and floated through the jungle with no more blemish than it had acquired in thirty years of service. The baggy mish-mash of tunic and trousers that stood as uniform for the rest of the crew was blessed with no such fortune, snagging at every passing branch and bramble. The brambles became tiny hands slowly depriving the sailors of loot and ammo and clothing.

It was the navigator's team that found the first pathway. The captain followed his whistled bird call and the two teams met up in time for the path to branch into a proper trail. As the trail opened up, fruits of every description could be found strewn haphazardly along the ground, and out of which an orchard menagerie had sprung up. They reached the middle of the village before realizing that the twig and leaf jumbles were meant to be dwellings. Dwellings that would never stand before the slightest of storms, but which would never have to, though they appeared in disrepair just the same.

"Get off my island" cried a voice that had not yet dropped. Thirteen sailors whirled around to find themselves cut off by rag-tag children armed with twigs and rocks and appearing about as threatening as Ewoks. But the sailors had seen that movie and dropped their guard not one bit.

"And what, pray thee, makes it your island" In a just world, the captains mellifluous voice would have been recorded to play the lullabies of a million good children and the fantasies of ten million lonely women, but instead he purred to a child in green perched on a branch with a thuggish demeanor and a shit-eating grin.

"Cause it's mine, and I'm in charge."

"How awfully... convenient..." The captain let his voice fade slowly, fully aware both of the beauty of his voice and how profoundly wasted it was on this child.

"Yep, that's what it is. So get off the island. Right. Now." He raised his already loud voice into the edge of shrill to emphasize the key words.

The captain took two steps forward, sheathing his sword in a dramatic flourish. "But you see," he explained in a smooth voice that rolled through the air like fine bourbon over ice, "you stole our boats. We will need them back if you would make such demands."

"We didn't steal 'em cause we aren't stealers. We took 'em cause we found them and it's our island-" This was a theory of property that the captain was well familiar with, though he doubted that the increasingly restless crewmen behind him were as amused by the situational irony, "-but they weren't no fun, so we smashed 'em up good."

"Then we will need to learn to live together on this island."

"Nope. Is my island and -"

"Why is it your island" The captain quickly interjected. The boy burst at the interruption ,"- I'M TALKIN SHUT UP is MINE because I DESERVE it."

The captain gave a pitying look in response to the outburst, a fine tactic with grown men capable of shame and thus the captain first complete miss in the dialogue.

"So go away" said the boy in green, convinced of his victory.


"GO AWAY GO AWAY NOW" The boys began to hurl rocks but only a few were loosed before the captain, moving only his intact arm, drew a pistol and fired into the air, silencing the din.

"This is, dear boy, the fabled island of plenty. You appeared here one day ex nihilo for the sake of a story in a blog. You have not improved this land, nor struggled for it, nor taken action to deserve it. You have never worked or suffered a day in your life.

"My crew, on the other hand, has fought every day against wind and tide to stay afloat, against fish and foul to remain fed, and against the orders and vengeance of men and nations to remain free. Every night these men and I have bedded down in pain, either the pain of a hard day's labor or the pain of hunger and deprivation when that labor was less than what was demanded.

"You speak of desert, but this is the end of our journey. Even if we rebuilt our boats and sailed on we are pursued by the ticking clock of death. We will be making a home on this island," The captain stepped forward, midget children scampering out from underfoot, "and your decision is what you will do about it." He put his able hand to hip and closed the remaining distance with outstretched sword and arm.

The captain was not here to murder and pillage. Those were never the good parts of the pirate life, for all that they got romanticized. There was a part of the captain that felt bad about menacing children in a forest, but that same part knew well that a proper threat can head off more morally questionable action in the future. That part of him prayed the boy would back down.

Instead, up on the limb, the boy sneered out a "No." Twisting his shoulders and hips, the captain extended the blade through the boy's throat. He pulled sideways against the flat of the blade, pulling the impaled boy to the right and off the limb, flinging off the sword tip and against another tree trunk with a rolling thunder of snapping bone. The Ewok children scattered into the forest.

"Return to camp," ordered the captain, "Kill any you see along the way".

Back at camp the captain reported the situation and laid out the plan. They were to stay on the island. The marauders left themselves two acres of pristine jungle and cleared a firebreak. They set fire to the rest of the island. The wind blessed their venture, shifting north, keeping the smoke from their faces and spreading the inferno to the far shore. For two days the pirates patrolled behind the line of fire, shooting any attempting to flee through the blaze and throwing their doll-sized bodies back to be consumed.

When the fire died down and the island declared child free they sowed the ashland with the seeds from the pristine jungle. The island blossomed again in a month. The pirates constructed permanent settlements with the newly grown lumber, and lived the rest of their days in peace.