The more I think about it, the more I think this past election was really a referendum on communication and what we wish was true about the world.
The world is a complex place to begin with. Ecosystems, air and water currents creating chaotic unpredictable weather on both a micro and macro scale.
Atop of this we built more and more complex meta-machinaries. Many the natural result of humans settling in. Laying water pipes, electrical lines, communication lines, transportation lines, economic centers and money transfers. The logistics of our food, economics and politics alone all are so complex that no one human could ever fully understand it, even in a single state, if all they did was study it for their whole lives.
It is scary to think of and of a scale which is breathtakingly horrible when viewed from the perspective of a commercial airplane (speaking of complex machinery that we depend on).
No one likes to think about this. Everyone wishes it was simpler. That we are not all penned up next to one another, fully dependent on the competencies of strangers for a multitude of complex things we require each day.
We crave the simple, and the postulate that accompanies a simplification that we are capable of understanding a thing.
Empathy for the Devil
Last night on the Colbert Report, Neil DeGrass Tyson said that bashing Trump doesn't make much sense. He is an envoy of his voting base. They are the ones who handed him their power and blessed him as their champion.
So if you dislike Trump, your real beef is with his voters. For me the first step is trying to understand their perspective.
I've read a bunch of things, but they are either a bit too vague "they are unhappy with the way things are going" or too specific "they are all racists".
Let's get specific and try to ground this.
Civics class taught us that all political struggles are over differing priorities of the three basic values: Equality, Order and Freedom.
I'm writing this on election day, pre-results.
Regardless of the outcome (or absence of a clear one), one thing everyone can agree on is how tough this campaign has been on everyone.
Everyone's primary motivation seems to be a fearful concern for themselves or others. White, uneducated men are very concerned about the direction of the country, and are trying to grab the steering wheel to go anywhere other than the increasing globalized world that is moving their work everywhere else.
White educated people are terrified by the ruinous consequences of a Trump presidency. Latinos are terrified of Trump doing what he says he will. People who distrust politicians do not trust Hillary
The majorities of the ideas being exchanged are highly weaponized. People worried for their way of life.
War, seems like an apt metaphor to describe it.
Words like bullets wizzing past their heads "They'll take your guns away", "They'll take your jobs away", "They'll take your voting power away", "He will become literal Hitler", "He is an agent of the Russians", "She is a corrupt criminal"
Each a fearful dose of existential terror, concerningly close to becoming real
Shot by "enemies" from "the other side". Winner take all, everybody concerned about what they other side will do with the spoils.
It sucks and is stressful.
But what if this sort of metaphorical war we go through every four years is the key to democracy's peaceful transition of power?
Maybe I'm wrong, and all the ratcheted up rhetoric will spill over into physical violence based on the result.
Or maybe our terrible two party system is a really efficient method of venting impotent frustration and rage slowly over the course of the year, to the point where people are worn out and sick of it.
That a proxy ideological war is *necessary* to avoid real inner conflict.
That said, the Civil War was essentially precipitated by Lincoln (the northern candidate) winning the election, but maybe that is because their presidential elections didn't last 18 months. Who is going to have the energy to shot your brother after that?
On the Middle
I read an article called "Rethinking Rich" talking about how you can't judge a person's wealth "status" by what they make, but on how they spend it, or more importantly, do not spend it. Someone who makes low six figures but buys a 600k house and a new BMW every year but doesn't have an emergency fund is just as susceptible to a $20k medical emergency as anyone else.
Unfortunately, despite quite a bit of Googling I can't seem to find the article.
But it did get me thinking about the state of how we think about wealth, the definition of the middle class specifically.
This is a concern professed by both current presidential candidates.
The existing social definition of "Middle Class" is essentially urging the following steps:
- Take out $25k-$75k worth of loans to attend a four year college
- Get a Salaried Job in your field
- Take out a $5k-$10k loan to buy a car
- Spend $20k-$40k on a wedding.
- Take out a $200k-$300k loan to buy a house
- Take out a $20k-$30k loan to buy a nicer car to advertise to everyone that you can afford a nicer car
A millennial born in 1987 will be turning 30 next year, and most of millennials got stuck after #1, as they had problems finding jobs.
Demographically, they are rejecting everything on that list. They don't want to own cars, they aren't getting married, and while they are interested in buying homes it is a lot tougher to get a mortgage than it used to be, especially when you still are carrying $25k+ of student loan debt.
That said, they seem to be saving for retirement far earlier than Gen Xers, and are contributing more.
The other side of the middle class is the assumption of settling down and starting a family.
You'd think with the advent of tinder, Millennials would be having more sex than ever. They aren't.
Above-average appearance Millennials are probably doing fine. For the statistical hump of average looking Millennials, it is a tough game out there which many choose not to play.
As in all things in school, the attractive cool kids set the rules, and now-a-days it is fine to be promiscuous and have a string of hookups as long as you aren't *clingy*. "Clingy" is the new "slut". Shaming people for wanting to begin a steady relationship rather than remaining casual.
Which makes a lot of sense with everything above. In all instances Millennials are choosing freedom versus tradition.
Which is absolutely the prerogative of the young. If their behavior made complete sense to this old man they'd be doing something wrong.
This isn't a "darn kids these days" post. I just think it is interesting, that most of the talk about the declining middle class has been on the "supply" side. There just don't exist enough well paying jobs to sustain a middle class lifestyle.
But from looking at this, it could very well be there is also a declining cultural "demand" to be middle class, or, at least to acquire its common trappings.
My wife and voraciously consumed all of season 1 of Stranger Things this week.
The series is very familiar in an odd way.
It pays homage to *so* many 80s classic movies that it transcends the standard wink and a nod, and becomes more like a new type of emotional vocabulary. Like someone dusted off Speilberg's emotional harpsichord and began plucking at it a new, the notes still perfectly in tune after decades.
Shaka, When the Walls Fell
The writing and dialog are also really good. The characters, many of them straddle the line between familiar 80s archetypes, while also being very real and grounded, believable people. Sort of a nod that yes, 80s archetypes were a little silly, but many of them were reflections of real life to begin with.
I really enjoyed it, the fact that it just came out of no where with little fan fare also made it more of a secret delight.
Between this, and Netflix's amazing Voltron reboot, from my perspective Netflix's ability to figure out what type of shows to produce from analytic data is nearly indistinguishable from me being able to mind-control their executives.
On Time and Death
Is there life after death?
No. It is right there in the question. Death is the definition of the end of life, there is no life after it.
Do we still *exist* after we die? We're getting closer. But since the word "after" is still there, I'm going to say no again.
So do we not exist at all, anywhere when we die? Given my previous two definitions, you'd think this answer is straightforward. I disagree.
When I have driven up to Duluth on various occasions, there are often railway cars parked along some of the disused tracks. Miles and miles of them.
Now, as I pass them, I can see the cars, count them. Read the faded logos. A mile later I can see different cars, roughly the same, those in the long distance forgotten.
Finally, I pass the final car and continue driving. The last one fades in the view of my rearview.
Does that train still exist?
To all but the solipsists the answer is obvious, of course it does. A traveling perspective is not a destructive force.
Maybe you see where I'm going with this, but that is probably me vastly overstating how obvious I think this is.
So, we are traveling though time. There are no physics observations regarding time that indicate it is anything other than a two-way dimension like the three-dimensional ones we are used to. Everything that could go forward could go backward. It just doesn't. We don't know why.
Yet, we all seem to assume the solipsist's view regarding time, that the times we have passed are gone completely and forever. That there is only the very current moment in all of existence.
But still, burden of proof still exists. Does the snaphot of our universe go away every moment forever? It sure seems like it does to our every sense.
Quantum Mechanics is litered with examples where, while not hinting at all of time continuing to exist, that current events can interact with past moments in a way that seems to imply that there is at least *one additional* entire copy of our universe (time - 1) at work for even day to day operations.
If there was but a single instance of the universe there would be nothing to interact with.
That right there, seems to be strong evidence, that every single one of our past selves at every possible age and moment, still exist.
That left streaming behind us, are the now crystalized quantum moments from every decision or rock you have skipped, etched permanently into the 4th dimension as we speed through the universe on a rock at 483,000 miles per hour.
Vast quantum statues of our past moments, happy and sad. Complicated and simple. Wrapped around and intertwined with everyone we know.
The train cars don't disappear if you drive 100 miles past them, nor a thousand, nor a million, and by even modest standards each of us absolutely wrecks several billion miles of uncertainty. Everywhere around you indecision crushed into a single reality that absolutely indelibly happened, and will continue to have happened even if the universe itself collapses back onto it self over and over again for an eternity.
What if all of your life still exists? What if the lives of all the loved ones you have mourned are still there no less destroyed than the last city you visited.
What if everything we do and have done is recorded and permanent by the laws of the universe?
In any case, I find it an interesting thought experiment.
Of course, all this is assuming there isn't some sort of 5-dimension thing that lives by consuming crystalized structures of certainty. At which point, I should probably stop before one of you calls a loony bin on me and/or I start babbling about Time Cube
Thanks for reading.
I found this article to be an interesting view of the current political climate.
The article presents two theories, and it leaves enough room to talk about whether either, or neither are true and/or caused one another.
The first, that the devaluation of the role parties and lawmakers play, is undervalued by the public, which has a growing distaste and distrust for them, and that this weakened the political institutions to the point where they don't control much and chaos dances out.
The second is the devaluation of compromise. Thinking of everything as "black/white", "my team won/my team lost", tribal politics.
Basically politics at it's heart is a game of compromising and wheeling and dealing.
Like most games, the ball needs to be free to bounce around from team to team for interesting things to happen.
Refusal to compromise, and/or viewing disruption of playing the game as an acceptable game state leads to the equivalent of a kid punting the ball onto the top of the school's roof. Except, in this hypothetical, there exists no janitor to step in and kindly retrieve the ball to reset the game.
You see a lot of this in both of the primary races of both parties. Although I do agree with the author, that Democrats seemed slightly more willing to compromise about their candidate (although there are certainly still a sizable number of Bernie supporters holding their ground) .
If a good compromise is a state where both sides are unsatisfied, Hillary seems to be a very excellent compromise indeed.
I recently began wondering whether the Death Star would have had a Lost and Found.
Does an oppressive military regime still care about returning carelessly lost personal property to individuals, or are they more about "finders keepers"?
Do clones even have personal property?
I know this is pretty derivative of Clerk's Star Wars banter regarding dead contractors.
But still, I pressed on.
Glasses by the Sink
I just wanted to share this Blog Post entitled "She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink"
From the title, you think it is going to be him bashing his unreasonable ex-wife, but thankfully, it isn't that.
Moya was a good dog.
At one point my son of a year and half rolled off the couch all of a sudden, right ontop of where she was laying. Her response to this unprovoked attack, was to walk out of the room.
I'm generally against dogs biting children, but I think in that situation very few dog juries would vote to convict.
We lost Moya yesterday while she was getting a fatty-tumor removed from her side. I'll spare you the specific details, but it is very similar to if you reached out to pull on someone's loose sweater thread, and are horrified to learn that that piece of yarn is not a part of a sweater, but actually goes right into their belly button and you've just continuously unraveled their insides in a manner very similar to the worst "endless handkerchief" magic trick imaginable.
So while I did spare you specific details there, I seem to have provided horrifying similes instead. Sorry about that. I'm not in a good head space.
I have walked Moya twice a day, save for travelling, everyday for a dozen years. During the winter, this has become a less pleasant task, especially as age, and apparently massively invasive cancer, had slowed her roll quite a bit
I generally endured it, but on specifically cold or windy days, I would eventually lose patience with the extended 5 minute sniffing session and insistently tug her back into a procession.
This worked well enough, until about 6 months ago, when I did it, and she pretty much fell over, her haunches at painful looking angles. In that moment she was now an old lady and I was a monster.
So I stopped being able to do anything about her interested snuffling, and her tyranny of investigative smell journalism continued unchecked.
It gave me a lot of time to think about dogs, and how they experience the world. I used to imagine to myself that the way she would lose herself in those smells was the equivalent of a dog MMO game. To just disappear into a rich world with history and details about everything in the neighborhood. Not only what animals had been here, but what their general health was, what they'd eaten recently, what they were having sex with.
It also made me think about how much data about all those smells would disappear, unshared when she was gone. What did she know about my health? Could she smell the problems with herself? Could another dog have told me whether she was in pain or not, and for how long.
It made me wonder about out limited perceptions of the world, and how experiencing it via knowing which trace amount of chemicals were in the air about us would be like...
For us visual animals, death is a finality. We see the dead body, until it goes away and we see no body. We are unnerved by the silence the absence causes.
But if I experienced the world like a dog, would I find comfort in the fact that the entire house likely still smells strongly of her presence. That to another dog it would be like she is just around the corner. Would the slow fading of the scent be easier or harder than the absolutes of vision?
I don't know.
They say a dog's year is equivalent to 7 human years.
This seems like just another way of saying that your life is seven dog lives long.
This SMBC is amazing.
It is an interesting way of looking at life and the trade-off of taking on responsibilities in your life.
Especially since the standard recipe for happiness seems to be currently:
- Embrace your sexuality during your 20s
- In your 30s, panic, settle down with whomever, buy a house and have some kids.
Both seem like optimizations to the extreme, rephrased:
- "Put off a permanent relationship for as long as you can"
- "Pile on a number of responsibilites as fast as you can"
I don't think either is a successful receipe for happiness either.
Not that they lack value, mind you.
Discovering who you are, who you like and not living life in a state of conflict over your true sexuality is a wonderful and liberating message of our generation.
But it is still in many ways a backlash against the more repressed and conservative sexual ideas of the last century which largely included demonizing non-standard sexual orientations and identity.
That said, the core idea, of Love, and of finding another person who you can begin the delicate dance of gaining mutual trust and respect with, that is a valuable thing with or without the gendered and religious trappings that is often heaped upon it.
Then the latter, the societal prescription balm of happiness: wedding, home, children. It carries with it an implicit promise of fufillment and joy.
But it is not a recipe for joy necessarily, it is instructions for security. Relationship security, the security of a permanent residence, the prospect of sowing children to care for you later.
Not that these things cause you unhappiness, but they carry with them responsibilities that complicate your life and limit your actions.
Sharing your life with someone requires many compromises, often requiring profound alterations to your actions and ways of looking at things.
Homes carry with them all manner of time draining responsibilities and costs.
Children, modern parenting requires nothing less than a 110% time commitment (although to be fair, I have no idea who specifically is prescribing this manner of parenting)
It isn't the responsibilities themselves, it is the eventual exhaustion of free time and the subsequent dimming of casual exertion of free will.
Like playing chess through a continuous string of "check" force moves, certainly you have a little lee-way in your choice of response, but for the most part external actions are forcing your hand into continual action.
However, I don't think the perscription in happiness lies with infinite free time. These responsibilites that you take on also imbue your life with a mass of meaning, in a way that deciding where to eat out and what movie to see lacked.
Like most things, the truth seems to suggest a moderation of both.
Another famous equation is Force = Mass * Acceleration. In this case Mass seems equivalent to the responsibilities you have donned through your life choices. Acceleration is your ability to still move about freely under the load you have taken on.
A mass-less particle moving at near infinite speed and a moon-sized mass incapable of movement both have the same resultant force.
Whereas a mile wide asteroid traveling at Mach 30 can devastate worlds orders of magnitude larger than itself. Which, given the terrorism of late seems like an entirely imperfect metaphor for happiness...
I was going through some old files, and found the below text, an actual resignation letter I wrote and submitted about 10 years ago.
I have left it untouched, except for nulling out some names, which was hard to do, because I really kinda wanted to edit out a few parts where I'm just clearly a jackass.
Dear MXXX, AXXX and I guess AXXXX, cuz she's the HR person... or should that be LXXXX. Hi LXXXX! You were really nice and it was a pleasure meeting you!
I have considered the following decision for many days, losing sleep, and waffling more than... let's say Belgium, because of that one type of waffle. Guh, lame start, forget all that. I call a redo.
This decision was really really hard for me. And, seeing as I'm super smart, that means the resulting circumstances were all the more equally balanced than if, say, just a normal person said a decision was hard to make.
Seriously, I do logic problems for fun, and this decision was like completing a Cross Sum #25, which, are like, way in the back of the book.
I have enjoyed my employment here a great deal, and appreciate the responsibilities and flexibility in which I have been entrusted. At other jobs, when I asked to do really crazy stuff, that no one had ever done before, they usually said "no", and maybe "you crazy!" in a funny voice. You would have thought that that would have stopped me from asking, but, lemme tell you, apparently it didn't, because, as I said before, I kept doing it.
Working as a team with AXXX was also one of the most satisfying things in my professional career to date, even beating out me getting to touch a Sun Enterprise 6500. I have the utmost respect for him, and will probably judge all my other co-workers to a completely unfair standard of brilliance and unrelenting competence forever more.
It was also a pleasure working with everyone else, such a collection of straight-up good guys and gals is a frightening statistical anomaly which we very well might find cited some day in an Tennessee Biology Book as supporting evidence for "Intelligent Design". Except for MXXXXX that is, but then no statistical anomaly is perfect.
The last three paragraphs were very subtle foreshadowing to the next one. If it's raining, or overcast, or even better, thundering ominously, then there may also be "pathetic fallacy" present. That's more foreshadowing right there. I think this whole paragraph here is called "a literary aside". I'm not sure though, I sorta coasted through college avoiding English classes.
So please consider this long-winded, and regrettably unprofessional letter of notice as my two weeks notice (or three I guess if I signed something that said I'd give three).
And as for the tone of this letter, please don't take it as an sort of flippancy or disrespect on my part. Quite the opposite, the fact I am going to such great lengths to employ humor is simply to help me attempt to disarm the great emotional weight this decision has for me.
And frankly, if you'd received a short, stuffy "Please consider this my two weeks notice", I believe that would simply be a far more disrespectful message in my mind. Three years is a long time, and I ain't afraid to bring such a parting down to a more intimate level.
Oh, I suppose I should mention the date, some website said so. It's Monday February 21st 2005, probably around 9 or 10 am CST. And, while I'm at it, in MySQL compatible format: "2005-02-21 10:00". And this one's for the many servers I leave behind, I shall think of you often. 1109001600.
So after my super depressing post, I've been looking for a counter-point to it. Some way forward.
I think I found one. It combines a couple things.
The first part of it, is something I read about called "The Overview Effect", describing the transformative experience that astronauts report when they are able to look at the Earth from far enough away to see it as a small sphere, unattached, floating in mostly nothing. Much like a hallucinogenic trip, this experience has been said to permanently alter the view of our role on Earth, and whether or not our actions are able to affect it negatively and/or forever.
Essentially, it is really informative to be reminded of the non-infiniteness of our home, and to behold our none to subtle footprint of sprawling lights and roads tattooed across its every habitable surface.
So the solution is obvious right? Rocket all world leaders into space, they come back, their ape minds unfocused from the default localized problem solving that we all have, replaced with a global sense of the singular scale of our sole world. Problem solved.
Unfortunately spaceflight is expensive and dangerous, and involves numerous medical and logistical clearances, and involves its own environmental impact. Also, America currently has no manned space flight capacity at the moment.
Then I heard about Chris Milk's VR Movies from Ted Radio. He made a VR movie of a Syrian refugee, went to the UN, with VR headsets, and had world leaders watch it, and VR is really good at tricking your brain into thinking you are in a place, that you are face to face with a 3d image of a person (Jump to 7:00). That you met them, and have added them to the short list of people you have specifically met and connected with.
So interesting, maybe we can teach empathy and perspective, but can that really communicate the same sense of wonder as an actual spaceflight?
Then I watched a VR demo of one of Valve's new games: Aperture Robot Repair. During the demo, one of the players upon being introduced to one of Portal's iconic robots, immediately replies "Are they that big in the game?" and near the end, a chasm opens up on the floor beneath the players. Watching them, safely in their room, teeter over the edge of a virtual hole is informative.
That is one thing VR is able to convey better than any picture or film, a sense of scale and a sense of place.
The brain just doesn't seem to have a setting for "fake place that I know I'm not in", VR is as real as dreams essentially, because our brains are just set to trust the input they receive, they can't seem to do anything but that.
So the fundamental problem is that we're all selfish apes who are simply unable to comprehend the scale of the problems that threaten us.
All through civilization we have invented things outside ourselves to accommodate for failings in our own selves.
A club is really just a third joint extension of our arm, with the increased leverage that provides.
Hide and fur clothes are a functional second skin.
There is archaeological evidence that the first clay pots were used to ferment food until it was more broken down. Pots as better, stronger stomachs outside ourselves, breaking down otherwise undigestible plants until it was in a state in which we could consume it.
It is time to start using technology to do the same with ideas that seem too big to our evolved minds to swallow.
I know VR has been a buzzword of the future for a long time, but by the end of this year three different companies are releasing hardware. Not much will likely happen with it in 2015 other than a bunch of nerds looking goofy at Christmas.
But 2016, the non-gaming applications are going to quickly become apparent, and I suspect are going to far outstrip the general wheelhouse of "war simulators for boys" that video games generally cater to.
Hope is on the way, and you're going to look super stupid while using it, but you won't care.
The Penultimate Generation
This is a depressing post, but I just wanna get it out of my head.
I recently watched a Nova episode on Ocean Acidification and it was a sobering moment
The TL;DR of it, is that extra CO2 is causing the oceans to become slightly acidic, which people were hoping was a *good* thing "Yay, the ocean is slowing down global warming!"
The problem, with the oceans, getting say, 1% more acidic, is a chemical one.
Most reefs and crustaceans form their shells out of Calcium Carbonate. Calcium is plentiful, the Carbonate, on the other hand, is not. The reason Carbonate is rare, is that it bonds with hydrogen atoms associated with acid. As a mathmatical example: if the ocean was 1.5% carbonate by volume, and you add 1% acid, you end up with 0.5% carbonate, a third of the amount that there used to be.
Animal species are remarkably adaptable, but they cannot "survival of the fittest" their way into replacing the entire chemistry of their exoskeletons. Similarly, the things that eat those things can't easily replace those calories or habitats.
Al Gore has been making dire predictions about the world for about 15 years now, and most reasonable people have come to believe them.
The problem with those predictions, are that the timelines involved and the resulting disasters lack a truly apocalyptic feel. "we can expect the oceans to rise between 2.5 and 6.5 feet (0.8 and 2 meters) by 2100". Nobody listens to stuff that will happen in 2100. It is just too far off, and the difference between 2.5 and 6 is too fiddly. 2.5 will be bad, but not world ending.
Also, as a guy with a lot of faith in science and the creativity of man, vanilla Global Warming seemed to have some side-channel solutions. Deploying a solar shield to cool the Earth would be risky and dicey hail mary, but seems more likely than everyone on Earth abandoning a cheap, portable form of liquid work.
But the acidification of the oceans and what seems like the inevitable annihilation of an entire aquatic phylum from the food chain? That shit isn't fixable by anybody. Motherfucking Superman can't stop that. Ten Justice Leagues couldn't solve it. An entire nation of X-men couldn't do anything.
I have a very clear memory when I was about 10, wandering out of my room late at night to complain about my inability to sleep. Nightline was on, and I watched them talk about a research mission to Antarctica to study the ozone layer and the damage humans were doing to it. They included some pretty depressing statistics about the future of skin cancer in the world I was to inherit. I started crying immediately.
I mention this, because we came together and solved that problem with The Montreal Protocol, mainly because, there were some affordable alternatives.
I am no longer ten. I am now old enough to understand that the use of Fossil Fuels is an entrenched economic issue. Even if half the industrialized countries stopped using Fossil Fuels, that would just make oil and coal twice as cheap for the countries who didn't stop using it.
It is a trope that parents nag their children about when they are going to have grandchildren.
I am very seriously considering having a talk with my children about maybe not having any grandchildren. About how they will probably be fine, but the odds of their children having to end up living in an declining Earth suffering through the changes wrought by large scale fauna dieoff are becoming unacceptably likely.
On Moral Luck
I found this short 1000 word essay on the concept of "Moral Luck" fascinating.
It is rare that something so short can provoke in me such a strong urge to discuss philosophy.
Especially when I got to the part of "Circumstantial Moral Luck", which I think may identify a key philosophical difference between the various camps of political thinking on social issues.