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Here's a Thought

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Here's a Thought...

A (no longer) new section, with chunks of ideas that might grow into a bigger essay, but will likely stay as these small islands in this vast cyber-sea.

 

Here’s a Thought February 2024

 

 

Burn Baby Burn

In dystopic fiction and film from the middle of the twentieth century, poor quality air was certainly a factor in depicting how terrible we’ve treated the planet. And it was usually because of factories and vehicle exhaust pipes continually belching chemical poison into the air (sometimes falling as acid rain), even if we all knew better.

And yes, that is absolutely happening and it is a massive threat that needs to be addressed:

(https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/03/world/asia/new-delhi-india-pollution.html)

Telling poor farmers to stop burning excess crops is also a sign of how terrible we are with wasting food at every level of production and consumption. While it’s well known how much food grocery stores and restaurants throw out every day, it’s even worse that the agriculture industry burns crops it doesn’t need or are paid to pour milk down the drain. This is directly linked to the monetary value we apply to food, even when there are still millions of the world who still do not have enough to eat.

Trying to do the right thing by reducing air pollution can cause catastrophic effects. Limiting the amount of aerosol in the air is great…but when ships stop emitting it, the less smoke exhaust in the air means there is more sunlight hitting the ocean surface and warming it up.

(https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/marine-clouds-climate-change-1.7016498)

And a warming planet is one with changing weather patterns, which means more extended periods of dry weather, and that’s ingredient number 2 for forest fires.

Rarely was forest fire smoke used as a reason for why people needed to wear a mask if you had to go outside in fiction - let alone in real life - yet here we are.

The amount of forest burned in Northern Canada over the summer of 2023 can fit several countries (https://www.cbc.ca/news/climate/wildfire-season-2023-wrap-1.6999005), some of which were eventually affected by the disaster, because, the smoke from this region crossed the Atlantic to lower the air quality in the UK and Europe. And the smoke that caused so much trouble for America cities along the Eastern seaboard was from a whole different set of fires in Quebec.

While this summer was clearly the shockingly worst and most widespread, the frequency of forest fires are increasing as is the amount of area damaged.

These types of fires are supposed to be ‘once in a century’ sort of things, but because weather patterns are being upended, if it’s hotter for a longer period of time or drier for a longer period of time, the chance for these fires to start and continue to burn just increase.

This will undoubtedly change how people decide where they are going to live, beyond the idea of affordability. Even if you lucked out this year and your town, neighbourhood or house was not the one that got lit up, why stick around with the risk of the fire coming back next summer?

It’s climate migration that is going to put stress (at least initially) on whatever town or city the fleeing people are going to settle in. And while certain countries can handle such movements of thousands of people, many areas around the globe where extreme drought and flood conditions persist or are increasing cannot, resulting in multifaceted humanitarian crises that ultimately affect people far from the location of the event.

 

 

Unpacking 'I Get It'

It is a short phrase meant to indicate understanding, using three extremely short words that are meant to save time and leave little room for misunderstanding. Can be as exuberant or dismissive as need be.

The literal declaration might seem to indicate receiving something, but it is almost always a concept, not a physical item as saying ‘I get it’ when being handed a key or phone or balloon might give it away that you are an alien posing as a human.

The way the phrase is delivered can also change its meaning, because it can be a reassuring comment or one that it said sarcastically for something that is supposed to be common sense.

It's a good connector phrase in the middle of an argument to bring in a similar position, or even a contrary position (placed in the proper context).

 

 

Obama: The Last Inspiring Politician

Today it is about having a leader who can just batten down the hatches and try to make sure things don’t get any worse.

It could be said that this is what Barack Obama’s presidency became - and perhaps what many leaders in democratic nations become - but at its beginning there was absolutely the hope that things would get better not only in America, but the world over (which once again shows how influential - for good and ill - the United States is when it comes to promoting the concept of democracy). A candidate that embraced largely progressive policies and represented proof of how far the civil rights movements of the sixties had come, ‘hope’ (the term that his face was placed beside on posters) gave way to an immediate expectation that he would solve the 2008 financial crisis that befell the planet just before his election victory.

While some of the larger concerns were alleviated over the next few years through a mixture of liberal and conservative financial policies (both of which could easily disappointed groups who wanted all of one sort and none of the other), it took ‘too long’ in the eyes of many citizens, some of whom did not feel the effects of the recovery. Trying to pitch ‘the economic crisis could have been worse’ is a tough sell for any politician, but it is especially hard for one who was so closely related with ‘hope and change’.

Consequently, in the 2010 midterm elections, the democrats lost control of the House of Representatives, which would remain in Republican hands for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. This would result in Conservatives blocking and watering down almost every sort of bill supported by the president, as doing so apparently made for good political strategy, even at the expense of the good of the nation.

It is a good thing that power is defused among the many (or at least, not in the hands of one person) in a democracy, and that a politician can only wield they power they are given. But in situations like this, cynicism for the entire system can easily set in, when it becomes clear to the general public that the leader chosen and expected to fix this sort of bureaucratic morass is similarly stuck in it.

Obama sensibly maintained that for all the rhetoric (by him, the public, and the media) surrounding his road to the White House, it would be up to the citizens to work alongside him to create a more perfect union. He always knew that there would not be any quick fix for the problems with America and Western Democracy, but that didn’t stop people from hoping that there was.

In the nearly eight years since the end of Obama’s presidency, geopolitical tensions between and within countries have risen, with living standards flailing and polarization widening. While speeches given by candidates still contain the same rhetoric, they are falling on ears much more suspicious or dismissive.

Hope is a tool so powerful that it must be wildly carefully, because nothing blunts it quicker than political expediency.

 

 

 

A Good Pair of Genes

There is not enough appreciation given to how much your parents’ genetic code determines who you are. Not just in terms of blatant physical attributes like height, weight, or hair colour, but also how well the respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems fare over the decades, and how susceptible you will be to certain diseases (from cancers to immunodeficiencies).

Even with the level of nature vs nurture always up for debate (since it can be wildly different on a case by case basis), what you started with DNA-wise before you even popped out from between your mother’s legs is going to largely define who you would be and what you would be able to accomplish in your life.

Fair?

Oh, the nurturers will inevitably tell their nurturees in some way that ‘life’s not fair’, but then it’s never been that simple because via science we don’t let life push us around like that.

Combining the qualities of two things was popular for breeding animals and plants for millennia, no science degree required, although it was plenty of trial and error over months, years and decades to show results. And the farmers weren’t doing this for tenure or research purchases, but because it means more healthier and bountiful crops to eat.

Now knowing the genetic nuts and bolts means we are on the cusp of being able to alter our DNA not just to weed out terrible diseases and afflictions (from hemophilia to blindness), but making the Olympic credo of ‘longer, stronger, faster’ something to pick off a menu. Which sounds great until it’s not, and we can leave it to AI to take us over the finish line…and the cliff. Genetically superior people is bad enough, but AI manufactured super people?

It sounds like a dystopic sci-fi movie a lazy studio executive would ask an AI writing program to spit out in seconds:

Genetic modification becomes extremely popular extremely quickly because it can start off with the most immediately practical intentions. It is decided that it is the best way to combat the effects of climate change (more air pollution, hotter temperatures, crop damage, fires/floods) instead of actually doing something about climate change. Modifications include better lung capacity, more efficient sweat glands, skin that prevents the sun’s rays from having skin-cancer causing effects. But it is unlikely that these changes are given out equally (whether on financial, national, cultural or social grounds), and there quickly becomes a have/have-not society that becomes a genetic ‘race’ discrimination/war, where the outcome ranges from all of humanity being wiped out, or just this new version of humanity (if you can call it) wiping out the old. Roll credits?

 

 

Potential and Kinetic Money

How useful is sitting on billions of dollars, or billions of dollars in stocks?

There is a psychological comfort of just sitting on it, not doing anything at all, but that always has the risk of the amount’s worth going up or down due to typical market occurrences and pressures.

The real problem is that if it’s not being used for purchasing or investing, it’s not even money, it just has the potential to be money, to at one point being kinetically exchanged and transferred constantly through the economy.

Of course even when you ‘buy’ things, they can be just as abstract. The stock market allows you to buy hypothetical events. ‘Shorting’ means you buy/make an agreement that states if a company's stock goes up or down a certain amount at or within a certain time, you get paid out (or owe) X amount.

The only people who would buy such a thing are those who have insider knowledge about the prospects of said company, or are relatively certain their bets will be covered by the government if the failing of these companies (and bets upon them) might crater the whole economy (hey, it happened once).

It’s like having rocket filled with fuel that’s just sitting on the launchpad. Until you actually use it to send a ship/capsule sitting on top of it into orbit, it’s just taking up space, doing nothing, wasting everyone else’s time and resources.

If money is power, and power can be wielded as a weapon (or be a varying characteristic of a weapon), then money is a weapon, and must be treated as such.

 

 

Effects of Streaming on Spotify/Apple Music/Tidal on Music:

The money dictates the music more than ever now. Artists get paid per song play, if it plays for at least 30 seconds. The result? Artists are writing/releasing shorter songs, because 5 two minutes songs will yield more revenue than 2 five minute songs. While brevity can lead to creativity, putting yourself in this position for primarily financial reasons is absolutely detrimental to the possibility expressing your musical ideas in longer pieces. Not that it has to be a fifteen minute song suite, but even a five minute tune seems to be ‘long’ these days (sometimes a way around this is an artist will uploaded entire albums on YouTube with ads (yay) placed in between tracks).

Unfortunately this dovetails perfectly with our current attention spans, where we have so many choices in front of us that giving only a few seconds to a song, movie, video game or piece of art is the norm, because there is the possibility that the next thing you check will be so much better than what you are currently ‘wasting’ your time on.

Music has an additional hurdle, however, as listening on your phone means as the album or playlist you might not always be looking at the screen and see what it is actually playing. You can be doing a host of other activities, reducing music to background, even more so than in the past. Plus there is less of a chance that people have purchased a physical release with the artwork and track listing in their hands, resulting in people not necessarily knowing the artists or names of the songs they are listening to (instead becoming fans of a particular playlist). This information has inadvertently been detached from the sound itself.

 

 

Denies/Cleared of any Wrongdoing

The dangers of this method of avoiding legal responsibility by corporations is subtle and insidious. It is a perspective and attitude that filters down to the corporate blob to the individual executives and employees alike.

Its not my fault comes to explain/justify many of the problems that surrounded these industries.

Handing off the blame to others has gone beyond being seen as any sort of moral failing. Now its a good business decision, and you might be faulted for having a plan that does not include such an option if things go belly-up.

Corporations have created shell corporation temp agencies that hire part time, non-permanent employees that do not have the same rights and privileges as those of the parent corporation. Nor are they paid the same or given any sort of benefits, even if they do very similar work to full time and permanent employees.

Best of all (from managements point of view), they can be blamed for any problems and quickly removed without much legal challenges (from the now ex-workers).

These social divisions within a massive project of different companies or a corporation that relies heavily on its shells have far reaching consequences.

Not only is there physical and psychological alienation from the product and service being created and/or used, but it makes it possible to see employees just as replaceable as equipment or software, because human beings in general arent supposed to exist/act like this.

These basic tenets of modern capitalism is what will keep humanity from reaching its true potential.

Cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan said that, 'art is anything you can get away with', but it certainly applies to business as well.

Whatever potential liability you can heap onto any other individual or entity, the better for your business, regardless of what the greater cost might be to the community.

Amazon and many other massive corporations write contracts with third party companies in a way that exempt them from responsibility if something goes wrong. Smaller delivery companies are on the hook, not the big one pulling the strings.

Part of the agreements the big banks signed when paying steep penalties for getting caught breaking the law is that they do not have to admit any wrongdoing in the legal sense.

When huge companies or very wealthy individuals are question about how much more power and influence they obviously have modern society, they deny and deflect, they point out stats that there are many other wealthy people, and minimize their own role in this transference and squatting upon of wealth.

All the power, none of the responsibility.

Ben Parker would be aghast.

In terms of legality as opposed to morality, Bezos and The Corporate Worlds apparent rationalization is that if they can pay lobbyists and lawyers to fundraise/bribe politicians into supporting corporate agendas (low taxes, deregulation, ignore rights that would benefit that average worker) without any real consequence, then the public must be okay with it.

Which is stupid at best and sociopathic at worst.

When your greatest asset is a legal loophole, maybe its not a plan for all humanity going forward.

But if you subscribe to the capitalist-minded view that in a nation it's either sink or swim, that you have the tools to succeed and you use them or you don't, you start to believe society that is made up of a few winners and many losers. This stark dichotomy is terrible in many ways, because you seem to accept an overly simplistic view on how success occurs in a post-industrial, (hyper)digital era. There is the erroneous viewpoint: "I succeeded, therefore the system must be working well."

If you see a working society being full of a few winners and a lot of losers, then...you live in a society full of losers, and you are foolish if you think that situation can hold (or are you cynically prescient? Figuring that China's authoritarian mold is one that can be duplicated in the west? Because it cant, with the power in China so much more precarious than it seems).

That companies can have such an outsized influence on global affairs is bad enough, but if a single corporation has to have a department which tackle worldwide misinformation that can affect billions of people because it is occurring within a service they provide, then it's too big of a corporation to exist.

(https://gizmodo.com/facebooks-war-room-is-definitely-managing-at-least-one-1829837729)

This should be the responsibility of governments, not just in preventing misinformation, but making sure a single non-government entity can’t become powerful enough that they might affect election outcomes across the planet.

While its sad enough to see union busting efforts in Western democratic nations, in countries where human rights are much harder to come by, forced labour is a common occurrence, even for corporations that are headquartered in America, like Nike and Coca-Cola. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/29/business/economy/nike-coca-cola-xinjiang-forced-labor-bill.html)

That is horrifying mistake/tragedy/clusterfuck of capitalism, where those who run these companies arent supposed to see people as people (beyond marketing purposes) because that just gets in the way of the goal.

But chances are that if the executives are ever questioned about this, they will feign ignorance and deny any responsibility.

 

 

Fred Astaire, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jay-Z walk into a club…

Fred Astaire was an old school triple threat (actor, singer, dancer) from nearly a century ago, and he made dancing look so effortless and easy he accidentally inspired millions of young men to go out to a dance hall or club and embarrass themselves at best or break their ankles at worst.

Jerry Seinfeld does the same with stand up comedy, because while he makes it seem like anyone can get a laugh talking about breakfast or furniture, if you go and try without hard work and natural skill, you’ll bomb hard.

Jay-Z’s work on the mic is at once laid back and in your face, a flow that is both natural and seemingly planned from top to bottom. But finding out that he rarely writes anything down before heading into the studio makes you think it really is as easy as thinking up some basic rhyming words in front of a microphone.

It’s not, and omitting Jay-Z from a Top 5 MC list is almost like you’re trying to be different at the expense of good judgment. Jay Z’s one blemish is that there is just too much fucking material. He’s diluted his impact by being so prolific.

It means that even Reasonable Doubt - an impressive debut as one could find, regardless of the genre - still has some weak tracks (Black Album is his strongest top to bottom). But Can’t Knock the Hustle has everything you need for a big hit (memorable title, great verses, an iconic Blige performance)…with the hook being the way Jay confidentially declares the title.

Which is also the perfect phrase to those resentful failures who tried to be Astaire, Seinfeld or Hova.

 

 

 

Structuralism (and post-structuralism) isn’t dead, that’s just its dead name.

Globalized society has accepted (sometimes passively, sometimes actively, sometimes cynically) accept the notion that human and societal behaviour is shaped by many different ideas and forces, some very practical (resources, climate, geography) some more abstract (money, religion, patriarchy). Whether elites, the oil industry, Pokemon, the LGBT community, Filipino diaspora, Greenpeace, The US Intelligence Agencies, online gambling, tax-deductible charity organizations, secret lizard people, these concepts (real or not) and peoples’ relationship to them shape the world we live in.

Some of them have very irrational qualities, making it hard to predict how exactly they will shape our world, which is why critics of structuralism point out that while it might explain how society works, it concedes how impossible it is to change it any specific way.

Structuralism allows for many different forces/narratives to overlap each other, making it difficult to pry them apart or explain how they work interdependently.

It’s not about the content of political discourse, but the form. Commentators/critics might acknowledge how often a politician lies, but they will also analyze how successful telling these lies are, essentially acknowledging that it doesn’t matter if they lie or not, but just if the end goal of winning support works.

Positions, causes, movements, issues, conflicts, these are individual identifiers which are becoming so numerous and multifaceted that they are becoming more and more meaningless in the sense that they continually have less and less (relevant) power when viewed separately. Once again, political and economic power is out of reach for most, and the more people grasp for cultural power, the more diffused it becomes.

At least Post-Structuralism is not as weak a leg to stand on as post-modernism, but that’s because post-modernism’s leg might actually be a crutch, an arm, several bananas, or one’s own relationship with societal pseudo-cliches.

 

 

Do Not Block the Planetary Fire Exit

Things are looking bad for the earth in the coming decades, and because hope is can be just as essential as it is misguided, one of the underlying ideas humanity will cling to is that at least some of us can rocket off the planet before it’s too late.

Yes, we’re already having to assume a dystopic time on earth for that to happen, but it will be even more unfortunate that such a craft will have a hell of a time just getting out of orbit because of the possibility that it will be too much of a garbage dump to blast through in the near future.

Space debris is proliferating as we put more satellites and craft up in low earth orbit. While the area is absolutely massive, the smallest bits used to build this equipment can come loose (like a bolt or paint chip) and suddenly become a tiny bullet that is zipping around the planet at a dangerously high speed.

Space debris damaging or destroying a satellite that briefly knocks out your internet is one thing, but that satellite’s debris becoming a danger to many other satellites can create a domino effect that turns low earth orbit into a deadly zone of constant crossfire that no ship can ever hope to get through in one piece.

What is particularly maddening is the paradoxical notion that when it is said that there is too much space debris above us, we can’t help but imagine it would be like walking/floating through a very clutter garbage dump, when in reality there is still a lot of…space…between every screw or bit of fuselage as it floats around. At first it would seem like there would be no problem at all, that there is still plenty of room for a rocket to blast through Low Earth Orbit unimpeded.

But rockets and the tiny ships that sit atop them during the trip up are expensive and in short supply, and would you risk it (let alone the people on board) when there’s a chance that one tiny screw shoots through it like a bullet, depressurizing and exploding it in a second?

The solution would to build a device that would suck up the debris, a sort of space net or vacuum cleaner, but once again, the area it would have to operate in is absolutely massive, and on top of that, it would have to be able to somehow avoid getting hit or withstand the damage by the very debris it is trying to remove.

Of course, having to clean up the mess we’ve made above our heads, says a lot about humanity in general. Space debris shows how we can be quite lazy about pollution until it absolutely inconveniences us. It is an example of how our ambition outpaces our responsibility for exploring, and how even when trying to solve problems, we prefer fast and cheap possible solutions over slow and expensive definite ones.

 

 

 

Cop a Fix

Defunding the police will never work with current socioeconomic conditions. Because crime can occur for overlapping reasons like poverty, mental health issues and addiction means that there does need to be some sort of professionally trained service to make sure the laws are followed.

Now it is easy to acknowledge the sadly human element that comes with this task, as individuals can easily make terrible decisions based on their own personal biases and personality type. As tragic examples of shootings and abuse have shown us, some people who become police officers should never become police officers.

At the same time community based violence/crime de-escalation efforts as an alternative to the police do not work nearly as well as activists would hope:

(https://www.vox.com/22622363/police-violence-interrupters-cure-violence-research-study)

This is because de-escalation in specific situations is not enough, you need to give individuals (and the community) an alternative to crime and the potential violence associated with crime. It is an alternative that provides living wages and basic health services to all, and just writing that shows just how big of a solution is required if the goal is to not require police officers.

Currently the police are typically reactive and rarely proactive, which is why changing the sort of role police officers play in a society means changing society first.

 

 

Darkness on the Edge of Town

While Bruce Springsteen largely sings of lives spiralling out of control and/or enjoying one last moment of glory before death or another working day, the music itself is too neat and tidy. Whether he’s doing the fist-in-the-air arena rock stuff of Born to Run and Born in the USA or the not-as-commercial acoustic folk of Nebraska and Ghost of Tom Joad, the performance and production don’t seem to nail down the feeling he is trying to achieve.

Except for 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

It is one of the best American albums of all time, and that is not supposed to be an unusual qualifier. You want to understand what the United States felt like to live in from 1950 to 2000? Here you go, in about forty minutes.

It is an amazing ten song line up from start to finish, even the two ‘singles’ - Badlands and Promised Land - are better than anything on Born to Run, his previous and breakthrough album, full of more energy and desperation in perfect balance.

Streets of Fire swaggers when it starts and burns when the bombast hits.

Factory is the perfect length for a perfect lament for what the daily assemble line life could give and take.

Candy’s Room is freaky and weird.

Racing in the Streets is a true heartbreaker, a love story for both cars and women.

The title track is one of the most fitting ending songs to an album of all time.

By trying to not-exactly-follow-up ‘Born to Run’ with another hit album, he slipped between slightly too much and obviously too little, and landed in perfection.

 

 

The Other Type of Long Covid

This article -

(https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/20/opinion/us-mental-health-politics.html)

 - explains how pandemic has affected mental health situations big and small, but also stresses how institutions can affect the discourse to make large-scale problems seem less of the fault of their own decisions and more ‘the natural ways of society’ (essentially gaslighting the populace). That other aspects of modern society have been increasing stress levels for decades (creating financial challenges, lack of job security, technological upheaval, growing geopolitical tensions) means adding a pandemic-forced lockdown is gasoline on an already burning fire.

The article stresses the difference between mental stress and mental illness (as well as one can cause the other), and that there is “the well documented fact that chronic stressors (like poverty, political violence and discrimination) intensify the chance that an individual will develop a given diagnosis, from depression to schizophrenia.”

What can worry you today and can destabilize you tomorrow, especially when tomorrow never knows (and not in the good Beatles way). And with more and more people feeling this every day, of course there are attempts to find solutions, and in our capitalist society, money talks (even if lack of money is one of the problems).

That there is an incentive for quick-fix solutions for everything in and out of government in modern society, it means that treating mental health is sadly no different. When there needs to be ways to addresses people’s needs individually, the cheaper and corporate friendly way is to give everyone a bunch of pills to calm us down:

“Medicalizing mental health doesn’t work very well if your goal is to address the underlying cause of population-level increase in mental and emotional distress. It does, however, work really well if you’re trying to come up with a solution that everybody in power can agree in on, so that the people in power can show they’re doing something about the problem. Unfortunately, the solution that everyone can agree on is not going to work.”

There may be no better example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. It’s not even a Placebo effect if the placebo doesn’t work.

 

 

 

Businesses that haven’t yet embraced AI/robotics are doing so because they can’t, not because they don’t want to. They would love to replace a human because of how expensive one of us is, but the technology or price for an AI/robot replacement is not yet ready/still too expensive.

That several large retail stores are removing the automated check-out lanes is only proof that the technology is not yet perfected, not that the store owners love their flesh and blood employees.

(https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/some-retailers-scaling-back-self-checkouts-1.7034047)

And one of the chief problems is theft, reinforcing the idea that it is our relationship with technology that defines it, not the technology itself.  Easy file sharing is great, and when it was easy to share/steal music, we did it en masse. When we can steal from supermarkets without punishment, a lot of us did.

But ultimately tech will make it hard to steal from stores, maybe through airport-like body scanners that you have to walk through when you exit, and the machine will know exactly what you have in your bags or coat and charge your mandatory ID/credit card immediately.

And these advancements that result in layoffs will not occur all at once, but over many years, making its devastating effects not seem like the huge issue it actually is, since the current party line is that for all the jobs AI/robotics take from people, it will somehow create new ones for us (which are…?).

For now, banks and other services are stressing in commercials that they still use humans for customer support, that you won’t be speaking to an AI program with limited options.

But how long until it’s flipped, and that you’re promised that you won’t have to speak to a person, just a fully capable AI?

Workers/unions are aware of this, that there is going to be a change over the next several years because big companies are looking at what current AI can do right now and are extrapolating to a future time when AI can do even more, specifically exactly what that company would like it to do.

Which is why there are a litany of strikes and threats of strikes right now, because this is the time for unions of all sorts - from writers and actors on the arts side, to auto workers on the manufacturing side - to get any sort of contract that might lessen/buffer the catastrophic effects (namely layoffs) that are indeed coming.

AI tech that won’t be ready for five years is upending our lives right now.

 


 

July 2023 Here’s a Thought

 

Scrumptious Sprout Strategy

There are fewer experiences in video games as rewarding as a good day in Pikmin.

Everyone should play the games from the Pikmin series because they are brain-bendingly unique and full of heart pounding excitement even as they look all cartoony and fun (and the latest, Pikmin 4, just dropped a week ago).

The real-time-strategy genre is definitely not very popular compared to your First-Person-Shooters or Hack-and-Slash because of the amount of brainpower and instant reflexes required. Thinking fast is essential, and even online multiplayer games where pause is unavailable is not quite the same, as MOBAs slowly narrowed the types of decisions that could be made to achieve your goal, which was typically killing an enemy before they kill you.

So Pikmin stands alone as the game where you control scores of tiny troops that can have a variety of traits and abilities that make certain ones more adept in certain environments and fights. You will be scouring the alien (yet familiar) planet in search of damaged ship parts, resources, and potential valuables in order to achieve various missions before you are able to leave the planet and return home. And you can only do these activities during the day, which is thirteen minutes in real time, so the pressure and nervousness is immense, especially if you make a foolish move and see dozens of your troops get killed or drown.

The difference between describing how the game plays and what it looks like is one of the biggest dissonances in gaming. Its middling success - compared to other Nintendo franchises - can be credited to its excessively cute graphics and art style that scares away hardcore gamers, and its quickly complicated and difficult strategy requirements that scares away the kids and casual gamers who initially bought the game because it looked cute.

This difficulty is felt most strongly in Pikmin 1 and 2 (which are both about 20 years old), because while they still hold up overall, they are extremely challenging since most games from decades ago typically were harder than today’s fare, which means if you want the real hard stuff, there it is.

Meanwhile 3 and the brand new 4 are absolutely awesome and should be must-plays for noobs and hardcore gamers who are thirsting for more unusual and wild interactive experiences. Your brain will thank you. Eventually.

 

 

Picket Signs of Things to Come

Because it involves celebrities, striking actors get more attention than striking writers. Now most of them are not making celebrity-level money and even fewer writers make celebrity-level money, but both are assumed to be in cushier positions than many workers both in and out of the entertainment industry.

The dismissive put-downs of the social media peanut gallery should not be surprising, as you can find that for any issue at all, but the current SAG-ACTRA strike can be seen as a shot across the bow for future labour relations in general.

Firstly, the negotiations involves revenue sharing from streaming, that thing you do that costs either around $10 per month or nothing at all if you’re password sharing. How such an entertainment service would make money when some of the movies and tv series made exclusively for it cost hundreds of millions of dollars (plus all the content Netflix ‘rents’, like Seinfeld or older blockbusters like Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park or anything Scorsese) is a head scratcher, and perhaps that’s why the last year had been a series of declining profits and layoffs at many streaming service companies.

In 2021, Scarlett Johansson sued Disney for tens of millions of dollars when Black Widow (which she starred in as the titular character) went to right streaming in 2020, claiming that by doing so the company would be making millions from the bump in subscribers who signed up just to see it, and that nothing in her contract has a proviso for making a percentage of those profits for such an occurrence (and she would have gotten a percentage if it went into theatres as originally planned).

Yes, it’s millionaire versus billionaire, but it’s illustrative of how management will look too screw over the worker any way they can, even if it’s a worker that never really has to ever work again.

The other issue is - of course - AI, first of which can come up with scripts in five minutes (sorry, writers) and second can create digitized versions of real people or composites of them and then have them act with lines that could have been written with the AI-written script.

Sorry, humans.

It’s odd that while it was assumed that AI would replace more mundane blue and white collar jobs that the types that are suddenly most at risk involve the arts, professions that we all expected to be so much more…human…than assembly lines and spreadsheets.

Which is why how this strike is resolved will be very indicative of how other industries will handle their own workers going forward with new technology (spoiler alert: probably harshly).

 

 

Selling Perfection

We have high expectations of our institutions and corporate entities, and that's partially due to the human condition of expecting things that worked well in the past to continue working just as well at present and into the future. It does not take us long to get accustomed to uninterrupted electricity, a perfect television signal, and Wi-Fi that doesn’t have connection issues.

We all have this high expectation because information (particularly advertising and marketing) drills it into our heads that it is acceptable to constantly have this level of expectation. We are told that we are great, that we deserve the best, that the best life we could ever live is only one decision or purchase away. And while believing so in relation to owning a car, shirt, or all-inclusive vacation might only harm your own financial situation, believing so in regards to macro issues of society can become very problematic.

Even if the truth is that complex organizations - whether a health care system or telecommunications provider - will not operate perfectly most of the time, and will frustrate or disappoint us, it can be tragic in the former example (not having access to certain medicines or treatments) and extremely annoying in the latter (bad internet service, terrible customer hotline).

It's easy to accuse corporations of focusing on profits over everything else (because it's true), and it's easy to accuse governments of offering stilted and subpar service for any program that they oversee (because of a bureaucratic mess that relies on corporate contracts).

But these two do not cancel each other out in terms of overall social value.

Corporations focus on profit ultimately means that they'll ultimately offer subpar service as well, because cost-cutting is the easiest way to bolster profit, even though it comes at huge cost.

The profit elements ultimately harms not only the functioning of the organization or institution, but the fabric of society as well, because profits are rarely shared equally, and most of it goes to a small segment of the populace, who just accrue more and more power.

And to make matters worse is that we expect perfection quite quickly, and that we are dismissive of everything when we don't get it that fast, the ‘If I can’t have a complete solution in two weeks I don’t want it at all’. Amazon Prime’s next day delivery schedule has given us false expectations for how everything else in society can be run.

 

 

Weathering the Weather

So it’s too dry in some places (resulting in wildfires), too dry in other places (resulting in floods), and too hot in pretty much every place.

There’s no ‘told you so’ by scientists anymore, just ‘strap in, it’s going to be more of the same and worse’.

Warnings of a warming planet are many decades old, and because trying to fix the problem would result in a total restructuring of how humanity lives on earth (not to mention a real kick in the profits for the titans of industry), all proposals to do something about it was coolly received.

It doesn’t matter how common sense it sounds, if it gets in the way of money, there will be enthusiastic deniers. It took the literal rising of oceans sweeping away beachside towns before some conservative politicians in the southeastern United States admitted that yes, the planet is getting hotter.

And now Phoenix, Arizona is going three weeks straight for days above 110F (43C), it’s so hot in southern Europe that wildfires are the terrifying normal, and record breaking heat in Beijing means a record-breaking use of electricity (which in turns makes everything even hotter).

The more extreme it gets - and one must remember that a massive ‘side’ effect of all this will be on agriculture, where unpredictable weather can result in fewer crops, meaning less food that means more expensive food  - the more extreme the solutions offered will likely be.

Cloud seeding, ‘liquid nitrogen-ing the ocean’ (to stop massive hurricanes), and mirrors in space are all going to be in the running because we just can’t stop…air conditioning, 4x4 off-roading, crypto-mining, and jetting off to somewhere even a bit cooler because it’s sweltering everywhere else.

 

 

Raising a glass to Cheers, 40 Years Later

 

“Who are three people that have never been in my kitchen?” - Cliff Clavin’s answer on Final Jeopardy

 

Eleven years on the air and leaving at the top of the ratings in 1993, Cheers became the ultimate workplace comedy that was superseded into the popular consciousness by a show that at one point came on right after it: Seinfeld.

That show is seen as the rule-breaker, the show that threw all the sitcom conventions out the window. While this might be true in terms of narrative pacing (sacrificing sensible plot developments to have a lengthy conversation about life’s annoyances), the cast of the show is practically sitcom 101: An affable leading man, a put-upon, hard-luck best friend, a wacky neighbour, a sassy ex-girlfriend.

Such tropes had long dominated sitcoms, as they were meant to be appealing to the broadest possible audience.

By the early eighties, the workplace comedy was commonplace (Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, WKRP, Barney Miller) with one of the sets involving a public place to socialize.

Cheers was pitched with that public place in mind, with the regulars would be the employees and the literal ‘bar regulars’, having their lives upended however briefly by any character who could walk in with a new plot for twenty two minutes.

Considering the setting was a place where beer, wine and alcohol would be served, there was comparably little drunkenness for all the implied drinking. Despite always having a pint in front of them and the show revolving around the idea of ordering another and not going back home, the regulars are constantly lucid and full of quips.

Making the effects of alcoholism come off as funny is not easy, especially on a scripted program where you don’t want to depict the main characters of the show as enablers of someone’s drinking problem.

Laughing at a drunk and the mistakes or stumbles they make can seem mean-spirited so very quickly, so it took an animated spoof of Cheers on The Simpsons in the early nineties to show the possible dark side (but, uh, still funny) of Norm’s alcoholism (and it should be noted that the cast of Cheers were fine with it, as they all voiced themselves).

Leading man and bar owner Sam Malone was meant to be a football player, but Ted Danson didn’t look burly enough, so it was changed to baseball. Rhea Perlman played Carla, and was the first person cast. John Ratzenberger auditioned for the Norm Peterson role, but told producers that every bar needs a know-it-all, and a character was developed for him in that vein.

Juxtaposition is at the heart of the broadest forms of comedy, but certainly it can be mined for deeper and more rewarding laughs if handled properly.

To contrast the blue collar regulars, Shelley Long played the Boston University graduate who was ‘abandoned’ by her fiancée in the pilot, meaning she would start working there as a counterweight to everyone and a potential love interest for Sam.

And as Diane Chambers became less the upper class foil to those at the bar and more just a part of the team, Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane stepped into take that role (even more so when Shelley Long left the show).

And similarly, as he became just another regular, Bebe Neuwirth’s Lilith Sternin arrives just in time to once again be comically horrified at the shenanigans in the basement bar (by which time the sweet but stupid Coach was replaced by the sweet but stupid Woody, played by a guy actually named Woody).

Ratings-wise Cheers sunk like a stone in its first season, and there’s no doubt that if it had been broadcast in the last three decades, it wouldn’t have even made it that far. But NBC executives saw something in the show (or saw that they didn’t have anything worthwhile to replace it), and gave it another season. And then it took off like a jet airliner, becoming  a hit and earning 95 Emmy nominations, winning 20.

Eleven years means a lot of twenty two minute A and B stories (275 episodes to be exact), and recurring characters might only show up twice a season (Harry the Hat, John Allen Hill as the fussy restaurateur in the unit above, the rival bar owner Gary, Carla’s family), but being on for more than a decade meant it was still several hours of these miniature arcs.

Before Seinfeld’s story arc of developing a Seinfeld-like sitcom took up an entire season, Cheers gave its audience a lengthy romance and corporate-espionage intrigue between Rebecca and her wealthy, dodgy, English crush Robin Colcord for over a dozen episodes in season 8. Another foil for Sam, Roger Rees played the man magnificently, someone you were supposed to hate but was also quite funny.

There is definitely something both amusing and antiquated went going back to watching an episode of Cheers today, and it’s not simply because of the fashion or laugh-track, but because of bizarre the idea is today of going to place where ‘everybody knows your name’.

 

 

The Universe and Knots

The secret to relativity and quantum physics might be right at your feet.

Think how often you tie your laces without a care in the world, how often it works absolutely perfectly.

It’s only that odd time when it doesn’t work that the knot becomes absolutely everything, even for a moment.

It slows you down, it creates stress, it forces attention, it exerts energy when you bend or sit down to take time to fix it.

To extrapolate this to everything beyond you being annoyed for a few moments, a smooth and uniform expansion of the universe from the moment of the Big Bang can be rudely interrupted early on by Inflation, a very brief period that was essential for our existence, because certain elementary particles might not have exploded/cooled into being without it. Inflation was a bump, and a bump is nothing more than a knot.

Additionally, the Higgs Boson was nicknamed ‘the god particle’ even though it was nothing without the Higgs Field, the ‘location’ where the boson can go from mass-less to mass…full.

Slowing something down that doesn’t have mass?

Well nothing slows you down quicker than a knot.

 ‘Entanglement’ describes the relationship between two or more particles that can be right beside each other or on other ends of the galaxy.

The idea being that affecting the spin of one particle can immediately affect the other, regardless of the distance between them. ‘Immediately’ is not underselling it, either, as the information telling the second particle to change its spin moves faster than the speed of life.

Perhaps a multi-dimension knot in the fabric of space-time allows for this seemingly impossible link.

Certainly a theory involving the word string can also include a concept involving the idea of a ‘knot’: String theory reduces the tiniest of tiny sub-atomic particles to…strings. Which are connected at each end so they’re more circles than anything else.

Because the unknown properties are the knots of particle behaviour, and once you learn how they work together and can untangle them, then you'll understand the rules of the universe.

 

 

The Process of Addressing Wealth Inequality

-support local candidates in your district that strongly support high taxation on the wealthy and heavily regulation of corporations and industries, making it clear that these people and institutions are beholden to the success to the country/community as a whole, not just profit for investors. Support truly does mean engaging with people who might not agree with or be aware of this candidate because they might not be part of a well-known political party

-running as an independent or creating one’s own political party is extremely difficult if you are not already a well known fighter in your community

-which is why an early obstacle is other, well-known and well-connected political parties, who will try to stress that this candidate is not suitable because of these views. But if these views are truly popular with the community, then the political parties might criticize/attack this candidate for other reasons, or try to convince that these views on taxes and regulation are extreme or wrong

-if the candidate remains popular despite this, then the political parties might try to offer an option to join them if they compromise on some of their views in exchange for financial support or stepping aside and supporting a/the mainstream candidate, but sometimes the political parties might renege once their preferred candidate is ultimately elected, making it look like they betrayed their voters, or are simply incompetent/ineffective

-the mainstream media will openly criticize the candidate’s views or discuss them in a way that would suggest they will not easily win the election(s), or that some of these ideas are radical or unfeasible

-typical negative campaigning and pseudo-scandals will be slathered upon the candidate, who has to address these accusations deftly and without seeming too aggressive and too weak at the same time

And if everything just happens to work out precisely as planned, and enough voters keep focused on this/these issue(s), then congratulations! Hopefully more than a few politicians are now repping these ideas in the halls of power!

But compared to getting wealth tax/corporate regulation policy actually passed in the halls of power, all of the above was the easy part.

 

 

Die, All Right! - Scandinavia and the Moving Picture

 

It’s not just cold during the winters in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark (to a lesser extent), but dark as well.

Sure, the flip side is that summer solstice means you can get the midnight sun if you go far enough north, but these extremes obviously seep into your routines and perspectives of daily life.

Sometimes it feels like the horrible blackness will never end, that death is sweet silence from the chattering nuisance of consciousness (a reminder here that Hamlet himself is Danish, which might explain the theme of his soliloquies).

Soren Kierkegaard was the Danish proto-existentialist philosopher who was very polite and matter-of-fact regarding how we must not completely ignore or forget the haunting spectre of death that could take us off this mortal coil at any second. So ideally we infuse every moment with personal meaning, that we would act as god might, although ‘he’ could obviously do this effortlessly being omnipotent and all.

But as the twentieth century lumbered on, and the horrors of war and genocide and the possibility of nuclear annihilation loomed overhead, any meaning - individual or collective - ultimately felt meaningless.

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) is the archetypal Scandinavian film, the sort that would be celebrated and lovingly mocked for decades to come.

Despite the contemporary period being a fertile ground for misery, Bergman goes back six hundred years to the Black Plague, slotting in the Crusades to really stress the futility and destruction of the hazily labelled ‘medieval period’.

While wandering through the land and seeing people’s hardships, a noble knight is playing chess with the grim reaper for his life, but since death never loses, it’s only a matter of delay, delay, delay.

But at least there is a simple and understandable plot, because compared to Bergman’s other masterpiece - Persona, a psychological drama of an actress and nurse having breakdowns in a cabin - The Seventh Seal is Fast and Furious 6.

Decades later, Lars Von Trier started in television, before creating a series of filmmaking rules (Dogme 65) he rarely adhered to. With explorations into how society breaks down individuals in Europa, Breaking the Waves and Dogville, it’s like John Cassavetes 70s work, but even more depressing.

Even when the Scandinavians tried to get funny, it wasn’t with airy quips or a comedy of errors. Songs From the Second Floor is a bonkers series of tableaus in various locations that is suffering from the bizarre and mysterious effects of the apocalypse (like stockbrokers whipping themselves in tandem).

Confront the inner mundane absurdity of existence with complimenting scenes of outer fantastical absurdity. History is long, as is the winter night, but neither is as long as death.

When these perspectives are diluted by outside cultural concepts, you get Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (infused with Hollywood pulp), while Midsommar is a mix of American and British influences in both theme and style (the film follows a group of young Americans visiting a pagan Scandinavian folk fest, meaning it’s an easy city-meets-pastoral set up, and it’s a lot like the British horror classic, The Wicker Man).

 

 

Life is a Series of Pills

We take pills to get up, to fall asleep, to calm down, to get amped, to get hungry, to get hard, to get healthy, to get sick and even to die.

Tiny capsules that almost always are taking orally (with suppositories coming up the rear…ba-dum-tsch) means it’s easy for the chemicals within them to get within you.

Too easy, in fact.

After the long fight against the dangers of cigarettes finally seemed to be won (or at least, acknowledged and understood by the general population so that fewer people do it), in comes prescription painkillers, which make people feel really good and want to take more of them, which, from a capitalist point of view, is the perfect product.

But when it quickly became apparent that people got addicted to them, the pharmaceutical manufacturers took the same approach as cigarette manufacturers decades prior: deny the problems, fudge the science, bribe the politicians and regulators, and undertake a massive promotional/charity campaign to make it seem like you’re not acting like a drug cartel.

So now it’s pills only in moderation, of course.

There are so many pills it’s easy to take too many of them. There are warnings on bottles about what the safe dosage, but heeding those are obviously optional.

Dependency on pills that have physically addictive chemical properties, one that that goes beyond the natural world and instead lands not just upon our intellect, but our working together as a community…to make sure that factories can churn out pressed powders that can be easily swallowed by anyone who has the need or want, but also the cash. Even pills that don’t get you hooked on them can become less effective if you still take them regularly as your body builds up a tolerance.

Because of the massive imbalance between use and abuse of drugs and how society treats the former (buy more!) and the latter (throw those criminals in jail!), it is essentially that we Decriminalize All Drugs.

One huge advantage of this is the simple fact that a person who is apprehended/confronted due in part to their addiction is that they have a better chance at getting rid of or managing their habit and lead a more productive life if they go to a treatment centre, instead of prison. Prison leads to a much high rate of recidivism not only for taking the drug, but the criminal behaviour that the person commits to support their addiction.

On top of  that, the drugs that are illegal are much more likely to be abused by the lower classes which leads to harsh drug sentences even for possession of small amounts, meanwhile prescription medicine that apes so many of the effects of the illegal drugs are abused primarily by the upper and middle classes. And prescription drug abuse is much more lenient and weakly enforced crime compared to illicit drug use.

Finally, the effects of the ‘war on drugs’ in Central and South America has had devastating consequences for the millions of citizens living there who have nothing to do with the illicit drug trade. Cartels and gangs kill/bribe anyone who stand in their way, and entire governments are caught being beholden to how money is spent by local drug kingpins and the money that comes primarily from the United States to fight them.

While it is loathe to imagine that suddenly Pfizer or Merck industries is in charge of producing a cocaine or heroin equivalent (although uppers and opioids are uncomfortably good starts), having it corporatized in this way is certainly preferable to a literal drug war in distant nations.

 

Sad Bonus: Over-diagnosis of ADHD...for hideous profit!

(https://www.vox.com/2018/12/17/17263874/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-symptoms-diagnosis)

 

 

Who Watches the Digitized Watchers?

The amount of information available on ‘the internet’ is incredible, but what needs to be looked at is our relationship with the information.

What do we bring to it? We stare at it, listen, read its words, but what does it take from us? At first it seems like nothing (unless we make a comment), but this is not true.

Thanks to ‘cookies’ for webpages and all the things you agree to let your apps do on/to your phone or tablet, internet companies big and small record the amount of time we spend on it, whether watching a video, listening to a podcast, or scrolling through an article. It knows what we do next, making connections of how absorbing the information has affected our behaviour.

You are always a target demographic, and it will recommend make-up, Minecraft, animal fails, or Andrew Tate videos accordingly.

While these are certainly disparate topics, it is nothing but data as far as computers are concerned, and more and more often it is computers (more specifically, AI) that are making these sorts of decisions.

One of the complicated problems with banning hate speech is that there is a strong possibility that it will be used against groups that most people would not consider hate groups:

(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/opinion/if-we-silence-hate-speech-will-we-silence-resistance.html)

This problem is exacerbated greatly with the fact that it is corporations that find themselves the owners and overseers of new digital public squares, and are not as beholden to the public good as the government is.

A failure to protect free speech or banning what is defined as hate speech is not a legal or Supreme/High Court issue for them, but part of workflow, that will assessed as something that could be worked on in the next financial quarter.

We have too effectively monetized central tenets of human behaviour like discourse and attention, and a too small group of Silicon Valley owners and investors get a bit of the money every time these behaviours happen (and they happened millions of time over, every second of every day).

If Twitter, Facebook and social media in general are the new ‘town squares’ where people get together and talk, compare it to people going to an actual square or city park. A place where they are chatting with each other privately or listening to someone else speak for a planned meeting or get together, but then someone starts screaming and yelling and accusing them of being liars, paid actors, or simply ‘piece of shit’. How is this dealt with in real life? Ignoring or walking away from this angry person, hoping that a security guard comes up to them and asks them to leave?

Heckling is comparatively rare when someone speaks in a town square if the topic is not extremely controversial. Even if it’s a talk about music, if someone in the crowd disagrees with the speaker, it’s more likely they will just murmur a comment to their friend beside them, or will raise their hand to offer their opinion to the main speaker without (ideally) calling them a ‘fucking idiot’.

But on the internet, every comment can be quickly heard/read by the person who made the initial post, so they can suddenly be confronted with the agreements and disagreements of the many people listening/reading.

Formal, real life debates have moderators, and virtual chat rooms have them as well, meant to enforce a series of rules in the room regarding decorum, meaning a ‘mod’ might say to you that can’t talk about that subject here, that your comments have been flagged, and that if you try anything like that again you will immediately be banned. By not being face-to-face in real life, you can become uncomfortably close in the digital realm.

Ironically, as this world of ones and zeroes becomes more developed and avatars become more common place, being threatened or insulted by another might suddenly become less threatening than a straightforward text or comment that does the same, because you can more easily do the physically familiar act of walking away from that person (even if in the digital realm it involves pressing a button, tapping a screen, or making a simple gestures that indicates movement for your avatar).

Most people are aware that our electronic devices with microphones can record us without our knowing, with governments claiming they do it for our safety and corporations claiming they do it to improve your online experience. While both can legitimately say otherwise, lost in the terms and agreements of simply owning a cellphone and subscribing to a telecommunications service are the hazy exceptions that can practically be permanent if deemed valuable.

Companies certainly say that they value your privacy, even when information you deem private can be quite profitable for them, which is why it is important to keeping pressing the issue - or at least be aware of it - that the way we conduct ourselves online is markedly different than offline.

 

 

 

What Kind of God…

Nobody knows what happens after you die. No one. So yes, it’s possible that there’s a heaven just like a lot of people believe. But the idea of ‘after your life, you have another life, in some other dimension or reality where you get everything you want for ever and ever’…sounds great, ridiculous, and the very definition of ‘too good too be true’. If you saw that on sale in a store, you’d assume that it was a complete scam, covered in asbestos, or is somehow going to steal all your online passwords.

It the sort of thing a parent would promise to their eight year old they’ll stop throwing a tantrum in a grocery store.

The whole idea of ‘there’s a powerful man in a white beard who knows everything you do and whether you were good or bad and will reward or punish based on that’? It’s Santa Claus. It’s not even ‘the grown up version of Santa Claus’, it’s the exact same thing, it’s a scale of 1 to 1, and instead of the North Pole it is in a place where you can never be called out for it being total crap.

On the reverse, Satan is even more comical, a bogeymen that you can blame your own behaviour on. The idea of entering a bargain with him is good story fodder and nothing else, since your soul is a concept of self, and you can never sell that or give it away.

Because isn't it convenient that what you want/like is the will of god, and what you don't like is the will of satan/evil/not of god?

The personal relationship between an individual and a spiritual/theological conception of reality can be of great benefit to them and their community. It can be a tool for personal growth and a way to create an ethos for being kind and loving people.

But organized religion typically turns that tool into a weapon.

Being organized is meant to be a compliment, but with the term ‘religion’ tacked on, it suggests strict hierarchy, inflexible beliefs, and plenty of power relations and all the abuse that can come with that.

We seem to be the most human when we are trying to understand the divine.

Not that divinity is needed for this sort of activity.

Noted French philosopher and atheist Jean-Paul Sartre started as an existentialist (see up above, the Scandinavian film bit), but the experience of the Second World War changed him, saying that, “to be free is not to do what one wants, but want to do what one can”, which is adding a level of morality to an amoral world and a slight bit of inspiration to contrast the natural bleakness that can come with embracing existentialist philosophy.

 

 


 

Here’s a Thought Jan 2023

 

 

The Maiming of the Author

Rumours of their death are greatly exaggerated, but that’s to be expected in the fancy-ish business of word-working.

The relationship between writer and reader has of course gotten more complicated as it’s now so easy to communicate with one another, and if the writer isn’t interested in doing this, well, even that action shrieks volumes.

The audience can be more upset than ever - either as a collective or a very passionate individual - that the story or the symbolism of the story does not match their expectations.

They may disagree with a review or assessment by a critic, but they also might disagree with the creator of the work itself.

If the author’s opinion or personal information is absent, its lack will become part of the analysis of the work.

Their role is not exactly removed or reduced, but melted and bent into the shape that the reader/critic/scholar wants it to take.

 

 

Future History: Learning the Wrong Lessons

What will be the big problem with the early twenty first century according to people looking at it (hopefully there will be people to look at it) from the early twenty second century Rampant free market capitalism and its inevitable associated practice of consumerism that inevitably leads to wealth and power disparities when there is a lack of regulation? Not addressing climate change in any meaningful way for oh so many years when it became more and more obvious it was a huge problem? Standard fights over resources that led to small and large military conflicts? Inability for humanity to adopt to rapidly changing technology that fragments them into individuals and cliques making it harder to work together and solve big issues like the ones mentioned in the first three questions?

As part of the last question, there is the unfortunate possibility that in the future any form of ‘individualism’ that stresses the importance of the individual over the community will be seen as the problem (especially if civilization really does hit the skids), and as such future governments (whether democratic or authoritarian) might attempt to limit how people can speak or act in order to ‘protect society’.

The concern with this conclusion is that Individualism is not at all the problem, but that it cannot simply occur in any society in a vacuum. It must exist within a reasonably successful environment for a majority of citizens to live unencumbered with their basic needs being consistently met.

Which is the right lesson to always remember.

 

 

What is the Press Now?

Is Julian Assange a journalist?

It’s an easy question to forget years later, even as he is still languishing in a UK prison, awaiting possible extradition to the US for running Wikileaks when it leaked oodles of classified material. And maybe saying ‘leaked’ is already showing a bit of bias. What if the word was ‘reported’? Would that make it seem like Assange worked for The Guardian or the Washington Post?

To paraphrase, ‘he may be a bastard, but he’s not the New York Times’ bastard’.

Corporate consolidation for airlines, soda companies, and video games are bad enough, but when it comes to essential services like financial institutions, health insurance providers, and the news media, the results are inevitably so, so much worse.

Information is the bedrock for a free society that makes decisions as a collective, and we have to quickly add the word ‘accurate’ in front of ‘information’ because without that combo, you’ve got worse than nothing, you have a society making decisions that will go wrong right from the start. On top of that, there is also the necessity for relevant information, as it is too easy to find the for-profit news media providing stories and coverage based on what people want to hear (the tail wagging the dog), rather than what needs to be heard. Case in point: It's depressing that the Panama/Paradise paper leak barely made a splash for more than a three day news cycle.

The Internet isn't built for such an in depth and reflective analysis of a 448 page report.

The daily drips and tweets of the most juicy details, yes, but providing an overarching narrative to show the wealthy hide their billions through yawn inducing shell corporations and tax loopholes, not in the least.

McLuhan was right: The medium is the message. And the Internet offers immediacy and constant novelty, and nothing more.

This is what the news has become.

This is not excusing the actions and viewpoints of the public for their indifference. Many factors including the format at which these receive information are to blame. Decades of cynicism toward the political process is understandable.

However, the public can never fully escape culpability. Democracy and freedom requires constant vigilance, regardless off the supposed morass of the current situation. To throw your hands up in disgust and turn away just hastens democracy's demise.

This isn’t that new, of course, as Chris Hedges noted back in 2015 on Bill C-51:

http://rabble.ca/news/2015/03/chris-hedges-on-c-51-they-have-won-and-it-to-us

 

 

The Idea of a Nation

While the symbols of a country will likely tell you very little about the nation itself (bald eagle! Apple pie!), the qualities given to the people of the nation can be just as meaningless. In fact, because they focus on almost exclusively positive qualities, they read a bit like horoscopes. Countries are filled with proud, hardworking polite people, because who’s going to say their country is filled with miserable, lazy, rude people? Especially because you’re going to find people of both kinds in every country.

And ‘proud’ is positive spin on what (and who) could be considered a ‘major asshole’.

The laws and policies of a country (both proclaimed and actual) say so much more about the country than the food, clothing, or celebratory animals that happen to live within its borders.

 

What’s in a Name?

A rose by any other name blah, blah, blah. But just for the record, it would be really confusing if we all disagreed on what ‘rose’ meant.

Agreeing on definitions is something built so deeply into species sociability that of course we take it for granted. Part of the early difficulty of creating a language (and it’s certainly not something groups of people in the Stone Age sat around and agreed to do via grunting) is deciding that this series of noises matched this symbol etched on a cave wall.

Today the names of objects, events and ideas can change more rapidly than ever (yeah, yeah, thank you internet), and while most of it unsurprisingly involves slang and colloquialisms in certain subcultures that can occasionally burst into the mainstream, there are some bizarre behemoths that involve political movements and ideologies.

Conservatives support neoliberalism, regulatory bodies that chiefly de-regulate, a debt ceiling that always gets raised so it’s not much of a ceiling, and socialism is so nebulously defined by the mainstream political discourse that the term is rarely mentioned by left leaning politicians who support socialist policies and is akin to communism or fascism by the right wing.

Even the more basic terms are on shaky foundations, as apparently ‘The Swedish Democrats’ are a far-right hate group.

Sussing this out is beyond simple annoyance. An overabundance of misnomers (and therefore misinformation) leads to miscommunication which increases the chances of society’s ability to function adequately. It is perfectly Orwellian, as in 1984 the Ministry of Peace deals with all things war.

Will technology save us? What is to be lost (and gained) by having less ambiguous terms for complex ideas might become moot when translator programs become as dependable and effortless as texting autocorrect.  And while we can mock some of the mistakes that show up with said autocorrect, we forget how on point it almost always is.

 

 

 

Tom Brady is not flashy. His play-style is mid, except for the tendency to throw fast. His efficiency and longevity are his hallmarks in a sport where neither are commonplace outside the position of kicker.

Credit certainly goes to his ability to analyze the field in real time to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which reduces the likelihood of being sacked or the need to scramble to extend the play. By avoiding those two occurrences, Brady avoided serious injury for most of his career, which is why he is/was able to play for so long.

And of course all this was possible in conjunction with Bill Belichick’s coaching brilliance on the defensive side of the ball (meaning Brady rarely had to mount comebacks, and if he did they would likely only be down by one score, not several), and his managerial brilliance of finding compatible receivers for Brady’s play style and trusting offensive coordinators to maximize said play style.

 

 

 

The History of the word ‘Warp’

Etymology is the study of words, and the Oxford English Dictionary (sometimes shortened to OED) is not so much a dictionary that tells you a word’s definition, but a historical account of the first time it was ever used and what information it conveyed, along with the various ways it has been used ever since (a quick, simple example: ‘Access’ was something you did, now it’s also something you can have).

The word ‘warp’ was originally a term in sewing when using looms, describing an arrangement of parallel lengths of yarn with a crossing string. While intentional, this crossing string looking askew (or going against the norm) in comparison to the other ordered strings is how ‘warp’ would be used going forward.

Soon it took to mean objects bending in completely unexpected and sometimes unwanted ways, going from a description of a mundane event to a description for something typically negative.

Now it was bad to be ‘warped’…which meant that for those who were eager to stand in contrast to mainstream cultural definitions, being warped was at the same time a rebellious badge of honour. It was bending or changing something that was straight and familiar.

Science is legendary for coming up with lousy names for extremely unusual phenomena. The Big Bang is a great example, especially when you consider that it was named sarcastically by a theoretical physicist who thought that the evidence presented at the time for a near-instantaneous event that started everything in the known universe was shoddy. Upon further research, it was decided by the community at large that The Big Bang was correct, but no one bothered to change the term (although Calvin suggested that it be renamed to the ‘horrendous space kablooie’).

The names of the six types of quarks are like the seven dwarves, but with even less personality or indication of what they do: Up, Down, Charm, Strange, Top and Bottom. It’s barely better than naming them the first six letters of the alphabet (or last six).

Going back to warp, discoveries in 20th century physics showed that the fabric of the universe - spacetime - could truly stretch and bend along with the light that travels through it, so using the word ‘warp’ to describe the possibility of travelling at ridiculously fast speed wasn’t half bad.

Pop culture did the rest.

Now ‘warp’ is primarily known as a measurement in Star Trek lore. And hey, you didn’t have to be an astrophysicist to know that warp 7 was faster than warp 4. But even in fake magical science, it’s not easy.

See, Warp 1 was in fact the speed of light, which is just under 300,000 kilometres per second. Which is dang fast, but since there was a vague attempt at scientific accuracy and consistency within the Star Trek universe (even though, y’know, Klingons and tribbles and such), and considering that  galaxies are so damn big, higher levels of warp were exponentially faster than the one before it. This gets to the point where Warp 9.9 has been quoted as being ‘4 billion miles per second’ (nearly 6.5 billion km).

Which is gibberish-level fast.

That’s going from the sun to Pluto in less than a second. It makes the size of our solar system a quick cough.

 

Are People Getting Stupider?

The accusation of a community/region/country/world getting dumber and dumber is popular, and has been for a long time.

Whatever period we look back at and think is the ‘smarter one’ is usually a time when the people then were looking further back in time and thinking the same way.

Which time in history would it be? When the most amount of people can read, write and reach a vaguely agreed-upon idea of a particular education level?

Because that would be right now.

Despite complaints about the quality of education kids today are receiving and how well they are (or aren’t) doing on standardized test scores, there’s more educated people on the planet now than ever before, and that’s because of huge numbers of youth in developed countries receiving an education who would not have gotten one in years prior.

Universal education is an extremely fresh concept when compared to how long human civilization has been around, yet the quality of this education is a whole other kettle of textbooks, and can differ for both complicated and simple reasons.

But is going to school the same thing as not being stupid?

How are we measuring smart (and therefore stupid)?

By IQ tests? By standardized tests in school for children and youth at certain ages?

What if the questions being asked are less applicable to most of the people taking them?

What if the questions were designed for people who weren’t raised with the entire content of the world in their back pocket? Why even bother memorizing tons of bullet points of vary subjects when you’ll always have access to it via phone, tablet or computer? How much does rote memorization have to do with being/becoming smart?

So not only does technology play a huge role in trying to answer this question, but consider that differing social financial situations throw the entire testing system off kilter.

Older generations especially would love to embrace the notion that they were the smart ones and that this new batch of young adults and kids are navel-gazing lazy-bones who spend too much time with the latest technology.

And if you want to believe that, well, you can cherry pick all the evidence you want, although beware of the dangerous Power of Anecdotal Evidence. It feels so good, it’s plain as day, it’s pulling the emotional heartstrings, has been a way of deciding things for millennia… and always has the potential to be completely wrong. Which might prove people aren’t getting any smarter than years prior, but that they’re not getting any dumber, either.

 

 

 

The Horrific Thing About Hitler is the ‘Gap’ of Horror

 

We view Hitler as a monster to distance himself from us, because while he was a human being we - as other human beings - don’t like having any sort of connection to him. We don’t want to think of anyone being capable of doing the same thing, so we call him a ‘monster’, just as we do to serial killers.

But outside of his time as a soldier in World War I, Hitler never killed anyone himself. Instead he helped create and oversaw a massive war machine and a genocidal plan to rid Germany/Europe/the world of people he and his supporters found undesirable.

‘The banality of evil’ was the description given to surviving Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

It is the uncomfortable idea that these men came to power by legitimate means, twisted the law to their own advantage and in twelve short years had soldiers and citizens commit some of the most heinous acts in world history.

Hitler railed against the Jewish people with his bigoted words, but was never seen mocking rabbis on the street or pointing a gun at the head of a concentration camp prisoner.

There is a gap of action but not of responsibility. It is the idea that convincing other people - in some cases, many other people - to carry out the horrific idea you have is worse that doing it yourself.

That a person has the power to convince other people to do evil is terrifying because it is admitting the possibility that maybe you might one day be subject to such convincing.

If Hitler tried to kill as many Jewish people as he could all by himself with a machine gun in Munich synagogue on a random day in the early 1920s before he ever entered politics, it would still be a horrific event (which would likely end in his immediate death or arrest, trial and sentencing to death), but unlikely to be in any history textbooks beyond perhaps a sentence.

But because Hitler strived to and succeeded at becoming the leader of a country, he was able to expand his desire to exterminate the Jewish people (and communists, and anyone who opposed him) on a massive scale, with enough ardent supporters to carry out these heinous acts.

Exponentially growing evil, with one man at its root. The matter of giving orders versus carrying out orders.

There is despicable agency and intent, but also distance.

Meanwhile, heinous serial killers might brutally tortured their victims, and it was because of their own agency and their own hands doing them.

Similar to Hitler although on a much smaller scale, Charles Manson was able to convince people to do foul, violent acts on his behalf.

The horror of Hitler is our own fear that we could be convinced/manipulated into doing great evil based on another’s ideas, suggestions or demands. And the sad proof that we as a species are susceptible to this is that despite humanity’s efforts to make sure any form of genocide would never happen again…they certainly have, with depressing regularity across the globe, from Cambodia to Rwanda to the Rohingya.

 

 

Age-ism-ism

Denigrating or ignoring someone (or some people) simply based on how old they are is certainly ageism.

On and individual level it says more about the parties involved and their own biases (‘kids these days’, ‘ok boomer’) than anything else, but looking down upon an entire generation because of how many collective institutional mistakes they made during their ‘watch’ is, quite simply, how history is written.

That one ‘becomes’ an adult at eighteen in the sense that they are wholly responsible for their own actions in a legal sense and can participate in elections is based on a loose, community agreement that this is a good average age for such activities, when puberty has finally ended and the hormones aren’t so much in flux. At the same time, of course there are responsible, level-headed fourteen year olds who can be much more reliable for all sorts of activities than some people decades older than them. But such cases are the exception, not the rule.

At the other end of the scale, associating age with wisdom is something older people stress just so people will still listen to their outdated ideas that have little bearing on what’s actually happening in the world around them. Just because you managed to live to eighty doesn’t necessarily mean what you say is helpful. Plenty of life experience does not equal useful information for others.

 

 

Chasing the Algorithm

Creators and streamers are paid based on their popularity, in the basic sense that with more eyeballs on your page or channel the more that you will receive in ad revenue and sponsorships and get a small cut of sales, and the more likely that people will buy merch or donate to support you. And while this sounds like a matter of raw numbers, it's not exactly, as getting seen on the most popular sites (so let’s just say YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitch), involves a lot of random chance.

All these sites and apps benefit financially when you spend more time on them, so the owners are incentivized to give you more of the same based on what you are choosing to watch. If you just watched a video of a cat slipping on ice, maybe you’ll want to then watch a video of a dog jumping in a pool and knocking some kid off an inner tube (or sports highlights or cover songs of a particular artist). The computer code that decides what to recommend to you next is loosely nicknamed ‘The Algorithm’, and creators are acutely aware that their livelihood can depend on someone clicking on a video it recommends.

The sites themselves don’t care much what you do or watch, so long as you’re there. But the channels on them are desperate to make sure you spend time on their channel, which is why you’re asked to subscribe for updates, like the video, and make comments on them, as all those actions slightly alter the algorithm to favour that video slightly more often as a recommended one. This system is not at all perfect, as sometimes alerts don't work, sometimes you don't appear in recommended lists that you would have been previously, and the changing winds of what’s popular at this hour might pass a creator/streamer right by.

Some ads are for other content creators, spending money to get around the Algorithm if they feel they’ve fallen out of favour with it, which is attributing a very human quality to a bunch of ones and zeroes, and is something we might be doing more and more of in the future.

 

 

Art-less

 

"Please don't put your life in the hands, of a rock and roll band, we'll throw it all away." - Oasis

 

With public figures, institutions and the political process letting us down more and more in this unfortunate century, we have turned to the creators of art and culture as our guides through the darkest timelines, as the sensible ones in a world full of nonsense. This is foolish and will almost certainly disappoint. Inflatable and impossible expectation can ruin many a relationship with a book, film, or album, let alone the person who made it. Not only are the creators as fallible as yourself, but the process of creating these works are just as fallible, and full of steps where it's akin to making a sausage, as you probably don't want to know how. Not necessarily because it's horrifying, but because it can be kind of bland and reductionist. The artist will forget how they came up with your favourite song, they may have left a mystery in a story because they were to lazy to explain it, etc.

Feeling that a work of art speaks to you is wonderful, but don’t mistake it think that it is the artist speaking to you. Becoming too attached to anything - whether a person or whatever they create - can lead to problems down the road.

Considering how much cultural material involves sex, violence, revenge, and going through absolute hell to finally persevere (and not always with that happy ending), one could say that if an artist's work was actually indicative of their behaviour or attitudes, then most artists would be in jail. Thinking an artist definitely 'means' a story/song/joke/performance literally is like thinking Arnold Schwarzenegger is not an Austrian-American actor but rather a killer cyborg from the future

 

 

Political Compromises...

Do you hold out and wait for enough political and social support for a big left-leaning cause/bill/agenda in one single vote, or do you compromise by making incremental centre-left-leaning policies that over time (likely years) might equal the same amount of change as the initial 'do it all in go' agenda?

What scenario is more likely to succeed?

And we've barely broached the issue of the amount of hostility towards these ideas from corporations and the right.

The sad complexity of how and why politicians vote for certain bills - as well as the amount of money dumped upon the issue via lobbyists - means there will as most certainly be a ton of imperfect (and demanding allies) to get something like an infrastructure or climate change bill passed.

So is this an advocacy for compromise? Is this an admission that having enough political votes and/or will to pass something even mildly contentious like 'the green new deal' is probably impossible in the foreseeable future?

How will those committed to this plan feel when a more watered-down version of the bill passes?  Betrayed? Disappointed? Cynical at the entire political process going forward?

These considerations become all the more pressing when one acknowledges how important it is to do something about climate change, inequality, and 'money out of politics' right now. These three issues right there are already hopelessly interconnected and affect each other's outcomes.

People were disappointed with the limits of Obamacare, and he had to point out that it was just an initial step, that over time, it would be improved upon. Unfortunately, this meant Obamacare supporters would have to hold onto the presidency and congress past 2016...which didn't happen.

Which is a terrifying reminder of how fragile so many policies can be.

Political divisions meant a conservative-controlled congress meant Obama had to pass executive orders to help bolster climate change and inequality policies. Some of which could simply be reversed (and were) when his predecessor arrived in January 2017.

There are so many considerations when one thinks about supporting candidates that completely reflect their own opinions, and supporting candidates that reflect the opinion that would most likely garner the most votes in a national election. That's a frustrating compromise.

Especially because issues like economic inequality and climate change can't wait for the 'next election cycle'. Things are getting terrible right now, we can't cross our fingers and hope that a more open-minded and progressive electorate is four or eight or whatever years away.

It's hoping for the absolute best result versus acknowledging the possibility of the worst possible outcome. Youthful idealism versus middled-aged pragmatism.

It's not a new line in the sand by any means, this has been a challenge for democracies since the get go.

So what do you do?

You talk to as many people as possible and find out what the voters think and convince them that you’re the best person to deliver on these issues. And if there’s a lot of different opinions on them…looks like you’ll have to compromise right away!

 

 

Knowing About WW2

History inevitably has a long reach, especially big, beefy events like a war that spanned the globe and even had countries that weren’t battlefields completely changing how they lived during it.

Like The Empire Strikes Back, WW2 was much more complex and nuanced than its predecessor (and by extrapolation, WW3 will spend the first third of it settling one outstanding issue from WW2, before becoming a re-hash of WW1 with some familial complications behind the scenes like Return of the Jedi).

World War 2 can be as complicated in the details as the experts want it to be, and as simplistic as tik-tok video summarizing everything, and both can be both shocking and fascinating at the same.

It was also a time of technological advancement in terms of documentation of the conflict itself. Footage of battles and their aftermath meant that people were aware of the goings on beyond the newspaper articles. You could go to the cinema and watch newsreels of soldiers actually fighting, of tanks and planes firing on enemy targets (as military censors probably would edit out something like their own side getting blown up).

Of course, technology in its infancy meant some mistakes and accidents, like how all the footage of American soldiers landing on Juno beach on D-day was damaged beyond repair.

That the war took place in many different locations and conditions meant that entire sub-disciplines could focus on the battles in North Africa, or the South Pacific, or the top secret Allied missions to disrupt the Germans’ own attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Films and TV series have delved deep into these experiences, and some were even made while the war was going on. While Casablanca might be Bogart’s best known film set during the war, he also starred in Sahara, where he played a tank commander holding off a German battalion all by themselves.

As the war went on, new countries joined (America didn’t officially participate until two years’ in) and some switch sides (the Soviets were caught off guard when the Germans turned around and attacked them), and some seemingly couldnt wait to surrender.

That the Cold War began as soon as WW2 just reinforces the idea that its effect had an extremely long reach, since that conflict didn’t end until the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, which meant that history itself ended.

Heh.

 

 

Who watches the watchmen?

 

The police as a powerful institution being so often free from accountability inevitably leads to brazen abuse. While it is essential that unions are a big part of a functioning democracy because workers definitely need that tool when it comes to dealing with management, strong unions can certainly protect terrible employees. While working in a unionized manufacturing job you'll find that bad employees can be inept, lazy or frustrating to deal with, bad teachers and especially bad police officers can have much more terrible impact upon society in general.

Police unions in the US have made it hard for bad cops to ever be fired, let alone charged with a crime, and change is still coming slow. Internal Affairs - the law enforcement within law enforcement - may be well meaning, but it is hard to shake the notion that any officer that cooperates with this department will be seen as a snitch or a rat.

Since the police have so, so much more power than a constantly marginalized minority, they are the ones who must be responsible for wielding it properly. If an individual officer can't accept that, they should quit. There is a long list of cops who gun down black people because they think their life is in danger, but it turns out (thanks in part to bystander camera footage or body cameras) that the person they shot wasn't even armed. Once again, it seems to be that public must play the role of judge and jury, as law enforcement can’t seem to do it themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Here’s a Thought - July 2022 Edition

 

 

Context is Almost Everything (and even that requires Context)

 

Who’s advocating that policy? Who’s making that joke?

You even have to consider who’s saying every word you hear, writing each sentence you read (this one - as is everything on this site - is written by a straight, white male), because that context will properly inform you as how to properly read all the intents and accidents of the literal and symbolic that can be packed into the content of the material.

If it’s wrong, the creator was misinformed. If it was offensive, it was just a joke. It if was an offensive joke, they’re sorry to anyone who is offended and will learn more about the person/people/culture you mocked.

Sometimes it’s the bad luck of the context of the compliant, where people are looking for what an attempted statement of support was inadvertently lacking. To understand as much of an online argument as possible you have to not only read the entire thread, but delve into the perspectives of the two or more voices of users.

Or you don’t.

If you want authorial context, there it is. If you want to ignore it, you can do that, too.

The internet has made anonymity easier (at least for a certain level of popularity, because once something goes viral, discovering identities becomes an industry in itself).

You can take all sorts of guesses as to the identity of a writer or creator who wishes to remain anonymous, and sometimes your personal biases might seep into these conclusions.

If you like what they’ve created, you might hope they are somewhat like yourself. If you hate it, maybe you’re hoping they’re all the way different.  Or maybe you don’t care, that the work itself is so good that it effortlessly stands on its own, letting the experiencer give the work meaning, absent of the creator’s viewpoint or intent.

And maybe then the creator can complain about context.

 

 

For rock at its most celebratory transgressive, it’s Brown Sugar through and through. Famously described by Christgau as ‘so compelling it discourages exegesis’, it has recently come under criticism for its lyrics regarding sadism, slavery, substances and sideshow queens.

If it were a somber ballad it might be seen a thought-provoking commentary on these issues, but it is a party rock song par-excellence.

(This is not the only time the Stones ‘got away’ with this, Start Me Up has such an easy, feel good groove the whole way through that radio stations still play the ‘you make a dead man cum’ lyric in the outro)

Even with Sugar’s riff-tastic opening sounding archetypal Keith Richards, Mick Jagger wrote the song practically in its entirety.  It was recorded in late 1969 just before the disastrous Altamont Festival gig. In fact, they played it there, and it already sounds great.

The staccato start gets your head turning, and the band comes in with full force a few seconds later, so by the time Jagger is singing with full throttle  everyone’s enjoying themselves when they shouldn’t. The slaver is doin’ all right as he abuses his property, the tent show queen has underage lovers, and the protagonist just wants to know why brown sugar tastes so good (here’s where we’ll mention this initial title was Black Pussy).

Right after Bobby Keys’ solo (although he bests himself a few songs later on the Sticky Fingers album with Can’t You Hear Me Knocking), Mick can’t wait getting back to it, giving a beautiful, ridiculous, ‘aaahhhhh’ on the way into the third verse.

The energy is absolutely overpowering. There is a joy in pushing the boundaries and going wild, asking this rhetorical questions just to show you how he really fucking feels.

By the time the ‘yeahs’ and ‘woos’ you’re so in a thrall that you don’t care what the barely-considered words are, it may as well be Dylan’s best couplets, the way you’re sucked into the overall excitement and groove-tastic rhythms.

The band has stated that they will not be performing the song these days because times have changed, and that’s exactly why Brown Sugar still represents the dichotomy that rock has in its bones. Outlaw aesthetics for the mass market. Shocking words on the dance floor. Made for the youth, still played by senior citizens. Almost excessive saxophones.

Whoo!

 

 

 

 

Why Do Things Exist?

We don’t know, which is great, because then we get to choose.

We know that our bodies (and everything in the universe) are made of atoms, which are made up of tinier particles that are mostly empty space and electrical charges. We don’t get to choose that answer.

Well technically you can choose not to believe it, but it flies in the face of scientific progress that has yielded a bounty of practical inventions that have defined contemporary civilization, so accepting the fact that your smart phone is constantly in communication with satellites that are flying above the earth means accepting the scientific theories that helped develop these inventions.

How do the subatomic particles on transistors work? There are plenty of textbooks and five minute ‘for dummies’ videos to answer that.

Why do they work?

Shrug emoji.

We can choose between options already popular or completely unique and personal when it comes to why things exist.

There can be one or more gods, one or more alien species, one or more flying spaghetti monsters, and the ‘why’ for our own creation comes down to these creatures’ own, unknowable whims. We always look to the stars, to the beyond, when asking questions that are beyond us.

A continually tweak-able standard model is what we hold up as how our universe works the way it does, but we might have to send a probe (or a spaceship?) through a black hole to answer why.

 

 

When you have a system that can barely bend, it won’t take much to break.

Among the myriad of challenges Covid continues to present is that while its effects on an individual is most likely a brief, more-series-than-average-flu (for both vaxxed and un-vaxxed, but the latter’s risk of ‘even more serious’ is obviously higher), the effect on our functioning, just-in-time-and-just-enough, supply chain dependent, capitalist society is catastrophic.

We run businesses where it is expected x amount of employees are always working on the supply chain to keep shelves and orders filled (from the mines to the factories to the warehouses to the stores, with trucks, ships and planes moving the product from place to place). We have this many doctors and nurses to provide this amount of medical services for a community on average. And covid threw this out of whack completely.

There were already problems with these systems function being able to properly, and covid made it so much worse.

Even trying to be responsible in these times can blow up in the system’s face.

The airline industry thought it would take five years for tourism to bounce back, and in the early days of the pandemic it sold planes and equipment, furloughed employees and pushed company veterans into early retirement, all to save money so they could weather the half-decade of expected economic loss.

Instead, people are angling to travel again just two years in, and there aren’t enough planes, pilots, flight attendants and grounds crew to make it happen. But did the airline’s sensibly only schedule as many flights as their employees could handle? Nope, they went overboard, which meant random ones would be cancelled or delayed.

 

 

 

 

Everyone has everyone’s children

This isn’t hippie shit. This is the sobering realization that no matter how digital we get, we are all in this together, and how the responsibility of raising all the children properly (and ‘properly’ is certainly a very subjective viewpoint) is necessary for the future survival of the species.

The pervasive thought towards child rearing of the last half century is pouring as much positive attention and resources and carefully-given advice into your child’s own development as possible, typically at the expense of the state of the wider society in general.

If you were going to try to lower your carbon footprint, campaign for political candidates that support a strong social safety net and green energy, or any sort of ‘responsible citizen thinking about the future’ activity, you will have to put it aside because that energy is now focused on a raising your own offspring.

And while it makes sense that you would focus on your children because that is something you can affect more directly and positively that much more than the wider world (with its massive complexity), the wider world is where these kids are going to have to live, and keeping your eyes off that prize can be devastating for everyone.

You can’t just try to give your child the best chance to thrive in the world, you have to try and give that chance to thrive to as many children as possible.

 

 

The Incomprehension of the Now

The passage from child to adult is a common trope in literature (symbolizing the move from ignorance to knowledge, weakness to strength), but it can also be applied to earlier stages of life.

The helplessness of infant requires being waited on hand and foot. It wants everything, even if it doesn’t understand what it wants or what it needs.

This is the indomitable will of a six month old infant crying, not really able to grasp why its hungry, why it shits its pants, why there’s all these noises and colour around it that barely seem to have any pattern, and why it suddenly feels tired. It just wants.

Over weeks and months the concept of self grows, the ability to communicate becomes essential, and the limitations of all sorts come flooding in, a lack of understanding how one’s own body works, a lack of mobility in the most basic sense before learning how to walk and even then the true limits of that when the world itself is sensibly sectioned off by caregivers.

Children learn that they cannot have everything they want immediately. They learn that they are not the centre of the world, that things are denied to them for their own good, and their initial response to this is the (attempted) destruction period known as the terrible twos.

 

 

 

There will always be a tendency to compare what is happening now with what happened in the past. We do this with similar events (wars, lead up to wars, economic booms and busts, pandemics, extreme weather, artistic movements, etc.). We are especially prone to doing this when we know more and more about the past, and thanks to many technological innovations, we know so much more about the last one hundred years of human civilizations than the centuries and millennia before (it is also, obviously, much more recent than the further past, with firsthand experience still available and affecting those who lived through these events).

It is easy to compare how we handle crises in the past with how we handle them today, and there are certainly lessons to be learned, but the technology that allows us to remember so easily and vividly (with video and audio recordings, as well as a wealth of written material) also affects:

How (and How Long) Will We Remember the Nineteen Sixties?

The baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) now range from fifty eight to seventy six. Despite plenty of advances in medical technology over the last several decades, death will reach out its not-so-groovy hand towards this generation. The ones that were born into a strong social safety net that began to come undone in the nineteen eighties, just as they fully came into positions of economic and political power.

Middle class wealth had them from the cradle. This does not mean they were all rich, but even those that found ‘only’ middle class success meant they could buy houses, receive good health insurance coverage, and even save money for the future.

At the same time, the years that they reached adulthood was filled with social change, much of it led by those of the era of what is called the greatest generation (because they were in power in the fifties and sixties).

Most of the baby boomers didn’t hit their twenties until the seventies, and that was the ‘Me Decade’, as it didn’t take long after Woodstock that this hippie stuff really wasn’t going to work out once you came down from the acid.

While it still makes sense to market products to the 18-35 demographic, the concentrated wealth among the baby boomers from the nineteen-seventies, eighties and right up to today meant the cultural industry kept trying to appeal to them and their wallets.

Why did it seem like they never shut up about The Beatles? (Other than the fact The Beatles wrote a shit-ton of amazing songs)

Because they kept buying Beatles albums and merch. When CD arrived in the eighties, you re-bought Abbey Road, when mp3s arrived in the 2000s, you bought its digital download, and then vinyl became popular again you can buy it a fourth or fifth time.

Regarding the sixties itself, the social movements of the decade meant the cultural material being created had changed in leaps and bound when looking at both content and style.

This means that looking back today at the music and movies and art of that time seems much less archaic than what came from the nineteen fifties and before.

Technological advancements in the sixties meant it was easy to record everything and anything, and it only got easier as the twentieth century went on.

Easy-to-use cameras were finally affordable and prevalent. Photos weren’t few and far between and absolutely cherished possessions but now things you can fill up album after album with (and hey, if some of the were blurry or had the spook-filled ‘red eye’, you could get rid of them and just take more).

As the middle class grew, so did disposable income, and so did the opportunity to collect and accumulate things that you could say interested or defined ‘you’.

The youth of the sixties were the first demographic where goods and services were specifically advertised to them via television, and its never stopped, nostalgia never ending as products and events celebrated their twenty fifth, fortieth and fiftieth anniversaries so you can buy a lava lamp again.

How are we remembering the sixties? With product placement regularity.

Today, the 18-35 demographic can stream their life to the entire world (or show off an entirely virtual one online) which can be saved in hard drives as long as the electricity holds out, which begs the question…

Did people used to remember more events in their lives?

That because we live at a time where there is a sensory overload thanks to the internet offering always new information - coupled with the comparatively easy access to travel - that we don’t spend time thinking about our past (childhood, early adulthood, or whatever period depending on how old you are). We are always ‘onto something new’, leaving our past in the proverbial dust. And when we want to remember, there’s less (or less detail) in our memory banks and more in hard drives.

On the other hand, while it makes sense that the older you get, the earlier memories begin to fade, but some of those can be recollected/jogged with the proper photo or cultural artifact. Maybe because we’ve documented our present so often (thanks again to modern technology) we can quickly remember easier than before. But do we do this? How often do people look back at photos they’ve taken years ago? You can take so many with your phone and store them effortlessly, but it’s this simplicity that makes it less a valuable act. People used to have to dig for photo albums and flip through pages and pages of slightly blurred pictures to remember their high school years.

There was effort to reminisce. Now it’s just another easy choice to shrug away.

 

James Brown

Since the Beatles are, at the end of the day, four individuals, it can be said that James Brown is the most important singular person in the history of 20th century music. No one figure wrote and performed music at his level, while also having a massive influence on at least five genres of music: R&B, soul, pop, funk and hip-hop.

Certainly Bob Dylan bringing a level of literary prowess to protest and pop music casts a long shadow, but how many splits was he able to do onstage?

Brown’s live shows are stuff of legend, and while it’s a treasure trove of excellent footage from sixties, it’s amazing to think he would perform regularly for forty more years, playing his last concerts only months before his sudden death in 2006.

His sixties hits were paradoxically tightly arranged and performed while more explosive and out there than anything else in the Top 40. It was harder than R&B, heavier than soul, and more dance-able than rock.

He was a genre of one, so of course funk and hip-hop took that ur-rhythms and ran with it.

James Brown was the only one actually partying inside your radio, proving there’s nothing wrong with being 95% style and 87% substance if you’re giving 110% in both (James Brown defies math).

 

 

"Kids these days" is a very boring phrase.

Kids are overprotected, overstressed, have fewer respectable job prospects than previous generations, and escape this depressing reality and bleak future through any available digital screen.

And anyone middle-aged and above can’t wait to say disappointed they are in them, that there is the fear by the elders that the society they preside over is going to be inherited by a generation of youth who are becoming soft, over reliant, asexuals who can't cook or change a tire.

To reassure this older generation:

Don't worry, your decisions regarding economic, environmental and resource management will have much, much more catastrophic effects on humanity than people texting too much and being pronoun sensitive.

So, thanks for nothing baby-boomers and gen-x-ers. You took your lucky break and broke it in two (ta, Sir Paul, who is pre-boomer).

In the sixties the middle-aged and above clucked their tongues at the music, the drugs, the premarital sex, and even just men having hair longer than a buzz cut.

All of this continued unabated through the seventies and eighties, with ‘just say no’, ‘this is your brain on drugs’, and…

It worked?

Today, youth are having less unsafe sex and taking fewer drugs than generations past, so old people have to really reach and find something else to complain about it.

And they can’t put it all on ‘kids and their phones’, because today they’re on it nearly as much.

So what have they come up with?

LGTBQ issues apparently, especially the ‘T’, with the transgendered community having to defend itself yet again from bigoted policies both subtle and overt. But it looks like them having to fight for basic rights both in the eyes of the law and general society is a good way for the boomers to deflect just how much they’ve screwed up the environment, rigged the economy, neutered democracy, etc.

 

 

Nietzsche is just Schopenhauer for chumps

The further back in history you go, the more gossip and petty squabbles of human interaction are lost to the sands of time.

In the history of philosophy this is particularly true, as it makes sense that the thoughts and writings of these people are almost wholly the focus as opposed to the lives they lived.

That Immanuel Kant was so punctual that his neighbours could set their watches and clocks by when he left his house in the morning is probably a matter of not letting truth get in the way of a good anecdote, especially one that can actually shed light on what the man might be like as a person. Wow! Punctual!

As far as other German philosophers go, the hyper organized and structural Hegel taught classes at University of Berlin, and Schopenhauer (who looked and thought like a maniac) purposely scheduled his own classes at the same time, because he hated Hegel and wanted to try and steal his thunder. This wasnt a friendly rivalry, either, with Schopenhauer using words like loathsome, repulsive and ignorant charlatan to describe his co-worker.

Despite this, Hegel’s classes were much more popular, as he was the better known academic at the time.

Schopenhauer would get the last laugh, because by keeping his doctrine (relatively) simple, he arguably inspired more philosophers and thinkers in many other fields of discipline since then.

To him, the indomitable and irrational will is what drives humanity, including our attempts to create a rational, structured world. We force our will upon chaos, and then later we will force our will on order. Morals aren’t some higher ideal, they are ways to dominate one another, so that each individual can attain their goals.

And what is our goal?

More.

Just more.

Power, money, dessert.

It doesn’t actually matter, because it can be different for everyone.

And Schopenhauer said it first, but no one wanted to listen.

Not until Nietzsche stole his hair and ideas.

 

 

 

David Bowie's Seventies Run

Between 1970 and 1979, David Bowie released ten albums, and all of them were at least good with seven of them absolutely amazing. The closest comparison of longstanding commercial and critical success is the sixties run of The Beatles, and there were two and a half great songwriters there.

Bowie's output at the time ran the entire gamut of the popular music spectrum during this time, meaning he was both influenced by the sounds around him, as well as influencing them as well.

[You could say it started even earlier, with Bowie's novelty folk rock hit of 1969 - 'Space Oddity' - being the culmination of that genre, born out of electrifying Dylan's sound]

The hard-rock push of 1970's The Man Who Sold the World has shades of an introspective Cream, a dreamy Zeppelin, or a sunny Sabbath.

Hunky Dory is a Velvet-Underground mesh of art rock and baroque pop that give nods to the Kinks and permission to Queen.

His commercial breakthrough – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust - takes everything that works from Dory and turns it into pop concept album masterpiece, probably the best one since Sgt Pepper.

Aladdin Insane is the quick follow-up with a Stardust character (immortalized with the album cover), and some of the individual songs on there (title track, Time, Jean Genie) are better than what was on the previous record.

Diamond Dogs is a grimy, flip-side of Ziggy that was a hell of a lot weirder and inpisred by Orwell’s 1984. Even his weakest 70s record still has one of his best songs (Rebel, Rebel).

Young Americans is a soul-funk celebration filtered through a toothpick-thin Englishman with a heavenly voice.

Station to Station is a chilly coke freak-out, still danceable for plenty of it, but you can feel Bowie trying to escape America for the bourgeoning European electronica scene (he is literally hanging between the name of the record).

And he embraced the continent completely between 1977 and 1979 with the rightfully acclaimed and influential trio of albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger) now called, The Berlin Trilogy, because it’s a better name than 'Outside of Paris then mostly in Berlin Trilogy' (although the 'Bowie-Eno trilogy' may suffice, because the latter is all over them). These three albums involved sonic explorations that had a huge influence on New Wave and therefore the sound of the eighties in general.

As a bonus, there are two live albums spaced out far enough from each other (David Live from 1974 and Stage from 1978) that there is little song overlap and involve completely different aesthetics and sounds. You can appreciate the fact that Bowie didn’t just want to be a studio artist, and made sure he had a tight band when bringing his music to the masses onstage.

 

 

“Seek and Ye Shall Find?”

 

When looking for an explanation for physical phenomena, the common sense approach is to experiment and observe repeatedly and make conclusions based on common and uncommon occurrences.

But at the same time, when exploring and ruminating in fields becoming more and more familiar, some ideas and theories might come out of a scientist’s brain before they set up an experiment. Now they might be looking for a particular conclusion that would confirm what they hypothesized.

Consider the following two quotes:

 One can interpret Plancks 1900 paper to mean only that the quantum hypothesis is used as a mathematical convenience introduced in order to calculate a statistical distribution, not as a new physical assumption, write science historians Gerald Holton and Steven Brush. Einstein, on the other hand, consider the light quantum to be a feature of reality: a perplexing, pesky, mysterious and sometimes maddening quirk of the cosmos.” (Isaacson, pg.99)

Issacson, Walter. Einstein: His Life and Universe. Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

After all, if the wave function of an electron can be split and the result is two half-electrons, then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the wave function is the electron. It isnt a mere mathematical convenience, as physicists have believed for nearly eighty years. It is the ultimate reality that lies beneath the surface of the world.” (Chown, pg.43)

Chown, Marcus. The Universe Next Door. 2001.

What was supposed to exist only in theoretical comes out to exist in the real.

While the familiar saying involves a hammer and prospective nail, one can also observe that when you have math, everything looks like a number.

Einstein always made a point of saying how he tried to visualize the problem, or to find allusions and comparisons to the natural world (he uses dropping items out of train windows over bridges to describe relativity).

Imagining a star bigger than the sun is easy because this star would still have similar properties to the example we are familiar with, and even someone with a passing knowledge of the solar system thanks to illustrated comparisons in elementary school has internalized the idea that the sun is very, very big but doesn’t look it because it is also very, very far away.

But on the sub-atomic size scale, how particles interact with each other are wholly alien to our understanding and experience (even if we are made up of billions upon billions of these particles).

The speed that these particles move and change energy states are nonsensical by our standards, even when we use them for familiar measurement because of their exactness. The scientific definition of one second is the duration of 9 192 6310 770 (so 9 billion) periods of transition between the hyperfine levels of the ground of state of a Caesium-133 atom.

(cough)

To help us (both scientists and non-scientists alike), we have developed computers to make all of this easier, and we can now use computer modelling to create alternate conditions for the beginning of the universe inside a hard drive, just to give us the results we want.

 

 

Never Promote Your Documentary

It is a losing proposition, because while you want a lot of people to know this piece of art exists, a sizeable, well-written article can negate the entire point of watching it.

Chuck Klosterman noted that there was such a media blitz around Metallica’s 2004 doc, Some Kind of Monster (which followed the band during the hardship of recording their 2003 album, St Anger), that many people - including Metallica fans - saw little reason to watch it, since interviews and articles quickly went through the highlights.

If you - either the subject or the director - are talking about the documentary, it kind of explains how the movie ‘ends’, which is usually about the experience of making the movie itself.

In fictional films, an article or review wouldn’t give away too much plot or a twist or ending (unless it has the words ‘spoiler alert’ plastered around it), but describing what actually happened from beginning to end in a documentary - y’know, real life - is almost expected in a piece about it.

While it’s true that the all movie trailers these days spill too many beans regarding the plots of fictional and non-fictional films, if someone can get even a decent chunk of understanding concerning the ninety minute documentary feature by watching said trailer or reading a ten minute article on it, there’s a good chance they might not follow up and watch the whole movie. But maybe they’ll watch a reaction video of someone else watching it for the first time so they can see what this person thinks!

 

 

Here’s a Thought - January 2022

 

The Matrix and Such

 

Using pop culture references to further one’s political argument is easy, so everyone does like it.

The Matrix is a great touchstone because it was super-successful cool movie with plenty of philosophical/political overtones. Think Orwell’s 1984 with bullet-time action sequences.

‘Taking the Red Pill’ is the not-very-shorthand for ‘wake up, sheeple’, and can be applied to whatever fake, lie-filled system you think the world is being manipulated by.

(https://www.theringer.com/movies/2021/12/21/22847157/the-matrix-red-pill-legacy)

It may start with the underdog going up against the big bully that controls everything (whether rogue AI or Silicon Valley), but as the ideas get more popular, everyone starts using these memes.

Suddenly the people you think would be setting up the Matrix itself are the ones imploring you to take the red pill.

Those that support a techno-fascist future (but are smart enough not to call it that) do so because they see rampant individualism/liberalism as the problem: “I support a restriction on the exchange of free ideas and opinions…except my own. Mine should be spread around and adapted.”

It should come as little coincidence that people who push for such policies are the ones that are going to (or hope to) benefit from their adaptation.

Responsibility and freedom can sometimes smash into each other in tough-to-resolve ways.

The rights and freedoms we have under democratic laws need to be protected with the utmost importance. It grants us the ability to make autonomous decisions based on our own ideas and experiences.

Even decisions that might inevitably unravel and walk back these democratic laws.

Responsibility means behaving in a way that if everyone did the same thing, it would be a net positive for the community (Kant’s categorical imperative, in other words).

There are ways to inadvertently harm society that are not against the law, and considering that includes free speech, it’s important that they remain that way.

But that means a social responsibility comes into play.

You have to decide to do the right thing.

And you have every right to decide that everyone else is wrong regarding what you should do. But you have to accept the responsibility that comes with this, especially when things start to go bad.

Because there is no natural system of check and balances, it has to be assiduously and carefully maintained. Even the way we view nature is subjective to our human limitations, both as individuals and a collective (how humans experience/define nature is wholly different from how every other organism experiences nature).

We have to choose a system and do our best to uphold the best components of it.

As the Wachowskis’ later said/clarified in the Matrix: Reloaded:

‘The Problem is Choice.’

 

 

 

Weather or Not

One of the earliest attempts to understand and explain nature was using deities and their whims in regards to weather patterns, particularly devastating storms or sudden natural disasters, but also the lack of rain when dependable agricultural success was a matter of life and death.

Shamans and priests were tasked with bringing or taking away the water that fell from the sky, because it must be a gift or curse from the gods. While dances and music-focused rituals seem amusing now, finding social scapegoats that could be ostracized or killed seem less so. In even in more mundane ways, sailors’ rhyming couplets regarding ‘red skies at night’ show an early attempt at weather forecasting.

Looking to the sky desperate for rain (or desperate for rain to end) is just the start, as how we see the stars have always been reflective of the culture of the time.

It was called 'the heavens' because it was the place of gods. We saw spirits, symbols, myths. Rudimentary forms of astronomy had a sliver of science and big heap of entertainment pulled out of the then-expert’s ass (also known as astrology).

As technology advanced, we looked at it through a more scientific lens.

When it comes to things in the sky, aliens - alternative civilizations on habitual planets similar to earth - replaced angels as the entities that we could possibly meet if we went even further and further past the clouds.

But as far as we have to come to know for certain about high and low pressure weather systems, how they are going to act hour by hour over a relatively small area of the globe is not so exact.

Much like how the rules that dictate how matter, energy and space-time act - which scientists know in great detail - break down when they get to a very small and particular scale. Certainties become probabilities.

Chances of rain are exactly that. Chances. And when the estimates are eighty or ninety percent, many people naturally boot that number to one hundred percent in their heads, and are then annoyed when that ten or twenty percent difference comes through.

All the psychological biases come tumbling out, and you forget the times the meteorologist was right, and only remember when they were wrong.

 

 

 

How Soon Is Panama? - Comparing The Smiths and Van Halen

-hugely influential bands of the eighties in terms of musical style and overall presentation

-charismatic frontmen who wanted to do more poppy songs and left to starts solo careers that started hot but soon led to diminishing returns

-unique, iconoclastic guitar players whose sound inspired an entire genre after them

-always trying to fire part of the rhythm section

-a production style and musical sound that is credited to both the band and a celebrated producer

-in terms of the actual ‘mood’ of the music, however, they are exact opposites, as Van Halen can’t wait to party, and The Smiths can’t wait to brood at home because parties just remind them that you’ll ultimately end up alone

 

 

 

Can You Knock the Hustle?

It’s tough make money these days, and plenty of people have taken plenty of jobs that might do more damage to society (in subtle and overt ways) than help it.

Obviously illegal activities are the easiest ones to point out, but you turn to theft or drug dealing because there might not be other jobs available to you, your situation or your skill-set.

Now there have been many jobs in the last century (particularly in the gas and chemical industries) were it wasn’t exactly clear if (and how much) the work was affecting the health of people and/or the planet, but now we know how terrible they are. And many of variations of these jobs still exist…because we still need plastic and heat/electricity. In this we are all guilty of looking the other way for the sake convenience and comfort.

Then there are many jobs that are in the grey area, such as many online jobs that create data for the sake of data (in order to maybe sell a product someone might eventually by), or create purposely misleading content that will still garner clicks.

Speaking of promotion, while we might be used to seeing celebrities shill cars, watches or perfume, having them promoting products and services that might have slow developing but devastating effects to society at large (like gambling, crypto or credit cards) is simply disappointing. In part because these stars are already quite wealthy.

The hustle itself revolves around our concept of money and how important it for us to have. We can’t really deny that it is tied to a form of freedom that we are constantly told is the most important in modern society: Economic freedom, debt free, ‘fuck you money’, do whatever it takes to make that bread.

 

 

 

Civilization’s Tombstone: We Couldn’t Keep Up

 

“Building such a complicated socioeconomic system that was expected to be manageable and malleable in the face of rapid technological change is not easy. - a hypothetical textbook from one thousand years in the future about the Industrial and Digital Revolutions

 

In the last two centuries technology moved faster than we ever could. It complicated many socioeconomic policies and community beliefs and therefore quickly alienated or made powerless great swaths of people in both democratic and non-democratic states.

It radically altered forms of communication that had either stayed roughly the same for centuries or changed at a much slower, comfortably adaptable pace.

It made the exchange of information and capital much quicker, which meant that the already wealthy could easily accumulate more with any sort of government regulation lagging sorely behind.

That it coincides with a period where the climate/atmospheric effects of fossil fuel burning are being felt to great detriment (and no quick way to stop or reverse said effects), is perhaps little surprise.

Rapid technological development is an extremely complex process with glorious pluses and devastating minuses.

We have a hard time arranging and assessing an overload of information that might contain a kernel or truth ensconced in layer of misinformation and corporate-political spin.

Handing certain jobs over to AI may solve some problems, but also create many unforeseen ones until it is too late. The solution for a scenario spiralling out of control is probably not handing it all over to an ‘inhuman problem solving device’ we even know less about.

 

 

 

Paul Thomas Anderson and the Atmosphere Flick

     

You can start with Malick and Cassavetes’ seventies work. A stylistic depiction of adventure and expanse from the first, and a much more nuanced and intimate look at human interaction from the second.

But in both cases the story felt secondary, and that was absolutely fine. No need to breathing hard in anticipation as to how our heroes (or anti-heroes) were going to resolve the situation. Just being around them and seeing their foibles was entertaining enough. Even happy endings were not necessary. Just have a satisfying one.

But if you’re going to make depressing art, at least make it weird and interesting depressing art.

1993’s Sonatine brought mood and ennui to a group of Yakuza that are lying low in a small beach town and getting into some (occasionally deadly) misadventures, and is an excellent preview for the next three decades of the atmosphere flick.

PT Anderson certainly became the best example of this, as Boogie Nights was ‘about’ the people in adult film industry in the seventies and eighties. No one particular character had a compelling story arc involving any sort of complicated development. Certainly there were highs and lows, but the main antagonist was the passage of time. The enjoyment came from relating and becoming invested in the characters, and Anderson, the cast, the and crew combine to do an excellent job of feeling like you’re involved in the adult film industry in the late seventies.

While Magnolia had oodles of interconnecting-mini-narratives, Anderson perfected the non-story story with There Will Be Blood and The Phantom Thread. The first was about an asshole oil businessman and the second was about a slightly lesser asshole fashion designer.

Taking cues from Kubrick (who doesn’t?) and letting the camera and conversation linger upon the characters into possible awkwardness for the audience, Anderson furnishes the rest of the world (whether the American west in the early 1900s or post WWII England) so perfectly that you are captivated by being…there.

The critical success and influence of Anderson’s work can be seen right up to today, from Cuaron’s Roma to Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Both are filmed beautifully and have incredible performances by the entire cast, but it is the atmosphere that makes the difference.

 

 

24 Hours of News?

Fox News and MSNBC is pretty explicit about their agendas (appealing to the stark opposites of the political coin), whereas CNN is like a chicken with its head cut off scrambling for ratings/views. What do people want to see and hear? Additionally, how do they want to see and hear it? In thirty second sound-bites on their phone?

Comparing the coverage of news and sports has become much more de-rigueur in recent years, so it should come as little surprise that both are looking a lot like the other. There is no longer an off-season, and ‘breaking news’ can occur any time if you follow a professional sport assiduously. Meanwhile news is bulking up on polls and stats that might not mean anything forty-eight hours later.

It says a lot about our society and where its power truly lies when our political candidates are forced to act like salesmen and TV talking heads and sports coaches are taking tough questions in post-game press conferences.

And the fact that the much of public largely sees through this and tries to find a political figure that sounds different (in hopes that they would act different) speaks volumes as to how people view their government institutions. Even though this difference is likely to also be a familiar TV/movie archetype: The brash straight-shooter, the scrappy underdog, the scheming rich villain.

Sometimes there is not enough news to fill the day, and you have to start cribbing from the rest of popular culture.

 

 

How Deadly Is Misinformation and Disinformation?

How can you measure the way these activities not only put people’s lives in peril, but also the health of a functioning and free democracy?

(https://www.vox.com/22774745/death-threats-election-workers-public-health-school)

Trust is something that is too easily taken for granted.

How many people have to think that every government official is involved in a giant conspiracy before the government doesn’t work anymore?

A smaller number than we would hope.

Suspicion and disenchantment with long-standing institutions can happen relatively quickly, especially compared to how long it might have taken to build up trust with these systems.

If a profit can be made from telling lies without recourse, it should come as no surprise that this has really taken off in the digital age.

A sea of ever expanding data that you can get lost in very quickly and not even think you’re lost because you are being catered to by algorithmic search results that give you exactly what you want.

It gets to the point where doing nothing is actually helping. Not spreading misinformation is something wear like a badge of honour, because it makes the job of getting accurate information out there much easier.

But would you cheat and lie to keep your democracy in tact, or would you be upright and honest and watch it slip into fascism?

Is it inevitable that if you lie and cheat that you will inevitably start to use such means for your own benefit? That lying and cheating is already negative actions associated more with fascism than democracy in the first place does not bode well to the argument that you can constantly use such tools so that your questionable tactics will actually benefit of the most amount of people in your nation.

 

 

 

Getting Decent Marx

The Marxist concept of alienation was borne out of the industrial revolution and was focused on the conveyor belt-like creation of goods in massive factories and warehouses. People become so far removed from the creation of the products they use that they don't see the workers a fellow citizens, but just cogs in a greater machine.

Obviously this process accelerated throughout the twentieth century as it became cheaper to make good in low-wage developing countries and ship them across the world than to make them close to where people will ultimately by the product. The manufacturing industry was an important pillar for middle class employment in the western world, and it cracked and fell over in the last few decades of the last century.

With the digital revolution, this is now happening in the service industry. You interact with retailers less and less for several reasons. Tech advances make it easier to automate more aspects of buying products and services. So much so that employees are becoming more and more the most expensive part of running a retail store or restaurant, so the less of them there are, the more money the owner can make.

Delivery persons - whether long and short haul truck drivers with many packages or a bag of chicken wings on the back of someone’s e-bike - is the backbone of the gig economy, and don’t need to interact with people when they reach their destination.

You don’t have to think about any of the work that was involved in getting your pad-thai onto your kitchen table because you never saw a single face related to it.

And more vehicular automaton might mean even delivery persons are next on the chopping block.

What are we to do with this ever growing pool of unemployed/underemployed?

The world needs a New Deal, Roosevelt style. One country enacting policies (even one as big as China or America) won't cut it. Countries are so interdependent with complex but essential trade and exchange rules that you can't effectively make reforms by going one nation at a time.

The New Deal was essentially the largest and most successful redistribution of power from the few and very wealthy to the many and little wealth. Not surprisingly, the rich people back then really hated it, and called Roosevelt a communist, a socialist, etc. So it's no surprise that the same arguments are being levied against similar economic reforms that are deemed essential for the continuation of the middle class, and a truly representative democracy. Make no mistake, the changes that must be made now are the same that were made in the 1930s: Taking power away from the rich and giving it to the poor.

 

 

 

Norm

(There aren’t many famous people named Norm, so it’s easy to know who you’re talking about with these four letters. The only other person with that name recognition in the last few decades is the fictional character played by George Wendt on the show Cheers. In fact, this is how Dennis Miller once introduced Norm on his talk show…’George Wendt’)

No one played the dumb guy as clever as Norm Macdonald did. He came off as your slightly slow, slightly oddball friend who came up with the wildest comedy ideas. He could get away with the most offensive comments and material because he made it seem to come from a place of naive innocence, not snide superiority. Pointing out the obvious was hilarious when Norm did it because he made it seem like he was realizing the thought just as he was saying it.

It really felt like he didn’t know he was making jokes (it was as if he was just reading the teleprompter on Weekend Update, having no idea what word might come next)…except when he was absolutely overtly making jokes (his later appearances on Conan when he retells the old classics, even doing the hack routine of making show sidekick (and Swedish-German) Andy Richter the ‘star’ of them).

Norm was simultaneously the butt of the joke and in on the joke, so even if it backfired…that was funny for some people, including (and most importantly) Norm himself.

It was not exactly the anti-humour of Neil Hamburger, but it was close.

Sometimes it’s hard to watch Norm’s standup for more than five minutes because of its intentional stiltedness. In fact, some of the best Norm moments came when interacting with other people, funny or non.

His recent ‘shows’ (focusing more on interviews and less on monologue-like jokes, and sensibly titled ‘The Norm MacDonald Show’ and ‘Norm MacDonald has a Show’) were the best vehicles to flex his comedy chops, showing a very quick mind behind an intentionally slow delivery.

 

 

Dismissing Right Wing Extremists Doesn't Make Them Go Away

When progressives celebrate any sort of achievement, and then hear that the right is not going to be happy about it, the response is something along the lines of 'screw 'em'.

But that doesn't stop the right from reacting. And this reaction might just be complaining ad infinitum on right wing talk shows, but it also might spur an active voting block and political movement to reverse said achievement, or it might inspire a militia to try to kidnap a democratic governor, or might make a guy snap so they shoot up a predominantly black church.

All of this is why 'screw 'em' is a useless rejoinder when discussing how to deal with political opponents, especially at a time when politics is getting more polarized.

The key is to lessen to extreme reactions, and doing that is much, much harder.

RWE’s didn’t appear overnight, and they won’t disappear that quickly, either.

It is a good time as ever to acknowledge that everyone can quickly fall into a very comfortable opinion-bubble/echo chamber, but if your tv and radio ‘newspinion’ stations are telling you how shitty the government is as you think about how shops and factories are closing in your town, you’ll link those two ideas together.

Only when reality doesn’t match the message will extremism lessen, and that means there needs to be a regeneration of towns and small cities.

Which means more money needs to be pumped into them, which means more progressive spending policies, which means voting for left-leaning, progressive politicians-

Nuts.

 

 

The Lessons of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’

 

They are universal and timeless.

Unfortunately.

Arthur Miller was already big time when The Crucible was first performed in 1953, thanks to Death of a Salesman, which arrived four years earlier.

Miller transposed the Red Scare of the early fifties to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, explicitly comparing the grilling of citizens by the government as to whether they were part of the communist party to the infamous Witch Trials centuries earlier.

In an example of life imitating art, three years after the play’s debut, the playwright was forced to appear in front of the House of Un-American Activities to explain his political viewpoints and actions, as well as name names of fellow artists who accompanied him. When he refused, he was blacklisted and held in contempt of congress.

If Death of a Salesman can now be seen as the current state of Western Democracy (past its prime but still trying to find its way despite the inability to accept the harsh reality of the situation), then The Crucible can be seen as our collective identity’s reaction to such a state. It is full of anger, paranoia, baseless accusations, quick-to-judge, hypocrisy, and the wealthy taking advantage of it all.

The Crucible takes place in a community that has not yet become familiar with its new surroundings, since it’s an environment (cold winters in the New World in the 1600s) they doesn’t know how to control. Not much different than the virtual/digital world we are tumbling headfirst into as the twenty-first century lurches forward.

 

 

The Slow Sadness of Today’s Death

Hobbes suggested that for most people in 17th century life was ‘nasty, brutish and short’ (more so than the notions of the social contract he espouses in his opus, Leviathan, he is known for those four words).

For more and more people in this overwhelming 21st century, this is no longer the case. Living longer and longer has seemingly become a given for each generation (covid being the first time its waffled), and no longer just in the Western world.

Access to basic health care has greatly improved, not only at life’s beginnings (since for a lot of human history, childbirth and infancy was a risky period for mother and child alike), but at its end as well.

Which comes with unforeseen quandaries.

Dying is no longer a relative quick process for many, but can take weeks, months or even years with plenty of complex medical care required.

It is a wonder of science that people can live with ailments, but it allows for the uncomfortable question of ‘what kind of quality of life?’

The body might break down slower, but it inevitably does, and so too does the mind (and having the latter go before the former can be a tragedy all by itself, with exhaustion, confusion, and despondency being just as cruel as cancer).

Keeping people alive who can no longer adequately care for themselves is now asking too much of family members. Death is guided and funnelled into certain rooms and building away from the bustling modern world.

In the West, with many of the baby boomers reaching their autumn years, nursing homes are having difficulty offering the necessary services, especially at a cost most families can afford.

Respect and quality of life are near-impossible to put a price tag on…but the more money you have the better options and comfort will be available to you.

Until you die just like everyone else, just lying in a bed weak and uncertain for a few more years.

It’s a damn shame that so much of humanity (and human history) has to hold up death as the next step of understanding to how the world/universe/human existence works. The answer to the big questions like ‘why are we here?’ has to be ‘I don’t know, but maybe…’, and so is overlapped with the question ‘what happens after we die?’, since it has similar answers. It is explained that after we die…there will be an explanation. That there is more. More of something. More life, more consciousness, more awareness, just more. Because we are afraid of conceiving of anything…less.

Ta, Schopenhauer.

 

 

Where do you see poor people on television?

First disregard scripted fiction shows, as whoever depicts an impoverished individual are well-paid actors, and their barely realistic takes on what it's like to experience poverty within the traditional storytelling formats (sometimes with ads) cannot be taken that seriously.

Poor people are talked about on news programs, but are rarely featured. Even on shows that are about regular people trying to win money (whether game or reality-focused), whatever economic situation the contestants might actually be in are quickly glossed over because hey, everyone wants to make money, right?

The poor have always been shunted aside because a lot of the culture we want to imbibe involves quickly conquering that ‘inconvenience’ (even if it’s a damning part of many people’s lives).

If we turn away from the poverty-stricken on the street, it’s no surprise we do the same on our entertainment screens, even if the images of employment are wrapped (and warped) around the ideal.

When we think of a career involving working with your hands, it’s always fixing up old motorcycles or making ornate arts and crafts, it’s not stocking shelves in a dollar store.

In movies and tv series ,edical professionals are helping people who look comfortable and are very appreciative, so you don’t see nurses turning helpless, disoriented elderly people on their sides so they can clean bedsores and wipe their ass.

Office meetings are bright and smiling and full of enthusiastic suggestions instead of bored people trying to stay awake or desperate to get back to their desk (unless played for laughs or drama).

Popular culture shows a very skewered mirror to reality, based a lot more on what we want as individuals and as a society than what we have.

 

 

 

 

HERE'S A THOUGHT - SUMMER 2021

 

 

 

Talkin' 'Bout Religious Speech

Forcing the religion out of you in going to have the same sort of problems as forcing the religion into you:

(https://www.vox.com/21523506/france-teacher-attack-terrorism-free-speech-muslims)

(https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/bill-21-religious-symbols-ban-quebec-court-ruling-1.5993431)

Dogmatic secularism and dogmatic sectarianism are both extreme reactions.

Free speech has always been a brain melter, especially when religion gets involved. While France literally holds up cartoon depiction of the prophet Muhammad as an example of free speech, there are also rules in the country about discussing holocaust denial (seen as anti-Semitic). The difference between anti-religious speech and any sort of controversial art might be made by the state, but that doesn’t mean citizens are going to agree with said difference.

And bringing both of those topics in one sentence can't help but be an alarm bell, dog whistle, what have you, with people looking for agendas and angles of what is being said loudly or quietly (Is the position pro-Muslim? Anti-Israel? Infused with bonkers conspiracy theories?).

How do you get everyone to...relax? Admittedly that is a very naive and reductionist way of putting it, but right now there is a fierce nationalism/nativism streak running through western nations, and it is easy to divide people based on what god they worship and how they worship it.

Divisions based on how people live their lives is bad enough, but ones based on what happens after life ends can be much more catastrophic. History is full of terrible, unlearned lessons about that, but pointing out just how damaging religion has been (especially when it has plenty of political/economic/militaristic power) is bound to upset somebody.

 

 

Spolitics

When politics is covered, analyzed and discussed like a sport, and vice-versa, we have un-defined success.

The reaction to the planned European Super League (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/european-super-league-football-inside-story-65033gpsj) by almost every football fan in Europe was inspiring, and, even more surprising, successful.

It mirrors a corporation trying to do something greedy, with workers/customers making such a PR stink on social media (and maybe even protesting) that the corporation has to back down.

It is viewed as a win for the little people, the working stiffs, the salt of the earth. They’re setting aside their differences to achieve a common goal. That the already super wealthy association football teams of Europe backed down and decided to not pursue an extra elite tournament shows that yes, sometimes the masses do have a bit of power to stand up for what they collectively believe in.

Too bad it happened just for fun and games.

Meanwhile this doesn't happen nearly as much in politics because it seems like once a proposal is put it out, no matter how odious or harmful it might be most citizens (and only benefit the very few), there is rarely enough of a public outcry (and unity) to derail the proposal.

It's like many people have given up on political change, and are focused more on protesting sports and culture, because at least in these areas it seems like change is possible (even though it is much less impactful on everyone’s lives) than politics. In fact, that's why change is 'allowed' (by the powerful) here to some degree, because it doesn't make as much of a difference as in politics and consequently the wealthy people’s bottom line.

 

 

MAR$?

While great technological and exploratory strides have been made when it comes to the red planet, we aren't going have a colony on Mars until we have a radical re-think of society and money on earth.

It has been decided that space exploration costs so much because we can't get it out of the global socioeconomic system. It is built out of materials and resources that are part of the common market, and for all the potential that vertical integration can have on saving money, there is still the manpower and time that is required for the amount of precision and exactness to make sure there isn’t a rapid and unscheduled disassembly (aka, boom).

Since the Apollo missions, NASA hasn’t got a lot of (safe) bangs for their bucks, as the Space Shuttle Program and space telescopes like Hubble and James Webb were/are money pits that went wildly over budget.

But it was government funds, and was less beholden to making money off the project when it was successfully completed. The idea that private companies can do everything better than public ones comes with a massive caveat: it is expected to turn a profit, and there is no profit in going to Mars for a long, long time. It's nice that billionaires see this as a bit of side project, but that's not going to get us there.

Space has barely made any money. Yes the satellites that orbit earth are immensely important profitable, but right above earth isn't really 'space'. In fact, it's called 'low earth orbit', and you’re not even out the planet’s gravity pull.

The only time America invested heavily in space were for the Apollo missions, and that had huge Cold War overtures ('must beat Soviet Union to the moon'). Sadly, the only way present day NASA might devote the amount of money and resources to go to Mars on a 'short' time scale is if China tries to do it first.

The relationship between SpaceX and NASA is intrinsically linked, although in actuality the former works for the latter via contracts. Of course SpaceX is branching out and making money ‘on the side’ via creating their own internet service provider (Starlink) and even creating the concept of space billboards.

Virgin Galactic is already offering seats on their ‘sure why not let’s call it low earth orbit’ voyages, and Bezos isn’t far behind.

It obviously naive to say something like ‘space should be free’, but we’re only going to go so far if early trip access to the cosmos remains expensive.

To put it in perspective, space-for-profit will work as well as health-care-for-profit.

 

Star Trek's Lore

(Not to be confused with the character 'Lore'. Thanks, Star Trek!)

Because it was initially conceived as a tv series on a budget that kept getting cut, Star Trek's visual style and presentation rarely reached its loftier story-telling aspirations.

Even after transitioning to commercially successful films in the late seventies and early eighties (thanks, other Star-something!), The Next Generation still had to come up with creative ways to make the future look impressive. With a whopping twenty six episodes per season (using Q and the Borg sparingly was a key to those characters' longevity), 'monster of the week' shows were inevitable, and many of them were wholly forgettable. Not to mention being chained to 'seven minutes then a commercial break' storytelling format.

TNG was so successful it spawned it's own string of feature films, and for much of the nineties there was usually two Star Trek shows on at the same time (plus older series’ re-runs).

So why are recent series just...good?

Obviously nostalgia is very fucking fickle, and Picard is/was all about bringing the old gang back again, but any big story about humanity's future is always an attractive notion for show producers and fans.

If you take away that one thing which almost everyone thinks of when they think Star Trek (one ship travelling through space), you'll find that the bigger story of humanity's exploration of the Galaxy is just as interesting.

In fact, what happens in the 21st century according to Star Trek Lore feels like an example of life imitating art imitating life.

Guess what, in the Star Trek Universe most of the first half of this current century is crap, with technology run amok, increased environmental devastation and disaster, and greater instability between nations. 

It culminates in a devastating world war in the 2050s, but since war is typically a time of technological innovation (even if it's to just destroy the enemy more effectively), it is out of this period that warp drive travel is discovered. And a test flight its inventor undertakes is noticed by aliens who happened to be passing by (in this case, Vulcans, who are thankfully peaceful) . The rest is, as they say, a very profitable sci-fi universe.

The TNG movie First Contact does a good job at depicting all this, even as it once again has to lean heavy on time travel to get the 23rd century gang back to the big moment two hundred years earlier. The post WWIII civilization is in tatters, but because Star Trek is an American media franchise, that's where it conveniently takes place.

When one of the people from the 21st century find themselves on the Enterprise, in addition to being overwhelmed, they ask how much it could possibly cost to build, and Picard explains that they don't have 'money' anymore, that all of humanity has set aside competing for personal gain or interest, and instead work together for common, aspirational goals of spreading across the galaxy.

What a ridiculous, silly sci-fi show!

 

If this is what people are stealing...

(https://www.npr.org/2021/05/08/994656425/theres-big-money-in-stolen-catalytic-converters)

(Going underneath cars to unplug and remove a small device and then flip it on the back/grey market)

...then society is truly getting to a breaking point.

It is a regression, an acknowledgement of the limitations of the supposedly limitless virtual world being built every second of the day.

There is a physicality to our lives that is not being addressed as it once was.

The barely acknowledged concern is that because of continued economic hardship, petty crime and robbery/assault rates might rise (after being quite low for a long time, because online fraud becoming more frequent and having replaced it). Which might result is calls for making stronger sentencing laws, which will expand the prison population (or people living under house arrest/perpetual probation), which will make economic hardship that much worse for already hard-hit, low-income communities. These are areas that have been completely ignored by the corporations and institutions that see the virtual/digital realm as the future. And they ignore it at everyone’s peril.

 

 

 

South Park

Like The Simpsons, South Park started to make a swerve in its third and fourth seasons that offered something much deeper, interesting and funnier than 'just' the gross-out comedy that sparked its initial fad in 1997-1999, which led to a movie that surprised everyone in terms of critical and commercial success. Most film critics were not expecting ‘Bigger, Longer and Uncut’ to be a well-written musical with heavy political overtures where the song are actually amazing. But that's what Matt Parker and Trey Stone were doing before South Park: musicals. Obscene, ridiculous musicals.

It was such an innocent time, twenty years ago, when 'giant douche versus a turd sandwich' was meant to characterize Bush versus Gore, and summarized how disenchanted the public was with modern politics (oh, how things have changed). 'South Park Republican' was a thing for awhile, and the creators showed their apolitical by nature by stating that they hated liberals, but really hated conservatives.

Not all episodes had to deal with such topical events. 'Scott Tenorman Must Die' is a revenge story with hints of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (and pubic hair). ‘Fish Sticks’ puts a humourous spin on the terrifying way sociopaths can view the world in a much different way than everyone else (courtesy of Cartman ‘remembering’ how a joke was created). ‘Simpsons Already Did It’ makes light of the challenge of coming up with new story ideas over time, because...see the episode title.

It’s cardboard cutout style of animations (even though they are made with CG that can do amazing stuff) gives it a chance to be as offensive and bizarre as it likes, because unrealistic art more easily permits unrealistic and uncouth scenarios (like seeing the same eight year old child die horribly over and over in many, many episodes).

A year and a half after South Park's arrival, Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy debuted, and it has also become a veritable institution, having run for a total of nineteen seasons so far.

But it never pivoted out of the shadow of being a Simpsons clone. While the joke ratio might be the same as The Simpsons, Family Guy leaned so heavily into that instead of character development that it’s fair to view it more like a skit show with recurring characters than a sitcom. In fact, the show tripled down on this formula, with McFarlane also co-creating and overseeing American Dad and The Cleveland Show, which lift its visually storytelling and joke style from Family Guy.

South Park’s commitment to ‘less is more’ (both in terms of visual style and 13 episodes per season) has allowed it to make the wildest comic ideas (Wal-Mart as the blob, earth as an alien tv series, everyone chipping in to build a ladder to heaven) become biting satire that says more about modern society than any newspaper or magazine article. Oh, and it’s just hilarious on top of it all.

 

 

It's the roaring (nineteen) twenties all over again:

(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/13/technology/crypto-art-NFTs-trading-cards-investment-manias.html)

When experts start describing the market as 'stupid', it's time to ask just what is 'the market'?

AI and computer model predictors are having a larger and larger hand in the shaping of the market, but they are still serving the interests of banks that developed them. What if they worked for the public good instead?

Speculation has been a business investment option for far too long. In every other definition of the word, speculation is fraught with danger and is not advised, there is in an inherent risk to it. And while it is true there is a financial risk when investing in anything, it is not the same sort of risk that affects societies and communities when basic resources and necessities for survival (from water to petroleum to wheat) are priced thousands of miles away inside a computer modelling program.

The term 'lemming-like behaviour' always seems to minimize the fact that it usually leads to a bunch of them going off a cliff and dying. If the point of this behaviour is to get out at the right time with the money while everyone else loses, it means you are living in a world where there is suddenly a lot more losers. And that has huge effects for individuals and governments, two concepts that you might not care as much about anymore now that you’ve struck it rich by ‘earning’ a ton of money from them.

For every GameStop-like example of the masses taking back Wall Street or disrupting it, there is the acknowledgement that it is business as usual for a very small group of investors making risky financial decisions that have massive reverberations far beyond their portfolio or quarterly profit earnings.

When this unspeakably shaky economy craters, and the 'experts' ask what went wrong, what possible explanation can there be except that the very rich people didn't want to share?

There could be a system where the wealthy is more evenly distributed in a society (not absolutely evenly distributed, just more evenly than the massive inequality there is now), but the people who have an inordinate amount of power seem to have no interest creating that.

The problems that come out of this sort of society are already becoming apparent.

The ever widening pool of poor will suffer. The wealthy will just be inconvenienced.

 

 

We're at a politicization point where being contrary is more effective for retaining power than being useful

So goddamn stupid:

(https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservative-delegates-reject-climate-change-is-real-1.5957739)

Because in modern politics you can't risk supporting a popular policy that your opposition is better known for (otherwise there's less of a difference between you, and then the voters will just stick with your opposition), the Canadian Conservative Party has decided to deny climate change. Apparently it's better to be stupid and different than smart and the same.

Conservatives worldwide are over a barrel because their basic economic policy has been the dominant one for several decades, which has made a small group of people very rich and made most of their citizens poorer. They can't run on fixing it, because they don't think it should be fixed, even though it's destroying the middle class, the backbone of democracy itself.

What remains is boogeyman social and cultural issues and appealing to the far right fringe of the party who see conspiracies in everything. These are straw-man, semantic ‘whattabout’ moments, because there seems to be the solipsistic notion that winning an argument is equal to making the world a better place. Boy is it not.

Conservatives have to hold idiotic policy positions, because if they hold the same blandly centre-left policies as the liberal parties (which will at least start to address the huge economic and social inequality), then there would be no reason to vote conservative.

From the perspective of maintaining one's own political identity, it makes sense clinging to bonehead ideas. From the perspective of trying to address society's ills, it's stupid, embarrassing and dangerous.

 

Meta-riffic: Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water

A song with such a blatantly prehistoric cave-man guitar riff, where it's nickname is 'Duhn-Duhn-Dun', and even the band considered it a filler track that was kicking around when they were making their sixth album.

It's a ballad in the traditional sense, where the lyrics tell a story. In this case...it's  the story of writing Smoke on the Water. While the chorus is 'smoke on water, fire in the sky', the verses are about the band Deep Purple going to record an album in Switzerland. While there, they go to a Frank Zappa concert, where the venue - on the shores of Lake Geneva - catches fire and burns down. The band are worried that they will run out of time to finish recording their album, but no worries, they did (thanks to the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio truck, which is oddly described in the verses as ‘the rolling truck stones thing just outside’).

Lyrically, it is both dense and ridiculously simple at the same time. Self-aware and the equivalent of an eighth-grader giving a report on what they did for their summer vacation.

 

 

The Chauvin Sentencing Is Just a Start

That how low the low bar is for what to celebrate in terms of improving race relations is in America. Wanting the police to stop killing unarmed black men is too much to ask for apparently, so finally just holding one accountable in the court of law is held up as a win.

There is certainly some measure of relief for George Floyd's family as well as the African American community as a whole with this result, but my god, it is the thinnest silver lining when it comes to addressing the many systemic and sadly still blatant examples of racism that minorities must face.

The marginalization and ostracization of minorities in America never ended after the civil rights act. It just morphed from outright racism to systemic, which meant re-routing social assistance funds from predominantly black urban communities (by claiming there was plenty of fraud) to white suburban/rural ones. It meant that for decades the 'viewpoint' in conservative circles was that Black people were lazy and liars first (not true, as welfare abuse was bullshit) and violent criminals second (citing rising crime in these impoverished communities as proof). 

This was done primarily for votes and power (that the politicians pushing this narrative having racist views was practically incidental), and it worked so well that many rural and suburban whites became both resentful towards and scared of black people. 

It was a horrible system that worked...until politicians and corporations got too greedy (shock, horror) and started sucking the money out of white communities as well, plunging them into poverty. And what happened there? Rising crime rates and drug addiction. 

What needs to be done is blandly clear: A transfer of power (meaning wealth) from the small group of people who have an abundance of it to the massive amount of people who have so much less power.

A holiday commemorating Juneteenth is a wonderful symbolic gesture, and there is certainly value in highlighting the horrors of the past and still very present challenges of today (both in classrooms and general discourse), but it is mere window dressing to the one thing that will make the true difference, the way to really rehabilitate a community:

Money.

Whether this means reparations (and calling them such) for individual citizens, or large investments in infrastructure and jobs programs in minority communities, money is what will make the difference in the years to come.

For marginalized groups that have higher rates of poverty thrust upon them thanks to systemic racism, giving them power is what needs to be done, or further tragedies like George Floyd’s death will sadly continue.

 

 

Why Didn't the Segway Catch On?

 

If laziness is the mother of invention, if humanity (and the laws of physics) seem to always take the path of least resistance, why have we not embraced the device that saves you from walking?

IT allows you to either stand completely still, or (if that's too onerous for you) lean/grab onto a handle a waist height and move around with only slight gestures and movements with your body.

Is walking still too easy when you factor in storage, security and maintenance?

Is it the price?

There have been knockoff versions that are sort of like a kid's Skateboard-ish version of the device. Even a slightly augmented electric scooter has been better received.

One big factor: You just can't look cool on a Segway. 

It didn’t help that its big early customer was the US Postal Service, which never had the reputation as the hippest and pioneering company.

'Arrested Development' gave one to Will Arnett's character, with the knowledge that it would perfectly with his blowhard, hapless personality, further cementing the product as something nobody cool would bother with (plus the footage of president bush falling off it, and even Usain Bolt had a mishap).

When no one could tell if the Segway was for business or pleasure, you realize that some products are beyond the help of PR.

 

 

Legal/Illegal Drugs

-there is obviously a wealth gap (with the racial and cultural divides that come with that as well) when it comes to drugs. Stimulants and opioids are regularly pushed by giant massive pharmaceutical companies, but illicit drugs that fall into similar categories and have the exact same effects are highly illegal and carry massive punishments for people caught with it.

-only after pills completely destroyed communities outside larger cities (and led to a huge rise is heroin addiction because pill poppers wanted another fix) was a link truly acknowledged by gov't/pharma.

-And what was the response? Barely a fine to the companies in comparison to how much they made off this drug dealing (because that’s what it was), and stiff punishments for people who were in possession of these pills when what they truly needed was proper treatment

-another example of solving a problem from the wrong end, because this 'right' end shields the already powerful from any serious prosecution

-if it is agreed that pharmaceutical companies acted like drug cartels in pushing this product and bribing the law/regulators to look the other way, then punish them like drug dealers

 

 

Humanity is bad with making sacrifices, large and small. Being told that you must make them, even for a valid reasons like preserving resources for the close and distant future, can make people defensive, angry, resentful. It is framed as an infringement on one’s freedom.

But the thing to remember is that you are in the position where you can choose to make the sacrifices. And choosing not to make a sacrifice might mean that down the road, you might not have a choice at all when it come to giving up things your comfortable with.

What you have been used to since birth and have come to expect all your life is embedded into you like an inalienable right, and when it is taken from you right away or bit by bit, there are the same feelings of anger, desperation, failure, and resentfulness.

The combined ideas of unending progress and of self-congratulatory/loathing marketing in 20th/21st century western democracy means that people expect things to get better (or at least remain the same) throughout their life, and that they deserve it simply by the virtue of having a heartbeat.

But in the West this is becoming less and less true, and suddenly it is not a matter of sacrifice, as there isn't a choice to have less. Now less is being thrust upon you.

 

 

Trust Never Sleeps

Dr Faucci's emails from Spring 2020 between him and Chinese health officials are a perfect examples of the news of the news. If you want it to look like a responsible exchange of information and opinion between two professionals and their respect governments, it's that. If you want to see it as proof that America is afraid to confront China, it's that. If you want to say it's proof that this whole thing is a big conspiracy of a massive, one-world government using a lab-made disease to infect and then 'vaccinate' much of the world and put them under Bill Gates’ control, it's that.

One thing is for certain: It is going to continue to eat away whatever crumbs of trust many citizens (American or otherwise) have towards their government. And that feeling has very real consequences.

It makes solving so many other massive domestic, foreign and global challenges that much more difficult. Political willpower can easily be branded into a series of special (and corporate) interests, but the reasons ‘the masses’ isn’t one is because so much of ‘the masses’ have given up on politics in general

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Jailbird, a fictionalized whistleblower from the Watergate scandal is chastised by an elder statesman, who says that while there is certainly the overwhelming feeling to root out and stop corruption and abuse of power, the unintended consequences by showing the people how bad the government has behaved is creating a society where none of the citizens trust the government.

Obviously ‘looking the other way’ to such malfeasance and crimes is no answer, but with each depressing bit of news about government dysfunction there has to be a redoubling of the public effort to fix it, and that is so difficult to do.

'Sunlight is the best disinfectant' is how the saying goes, and while that’s an integral part to the clean-up, the point is to make sure another mess doesn’t happen.

 

 

What is the most influential piece of art 'on' world history?

Of all the paintings, poems, sculptures, plays, films, and installations, which has actually changed the course of human history the most? Because we see certainly see how art can inspire more art, and individuals can say how a certain picture or song changed their lives for the better. But actually changing the world is a different matter entirely. Dylan said it was foolish to think you could change the world with a song. Mick Jagger scoffed when asked about how Street Fighting Man might influence people, saying he wished it could work so easily.

Maybe it's good that art doesn't have that impact, as it might cause more harm than good.

Plenty of art has been commissioned by powerful rulers throughout history, but that once again is more of a rosy reflection of the past or present that the king, emperor or president themselves wanted to see.

The most popular and best known works of art (your Mona Lisa, statue of David, 9th Symphony, Starry Night, Guernica, Here Comes the Sun) are tempting choices because ‘influential’ is typically tied to what most people know and are familiar with (proven in part by not having to mention the artist’s name in the above examples). But what have these examples really done for human history? It’s great that ‘Guernica’ has a strong anti-war sentiment...but a pretty big one happened not long after it is was finished.

Of course, calling any religious book a work of art will make the answer easy...

 

Here's a Thought  - February 2021

 

The role of the artist is to make a mess, but ideally a society/community/state is functioning in a neat and tidy way when this happens. If the society/community/state is slipping into dysfunctionality, then the role of the artist inevitably gets more complicated.

There is internal and external pressure for the artist to be a responsible citizen, which in some instances might be suppressing the artistic notions and ideas they have. This is not referring to censorship directly, as the situation might simply be having to take another job in the community that has nothing to do with aesthetic creation because of personal finances. Or it might involve being pressured to avoiding create art that in good times might just be 'unique' and 'thought-provoking', but is now seen as 'problematic' or controversial'. But this is a hard ask for certain artists. Some will accept this 'give-take', knowing it is the right thing to do as a citizen, to improve society to a point where maybe they can once again make wild, unrestrained creative outbursts. Others will reject it outright, and continue producing giant inflatable Santas holding dildos (McCarthy), crucifixes in jars of urine (Serrano), and Naked Lunch (Burroughs).

 

 

Google is so good it should be a public utility

When Google 'became' Alphabet, it officially chucked out 'do no evil'. Granted, you're slinking into the darkness as soon as you go public and the amount of investors expecting you to bring home the bacon with regularity surges.

Google acts just like every other successful corporation, and thinks one thing:

More.

There is no let up. Capitalism does not allow for 'taking your foot off the gas'. Not out of any Schopenhauer-like drive of humanity's insatiable, passionate will, but out of cold, clinical design.  

When the name of your company becomes a verb, a process known as denominalization (for more information, just google it), you have become ‘too big to exist’.

When your company become so successful it re-writes the rules just by doing business as usual, you have become ‘too big to exist’.

Just as how Wal-Mart decimated the Main Street in towns and small cities by being so successful at dictating prices to its suppliers, Google is able to guarantee that it is by far the primary way that people 'look' through the entire internet.

Journalism, entertainment, advertising, retail shopping, communication, and anything else that could be digitized was inadvertently sucked into the abyss and whatever came out was not the same.

Of course it can be called ‘the cost of doing business’, but who is doing the numbers to decide that cost, since it affects an investor and a laid-off retail worker very differently?

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt calls finding 'creative' ways to pay the least amount of tax an example of capitalism working properly.

It has to stop not because we should pity the poor big companies who have to compete against massive ones, but because we should pity the citizens who are pawns in this very serious and ‘not at all a game’ situation between the responsibilities of the state and private enterprise. Don’t fear the nationalization of companies, fear the corporatization of governments.

 

 

Trans People Have Been Dealt a Raw Hand

Consider what they have to go through to be something most of us for granted: Being ourselves. Being content.

Who considers being content a luxury?

Because transgender people are fighting to reach that feeling every day of their lives, and they have an ignorant at best, hostile at worst world bearing down on them.

They are born out of sorts, and spend their entire life trying to feel okay, to feel relaxed, to feel content.

Imagine the feelings of uncertainty, confusion and frustration of going through puberty (the time when everyone around you is questioning the changes that are happening to their own bodies, their own beliefs, their own social circles of family and friends), but that it continues right into adulthood. ‘No one understands’ is a typically teenager complaint, but it is a heartfelt lament for so many in the transgender community.

We've written elsewhere about how achieving equality for women and minorities/marginalized groups is so sadly difficult, and with rough only 0.5-1% of the population identifying as transgender, it is much harder to find another person who you can confide in and empathize with.

That 99% can only sympathize (and sadly, plenty do not) instead of truly understand is not at all fair. It's shit luck that the genetic wires got crossed and you're being forced to live in a body that feels somehow wrong, with overwhelming feelings of insecurity, doubt, and confusion.

And then they have to 'be' a normal person on top of that. You know, dealing all the regular day-to-day existence stuff that everyone else thinks is just a pain the ass.

Is it a surprise that they are more likely to have mental health issues, or self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, the same way that others turn to it when they go through difficult times? Of course not.

That they preserve through all this is admirable, incredible, a true testament to the human spirit, and should give anyone hope for the future.

This is not saying they deserve our pity. They deserve our help and respect. And that the rest of the world is so slow to give them these things is a sad mark of how far we have to go to be as open-minded and big-hearted as we too often think we are.

 

 

The Digitized Human Mind

The complexity of the brain means that we keep running into current tech limitations when it comes to the possibility of creating a mannequin-like copy.

We take it for granted that the brain is always 'on', that even during sleep it is keeping the body alive, in addition to feeding the subconscious part of our mind.

Part of the challenge of being able to upload a human mind to a computer is doing the reverse. Stimulating our brains with a fake experience. Shaking someone's hand is just a series of electrical signals in the brain. If it is possible to send the exact signals to the brain, can it tell the difference between it and an actual handshake?

You are defined by what you do, so what are you if you can do anything in a simulated environment? Would the awareness of it not being real ruin the experience? Will you forget? Can you ‘choose’ to forget?

Once you are in a simulated environment, there is no activity that you would get tired of (whether it's eating, video games, sex, drugs) because there is no such thing as 'tired' for you anymore. That requires a physiological relationship to a body that you don't have to concern yourself with. There is never a decrease of serotonin because there is no serotonin, it's just ones and zeroes.

We are simply (or really, ‘in a very complicated way’) rearranging the universe into the flickering electrons it is, but to our own whims.

This flickering is called (in its most basic quantum form) ‘information’ and persists to the point where it is the object/event which is used as the example of how black holes work, and how all matter in the universe relates to the phenomenon that destroys matter.

That there is numerical data at the basis of these seemingly more abstract and bizarre relationships of what we (and everything else) is made of is astonishing, because it doesn’t seem scientific. It is science the human mind has a hard time conceiving of.

For some these non-physical forms of ever-changing awareness can be how we consider the divine in technological terms.

Information is spirit. Spirit is information.

 

 

The perception of loss can almost be as damaging as an actual loss. Expected outcomes can change how one feels about the true outcome.

Barely winning a game in which you were expected to effortlessly defeat your opponents will make you reconsider your own abilities, and certainly spectators will second guess all that they thought of you as well (and the opponents will be seen as practically victors).

When it comes to politics - that is, actual changes in how a society governs and addresses the needs of its citizens - the stakes can quickly be much higher.

The creation or curtailing of certain social programs or grants or tax breaks can put citizens at ease or into a financial tailspin. That is what matters, but the perception of these policies – and the political win and loss if they are passed or struck down – has taken over the discourse.

Where losing an argument will have you thinking that you can lose everything.

We are moving towards a world where words are more weaponized than ever, because on digital platforms there are no fists to pummel opponents with. While it's great that there are fewer opportunities for physical violence because most of these interactions are done via screen, it amplifies perception and strengthens whatever message that is repeated and wants to be heard in the first place. If everyone in a rapidly expanding online community believes that a loss has occurred, how do you convince them otherwise?

Amazing article on the concept of social status and its politicization:

(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/09/opinion/trump-social-status-resentment.html)

 

 

 

First we communicated (unilaterally) with the future via cave paintings, then the oral tradition, then the written word, then audiovisual recording, and now through interactive digital experiences. Each becomes a more complex way to express ourselves.

At the moment the last one is best known as video games, but that will soon change.

You won't learn about history 'just' by reading past letters or watching black and white film. You will be able to experience important moments by navigating it in a realistic three-dimensional space.

Right now it is possible to peer into developing events around the world thanks to every phone in a pocket being a video camera that is connected to everyone. The next step is going to be experiencing this through all the senses of the people living through it, whether through virtual reality or even something involving shared neural links.

The problem which remains, of course, is all the time that history is made when there are none of these technologies present, and were suddenly back to relying on oral tradition (in other words, someone just telling us what they saw).

 

 

We live in a dull cyberpunk world

The issue with good stories is that they have to be interesting. Few can deny that we live in a technocratic dystopia where a small group of very powerful corporations and the people that own them have a huge impact on how the rest of the world lives (and dies). It is a fertile ground for storytelling at first glance, but 'rages against the machine' in fiction cut out the dull bits, and streamline character motivation and growth. It romanticizes criminals and embraces ‘just in the nick of time’ coincidences.

Great!

But in today’s real world people hack into a bank accounts and pull identity scams, and there’s no exciting back story or twist to be revealed. The surveillance state that should spook us is created in part by us willingly giving oodles of information that we share (whether typed or filmed) with as many people as possible because we want to. We have effortlessly communication machines that can connect us and help build a utopia, but all we do is argue.

Even worse, most of the drugs that are being taken are depressants that don't do anything wild like in Phillip K Dick novels.

We cry out for change, for improvement, for a better life, which is how so many cyberpunk stories start.

But no dice. No heroes, not even anti-heroes.

The stage is set, and we've all forgotten our lines.

 

The human experience demands we attempt to reflect and assess ourselves (as individuals and as a group) and the way we define, mark and categorize our lives takes the shape of a story. Event A is followed by Event B is followed by Event C, and we inevitably try to link these events together.

That's why the line is 'the story of my life'.

And while we like to think we are being factual and objective as we re-tell our lives - whether just in our own head, to friends and family, or a in a publicly consumed (auto)biography - we are certainly forgetting specific facts, misremembering reactions (by ourselves and others) and being generally biased.

The consequence of this that we turn our non-fiction lives into fiction by looking back and thinking about it.

 

God and the Market, Market and the God

'GameStop'. What a perfect name for the new stock market…scandal? Occurrence? Blowback?  Because for some hedge funds, it really is those two words: Game. Stop. The fun of just pressing buttons and racking up high scores has come to a crashing halt.

What do the people who work at GameStop stores think? What do companies that sell their products at GameStop think? What do the people who (still) shop at GameStop think?

It doesn't matter. They are just NPCs in this level.

Alienation has been so thoroughly baked into the overclass Wall Street capitalism of the 21st century that 'people' are either assets (customers) or liabilities (employees) to the bottom line. For more and more people in the West, they are so, so far removed from the manufacturing of the products they consume and use (since they are primarily made on the other side of the world) that they think little of the conditions in which these workers do their jobs (whether directly in the factory or indirectly through the particular nation’s government). All of them can lose their jobs because of a dumb advertising campaign far away that causes slow sales of the product and shutters the factory.

Everything is connected in the worst possible way, and the stock market is a drunken, greedy doctor trying to keep the patient alive so they can sell it more medicine. Betting against companies (shorting) is making money off cancer. And if you can make money off cancer, expect to see a lot more cancer.

Why do stocks go up and down?  What are market forces?  How much does a genuine quarterly earnings report make a difference?

You gotta have faith. Of course this stock will go up, down, loop within its own loop and land perfectly on the tarmac. The market believes everything will go up. But in case you have it on good authority that it won't, it now believes some things will go down. You want proof? What is this, a congressional hearing?

You gotta have faith. That God will take your soul after death and deem it worthy to chill with him for all eternity. You want proof? What is this, a massive particle collider underneath France and Switzerland?

 

 

"Play Your Old Jokes!"

There is a difference between musical acts going out and playing new songs to applause and playing older songs to wild screaming, and how almost all comedians retire material after a set amount of time. At the very least, a comedian doesn’t get wild screams from the audience when they launch into a five minute bit about dating that their fans will recognize and love to hear word for word again.

Is it because of the presentation format? Do we appreciate the artistry in the replication of a song over the replication of a four minutes comedic monologue because we believe the former is more difficult to do? Do we attach more emotional memories to music? It is much more likely for you to headbang in rockitude or weep with sadness over a song than a piece of comedy. Is it the laugh? Maybe laughter elicits a different emotional response than excitement/sadness, one that is based a lot more on the freshness of hearing a joke for the first time, which means there is diminishing returns on hearing it again and again.  Maybe because jokes involve more a cerebral analysis than music there is less emotional attachment to whatever was happening in your life when you first heard Chappelle’s ‘three AM in ghetto’ story than when you first heard ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’.

 

 

Why Tattoos?

We are living a more and more transitory existence. People accumulate less physical things and use digital forms of collection to display and express who they are. If you 'can't take it with you via your phone', it's baggage. And while in some ways 'the Internet is forever', in other ways it is very easy to tear your identity up and start again (or leave it on the side of the road and drive away) and join another online community under a different handle.

The exception is the tattoo, which can be the biggest commitment you can make to what you believe in and what is important to you because it is meant to be permanent. It can't be lost or stolen (it just might run or fade after several years if you don't touch it up,) and the only way you can get rid of it completely is by ponying up quite a bit of cash.

 

 

Middle Class Problem: Shrinkage

(https://www.vox.com/the-goods/22166381/hollow-middle-class-american-dream)

Money isn't everything but holy hell is it something.

Jeff Bezos' ex-wife gave over $4 billion to charity. Great, but it's the exception not the rule, so we must re-write the rules.

We overpay the people who make us smile (athletes, entertainers) and underpay the people who keep us alive (doctors, infrastructure support staff, law enforcement).

Right now, you're lucky if you are born into a wealthy family, and after that you have to rely on the luck that somehow some of the donated money from a wealthy family ends up helping you. Not necessarily them directly putting it in your pocket, but through foundations and funds that might be given to your workplace or job, or through grants.

Some of these foundations might remain mysterious to those that are receiving its benefits.

We are living at a time where, like in Great Expectations, you might not know who your wealthy benefactor is, and maybe a rich man saying he 'has given back enough' (whether through taxes or donation) is not the best measurement as to whether he has.

If working and middle class citizens are against a tax increase on the wealthy because they aim to be rich one day and don't want to pay that higher rate at that time, then it is that combination of selfishness and delusion that can destroy a nation from the inside.

No one wins if there is hundred of millions or billions of dollars that a handful of very wealthy people just sit upon or swap amongst themselves in stocks and investments.

The more people that touch the dollar as it moves around the community, the healthier that community is.

 

 

The Responsibility for Being Wrong

It seems that people in power are less and less culpable for making mistakes. CEOs and business leaders pay a fine and get to be cleared of any wrongdoing. If politicians have to resign because of scandal or are voted out (and with retention rates being so high, that's rare), they typically parachute into a job on a corporate board, lobbying firm, or if they're telegenic, a media company.

It creates a climate of indifference and alienation towards your actions, especially since there should be the concept of public good when making important decisions. Obviously within government, but corporations should definitely have to alter their reason for being, which for too long has been making money for their investors.

What if there were fire-able conditions that the entire community can acknowledge and enforce? We are at a point where the lack of responsibility is having so many millions of citizens assume the worst when it comes to companies and government institutions doing…anything. We expect it to go wrong in some way, because it has been for years now.

Obviously it is more important that people who have more power are held to greater levels of account. A CEO is paid plenty more than employees far down the org chart, and a bad year or a terribly irresponsible and dangerous decision needs to be reflected in their pay. If the buck truly stops at their desk, it shouldn’t be able to easily make that last leap into their pocket.

 

 

Who Cometh for the Right Will Cometh For the Left

Would it be great if holocaust denial was dismissed as bigoted idiocy right away? Of course! But if it isn’t, and these terrible fabrications take root in many people's minds as truth no matter what sort of evidence you present to them to say, 'of course the holocaust happened', then what? Should these inaccurate claims have been censored, because of the danger that might come with people believing them?

Obviously restricting certain forms of speech is going to cause problems in society, not only with individuals yelling at each other on the Internet, but plaintiffs and defendants in the courts of law. Questions regarding intent and context can bog down easy answers, because it’s not always clear when someone is joking and when they are truly giving their position and beliefs on an issue (and good luck telling the difference when it is a post on social media).

Banning an orange dumpster fire that was recently the most powerful man on earth (for four years…still boggles the mind) from social media platforms is good...right?

It makes sense that supporters of Trump will decry this as censorship and that plenty of people on the left will breathe a sigh of relief, considering that the former president told (at one fact-checked estimate) 30,000 lies.

A society can't crumble under a ton of bullshit like that, but add it to bureaucratic dysfunction, skyrocketing inequality, and ‘surprises’ like pandemics and natural disasters, and crackdown on speech to protect truth is going to be a hideous mess that everyone is going to come regret.

The notion that social media corporations will only crack down on conservative content it finds distasteful or bullshit-prone is extremely naive and shortsighted.

It's great when QAnon is on the hot seat, but bad when it’s Black Lives Matter, and if it seems like ‘it can’t happen here’ for BLM, it already has (in the wake of the protests last year, several social media groups were banned or locked).

That Google, Facebook or Twitter are the arbiters is problematic enough.

If you can't make these decisions properly - or build a computer code to do it properly - then you shouldn't be making these decisions

Is it a targeted cull? An algorithm that is helped along by a small team?

If you say your social media platform is 'too big to monitor', and that ‘erring on the side of reason’ results in silencing people – not just deleting a specific post that violates the rules – no one should rest easy.

 

 

Media Cynicism Is Its Own Bubble

News wonks expect the general public to acknowledge that left-leaning outlets like MSNBC use the same overhype/under-report tactics as right-leaning Fox News, and to perform the mental legwork of sussing it all out by reading from several different sources and ultimately making an informed decision and act or vote upon the issue in question. When reading plenty is just something you do because it is your routine or your job (along with talking to sources, vetting sources, and presenting a cohesive, well-researched argument that goes through an editor/fact-check), it's easy to forget that most people don't do much beyond eyeballing headlines as they scroll through their social media pages.

Journalist Matt Taibbi is regularly having to defend himself for criticizing democrats/left-leaning media (or whatever the left-leaning media is currently championing). Leftists ask 'what happened to you, man?', as if the person who has written books like Insane Clown President (Trump-bashing), Griftopia (wall street bashing), and I Can’t Breathe (law enforcement overreach bashing) has somehow turned conservative.

There are accusations from leftists who only want to hear good news about their side (and bad news about opponents), or strategically pragmatic leftists saying 'I know we're not perfect, but if you keep covering issues like this, moderates are going to think we're as bad as Trump/conservatives are, give up on caring at all, and our opponents will win thanks to political apathy'.

Taibbi's push for free speech gets criticized by those who say that tolerating intolerant attitudes will ultimately lead to people in power who will crush free speech in general. Hence, these critics say, some free speech that promotes intolerance (nazism, for example) must be censored.

Perhaps Taibbi would respond that there are many other ways for a society/community/government to counter these 'intolerant groups' other than censorship, because choosing that method creates more problems than it solves.

 


 

Here's A Thought Summer 2020

 

Seriously, How Did We Lose the OK Gesture?

When a bunch of racists start using a universally recognized symbol for good job as a subtle way of expressing camaraderie...did we just let them?

Perhaps it's a hard thing to stop when the only antidote is to ignore the racists completely and keep using 'OK' as it is intended, but this is that strange situation where you have to assume that the person you are gesturing is either ignorant to the attempt of re-signification or knows you well enough personally to be sure that you aren't going to suddenly flash a white-supremacy gesture.

Since you cannot be sure of the first situation, we naturally have to retreat from using 'OK' casually, but that just means it is going to be used 'only' in the case of racist signalling.

What does this say about the transmission of information in the digital age? Calling attention to this issue propagates the idea that this now a racist gesture, but not calling attention to it means non-racists may use it inadvertently and be labelled something they certainly don't want to be labelled as.

How do you 'not' get a message out? How does the Internet walk this line? How do we all ignore this attempt by goons to 'steal' a simple symbol of approval? How can we make sure this doesn't keep happening, since if emboldened white supremacists might try to see what gestures and words can be absorbed into the racist rolodex?

 

 

There is Free-Will Because We Don't Have a Choice

If free will is defined as being able to act without following a pre-deterministic sequence, then we will never know for sure because there is no way to know if we are following a pre-determined sequence. We are trapped in the present space-time and our own individual world lines (ask your astrophysicist), preventing us from every being able to compare what the alternatives could have been (or to know for sure where there are any alternatives).

In this sense, we have both Free-will and Determinism. We do not know if the choice we made is directed by any force other than our own. But once we make a decision to cross the street, scratch our nose, or throw that egg at your friend, that choice is 'locked in' and is following a certain path with limited outcomes (this is a perhaps a philosophical notion of wave-function collapse). As I bring my finger up to scratch my nose, I can certainly stop. But is that proof that I have free will, because I am consciously avoiding what would be the common sense thing to do, or was I always pre-destined to think this and not scratch my nose? Since I can never answer this accurately in the space-time world line I exist, I cannot know for sure what 'made' me do this.

Even using the term ‘made’ suggests an overarching plan, while determinism may be nothing more than quantum particles following a sequence of ‘most likely’ probabilities. There is always a chance that all the atoms that make up your body will suddenly reconfigure themselves across the cosmos, but it is very, very low. But this is randomness, since we commonly associate 'free will' with sentient decision making, and that is based on many, many factors of how all the particles of our body respond to external stimulation, and we're not remotely close to figuring out (let alone predicting) how people will always react to situations.

If we can't be absolutely certain of a deterministic trajectory (and based on our limitations of existing within the 4D timespace in which this (possibly) deterministic trajectory operates, we can't be), then there is free will, if only because we can never know the difference.

 

 

CHAT is the future 'human'

The so-called purity test that can afflict the left or the right (or really any group of people when there are several issues being debated) is putting people into echo chambers, or intellectual reinforcement networks. If you don't agree completely with the laundry list of positions that the group adheres to, then you are booted out. But this is a positive feedback loop, in the sense that it just gets more dogmatic and strict over time.

People are becoming networks, a lessening of tolerance for diverse thought means a lessening of individuality in these groups, and the technology we have makes this an easier process than ever.

which brings us to...CHAT.

The blob of individuals talking almost all at once, typified during a live event that everyone can coalesce around.

In the world of video games, 'CHAT' is the casual name to the steady stream of comment(or)s that happen in real time as the streamer plays.

Even if you don't show your face while you stream a game, you are inviting the public into your personal space, because you are sharing yourself with them (even if the focus is trying to beat a level). There is a passive sort of emotional exchange and friendship connection between you and the people watching, especially as you begin to interact in chat. Even as you interact with individuals as you respond to their comments, you begin to see 'Chat' as a singular form of communication.

'Twitch Plays Pokemon' is an example of a community achieving a common goal haphazardly. Similar to how cells slowly learned to interact with each other and create complex life.

 

Corporatism and the Environment

We may have to accept the fact that saving the environment will almost certainly require a huge amount of work to be done by corporations (from research and development to full implementation and oversight of the projects). This is will likely only entrench their power even further and make citizens (and governments) be more reliant on their operation (which chooses profit over social benefit) more than ever.

While we should decry this, there might not be much of an alternative. Government-led projects are becoming less and less common due to budget constraints, and corporations which receive contracts and grants to do work that was previous done by a government programs are reaping financial benefits.

But fighting climate change and corporatism at the same time is yielding meagre to little results. If we stick with trying to fix both, we might end up with neither, and then we're really screwed. We might have to settle with one, and that has to be the environment, obviously. Even saying that by fixing corporatism we can then move on to properly fixing the environment, we might not even have time for that...

Bonus Semi-Related Thought:

Total Trash

(also a great Sonic Youth song)

While we are half-assing it on fighting climate change (see above), we are practically no-assing it reducing waste. While the two are invariably connected since it deals with how we are using the resources of our planet, the steps in reducing the amount of waste we produce and reusing/recycling when we can are very, very baby. It's always nice to hear of a small start-up company or retail store using eco-friendly goods or packaging, but the more people are living what can be tentatively labelled as 'a traditional western middle class lifestyle', the more trash that will come with it. It's sad enough that we are cutting down forests and fields to build space for homes and urban developments, but it's even worse when we clear them just so we can toss junk there.

And when we 'run out of land' (and that just means that it is too expensive to dump the trash on land), it goes in the ocean. Which is another huge challenge because it's not all neatly grouped together in one wet pile, but spread out over a massive regions in the world's largest bodies of water, guaranteeing that it will be a danger to all marine wildlife as well as being very difficult to remove.

Asking people to consume less and to buy local (since doing so requires much less packaging and waste in the entire transportive endeavour) has its own challenges, as some will call it an assault on their liberty, or just too expensive. We have created a profit-driven socioeconomic system that champions disposability and therefore champions constant spending on more goods as well.

Which just means more trash.

 

 

Comedy Sequels

Making a commercially and critically successful comedy film is hard. Making another one with the same ingredients is damn near impossible.

[Monty Python might be the exception in terms of three comedy films of incredible quality (albeit unrelated to one another from a narrative perspective), but they are certainly more on a 'cult classic' level of success, and the sizes of their productions are much smaller that their insular creation process can afford]

There will always be pressure in Hollywood to make more of the same, and whether or not the product is good is only a side conversation. A better reviewed movie typically makes more money, but not always.

Comedy films of the mundane snapshots of life (There's Something About Mary, The Wedding Singer, Step Brothers) don't typically get sequels since there is usually a dollop of romance in them, and that might mean a happily ever after which can't really begat a sequel.

Action-comedies, on the other hand, are very much bread and butter of the industry, to the point where Marvel films can almost be seen as three parts action and one part comedy.

And before they overwhelmed global box offices and re-defined what you could expect in your theatre seat, there were big name precursors like Ghostbusters, Rush Hour, Austin Powers, Home Alone, Back to the Future, and,,, The OceansTrilogy, which is the best trilogy at making fun of movies while celebrating them, and being cool the whole damn time.

Based on the serious 1960s Frank Sinatra caper, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney gave audiences fast paced storytelling, cool cuts, clever quips, and the perfect dollop of emotion at just the right moment in just the right way. A great raising of stakes throughout, as our heroes don't break too much of a sweat as each new obstacle is placed before them. The satire is so smooth and silky you don't even notice, you just get taken along for the ride. And just like Empire Strikes Back, while Oceans Twelve was criticized at first, it is definitely a great piece of meta, 'bet you thought you knew where this is going'-type throw-down for the audience that Iron Man could never get away with.

And hey, like a lot another, another go-arounds, Oceans Thirteen is the prime example of diminishing returns, but is still fun. The subtle Godfather references, Matt Damon walking briskly through a vaguely European city on the phone being filmed in a handheld, jerky no-cut style is a glaring homage to his Bourne identity, and even how they explained away the absence of certain characters (namely, the love interests played by Julia Robert and Catherine Zeta-Jones) worked with just a simple line: 'It's not their fight'.

It was the blueprint from the MCU, and nobody knew it, least of all Steven Soderbergh.

The problem that comes with a superhero-dominated box-office is the same problem that is affecting film in general, not just comedy. You are making chunks of art/culture that is meant to be as broadly appealing as possible, because while it's great in one sense that we can share everything so much easier, big studios are trying to make as much cash as possible by doing so, and comedies just aren’t sure-fire anymore.

This is also a fight against anything else that might steal eyeballs and dollars. From an onslaught of TV streaming options (including popular and critically acclaimed series that capture the public's imagination, but also being able to binge three hours of reality tv and skip going out for movie night) to video games to...pandemics, the cinema experience is on the ropes.

And while adventure and action typically requires a bigger budget for a good visual spectacle, comedy can actually be done pretty cheap, and that means, why even make a comedy ‘film’? Whether a viral video of pet acting silly, YouTube creators who make skits, video game streamers cracking jokes as they win or lose, or even sharing memes 24/7, ninety minutes of one story seems…old.

 

 

The Normalcy of Universe

The universe has existed for billions of years before a collection of cells joined together to create the self aware entity known as yourself, and it will exist for billions of years after the cells that were you slowly dissipate back into other forms of matter of energy. The astoundingly brief period of time that you were around is by far the exception of the rule of the universe, which is: 'you are not here'. Normalcy for the universe is when you were never alive and always dead. A second after you take your final breath, you can't blame the universe for going, 'ah, back to normal'.

 

 

 

 

 

Art And Culture Now

We care so much about Art and Culture because it feels like we can do something about it, that we can engage with it in ways never done before. We can discuss it with people across the world instantaneously, we can make elaborate videos praising or decrying it, we can attend massive conventions that celebrate it.

A&C has replaced politics for many people who think politics is either too toxic or too bloated and irreparable.

People do want to care about something, and if politics and the wider human society seems like it doesn't care about you, then you won't care about it, and move your attention elsewhere. To the detriment of the future of humanity.

Fan service in your favourite pop culture institutions have replaced social services in your local government institutions.

 

 

Metaphysical Crisis Level Infinity

When your civilization crashes and burns - whether due to foreign invasion (of all sorts, from military to financial) or internal dissent - what can you possibly think of your God, if you have one?

That God is punishing you and the many who also believe? That God doesn't care, no matter how hard you tried to do right? That there is no God at all?

It is a crushing blow the collective ego, and one that many people will try to avoid confronting and run away from for as long as possible.

Not only is civilization collapsing and it is simple dangerous, but everything you've believed in and worked for ultimately added up to nothing. And maybe you own up to the fact that you and the rest of society's behaviour might have had something to do with the collapse.

This is a massive devastating blow to any individual, and some will deny it to their final breath.

 

 

Humanity: The Failure of Complex Systems

 

How people engage with and reflect upon society can be broken into qualitative and quantitative properties. The former involve personal preference (since 'quality' can be subjective), and the latter involves statistical information (as quantitative is wholly numerical). By cautiously reducing these two properties to opinion for the first and money for the second, this can show how important the two factors can rely and interact with each other.

The most important quantitative properties to explain the current crisis in Western democracy is the massive difference between how much wages have increased and the cost of living has increased over the last four decades.

Too many people don't have enough money. And it's not that people are working less or are being lazy, it's that the jobs that pay well are too few, meaning so many people of all generations - but yes, especially the millennials - have to settle for higher debt, little savings, and all that comes with that: no home ownership, higher level of stress and worry, and a disillusionment with society in general.

A factory line job in the fifties (and on through the eighties) might not have been the sort of career that you would dream about when you were ten, but during those decades you could still buy a house with a bit of responsible saving (and a house is still the biggest asset that most people own...if they can afford it).

The Internet has changed everything, as it is often said, because it is a mix of how it affects jobs by rendering oh so many of them obsolete (certainly more than it creates), how it changes how we interact with each other, and how it is allowed for financial power to be much more concentrated in the hands and pockets of the few.

We cannot disengage, we can only reinvent and alter our relationship with this technology.

The libertarian, don't-tread-on-me dream is wholly incompatible with a globalized corporate-driven society dependant on digital interconnectedness. You can't have both. If you hate the 'power of government', then ditch your phone and don't ever shop online or at Wal-Mart, because they are just profit driven authoritarian institutions that are replacing governments.

 

 

The human experience demands we attempt to reflect and assess ourselves (as individuals and as a group), and the way we define, mark and categorize our lives takes the shape of a story.

That's why the line is 'the story of my life'.

And while we like to think we are being factual and objective as we re-tell our lives - whether just in our own head, to friends and family, or in a publicly consumed (auto)biography - we are certainly forgetting certain facts, misremembering reactions, and being generally biased. The latter is due to us wanting to look better even to ourselves when we reflect on the past.

We make our non-fiction lives fiction by looking back and thinking about it.

We cannot live another person's life.

Biography is, by nature, the reduction of one person's life to familiar tropes and experiences for the people trying to understand/learn about someone else.

It's not misrepresentation, it is the narrowing that is inherent in storytelling, which is an essential component of humanity and how we interact with one another. At present, there is no other way to experience another's life.

 

 

The Internet has affected our concept of time and space. The Internet not only makes so much about what is happening at the current moment so knowable on a collectivized level (not only in terms of 'the news', but how we can get immediate, first-hand experience of what is occurring, no matter where it is across the globe). Concurrently, the Internet can keep the experience of the past saved forever in a frozen sort of state through archives and archives of material. You can experience what was written or created thirty or hundreds of years ago with no lag or challenge. This is not just reading a book about the past, this is getting collective experience of the moment instantaneously. Time has collapsed.

In terms of space, tangible items can go from existing in a store or warehouse across the world to your doorstep in a day or two. Food from anywhere in your city can be on your table in under an hour. At the same time, virtual spaces can be as large as the creator wants it to be, and we were now able to interact in these spaces with increasing complexity and familiarity to the goings-on in real life. While advances in transportation technology shrunk the 'size' of the world throughout the twentieth century, what has happened in the first two decades of the twenty-first has been even more remarkable.

 

While the division between labour and management are still at the heart of the class struggle, the role of 'investment' has superseded management in its impact and importance. Management will still exploit labour, but there is some relation still to the work being created, in the sense that management in this case is responsible for the company and makes key decisions in its day-to-day operations. Investment, meanwhile, can be wholly alienated from whatever work is being produced, and simply collect a portion of the profits because of the money they initially (or latently) funded the company with.

That you now by stocks in a hedge fund or invest venture capitalist firm and have even less of a relationship with the product or service being created is only furthering the exploitation and impoverishment that comes in the unregulated capitalist system. Companies that are already drowning debt have been bought up by these firms and exist as 'zombie corporations', which are never expected to turn a profit ever again, and are slowly trudging towards ultimate bankruptcy and paying out whatever money they happen to make to these firms, with none of it going to rehabilitation.

 

 

 

 

(Some of the) Happiest Songs of All Time

 

It's tough going out there (hell, this is even a pretty low-feeling 'Here's a Thought') so here's some cheery tunes to feel a bit better. Some left field choices and some familiar home-runs. No order, feel free to randomize.

 

Ce matin-la - AIR (That horn tho)

Tightrope - Janelle Monae (featuring Big Boi) (definitely the most underrated and amazing R&B singer from this decade, and this is top shelf proof)

Rhapsody in Blue - George Gershwin (A seventeen minute epic from one hundred years ago that has one foot in classical and the other in this new-fangled thing called jazz? Yes please)

Sugar Magnolia - Grateful Dead (tons of different live versions, but yeah, go with Europe '72)

Fire Eye'd Boy - Broken Social Scene (hazy indie rock at its best, cheering you on)

B.O.B. - Outkast (with its effortless changes in melody and beat, it's the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' of hip-hop, and a whole lot more positive)

Lust for Life - Iggy Pop (that kick drum tho)

You Can Make It If You Try - Sly and the Family Stone (a funky positive refrain)

Pulo, Pulo - Jorge Ben (if this doesn't make you jump six feet up, you are probably six feet under)

Good Day Sunshine - The Beatles (of course the Fab Four nail it. Plus there's that other George Harrison song about the sun that's so popular)

Jamming - Bob Marley (well, yeah...)

Got a Thing on My Mind - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings (doing old school the new school way)

 

 

Tragic Soliloquy to the president about lessening the US military footprint:

-Mr/Madame President, look, I know you talked a lot about how we need to reduced military spending, but too much of our economy is based on building all sorts of death machines. Cutting construction and R&D contracts will cause huge job losses in several key battleground states, and you will have key allies in your party turn against you if thousands of people are suddenly unemployed in their district.

With how tightly fought some of the seats in Congress, suddenly being labelled against the troops and good-paying American jobs will devastating (even if the label is not fair). You will lose in the midterms, and your political opponents (there will be the expected opposition party as well as members from your own party) will stonewall your policies and force you to return military spending to what it once was.

As far trying to spin this as a positive, any sort of money-saving from making these cuts will not be turned into a job replacement programs until years after the fact, and you've already campaigned on helping people find better playing jobs now. Doing this will go in the opposite direction very quickly.

There are so many tertiary industries involved with the US military that there is the genuine possibility of starting a recession if you drastically cut defense spending.

Beyond this, exiting from costly overseas wars and long-held military bases will leave our allies in the lurch and embolden the countries we have less-than-rosy relationships with as well as terrorist groups that intend to do us harm.

Our status and role as a nation that tries to promote freedom and democracy and partnerships will immediately be diminished, and that will make it more difficult to have positive economic relations with many nations.

Appealing to our nation's sense of honour, freedom and peace is good, but that won't put food on the table of the millions of Americans who are now unemployed, having lost well-paying and stable jobs.

The truth is that America cannot afford to not be a military power right now, even if dismantling parts of this massive apparatus is the morally responsible thing to do.

 

Ok Computer - it remains captivating for its dark and twisted middle.

Just past the halfway point, OKC gets weird.

It opens with with a towering, sunny rift monster (Airbag), goes into one of the weirdest hit singles of the 90s  (Paranoid Android), the third song you kind of forget because it's third until you realize it's not-so-secretly amazing (Subterranean Homesick Alien), followed by the lonely, dark Romeo-and-Juliette ballad (Exit Music), the secretly best song on the album (Let Down), the catchy second single (Karma Police), and then...

Robotic laundry list, eerie piano plunking, the metallic barking of political slogans that's so heavy it gives some Seattle grunge buzz-saw tracks a run for their money, then a haunting stumble through the halls of mental illness with some background Penderecki strings.

What the hell?!

And then its back to your regularly scheduled program, with a lovely suicide ballad (No Surprises), the single that is/was a bridge from the previous album to this one (Lucky), and a slow boiling, but eventually soaring ender that begs you to, 'hey man, slow down' (The Tourist).

Those three middle tracks - 'Fitter Happier', 'Electioneering', 'Climbing up the Walls' - gives a glimpse of the sort of experimentation that would come to dominate the band's next two records (Kid A and Amnesiac, most of which was recorded concurrently). It's not exactly jazz and electronica flourishes, but it's a thousand light years away from The Bends and whatever else you expected from mainstream alt-rock in the mid nineties, and can really tilt your ear on its side for ten minutes or so.

 

Conspiracy Theories/Fairy Tales

Conspiracy theories are modern day fairy tales that say more about to the desires of the theorist and the challenges in their society than anything about truth.

It is the underlying belief of an ultra-powerful group of people that control everything, and is a flimsy explanation why the believer's life is not going the way they want it to.

In this way, while the conspiracy theorist decries those that don't believe the same thing that they do as mindless sheep, the theorists themselves are makers and dwellers of their own sheep-like belief system. To them these power structures are untouchable, unassailable, immutable, and so many people (including themselves) are forced to live a substandard, controlled existence, even if they know the truth. The people in charge of the world, according to conspiracy theorists, are more like super-humans than us paltry plebs. It’s almost like the theorists believe this is the inevitable hierarchy, that the strong and weak both get what they deserve. It’s a terribly defeatist ideology.

But some of their beliefs are rooted in tiny shreds of past historically-accurate examples. Governments and corporations have certainly done terrible things and have tried to cover up the truth about it. But to then assume that they are doing the same with diseases, aliens, and 9/11 is ridiculous. It is a fallible aspect of humanity, that we are so attuned to finding and operating within patterns that we search for patterns that are not there. 

 

A good way to conceive of different dimensions

Compare a photograph of a microwave (2D) and an actual microwave in 3D space. Both are made of the same elementary particles, but the similarities end quite quickly. The first is the concept/representation of a microwave, but you would be a fool to even try to use it as an actual microwave (It was almost a waste of words to type that). That's not how 2D representations of 3D objects work, and that is something a child learns early in their experience with reality.  But a photograph of a microwave is useful for us 3D entities when we want to convey the idea of microwave.

What if all the items in our 3D reality were representations of 'actual' objects in a 4D reality?

What if there was a 4D microwave 'out there'?

What if there was a 4D version of yourself, and you exist to it like your 2D shadow exists to you? Just a limited representation of the 'real'?


 

Here’s a Thought: Video Game Demo-Style

 

Animal Crossing and Real Consumption versus Virtual Consumption

You can never have enough stuff.

At least when the stuff is just ones and zeroes.

As every review and essay about Animal Crossing: New Horizons has pointed out, a game where you have an island paradise in which you can build, furnish and fashion it however you want has come out a perfect time, since most of the world is practicing self-isolation to keep a very real pandemic from doing even more terrible damage.

Start off just by running around and enjoying nature and finding a place for you tent, then settle into a relaxing life of landscaping and fishing (and fishing and finishing).

Turn your tent into a one room shack and turn that into a house, and slowly turn the island into a town. And you can decorate it with thousands of sensible and ridiculous items that you can buy (typewriters, lava lamps, garden gnomes, satellite dishes, etc.) or craft yourself.

After taking out one hell of a loan that is. Although it should be noted that for all his qualities as a ravenous raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook gives you these loans interest free (you're already doing a lot of maintenance and landscaping work for him, so he better).

Design your own patterns in-game for clothing, paintings, flags and anything else. You can visit your friends’ islands and show off your style or lack of it.

If you're the impatient sort, you can even time travel ahead (by changing the time on your Nintendo Switch console) to when new features and quests will be unlocked based on the real-time date.

And why not? Maybe at some other time than spring 2020 you would have wanted to take your time with this game and play a bit every day, but of course it's become easy to mainline now. Fewer people are working than ever and so many other entertainments are shuttered (sports, cinemas, concerts). Time is more abundant than ever (for better and for worse) to dive into a virtual world of plenty.

Meanwhile, even before global quarantine restrictions, real stuff is becoming more and more of a luxury. Thanks to the long term effects of the Coronavirus, the millennials and generation Z are going to be in an even more precarious financial positions as the next several years unfold.

'Owning' is going to become a foreign concept, and 'owing' is going to be an even larger ball and chain to drag around. You likely have fewer places to put stuff if you don't own property and just rent, and with paycheques having to stretch even further, the goods that you might want to have to make you happy and reflect your personality are not always an option.

The virtual world of Animal Crossing can help you with this. The more people (especially those who have grown up with Internet as being immutably there) become accustomed to putting time and energy and effort in a virtual world for virtual possessions, the less coveted non-essential physical items will become. Keep your real money for the necessities (food, shelter, basic clothing) and spend time and fake money for the frivolous virtual (a massive wardrobe, a perfectly designed front and backyard garden, a museum full of dinosaur bones). Another perk is that virtual stuff doesn't consume valuable real resources that real items do.

People can complain how traveling to others' islands is a real pain in the ass to organize, with permission, placement and codes making it unnecessarily complex.

Whether or not Nintendo provides updates to streamline the process or another game (from the Animal Crossing franchise or otherwise) offers it, visiting virtual homes of friends' in real time is going to stop being a novelty and start becoming a commonplace way of socializing and living your ideal 'virtual' life.

How commonplace? Here's a headline on a video game website at the time of this writing:

"Nintendo Slashes Interest Rates in Animal Crossing: New Horizons"

(https://kotaku.com/nintendo-slashes-interest-rates-in-animal-crossing-new-1843019628)

 

 

What Remains of Edith Finch (and the term video 'game')

Even though the term 'walking simulator' is no longer seen as an entirely dismissive term for the genre, it still feels like it is not taking these sorts of story games seriously. And in some ways that's understandable because you can't lose at Edith Finch. You can be mildly inconvenienced by not knowing how to use a certain mechanic to advance the story, but that's about it.

Even then, it is not a challenge to master any of these game mechanics. The graphics are great, and it is certainly fun to explore the nooks and crannies of the bizarre house and the property it sits awkwardly upon, but for the most part the game is taking you on a tour of a family history, told in a very unique and affecting way.

The creative storytelling within What Remains of Edith Finch's two hour-ish runtime is 80% movie, but that other 20% makes all the difference in seeing the possibilities that video 'games' can do with narrative. If you went to a theatre and watched only one person in the audience 'play' this game, you will still not have experienced the exact same thing as if you had the controller in your hand yourself. Not that you could play the game much differently (although there are points where you can visit rooms out of order), but you become even more of a passive participant when you aren’t the one pressing the buttons and deciding to move forward.

By doing that, you feel joy and relief in the way Edith discovers her past, because with its first-person perspective, she is 'you'. It is a freeing as well as emotionally moving. That it can make you feel heartbreak and loss on the same level as a great movie or book is a testament first and foremost to its creators at Giant Sparrow software, but also to this burgeoning genre of video game. The interactive story is only going to reach greater and greater heights as various levels of virtual reality experiences become regular (certainly a price drop for the equipment will be part of that).

But is it a game? If game is defined as a 'form of play or sport played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck' (Oxford dictionary), then Edith Finch isn't much of one, because the game is only decided by your decision to keep playing. In this sense, the sport was actually played by the development team at Giant Sparrow, to see if they can rise to the challenge and create an experience that would keep people going until the end. And they definitely won.

 

The End of Consoles

Google Stadia has been widely lambasted as a mediocre-at-best video game experience. But it's the future.

Introducing a new product or service is always going to be rough, and it was as bad as it could get for Stadia (dropped frame rates, lag, glitches, broken connections, too few games). But it has a few advantages. First, it's owned by one of the world's largest corporations, one that has tremendous brand awareness across the world, so it can be supported financially through the tough early times. Second, its 'premise' follows a reliable trend since the Internet took off: Have less electronic entertainment boxes in your house.

Regardless of when Microsoft or Sony ultimately release their new consoles (end of 2020 is still the target), they have to be shaking in their boots at the possibility that overall this is not a good long term investment, that this sort of product no longer has 'legs'. If your television already is connected to the Internet, is $500 a good investment for another box that is going to do the same thing at the same time? PlayStation and Microsoft already have gaming cloud services, and they might just become and more and more appealing as cheaper for both player and company as the years move forward.  And that means PS5 and Xbox X might get the diehard fans buying each console, but it might not be how most people game even two years from now. Mobile gaming is almost as big as console and PC gaming combined, and this trend is not going to change any time soon (gaming was worth about $152 billion in 2019, and mobile contributed $69* million to that).

Nintendo sort of lucked into releasing their latest console (the Switch, by the way) in 2017 (with the slightly lesser 'Switch Lite' coming out last year). By incorporating an easy on-the-go option for playing, it had a versatility that its competitors lacked. It has sold very well (great games and great game selection helps), and has given the company plenty of time to wait and see what the future of video games might look like before considering a follow-up (although Nintendo's unwillingness to make obvious changes going forward has hurt them in the past).

If the hiccups that ruined Stadia's launch are fixed, then why ever own a console? Why not just have a controller and a USB or HDMI stick that plugs into your TV or monitor? And Google doesn't have to fix the bandwidth issue on its own. Improving internet speed and reliability is the goal not only of telecommunications giants, but nations as well.  Stadia can ride the coattails of these projects and improve connection issues, and get itself into the hands of serious and casual gamers.

In 2022, the PS5 might be an expensive paperweight.

*-nice.

 

 

Majora's Mask Right Now (April 2020)

Majora's Mask, the sixth game in the Zelda franchise was released twenty years ago. In it, the moon is about to crash into the earth - more specifically, right on Clock Town, the main setting for the game - and Link can walk around and interact with the citizens and see how they are dealing with the news as the terrible calamity inches closer. Some go about their day, some are terrified, some businesses are open, and some are (eventually) closed. Essential workers - such as the postman - are going crazy because they want to flee but feel obligated to do their duties regardless of the overall risk to their health.

Link can even go into the mayor's office, and watch the befuddled, clueless mayor hem and haw and not make a decision over whether to evacuate the town or the have the annual Carnival of Time festival go on as planned. The soldiers implore him to evacuate, meanwhile the festival organizers say this entire matter is overblown and that the event should still occur.

You can talk to the organizers and construction workers after the meeting and they will complain about how weak and foolish people are for worrying about this...while the giant moon with a hideous leer grows closer and closer right above. By the last day most of the citizen's had fled the town and go to a ranch where they try to have the semblance of a normal life.

And since Link's task is (as always) is to save the world, you have the power to relive the three days again and again, making changes and gaining power to finally stop the moon from crashing down. The repetition becomes numbing, where you go back and forth from pitying the people who at first don't have a clue at what is going to happen, to resenting them. It gets to the point where you don't really care what day it is because it starts to feel like every day is the same over and over again.

Just sayin',

[on a maddening side note, if you'd like to play Majora's Mask, or the epic masterpiece that came before it (Ocarina of Time) right now...tough. You need to have a Nintendo console that is either nearly a decade old (the Wii U or 3DS) or have the original Nintendo 64 (with expansion pack). Please, for the love of god, Nintendo, make these games (either the original or the 3DS remakes) available on the Switch's eshop. You are depriving current and future fans of the series of a wonderful, magical (and cough-profitable-for-you-cough) experience.]

 

Conduct Together: A Good Bad Game or a Bad Good Game?

This game is maddening.

It is a nice simple concept for a mobile timewaster. On a 2D isometric map, guide trains around to pick up passengers at one station and deliver them to another. Make sure the trains don't crash into each other by starting and stopping them and changing the track switches in time. If you move enough passengers within the time limit, you beat the level.

It is hard to tell if they intentionally made this game very hard and frustrating, or whether they screwed it all up and it ended up being hard and frustrating. And not the good sort of hard where you can master the controls and nuances in each level and feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally beat it. There really does seem to be prickly problems with the gameplay that seem borderline unfair and can just drive you nuts.

Either they built in a slight lag when you are trying to use the track switches (so you never get any to move correctly 'in the nick of time' for the approaching train), or they screwed it up. The switches themselves don't follow numerical consistency. Some levels use 1, 2 and 3, some use 1, 2 and 4.

While the cartoony graphics have a certain bit of charm to them, they make it difficult at times to discern which tracks intersect or go above and below each other. It is hard to tell when you are in a safe spot so another train won't hit you, especially on curves. Even when you press on the brakes there is a lag that means you still might get hit. Some levels have architecture and sprites that actually make it difficult to see what is happening on the tracks and at certain switches.

While there is a decent system of unlocking new worlds by earning money by shuffling passengers in the levels, the rewards for passing these levels are the best part of the game...if you're a train fan. You get some cartoon versions of real-life trains to use in the levels, but there aren't any perks or buffs, it's just cosmetic. And for how many actual variations and models of trains there have been throughout history (and the chances are that if you are playing this game, you also like trains), that fact that two of the models available when you unlock the medieval world are just fantasy trains from that period is just disappointing. And not every world grants another vehicle for completing it. Sometimes they just give you money and eventually there aren't new worlds to spend the money on.

At the moment the game is $20 on the Nintendo Switch eShop, but for a decent amount of time it was reduced to a single penny. In terms of how you view this game, that difference in price is huge. It's a great deal if you want to have a heart attack and scream for essentially nothing, and it's stab in the eye and a mouthful of gravel at twenty bucks.

But I...

Can't...

Stop...

Playing Conduct Together.

It's the Dark Souls of disposable mobile games, and fucking hell.

 

The Pillar of Average-ness featuring 'Starlink: Battle for Atlas'

 

By trying to appeal to everyone, you risk disappointing everyone.

This game is a lesser No Man's Sky, a lesser Mass Effect, and a lesser paint-by-numbers kids film, all rolled into one.

Strangely, the odd appeal is that you can practically see the strings (or code) behind the puppet. At no point are taken in by the story, the gameplay, or the graphics (well, the racing segments on the crimson moon are pretty damn good). You are just way too aware that this is a video game and can easily imagine it being put together in Ubisoft meeting rooms and cubicles piece by piece.

The 'famous' line that you only need to find a fun thirty second activity for a video game and then have it repeat really means you have to find a way to disguise this same activity in as many ways as possible.

And when you have a Frankenstein game of cobbled together parts, the unusual thing is the decision to use this literally in the marketing and promotion of the game.

It came with toys, the sort that you would buy at a Best Buy or toy store. You can buy the physical versions of ships that you fly in the game, as well as different parts that you can mix and match (like weapons and wing styles) that would be reflected in Starlink.

Like the game itself, this was a good idea on paper.

But not only would it be an additional purchase on top of the price of the game, it wasn't exactly rolled out and promoted very well.

The game meant to have more updates and toys after the initial release, but when all these plans were cancelled, it was assumed to be because it didn't meet the sales targets.

Maybe people thought you needed to have the toys to play (you don't).

Maybe people thought you needed to have the toys to actually have a good time when you play (you don't, but they don’t enhance it much either).

Maybe people thought that having toys at all was a cheap marketing gimmick, a way to make an extra bit of money, and an attempt to cover up any weaknesses with the game itself (well...).

To make matters worse, Starlink has an odd uncanny valley situation. Their graphics aren't too realistic, but because the humans are paired alongside aliens, they certainly look more realistic and familiar compared to lizard, cat and bird people. But in this game, the corny plot and awkward lines just heighten the uncanniness of the earth-based characters and somehow make the cliched dialogue the aliens speak less awkward.

Bad lines and a stiff performance is bad enough in a movie, but it's magnified in a game where you actually have to interact with these character, sometimes over and over again to complete a mission, quest, or story beat. Saying the same line of dialogue can save time and money in the development process, but can complete drain the realism out of the game-playing experience. On the flip side, games that have a much more cartoonish art style can get away with contrived plots and lines. Be very careful not to sacrifice fun for realism. People play games for the former, and the latter is a nice add-on, but only if it's done properly.

And Starlink's biggest sin is having some tiny little bits of crud that get in the way of the fun (and there is some fun to be had). In a game that is an open world (or really, open star system), knowing exactly what you are supposed to do is essential. Not in terms of how to solve puzzles, mind you. But when you have to go online to figure out how to build something in order to advance the main story, there's definitely some structural problems.

Here's a deep dive example for a game you (probably) haven't played: You are tasked with building a massive Starlink energy tower on a planet once you help your allies on the surface. But you aren't told how exactly to do this. So you take time destroying some of the enemies and wait for a prompt and none comes. You destroy all the enemies and there is no prompt. You start to solve some the puzzles on the planet. No prompt. You start to accept fetch quests from allies. No promotes. Any search for help in your mission files still just says you need to 'help' your allies. After checking online: You find that you need to kill half the enemies and then a new option (build Starlink Tower) will appear in the 'upgrade outpost' selection when you interact with one of the outposts. But there would be no reason to check that selection again to see if anything's changed if you had already upgraded your outposts to the max. [insert ‘disappointed’ meme here]

'Starlink: Battle for Atlas' is unique for being not unique at all. Even the best game has some problems that will bother players, and even the worst game has a few redeemable qualities. And this game manages to be one of the most okay-est out there.

 

 

Gamer Lore:  Daigo's Parry at a EVO 2004

If you know a lot about video games (especially fighting games), you will know what's happening, but you won't believe it.

If you know a little bit about video games, you will see what's happening, but think it's impossible.  The first reaction might be that something is wrong with the programming, that there is a sudden glitch in game play. Chun-Li is unleashing a devastating Super Art move, but Ken isn't taking any damage. It's not possible to avoid a power attack so perfectly, right?

If you don't know anything about video games, it's just some anime characters fighting on TV and then a lot of nerds cheering.

 

 


 

Here's a thought February 2020

 

 

Looking for patterns is ingrained within the human experience.

First and foremost, our biological process (as with all living things) is based heavily on repetition, and our experience with reality around us requires us to memorize, organize and categorize our sensory inputs and make sense of them. We identify patterns both good and bad, and attempt to manage our lives around them.

This occurs within society as well.

It is tempting to believe that we have found patterns when there is no scientific basis for them. This can be both important (trying to figure out why you have recently fallen ill) and frivolous (believing that you 'catch every red light' on the way to work).

Now, when studying history, it is logically impossible for events to repeat themselves, but we can certainly learn much by comparing similar events and trying to plan accordingly for the future (looking at past recessions to try and prevent another from happening).

Quickly advancing/changing digital technology has thrown a wrench into the works, however. Even if we can look to the past for some information on how past societies dealt with issues that are similar to ones we face today, our technology is changing at a pace unseen in history, and consequently, our behaviour is, too.

More so than ever before, we are unable to look to the past for guidance, because the present (and therefore the future) is so unlike even the recent past.

Technology shapes behaviour, and we are in the middle of the greatest change in human history since...ever. And while at first this might seem like hyperbole, it is not so much the change to a digital/virtual experience, but the speed at which it is occurring. The industrial revolution occurred unevenly across the glove over a period of one hundred and fifty years (if we go by late-eighteenth century as the start).

The current digital revolution is affecting the whole world at once, and is only fifty years old (when computers could first start to 'talk' to one another).

It is no wonder so many people are so overwhelmed.

 

In stories, the best villains are the ones you kind of like, respect or just want to see more of. Darth Vader, the Joker, Hans Gruber, Erik Killmonger, Loki...they all have great lines, great plans, incredible powers, and are treated right by the script, the story, and the actors playing them.

Heroes are much more limited when it comes to the traits they can possibly have. Even when you veer into anti-heroes, there's still a character arc of redemption or a new appreciation of positive values. How bad can a hero act before he or she is no longer a hero in anyone's eyes? When a story goes to far, then it's just two bad guys fighting against each other.

The better the villain, the better the hero looks when they final defeat them.

This is not a new phenomenon. In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan/Lucifer was by far the most interesting and engaging character, spitting out lengthy soliloquies regarding morality, individualism and regret (it was the 'yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker' of its time).

 

 

The surveillance state may be inevitable, and in the West we all might be choosing it passively (we add cameras and sensors to our homes, while stores, workplaces, and plenty of public areas do the same, all in the name of protecting you), rather than having it pushed upon us.

And all of this footage is accessible via servers that exist far, far away from the surveilled location. It should be no surprise that since a lot of powerful corporations have access to the information (ostensibly having it ready for you to watch), the government does as well.

London had long been the city with the most CCTV (closed-circuit tv) cameras in the world (ostensibly to discourage/thwart on Ira bombings, back in the eighties and nineties), but more and more of China is getting caught up in this digital panopticon.

Will it comes to the West?

Perhaps the surveillance state will arise during the process of preventing the rise of the surveillance state. The government will start on those it believes to be threats (those that genuinely want to cause harm to the populace, like terrorists), the move onto those who are simply troublesome in its eyes (immigrants, people of colour, union leaders, critics of the government). And if more people criticize, then the surveillance widens, and then everyone can effectively be monitored. In public via cameras, and in private via the GPS on your phone (as well as all the communications - from texting to banking to websites visited - that you do on your phone).

If we grant that the institutions and individuals in power (especially in high concentration) will do everything they can to keep power, then taking these steps are seemingly inevitable. The people who work for these institutions can be a faceless rotating group of citizens who passively believe this is just the way things are now, that it is just their jobs. If the technology can, then people will.

 

 

 

We are treating 'speech' more like 'deed', where someone taking mental/emotional offence to certain ideas or terms can result in widespread criticism and isolation for the speaker. This is the community attempting to police itself due to law and order not yet catching up with what the community deems permitted or prohibited.

No doubt that people who argue that free speech is a basic right and who feel that political correctness can have huge and unanticipated consequences will be disappointed with how 'sensitive' people are supposedly becoming.

Yet it is technology that is dictating these changes. People's physical and digital identities remain separate for now, but this will blur to a greater degree as time marches inevitably forward. While our Twitter handles and Instagram profiles do not have to worry about stick and stones (for our digital identities have no bones), there is still emotional exposure there, and that means words can definitely hurt you (because this immaterial form of interaction is all there is online).

Here the importance of the body lessens, and the importance of the non-corporeal concept of self rises.  What you do becomes less important than what you say. In a place that is non-physical, saying is doing. You can't physically hurt someone in cyberspace, so the wounds you inflict are mental. It is possible to hurt someone('s feelings) without even intending to: Involuntary Thought-Slaughter

 

 

In the 21st century, Art (here using the very broad term, from painting to video games) is expected to be self-aware and participative in its own presentation of its socio-historical context. It is expected that within itself is a defence from anticipated public criticism, whether this includes how it handles matters of politics, social issues, gender or diversity.

This is not necessarily a reasonable expectation.

At the risk of putting too much stock in a quote, 'art is whatever you can get away with.' (McLuhan)

Every artist is also a citizen, and in the role of the citizen they must adhere to the laws of the state, and will ideally treat other with courtesy and respect. Just like every citizen should do. But in the role of the artist, this person should have no such restrictions. Here they can 'play', where no conventions or laws must be adhered to. The story, the painting, or the whatever can be a thousands times for fantastical and beautiful (or ugly and disgusting) than real life. Critics can argue that it is meant to reflect a portion of reality and the artist can shrug and say it doesn't matter what the critics or the public thinks. The act of creation with such freedom is essential to being human.

Of course it also should be acknowledged that art is so tied up with capitalism that is sometimes hard to escape the fact that it is hard to take the higher moral ground of 'free expression' when raking in grands.

 

 

As the world economy becomes more digital and interconnected, the incidental/unexpected effects of political, economic and social decisions multiply.

Environmental changes, the rise in public/private debt, the rapid disappearance of job security. These examples have their own wide and intricate effects on how our civilization operates.

‘A butterfly flapping its wing can create a typhoon across the planet’ is the old adage. Similarly, we do not realize how our individual actions can affect many people in other nations. Every time we buy something – or choose not to buy something, because of a social media post we read – we can alter the sales projections of the company, and the CEO or board members might make decisions for layoffs, cutbacks, or complete reorganizations. And that can affect many people’s lives, not just in the company, but all the other companies it does business with.

This is true in politics as well. The Arab Spring began when a frustrated fruit seller in Tunisia lit himself on fire in the capital in an act of protest over government corruption.

Bad moods can topple governments, 25% off a similar product can bankrupt companies, and every hamburger can raise the sea levels.

 

 

We have become so accustomed to rapidization of our private lives (how quickly we interact with each other, how quickly information/work is shared, how quickly we can have a wealth of tangible items delivered right to us) that we have become much less patient and are not willing to wait for changes and reforms to our political/public lives. Massive projects undertaken by governments - infrastructure, health care programs, redistribution of tax dollars - take longer to create, support and actually work, and it is easy for the public to lose interest or not support it anymore if it does not bear fruit immediately. And the living standards of the state suffers.

Let's not forgot that just how amazing the idea of 'whatever I need can be delivered right to where I live in a matter of hours and whatever I want can be delivered in a matter of days' really is, and how it is changing human society and behaviour.

As more of the global population moves to cities, technology can adapt to them. Realizing that you are almost out of orange juice, you can think, 'next time I'm out doing errands I should pick up another carton', or think, 'I am actually a five minute walk from a store where I can buy it almost immediately', or ultimately realize, 'actually, if I willing to wait a few minutes longer, I can have someone deliver me a carton of orange juice right to my doorstep.'

While this seems mundane, it is actually incredible, and it is unknown how much this can change not only the economics of our society, but our daily standards and expectations of our society.

Rapidly developing technology has altered our conceptions of narratives and meta-narratives. Our access to information and the varying perspectives to this information is near-instantaneous.

The subversion of expectations is baked into our expectations. We are looking back at the same time that we look forward. The time it takes to experience events is conflating. While an abstract, philosophical notion before, now it is how we experience culture, thanks to the internet.

The medium is indeed the message. (McLuhan, again)

 

Internet Rights

The Internet began as the wild west/gold rush, and has become a giant monopolistic enterprise run by a handful of wealthy Silicon Valley gatekeepers, and the next step will be a heavily regulated 'democratization' of this now inescapable and essential component of human society. The Internet is too important to largely be a money-making enterprise for the few.

The very wealthy people who run and own shares in companies like Facebook and Amazon will loathe this transformation (it will be one hell of a haircut to wealthy investors), but there will be a tipping point where what constitutes your identity will change to give more legal protections to your digital information.

Consequently, these companies will no longer be allowed to treat you and your data (which will be viewed as an essential part of yourself) the way they are now.

Certain social media sites will be identified as public squares or a place where a community gathers, and this means they will be nationalized (to varying degrees of regulation). This means there are public sites and apps that can be considered 'separate' from other aspects of your online identity. Certain password protected spaces will be seen as your 'home', and rules about privacy can be applied to them.

To arrange this, you buy 'space' on digital servers that is yours, or you pay a fee to the government so they can set up this way of interacting with the digital realm (and pay it annually for its upkeep). It is like property, and you pay a property tax to retain this space that you will furnish with your data/online identity.

But…will more wealth equal more server space?

 

Filmmakers can decry the dimming/dumbing down of the medium of film, but the truth is that the people who do appreciate what is typically considered to be 'high art' of the movie world have moved onto appreciating similar form of creativity and exploration found in TV, video games (yes, video games), and other artistic endeavours. Nearly one hundred years ago theatre fans and critics were upset when people turned away from that enterprise and instead focused on films, decrying these 'moving pictures' as nothing but a gimmick and a fad.

Times change and so does technology. These other forms of storytelling offer something that movies could not. Streaming means long form episodic storytelling, and video games offer an even more immerse and interactive experience. Not that the movies are 'over' (just like theatre is not over). It is now just going to be sharing the spotlight more with TV and video games.

And video games themselves are changing into unique and artistic experiences at a rapid pace. You are no longer just running around shooting enemies or stomping on their heads. Play as a troublesome goose, annoying townsfolk in the hilarious ‘Untitled Goose Game’. Get your inner David Lynch/Steven Spielberg on with the dark, hypnotic, sci-fi puzzle simplicity of ‘Inside’. Solve a heartbreaking family murder mystery in ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’. Step into the beautiful painting that is ‘Gris’. If all you think about video games is Mario and Call of Duty, there is an incredible world of joyous exploration ready for you now.

 

 

Changes in the Heavens

Early concepts of the afterlife were either for the god-like equivalents on earth (emperors and Kings were welcome to live on, but the regular people were not, such as in Egyptian mythology), or a meditative-like annihilation of self plus infinite regress (Buddhism, Hinduism). The sun always took the centre stage because damnit, that sun was oh so important to human existence then (and now).

In Greek myths, certain 'normal' people interacted with gods, who usually watched from Mount Olympus high above (some of these interactions were against these people's will, as Zeus had a terrible habit of coming down to earth and raping women).

Trying to appease the gods above was done in many ways, but it was always doing whatever the priests in the society said was the right thing to do (funnily enough, it always started with 'listen to the priests'). Not only was it relating to your behaviour, but also sacrifice (typically making an offering of something of value, like an animal you could have eaten).

But this wasn't because you, the average non-king, wanted to live on in the afterlife. That wasn't in the cards. No, you were trying to keep the gods (or god) happy so that they wouldn't curse you or your offspring. These gods apparently meddled in everything. Your crops died? It wasn't because of random bad storms or an increase of locusts. God did that to you because you did something wrong.

With Christianity's rise, the idea of an afterlife available for all that led the proper life god expected of them became the dominant view though the Dark Ages (and was also adapted by Islam) and into the Renaissance. The reward was heaven, more of a place than idea, a paradise, something akin to the myth in the Torah (which both Christianity and Islam sprung from) regarding the garden of Eden.

Depictions of heaven involved the sky, the unattainable, the above, the place with sun, moon and stars, all of which played important symbols in all myths. Where you couldn't get to and couldn't understand...that's where God resides. Because that's what God represented.

 

The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead are probably the greatest American band. Their competitors aren't numerous: The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, REM Pixies, Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan.

[note the intentional omission of solo artists (Dylan, Michael Jackson, etc.), or solo artists that have a regular backing band (Springsteen w/E Street, Prince w/Revolution and others)]

It is a divisive choice (some people really don't like the Grateful Dead), just like America is.

The Grateful Dead are the band that best embodies the sometimes glorious and sometimes ignoble spirit of the United States. A band with its share of luck and fortunate and triumph, as well as curses and tragedy. A band that persevered through old-fashioned hard work (touring and songwriting in the late sixties, early seventies) and became a great success, but was ultimately overcome by bloated excesses (in part through middling studio output post mid-seventies, and the addiction issues with several band members in the late seventies onward). A band of accomplished musicians from different musical backgrounds and whose sum of abilities were much, much greater than their parts. Blues and country covers mixed in with laid back psych rock.

A fusing of generational sounds. A little bit weird, a little bit slow, an experience where you have to ‘buy the ticket and take the ride’.

Those who loved The Grateful Dead loved them a lot, almost unhealthily so. The Deadheads’ (as they are called) passion for the band made the band seem unpalatable to others. Their live shows became a spiritual exercises for hundreds of thousands of people, but that meant they were all worshipping an overweight heroin addict onstage. It’s complicated. Just like America.

But damn if ‘High Time’ (off Workingman’s Dead) doesn’t just get you right in the feels and you just want things to be how they were when everything was fresh and new.

 

 

A Feature That Became a Bug: Set Election Dates

In the 21st century, always having the same day (or month) for a national election has become a terrible liability.

Policy decisions, candidate narratives, and pre-packaged talking points can all be set up on a calendar, revolving around (in the United States’ case) the first Tuesday in November. Budgets for lobbyists, PACS, committees and anyone who wants to put a finger on the scales of power are set up around these election days, years in advance.

Campaigns cost money and spend money, and that means work, both direct (an assistant to the candidate) and indirect (a web-designer for a political website, a hotel owner in Iowa). There is an industry that revolves around campaign season, and that means people are dependent on it growing, not shrinking.

Fundraising results per quarter are like profit results for a company, and the media attempts to equate financial success with electoral success.

Much of the donated money (some from average citizens, some from wealthy citizens, much more through PACs and SuperPACs) is mostly spent on advertising, so it just creates more powerful media companies that spend more time covering the gossip of the campaign rather than the policy.

The candidate has become a CEO of sorts, as well as the product.

It is as if running a political campaign is supposed to be preparation for the challenges you will then face if you win the election, but this only true on a very superficial level. Making politics more like a business inevitably results in frequent interactions with other businesses (read: wealth) and much less frequent interactions with citizenry (read: poor).

Having all this occur on a schedule that is known permanently in advance also creates media coverage like it is a sporting event. With candidates ahead at one moment and behind the next, and whether one of them can ‘win’ a debate to mount a comeback.

All of this has absolutely nothing to do creating sensible government policy for a nation.

 

 

 

 

Die Hard: A Critical Analysis

Reinforcement of conservative values - the reuniting of a family for a traditional religious holiday, the failure of the state (mostly foolish police officers and FBI agents) which means the individual must triumph despite overwhelming odds (fighting bureaucrats and the actual villains)

Class commentary - the powerful men wear fancy suits, have lots of money (either the businessmen at the party, or the terrorists, the latter with expensive fake IDs and military-grade weapons), smile while they lie, can create destruction with a gun or a pen (as Ellis notes), meanwhile the actual good guys are cops in uniforms or plain clothes (or limo drivers, or city hydro workers), speak a lot more plainly and directly, and are just doing their jobs for much less pay

Neo-Colonialism – ‘America’ is now beset on all sides, with Asian businesses setting up in Los Angeles (Nakatomi corporation) and expanding rapidly, and European terrorists here to rob them blind, it is up to an American caught in the middle to assert his dominance, but for his own personal and professional interests (saving wife and hostages, the latter because he’s a cop)

Hero Archetype – the typical qualities of the protagonist and antagonist are turned on their heads, with a mouthy, emotional (anti)hero, and well-dressed, calm villain

Feminist - Holly wants to be seen as completely independent (her own last name despite being married, a high position in the company, how she takes charge during the hostage threat), but still requires a man to save her (at the end of the movie, to truly be free of the villain, her husband must remove the expensive wristwatch the company gave her)

Media – ruthless, invasive and hyperbolic, irresponsibly attempting to be first to report the story, threatening a housekeeper with deportation in order to get access to the hero’s children

 

 

Spacetime and the Buddha

You can't have it both ways

 

In earthly (or planetary) terms, you can't go straight north and straight east at the same time. You can go northeast, but that means you're giving up a bit of both directions.

This basic form of physical limitation is seen in more complicated aspects of human society and individualism.

You can't feed the poor while trying for a state of total enlightenment in a mountain monastery. You have to descend from the higher planes of existence to once again participate in earthly affairs.

God can't meddle on earth unless it has got a little bit of 'earth' inside itself. Hence the constant myths and stories of half-gods. Popularized in Greek myths, but best exemplified by Jesus.

For most of human history ‘god’ was the placeholder term and representative of the unknown, and science has been set against the unknowable because it’s goal to understand and explain how the universe works without relying on an omnipotent agent.

But now we are finding that baked into the basic operations of the universe itself is unknowingness and uncertainty. If the rules don’t break, then they certainly bend. Heisenberg says position and momentum get a bit fuzzy the closer you look, and quantum physics has certain properties and events that go faster than light, like the space in which light itself propagates. Hence:

"if you think you know quantum mechanics, then you really don't know quantum mechanics" - enthusiastic astrophysicist Richard Feynman.

It's not so much that you cannot understand quantum physics, it's that to accept quantum theories and its conclusions you have to acknowledge that there are things that will remain unknown, because this unknowingness is built into the operation of the standard model of physics.

By being alive and engaging with the particles in the universe (in part by being made up of the particles of the universe), we are affecting the outcomes and states of everything in the universe at every single moment. Famously, it's by locating/measuring a particle's position that we affect its trajectory. The particle does something that, if we were not to measure it, it would do differently.

But this happens on a much wider, expansive, permanent scale. Any one particle can affect any other particle, anywhere in the universe, (almost instantaneously). This is quantum entanglement, and it leaves the speed of light in the dust.

These contradictions and impossibilities in science (to say nothing of dark matter and dark energy) are well-trodden ground for those seeking spiritual enlightenment.

Hindu religious texts talk of reaching ‘higher than highest’, Jesus is half-divine as well a being a third of wholeness of god (the other being the concept of ‘father’ and the holy-spirit), and Buddha asks us to renounce the material world even though we are material beings (meaning inevitably to the renunciation of self, since the state of nirvana is meant to be that is beyond individuality).

While science and religion take very different approaches to the question of who we are, the ideas behind them sometimes intersect. Our relationship between the known and unknown greatly defines human experience.

 

 

T2: A Comparison of Two Sequels

 

T2 is film shorthand for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the amazing, mindblowing 1991 follow-up to The Terminator.

T2 is also film shorthand for Trainspotting 2, the very good, beautifully shot 2017 follow-up to Trainspotting.

(And yes, Danny Boyle and the Trainspotting 2 crew had to get permission from James Cameron and his Terminator crew to use that exact shorthand for the marketing and promotion)

The Terminator was a mid-budget action flick from 1984 staring Arnold as a killer robot from the future sent back to murder the woman who would eventually give birth the human rebellion leader who will fight the robots.

Cost $6.5 million, made $78 million.

Cameron's T2 is one of the great action flicks of all time. If it wasn't for the necessity of adding the qualifier 'sci-fi' as well (as one is forced to do with a movie involving time travelling robots), it could almost be considered the greatest (consequently, the correct answer is and always shall be Die Hard).

Trainspotting was a mid-budget comedy-drama flick from 1996 about a bunch of Scottish heroin addicts (and one psychotic drunk). At one point the protagonist goes swimming in a flithy toilet to retrieve some suppositories.

Cost a little over $2 million, made $72 million.

Boyle's T2 is a nostalgia trip on drugs, reuniting the whole cast and highlighting the differences and similarities of the dark side of Glasgow over twenty years (and how it’s gotten both less and more dark).

Trainspotting did for dark comedies what Terminator 2 did for action movies.

Kicked it up a notch.

What Terminator does for one self contained, high-concept sci-fi pitch, Cameron’s T2 does for expands, re-booting (literally re-booting Schwarzenegger as a good robot), and improving the high-concept sci-fi franchise. 

What Trainspotting did for heroin, Boyle’s T2 does for nostalgia, presenting both in an unforgettable, hyper-imperfect visual experience.

And it’s fun to imagine who would win in a fight between T-800 and Begbie.

 


 

 

Here's a Thought Summer 2019

 

What is the solution to the immigration crisis in America (or any country facing this challenge) that will be the one that best exemplifies the greatest moral good?

ONE-Making them citizens immediately. They are processed as new Americans, are given social insurance numbers, and allowed to enter the country freely and begin their life here without restrictions.

Is this feasible from a policy point of view? Yes, but it will require an immediate and massive increase in spending not only to begin this application process, but to provide necessary services (from housing to health to social assistance like food stamps and job training). And even with this starting immediately, it will be a very slow process setting this up, and many immigrants will remain in terrible conditions for longer than anyone would like.

Is this feasible from a political point of view? Certainly not. Conservatives will be against it in totality (and even some democrats will balk), which means passing it in Congress is dead in the water. The general public is not in favour, either. Conservatives and even undecided voters will see it as amnesty, thinking there are already enough Americans who are struggling, and that adding more will hurt, not help.

TWO-A massive and immediate expansion of personnel to process applications more quickly, so the people will no longer have to wait in the camps and cage and can wait within the country until there are further hearings regarding their application. Because of more personnel working, the waiting times for these hearing will be shortened, and the amount of people being accepted as refugees would expand widely.

Is this feasible from a policy point of view? Yes, but it will still require a large increase in spending for the expanded personnel (as well as more training, because there may not be enough qualified people available to fill all newly open positions). It will also be a slow process setting all this up, so terrible conditions will continue for some time.

Is this feasible from a politics point of view?  Almost certainly not. Republicans will see this not much different than 'making them citizens' (and even a few democrats will balk), which means it won't pass in Congress. The general public will be a bit more split, with conservative media focussing on the spending and some xenophobic talking points, while a larger chunk of the undecided voters being in support of it.

THREE-A massive Marshall Plan-like spending and investment package for Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, to fight the violence and gangs in the countries, which spur so many people to leave them and try for life in the United States. This will also include infrastructure spending and job training. Ideally this will cause fewer people to attempt to cross into America through Mexico.

Is this feasible from a policy point of view? Yes, and considering the amount of money America already spends on defence, taking billions of dollars out of the practically bottomless Pentagon budget on this investment/aid package is not a huge deal. This sort of non-military spending by the military has always been the most efficient way to promote American ideals worldwide (much more effective than bombs). Since it comes from the defence budget, it can probably be set up, sent off and spent quicker than options A and B. Although its will take longer for the changes to take effect.

Is this feasible from a policy of view? Maybe. The liberals will appreciate the nation-building approach and 'less inhumanity at the border'. It can be sold to the conservatives as a responsible form of spending (as it can get 'lost' in the Pentagon's books), and that it is ultimately going to 'defending the border', even if it's being used further south.

 

 

The rise of AI/automation is only one of the hurdles that are going to affect the next generation of workers.

While this technology advance does mean fewer jobs (yes, some new ones will be created within this new industry, but not the same amount of being lost), a larger problem is the type of job that is becoming more and more popular: Temporary work. More forms of employment being offered these days (and moving forward), are freelance or contract, with less and less stability and almost no benefits.

Unfortunately, the jobs that are unaffected by automation and might have more job security aren't paying enough these days, either. There seems little to suggest that recent forced minimum wage increases are going to match with cost-of-living increases. These include food, medicine/health, rent, tech necessities, and of course attempting to pay off already existing debt. You can't really save when it comes to this sort of economic environment, and that means never affording a down-payment on actual property. Which is problematic.

In the past, the house was the one thing middle class people had to 'leverage' when they needed money in a pinch. Now people can barely afford houses from the get-go. And if you (and your partner, if applicable) do find a way to save up to actually buy a house or condo, you have to not get laid off, otherwise you'll miss one payment and lose everything. More so than ever in the past, people today are not saving, are constantly borrowing, and are putting all their money into a property that they will not wholly own for decades.

 

 

God is love, and the beatitudes should be more popular than the Ten Commandments, but you'll be forgiven (ha) for not noticing this when you take a look at the massive apparatus that is the Catholic Church, or any Christian denomination (big or small).

Of course, Jesus is/was always more about personal philosophy and reflection than any sort of organizational structure. Telling Peter to 'feed my sheep' is not exactly helpful when it comes to creating a religion that has thousands, then millions, then hundreds of millions of followers around the world. In some ways, what Christianity has become is the exact opposite of what Jesus seems to have meant.

Today, 'christianity' is not seen as a benevolent force of piety, sacrifice and generosity. It is only against things, it shames or attacks people who they feel live in contravention to religious laws, and it is unwilling to change. It doesn’t help that the leaders of Christian groups are extremely wealthy, even those that take vows of poverty.

There is very little Christ here.

 

Do you think you'll go to heaven?

Well, it depends on your idea of heaven.

In fact, this supersedes even whether you believe in heaven (ha!), because if you don't believe in heaven (and the god associated with it), but there ends up being one, it depends if this heaven immediately judges non-believers as inadmissible, or whether their actions on earth are the qualifiers, regardless of belief (if you don't believe in heaven, but are an incredibly charitable and kind person, do you get in? It depends on the rules of heaven, even if you never believed it existed).

If you believe in heaven, then it depends on the God/theology associated with it, and whether you followed the rules to get in. Oh, but what rules? As far as Judaism/Christianity goes, the 10 Commandments are a good start, but everyone has broken at least one commandment (you can't be lying, aka, 'bearing false witness', and chances are you've coveted something in your life), so it depends on the type of forgiveness method you believe in (does god immediately forgive all your sins if you're a believer, or do you have to spend in time in purgatory as penance before getting to go into heaven?). Plus, there's the beatitudes (good ways of acting), which are a bit more of a sliding scale, because it's easier to rate whether you avoided bad things than to rate how many good things (and of what quality) you did.

And you know, it's pretty prideful to think you're a shoe-in for heaven in the first place, and pride is one of the seven deadly sins...

 

We're Still at (Back to?) Nature vs. Nurture when it comes to Issues with Gender Equality

-differences that are socially constructed need to confronted and collapsed, and this is being done slowly but surely (ideally this process would be sped up)

-differences that are biologically constructed need to be better understood and...what else? What do we do with these differences? How do we deal with the physical size disparities and different levels of testosterone and estrogen between the men and women? On both as a whole and on an individual basis (because there are innumerable differences between members of the same sex)? How do these physiological differences influence our societal constructs? How can we prevent these biological differences  from getting in the way of social equality? Think how much can change when we alter our perspective of what women and men are capable of. And if you think that these are set in stone and that 'men are like this, and women are like that', well, we're actually on the cusp of being able to edit human genomes, and soon physical characteristics are whatever you want them to be. We can bridge many differences between men and women, but we shouldn’t do this without asking questions about what these differences mean.

 

 

 

If an asteroid was going to hit earth in twelve months, we have to launch a rocket with a craft attached that will 'tug' it out of the trajectory that will hit earth well before   the day it's going to hit. It wouldn't make a difference tugging for only several hours from that distance. It needs to intercept this asteroid when it was much, much further back from earth. That could mean months before the asteroid hits earth. So suddenly we have to build and launch a rocket in eight months, because if it took any longer it wouldn't be have enough time to move the asteroid out of the way.

Eight months is a ridiculous amount of time to build a new rocket that has to do something that's never exactly been done before (closest we've done so far is landing a probe on an asteroid), with a craft that's never been built before, to do a planet-saving task that's never been tried before.

Even if you have strict schedules of 'no matter how far in development, hand the plans to the builders by this date', the amount of unknowns and untested elements will multiply.

It would be incredible if it doesn't explode on the launch pad (or at max-q, or have something malfunction on the voyage towards the asteroid, or smash into the asteroid, or 'tug' at the asteroid ineffectively). And if it explodes on the launch pad, then we have nothing to do for those four months but wait for our inevitable demise.

 

 

Laziness

'The path of least resistance' - it's how elementary particles work, and it's how human beings work.  We have the tools in front of us to be healthy, well-informed, and considerate to other people, but because it's easier to not do these things, we do not. Even when we acknowledge that it's important to take a short term problem for a long term gain, we rarely do.

It's easier to eat junk food/sit on the couch, just read the headline, and send 'thoughts and prayers', than it is to eat healthy/exercise, read many in-depth articles, and actually volunteer to help those in need or march for a cause you believe in.

This is not because we are immoral beings. We certainly do have morals and sets of values. It's just that when it comes to following them...we're lazy.

 

 

How Long Could You Last Without a Supermarket?

It's incredible how well this system of international trade and commerce works. Putting aside the fact at how terribly it can exploit human labour all along the process of creation that ends on your kitchen table or in your living room, it is astonishing that this trade/transport system fails so infrequently. Even significant delays or setbacks like a machine breaking down in a factory, or a huge portion of them being defective, or a shipment being tied up at a port because of red tape, or a problem with tariffs, are the exception, not the rule. Another reason Amazon is so impressive is how quickly it get everything to you. How they have to perfect the shipping system at every angle to make it work.

And yet it's still so fragile. There are so many interconnected aspects to this system that can collapse because of a different part of the global economy slips up. Like houses defaulting on their loans in one area of the world can set a series of events in motion that will make your apples much more expensive.

Whether it's Amazon or your local grocery store chain, we will run out of stuff.

There is going to come a point where we have to decide whether to accept a huge curtailing of choice in our products and services (either they will no longer be available, or they will so difficult to obtain that few could afford them), in order to conserve the resources used to make/offer them for future generations.

This means certain foods, certain types of clothing, certain types of electronics, certain types of vehicles, certain types of transport/travel, etc.

To many people this will be views as a curtailing of freedom, because buying a hamburger whenever you want one, or driving whatever kind of car you want is the act of freedom itself (even though this act is dependant of you having money for the burger or SUV). As far as responsibilities go, it will have to be the government who is no longer allowing you the variety of choices you once had.

For millions of people, this change will look like fascism, not like the necessary sacrifice to ensure that human civilization can continue for decades, centuries, etc. And it certainly shows how much we have the materialist culture ingrained in us, that a restriction on things we can buy is seen as an assault on freedom, meanwhile disenfranchisement from the political process (power) is treated with little more than a shrug.

 

 

 

The Odds that we understand odds are against us

80% sounds like a lot. If that amount of people support something that much - especially in our modern world where it feels* like every political issue and reaction to a TV series is bitterly divided down the middle - then it's definitely going to...what? 80% approval means a bill will pass, a TV show will get renewed, a new condiment will have knockoffs within a month, right?

[* - one hell of a problematic word, an unscientific method that has shaped an ungodly amount of human civilization]

Our concept of numbers is terrible, and it can't really be blamed on how much we hated derivatives in high school. It's more of a practical issue, where beyond the simple math of figuring how much things cost, and then doing some percentage work for tips and interest rates, we don't really use it. Now, the machines that power pretty much everything in our lives use it incessantly, and the scientists and engineers behind these inventions and many other discoveries in many different disciplines need to know algebra, calculus, and trigonometry just to get started. But that's a very small segment of the population who actually know the 'secret' that is the foundation of our modern world.

The lottery is the go-to Pinata for proof that people don't understand math. The odds are so absolutely terrible that you will win, but it doesn't stop people from buying tickets in droves. In fact, when there's a bigger jackpot, even more people buy, which lower everyone's chances.

[same phenomenon, sadder result: the more people who participate in voting, the less your individual vote actually matters. But vote! Oh, for the love of dog, please vote!]

Even better odds, like 1 in 3, aren't properly understood. The basic understanding is that if the odds are 1 in 3 that the dog is going to jump off the dock and make it into the boat, what is being implied is that if the dog tried the jump three times, she would make it once. But that's no guarantee that it will happen once in three tries. It might happen twice in three tries, or once in four tries. 1 in 3 is just the mathematical average (for scientists) or guesstimate (for Vegas oddsmakers) of how likely the event will occur. Even with a six-sided die, the odds are obviously 1 in 6 that you'll roll a five or one or any number, but that doesn't mean if you roll the die six times that each number will show up once. You can roll it six times and you might get four three times, get one two times, and three once, etc.

The '1' when you say '1 in 6' isn't a guarantee of 1. Heck, even the 80% we mentioned at the start (translation to odds: 4 in 5), isn’t a guarantee. They’re both averages. And they can still fuck you.

 

 

Marketing went from Madison Avenue (it doesn't matter if product A actually tastes or works better than product B, we just have to convince the public that it does) to Wall Street (it doesn't matter if your investment portfolio includes companies that are squeezing money from poor people who have nowhere else to turn, we just have to convince most of the public that we aren't squeezing all the money from all the poor people) to the White House/government power (it doesn't matter if what we claim is true or not, we just have to convince most of the people that it is true).

When it comes to the Madison Avenue phase, it didn't matter that much if you thought Pepsi was better than Coke or vice-versa, but when this sort of 'selling' of ideas occur in the halls of power, that truth and policy become a marketing gimmick, then what hope does a free society have?

 

 

Pyramids

Pyramids are extremely old structures with plenty of power behind them. Practically, they were the easiest way to get higher, with their unnatural inclines getting you a little bit closer to the ceiling that is the sky, which certainly played into its religious significance, since that's where the gods (sun, moon) are. And they were really hard to build back then. Of course you were going to let a king be buried there. That's how you know they (the structure, the king) were important. The best known is the four-sided pyramid, with a square base (impressive mathematical exactness for five thousands years ago).

From a 2D perspective, it is a triangle, one of the most important basic shapes in the universe, a wonderful way to show other intelligent beings (say, aliens) that we understand math (the Pythagorean theorem).

This shape has also 'shaped' societies. A triangle has become hierarchical representation of society, depicting the few with power on the top, and the ever increasing amount of people with much less (or broad) power the further down you go. It's is an extremely important teaching tool, being the go-to shape to tell us about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the foods we should eat, and how to properly choke someone.

 

 

There is no biological evidence/markings/information within you that is linked to the day you were born. It is a completely social construction, based on the much more event-centric fact which simply is the day you came out from between your mother's legs (or were removed via Caesarian due to complications). But it is a socially-based fact (within the Gregorian calendar), one that your mother and doctors will remember, and perhaps it was even filmed or photographed (maybe not the exact birth moment). And this counts as the proof of when it happened according to everyone around and - if it ever had to be acknowledged - in the court of law.

There's no medical test, though, that can be administered which will give the result of your body being – for example – thirty two years, one hundred and twenty nine days old. As far as the collection of cells that makes up 'you', you'd already existed for nearly nine months, and the day you stop floating in an amniotic sac and emerged into the world was just a really weird thing that happened.

It is surprising in some ways that this is not used by anti-abortion advocates, but it might have something to do with the logical conclusion that if the sperm and egg are always 'alive' on some basic level, then there is no time of conception, that life is a constantly (over)flowing process.

It does remind us that the birthday is more for practical purposes than anything else.

 

 

CNN Polls show that most Americans don't see the findings of the Mueller report an important factor for voting in 2020:

(https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/20/politics/poll-of-the-week-mueller-report/index.html)

This is a terrifying statistic. In the sense that one would be more worried about the economy, health care, climate change and social issues than about some he-said, he said executive decisions a bunch of Justice Department lawyers are investigating into in DC, it's understandable, because the Mueller report doesn't affect your day to day.

But the Mueller report looked into the very core of what responsibilities leaders have and are accountable to in what is supposed to be a functioning democracy.

It is utter madness that it's clear a foreign power influenced a presidential election, that the candidate they wanted to win ultimately did, and that this candidate-turned-president tried to stop the authorities into looking into this attack (and the candidate's possible assistance to it) on several different occasions.

In a functioning democracy, it shouldn't even have to reach impeachment proceedings. The politician who took advantage of and did all this should have the good sense to resign in shame.

On the other hand, why should they, if the citizens seem to be okay with it:

(https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/america-fine-collusion/587701/)

Also:

(https://youtu.be/f71Rasj_0JY)

This legal analysis explains that the framework of the investigation meant Trump could not be indicted for any crime. So it was a matter of finding him 'not guilty' or not not guilty'. They found him the latter.

Trump has tested the entire corporate-political-legal system of the United States, and has broken every piece of it. He imagines himself King Midas, but he is the reverse. Everything he touches turns to shit.

He broke every 'norm' of campaigning, of releasing your tax returns, of diplomatic sense, of social decorum, of following human rights, of respecting your political opponents, of supporting your intelligence agencies, etc.

 And enough people in power and across the nation let him.

The laws are warped enough that he can just barely evade the repercussions. This is not a functioning democracy.

 


 

Here's a Thought February 2019

 

 

Are we really going to get out of Low Earth Orbit with capitalism?

SpaceX really will change everything, if a corporation goes interplanetary before 'people' (that is, a government agency that represents a nation or a series of nations working together).

Certainly SpaceX has been standing on the shoulders of (institutional) giants to get where they are today, and it's essential to acknowledge that the more private side of the military/industrial complex has always had plans for space, but it is moving forward with grand plans that dwarf any current government space program initiatives.

There's money in satellites, but is there money in Mars? Enough money to justify the expense and the risks? Not yet. It is absolutely impressive what SpaceX has achieved, but it's going to be mindboggling if a corporation lead by an extremely forward-looking and idealistic CEO accomplished this before a nation. And even if Musk personally has more altruistic reasons to create a Mars colony than to turn a profit, his investors and shareholders may not feel the same.

It's heartening that NASA is doing a great job sending crafts to Mars so successfully.

But we have to be ready for something to go wrong in this plan to get to Mars that would cost money, time and (unfortunately) human lives.

 

Even if we are able to travel and set up a civilization on Mars, we should never lose focus on the importance of taking care of the long term health of our own planet, which at this point clearly requires some important energy and emissions reforms as soon as possible. We have to keep the earth functioning at the very least, and ideally healing and improving it.

Because if we don't, and we just shuffle on to Mars...and then the next planet...that means we're becoming the parasitic alien invaders in Independence Day.

Humility is required for space travel. To be only wildly egotistical and overconfident will result in conflict and failure. To understand and accept the many risks that could befall (especially in the early years) of this permanent change to human existence, you must accept the great randomness of terrible outcomes. And then try again.

While science and technology plays a dominant role in this process, humanity could do well to remember and old religious saying (while not necessarily applying anything divine to it), 'there but for the grace of God go I'.

 

 

If Donald Trump is smart at anything, it's not the kind of smarts that is necessary or useful for being president.

Donald Trump is a good salesman. He can sell anything, he can charm and excite people, and convince them to give him their money. Whether it's hotels, condos, steaks or mortgages, he can sell it. Which is why he transitioned to game show host pretty easily (and sadly, political candidate as well).

But Donald Trump is a terrible businessman, and whatever you buy from him is probably a rip-off, and he will try to use any trick in the book to not give you any of your money back, even if you clearly and legally deserve it.

And Donald Trump is not just a good salesman and terrible businessman, he's also arrogant and ignorant, which are terrible qualities to have as a person, let alone as the person who leads the most powerful nation on earth.

It's bad enough to buy something from a man like Trump, but to do business with him is so, so much worse. And that's what everyone in America is finding out. By voting for him, the citizens are in business with Donald Trump.

And it's awful.

 

What will happen in the wake of the release of the Mueller Investigation's findings depends heavily on what type of democracy you believe America is right now.

It's likely that if presented with sufficient evidence, the Democrats will unite together for an impeachment vote. But its success will be dependent on how many Republican politicians in both the house and senate will support these articles.

Now, do you believe that politicians primarily listen to their constituents? Does the politician primarily listen to special interests? To a certain sets of moral values, the almighty dollar, the sole goal in getting re-elected?

When the strongest 'influence' wants the politician to 'dump trump', that's when they'll do it.

 

It's not just that people are being politically manipulated to take a certain position on policy or law, it's that people are being politically manipulated to not participate in political discourse at all (either by being targeted with cynical messaging that insists that the system is too hypocritical, corrupt and broken to really fix, or by restricting the ability to vote).

Apathy and indifference to how politics operates in a democracy is poisonous for that democracy.  And those qualities are constantly matched with ignorance, which can be even more dangerous, because that allows the possibility of only understanding a certain perspective of policies that might be wildly inaccurate.

 

Cause, Distance, Time

Earth's great. We've figured out how to harness the speed of light and send information at that speed, and earth's comparatively tiny for how very, very (very) fast this is (almost 300,000 kilometres per second), so it all works great. Thanks to this, we are all immediately connected across the planet by wireless radio signals zipping in and out of the devices in our back pockets.

Even the distance of the earth to the moon is great (384,000km), in both senses of the word. It's close enough to make the best possible understanding of how fast light is. It takes a little over a second for light to go from the earth to the moon. It’s a good visual marker for something so fast. Take a deep breath in. That's how fast light - and information - gets to the moon. One second's not much of a delay. It makes it easy to operate or converse with equipment or people with people on the moon (if there were any currently).

But space is, in this regard, not so great. Space is a huge pain in the ass in this regard, emphasis on huge. Between three and twenty two minutes to converse with Mars, depending on how close the two planets' orbits are. And stars? That’s why they’re called light-years.

 

 

Capitalism is not the best fit for humanity because it does not properly take into account the fallibility of humanity. If we made every single one our choices based on rational, functionalist thought, then capitalism would be the ideal economic system for society.

But we do not.

And in the bigger picture of comprehending what it means to be human we should understand our flaws and to some degree try to accept them, fix them or at the very least work around them.

But this idea of flaw reinforces why free-market capitalism cannot work.

To vilify greed is nothing new, but we are at a point where those who have in inordinate amount of power will dismiss such actions, and certainly bristle or shrug at the idea that they are greedy, that it is a terrible to act as such, and that these policies are harming many, many other people across the globe. It's not that capitalism celebrates these terrible views or conditions. It's that capitalism doesn't care. 'Caring' is not relevant. Emotions are not relevant. You will all be assimilated. For free-market supporters, there is an amoral acceptance to this, there is the explanation that this ''the way things are', that this 'is the best system we can come up with'.

This is a fleeing of responsibility, a blindness to the state of the human condition. But it gets worse because economic division breeds other divisions. Baser, disgusting divisions such as bigotry, sexism and racism. When there is less money to go around for most people in a community/town/nation, resentment builds, assumptions and prejudices strengthen, and misinformation reigns.

These results may not be capitalism's goal, but it is certainly one of capitalism's inevitable byproducts.

 

Of course, if capitalism is too cold and robotic for humanity, then communism is too naive and impossibly utopian (for now, anyway).

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Greenspan testified that he didn't think it would happen because he assumed people would not take so much risk. He assumed people would act like robots, and surprise, they didn't, because we aren't robots, we’re people who have the capability to be short-sighted and greedy.

Communism's a joke, too, for the same reason. Our worries and fears about our own well-being for the present and the future preclude us from ever sacrificing and sharing enough to create such a utopian/utilitarian world where ownership is fluid and leisure is practically indistinguishable work (because you'd only have to work when you feel like it). It's as if Marx's end goals for communism were wildly optimistic, requiring not only a change of how we see products and services, but how we see ourselves.

[Side note: To 'see' it in action, Star Trek is communist. No money, no financial exchange for goods and services, people choose to work if they want, and only if it interests them. Meanwhile Star Wars leans capitalist, since Han Solo is always making deals and worrying about money and debt, and it's a lot more chaotic]

So clearly the solution is a merger of the two, and since the industrial revolution a mixed-market economy has existed to varying degrees. When it leaned heavier to free markets, the rich got super-rich and the poor got poorer. To correct this (most notably in the wake of the Great Depression), increased taxes and regulation were enacted, and wealth was redistributed and poverty decreased (and there was a strong middle class). At the moment of this writing, in the closing of the 21st century's second decade, the world is leaning heavily into free-market capitalism, and the middle class is dying. A restructuring is almost certainly inevitable.

 

Once money - and to be more specific, large amounts of special interest money - got into politics, it was never going to come out. You can't unwind the clock on that. Politics has always been about instruments of power - like controlling who could vote (which is making a comeback in some areas) - and now money is the chief instrument.

How much cash a candidate or party has raised is celebrated like quarterly profit earnings by a massive company. Citizens United quietly sealed the lid on the coffin that housed American Democracy.

 

 

 

General Strikes

There should be more general strikes, not just because it would be a comparatively more efficient means of protest and advocacy for the working class, but also because it would give the populace an opportunity to experience 'not getting everything you want at the click of a button or tap of a screen'. And this is not meant to be a 'kids these days don't know how good they have it' take, but a reminder at how fragile the 'just in time' product supply chain truly is, and how it depends on so many moving parts (which should really be 'people', not parts).

For several generations, we have been marketed to by companies and (to a lesser extent) institutions, and the general message is that we deserve everything, that this product or service will make you happier in ways you didn't think was even important, and don't worry about the payment plan or second guess yourself, just say yes. Technology has been able to give us so much for so cheap that we are much too dependent on this unsustainable, completely manufactured ecosystem.

Some strikes at some big companies might just remind us what we do and do not have, what we need and do not need, and what we can't afford to lose.

 

 

 

The erroneous assumption in comedic material is that it is also the personal views of the comedian saying them. This is not at all true. The ultimate goal of any routine, no matter how political or relating to current affairs, is to make a joke, not a serious point.

Now admittedly this has blurred over the years, as the last several decades of comedy involve more personal and anecdotal stories of the comedian, sometimes using the stage as a confessional with jokes sprinkled it (none of which might be true, but they are typically made to sound true, to sound like a story that actually happened to them). So if a comedian tells a joke about their girlfriend/boyfriend and/or spouse (whether they have one or not), it will come off as a personal truth, and the audience will assume that they are seeing the 'real' person onstage. Then if they have a riskier joke next (having a flippant or dismissive punchline about sex, race, religion, etc.), people might assume they're being honest there, too. Some audience members (or people on the Internet) have been fooled into believing what the comedian says onstage is what the comedian thinks offstage.

But regardless of this communication error, the condemnation for anything a comedian says onstage (in their act, which is a term meant to suggest 'not real') is ridiculous. That it is held to the same scrutiny as a comment or opinion that a politician, CEO, or celebrity would have about a serious or controversial topic is ridiculous. That we look to comedians as truth-telling heroes says a lot about how cynical we typically see other public figures.

 

 

People aren't getting more sensitive, the same percentage of sensitive people are out there. Thanks to the Internet, they are just connected to each other all the time, and are exposed to a lot of material that they probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. The 'outrage industry' doesn't pay well, but it's easy to participate. Pop culture websites are always on the lookout for any sort of story that might get them clicks (read: paid). Sure obsessing over movie trailers and tv show easter eggs are nice, but nothing brings moths to a flame like what a comedian said that might upset a group of people. Even the writer of the article doesn't have to really be personally offended. Just write a piece around a video link and let angry people tear each other to pieces in the comments ('it's terrible!' 'It's just a joke!').

A comedian says something they don't mean, a writer posts an article on it they don't care about, and people who will forget about it two days later post like piranhas. At least the first two people got paid. 

 

 

The power of God is nothing. The power of the belief in God is everything.

The power of God resides solely with God. Its power on earth is limited to those who believe in it, and what they are willing to do on its behalf. And if you aren't willing to die for your religious beliefs, then you don't have any religious beliefs.

The whole point of religion is that it explains the purpose and end result of death, and those that accept this are rewarded when they die. Why would you deny your beliefs to stay alive when by dying for them you're going to a better place? For true believers, sacrifice is the grand opportunity to prove yourself.

Is it because so many people balk at this moment of truth, when the kernel of doubt over this entire belief system of 'more life' balloons into an overwhelming fear that maybe they backed the wrong horse?

 

 

Humanity has not found intelligent life anywhere else in the universe, and perhaps it is because we are one of the first to actually achieve this level of intelligence. And this is not meant in a boastful way, but to suggest that maybe life going from single cell to multicellular is so absolutely difficult and unlikely across the whole universe. On countless other planets something always goes wrong during the time (hundreds of millions of years) to get beyond bacteria. Like a big rock (or several big rocks) hitting the planet, or there's too much of one chemical or not enough of another above, on, or under the surface. Our (failed) attempts to recreate the process of making living things out of non-living things in laboratories gives credence to this.

Maybe this will become less of a problem as the universe continues to expand. Maybe odds and time haven't been in life's favour until now. Maybe over the next billion years or so more intelligence life will appear across the universe, because the universe has finally existed long enough for the opportunities to arise.

On the other hand, perhaps in many other places life emerged so effortlessly that it took a comparatively fast time to do the single-cell-multicellular-spinal-cord-discovering-fire-smartphone-interplanetary-travel-achieving-higher-levels-of-existence thing, and that we’re a half-baked bunch of water-filled dummies who can't figure it out.

 

 

The inevitability of Migrant Caravans

It is human nature to flee extreme poverty and violence. People go to what they perceive to be a safer area. Ending up in migrant camps in the United States or particular European countries are still better choices than the countries these people are fleeing from.

If you are faced with 'I am going to die here', you are going to leave, and borders mean less than ever before, in the sense that every country participates however well it can in the global capitalist marketplace. And every person will try to go and reside in a country where a country can do and offer the most in this marketplace.

In terms of providing a sustainable existence for the poor and lower classes, there is barely a country to speak of. And the idea of saying, 'stay in your own country of Honduras or Yemen or Sudan and fix it, don't come to America' (or anywhere else), ignores the larger problem of being penniless and at the mercy of gangs, with no institution to protect them. There's not much of a 'Honduras' to fix, because these people are so disenfranchised from a country that cannot address any of these problems successfully.

Every country - willingly or not - is turning into a service for this marketplace. The inability of many nations to enact financial an economic reforms that would benefit the populace is evidence of how powerful this system is. It primarily benefits the rich as it offers less and less for the many, and in several countries this means more and more people have no choice but to leave their home nation. A capitalist economic policy has warped these nations into a single global state that only follows one rule: greed is good.

In some sense, there is no Honduras. Or Mexico. Or even America.

 

Bullies versus Nerds

If conservatives are bullies, all swagger, brashness and pushing people around to show how tough the are, then liberals are the nerds trying to appeal to everyone's reason and seemingly common sense. And while this might be seen as lighthearted allegory, when it comes to politics, too many bullies can overwhelm the fragile system of checks and balances. Suddenly sensible ideas and respectful behaviour is thrown out the window, and anyone who speaks up has their glasses broken. Throughout history, when bullies get power, even more devastated chaos reigns. Bullies have no policy except 'fuck you, I'm right, you're wrong, shut up', no matter how much reason and evidence the nerds can offer.

It's bad enough on the schoolyard, it's worse on the global stage.

But bullies can appeal to the masses because there is the hope that if you get along with them, they'll protect you. Forgetting the fact that bullies are...bullies, and will turn on you at any time if they think it'll help them.

And nerds seem so pathetic and weak, especially when bullies make fun of them and seem so superior when they beat them at this or that. Even though nerds would be so much more helpful in fixing the problems that are plaguing society.

But no one feels that good supporting nerds, it doesn't feel like they can protect or help us. Instead, we have to find the courage in ourselves to vote for nerds.

 

 

When we disagree on weather, then we are well and truly fucked.

Hurricanes depend on warm waters, more water is warming more quickly, so the storms will be bigger and more frequent. The reason the water is warming because of increased CO2 emissions, which captures and prevents the reflection of sunlight, which shines on the oceans, heating them up. CO2 emissions are increasing because we are burning more and more fossil fuels, which creates the energy we need to live in a global civilization.

There are fewer and fewer people who will disagree with this statement, but many of the powerful people who disagree would lose a lot of money if something substantial was done to address this issue.

The importance of how this denial is manifested cannot be understated. A coordinated campaign to dis/misinform the public is becoming a more powerful tool for political and corporate interests. How close are we to denying much more recent moments in history, many of which have been archived perfectly thanks to audio-visual recordings?

There have always been periods in the history of human civilization that we know very little about (because any sort of written accounts that may have been made have disappeared), or have contrasting information concerning, or find a clearly bias account of the events made by the victors (who have always a larger say in historical records).

But now video evidence of events or what a person said at a podium or in an interview is being considered disproven by a segment of the population because the person involved in these events simply denied it, said it was a fake recording or video.

It is a trust in someone that borders on dangerous ignorance. If you deny someone said or did something despite evidence, then what sort of society that we live in?

This sort of dissonance cannot hold.


 

Here's A Thought July 2018

 

 

Geography Help Destroy US Democracy

With America broken up into 50 states based on mostly arbitrary straight lines (plus the odd river), and with two powerful politicians representing each one, there can be an incredible imbalance of power when there are massive disparities between population in these states.

California has thirty nine million people and several different geographic and climactic regions, and they have the same amount of senators as Wyoming (580,000), South Dakota (870,000, and combined with North Dakota, 1.6 million) and Rhode Island (1 million and only 3100 square kilometres). This is grossly inefficient. These sparsely populated states certainly need to have a powerful representative in Congress, but they can't have the same power over far reaching federal decisions as the states that are much, much larger in terms of people, because that it what the government is for: To help as many people as possible, not the most amount of land as possible.

The entire world is moving to a more urban environment and thanks to an outdated model of senatorial governance, America is not prepared for this present and future.