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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
"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
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 (
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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 wasn’t 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?
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
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 Planck’s 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 isn’t 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.
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.
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?
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.
(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-
The Lessons of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’
They are universal and timeless.
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 it’s 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.
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:
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.
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 () 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.
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
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...
(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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
-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:
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:
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 we’re 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.
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’.
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
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:
(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.
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 it’s 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'?
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"
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.
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.
[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.
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)
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.
'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 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:
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:
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.
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.
entire world is moving to a more urban environment and thanks to an
outdated model of senatorial governance,
Know who else fell for the 'you're so special and can grow up to be anything you want' myth? The parents telling these things to their kids, who went through their own stages of frustration, misunderstanding, and resignation as their offspring didn't succeed in the way they did (largely in part because they were living in a vastly different world when it came to long term career-style employment). Parents will ignore the needs of the community in order to support the whims of their children, and by doing so, they forget that their children will ultimately live in this community.
God, what an important, succinct piece:
It's time to retire the notion that free market capitalism promotes competition. It allows for large corporations to easily crush the competition and manipulate the populace into believing they have a choice between good and services.
It's particularly heinous in this above example, as credit cards have become a tool that keeps people in a spiral of debt, and now there is a feedback system in place that rewards the already wealthy with bonus points and punishes the poor with higher prices.
Does anyone in the upper echelons of power ever ask how much is too much when it comes to squeezing money out of the poor? Not necessarily out of moral concerns (although that due to how much debt the poor is being forced to carry, just to be able to afford to survive?
Or is the vision of making money (or believing in a certain economic theory/orthodoxy) in this particular instance so narrow that they can't see the bigger problems that might occur?
Oh great, now sports have also become victims in the dying of smaller American cities:
Thankfully the NBA's socialist distributing of money can help stem the losses, but nine teams still finished in the red.
How does an already smaller city like Charlotte or Memphis or Oklahoma City be able to 'keep' a basketball team? And that question is really how a city can appease the team owner's thirst for making money? A new arena has been the common attempt, but it's become clearer that they just take hundreds of millions of dollars from other, more important budget demands.
And spending in cities is already difficult, since they're strapped for cash. A life for most middle class families in this town are also stretched thin. There's not a lot of money to spend on professional sports, and woe betide the city that tries to double down on keeping a team by throwing money at it instead of actual municipal services.
And now, an excerpt from Cicero's Letters to Atticus, circa 59BC:
"Well, we are held down at all sides. We don't object any longer to the loss of our freedom, but fear death and expulsion as greater evils, which are really far lesser. All with one accord groan over the present state of affairs, yet no one does or says a thing to better it. The object of the people in power, I imagine, is to leave nothing for anybody else to give away.
"The whole situation has reached a point at which no hope remains of even magistrates, let alone private individuals, ever becoming free men again. Yet in the midst of this suppression of liberty conversation is less inhibited than it used to be, at social gatherings, that is, and over dinner tables. Indignation is beginning to get the upper hand of fear, not however as so to lift the cloud of blank despair." (Pg.105, Bailey)
Learning How to Learn
Thanks to the effortless ability to access practically any piece of information due to the Internet, learning of the future will rely less on memorizing specific facts, and instead focus on the comprehension of said facts (and the ability of doing this well) and incorporating them into a well-formed idea. Being aware of confirmation bias and conflicting interests when reading certain reports, articles and opinions are essential.
The danger becomes then not in the lack of memorization or ignorance of an issue, but an inability to access all the information to create an informed opinion/decision. We rely on very few corporations to deliver media and information websites (your New York Times, your Wikipedia) to deliver this information to us.
Knowledge is undoubtedly power, but the question quickly becomes who is letting us access this power.
WeChat is the symbolic shot across the bow of how the East is going to pass the West in terms of technological development in the coming years.
Zipping back and forth between eight different apps on your phone isn't really that difficult of course. A couple swipes and taps to go from Instagram to your virtual wallet to your text messaging. But hey, things could always be easier, right?
The Chinese government said definitely, and created an app called WeChat, which groups all your apps in one umbrella. You live in the WeChat app as if it's your phone operating system.
And everything you do in WeChat is known by the company. It has a perfect profile of you, because you live your life through the app. And while at first this seems like a boon to advertisers, who can now know how to market everything specifically to you, the real difference is that WeChat shares everything with the Chinese government. Nearly one billion people use the app daily, a vast majority of them from China. WeChat allows the government to passively monitor hundreds of millions of people every moment. And it doesn't have to be in real time. Every text and transaction and tap you make is saved, your entire life can be reconstructed in reverse, going back days, months, years, to whenever you first downloaded WeChat. The government knows all, and you gave them this access without much of a second thought.
The question is how this is going to come to the West. Obviously Google, Facebook, and Apple are figuring out a way to be the dominant tech giant in each consumer's life, but the bigger concern is how Western governments are going to get their hands on the data to the same extent that China has.
Complicated processes such as the advancement of human civilization are hard to properly analyze and alter while you are within it.
You cannot proverbially take a step back and look at the big picture while you are part of it. You can only do that once enough to time has passed, and are able to look at the past, and line up particular events to see which were key and which were not.
It's like the uncertainty principle in regards to the position/trajectory of a particle. At your moment in history, you can't say for sure the trajectory of what got you here and where you're going. And when you are able to plot the trajectory, it cannot include your current position.
Presently, we are at an unnerving crossroads when the basic question of what it means to be human.
Environmentally, we have progressed further and further away from an animal living within nature to an animal that can manipulate nature. And we think this gives us power over it, but its effects can have very dangerous ramifications for our ecosystem, which we are still very much dependent on.
Socially, we are attempting to rise above our primitive and animalistic instincts, encouraging peaceful, egalitarian behaviour while at the same time suppressing and ostracizing violent, hostile, and divisive behaviour. This can be seen on a very wide spectrum, from the rise of civilization, where we begin to trust people who are not family members, all the way up to the #MeToo movement.
And above all of this, we are at point scientifically where we have the technology to edit the very DNA that makes us who we are. When you can change a human as easy as pressing a button, the questions of 'what are we?' comes screaming into view. And what if the answer is 'rather malleable'?
Maybe we're a stepping stone to superhuman, or super AI. Perhaps homo sapiens are nothing more than another Neanderthal-like blip in the history of life on earth. Maybe these two entities which follow us - superhumans, super AI - are the ones destined to travel the stars, since they will be better prepared physically and mentally than we ever could be.
What is already
being forgotten about the Obama presidency is its amazing attempts and
successes (at least temporarily) to alleviate poverty and inequality in
And even as Congress remained largely inefficient when dealing with this crisis (and poverty IS a crisis), executive orders and policy adjustment made within the department's own framework, successfully increased budgets for education, public works, sanitation, food stamps programs, and job skills training.
The Democratic Party is frequently inefficient and corrupt (in the sense that all politicians raise money and have to 'play ball with the party line'), but at least they attempt to help the average citizen, whereas The Republican Party seem to have an active disdain for any sort of policy that would level the socioeconomic playing field for the so many more who aren't rich.
Government has to play a role in continually employing large segments of the country's population. That's what helps citizens have strong nations in the first place: A lot of people working for the nation's common values and requirements.
Otherwise, you're basically working for a corporation. And Corporations hate people. People cost them money. Every attempt to replace a person with a cheaper robot is a mindset wholly embraced by a huge majority of international businesses.
First Uber undercut traditional taxi drivers. Then they undercut their own drivers, and are continuing to do so. But they'll do that on even a greater scale when self-driving cars are ultimately approved for use, and then they won't need humans at all, except mainly in one Silicon Valley office and few garages.
Video Games are the new Stories
Action/adventure video games typically follow the traditional Fisher King/Bildungsroman archetype. There is a city under siege, or a kingdom threatened by some sort of destructive force or evil, and the hero must step up and faces trials and obstacles to lead the good guys to victory.
But the more immersive aspect of video games means you are 'playing' the story, even if the story is Level 1, then Level 2, then Level 3, etc. In a passive stories (books, films), you see the characters learn how to succeed, and typically grow and mature into a wiser, successful person who has the qualities of a hero. And along the way they experience setbacks and failures, but ultimately succeed.
In active stories (video games), you are doing the learning and growing via the controller in your hands. You are the hero going on the adventure. Mario, Link, Master Chief and the many others are vessels for you to inhabit (some of these characters are purposely nameless (like in Doom) or have you put in your own name so it feels even more like you yourself are the hero going on this adventure). And this learning and growing is how to successfully survive and succeed in the virtual world of the video game. You figure out how to make a certain jump only after some deadly failures. You don't kill the mini-boss the first time because it takes a couple attacks before you find its weak spot.
Of course, this kind of learning is not exactly immediately useful in the real world. A relatively quick ability to adapt to different conditions in a virtual reality isn't much of a marketable skill. Yet.
This is not how we should be dealing with immigration into the Western World at all. The entire system is broken, and while that speaks to even larger problems in the interconnected socio-economic sphere that we call civilization, a bare minimum of standards needs to be instituted for going forward.
This is a human rights issue.
It's time to acknowledge the role that global free market capitalism has played in creating pockets of wealth in some areas, poverty in other regions, and virtual serfdom in states euphemistically described as 'developing nations'. Of course there are borders that must be recognized, but we need to understand the ramifications of allowing money and good and services flow much, much more freely than people. It is profoundly dehumanizing that the parts of an iPhone can be sourced throughout the world and travel to Southeast Asia for assembly and then sold anywhere, with less oversight than a person moving from one country to another. And if you scoff and say that a phone (or a pair of socks or an apple) is just an inanimate object, then you're giving priority to an inanimate object over a person.
Refugees and undocumented immigrants are portrayed as a liability or a scourge, and consequently, the public passively accepts them being placed in prisons or in camps for indefinite amounts of time, without trial or any legal recourse, creating camps of the forgotten.
This is a human rights issue.
Future of the Cinema
If it's not a hundred million dollar sci-fi, superhero, dystopic blockbuster, it won't end up in the giant multiplexes with eight or more screens and a food court (and some arcade and VR games, because that's not so secretly the future of fun).
Rom-coms, thought-provoking dramas and other 'award fodder' films will briefly appear at the remaining independent, old-school single screen movie theatres, and then hope to find some extra life as a popular streaming choice on Netflix or the like.
Hollywood always follows the money.
The ecosystem doesn't care how individual members of a species 'feels'. That's now how life on earth works. How guilty does a cow feel about eating individual blades of grass, which are living creatures in the global ecosystem? Where are we drawing the line between which organisms deserve to be spared from slaughter and consumption and which ones are just salad?
Why are we differentiating between animals and plants? Because one has more recognizable biological features (facial features like eyes, noses, ears, mouths, and comparable limbs labelled arms and legs) than the other (stems, seeds, flowers, etc.)?
Vegetarianism/veganism isn't about our relationship with the ecosystem. It is our relationship with our higher ideals, our belief that's this is a better/more compassionate/more responsible choice of how to live. But it is a decision that earth's ecosystem cares not a whit for. Whether you eat a pig or a potato, life does not care. Life is not ethical.
Of course eating less meat is necessary for the inhabitants of our planet for going forward. We don't have the resources available to continue consuming beef, pork, and chicken at this rate. For a majority of people in the West (and a rising amount of people in the East), at least one meal a day involves some sort of meat. This is way too much. This level of consumption might ultimately lead to our doom. And life would not care.
Dichotomies are easy, so people cling to them quickly to differentiate. And they can range from the silly to the serious.
Crunch peanut putter vs. Smooth
Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice
Left vs. Right
Individual vs. Community
Particle vs. Wave
Joy Division vs. New Order
But there are always dangers in this oversimplification of complicated ideas or issues. People don't want to acknowledge there might be more than two sides to consider, not only because it might force them to reconsider their own position on the issue, but because it means there's a hell of a lot information to process. Which takes a lot more time and energy.
Science lurched through the 20th century, having to constantly admit to itself that it's more and more tinier bits of stuff that make up the universe.
In a hyper-connected economy, buying ethically/responsibly is not just buying local, but considering how products are made, and whether a giant corporation actually owns the small company you think you’re supporting.
Although Joy Division is clearly superior to New Order.
Open world sandbox games (from Minecraft to Breath of the Wild) are instructive for interacting with simulated alternative environments.
Is it as good as actually experiencing real-world environments? Of course not, but it's an excellent education and research tool. The decision making capabilities and problem solving skills used when interacting with a new environment for the first time is strengthened when interacting in simulated environments beforehand, like in video games.
The issue for the future is how the immersive-ness and interact-ability of these games become greater, to the point where people spend more time in these simulated environments than in the real one (your VR systems, your Matrixes, your Oases). Considering the state of the real world, the debate may not be how bad it is, but whether it's bad at all.
The Convenient Distance of the Moon
The Moon is approximately one light second away from Earth. That's a pretty convenient measure and position for understanding the speed of light and large distances in space. Humans can see the moon, and experience one second. In terms of many other examples of the nature space and time in our universe, there are many, many that are too microscopic or far away or too long and short in duration for us to comprehend without rigorous study.
If we are living in a simulation, or if there are high intelligences guiding us, the moon is a damn convenient teaching tool. Kind of like learning how to read and write small words before moving onto comprehending full sentences and penning essays.
It's a lot like the basic instructions we put on the Pioneer and Voyager satellite plaques. Very basic instructions of space and time. Only with the earth and moon, they are examples/instructions in our reality.
The Uncertainty Principle of Advice:
The more general the advice is typically less useful (ex: 'work hard!' or 'Don't give up!'), but can be easily applied to a large segment of the population.
The less general the advice is typically more useful (ex: 'save the daily figures on a separate spreadsheet, but in the same file' or 'change the setting from the hero's hometown to the villain's hometown, to increase the conflict and tension'), but can only be applied to very specific persons or groups.
Just as you cannot know a particle's position and trajectory at the same time, you cannot have specific advice for the general populace.
On Jordan Peterson:
Here's the one sentence hot take on the Canadian intellectual: He is endorsing Christian capitalism in tattered sheep's clothing.
He criticizes the post-modernist notions of relativism and power relations and instead pushes for a more archaic and stratified society based on so-called absolute truths. An idea that everyone has their role to play, and it was best cast over one hundred years ago.
By championing the patriarchy and pinning Western Civilization's accomplishments solely upon it, Peterson is grossly oversimplifying history and recklessly ignoring all the absolutely heinous actions that can also be attributed to it (for every bill of rights or scientific discovery, there's a war, a genocide, and a long standing oppression of anyone who wasn't a white male).
In powerful rhetoric he pats average and sub-average white males who are used to be given everything on the head, saying it's not their fault that they don't get everything handed to them anymore, that it's the fault of women and minority groups wanting equal treatment after centuries of being marginalized, maligned, and murdered. He's feeding the fires of hatred and making money off it (although disavowing and distancing himself from abuses and ramifications). He's claiming that psychology and science support his theories, ignoring the fact that species/people/civilizations/ideas change over time. And while such changes appear difficult and awful to the people who are suddenly on the losing end, that does not mean that such ideas are ultimately terrible.
Most unusual is how Peterson blames neo-Marxism for the surge in post-modernist identity politics, but basic post modernist tenets are based on theoretical physics of the twentieth century, not industrial political theories of the nineteenth century. Blaming neo-Marxism on Marx is like blaming the Council of Nicene on Christ. It's foolish to complain about communism and its so-called contemporary influence when it's quite clear that free-market capitalism is handily winning. The millennials are not so much embracing communist thought, but souring on capitalism, which - regardless of how well it's criticized or defended in a third year poli-sci or economics class - is increasing economic inequality in the western world and limiting economic equality everywhere else.
Nietzsche lamented that Christian slave morality had exploded over nineteenth century Europe (where the qualities or the oppressed are revered above the qualities of the oppressor), weakening its basic theological constructs of a powerful and imposing God, resulting in his claim that 'God is dead'. Peterson feels that this same thing has now happened on university campuses, with long-time oppressed groups (women, minorities, LGBTQ) whittling down all discussions to old white patriarchy vs everyone else, with the end result being that these groups are using their newfound power to curtail and silence those of the old guard. When society becomes equal, of course those that had more benefits than others feel like this re-ordering is akin to theft (and they're wrong. They had an unfair advantage to being with).
This is Peterson and his like-minded associates going after windmills. More and more power is being concentrated by a government-corporate complex. Whatever power is left is certainly being diversified, and the parts of old white patriarchy which aren't part of the uber-elite are feeling threatened, and is coming up with hollow arguments and dubious studies about why they shouldn't have to share what little they do have (and of course the uber-elites are delighted that the 99% are fighting over the scraps of power, and not focusing on them).
His concerns over the handling of free and hate speech in relation to Bill C-16 warrants attention, however, because any time the basic aspects of human communication, interaction and thought are to be patrolled/enforced/monitored by the state, the likelihood of abuse, misuse, and a bevy of unintended consequences are high (even if the intention is benign).
Overall, however, this is all bullshit handwringing from groups who previously had it easy and now have to work harder than before for a piece of the pie. A pie that has gotten smaller for a great many of us because of the much smaller group of powerful gatekeepers have been taking so much for themselves over the years, and are quite pleased that those in the flailing academic community are fighting amongst themselves.
Peterson and traditionalists say that we must look back, throughout history, for myths, for stories, for purpose, since it's assumed by this line of thought that post-modernism has destroyed the relevance of these tropes, that we are moving forward aimlessly, full of self-doubt and compromise, and erroneous change. But no. We are moving forward, and forward includes chaos before returning to a sense of order and the familiar (which myths, religions, and prescribed hierarchies offer). How we work, eat, medicate and communicate has changed more in the last fifty years in the last five hundred. Of course it's terrifying and frustrating and a lot of people are going to get the shit end of the stick (including people who used to get the non-shit end). That's part of progress (the cruel part, that no one likes to talk about), and progress is what Jordan Peterson truly objects to.
Here's a thought - Jan 2018
The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is, at the moment, too expensive to be inevitable. Opposition to it will come from very powerful individuals and corporations, who would not necessarily dislike it not on any sort of moral or social grounds, but because they would have to foot a large part of the bill (likely in the form of increased taxes).
Even as parts of major industries are moving towards more robotics and automation, they seem unwilling to address to obvious side effect of millions of people out of work years down the road, and how that will affect these corporations' profits and placement in a globalized society going forward.
The change would have to come from a united voting effort, bringing together the many, many disenfranchised who - while still disagreeing on many issues - understand that this current and future economic/unemployment situation is untenable. And it will be supported by some sectors of commerce who depend on people having money to buy any non-essential good, since they will be hurting the most after the next step in in an ever-shrinking jobs market.
A depression is not inevitable, but a recession certainly is. The news that certain members of the US congress on both sides of the aisle want to loosen some of the regulations that the Dodd-Frank Act introduced is not as surprising as the apparent fact that the loopholes in the 2010 law weren't big enough for Wall Street already.
Couple that with the old-ish news that LIBOR is less an aggregate of interest rates and more of a spinning wheel you throw a dart at, suggests that even if regulations are in place to prevent risky lending, they aren't being enforced very well.
The monetization of social media is still difficult to ascertain (especially when one considers that followers are fake just as much as video views), and with the added criticism of misinformation and lack of privacy, Facebook and its ilk might be more bubble than future.
That many, many people are throwing their savings into e-currency like Bitcoin, especially in China and emerging Asian markets is also alarming. If that collapses, and Chinese investors who own American debt call in those loans to pay off e-losses, then that's one hell of a domino effect towards global financial ruin.
A depression would be a much, much bitter and catastrophic pill to swallow, but it's typically that kind of treatment that will enable a healthier outcome (admittedly after a difficult recovery).
Children are indeed the future, but your child alone is not. When the baby-bombers started to have kids, the 'me' decade may have been winding down, but the laser-like focus was on their children alone. They would support policies (even passively) that would benefit for them directly (lower taxes, bigger investment returns, stronger union pensions) regardless of how it would affect anyone else and their children in wider society in years to come.
They would spend any amount of money to make sure their kid gets the best upbringing possible. Anyone else's kid, meh.
But that's not how you create a functioning community, which requires strong government spending to ensure fewer people are living and growing up in poverty. Instead, this 'me/my kid first' created a foundation of policy that began to reward corporations with more power (and the predominately white middle-aged voting block which owned them and were having kids) at the expense of a functioning government. That's how you create an economic system that now benefits the very few and essentially the punishes the many.
It's a noble pursuit - doing what you believe is best for your kids - but since you aren't thinking of anyone else's kids, it's one that leads to disastrous results.
One year after Outkast literally split up, by releasing two solo records as a single album (Speakerboxx/The Love Below) in 2003, Kanye West released his debut.
As the Atlanta duo stepped back into the mists of time, West leapt out of it. A passing of the baton. A transfer of creativity, rooted in hip-hop, but exploding into many other directions and sounds.
Aesthetics that were counter to what was dominant for hip-hop at the time, embracing more unique and international fashion trends (trading in the sweats-or-suits-or-nothing look with pink polo shirts and bow-ties). A near-complete eschewing of the ganger lifestyle, although Big-Boi (had always visited on weekends). A social conscience but still a hard partying edge. Both are known for not coming from New York or LA (Atlanta for Outkast, Chicago for Kayne). They're critical darlings with sales to match and crossover appeal. Their love life and interests outside of music (acting, fashion, opening restaurants) received plenty of attention.
To paraphrase Andre 3000 when accepting an award all those years ago, 'Flyover Country's got something to say'.
The Challenge of Our Time: Making money less important
It's not money that's the root of all evil, it's the love of money. And we're all addicted to it. Or to be more accurate, the economic policies that govern how most of us live our daily lives are addicted to it. There is no final goal or enough in free market capitalism. There is only the accumulation of more, and we've run out of actual physical 'stuff' to invest in. Now passing the idea of money back and forth - with the belief it will be worth more one day than the next - is a backbone of the economy. The amount of money you make - no matter the unintended side effects for society - is the measure of self-worth and ability/mobility in the early 21st century. And we need to ween ourselves off this concept. Kick it completely? Of course not, let's not get too far into that sort of utopia thinking just yet.
There has to be money. There has to be corporations. There has to stock markets. There has to be very complicated rules (but ideally not loophole-laden ones) governing how money and currency is handled across our civilization.
But we have to value it less. And that's more of a philosophical/moral change than a socio-political one.
Build a Robot to Know a Robot
We may be on the verge of a Luddite Renaissance, as it becomes clearer and clearer across the globe that AI and robotics are replacing many, many human jobs. The resentment takes many forms, and example from the early stages is against a group of people that is assumed to be taking jobs of those that had them for years prior (hence the current immigration backlash). Only in the coming years will it become grossly apparent how 'no one' is taking these jobs. Not just robotic arms, but AI customer service reps, both on the phone and in store.
So at least know your rival. Buy a basic robot kit and get familiar with chips and boards and how they can interact with all sort of equipment to turn a wheel, turn on a light, or store a phone number. Any technological information is valuable information.
The Return of Masters and Apprentices
We have a bloated educational system that is rooted in industrial revolution era classrooms with the unfortunate addition of contemporary diploma mill corporatism at the post-secondary level. Certain youths can still thrive in such an environment, but others cannot.
An education is now in everyone's pocket, so in some sense the choice is left to the individual. They just have to motivate themselves to learn one particular thing (certainly for children and teens (at least early teens) there needs to be some sort of 'building where they go everyday') via cyberspace (online textbooks, tutorials, tests)), but this singular learning program will be accentuated with a one-on-one real-life training for whatever the job they are preparing for.
A much more specific learning module. Maybe for three years you do one or two streams of jobs, and as you go on you decide which one to focus on.
Rescuing the Internet
The first wave of Internet developers and enthusiasts are getting disillusioned at its current state, and they have every right to be. Early on, the promise of a global interconnected village seemed as hippie as could be. But that's given way to a lot of people screaming and lying to each other as ads explode in your face because materialism never dies.
But this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Any sort of large scale technological innovation that appears has a honeymoon period. Benignly making a shit-ton of money thanks to the internet (or at least having a job somehow related to it) in the nineties gave way to the cutthroat venture capitalism that seemed to have flooded Silicon Valley in the early twenty first century. The inventors and pioneers eventually lose out to the businessman. Or become businessmen themselves.
The idealists are lamenting the switch to stone cold capitalism, and the rest of us are dependent on a handful of websites and apps that seem to get hacked in various forms (from stealing identities to spreading misinformation). But a possible solution to this is divesting certain companies from our own data, and taking an ownership of it ourselves via Blockchains. Which is a term becoming more familiar thanks to crypto currencies like Bitcoin. But Blockchains are now Bitcoin itself, but how Bitcoin operates.
Everyone temporarily stores a bit of data on their computer (sort of like streaming), and then sends it off to another computer, and all these links create a blockchain, a process of data moving from device to device, confirming its authenticity at every step. Now in terms of Bitcoin, the data is electronic currency going from computer to to computer ultimately ending at the one who is intended to receive the Bitcoin for whatever the initial Bitcoin owner bought with it. It's a method of exchanging data without a centralized server or site (like Facebook, Google, or a financial institution).
Which would be the first step in rescuing the Internet from Silicon Valley.
For better and for worse, Amazon nailed it.
Retail is reflecting Amazon. An Apple store and upscale clothing store has an emptiness to the floor (except the people and the sample products, which is certainly the point), with the items people will actually buy stored in the back. Which is the warehouse, the place where Amazon has an actual physical presence, soon to be staffed more with robots than people. Or you go to a outlet or bulk store (or IKEA), and you have access to the warehouse since it's all DIY. The class divide becoming more obvious than ever. A luxury good store is clean and demure, while the aisles of Dollarama, TJ Maxx, and some many others are spilling over with cheap stuff.
So it makes sense to avoid the lines, the traffic, the parking, the 'sold out', the occasional deals and anything else, and just click and order while your sitting at home. If you don't need it right now (even our concept of 'right now' has changed when it comes to buying stuff), get it online, and it still might arrive tomorrow or the next day.
In America, the division is seen in the increasing tendency for certain retail outlets to no longer accept physical cash. And not just upscale clothing stores, but cafes as well. And soon debit and credit cards will be completely replaced by paying with your phone. The physicality of the means of exchange will disappear. And once again, the poor and elderly will feel the brunt of this change, as they cannot easily afford or use smartphones.
The Actual Trickle-down Effect
Conservatives and corporatists claim that the trickle-down effect occurs when you cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy (that they spend and invest more when they have more of their own money), even though this is not true (they just hold onto the money, or hide it offshore).
The reality is the trickle-down effect does occur when taxes are higher and the government spends that money on projects and programs, because it's the government's job to spend that money on people. And yes, some of these projects and programs have high price tags (when compared to how much a private company says they can complete it for), but that's because of all the people that see bits of this money as it trickles down over time to the ultimately completed project.
It's typically known as 'grift', and it's sensibly criticized as a perfect example of government waste and backroom deals, but at least it's money getting spread around (and eventually to some construction workers), as opposed to a ton of tax cuts justing sitting in a one percent-er's bank account.
Failed democratic norms will result not necessarily in despotic replacements, but corporate ones. Nature abhors a vacuum and power isn't so keen on them, either. Malaise and divisions in Western democracies will further push average citizens into relying on corporations to provide basic services. Not because of better results, but because even a result that is successful one out of ten times is better than ten straight whiffs. When governments cut a program, a private enterprise typically comes in to offer the same one, but at a higher price and of lesser quality (because some of the money has to go into investors' pockets).
Dystopia doesn't have to come about because of a terrible war or unexpected global catastrophe. It can happen just because of deregulation and insatiable urge for third quarter profits.
Western living standards are untenable in the coming years, simply because of the lack materials and resources to guarantee the amount of food, living space, and basic necessities to seven billion people. This will become apparent in the polarizing nature of consumer spending.
There is going to be a much more noticeable receding of dependable, middle class materialism in the west. An expansion of cheaper products (that Dollarama is growing at a record pace across North America should be an alarm for shopping habits) and regression of high end goods. Or to be more accurate, the selling of luxury goods are going to be more diffused globally so that the wealthy elite in Eastern countries will be the growing markets for these items.
There is a dearth of social movement icons. Those who embrace politics and get elected become part of the political machine, even if their goal along was to change the system for the better. Having to raise money and make decisions that would compromise their principles are necessities when working within most Western style democracies.
In this power vacuum, people turn to any person in the spotlight, including celebrities. Any of them that would offer any sort of political opinion can find themselves both lauded and roundly criticized (regardless of their intention to be).
It is in this ecosystem that comedians are caught in a delicate situation. The public can be a bit hazy/stupid when it comes to knowing when the jokes end and when commentary begins, especially if the comedian is not especially known to make political or topical jokes. When the comedian is already well known and admired, people have already put in some level of emotional connection or appreciation for them. In the public's eyes, this comedian has become an icon even if the comedian has no desire to be anything more than a joke teller. So when they tell a joke that runs counter to the listener's own beliefs, it seems like the comedian is against issue X, or for issue Y. But really the comedian is just telling a joke, a series of word meant to elicit laughter. The comedian's own political views might not come into play at all. Even when joking about the president, or a controversial issue that's been in the news recently, the goal is still to get a laugh, not to offer an actual, debatable talking point for the masses to discuss.
The (il)legality of drugs has more to do with profits than social responsibility.
It is completely taken for granted that alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are addictive substances that can have serious negative health effects if abused. Massive corporations control most of the markets for those three products.
Even if one ingests marijuana in the safest way possible (edibles, vape pens), THC and CBD can affect memory and reactions times, but the march towards legality is accelerating.
The drugs that are labelled the most dangerous (opioids, especially) are frequently prescribed and then inevitably over-prescribed, with the money landing in the pockets of giant international drug companies.
If the public's health is in jeopardy because of these substances, then the health ministries of nations should have more control not only of how these products are sold and given to the public, but where the profits of the sales of these products go (tax the industry’s profits heavier, while introducing price controls). That the (ab)use of these items can inflict terrible damage on a community while a corporation makes hundreds of millions of dollars off this addiction is unconscionable.
If you think it's too expensive to live, just wait until you die. And while at first that might seem a comment on how all your so-called problems can disappear in an instant once you do...dying is extremely expensive, especially if you want to go the old fashioned route and have your body placed in a wooden box and buried underground. Coffins can cost as much as small cars, and you only ride in them once. And that doesn't include the plot of land where it goes. No one's making new cemeteries, so real estate is at a premium these days, especially in cities (of course, this is not a new problem, the Catacombs in Paris are hundreds of years old, and the bones there are all from closed down graveyards when city planners needed more space for the living).
Cremation appears to be the best deal out there, but that's a guarantee you aren't coming back no matter what, since everything from your brain to your toenails are now just a heap of ash.
And coming back has always been a fascination. Freezing your corpse so that it might hypothetically be re-animated when they cure whatever you died from (either disease or maybe even massive body trauma). Or keep your brain in an extra jar and maybe years from now we can make it twitch like frogs legs. These options aren't cheap, either. To get ahead of all this, perhaps in the near future we will occasionally plug ourselves into a very reliable portable hard drive, to keep our thoughts and memories all locked up in a small box the size of your hand. So it won't matter when or how you die, since just like backing up your computer, you'll back up yourself, so if something goes wrong, you can at least exist in a computerized state. If that's your thing...
I don't want a person telling me there's a God. I want a God telling me there's a God. And if you think that's too much to ask, then you're expecting too much of humanity. Humanity is always screwing it up, because that's how we are, whether making honest mistakes, or selfish, malevolent choices.
So it doesn't matter who tells me there is a God. I am suspicious when a flesh and blood creature like myself makes such pronouncements. Whether you're a pastor, a rabbi, and imam, a Shinto priest, a holy man, or a brahmin. None of you have any more wisdom or insight than the other. You're all equally right and wrong. You're all making stabs in the dark partially based on your upbringing and your own imagination. The desire for their to be not only a simple explanation to life but an explanation that includes each individual being loved and tended to overwhelms any sense of logic or rational explanation for alternative ideas.
The best proof that there isn't a God is that it doesn't seem to make much of an effort to show it exists.
Laziness is the mother of invention, and some people can't wait to break out the lazy as soon as they get their new toy. When it comes to self-driving cars, Tesla's vehicles offers this service (and it can be activate while driving), but for legal purposes the company stresses that the driver must be attentive at all times and keep their hands on the wheel in case they have to take control of the car.
Which they aren't doing. People are trying to spend half their time texting and tapping with their regular, have-to-do-everything cars. We can't wait for things to be easier and faster. We want to throw ourselves into exactly what we want to do at every moment, and everything else (working, eating, driving a car) is an interruption or inconvenience. A few years ago, the older generations of gen-X and baby boomers decried the kids these days with their eyes and fingers glued to their phones, but now everyone's doing the exact same thing, age/culture/class be damned.
We all want to be immersed in the virtual world we've built for ourselves. Where we only interact with the people we want, we only read news from the sites we want, we only play the games we want, and we want to access it whenever we want, which is all the time.
When augmented reality/VR glasses finally go viral and we are immersed in a place where we can choose the colour of our own sky, then everyone will be running over everyone else, if we can even bother to leave our houses.
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, but to even have a chance to become considered for the 'greatest of all time' label, you have to have an amazing team alongside you. To be able to play for a long stretch with amazing results, you need to have an incredible o-line to protect you reliably for seventeen years and an amazing set of receivers to catch your throws reliably for seventeen years. And those aren't the same players over all that time; there were many, many lineup changes, and it was essential that all these parts worked together to be able to give Tom Brady the opportunity to play incredible football for seventeen years.
And Bill Belichick made sure this happened. Bill Belichick gave Tom Brady the opportunity to become the greatest quarterback of all time, and he took every advantage.
Here's a Thought July 2017
The personification of advancing technology will reach an impasse when it can have a conversation with us. It does not take much for people to slip into the motions of basic social interaction if they can get mostly expected responses back.
Soon a majority of call centre jobs will be replaced by very basic AI bots, with only the most difficult or unusual cases actually being transferred to a manager who will actually be a person.
And once companies announce that this going to become an industry standard for customer service departments, on certain calls, people will angrily yell at these bots, demanding them to admit that they are not real people. Will these bots be programmed to acknowledge this, and will they do it in a pleasant fashion? Since they will never feel threatened or upset by a caller's verbal abuse, will they never hang up and simply cheerfully wait for the caller's insults to end?
We all talk big when it comes to no longer supporting companies when we find out they do something terrible. Sure, the outrage is immediate on social media, and the company may issue a robotic apology and fire a couple executives, but their long term bottom line is rarely affected.
Uber has a pervasive problem with sexual harassment and misogyny in its upper ranks (including its founder and former CEO), and uses shady business practices such as sabotaging competitors, user privacy violations, and developing hacking technology to avoid law enforcement. Plenty of articles about it, lots of #deleteUber tweets, but it's still go a popular choice over taxis because it's cheaper.
Why shop at Wal-Mart or a big grocery store chain instead of a farmers market or small store? Because it's cheaper and easier. And that's why real change on the grassroots level is difficult. Even if people want to do the right thing, they don’t necessarily have the income to do so.
On top of thus, the less you know about the labour exploitation that goes into the making of your phone (from mining precious metals in Africa, to how they're assembled in China), the better you can sleep at night.
Health insurers make huge profits, largely due to them being extremely reluctant in paying out claims (some managers get bonuses if they are able to keep their departments’ claim amounts below a certain level).
With this in mind, there should be a massive incentive for health insurers to keep their customers as healthy as possible. But this runs up against the goal of the health care providers, who, yes, want to keep their patients healthy, but have the incentive of getting the patients to spend a lot of money on the treatments that are necessary to get well.
The government is caught trying to somehow appease both these markets, while its main goal is to have the revenue to cover the costs for the citizens who cannot afford proper care themselves (and covering the costs typically means raising taxes on the rich, who can already afford treatment for their own ailments and have a lot of money lying around).
This is the health care quandary not only in America, but pretty much every developed country, once the smell of profits drifts in. Money in health care is more immediately damaging than money in politics, even if the latter has great overall effect on any sort of legislation that comes before the halls of power (including health care legislation).
If one of the basic elements of our universe is a string-like vibrating particle, can be there some sort of knot-like event that affects its behaviour? We are still filling in gaps (let alone the massive gulf that is dark matter and dark energy, whose names are almost certainly more exciting and simplistic compared to what the explanations will be), so could plotted deviations from the norm - presence of dark matter, cosmic inflation - be considered 'knots' of sorts?
[Of course, terms like 'strings' and 'dark matter' are placeholder laymen terms for complicated phenomenon occurring micro and macroscopic scales. But these terms are necessary for engaging with the general populace for whom scientific knowledge is limited at best. Even if these labels are part of what got you interested in pursuing science as a career in the first place, you realize as you learn more and more that things are never so simple as 'strings and knots', especially when the first sine function comes into view]
Now the left can include anything from 'I believe in global warming but don't raise my taxes to address it', to 'Donald Trump should be tried for treason'. That's a huge gulf. That's a difference in opinion that is so vast you almost feel sorry for the politicians who are somehow expected to appease both segments.
The left is so much more efficient and modern than the right. The right took several decades to slowly become delusional and eat itself. The left is going to get it done in about four or five years!
After a tough presidential loss that is being described as historic, the left is feeling like the right did during the Obama years. Obstruction at all costs because the new administration's new ideas are terrible for America, and with the control of congress, they can practically do whatever they want (is this 2009 or 2017?). And when then there are large swath of angry and disaffected people looking to vent first and fact-check later, of course there is media for it:
People love conspiracy theories because they make everything easier. Movie-like easy where everything is wrapped in a nice, simple package. In a free and open society, the fringes will certainly push the more ridiculous and fact-free stories. What changes is when the leader of the country starts to promote these stories.
Pour one out for the slow, quiet loss of the written word.
During the first internet wave (let's say from where you could first log on to America Online on your desk-tops's 4800bps modem in the early nineties to just about when Blackberry and other PDAs first hit it big in the mid-2000s), literacy rates in the Western world didn't fall that much.
But in the ten years or so since then, there is just a slew of depressing events and fact that suggests reading is on the outs. The closing of big bookstore chains and tiny, neighbourhood-loved shops. The kindle and other electronic book replacements never really catching fire the way other technological advances have (why have one hundred books in your hand when you can have a drone control pad in it instead?). People don't grab the mass-market paperbacks in airports anymore. The choice is half-listening to podcasts while doing something else.
And when we do bother to read, we don't bother to read as much, and maybe only if it's punctuated with some audio-visual treats: ()
The ongoing woes of the print industry continues and is sadly not a surprise as we move (or pivot) towards an even deeper concentration of electronic devices in our hands instead of bound paper.
What should be much more unnerving and raise eyebrows is how this going to affect our critical thinking moving forward. To say 'we think in language' comes off much too flippant. We are limited in our ability to communicate and understand our existence when we have poor reading and writing skills. We have been on the path to increased literacy across the globe, and with it, higher standards of living (a good reminder about how globally, things are getting better for the majority of humanity:
()). To start and go in the reverse – starting in the West – is a blow to civilization.
Voter Suppression via the excuse of stopping Voter Fraud:
This story need to be covered more. This story cannot be covered often enough. This story needs to constantly be in the headlines, and lead every news program.
This is messing with the building blocks of democracy. This decides whether one is living in a free, democratic country or not, in a very different way than cynically believing that two main political parties are simply tools of the wealthy.
Eradicating voter rolls and beginning voter suppression removes the last mechanism to reverse this trend of corporate cronyism. It ends the possibility of putting any sort of social program that benefits the many back together, of returning the government to a sensible form of checks and balances.
This legislation closes doors on freedom. Now a citizen would not even have a choice between a selection of politicians that might best represent their political views. That right has been withdrawn, ostensibly to prevent a nonexistent problem.
Basic biological processes of reproduction underlie the interactions between males and females, whether we're talking about birds, elephants, or human beings. In our own species' case, we are valiantly attempting to balance these very simple and direct overtures with much more complex and even philosophical concepts of civilization, self-worth and equality.
This is not easy, since pushing against hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of years of evolution never is. When we express shock, disgust, confusion or titillation towards how someone is acting when it comes to sex and/or relationships, there are animal instincts at its core. Because we are animals, even as we are convinced we are animals...plus something more. What you say to someone you're attracted to, the clothes you wear, how you walk or drive down the street, it's not much different in terms of biological drive from elks fighting to the death for mating rights or birds trying to impress with their plumage.
As always, these more philosophical and moral quandaries do not exist in vacuum, other types of changes to civilization occur around the same time. The Scientific Revolution loosened religion's grip on Europe, and the Industrial Revolution ultimately began the expansion of rights for the individual and previously marginalized groups. Today’s electronic devices allow us to be virtually connected to the entire world, and are forcing us to question how we interact with each other face to face. Where is modern technology taking us (or, to be slightly more charitable, where are we taking technology)? It's affecting everything to how we communicate (now largely through handheld devices) to what he can become (thanks to medical advances in DNA augmentation).
But when we stop being animals, we almost certainly stop being human.
Branding is permeating politics, but it wasn't Donald Trump who first capitalized on its swagger-over-style-over-substance factor. Obama's 2008 election campaign won several PR/advertising awards (Chomsky noted this) including 'Marketer of the Year' by the Association of National Advertisers. After all, its message was quite simple: 'Yes we can', the 'HOPE' poster.
But in Obama's case there was substance behind the style. A smart, capable, reflective, respectful leader who inspired people.
Not so much with Trump.
Which reveals a rather depressing truth about advertising. When a commercial exaggerates or lies to you about the amazing-ness of one particular type of chewing gum, there's not much blowback except you being slightly annoyed that you wasted a buck-fifty. Even a big purchase like a car, as long as its unexpected problems don't lead to anything fatal, can be still be fixed for more money or sold.
When something as important and complicated as politics is treated with the same level of truth and consideration as chewing gum or a Civic, then there's going to be much more dire consequences when the 'product' fails to deliver.
Education has splintered along the monoculture (although inequality has also made certain basic standards of education hard to achieve across a large population/wide demographic), and it will be very difficult to find something to improve the situation in the near future.
Standardized testing (and unfortunately, rigorously teaching for the test) can create a very specific and narrow foundation for education, but it is of limited use not only for what we believe is important the children of today to learn, but of the coming generations as well.
How people learn is becoming as various as niche popular culture. Some still excel in traditional classroom learning, some do better with more open-concept classes that promote group/individual problem solving over classic instruction and recollection over repetition. Other finds podcasts and video more valuable.
And certainly Boards of Education across most countries on the planet are trying to adjust to these realities. And large, bureaucratic institutions don't move quickly.
Feynman's 'Principle of Least Action' can be cynically mirrored in our own society ('necessity is the mother of all inventions'), and once again suggests that the way we seek for answers (and what we look for), are reflected/represented in our biology. We are looking at the universe through the lens of our 'ourselves'.
The tiniest bits of matter may be full of potential energy, but each one seems to want to take easiest route to release it. And it stays pretty much the same once a lot of these particles are bundled up into the average homo sapien who hasn't yet had their morning cup of coffee.
There is no shortcut to ending/reducing poverty. Like every massive initiative humanity has applied itself to, it will take an incredibly large amount of money and a lot of time.
Both things of which are currently in short supply (cash and patience).
George Carlin cynical notes that if there was a way for Wall Street to make a few hundred million dollars in the process of ending homelessness in America, you'd find that problem solved very quickly.
But there is no longer a solvent enough-government to be able to pay a private enterprise to end poverty (and make the enterprise's owner a bunch of cash). The bone has been picked clean. Even if we are able to summon the angels of our better nature's will (like voting for politicians who believe that health care is a right and not a market commodity), we cannot start with the problem of the poor. We have to start with the problem of the rich. The government's coffers need to be filled again, and the people who have been paying less and less into them for the last thirty years need to pony up again. That is 'health democracy 101'.
Dogs, Humans, Work
Do dogs equate going for walks, and fetching balls or sticks as 'work', as some sort of responsibility that they are expected to do? Does it give then self-worth (even if they are not understanding of that concept)?
And how different is that from the way we treat our jobs and careers? We tell ourselves how it important the jobs we have are, how they allow us to do other things that we also think gives us our self worth.
And just as we may lightly laugh at the idea of a dog thinking what they do is important ('it's just a dog, all they need to do is lie around and eat food'), maybe an advanced civilization or species is chortling at us from above, rolling their eyes (if they have any) at how serious we take our jobs, when so many of them don't really mean much in terms of human civilization and advancing it further.
But we can't always look 'big picture'. Part of being human includes giving our actions meaning and importance. And even for jobs that are dangerous (to ourselves or to the environment around us) or full of annoyances that make us complain about them all the time, we still place a lot of importance upon them (or we, y'know, just quit). Jobs become our purpose. And to take/remove/steal one's self-appointed, 9 to 5 purpose (even inadvertently, through basic purchasing power or complicated business decisions) is at first a rather depressing way of looking at 21st century business, a time where it's constantly promoted that we are free to do (and buy) as we choose.
And certainly that is true in many ways.
But a job (or ideally, a career) defines the limits of our choices. And we are currently in a period where job security is collapsing and is being replaced by contract, temporary and underemployment. What is even more concerning is the next decade and a half, where 40% of all jobs will most likely be replaced by automation, advanced programming and robotics. Without a job (even a mundane one that you might constantly complain about), without a purpose, what happens to the human sense of self, let alone their economic situation?
If only we could make money fetching sticks. But then what would the dogs do?
Post-Modernism's Pandora's Box
There are no truths, only constructs. So sayeth Sartre, Foucault, Derrida, and now, the Executive Branch of the United States government.
At first conservatives decried the moral relativism of liberal thinking (no one religion is right or wrong, everyone can have their opinion and their differences should be embraced), but then they realized they could use these tools for their own ends.
-Climate change? Not all scientists agree
-Trickle down economics doesn't work? According to these particular examples, it does
-Crime is down across the country? Not in Chicago, so let's expand private prisons and police power
In academia, ‘there is no wrong answer’ was a taken-for-granted piece of advice that was to foster critical and lateral thinking from the student or scholar, and would be accepted for essays provided that there was some evidence to back the possibly unusual claim. Within papers and upon blackboards, there wasn’t much damage or danger if all metaphysical statements were thrown out the window, or that works could be interpreted without considering the author’s intent, or suddenly obstinately declaring that certain mathematical equations were no longer sufficient to explain quantum phenomena.
But when such blows to basic understanding and operations of science and politics occur outside the classroom, the actual effects to a society can be catastrophic.
When is autocracy inevitable?
And if it comes to America, do other Western nations have any chance in resisting?
If China and (to a lesser extent) Russia are the other 'super-power' nations, then democracy is becoming the exception rather than the rule. These nations are run in an autocratic fashion, regardless of what the government says (Russia says it's a democracy, China says it's communist). America is joining this club, and the world is all the worse for it.
Can it be said that at least America gave democracy the good ol' college try? Well, some basic tenets of democracy (like everyone has the right to vote) ae only fifty-plus years old. And not long after that, the rise of corporate power skyrocketed.
Examples, especially of late:
But hey, at least it was slow.
Trump's election is a tempting easily time of death, but so can the behaviour in his first hundred days, but one must not forget the current rolling back of even more voting rights by Congress….
Truthfully, however, the first symptoms of this cancer were apparent over thirty years ago. In the eighties, the rise of lobbying and a ‘war on drugs’ that was really a ‘war on the poor’ which hobbled the economic empowering of minorities were terrible blueprints of what was to come. Ending regulations for corporation and bank meant monolithic ‘too big to fail’ companies of all sorts, and executives on those boards bobbed in and out of political position to smooth deals and avoid taxes.
Civil and social rights gains throughout the sixties and early seventies, began to get rolled back in other forms. Cutting social programs or outsourcing them to private companies, who ran them in such a way to make a profit, and when they did not, they themselves made even more drastic cuts, to the point where it would sometimes take ninety minutes to get a response from 911 in various places across America, whether in Detroit or Appalachia.
It’s an impressive feat, going from democracy to autocracy in only third years and without bloodshed in the Capital. Perhaps America could now impress the world and roll it all back.
The generation's interests/obsessions over likes, re-tweets, week-long memes, and pop culture that is under three months old exists because there's nothing else available to vast majority of them.
No serious career options. No opportunity to save for a mortgage, or even a post-secondary education (without immediately going into a massive debt which looks increasingly likely that you'll never pay back).
There's is nothing concrete out there. Nothing to build a life upon that previous generations were able to take for granted. Yes, of course baby boomers and gen-X-ers had to work hard to get a good, stable job and - with that - a long term relationship and a house in the suburbs. But that was a path available to most. Now, that same sort of hard work doesn't guarantee any sort of stable job. 'Stable job' (aka, ‘career’) is the exception, not the rule, and with that, a middle class life also becomes the exception, not the rule.
And these are serious concerns. And if they never are presented in front of you, of course you're going to find something else to do with your time. Like watching another series on Netflix while waiting to see if you get called into a shift at work because someone else couldn't make it.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, don't kid yourself, we definitely remain at 'mutually assured destruction' levels. This needs to be something we are careful with. When it comes to nuclear weapons, you need a capable, calm, level-headed system of check and balances throughout the chain of command. From the head of state, to their national security team, to their military advisors, down to the actual soldiers and technicians who launch the equipment, everyone needs to alert, informed, and prepared to make deep, civilization altering decisions at a moment's notice.
And I don't think we have that in the United States right now.
Here's a Thought January 2017
Superhero films immediately started to decline in quality once they were anointed as the future of making money at the box office.
Summer 2008. Iron Man and The Dark Knight. There hasn't been a superhero film that has been as fun and exciting since Iron Man (although Guardians of the Galaxy gets close), and there hasn't been a superhero film that is as serious and captivating since The Dark Knight. They've all tried to capture the success of these two films (sometimes stealing scenes and setups directly), but it's been a series of constantly diminishing returns.
They have become flashy, two hour comic book issues, and have therefore inherited one of its basic flaws: constant and repetitive narrative formula.
As Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars Universe, and the DC Clusterfuck get bigger and bigger, budgets will rise and it will become all the more important that any sort of risk in story or character development that might confuse or alienate audiences cannot be taken. Simplification and broadness will be embraced since it's assumed that movie-goers both in America and abroad (who are so essential to big box office returns) don't want nuance and emotion getting in the way of their action beats.
The basic underlying theme of 20th and 21st century scientific discoveries which pertain to the laws of nature and of the universe is that things are expanding and speeding up, that things are constantly vibrating, splitting, colliding. There is constant chaos on higher and lower scales of size. And there are still many mysteries as to how the universe 'holds itself together' (since most of it is a combination of dark matter and dark energy, which are really just placeholder terms for...something).
At the same time, we think of our modern society being quicker, more immediate, instantaneous, overwhelming, interconnected, and - unfortunately - existing and operating at certain levels that a great many of us do not have access to.
The good ol’ mantra: 'as above, so below'.
As our lives accelerate, so does the universe (or really, our perspective of how the universe operates. How we live our lives is reflected in how we believe the universe 'lives' it's own life).
Rock has become the new jazz. This has been predicted several times before, but it's more apparent than ever now that rock has a jazz-club/theatre sized audience, with very few arena-packing outliers (examples: Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire), many of which have long, successful years racked up (typically beginning before the music industry as a whole began to crater).
Now most music (certainly most popular music) is made by manipulating already-made sounds, rather than create these sounds by plucking a string, pressing a key on piano, or blowing a horn. It's the further simplification of making music. Rock was the bottom rung for a long time (four chords max! 12 bar blues forever! It was constantly being mocked as being overly-simplistic and infantile in the late fifties and early sixties)). Hip-hop's focus on sampling and drum machines was certainly a first step in making music by not-exactly playing an instrument (and was similarly criticized for 'not being real music' when it first became popular).
Now you have a sampler hooked up to a sourced-up laptop and every sound ever made by a human being or robot is at your command. The way you run your finger over a touchpad to guide an instrument (or really, several instruments) is similar to how a conductors waves their baton over an orchestra.
Compared to the Devil, God is a much, much more plausible concept for people who are not religious fundamentalists, or even religious leaning.
If God as an imposing and powerful father figure who rewards and punishes as he sees fit seems ridiculous, then feel free to accept God as a higher concept of understanding, as another dimension intersecting with our own, as a symbol of whatever is 'above' the universe. People always seek explanation for their place and purpose, and God is a search for/answer to this question. There is something almost scientific as believing in God as being a complicated equation for life itself.
Even the heavenly aspect of the afterlife concept can take on a sort of scientific conceit, and is infinitely more plausible than hell. After your death, your material body breaks down and you 'become' more of an idea, a memory, a 'part' of the universe in the sense that your particles diffuse into the earth, sky, water and space, so you've gone back from whence you came.
But the devil invites childish explanations for evil and moral judgment. A place to be tortured for all eternity by an all powerful figure that wants trick you into being sent there? And the God that created this figure is completely satisfied with this? It's more than baffling, it's an insult to our intelligence (and to our concept of ultimate intelligence).
'Whatever gets you through the night' is a passable John Lennon-Elton John hybrid, which is probably about drinking and drugs, but is a pretty excellent summation of religion and spiritualism in the modern era.
To think that any one religion has any sort of metaphysical advantage over all the others is ridiculous. To think that one will allay your worldly concerns and answer more of your prayers better than all the others is also ridiculous.
You can certainly believe that the religion you follow is better than the others, but belief is more about one's opinion than any sort of declaration of fact. Saying 'I believe George Washington was the first president of the United States' sounds a bit odd, because saying 'George Washington was the first president of the United States' comes off as being much more objective and accurate.
As we move into the sciences, where personal opinion is held in less regard, saying 'I believe water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom' is ridiculous.
When it comes to god, however, the term 'I believe' is still very much in fashion, regardless of whether you follow that up with 'in god' or 'there is no god'.
And there is some irony in this, as originally the concept of God was designed to be an explanation for how the world works, and now that we look to science to these types of answers, God has changed to be much more of arbiter and judge of human behaviour, with concrete proof of its existence much less important than belief in it outright.
Settling Into the Technocratic Under-Class
It's safer than ever before. Why are we terrified?
Poverty is slowly decreasing in both developed and developing nations. Why are we falling into debt?
We are connected to everyone across the globe, and can meet and communicate with likeminded people instantaneously. Why do we feel so isolated?
We have more information about everything at our fingertips. Why do feel so confused?
Don't worry, these are just birthing pangs and growing pains, and it's going to take a while longer before we reach our uncomfortable and rock bottom. We're settling into the Technocratic Under-Class.
Humanity always takes awhile to get used to new technology. At first it's strange and exciting, then absolutely and everywhere, then frustrating and reviled because of the cold and irreversible changes it has created (usually the mass firings of the people who used to do the job that has been replaced by the machinery/computer).
Luddites (in)famously smashed up mechanized weaving equipment in the early years of the industrial revolution, angry that their jobs/livelihoods had been replaced by some bent pieces of metal and a coal-fired power source.
The first Industrial Revolution took place over two centuries, with some of the earliest inventions and advances (say, early eighteenth century) reaching certain parts of the globe in the late twentieth century. And that is a good partial explanation to explain how this unequal advance resulted in a very unequal balance of wealth and power.
The second (and current) industrial revolution is a replacement of industry with digitization and robotics. And while that in itself will separate it in distinction from the first industrial revolution, another aspect of it should be considered: It will be a revolution that will occur across the globe in almost perfect simultaneity.
Which sounds impressive in foresight and hindsight, but if you're living through it, and are being told that 40% of jobs that exist today will disappear in the next fifteen to twenty years thanks to advanced computers and robotics, it's a horrifying and numbing experience.
Of course it's not fair, but as North America and Europe getting rich in part due to the exploitation of labour throughout the rest of the world for the past few centuries, it's sensible that people there will now gripe and moan about how the party's over.
Adam Curtis' Hypernormalisation
Whenever we look at the challenges/disasters of today, it is typically through a lens of how there was a period in the past where things weren't like this, when they weren't so bad. That we've fallen from grace, that somehow we've been booted out of the garden of Eden. Certainly this is both a personal and historical nostalgia.
Adam Curtis' 2016 documentary Hypernormalisation does an impressive job at grabbing seemingly loose threads and events of the last fifty years and knitting them into a horrifying pair of twenty first century post-industrial mittens.
Snubbing Syria in the seventies led to the rise of suicide bombings, psychiatry via computer begets myopic alienation, Donald Trump’s rise as the emblem of Western greed and tone-deafness.
Even as Curtis acknowledges the increased and overwhelming complexity of the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, the connections he makes between events are simplified, omitting many factors that consistently affect international politics/bureaucracy/technological finance.
We can even make Curtis' observations more depressing by acknowledging that they actually aren't that new. Pseudo-freedom and helplessness have long been the status of most people across the earth through most of recorded history. It continues to day, if not through physical bondage, then through social and financial bondage.
The escape to cyberspace is certainly more immersive than anything we had in the past, but they play the same role as fairy tales. A place where there are no consequences, it's all so simple, and a happy ending is all but guaranteed. No wonder people don't like looking up from their phones.
The American Psyche is rooted in constant contradiction. A united series of individual states. A nation that proudly announces its cohesion and trust, while also acknowledging that its creation was full of violent and internal rebellion. The continued reliance in a post industrial society on a political document written in an agrarian, pre-industrial society. A document whose authors would barely recognize the conduct of those following it within the halls of power today, surprised at the rights it gives to individuals they thought unworthy, and the additional rights given to non-citizen legal entities (corporations). Calling itself a bastion of freedom even as slavery and the continuing oppression of minorities were/are part of its social and economic makeup. Championing its independence from global affairs while playing the lead role in directing them.
If divisions widen how much longer can this shaking house stand?
How the wealthy hide their money:
(Panama (Mossack-Fonseca) Papers, eat your heart out)
The rich don't run the planet in secret business meetings in French chateaus and yachts, cackling with lust for supreme power. They run the planet from offices and meeting room, sometimes on the phone with other rich people in other offices and meeting rooms.
Packaging financial instruments, shorting, finding/building loopholes in trade deals, the fine print is tremendously boring but it shapes the world we live in. The wealthiest people in the world are just as stupid, greedy, naive, short-sighted, and petty as the rest of us, and they try to keep as much of their money as possible by hiding it from taxation.
There is $22 trillion dollars hidden away in these off-shore ghost accounts.
That amount of money can change the future of life on earth.
That's a new form of social program that greatly reduces global inequality.
That's replacing fossil fuels with green energy on a hyper accelerated pace.
That's going to Mars.
That's cleaning the oceans and the air and the land.
That's building a series of space ships and space stations to be able to live 'off planet'.
That's bankrolling a series of much-needed infrastructure projects across the globe, plus the R&D budget to create new materials that will ensure the buildings, bridges, dams, etc. will last a long time before needing to be replaced again.
Politics is always going to fuck over somebody. It's just got to go back to fucking over rich people for awhile.
Good news everybody! It's going to be a kleptocracy, not a fascist state!
Perhaps Donald Trump inadvertently prevented an immediate fascist rise by quickly alienating the defence/military institutions of the United States by questioning their abilities over the Russian hacking debacle.
This article suggests that maybe: "Oligarchical nationalism is the default form for failing economies."
So maybe the future of America is what Russia currently exists as. Maybe the worst thing about Trump as president then is not so much the inevitable kleptocracy and selling off America's resources and government programs/institutions (which as been happening to some degree for over three decades now), but the now constant hold onto power by this small group of people through intimidating, ignoring and silencing the critics of the people in power.
The Death of the American town (or small city) has been predicted for many decades now, and as expected it's a slow, ignoble, and agonizing crawl to the grave. The vicious cycle of people leaving because there's no jobs means smaller populations which means fewer people paying any sort of tax or contributing to the economic cycle, which means there's less money to spend by government and by businesses, so social programs and basic services and more jobs get cut, so more people leave, and so on.
These shrinking and dying towns will become large regions outside of mega-cities that have little government or organizational presence. Higher crime due to lack of police, dangerous due to lack of emergency services.
Dead zones inside of countries.
And massive, overcrowded cities (with flailing social programs and an attempt at non-government organizations to offer community/stability, so things aren't as bad as the dead zones), with pockets of wealthy suburbs and nearby towns, with plenty of police and security in these regions to keep undesirables out.
Bring Social Mobility Back to America: Tax the Rich
The rich broke America, and the poor let them do it.
Call it the looming love-child of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand, but it's just straight up greed and selfishness.
The wealthiest 1% and 0.1% of Americans (or all global elites) aren't sitting around discussing the finer points of Keynes, Friedman, or Piketty. They just want their money, and they don't want to share it with anyone, especially not governments, who will (in the elite's eyes) just give it to lazy poor people or repair some bridge that will take to long and cost too much because of unions and red tape.
But the rich are wrong. Just because you've worked hard in one particular field, industry or discipline and succeeded wildly, doesn't mean that you automatically have the wisdom and experience to control so much power (in the form of capital) without oversight or accountability.
The 1% are the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a march towards feudalism until the Great Depression brought it crashing down (so let's also note that in the 1920s and 1930s, the other global trend besides an economic disaster was the rise of right-wing an xenophobic governments across the world, which led to the horrors of the Second World War).
Instead of the rich being forced to pay higher taxes (to actually fund government programs and shrink inequality and raise social mobility), they are going to bankroll government like building projects and social services...until they don't feel like it.
Check Your Nostalgia: How Good is Die Hard?
It is generally agreed that Die Hard is one of the finest action movies of all time. Everything that actions movies do, Die Hard does better. The acting, the writing, the pacing, the fight sequences (whether with guns or hand to hand combat), all are done at a higher level. To the point where films that came after consciously or unconsciously stole bits from it. Even when Die Hard hits the narrative cliches, it's done in an impressive and unique fashion.
Or maybe I think it does because I first watched Die Hard when I was twelve, and actually got a bit choked up when McClane and Powell finally met face to face at the end.
The pop culture you absorb in your pre-teen and teen years makes an indelible mark on the sort of person you will grow up to be, mainly because your circle of friends at that age will largely be defined by whatever you ended up watching or listening to. And your friends shape your personality at this age, which is integral to the type of person you'll become (and whether 'Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker', enters into your vocabulary).
So when something hits a nerve - whether it's Led Zeppelin, Prince, the Wu-Tang Clan (including solo albums), Radiohead, The Prisoner, The Watchmen, Star Wars, Die Hard, Fight Club, The Prisoner, MASH, Blue Velvet, The Invisibles, Beyoncé, Samuel Beckett, Stanley Kubrick, The Velvet Underground, Pulp Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut - at this impressionable age, and knocks your socks off, it's almost as if it changes your DNA.
And over time, as your tastes might get more discerning (or you just don't have the time to absorb as much new stuff as you used to), you find yourself effortlessly forgiving certain flaws in said pieces of pop-culture. Maybe some lines in Die Hard fall flat. Maybe some of the police officers seem comically dumb. Maybe you realize it doesn't make sense that German terrorists speak English more than necessary.
But it still won't sway your affection for the movie, TV show, book, or album. You'll love it not only in spite of its flaws, but because of its flaws. And while looking through world history with a nostalgic lens can actually be dangerous, it's reassuring to know that liking Liquid Swords no matter what is absolutely fine.
Running out of Stuff (and Running Out of Money to Buy What's Left)
Stuff is going to be hard to come by in the next several years (thanks to a plethora of factors, from scarcity of basic materials, to climate change affecting crop yields, to rising energy prices making it difficult to transport goods cross the globe, to Indian and Chinese markets competing with Western ones as more people in the East escape poverty).
(Un)fortunately, even if there was a steady stream of new items to purchase and use/enjoy, many of us wouldn't be able to afford a lot of it in the first place. Stagnant (or declining wages) while the cost of living rises means there's less disposable income to spend on any sort of luxury good or entertainment service.
This pattern has become so ingrained into daily life in the West (and, as noted above, has spread to China and India) that tens and millions of people have gone into debt (especially in the United States, where health care costs means it's frequently treated as a privilege, not a right), buying stuff they can't afford. A house bigger than they need, furnished with stuff you don't ever try to fix, but rather just replace outright when it breaks.
But this can't last forever, and let's not think these two scenarios cancel each other out. It's not a matter of 'there's less things, and less money to spend, so there's no net loss or gain'.
Human civilization in 2017 is predominantly a capitalist-materialist system, dependent on the constant exchange of goods and services. When this begins to break down (perhaps in conjunction with any other sort of financial crisis, like in the fall of 2008), it's time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask what we're doing, before the mirror gets repossessed.
Here's a thought summer 2016
Is love stronger than hate?
Well it sounds nice.
But love and hate are emotions, and what's more important is the actions taken because of love or hate (and the circumstances of the people taking these actions). Now it's pretty safe to say that many good and wonderful things have been done in the name of love, but there have certainly been some terrible things done in the name of love as well.
Correspondingly, it's more likely that things done because of the feeling of hatred are awful and tragic, but there is probably a small handful of acts done in the name of hatred that have been positive.
Fortunately, love is associated with other qualities such as peace, tranquility, sharing, and generosity, and these are bedrock traits for a sustainable community, which is much better for survival than constant chaos.
The Internet, Still
If the medium is the message, then the internet's message is kneejerk immediacy and short attention spans (which, by and large, is not a good activity to continually participate in).
Internet Outrage is officially a pastime, a hobby. Sadly, it begin with the best of intentions: trying to bring attention to injustice and society's failings (and these can run the gamut from matters of life and death that need addressing right away to more issue that might require more mundane and slower changes, like unfair hiring practices). That's a good thing. But a mob rules, first reporting, not follow-up, no second account type of mindset has made it made it an extremely limited form of ushering in real social change.
Change in the sense of actual reform and legislation takes time and effort. Lots of it. And 'time and effort' are two things that people rarely apply to their online perusal habits.
Keeping up with the latest Internet Outrage is like keeping up with new music when you reach your mid-thirties. Of course you can still do it, but it feels a lot more like work and repetition.
When OK Computer came out, it sounded like the future of rock (or what rock critics wanted the future of rock to sound like). Energetic, confrontational, debate-worthy, hook-filled but still experimental, anthemic, and a touch weird. This was the sound that the 'next big thing' was supposed to have, but that future never came.
OKC's melodies were aped by Coldplay and other 'softer' rock bands, which lacked the gnashing teeth and experimental leanings. The genre the album spawned missed its energy, excitement, and boundary-pushing.
Which is what the 'garage rock' revival of the early 00's had by the ton. But it wasn't a look to the future, it wasn't pushing forward and finding new sounds and recording techniques. It was a powerful embrace of the past. Punk’s power, New York’s cool grime, and recording equipment from the sixties.
OK Computer is the last great album that has guitars on it that made it seem like there would be more great guitar albums to come.
It's lyrical content (lamenting commercialization, technological alienation, a society that seems to have lost its way) is just as relevant today as it was nearly twenty years ago. It observed the world at a certain point in history, captured the zeitgeist, and is continuing to today because the zeitgeist hasn't changed that much (actually, it's very fragile).
OK Computer will always sound like the future of rock, but it's a future that will never come. Rock music has lost its heft, its weight, its connection with the youthful masses. OK Computer was latest frontier at a time when it was believed that rock music would always be a/the culturally relevant frontier. In that sense, OK Computer is the last rock album.
'Term limits' should not be restricted to only presidents. It should also apply to other political offices (congressman, members of parliament, senators). Not only that, but it should be applied to titans of industry, from financial to energy (perhaps not legally limited in this case, but acknowledged industry-wide that it's for the best).
Why? Because that level of power warps perspective. That level of responsibility and associated reward is not a healthy perspective to hold for long periods of time. You begin to lose the ability to recognize the viewpoint of not having these powers/responsibilities which a vast majority of people do not have. And losing that viewpoint is a serious problem. It's an important one, because it's losing a connection to/relationship with humanity (or at least how most of humanity lives).
There are legitimate problems that liberals traditionally criticize, and there are legitimate problems that conservatives traditionally criticize. But at the moment there are a lot problems out there that need liberal-style reforms instead of conservative-style reforms.
Here is a problem that conservatives are correct about (although some liberals will acknowledge it as well):
Union Pensions. (Note: This does not mean unions as a whole). We can't afford to pay firefighters $40,000 pensions for up to thirty years after they retire. That amount promised was from a very different economic era. Many, many people under the age of forty would love to make $40,000 a year. Western Nations (and by that, 'the governments of Western Nations') do not have that kind of money to spend anymore. In many states, emergency services are being scaled back and face deep budget cuts, in part so the government can pay retired emergency services employees.
The Responsibility of Leaders is to make difficult decisions that will pay off in the long run, and the responsibility of citizens is to understand and accept that the ramifications of these difficult decisions may include a change of present living standards. And both groups must 'suffer' through these hard times together.
And the challenge there is confronting the myth of 'It's Always Going to Get Better'. Forget things simply plateauing for the millennials. Sacrifices are going to have to be made regarding job security, access to health care, even the availability of basic resources like food and energy. Maybe having apples available year round in the northern hemisphere (because they are flown in from regions like South Africa) is going to have to end because of the drain on resources (from agriculture to transport).
Can the Rich Fix the World?
(Maybe the first issue is that because they are successful they don't see/experience the level of crisis that many other people are going through, and conclude that these concerns are overblown)
Certainly the first issue is unfairly profiling 'the rich' as all thinking and acting the same way. One billionaire cannot change the world, because two billionaires can outmaneuver/outspend him or her.
Because these challenges are extremely complicated, even if what must be done and how it should be done can, be universally agreed upon (already unlikely), there is still the chance for procedure to go awry.
The world is run by a series of amoral economic principles. While this ensures that not one particular person or political/religious ideology can monopolize it, it does allow for a small group of people and corporations to have a much, much larger say in its operation than all the people across the globe have an equal share.
It also makes the notion of 'throw the bums out' irrelevant. People can be replaced whether or not they support the dominant 'free market almost all of the time' economic principle, but the principles themselves are much, much harder to alter or replace.
What's the worst, most cynical way to describe/defend social assistance/welfare?
That we are paying people not to commit crimes by subsidizing their lifestyle of laziness and unemployment because doing that is actually cheaper than locking them up in prison for the crimes they would commit if we didn't pay.
And it's currently being PR-ed as 'basic guaranteed income', and has been attempted in certain towns and countries (Finland, to some degree) across the world. And it's being pushed by many in Silicon Valley.
If this is the goal, then suddenly 'the incentive not to work' (a criticism of welfare in the United States throughout the 80s) is irrelevant. The goal is simply to create functional and law-abiding citizens. If people want anything more than the basics, that is what they have to work for.
The challenge is finding a way for countries with tens (or hundreds) of millions of people to afford it. Augmenting the current social assistance/unemployment infrastructure, higher taxes, and expecting that you will save money in other areas like crime and health care...
I wish there was a heaven! Oh, that would be incredible, amazing! But it's such a ridiculous, nonsensical, unprovable piece of wishful thinking.
For billions of people it's the tentpole frame of their reality, the main focus of how they live their life: To appease the all-powerful creator of the universe so they will let them come and spend all of eternity in a magical place where you can get everything you want anytime at all, constantly bathed in the glory of god's love.
And there's no agreement! There's no majority of people that believe in one specific idea for the afterlife. Or god in general. Apparently the loving deity that created us all has no problem with millennia of bloody sectarian violence done in its name.
Wait, what if the Middle Class isn't/never was sustainable?
What if the rise, plateau, and fall of the middle class was just an anomaly born out of extremely unique and specific circumstances that rarely repeat themselves in such ways?
What if an over-class/underclass based society was the norm? (since that's what it's been for most of history. Not to say that civilization cannot change in one way and stay changed for a long time, but it seems like 'the middle class' certainly needs reinforcement to its foundation ASAP if it's going to stick around. If we've been closer than ever before to having a sustainable middle class, one should strive to make further adjustments to sociopolitical institutions so as to reach that level)
It certainly resembles a more animalistic hierarchy, one that we as the self-professed 'smartest people on earth' have unofficially made our goal ('be better than animals').
If the attempt to increase the taxes on the very wealthy keep failing in the halls of power (and frequently there is a PR framing of this issue (by those who would be subject to these increases) that pushes the misconception/misinformation that taxes are going up for everyone, which is why there is a not stronger push across the political spectrum), then a more effective way to increase much need revenue for governments is to tax corporations on a wider and higher scale. Fewer people will ever come out to defend a corporation as being treated unfairly. As corporations play larger and larger roles in our lives, people's anger towards them are growing, and (ideally) it should be easier for public support of higher taxes and regulation to be