Issues: Preamble

Before I dive into the mosh pit of American and worldwide events I feel it is important to state my starting position. This will provide context for my positions on topics like politics, religion, economics, environmentalism, and so on.

I am a straight Caucasian male. I was born in June of 1969, which makes me a member of Generation X. Politically, I am a hodge-podge of liberal, socialist, anarchist and Green. Religiously I am predominantly Buddhist, with a strong dash of Taoism and sprinklings of Eastern Orthodox mysticism. I have a college degree and a good job as a programmer. My life is stable enough for me to occasionally feel genuinely bored.

As a straight white dude I am overwhelmingly on the side of hegemony in the United States. Every benefit it is possible to accrue simply by being born white and straight and a dude, I have accrued. In the past twenty years and eight jobs I have only *really* had to fill out a resume once. The only way I could more closely hew to the current odious version of the American Dream would be for me to be conservative and Christian.

Those last two points? Never gonna happen.

I recognize how privileged my life is, and how little I have had to work, comparatively, to make it so. The system is set up specifically for people like me, and specifically against people who are not like me. And that fact nauseates me.

As a nerdy kid in a small farm town I was bullied regularly. Not badly, compared to the suicide-inducing standards of today, but consistently. That led directly to my lifelong practice of martial arts, and to my lifelong–and steadily increasing–hatred of bullies and bullying. For the purpose of any discussion along those lines, I will define bullying simply as punching down from a position of strength. And since this is my blog, I will be the sole determiner in these discussions as to what constitutes punching down.

To go along with that definition, I also have three general rules or guidelines or aphorisms that I try to keep front-and-center:

  1. There is no such thing as an over-reaction to being bullied.
  2. In any particular situation, if you take the side of hegemony, the only direction you can punch is down.
  3. When in doubt, err on the side of compassion.

I agree that the third point is incongruous with the first two. So be it. I contain multitudes. And sometimes pie.

What I’ve Been Thinking: The Economy

I spent a good chunk of my time this past year trying to get a handle on just what, exactly, had happened to the world economy, and how it had happened. I am absolutely not an economist, so most of what I heard made little sense. However, the parts that I did understand either made me furious, sad or scared. Seems that all of the “fixes” which have helped the economy “recover” are just band-aids, and have not fixed the fundamental problem, which is that, on the personal, local, national and global level, we are spending more money than actually exists, and the only way to prevent this whole edifice from collapsing is to continually spend more money. I realize this is an incredibly over-simplified view of the issue, but nothing which I have read has in any way contradicted it.

Two websites have been quite helpful in my research: Barry Ritholz’ The Big Picture and Naked Capitalism. Each publishes several articles a day, and do a good job of digging through the corporate/political smokescreens to get at the actual numbers.

Round about election time, I came across an online Federal budget simulator which allows users to sort out the Federal budget, with an eye toward “Stabilizing the U.S. Debt at 60% of GDP by 2018″. In other words, keep the debt from eating us. I ran through it a few times, and let me tell ya, it isn’t easy. In fact, it is impossible without making changes, increases, and cuts which would leave everyone’s oxen pretty well gored. The plus side is that the industries which lobby the hardest to get laws changed in their favor would be the hardest hit. I will post my solution in a future update. I will tell you that, among other things, I would not be eligible for social security until I was around 70, which is fine with me.

If I were the benevolent overlord of the world, one of my first commandments would be “Thou shall not make a profit in a manner which damages the system which allowed you to make that profit”.

The Cognitive Sinks

A few days ago a crime mapping article I wrote for the People Design blog went live. It pulls together thoughts I have had about this whole mapping thing, and some input from some other people who are involved in this sort of thing.

On Monday I came across a link to a presentation Clay Shirky gave at the Web 2.0 conference last week (transcript of the speech) (video of the speech). In it he talks about the idea of a “cognitive surplus”, and what that could mean for the world in the upcoming years. The idea, brutally simplified, is that as we cease indulging in passive entertainment and begin involving ourselves more and more in interactive pursuits, the amount of available brain-power in the world will increase dramatically. Not that the brains haven’t always been there; they have been turned down to a flicker by being pure consumers of ideas rather than producers.

Shirky brought up the common comment about people who do things like create the Wikipedia: “Where do they find the time?” Simple. They are actively exercising their imaginations, rather than passively absorbing someone else’s output.

The comments and compliments my co-workers offered me about the crime map, combined with the Shirky talk, got me to thinking. The crime map was a simple project. Other than gathering the crime data, it really represented about five hours of work. An afternoon. The length of two of the Matrix movies. If everyone who sat through the Matrix movies more than once, decided instead to exercise their imaginations for that time instead, how many more wonderful things would there be in the world?

People Are So Stupid

Recently a young teenager hacked up his aunt with a knife , and people are trying to lay the blame on the game Diablo . If you have ever played Diablo, you would know that the only realistic way to blame a murder on Diablo would be if the perpetrator grabbed the victim by the face and repeatedly slammed his index finger into the victim’s forehead, mouse-click style.

I am John’s profound contempt for everyone who blames anything other than wasted time on video games. So I have decided to imagine what kind of deaths other video games would cause…

Tetris
Person A bricks up person B in a wall, Cask of Amantillado style.

Pokemon
Victim is mauled while attempting to stuff a doberman into a panty-hose egg.

Unreal Tournament
Victim dies of head injuries after screaming “WALL HACK” and running face-first into the side of a building.

Asteroids
We’ll just call this one an unfortunate skeet-shooting accident.

Breakout
Tennis racket. Brick wall. Grenade. Darwin.

“America is a dildo which has turned berserkly on its owner” -Tom McGuane

Horoshii denh Rozhdeniy

Happy Birthday to me,
Happy Birthday to me,
I probably have to work until midnight tonight!!!!
Happy Birthday to me!!!

So: What did you get me?

As thanks to the universe for reconfiguring itself so that I may exist in this space-time continuum, today I am going to Kick Ass and Take Names.

A few weeks back a spoiled brat 18-year-old high school senior named Blair L. Hornstine was named co-valedictorian, along with two other people. Instead of being gracious and congratulating her classmates on their good fortune, or even simply protesting the school’s decision to have more valedictorians than the traditional One, she sued her school for $2,700,000.

Her excuse was that, because she suffered from an immune deficiency, she deserved special privileges, among which apparently was the privilege to acquire by cheating something she couldn’t get by skill. So far the public response has been a unanimous “Grow Up and Get A Life”.

Yesterday it came to light that she had plagiarized some articles she had written for her school newspaper. Her excuse was “I’m not a professional journalist. I didn’t know these things.” That excuse might have flown had she used it before she sued her school, but with that act she forever lost any and all right to ever complain about any unethical behavior anywhere in the universe.

Also, her father is a judge.

So now there is an online petition asking Harvard to rescind their invitation for her to start college in September. As of this post there are around 1700 signatures. I think it would be a nice birthday present to me, if I could see the total hit ten thousand before the end of the day.

More to follow as I think up other Good Works to perform on this, the 34th anniversary of the beginning of my current incarnation.

On Not Letting Art Die

Lawrence Lessig has been fighting the Good Fight , trying to get the Eldred Act bill introduced to congress. He has posted a link to make it easier to contact your elected servant . The Eldred Act FAQ is here .

I can hear you thinking: Why should I care about books and music staying copyrighted forever? The answer is, human greed. When a book is no longer bringing in money for a publisher, they stop printing it. It goes “out of print”. They still own the book. No-one else can print copies of the book. The copies that have been printed are the only copies which will ever be printed.

Sometimes, occasionally, rarely, the publisher will sell the rights to another publisher, so that the new publisher can print the book. After a while, the book isn’t bringing in any money, and goes out of print. Given that publishers seldom trade rights back and forth, this makes little difference in the overall scheme of the copyright-induced loss of history and culture.

I will tell you this: My very favorite book as a child was Go Dog Go. It was published in 1961. Someday I plan to have a kid or two. If that book is out of print when I need it, I will find a used copy, scan it, make .jpgs of it, and release it to every file-sharing service in existence. Publisher copyright be damned. The owners of the rights to Go Dog Go do not have my permission to allow the book to go out of print. If it does, and they do not WITHIN NANOSECONDS either sell the rights or release the book to the public domain, then that is a crime against every person ever read, and every person who will never read, Mr. Eastman’s wonderful book.

Laws do not matter, property rights do not matter. Only the easy and continued availability of the book matters. This applies not only to Go Dog Go, but to every book, poem, essay, op/ed piece, song, play and story ever published in this country. Let none of them ever again be unavailable to the public for any reason.

In other news, here is a picture of a mushroom.

Deliberate Ignorance

Boy, Arts and Letters Daily does a good job of making my blood pressure spike. Today it is a review of the book The Thought Police.

The book brings to light something I have noticed more and more over the last ten years: ignorance is being touted as a virtue. Here is a clip from the review:

…Among those rejected by the “bias and sensitivity” panel was a passage about the patchwork quilts made by 19th century frontier women: “The reviewers objected to the portrayal of women as people who stitch and sew, and who were concerned about preparing for marriage.” The fact that the passage was historically accurate was considered no defense for its “stereotypical” image of women and girls.

Basically, anything which might conceivably, through some radical stretch of the imagination, be considered to enforce a stereotype, is simply not to be discussed. Someone, somewhere, might be offended. If I make a remark about a woman (my mother?) baking a cake (for my birthday?) it is seen as enforcing the stereotype that baking a cake is women’s work…EVEN IF I AM TALKING ABOUT THE TIME SHE BAKED ME A CAKE!!!!

Anything mention of anything that the Left (anything which might conceivably be construed to be saying person A is in any way different from person B) and the Right (anything which might conceivably be interpreted as going against “tradition”) don’t like is no longer allowed in textbooks.

So there can be no mention of slavery (shows insensitivity toward Black Americans), reservations (ditto, American Indians), athletics (the handicapped), smart people (stupid people) or skyscrapers (acrophobes). And these are the more rational decisions. Witness:

…a story about a heroic blind youth who climbed to the top of Mt. McKinley was rejected, not only because of its implicit suggestion that blind people might have a harder time than people with sight, but also because it was alleged to contain “regional bias”: According to the panel’s bizarre way of thinking, students who lived in non-mountainous areas would theoretically be at a “disadvantage” in comprehending a story about mountain climbing.

Let us now consider logical fallacies.

One: Discussing historical events == the enforcing of stereotypes

FALSE!!! Discussing historical events is discussing historical events. Black Americans in large numbers used to pick cotton. Historical fact. To discuss it is NOT equal to saying “Black Americans are the kind of people who pick cotton”.

Two: Not exposing someone to something == protection from that thing

FALSE!!! Not exposing someone to something (e.g. guns) merely means that person is ignorant about guns. Facts have not been offered. That is why kids shoot themselves. Not because the gun is within reach, but because they were not taught why guns are dangerous.

Three: All [men | women | races | cultures | creeds | religions] are in all ways equal and equivalent to all other [men | women | races | cultures | creeds | religions]

FALSE!!! It is more accurate to say that none of the above are in any way like any others of the above. The flattening of ability and talent (outcome-based education) to comfort the lowest common denominator is terribly damaging to everyone involved. It erases all texture and color from the cultures of the world and turns them into Disneyland amusements. Safe Disneyland amusements.

There are ten thousand reasons to be angered by this trend in education, but for me, the worst is that it tries to erase the struggles and achievements of people throughout the entire history of the human race (I will probably get flack from people because saying “human race” doesn’t take into account all of the great accomplishments ostriches have made in the last two millennia). Not talking about slavery hamstrings the entire civil rights movement. Not talking about alcoholism means the guy curled up in the doorway doesn’t really have a problem, he’s just sleeping. Not talking about Florence Nightengale because stories about her portray women as the kind of people who are nurses, erases a hundred years of struggle for equal rights.

Talking about controversial issues is by no means the same thing as advocating controversial issues. It is exactly and purely the dispelling of ignorance.

What is happening in schools is the deliberate, willful glorification of ignorance, and the destruction of our history. However, there are precedents for this behavior:

In Egypt, about three thousand years ago, when a public figure became unpopular with the Powers That Be, that person’s name was taken from all statues, public records, scrolls, plaques and pillars. That person, for all intents and purposes, was removed from history. Apparently talking about criminals was considered insensitive to non-criminals.

During the French revolution the names of the months, among other things, were changed in order to remove from common usage anything which might remind people of the decadent religious past. Thus April became Germinal (seed), and August became Thermidor (heat).

The Communist revolutions in Russia and China tried very hard to get rid of every bit of history which led up to the revolution, including the destruction of art, artifacts, places of worship, the imprisoning and murder of educated and talented people, and the state-approved vilification of anyone not toeing the party line. Obviously, anyone who didn’t approve of what the government was doing was not patriotic enough.

More recently the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the two largest Buddhas in the world; giant statues dating from 400 to 600 AD were blown up because they showed insensitivity to Islamic extremists.

This is EXACTLY the same line of thought used by the people who enforce this particularly stupid and dangerous form of political correctness. So dig out your old highschool textbooks, because even the ones which talk about Indians and Negros and Women Staying Home and Making Babies are more honest, open and accurate than the Socialist Realist tracts now being used in our schools.

Burn a book and I’m stupid for a day.
Burn a library and I’m stupid for a lifetime.

Deconstructionism is Stupid

While browsing Arts and Letters Daily I came across this review of a new movie about the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida. Well, kind of a review. The author mentions the existence of the movie then launches into a rant about Derrida which I found to be both amusing and enlightening.

Deconstructionism is the schools of thought which divorces works of art from their creators and any meaningful context, then picks them apart using, in essence, personal whim and non-sequiturs. The goal of this meaningless exercise if to show that no one thing is any more meaningful or important than anything else.

People who have read Cryptonomicon may remember the scene where the protagonist, Randy, objects to the misuse by a visiting professor of the metaphor “information superhighway”. The professor replies that, because Randy is a computer expert his view of the subject is necessarily skewed and, by knowing less about the subject than Randy, he himself is better qualified to form an opinion about the effects of the internet on the lower classes. He also uses a lot of non-sequiturs and academic in-jokes to show how smart he is.

Huh?

Exactly. In The Bear Went Over the Mountain one of the minor characters wistfully predicts the profound impact his new book, which compares the number of consonants to the number of vowels used by Shakespeare, will have on The Academy. This is also deconstructionism.

Deconstructionism is mediocrity.

Because any tangent can be used in the pursuit of tearing down a work of art, the practice requires neither careful study nor accountability. It is the argument used by far-left liberals when they say all children must feel good about themselves so the smart ones must be dumbed down.

Deconstructionism, when taken to extremes (as convenient schools of thought always are when someone’s career or ego is involved), can seriously damage reputations and, in cases where intervention into affairs outside the academy may be deemed necessary, can actually cost lives. In this article (also by way of A.L. Daily), the author notes that the reason American feminists are spending more time complaining about boy-to-girl ratios in little league teams than they are campaigning against human rights violations in Muslim countries, is that, by their own logic, to act aggressively against the values of another culture is to support the Western hegemony.

The argument is feminist, but the logic behind it is deconstructionist. Western civilization has been shown to have been built by a flawed group of individuals, therefore anything done in support of, opposition to, or in reaction to anything that is connected to Western civilization, is inherently bad.

Thus nothing is done. And here is my primary gripe against the deconstructionists. They are so very good at destroying beautiful, worthwhile things, but they are incapable of creating. Psychologists could have a field day with these people, if they wanted to subject themselves to having their work interpreted in light of the temperature outside, what they had for lunch, number of syllables in their surnames, cross-referenced with whether or not certain fingernails are bitten.

That is no exaggeration. It is much easier to destroy something old than it is to create something new.

And the deconstructionists – not to mention the people who listen to them – never seem to realize that if nothing is inherently meaningful, then neither is deconstruction itself. The entire school of philosophy suddenly collapses, and thousands of trite, untalented graduate students end up holding signs on street corners.

“Will comment on Einstein with reference to South Park, taking into account the feeding habits of the Norway Rat during the Great Plague for food”.