Thursday, June 01, 2017

Temporary Insanity

In my last post I wrote about love, and I described it as "the condition by which we care for others more than we care for ourselves." I stand behind that 100%. Unfortunately many people these days confuse love with what I (and many others) call "lurve"... as in "... but we're in lurrrrrve."

Lurve is merely romantic infatuation. It has very little to do with Love. Unlike love, lurve is all about you. Talk to someone one who is "in lurve"...
  • "She makes me feel so..."
  • "I feel..."
  • "My heart..."
Lurve is all about me, me, me. It's not love at all. And it's worse than that. People "in lurve" do not make clear decisions. Even Shakespeare knew it: read Romeo and Juliet. People "in lurve" are self-destructive, not because they are caring for someone else, but because of the way the self-destruction makes them feel. It is an insidious, twisted parody of love. It leaves people behaving in this sort of ridiculous fashion so aptly illustrated by Bruno Mars:

I'd catch a grenade for ya 
Throw my hand on a blade for ya 
I'd jump in front of a train for ya 
You know I'd do anything for ya 
I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain 
Yes, I would die for you, baby 
But you won't do the same

Note that none of this is to actually defend or care for someone, but purely because it's asked... or worse, simply thrown at the object of infatuation; whereas a clear-headed person knows that love is long-term, and that to care for someone else you must first be equipped and prepared to do so.

I offer that lurve is nothing less than bona-fide temporary insanity.

It is temporary in that it always wears off. And when it does, it often leaves the people so stricken with the realization that they don't even like the person that they would have "died for". Sometimes (as in the song) they know this even as they're still "in lurve". That lurve is temporary is why the present divorce rate in America is 50%.  Put another way, as many as 50% of American marriages have not ended in divorce yet.

Our ancestors knew that this infatuation we now casually call lurve was divorced from common sense. A person could not be trusted to look after his or her own best interests when under its influence. Until well into the 20th century it was still social norm for a man to ask a woman's parents for permission to marry. And it was the social norm for them to reject layabouts, louts, and otherwise unsuitable suitors. The parents were the gatekeepers who kept their daughter's interests in mind, even when their daughter's mind was temporarily incapacitated by luuuurve.

And it worked. Marriages lasted, and divorce was the exception, not the rule.


In some places, this is still the norm. Today I related a story to my wife. As an IT consultant, a very large percentage of the people I have worked with over the last twenty years have been from India. A few years ago, one of my co-workers (for convenience I'll call him by the pseudonym of "Sandeep") told me he was returning to India. I asked him if his work visa had expired.

"No," he replied. "I'm getting married!"

I told him I thought that was wonderful, and asked him what his fiancée was like. Sandeep responded that he didn't know... he had never met her. His parents had arranged the marriage.


At this point in the story, my wife looked aghast. "You mean to tell me he didn't even know what she looked like, or whether he would like her or not?" She told me that she couldn't imagine having to "submit" to a "forced" marriage. I asked her what she thought about that, and she said she didn't think much of it. I bet her that she would change her mind when I finished the story...


Sandeep was born in a culture that reveres their elders for their wisdom and life experience. He loves his parents very much, and he knows that no matter how old he gets, they will love him intensely. He trusts that they would always look after his best interests, and do their very best for him. He knew that in choosing a wife for him, his parents would make the best choice they possibly could, using all of their experience and hopes for his future and that of all of their grandchildren.

I saw Sandeep's face. I heard his voice. He did not reluctantly return in fear and trepidation at being "forced" into an arranged marriage. Rather, he looked forward with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of meeting for himself the perfect woman that his parents had chosen especially for him... the very same excitement and anticipation felt by expecting parents toward a baby who has not yet even been born.

Whether a newborn is thin, fat, ugly, or has all of his fingers and toes has nothing to do with a parent's love; it doesn't depend on anything so superficial. So it was with Sandeep and the perfect wife he had not yet seen.


My wife stared at me for a full thirty seconds, slack-jawed. I could tell she was thinking of our own children.

"I never thought of it that way. I understand it now. It's different. But it's beautiful."

Yeah. It is.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Love and Hate

Many people believe that the opposite of Love is Hate. I don't think it is. The true opposite of Love is nothing at all. If you have ever felt the empty, bland not-caringness of ceasing to love someone without hating them, you have some idea of the truth of this. Where there is both Love and Hate, when the Love is gone, then Hate is exposed, naked. For this reason, people believe them to be opposites.

Hate stems from the perception of being hurt or wronged. Hate, properly applied, has a positive purpose. Consider this passage from C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, in which Professor Ransom is wrestling with the Un-Man:
What was before him appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself to which will was attached only as an instrument. Ages ago it had been a Person: but the ruins of personality now survived in it only as weapons at the disposal of a furious self-exiled negation. It is perhaps difficult to understand why this filled Ransom not with horror but with a kind of joy. The joy came from finding at last what hatred was made for.
Why would an almighty God allow such a thing as hatred...? Because it has exquisite, necessary utility. Love is the condition by which we care for others more than we care for ourselves. Unalloyed Love leads us to allow evil without opposition. We become the unwitting tools of evil. We become enablers. Hate, properly applied, motivates us to combat evil. In the presence of Love, Hate gives us the strength to act where we might otherwise consider only our own survival. It keeps us from being cowards.

Hate becomes a problem in the absence of Love.

Without Love... putting others first... we make ourselves the center of everything. Every matter of ethics and morality becomes relative and subjective. We focus only on the offense that we take, without considering whether offense was given. Thus, we are offended by everything and we hate freely. And because admitting to our hatred would damage our self-image, we cannot bring ourselves to do that. Instead, we justify our selfishness using the language of emotions we do not truly feel. Not necessarily toward everyone... but certainly toward those who don't bolster our self-image... those who are not useful to us.

Look around. Look inside. Judge for yourself.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump Frenzy Continues

Judging from the Liberals on my Facebook page, they just can't get enough of Trump. It's a parade of all-Trump, all-the-time, and for the next 3-1/2 years personal lives are something to be neglected to the point of atrophy.

Ah, well. Today I saw a rather long list of possibilities for the demise of Trump's term in office. According to this armchair pundit, Trump has in the neighborhood of a 1-in-16 chance of finishing his first term. I say this because the other 15 options revolve around some ignominious removal from office by impeachment or resignation.

By the way, I'm 100% behind Richard Dreyfuss' non-partisan initiative to bring Civics education back into grade school curriculum.

If my left-leaning friends applied Civics to the issue, they'd remember that it is not illegal for the President of the United States, who happens to be the Chief Executive... top kahuna of the executive branch of government... to fire someone in his employ. That includes the FBI Director. Their dislike of the timing of it does not make it a high crime or misdemeanor. Their disagreement with his operational decisions do not constitute grounds for impeachment.

If my left-leaning friends applied Civics to the issue, they'd remember that it is not illegal for the President of the United States, who happens to be the countries chief diplomat, to talk to the leaders of other countries or maintain friendly relationships with them. Their fantasies of traitorous subterfuge does not make it illegal for world leaders to meet, talk, tell jokes, laugh, etc.. Even when those leaders have substantive differences of policy, they can still be cordial and civil. A joke shared between adversaries does not make the policy differences disappear.

Unfortunately, many (and by no means all) of my friends and acquaintances on the left have no comprehension of this, having lost the ability to disagree cordially themselves. They just can't do it. It has nothing to do with politics, really; if you're bad, everything about you must be bad. Whatever you sell is bad, whatever you like is bad, and your every purpose must be nefarious. All it takes is one opinion. Ask Laci Green. A die-hard feminist, all she said was that the other side had some valid points and that she'd continue to be open to conversations about opposing views, and she got lambasted for it by her leftist "friends". I've found that there is a large group of people on that side for whom "friendship" is a truly foreign concept. There are people who are useful to them, and there are enemies. And this is a lop-sided criticism, yes. I personally know many people on the left who are like that, specifically about interpersonal relationships. I personally know no one on the right who is. I disagree strongly on a number of the talking points of both sides, and that's my experience.

For the record, I strongly suspect Trump is acting the way he is because he has no intention of running for a second term. You're used to analyzing the actions of politicians, whereas this is not a politician. This is someone who thinks of himself as a great negotiator, and that's how you need to analyze his actions. Misdirection and manipulation. Put on a little circus over there so you can get some stuff done quietly over here. Over-ask so as to more readily "settle" for what you wanted in the first place. For instance, people forget all about whether there should be a Wall if they spend 100% of their time arguing over who's going to pay for it. See? It's a completely different conversation.

So at this point my thought is that Trump's going to finish his full term, and he'll do it without impeachment or resignation. Resignation will never even be on the table. And he will continue to operate in a way that completely baffles the left, even when he delivers many of the things they actually want. And the left will continue to oppose him on those items, even though they formerly wanted them. Go figure.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

On Pre-Existing Conditions

There are a lot of folks protesting right now about the fact that the GOP's proposed healthcare law does not force insurance providers to cover pre-existing conditions. The fact that they're out there protesting tells me that they don't know a whole lot about insurance.

I'm going to start with this and then give some alternatives. Perhaps after that you'll understand the insurance company's position (and it isn't "greed").

Pre-existing conditions should never be a part of any insurance plan. 


Because if you allow pre-existing conditions, it's not insurance

At its most basic, insurance is a bet. Let's take something other than healthcare as an example to remove the emotion from the equation. Every month, I bet State Farm that my car will be wrecked. Every month, State Farm takes that bet. Both of us ante up: my ante is called a "premium", which is set according to the odds; and State Farm's ante is held in their liquid assets... cash on hand for the purpose of paying off such bets. If my car isn't wrecked, I lose the bet, and State Farm keeps my premium. If my car is wrecked, then I win the bet, and State Farm pays the cost of repair or replacement.

That's very simple, right? Almost indistinguishable from gambling. Now there are a few things that legally differentiate this bet from gambling, but I'll focus on just two to start: One is the idea of "insurable interest". As the insured, I have to suffer loss in order to win the bet. The other is the idea of "proximate cause". That is, the the reason for the loss must occur within the term (the effective dates) of the policy.

That's because insurance is a hedge against uncertain loss. Take away the loss or the uncertainty, and it's not insurance.

And again let's compare it to a bet so you can see it clearly.
1: Tim flips a coin and covers it so no one else can see it. William bets you even money that it's heads. Is that a fair bet?
2: Tim flips a coin and then shows it to William. William then bets you even money that it's heads. Is that a fair bet?
Of course you wouldn't take the second bet. No one would. That's because the state of the coin is a pre-existing condition. It is something that you personally would never accept if you were offered the wager. You wouldn't even pretend otherwise.

But that's a bet. Now, with insurance:
3: You buy insurance, then wreck your car. You file a claim about the accident. The insurance company pays you and you use the money to fix your car.
4: You wreck your car, then buy insurance. You file a claim about the accident. You've committed insurance fraud and you are arrested.
The reason for the insurance fraud in 4 is that the auto damage is a pre-existing condition.

This is completely straightforward and logical and fair. Obviously so.

Now let's look at a third legal point: mitigation. The insured person must treat his property as if it were not insured. In other words, he's required to take steps to avoid damage that would cause a payout. So if you own a car you have to drive safely, service it regularly, make sure it has oil and other fluids in it, keep the brakes in good repair, etc. This is your responsibility, and is not part of insurance. It also means you can't cause an "accident". You can't deliberately set fire to your property or fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent it from catching fire, etc. Otherwise the insurance company would not pay out, and would prosecute you.

If these restrictions did not exist, it's blatantly obvious that anyone could simply wreck their car, go to the insurance company, plop down a premium... say a couple of hundred bucks... and buy a new car at someone else's expense. The insurance company would be paying out far more than they get in and would soon go out of business. In order to prevent that, they would first raise their premiums in an attempt to cover the losses. This would cause their legitimate customers to defect to other companies and hasten the demise of the idiots who allowed payouts without proximate cause. Since this is obviously detrimental to society, insurance fraud is illegal.

Healthcare Insurance 

The exact same thing is true of insurance when applied to healthcare. You're still making a bet, you're still hedging against uncertain loss, and the insurance company must still remain solvent. If you screw with any of that, then your premiums for legitimate customers skyrocket, their deductibles increase, and insurance companies are forced out of the market.

This is exactly what we have seen happen in practice under the Affordable Healthcare Act... "Obamacare". It is not only mathematically inevitable, it is completely predictable, and in fact was predicted by many people in many places, including on this blog. And they were absolutely right.

Part of the problem is clarity of language. Although much of what is lumped together as healthcare insurance is actual insurance, much of it isn't. Rather, it's a pre-payment plan. This isn't fiction. Read about the formative history of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations and you'll see that these plans were created to increase the profitability of hospitals and doctors, respectively. It was to encourage people to use those services when they otherwise wouldn't have in the money-tight years of the Great Depression. So there are expenses included that are not the result of actual loss. These are are things like regular checkups or preventative medications and supplements. They are maintenance expenses that would mitigate actual insurance payouts. But because these prepayment plans are lumped in with insurance coverage, we've gotten used to calling the whole lump "healthcare insurance".

Until the last few years, pre-existing conditions were still disallowed, for the same reasonable and fair reasons that it's disallowed in every other insurance venue. It is only in the emotionally-charged case of healthcare that people fail to call insurance fraud what it is and actively insist that insurance companies fall victim to this cheat. I'm using my words carefully here. If you want pre-existing conditions to be covered by insurance, then you explicitly endorse fraud and cheating. If this bothers you, it's not because you're upset by fraud; you're upset at being called out for it. I'm not saying this to insult you; I'm saying it because you need to think in new ways... ways that actually address and solve root causes.

Fixing It

Consider this: no one ever buys a drill because he wants a drill. A person buys a drill because he wants a hole. When you consider the actual problem, it's clear that it doesn't matter whether you gain the hole by owning, renting, or borrowing a drill; or by lasering, sandblasting, punching, or pre-forming the hole. So long as you get your hole, the mechanism doesn't matter.

Likewise, you have to ask yourself whether you want healthcare insurance coverage for every possible healthcare expense, or affordable, accessible healthcare. If you can pay $4/month at Wal-mart for maintenance medication, do you need to pay $50/month so that it's "covered" and paid for by an insurance company? If you could visit a doctor for a $50 office fee, do you need to pay an additional $200/month so that two checkups a year are included in your "coverage"? Should you force someone else to pay those maintenance fees for you?

Just because something isn't paid for by insurance, that does not mean that it shouldn't be treated, or that people should be allowed to die, or that people who want a robust and viable insurance industry want you to die. None of those things need be true.

It simply means that we should find a different way of paying for it. You have to think about the actual problem. And the problem is not insurance. And if it were, institutionalized insurance fraud is not the way to "fix" it. Rather, it's a guaranteed road to a permanently broken system.

There are multiple ways of addressing the actual need. In socialized medicine, it's simply payed by taxes. You could put the providers on the government payroll and pay them a salary. Now you're not limited by the payments, but by the number of service providers, hours in the day, and demand. Obviously this raises taxes, but it does not require you to pay for everyone. We currently have single-payer means-tested social medicine programs in the United States in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. And for decades, no hospital that accepts government funds in this country has been allowed to turn away a patient in immediate need of care. That's the law, and it's posted at or near the entrance of your nearest emergency room. Go look. That's the truth that's swept under the rug. But rather than focus on improving these programs -- which are literally intended to solve the very problems that the ACA attempts to address -- the architects of the ACA instead decided to break healthcare for everyone. That was just flatly stupid.

In addition to these programs, there are other workable solutions. One way is through privately or publicly funded charities.

We know this is possible because we do it today. The Shriners famously operate 22 children's hospitals. Only about 15% of their budget comes from public grants. The rest is derived from dues willingly paid by Shriners and by voluntary contributions to their fundraising efforts. No child is ever billed for their services. Not directly, and not through their insurance companies either. The same is true of RiteCare provided by Scottish Rite masons for preschool children with language disabilities. Not one cent is ever demanded from a patient. The same is true of St. Jude's Children's Research hospital. The point is that we know that alternative methods work and that they are viable and that they solve the actual problem of health care for their patients.

Innovative solutions like these and others are overlooked in the broader healthcare market because people have been trained to jump blindly past the issue of whether breaking private insurance is a good idea to focus on how to break it in the most egregious manner possible. They don't think of it that way, but that's what they're doing. Furthermore, many people have been taught that it is not their responsibility to look after their own bodies... that they have a "right" to have someone else do it for them. They actually take more personal responsibility for their cars than they do for their lives, and they think this is somehow normal. That's a societal illness of its own, and it needs to be fixed as part of the overall solution.  Of course helping people is a priority; but "help" requires some personal accountability by definition.

Insurance is one of the most historically precise industries there is. Actuaries account for everything, be it cause or correlation. When they set odds it's because that's what the odds are. The wishful thinking of government legislators cannot change them. The wishful thinking of people who desire free money cannot do better. Honestly, I think the best thing we can do about private insurance is leave it alone and address the problems of the uninsured independently. That won't happen until you recognize what those problems actually are.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Commentary: Inside the Box

"Inside the Box" is the first piece of fiction I've written in a while. I know a lot of people like to let their work stand for itself, but I like to at least keep track of what I was thinking at the time. So this post is really just for me. But if you want to be less confused, read the story and come back. I'll wait.

Working in IT as I do, I'm constantly barraged by advice to "think outside the box", and truth be told, that's mostly how I make my living. Last week I was driving home, passing the Belk distribution center as I have done uncountable times before when the phrase popped into my head. Here's what I saw:

"The Box" - The Belk distribution center in Jonesville, SC

My basic inspiration isn't terribly mysterious, is it?

I started to think, what if the box weren't a metaphor? What if someone actually lives in a box? And that's all he does... live in the box and think about the world outside of it? I thought about why he would live in the box, and say why in the story... the Calvin and Hobbes comic is real, and I remember having felt a fleeting moment of vertigo when I first read it. The strip I'm referencing was similar, but not identical, to the comic at the right, here. I can't find the actual strip, but I'm not terribly surprised. Bill Waterson re-visited this concept several times during the course of his career. Here's another example, below:

As irrational fears go, this takes the prize. So I used it with attribution.

To build such a thing as the Box you have to be wealthy, so I made Foster wealthy. That wasn't such a great stretch of the imagination. I actually knew a millionaire recluse named Foster. He didn't live in a box, but he did have a small house on a lake, and he did keep exotic birds. So I used his first name and his birds.

I purposely kept the original source of Foster's wealth vague, because it's a short story, and that's an unimportant detail. It is solely intellectual, however; and Foster is completely a self-made man. The story doesn't allow the reader to know much about his background other than that. His race, ethnicity, favorite foods, etc. are up to the reader to fill in as they prefer. If you were to ask me why didn't I include a Black transgender character in this story, I'd respond that Foster is obviously Black and transgender. Or not. That's subject to your bias, not mine.

Politics enters when Foster cuts off personal ties to the outside world. Now that is subject to my bias. I'm vocally Libertarian, and the news of the world is somewhat scary these days. You have left-wingers and right-wingers running around attempting to control other people, protesting their success or dictating their actions. The Box is a sanctuary from all of that. It's a little microcosm where the delineation between "my space" and "everyone else's space" is physical.

I'm also a capitalist who knows how capitalism actually works in the modern era. In today's world, success is no longer tied to labor, but to perceived contribution. Ideas, not sweat, are the fuel of the new economy. The scope of that success is a matter of scale. If a lot of people pay you a little bit each because your ideas are valuable to them, you will become immensely wealthy. That doesn't mean you cheated anybody, or that you rose on their backs by depriving them, or that you are obligated to "give back". You got wealthy because you gave in the first place. Value for value. That's the thing about capitalism that no socialist on Earth truly comprehends. You provided the people of the world with a valuable product or service, and they gave back to you in the form of voluntary payment. The obligations are necessarily met by the free market. Everything else is charity or theft.

To be sure, most right-wingers get it wrong, too. They don't comprehend the vast difference between accounting and economics, which is why they wish to run government like a business or bring back the restrictive gold standard. Only when wealth is based on labor does this make sense. Gold is a limited resource, as is labor. It's perfectly reasonable in such a world to tie the monetary supply to the effort involved in producing some scarce resource. But that's not our world. In a world like ours, where ideas are the prime commodity, money itself is merely an idea. It still must be controlled... you don't have money just because you wish to have it. And labor still does have value. But money isn't a limiting factor to innovation.

In a short story, points are exaggerated for effect. In this story, Foster has limitless ideas with practical applications, so I tweak income inequality heavily in his favor. In practical terms, "income inequality" is a talking point reserved for the jealous who have not learned that their success should be measured against their comfort based on their efforts to leverage equal opportunity. In practical terms it means very little. It . An individual can only consume so much. Give enough people enough resources, however, and they can consume everything.

So I made that happen. Foster's life is dictated by his guilt and fears. Agoraphobia forced him to withdraw. Fear of a jealous populace who would "Occupy the Box" forced him to batten the hatches. Fear of those same people led him to give those same people whatever they wanted without effort on their part, and without restriction. Traditional capitalists brokered the process.

Foster ultimately becomes a god, of near limitless power. He thought he had the answers. Untouched by the consequences of his power, and indifferent to the limitations of the world, he thought his power could be given to mortals without consequence. He didn't consider that the most radical consequences are inevitable and unintended. So the Left and the Right conspired to petition this small god for the means to destroy themselves, quite successfully. And to be sure, I don't limit my satire to them. Foster himself represents that brand of thinker who would rather retreat from the world or solve their problems for them (he is both at once), who is equally culpable.


There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Short Story: Inside the Box

When the world is free from want, what is there left to want?

By David F. Leigh

Foster McFarland lives inside the Box.

Technically, he lives inside a house. But the house is inside the Box, as is a lawn, a small lake, and the tiny forest that comprise the thirteen acres of prime real estate within Foster McFarland’s Box.

Foster McFarland thinks inside the Box.

When people outside the Box had problems in need of outside the box thinking, they took their problems inside the Box to Foster. Foster had a reputation outside the Box for outside the box thinking. The people outside the Box never thought as far outside the box as Foster thinks inside the Box.

The first problem Foster McFarland solved was that of his agoraphobia. He wasn’t always irrationally frightened of open spaces; but he once read a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which young Calvin imagined that his father had forgotten to pay the gravity bill. As Foster considered the panel in which Calvin was swept into the vast empty sky, he pondered what such a thing would be like. He looked up at the vast, empty sky above him, dropped his newspaper, ran inside the house, and never looked at that sky with his naked eyes again.

It didn’t matter. Inside the house, Foster has a television, and a telephone, and a computer, and the Internet. He continued to think outside the box, and soon amassed a number of patents. These made him extremely wealthy, and he had the Box built around him. He likes Nature, and built the Box big enough to hold enough of it that he would be able to enjoy the outdoors indoors. Inside the Box he built the brilliant Sun and the illuminated Moon that track across the azure ceiling that is his sky. Bright birds paint their colors across his sky and nest in the trees of his forest. They share the trees with squirrels and other wildlife. Foster enjoys their company, secure in the knowledge that should gravity ever fail, he will not be swept away.

At first Foster had food and consumables delivered to him from outside the Box. But as time went on, he watched the news of the world on his computer and satellite television. He watched as people became more tribal and divisive and violent. He saw them become petty and jealous. He saw them riot in the streets. This began to frighten him. What if someone outside the Box -- a delivery person, or a visitor -- were to become jealous of him in his Box? Would they turn their violence towards him? What he needed was self-sufficiency.

So Foster McFarland, intrigued by the new technology of 3D printing, set about improving it. He devised machines that print with proteins and starches, ceramics and metals. He learned to print all the things he might need… cakes and pies, beef and lasagna, clothing and shoes. And lest anyone be jealous, he shared his knowledge with the world through more patents. These made him astonishingly wealthy, and even more afraid.

He needn’t have feared. People loved Foster’s devices, even though the majority of them had no knowledge of the man behind the patents. But Foster didn’t know that, taking his information from news feeds and blogs. So he locked the massive door of the Box and remained inside, enjoying the bright sunshine and pH-balanced rain of his computer-modeled, climate-controlled personal space.

But as time went on, he continued to watch the news of the world on his computer and satellite television. And it seemed to him that despite all of his work, the world was as bad off as it always had been. Certainly, the people who could buy his devices had seen their lives improve, and you might think that the things they didn’t consume because of his inventions would have gone to those less fortunate. Real beef should be poverty food, he thought. But the proteins and starches that were the raw materials of Foster’s machines had to come from somewhere, and the policy makers who used his appliances loved animals far too much to raise them for food when they no longer had to. Even as they raised fewer animals, consumption remained high, and they bought more and more of Foster’s machines. This made Foster ridiculously wealthy.

So Foster began giving his money away. He gave it to the poor. He gave it to the third world. He gave it to the communists, and the socialists, and the populists. He gave it to everyone who could not afford his devices. And they all freely gave his money to the capitalists to buy more devices, and the money flowed right back to Foster, and he became ludicrously wealthy.

But the devices required energy, and there wasn’t enough to go around. Guilty of the privilege granted to him by ability and success, Foster McFarland looked for some way to free the grid of his power-hungry Box. And he finally did. For ages, people had dreamt of zero-point energy; clean and inexhaustible. However, dreaming isn’t the same as thinking, so they had always failed to make it a reality. But thinking is something Foster does very well, and outside the Universe is as far outside the box as it is possible to think. He created his generator; and for an encore, he upgraded his devices to print with the stuff of Creation. Now he didn’t even need raw materials.

Then Foster disconnected the Box from the world. Before he did, he gave the world his new creations. He didn’t even patent them this time. He already had more money than he could spend. What could he use it for? What did he need it for? Anything he could ever want was his to be molded from quarks and empty space.

Foster retired. He turned off his computer and his television, and fished on the shore of his mirror-perfect pond. He communed with Nature beneath his fake Sun and faux Moon. He left the world to his own devices.


One day… much, much later, Foster was lying in the cool grass of his little world, and once more thought outside the Box. How nice the world must be now that any person could have anything he ever wanted at a whim! The planet was free from want and need and even entropy. It was fueled by the very fire of Heaven itself; limitless power pulled from the space between Spaces. He would see that world. Perhaps the people of the world would even recognize and welcome their savior. He thought about his agoraphobia, and concluded that it was a laughable thing. Just a momentary childhood fear, really; one that he should have easily overcome years before. And so Foster stood and traversed the long, overgrown path to the door of the Box. He tried to turn the handle, but it wouldn’t turn; and he remembered that he had locked it long ago. Fishing around in his pocket, he found a key.

Foster opened the door on the world he had made. Outside the Box, red dust flecked with ash drifted across parched red dunes under a dim, steel grey sky. Foster knew it was either night or day, but he couldn’t say which. There was no real Sun, no real Moon to be seen. If there were clouds, they were fleeting, ghostly things formed from the moisture pulled from his skin. They raced upward to blend seamlessly into the featureless grey firmament. Having done the math, Foster knew the wavering horizon was about three miles away. But with nothing to break the monotonous landscape it might have been three hundred miles. It might have been three feet. The end of the world, right there at his doorstep.

For the first time in his life Foster McFarland thought inside the box and remembered that the fires of Heaven burn with the fury of Hell. Even clean energy creates heat. And an inexhaustible supply...

Well, he thought, that didn’t work.

Retreating inside, he shouldered the door closed, and didn’t bother to lock it.

Foster McFarland thinks inside the Box.

Tell me what you think in the comments. If you want to know far too much about what was going through my head when I wrote it, I have posted some commentary here.

INSIDE THE BOX ©2017 by David F. Leigh, All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Twelve arguments in favor of speciesism

In the wake of my last post, I found this blog entry by Stijn Bruers, the self-styled "rational ethicist". It's called "Ten arguments against speciesism". In it he states,
In this article I will show that the human species is not a morally relevant criterion for rights and that giving humans a higher moral status than non-human sentient beings is a kind of immoral discrimination.
Note that he's set himself a rather high bar. He aims to prove that not only do animals have rights, but they have exactly the same rights as do human beings. Regardless of any victory conditions he chooses to set, in normal practice one only need show that animal rights are non-equivalent to human rights in order to rebut his conclusions. I know he wouldn't agree with that, but that's because he's wrong at least eleven times over, as you'll see.

But he does then go on to set victory conditions as follows: A speciesist who still wants to eat or use animals and animal products must first agree to his conditions (implied by the non-negotiable nature of the conditions). Then he must provide 12 arguments... one for each of his 10 arguments, plus one to rebut the conclusion of his first five arguments, plus one to rebut the conclusion of his second five arguments. In order to accept these terms you must also accept the implicit condition that if every single rationale for his conclusions are rebutted, then the conclusions themselves remain and must be rebutted separately.

I strongly question the use of the word "rational" on his blog, as he exhibits some severe difficulty with that concept. In logic, your conclusions are not valid if your premises are dismissed. They are, rather, unfounded, and do not need a separate rebuttal.

I also note that Bruers offers a 12 thousand euro "reward" for such rebuttals. Obviously there is roughly a 0.00000000000% chance of this being paid out, as the arguments must be "valid" as determined, not by an impartial judge, but by Bruers himself. An actual ethicist would not make such an offer. His ethics would forbid it. Lacking the ethics to make a serious offer, I do not expect him to make a serious judgement. Thus, I'm not writing this for his fictitious "reward", but for the sheer fun of it.

Failure to comply apparently results in getting called names. So be it.

I'll reproduce only as much of his arguments as is necessary to identify them. They're all on his blog. Make your browser work.

Replies to five arguments against the species boundary
1) The biological species boundary is arbitrary... 
Answer: Bullshit. The only thing that is arbitrary is what they are called. In principle, two members of a species can procreate, and we extend the definition to the issue of such union (to remove actual procreation as a requirement). In practice, it is enforced by nature, not human law, reason, or ethics. The boundary between extremely similar species maybe as fuzzy as the coastline of a landmass, but it is a fool who would argue that the tides render the coast irrelevant.

But nothing in Bruers' opening argument disavows that there are separate species; rather, Bruers merely argues against the way they are classified, and thus his argument summarily fails.
2) The biological definition of species is very complicated and too artificial and farfetched to be used in a moral system...
Answer: Bullshit. See above. Bruers' lack of imagination doesn't make it complicated. A wrist has no well-defined boundary; and this does not render anatomy "too artificial and farfetched" to be studied. See also the answer to argument #4, as Bruers' preference for well-defined boundaries did not lead him to make well-defined arguments.

Bruer's "ring species" example is merely a re-statement that a species boundary can be fuzzy where there are similar species; and illustrates the further observation, unnoticed by Bruers, that it nonetheless becomes distinct given a broad-enough boundary. It is, therefore, a re-statement of Argument #1, and Bruers has failed to give five arguments as promised.

Also, Bruers displays the logical fallacy of moving the goalposts. Bruers begins with a challenge stating that he will show that there is moral equivalence between humans and non-humans. This pre-supposes that there are non-humans. It is stated in the challenge itself. Failure to adhere to that supposition means that this argument summarily fails.
3) There is a potential fuzzy boundary: it is not unlikely that a human-chimpansee hybrid (humanzee or chuman) can be born.
Answer: Not if speciesists retain control. And as this is an argument of ethics, it must be pointed out that such a hybrid can only be bred through unethical behavior. This is unethical if for no other reason than a chimpanzee lacks the cognitive ability to make an informed and rational decision about the matter, its risks, and the potential consequences for the offspring. A human would have to force the union. This is rape.

Also, Bruers has some problems with definition. He says, "A chimera is an individual composed of genetically distinct cells that originate from human and animal zygotes." False. A chimera is merely an individual composed of genetically distinct cells. This does not require that they originate from human and animal zygotes. Nor does it require human genes at all. Most chimeras are same-species, and are formed naturally in the womb of the mother, as with fused eggs, or when cells of one embryo are absorbed into the body of a twin or the mother (a condition known as microchimerism). There are other situations where microchimerism can result, such as any viral infection or individual parasitic cells. But a person with a cold is never called a chimera, though he may meet the strictest definition. But more importantly, Bruers attempts to extend boundary cases to form policy for a much larger pool of standard cases. It is neither rational nor ethical to do so, and it certainly isn't "fair" to paint all beings with the same brush. Rather, it is a matter for judgement.
4) The species boundary refers to genes or appearance, and these are not morally relevant, because racism and sexism where also based on genes or appearances.
Answer: Bullshit.  Here, Bruers again simply re-states argument #1, which is already rebutted. He again charges that species boundaries are irrelevant, this time by "zooming in" on the genome to more subtle differences. Well, why stop there? Every individual is genetically distinct. That doesn't make every individual a unique species, nor does it invalidate that species exist, which -- again -- is pre-supposed by his challenge.

Furthermore, Bruers once again has a problem with definition. Racism and sexism can be based on genes or appearances, but are not necessarily so. Racism has often been historically practiced by genetically indistinct groups, such as the English and the Irish. In modern times, sexism is often not a matter of genetics, but of behavior.

Also, this argument contains the logical fallacies of false equivalence; of non-sequitur; as well as that of moving the goalposts. The scope of this challenge is not that of racism. Bruers is merely arguing outside of the subject that he initially established. Also note that as this is merely another continuation of argument #1, Bruers has failed to deliver five arguments as promised.
5) Belonging to a certain species instead of another is not something that we could choose, it is not something we achieved, it is beyond our responsibility, so we should not be rewarded for that. We do not deserve special treatment by having some genes. 
Answer: Bullshit. You might as well say you shouldn't be rewarded for having eyes by not bumping into walls. Remember, if you take Bruers' position and accept that there is no moral difference between Man and animals, you must of necessity hold all animals to the same moral standards as Man. Otherwise "you discriminate and you open the door for partiality, opportunism and inconsistency in your ethics."

You must therefore conclude that it is immoral for wolves to eat rabbits, for birds and bats to fly, for mammals to breathe air when fish can't, or any number of things that various species "do not deserve" as "special treatment" for "having some genes".

The entirety of this argument is absurd. More than absurd; laughable.

Survival of the fittest is not a reward, it's an achievement.

Summary of the first set

In summary, not one of Bruers' three arguments are valid. All contain logical inconsistencies and fallacies. One is only achievable through rape, and is therefore not an argument against speciesism, but rather in favor of it. The last is ludicrous and blatantly unethical, as it denies a species the freedom to exercise the powers granted it by its biology. It is therefore also unethical and argues in favor of speciesism. The fact that two of these three arguments are actually in favor of speciesism is completely overlooked by Bruers, and therefore constitutes an argument for speciesism in its own right.

Five arguments in favor of sentience

NOTE: The author doesn't offer a definition of sentience, and the American sci-fi fan might, through its common usage, conclude that it means "intelligence". It does not. It merely means the ability to feel, or suffer; as contrasted with rationality (the ability to reason). The five "arguments in favor of sentience" do not therefore have anything to do with the actual consumption of animals. They only argue against the inflicting of suffering, and are summarily dismissed as a group with a single argument that if animals are dispatched humanely, then all five arguments are completely irrelevant. Nevertheless, let's look at them individually.
1) Welfare ethics (consequentialism) and fairness ethics (contractualism).
Here Bruers argues that impartiality is important, and therefore you should not discriminate between the things that matter to you and the things that matter to any other sentient being.

Let's consider for a moment a court of law, where a judge and jury are expected to be impartial, and who decide between the claims of two sentient beings. Their impartiality does not require turning a blind eye to the evidence presented or the circumstances of the litigants. Quite the opposite, in fact. Impartiality allows us to prudently judge the relative value of those "things" that matter to the litigants. This is discriminating in the sense of "good judgement". Impartiality does not require that no one wins, nor does it require that everyone wins.

Bruers improperly assumes that the principle of impartiality be applied equally to disparate beings, even though impartiality is a concept devised by humans to apply among peers. There is no evidence offered that impartiality is practiced as a principle anywhere else in the animal kingdom as it logically must be if in fact animals share exactly the same rights as human beings.

Furthermore, he fails to demonstrate or provide any evidence that animals are peers of humankind.

Furthermore, his argument for sentience here is not evidence-based... it is an emotional appeal based on the mere existence of sentience, without regard to its quality.

Furthermore, as we will see in Arguments #2 and #4, below, Bruers fails to offer evidence that it is sentience and not some other aspect of consciousness that we should value.

Furthermore, this argument is sufficiently indistinct from the other two that Bruers fails to provide five arguments as promised.

Therefore, Bruers' first argument fails.
2) Virtue ethics and ethics of care.
Here Bruers argues that if you were non-sentient, how you are treated would not matter to you, because nothing done to you will influence your well-being. This is an obviously false premise, as a non-sentient thing ceases "to be" every bit as much as a as a sentient being should it be eaten or otherwise destroyed. But despite his use of the verb "being", I suspect that he is not using it to describe "existence", but rather "being-ness", which he unfortunately fails to define.

So while we're imagining, with the advent of computers and artificial intelligence we can easily imagine the existence of an intelligence that is rational, self-aware, and nonetheless non-sentient. Bruers describes such a non-sentient as a "thing", even though it may independently conclude "cogito, ergo sum" while still lacking the capacity to "feel". Such an intelligence would certainly have "being-ness" however it might be defined, and its "well-being", or proper functioning, would matter to it, even though it does not "feel" as would a sentient.

As Bruers' argument depends on a criteria that we can now see is not uniquely linked to sentience, his argument fails.
3) Rights ethics (deontologism).
Bruers fails to consider that all rights may not be equivalent. One can respect rights while understanding that there can be a hierarchy of rights. This is often seen in human society in discussions of such rights as free speech vs. safety or privacy vs. security.

Bruers also fails to consider the responsibilities that accompany rights. Accepting for argument that a hawk and a rabbit have a right to life, they each have a responsibility to defend that right to the best of their abilities. The hawk does so by hunting for sustenance; the rabbit does so by fleeing from the hawk. That the rabbit has a right to life does not place an onus on the hawk to defend it. Likewise, if should we accept that humans have exactly the same rights as do animals (as per contract), this alone does not place upon humans any onus to defend the rights of those animals for them.

Humans are also predators, and should reasonably have the same rights as the hawk. In practice, humans are unsurprisingly more humane than the hawk in their predation.

Bruers' argument therefore fails.
4) Ethics of respect and awe.
This argument focuses on "mental capacities such as consciousness", and not on sentience as promised. There are aspects of consciousness distinct from sentience. Bruers thus fails to deliver five arguments in favor of sentience.

He argues that we should protect and respect entities that have vulnerable and complex mental capacities. While I don't disagree in principle, nowhere does he provide evidence that sentience is a particularly vulnerable or complex mental capacity. I'll quote from Wikipedia for you here, because it is particularly concise:
In the philosophy of consciousness, sentience can refer to the ability of any entity to have subjective perceptual experiences, or as some philosophers refer to them, "qualia". This is distinct from other aspects of the mind and consciousness, such as creativity, intelligence, sapience, self-awareness, and intentionality (the ability to have thoughts about something). Sentience is a minimalistic way of defining consciousness, which otherwise commonly collectively describes sentience plus other characteristics of the mind.
Note that sentience is the minimalistic way of defining consciousness, and is far more "fuzzy" than any of the genetic criteria Bruers argues against in his first five arguments. But where Bruers dislikes fuzziness in the one case, he embraces it here. Clearly, he has opened the door for "partiality, opportunism and inconsistency" in his ethics.

Genetics is sufficiently distinct that you know at a glance one bird from another, or a bird from a bat, or horse. Sentience is sufficiently indistinct that scientists still conduct serious experiments to see whether it is possessed by plants. In its most minimal form it may be indistinguishable from programmed action toward survival. We really don't know because we have no experiment capable of determining the difference. To truly devise such an experiment we would first need to know what sentience is, and the honest researcher allows that we don't.

Here Bruers also offers a thought experiment in which a man is transformed into a non-human animal, losing some physical properties and genes and gaining others, as if the loss and gain were in equal proportion. This is not in evidence, so even at this point the thought experiment fails to demonstrate his premise. He then offers that "if a sentient being turns into a non-sentient being, he loses something valuable and does not gain anything in return." I'm glad he uses the word "being" here. In Argument #2 we saw that it is possible to have reason without sentience, and that such an intelligence is a "being". We can thus imagine being turned into an intelligent robot having all of our memories and recollections. We would give up sentience, sacrificing none of our creativity, intelligence, sapience, self-awareness, and intentionality, but would gain immortality. Furthermore, given intelligence and memory, one could comprehend emotion on an intellectual level though one lacks it for one's self. Contrast that with being turned into a mouse, retaining your sentience but losing the capacity for human reason. What is the greater sacrifice? Is immortality nothing?

Bruer's argument is insufficient to demonstrate that it is sentience, rather than some other aspect of consciousness, that is to be most respected and awed. He does not even demonstrate that whatever quality he's looking for is not uniquely possessed by human beings. Thus this argument fails.
5) The argument from marginal cases (Dombrowski, 1997, Babies and beasts).
This argument is dependent upon intuition, and is thus not an argument at all, but a mere appeal to emotion. In my very first response, I state, "In principle, two members of a species can procreate, and we extend the definition to the issue of such union." This alone is sufficient to cover the marginal cases that Bruers describes. An appeal to emotion is unnecessary, is easily cut by Occam's Razor, and thus his argument fails.

Summary of the second set

In summary, none of Bruers' arguments in favor of sentience succeed. In his own closing arguments he again conflates sentience and consciousness, as he does in the above arguments. He fails to show that the quality of sentience is consistent among beings or that any perceived qualitative differences do not matter. He fails to show that animal rights are equivalent to human rights to an extent where it is immoral for any animal to ingest any other. He fails to show that if animals rights were equivalent to human rights... or inverting the argument, that humans have no more rights than any other animal, that humans alone should be denied predation even though it is broadly practiced throughout the remainder of the animal kingdom.

Furthermore, Bruers fails to show that it is sentience and not any other aspect of consciousness, such as creativity, intelligence, sapience, self-awareness, and intentionality, that should determine whether conscious beings should be treated as peers.

It is commonly agreed that one should be against the unnecessary infliction of suffering, but this alone has no impact on any of the other arguments, nor does it invalidate the humane dispatch of animals used for food.  It is also commonly agreed that it is better to treat animals humanely than not, and to show respect for the environment and ecosystem in general. However, this does not require any acknowledgement that animals have the same rights as human beings. It is sufficient to allow that it is advantageous to humans to maintain a diverse and robust ecology, and to exist in a clean and pleasant environment; and that for their own well-being, humans prefer not to see animals suffer.

As many animals have grown dependent on humankind, the "unnecessary infliction of suffering" necessitates that we harvest and/or use certain animal products. Certain sheep, for example, grow much more wool than they can sustain... as much as 30 pounds from one sheep per year. To reduce their suffering, we shear them.  Silkworms are physically incapable of reproducing in the wild. The wings of the adults are vestigial. They are entirely dependent upon humans for reproduction, and we harvest and use silk (an animal product) in return. Chickens lay eggs even when they're not fertilized. Non-fertilized eggs have exactly zero chance of hatching, and they are laid like clockwork. Given these and other examples, Bruers' unqualified proscription against animal products therefore has no rational ethical foundation. Even in the eating of eggs there is neither harm nor benefit to the animal or its progeny.

The human boundary is a morally relevant boundary for the "moral community" (whatever that may be) in that of all the species on the planet, only humanity has demonstrated any ability to rationally discuss the point. If one truly allows that all creatures are equal, then to say the least it is hypocritical (!) and offensively condescending (!!) to "hu-mansplain" their needs. It is only when they are not equal that crusaders such as Bruers feel compelled to self-righteously act on their behalf. The fact that he as done so demonstrates the point quite well. Such a demonstration is worth many pages of "proof".

Bruers has completely failed to show that sentience is a valid competing morally relevant criterion. It's somewhat nonsensical for him to demand that someone disprove something that is not shown to exist. In fact, it's yet another logical fallacy... that of "proving a negative". What I have shown above, however, is that whatever reasons he had for arguing in favor of sentience are invalid, and that there are other competing morally relevant criteria which may be of higher value. That will have to do, until Bruers himself divides three by zero and returns the result to 15 decimal places.

Now I'm going to have a nice, juicy, delicious hamburger.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Furred Reich

OK, so the news got weird. Let's look at The Daily Mail (I'm firing their headline writer and going with a spelling-corrected URL instead):

For those who live under a rock, "Furries" are people who dress up in anthropomorphic animal costumes. Some are fetishists, some are just having fun. The Daily Mail piece chronicles the cancellation of the Rocky Mountain Fur Con, a convention of these like-minded individuals.

Did I say "like-minded"? My bad. It turns out that some of them have exactly zero sense of humor, despite having a penchant for dressing up in silly animal suits. The target of their ire is one "Foxler Nightfire", whom they claim espouses Nazism. And here is their proof:

via Foxler Nightfire

See what he's wearing there? Obviously that is a swastika and not a paw print.

Well that's what I heard.  I guess you have to squint to see it.

So equally obviously, the dude in the suit must be some kind of intolerant supremacist.

There are a few problems with that:

  1. His name, "Foxler", has nothing to do with Hitler. It's a portmanteau of "Fox" (well, look at him) and his real last name, "Miller".
  2. The paw print is adopted from his gameplay in Second Life. The armband is a character accessory there.
  3. Under the fur, he's half-Thai and half-German.
  4. He has a Black boyfriend.
  5. The armbands come in a dazzling array of "inclusive" colors.

And though The Daily Mail display these images gleaned from Facebook and Twitter, they show a puzzling (tic) reticence about explaining them with the above facts. Instead, they're just posted without context. Maybe the Mail felt no context was needed: Nazis is craaaazy, man.

So are many furries. For instance, although Foxler says he would never sleep with a Black man, he does exactly that. But Foxler's boyfriend is not a Black man, see, because he's really a Blue Wolf. And when Foxler says he wouldn't sleep with a man, he means human. Which his boyfriend obviously isn't. This has nutcase written all over it, but it's a harmless sort of nutcase that you just smile and nod at. And those armbands... though they started out with no particular political baggage, when people started branding Foxler as a Nazi, he tried his hand at trolling actual Nazis to see how they'd react. I imagine they didn't react any better than the alt-Right, which has disavowed the "alt-Furries".

Furries are more politically diverse than their convention organizers believe, as this New Statesman piece describes.

Foxler himself is a founding member of the Furry Raiders, a group whose stated purpose is to "help improve the Furry Fandom by providing resources and services so everyone has equal opportunity". I got that from their WikiFur page. Good Lord in Heaven, there's a Wikifur. Their website and activities seem completely in line with that goal. The point is that you're never going to make a convincing case that this particular harmless lunatic is a Neo-Nazi, no matter what he might have trolled on the web.

But let's not let facts stand in the way of some old-fashioned Outrage, shall we?

Furry Raiders, being a large block of furries and desirous of attending the 2017 convention, reserved a large block of rooms for said con. That should be unsurprising to anyone. Now, while The Daily Mail quotes Zachary Brooks, the head of Fur Con, as saying that this was a "power grab"; to casual observers it certainly looks as though the Furry Raiders simply got off their tails and planned ahead. And though the organizers claimed that the Raiders refused to release any of those reservations, in fact they did, beginning with a block of 25 rooms, and more, as cancellations were made. But they wouldn't give up the reservations they had made for themselves any more than you would.

Chairman Sorin's statement.
Click to enlarge.
SJWs in the community decided to make known their vigilante predilections. The "Nazis" wearing pawprints at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Fur Con would get beat up.  See, the "tolerant" people were going to physically attack the "intolerant" people . Because that's how "tolerance" works today. And then, of course, others responded that they'd defend themselves, and the whole thing went to shit, with everybody accusing everybody else of the most hateful things they could dredge up.

It ended with the chairman of the event posting a message saying that the Furry Raiders have started to promote intolerance within the furry community, and canceled the event. Click on the image to read it.

Although the Raiders were accused of intolerance, it's clear from every news story that the initial threats of violence were made by the "tolerant" Righteous Left, with whom you apparently can't share a hobby unless you share a political belief.

And that's the least surprising thing about this whole "tail" of woe.

The DNC is right.

I had hoped to be moving away from political posts, but alas, there's this, from The Guardian:

by Jamie Peck

And my initial thought was, "So what? They're not Democrats!"

But it then occurred to me that many people, friends of mine included, might be confused by the fact that these candidates say they're Democrats and they put "(D)" after their names. Then again, many of these same friends of mine also believe that a person can become a gazebo by saying he's a gazebo. In other words, they have some trouble aligning identity with reality.

So it's worth pointing out what a "Bernie Sanders-style candidate" is.

Until the last election -- 2016, folks -- Bernie Sanders was an independent. He became a Democrat for expediency and because the Democrats had deep enough pockets to support him.  But he said at the outset that despite the branding, he would continue to identify as an independent. And the Democrats accepted him because they needed meaningful primaries to give Hillary Clinton some street cred for the general election, not because they ever had any intention of allowing him to succeed. (In practice, the DNC proved this by gaming the primary rules in favor of Clinton.)

In a philosophical sense, Bernie Sanders is a Socialist. Until he got his name out there, there wasn't much political benefit in actually calling yourself a Socialist (hence, "Independent"), but he's a Socialist just the same. Having saddled themselves with a Socialist candidate, many Democrats began the wiggling and the twisting and the spinning and the picking of nits to clarify whether he's a "Democratic Socialist" or a "Social Democrat", etc., but in doing so they disagree with what Sanders says about himself. He's a Socialist and makes no bones about it. The nit-pickers backing him are the ones who are apologetic, not Bernie.

Some sophists have declared that Sanders is not a Socialist in the sense of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Where "true" Socialists would have the government actually own industry, Sanders does not. These folks overlook the fact that Sanders is also not an idiot, and has a strong streak of pragmatism. It is the difference between philosophy and what is possible. To use a football analogy, rather than seeking a touchdown in one play, Sanders is advancing the ball. One cannot win an election in the United States by stealing companies from their stockholders (all of whom are voters). So Sanders would have the government own industry in everything but name. It's a matter of who has the control, rather than whose name is on the deed, but the end is the same. It has little to do with Democracy, and everything to do with populism. When you call him "Welfarist" rather than "Socialist", you're just playing with labels.
"Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude." - Alexis de Tocqueville
But something you should know about the Democratic Party is that, although they would regulate business, they would leave it at that. By and large, they still believe in a free market economy and robust competition. The Democratic party is not historically Socialist. Certainly not in the way that Sanders is... he has no love for the free market. And Sanders has never aligned himself with the Democrats because he shares their beliefs. While he does share the tribal goal of denying Republicans success, his stated goal is to reform the Democratic Party into something more akin to himself.

Among the rank and file, he's had some success. But the DNC is not the rank and file. And though it may not be clear to the masses, the Party is properly something you join... it's not something that joins you.

So when the DNC is faced with "Democratic" candidates who are Democrats in name only, and who, if given the reins, would change the direction of the Party away from their traditional values, should they finance their own demise? Really?  I don't think so. I think they're right to deny funding to usurpers.

I also think that those who would reshape the Party are better served by adopting honesty as a policy, and declaring themselves for what they are. If you're going to be a Socialist, then by God, be a Socialist. Of course, in party politics it's never truly about honesty, it's about "winning", where "winning" is defined as "gaining control". There is a compelling argument to be made that, by lying about their true intentions to pick the DNC's own pockets in order to destroy them through "reform", the Socialists are being as "honest" and true to their own nature as can be reasonably expected.

The author has some experience in honestly embracing his political philosophy, as he switched his affiliation from the Repubican Party to the Libertarian following the realization that right-wing hypocrites and left-wing hypocrites are both hypocrites.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Seen on Facebook and the Web:

In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the supercomputer Deep Thought is built by a race of hyper-intelligent alien beings to determine the answer to "life, the universe, and everything." Deep Thought determines that the answer is, somewhat anticlimactically, "42". It sounds like a joke, but is there more to this answer? Douglas Adams was an unabashed computer nerd and knew a heck of a lot about programming language and coding. In programming, an asterisk is commonly used to translate as "whatever you want it to be". In ASCII language, the most basic computer software, "42" is the designation for an asterisk. A computer, Deep Thought, was asked what the true meaning of life was. It answered as a computer would. 42 = "anything you want it to be." Genius.

I tracked this down for you. It came from "15 Fan Theories that will change the way you see these movies." on ViralThread.  And it's pretty cute. But it's pretty obvious that it wasn't written by someone who was a computer nerd himself. Or a Douglas Adams geek, for that matter. Those who are both would refine it, I think.

To start with, ASCII's not a language, and it's really not software. It's a way of representing data. That pedantry aside, "anything you want it to be" is a terribly imprecise translation for a coder. I'd go so far as to say it's just wrong.

If we want to designate "any value you want" in programming, we use a variable, and speak of such things as "n dimensions". Here's a good example: [LINK].

But ASCII 42 (the "asterisk" or "star") isn't a variable. Rather, it is commonly known as a wildcard character. It has nothing to do with what you want and absolutely everything to do with what exists. It more literally (and quite precisely) indicates that what you see returned is "all there is." To be exact, it matches 0 or more characters in a string (such as a filename) while expressing no preference for what those characters might be. For instance, in Unix, saying "cp * /dest" will copy everything from the current directory into a directory called "dest". And if there's nothing there, it copies nothing. But it won't create files for you just because you want them.  I stress that it can't be something that isn't already there.

In short, ASCII 42 by itself is a way of representing "everything that exists".

Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams was a self-described "radical atheist" (he so labeled himself to stress that he wasn't agnostic. Rather, he was firmly convinced that God does not exist), and this wildcard interpretation is far more in keeping with his own philosophy. He'd put the sort of Chopra-esque metaphysical message as the opening quote right out in the open and lampoon it. I certainly don't think he would hide it as a deep message in his work. Rather, every word he wrote illustrated the absurdity of life. And he wasn't coy about it. That's also reflected in personal interviews.

It was brilliant, yes, even if were accidentally so... but in a much different way than indicated at the top of this article. Were I to put it in English, I'd say, "This is it, folks. What you see is what you get."

And to be sure... Adams would not have blocked any attempt you made to examine the Universe you find yourself in, and try to find meaning in what you see. But he's been known to portray those who do so as scientists who became their own laboratory mice. Meaning? Puh-leeze. Look around.
"I want the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything."
The answer makes sense now, right?

It's time to think about the question.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Iron Fist.... without blinders.

 Spoilers ahead. If you care about spoilers, go away. 

I've been binge-watching Iron Fist on Netflix. Before I began I read a few reviews on the web, and they all were of an accord that this series sucks.

I like it. I can't agree with any of the reviews I've read. Then again, all of those reviews are filled with words like "mansplaining", "White savior", and "cultural appropriation". As far as I can tell, not one of them has actually reviewed the show itself. At least, they didn't see the show I did. So this isn't as much a review of the show as it is a review of the reviews.

Take arguments like this, from the Verge, entitled "Iron Fist isn't just racially uncomfortable, it's also a boring show", which is pretty typical. So typical, in fact, that every review I've read could have come from the same pen:
"In the first episode, Danny breaks into unsubtitled Mandarin upon learning she’s a martial artist, apparently assuming Asian women he casually meets on the street are happy to speak Mandarin with a white stranger. Two episodes later, he mansplains kung-fu to her, all to better illustrate how she needs his protection. At no point does Colleen call him out for this. Instead, she reacts with little more than gentle bemusement toward his better handle on language and his skills as a fighter, when she ought to be kicking him to the curb."
The author of this piece, Kwame Opam, chides Marvel for the "creative laziness" of the series. The only creative laziness I see is in Opam's review. He'd rather push his social platform than pay attention to the show. Case in point:
"But more often than not, Danny comes across as a college student come home from studying abroad, perplexed as to why no one gets his newfound love of yoga."
Fucking lazy.

Reality check:
  • Danny Rand is no college student on walkabout. He spent 15 years in the Orient learning martial arts from Mandarin-speaking monks. As he was 10 years old when he arrived, that's well over half of his life. In his life he has been more immersed in Chinese culture than Colleen Wing (she's half Japanese), and more immersed in Chinese culture than he ever was in American culture. This is not appropriation, this is upbringing
  • He meets a woman with a Chinese name who teaches martial arts. He knows this because she's posting bills on the utility poles, advertising her dojo. After he learns her name and profession, then he speaks Mandarin to her. It's a reasonable expectation on his part, given his experience. And when she says to speak in English, he does. This is hell and gone from just starting a random conversation in Mandarin with the first oriental he meets.
  • On the other hand, Colleen simply assumes that Danny is homeless. As he's performing kata in the park, she drops a couple of bucks at his feet. He strikes up a conversation with her in the first place because he's returning her money. She is the one who made the unwarranted assumption based purely on his appearance... not the other way around. 
  • He demonstrates his proficiency with kung-fu to Wing because he's asking her for a job. He asked for a job on the street as well, and she dissed him because she merely assumed that he was a homeless bum. Does she get called out for that blatant display of economic privilege? Not by the hypocrites, no. She just assumes that this gaijin can't know what he's talking about. So he has to demonstrate. This isn't "mansplaining", it's called "making your case"... unless, of course, you are once again a privileged hypocrite.
  • The fact that he demonstrably does have a better handle on Mandarin and does have better skills as a fighter, both hard-won, means that she "ought to be kicking him to the curb"? Seriously? So a White kid raised in a Chinese monastery from the time he was 10 years of age can't possibly act in accordance with his life experience without being resented and kicked to the curb? Because.... he's White? Turn it around: what does that say about the way we should treat Asian kids raised in America? 
Besides, by the time you hit the end of season one and the backstory is revealed, along with the dramatic points that it enables, complaining about cultural appropriation just makes you look stupid. 


The reviews I've read heap a ton of praise on Jessica Henwick's portrayal of Colleen Wing. And yup, she does a fine job... but then again, so does everybody else, despite protestations to the contrary. One of the things that has struck me about this series is the consistency of the acting. There are a couple of stinkers amongst the minor parts, but nobody just up and steals the show as Vincent D'Onofrio does as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil. And Finn Jones isn't the lifeless actor that his critics imagine. Jones plays his character well. If you want to see what lifeless acting looks like, check out William Hurt in Dune or Lost in Space.

It makes me wonder how much of this is amazing raw talent that I'm somehow not seeing (that is, compared to her peers), and how much of it is Social Justice Warriors punishing the perceived cultural appropriation of this 40-year-old comics property by hanging 100% of their praise on the on the female oriental actress. To be sure, the script writers cater to the feminist mindset by casting this slightly-built woman as a martial artist who simultaneously beats up multiple well-trained assailants twice her size. And I don't blame them for that.

But as far as the characters go, don't tell me that it's mansplaining for Danny to castigate Colleen's students for their lack of respect and discipline. As martial arts teachers go, she doesn't make a great impression. Her students are lazy, sloppy, talkative, and disrespectful. Danny has no experience with that, and knocks the legs out from under one with a Kendo stick (as was probably done to him). Colleen then takes the opportunity to ma'amsplain to him that her dojo isn't really a place where students can learn to defend themselves wherever they may be... and in the process learn the accompanying valuable lessons of philosophy... but it's a safe space. Pretty damned short-sighted, since when martial arts are done right, anywhere in your vicinity is a safe space. That, coupled with the pride that sees her turn down an honorable rental agreement in favor of violating the Bushido code and fighting for money makes her a terribly flawed character. You won't hear that from the reviews, though. And it certainly doesn't change my mind when the source of her philosophy is revealed in episode 10.

From now on let's set aside talk of mansplaining and ma'amsplaining and call explanations what they are. And 86 the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't oscillation between claims of cultural appropriation and stereotyping (a tone-deaf progressive dog-whistle for "a foreigner who isn't appropriating mainstream American culture").


I've read the show described as "boring". What they call boring, I call "has a plot".

I've read that it "lacks a villain". I think they underestimate Madame Gao and The Hand.

I've read that the fights "look choreographed". News flash: they all do. Whether on Arrow, Daredevil, Luke Cage... even in the movies of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, they all look choreographed, because they are. And frankly, they're choreographed by people who are far better qualified to judge them than I or any other reviewer I've read. My son, who is a martial arts teacher, called the engagements in episode 1, "a hot knife through butter". He likes it.

I have not read a well-thought-out discussion of the corporate sub-plots; nor do I expect to from those whose handle on economics doesn't include an understanding of capitalism. In this arena there are no true villains or heroes. Just people with differing points of view. The Meacham siblings' initial response to a presumed impersonator wasn't a "poorly justified overreaction". From their point of view it was a justified reaction to an impostor who showed up to prey on their sympathies and fortune. And one can sympathize with the board members who later took steps to rescue their company and livelihood from a single ignorant stockholder. They weren't evil. Selfish, yes; but that that was their fiduciary responsibility. This will easily put people who are looking for black-and-white simplicity out of their depth.

One thing that reviewers get right are the shout-outs to the larger Marvel cinematic universe, whether it's a mention of "that green guy", "the Devil of Hell's Kitchen", the man with impenetrable skin (Luke Cage) or the drunkard female private eye (Jessica Jones) as well as guest appearances by well-known supporting characters. This is prep for The Defenders, a scaled-down team up which will be to television as The Avengers is to the movies.

This is not a show that succeeds or fails on the basis of its action scenes. It's one part action, one part intrigue, and one part detective story with a little bit of soap opera mixed in. This isn't The Avengers: it's a street-level story that stays on the street.

If that doesn't live up to your expectations, maybe it's your expectations that are the problem.

Now, all that said, and having finished watching Season 1, there are things of which I'm critical. The plot's not consistent, there's a bit too much whining here and there, Danny occasionally exhibits some signs that I'd suspect were due to blunt head trauma rather than psychology; and things sort of fall apart (and come back together) in the last episode. And in general, people bitch about "you've been lying to me!" far too often. At some point, intelligent people would have sussed out that everybody has lied about something. There are also points where you'll legitimately say, "I did not see that coming!" And that's a good thing. My point is that the criticisms of Opam and his like are simply political bullshit, and the rough patches that are left don't make the show unwatchable in the least.