Killed by a fascist yesterday. Thirty five others injured. I can’t shake the dread that in ten years we’ll be looking back on this as the good old days, when the problems had barely begun, when we could have yet turned back.
Everyone is right. It’s depraved to normalize evil. And that includes the horrible people who’ve decided to be its avatars. It’s wrong to muss their hair and discuss how to work with them, as if there was something well-meaning about them.
Not recognizing them for what they are and not rejecting the endless harm they do is to lose your immune system. Cancers kill because the immune system is fooled into not fighting them. Social cancers work the same way.
There are interesting articles turning up remembering normalization at work in the early Third Reich.
“The rough edges of the extreme anti-Semite and agitator of the masses were sanded away through the creation of a new, sophisticated persona that emerged in carefully crafted domestic surroundings. With silk curtains and porcelain vases, Hitler’s designers suggested an internal world that was both cultivated and peaceful.”
That kind of normalizing, which ignores the damage being done, is depraved.
But there’s another side to the issue.
Some of the anti-normalization outrage focuses on rejecting everything to do with people who do horrible things. You’re barely allowed to point out they had mothers once and were small and blew out the candles on their birthday cakes just like you and me. That’s also normalizing them.
It is, but it’s a very different sort of normalizing. It’s never all right to pretend the harm they do is okay. But it’s always necessary to recognize how widespread, how normal, the seeds of those horrors are in everyone. The seeds are just small. It’s easy not to see their potential. That’s why they can grow.
A writer with a pedophile father talks about this.
We don’t really just condemn the sexualization of children. Instead, we condemn the very existence of child abuse altogether. It’s as if the crime includes being victimized by it, or responsible for bringing it into the light. We take an ontological roach spray to the whole event, either denying its status in reality altogether, or competing with one another to proclaim the most exquisite forms of torture for the perpetrators. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen the most strident liberal break character to loudly call for the prison rape of perpetrators.
That this darkness is actually woven into and throughout the fabric of our society—that these abusers are among us—is simply too much to bear. So the darkness is ignored except for the most distilled, theatrical, and viscerally repellent cases. …
Most of us would sooner discard all parties who have been tainted by this event than we would look at how tenuous the sanctity of children really is, how commonplace abuse is, or see the capacity for the mostly good to do periodic evil. We live in the same universe as those who abuse kids. We walk among them. If we want to end the sexual abuse of children, it will begin with the recognition that we are simply not that different from them.
If you assumed cancer cells are evil extraterrestrials otherwise unknown on earth, you could never find a cure. It’s when you know they’re ordinary cells with some processes running amok that you have any chance of stopping it.
Wholesale monsters who kill millions and retail ones who destroy a few women or children or men are not some kind of incomprehensible Others. They’re ordinary people who started running amok with appalling horrifying lethal consequences.
Never underestimate or normalize the malignancy. Never assume that normal people can’t become malignant.
Then we could at least try to stop the transformation at the source, every day.
That’s less fun than performing virtue by stoning the devil, but more useful.Print This Post
A smart man I know — and men should really be thinking about this since it affects them all — pointed out a significant danger coming down the pike.
- Drumpf has hideous hair.
- Drumpf wants to be a dictator.
- We have recent evidence of what happens when a pie-faced dictator wants his peculiar hair style validated: North Korean men required to get Kim Jong-Un haircuts.
All I’m sayin is don’t pretend you weren’t warned.Print This Post
This post was triggered by a title I saw on Ars Technica. The 100 is the bleak sci-fi dystopia you should be watching.
You’ve probably noticed. All the entertainment worth reviewing is “bleak,” “edgy,” “gritty,” or some such nobody’s-foolin-me-I-know-the-score adjective. At least it is here in the USA. It’s a flag for not being some wishful thinking pansy who can’t face facts.
But, let’s face it, facts are a many-splendored thing. It’s impossible to face all of them, and the ones someone chooses to focus on reflect the person as well as the importance of the facts themselves.
So what does the insistence on bleakness by some of the world’s most comfortable people mean?
I’m thinking it’s the easy answer. If stories told us that people could treat each other right and because of that triumph in the end, well, we’d step away from the screen feeling like we sort of had to try to do that, maybe a bit.
But if stories say that our current lives are as good as it gets, and imagined realities are all worse, then, what the hell, no need to try to be generous or kind and run the risk of disappointment. You can just go ahead and be gritty yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s “realistic.”
I’m also thinking we ought to be way more careful of the stories we tell ourselves. They’re what the road to wherever is paved with.Print This Post
One hospital for a huge area.
Bombed by the USA for half an hour despite clear information that they were hitting a hospital.
Ten patients killed, including three children. Twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members killed. Thirty seven injured. Much of hospital turned to burned rubble.
Obama: “Too bad. So sad.”
[Update two days later.] General John Campbell, commanding the “NATO” forces: “The Afghans made us do it.”Print This Post
Fighter jets roared by above our yoga studio. Breaks the ambience, right?
One woman put it in context by murmuring,
“The sound of freedom.”
And I thought Dear God, where do you even start?
I spent the rest of the class absentmindedly bent into various shapes and thinking non-serene thoughts.
If weapons were the sound of freedom, there’d be no such thing as dictators.
The sound of freedom is the woman yelling about underpaid janitors at Speakers’ Corner.
The sound of freedom is the boy pushing his little sister in her stroller, walking through the quiet park filled with bird song, and no parents shouting at him to come home because it’s not safe.
The sound of freedom is nobody wondering where their next meal is coming from.
Is there any hope we can hold on to freedom, when so many don’t even know what it is they want to hold?Print This Post
And would-be daters should take gender into consideration: men are more drawn to names that indicate physical attractiveness, such as ‘Blondie’ or ‘Cutie’ while women go for names that signal intelligence, such as ‘Cultured.’
Now, humans obviously think humans are very beautiful, but honestly in competition with something like this:
On the other hand, the thing we’re most impressed with about ourselves is this:
The inescapable conclusion is that the big decisions must be left to women if humans want to continue evolving intelligently. (That, or sexism hasn’t done men’s brains any good.)
Just sayin.Print This Post
Maybe the worst thing about dealing with toxic waste like ISIS is that it infects people trying to stop it.
Now, apparently, we’re taking hostages.
The Lebanese army detained a wife and daughter of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as they crossed from Syria nine days ago, security officials said on Tuesday, in a move seen as likely to put pressure on the Islamist chief. …
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported she had been detained in coordination with “foreign intelligence”.
It would be one thing if she were providing some kind of essential function — smuggling the secret code to the Mad Scientist’s Doomsday Weapon or something. But considering the standing of women in ISIS, which is somewhere below eggplants, there’s no indication that she was actually doing anything. The most I saw somewhere was that somebody thought maybe she’d know something about locations of some kind.
The kid, of course, has even less to do with anything.
So this is hostage-taking pure and simple.
Which means even when ISIS is driven back into the rubble it’s made, we’re becoming them. They’ll lose. And so have we.
I’ll come out with it: I’ve written a bunch of books. Most are just straightforward feel-good stories. (I like feeling good.) One is about how to govern so it interferes with feeling good as little as possible.
Besides not being a spy, I’m also allergic to salesmanship. So all I do with my stuff is post it on my website, and throw it on Amazon and the Nook where they make me charge a dollar. A little independent isn’t allowed to post free books. (Yes, I know about Smashwords. I have conscientious objections to the Terms of Service. And, yes, I have COs to Amazon’s TOS too, but I’m only pure mostly. Being really pure is too much work.) In case you’re wondering why the Nook, it’s because when I started doing this, that was a thing. That gives you some idea how much time has gone by. So I’m thinking of putting my books on a few more sites — Kobobooks sounds like a good one — and today I heard about Oyster.
Oyster seems like an interesting idea. You pay a subscription of $10/month and can read as many books as you have time for. A visit to the web site gives you about five ways to reach the “Join” page and no links to any actual information. Did I mention that I hate pushy selling? So I didn’t like being pushed to join and went searching for more information. Wikipedia pointed to an article in the NYTimes. There, as with every new thing in recent times on the web, it turns out that yes, this is just one more business looking to turn users into gold.
(I find myself agreeing more and more with Maciej Cegłowski and wishing that I still saw new technology with wonder instead of an automatic feeling of dread.)
But what astonished me was this:
[A writer] interacts extensively with her fans on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Flickr and her own website. … But having actual data about how her books are being read would take her market research to the ultimate level.
“What writer would pass up the opportunity to peer into the reader’s mind?”
Well, I would. I’d feel revolted. Just as I would if I caught an author peering over my shoulder, saying,
“Aha. You liked that bit, did you?”
No, not anymore.
Sometimes I feel like the only one left who feels put off at the thought of going around and sniffing people’s underwear.
Stop the world. I want to get off.
And, no, I won’t even try to publish anything on Oyster.Print This Post
There’s a multi-bazillion industry devoted to making me buy things. They have followed me through all of my days and tracked my every thought.
So you’d think they’d know I’m in the market for a vacuum cleaner, right?
I haven’t bought one in dog’s years. I don’t read articles about vacuums for fun. All they know about is the last thing I searched for, not what I need.
Well, I’m not a total newbie. I’ve been around computers since the days of punch cards. I’ve heard of Google. All I have to do is search, right? I want a machine in the neighborhood of $200, outrageously good at picking up pet hair, good at corners, and that doesn’t spew the dust right back out.
The search understands I want a vacuum cleaner, but that’s as far as it goes. To get what I want, I can spend hours — nay, days — of my life plowing through useless store websites full of obnoxiously happy beautiful people who find everything with one push of a button. Or I can dig through pages of search results, trying to find reviews that aren’t ads in disguise.
I am not a patient person. The first time, I put off the purchase after an hour or so. The second time it might have been two hours. Then I gave up for a couple of years. That’s what happens when there’s a massive selling industry in my face with everything I don’t want. You’d think they’d have an easier time hitting a great big bullseye like a customer looking to buy a product. By the time I finally bought a vacuum cleaner, they could have sold me a second one if the hucksters who’ve taken over the web instead made it easy for me to find what I want.Print This Post
Update May 25th. This post has been utterly superseded. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate. That’s the way to explain it. A sample:
You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll on “Which number is bigger, 5 or 15?” [Spoken as if he really wants to know.] Or: “Do owls exist?” Or “Are there hats?”
[Original post, Feb 18:]
I keep seeing this stuff. So-and-so many people “believe” in evolution. Polls in the media ask whether “You believe in global warming.” Headlines mention people don’t believe in GMO food.
Do you “believe” in carpentry? No. If someone builds a house that leans at a 45° angle, you stay out of it and the building inspector orders it torn down. You weigh the evidence and decide whether it works or not. You don’t believe in it.
Likewise with anything else based on tangible, measurable evidence, like all of science. Evolution is supported by a mountain of data with no, none, zero, conflicting evidence against it. There are people who may not understand that, but belief is irrelevant (as I’ve pointed out before).
Global warming is also, unfortunately, supported by a mountain of data. It’s not as solid a mountain as evolution’s; there are a few bits and pieces scientists don’t yet fully understand. But when over 99% of climate scientists agree the evidence supports that humans are changing the climate, you can bet your clocked socks that’s what the evidence shows. Ninety nine percent of scientists never agree on anything unless there’s no alternative.
As an example of that, I, for instance, don’t think the evidence on the safety of GMO foods is sufficient yet. Oh, sure, you won’t become a mutant green two-headed corporate executive if you eat it. But there isn’t enough evidence that it is environmentally and agriculturally beneficial or even that its long term effect on human health is acceptable. That’s not disbelieving GMO food. That’s arguing that the evidence is deficient. For instance, there are nowhere near enough independent, long term studies with large enough sample sizes to justify the soothing noises the industry makes about GMO effect on health.
So let’s get this straight. The right headlines would be: “Many Americans don’t understand evolution” “Politicians funded by Big Oil refuse to see global warming” “Lone biologist wants huge, expensive study of GMO foods.”
See? It’s not hard. Let’s do it.
Update May 14, 2014: Warning signs keep trickling in. Here, a BBC report about the “collateral damage” from higher glyphosate and pesticide use. There are all the obligatory sentences about tested and safe and that the evidence (so far) to the contrary has poor methodology. The dearth of independent studies of glyphosate toxicity that last longer than six months and include all humans, also the pregnant, old, or frail, is a bit of a methodological deficiency itself.Print This Post
Talk against racism has blown right through worthless and come out the other side into worse-than-useless. I’ve been trying to articulate what puts me off about the waves of self-congratulatory anti-racism that blow through the US at every excuse. Lately it’s been Cliven “Freeloader” Bundy and Donald “Past It” Sterling. Their crimes are not what they’ve done, although that’s plenty. No, it’s what they said.
What is wrong with that picture? Leonard Pitts says it best.
[P]redictably, dutifully, media figures, pundits and pols have come together to blow raspberries in their direction, to say all the right things in condemnation of them and their diarrhetic mouths. And yes, they deserve that. Still, there is something facile and dishonest in it, something that reeks of unearned righteousness and even moral cowardice.The truth is, the idiocy of these men doesn’t mean a whole lot, doesn’t impact much beyond their immediate lives. We hyperventilate about it, yet somehow manage not to be overly concerned as black boys are funneled into prison, brown ones are required to show their papers, voting rights are interdicted….
I would only add that there’s no need to limit it to “boys.” What matters is that human beings, female ones all too included, are impoverished, humiliated, deprived, attacked, and killed.
That’s what we need to work on. We can have the luxury of a national flap about the blithering of twisted jerks when the real problems are gone, not as a substitute for dealing with them.Print This Post
The Drake Equation (written out at the end of the post) was invented as a way to think about the probability of meeting aliens as we go about our business. One big factor is of course how many habitable planets there are to begin with. If we refuse to assume we’re special, hundreds of civilizations per galaxy looks like a rather conservative guess, given how many billions of stars there are to work with. But that dumps us straight into the next question.
If there are so many, why haven’t we seen any evidence of aliens? No antimatter-powered spaceship engines like strobes among the stars, no SETI signals, no weird laser bursts, nothing. (UFO sightings seem a bit too private to count as interstellar events.) The assumption is that there’s a Great Filter: something reduces the number of communicative aliens.
In the good old days, people assumed the “something” was that good planets are hard to find. But this is where the recent data on planets is disturbing. Possibly even deeply disturbing.
We’ve had the necessary equipment to look for exoplanets only for a couple of decades and yet we’ve already found hundreds of them, including a few rocky ones orbiting in the habitable zone of their stars. That’s just in our little neighborhood. Data from biochemistry indicates that life arises spontaneously under the right chemical conditions, which are probably fairly common since carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, magnesium, iron, and some trace elements are quite common. Data from biology indicates that cells arise spontaneously, and so does multicellularity. So the only step for which we have a sample size of one, is how often do those multicellular organisms develop technological civilizations? The answer for that step, like the others, could well be “all the time.”
If so, the Great Filter is not at the front end. It’s at this end. Our end. The technological civilizations must have short lifespans.
And it’s not really that hard to see why, if they’re anything like us. But it may go beyond merely killing each other with pollution or wars. It may go to the relationship between technological capabilities and fundamental concepts of social organization. That’s something I’ve wondered about in my work on government.
Technology hugely increases the available physical power in a society, and that also increases social power. Holding all that at our fingertips, as it were, means that every action is also hugely magnified. … Enough of it, used badly, can destroy the society that couldn’t figure out how to control the power of the people using it.
That is not hyperbole. It might seem like it because modern technological societies are only at the very earliest stages of being able to destroy the planet. … A big nuclear war could have done it. Global warming could do it. In a far future when everyone has personal spaceships, an evil mastermind could orbit a light-bending device between us and the Sun which would shade the whole Earth to death before the machine could be found and destroyed. There isn’t just one way to destroy a highly technological society, and the more advanced it is, the more ways there are. Bad governments can do it. All the people together can do it with tiny actions that add up. Mad individuals can do it with sabotage. There are so many ways that it is literally only a matter of time. The more technologically advanced the society, the more essential limits to power are for its very survival.
The growing desire to limit power and decrease inequality could be more than the resentment of the have-nots, more than cute idealism from those who don’t yet need to get a job, more than some pie-in-the-sky luxury we can’t do right now. The grassroots Occupy movement and the great big oaks like Piketty may be feeling the same reality. We must have an equitable society to survive. It is not optional.
That immense silence between the stars may be a communication after all. It may be the universe telling us to shape up or die.Print This Post
Not with a bang, but with brain-shattering neurotics who vote.
Via Suburban Guerrilla:
[W]eather across the south of the U.S. has raised a controversial question online: was it just a light snow, or a nefarious government conspiracy? … [T]he last few days have seen scores of videos like this from skeptics [Ed. note: “skeptics”] who claim the snowflakes aren’t the real deal.
“I have a sample of ‘snow’ … leaving the snow unmelted.” Via YouTube / sugar magnolia
The conspiracy reasoning goes like this: the snow is unusual in Georgia and other southeast areas and doesn’t melt when burned. Therefore, it must be fake snow, distributed by the government, as a diversion from big government tyranny. Via YouTube / Div9neImages
And no, much as I believe in citing sources, I’m not making live links to those youtube clips. I’m worried about teh stoopid cooties.
Basic chemistry/physics: a solid exposed to high enough heat does not become liquid. It goes straight to gas. So, duh, when you put a butane flame to snow you don’t get liquid water. And the butane is a hydrocarbon. If the flame cools fast enough — by the proximity of snow, for instance — the carbon will precipitate out as nice black soot instead of floating into the atmosphere. (Congratulations. You’ve reduced the amount you contributed to climate change by many molecules of carbon. Just like a liberal!)
I laugh so as not to cry.
Update, next morning. It’s worse than I thought. We’re not just talking about voters. The actual legislators in what passes for the actual government have less comprehension than your average sea cucumber. (Example of average sea cucumber below.) Via Slashdot: “The bill, dubbed the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (HR 4012), would prohibit the EPA’s administrator from proposing or finalizing any rules unless he or she also discloses “all scientific and technical information” relied on by the agency in the regulations’ development.” Um, hello? It is all published. That’s part of what makes it science. Once the Honorable Congresscritter learns how to read, he’ll be able to discover all that wonderful data! Except the bits corporations want to keep confidential. Oh, and are we going to make sure science is equally respected at the DOD? The CIA? The NSA? I think that would be a good idea.Print This Post
Usually, when some world leader dies, I don’t care. More often than not I even think, “Well, that’s one less lying mug I’m tired of seeing.”
But with Nelson Mandela I felt a stab of sadness, as if he was my friend.
One of our greats is gone. I wish he’d lived forever. Maybe if we live in ways that honor his work, he will in a way.Print This Post
I was reading an article about Syria’s civil war, and sentences kept jumping out at me.
For three men in northern Syria, the second civil war started shortly after the first staggered into a quagmire of sectarian violence. …
Like many others, the three men are bewildered at what has become of their war. Their alliances – and their goals – are shifting. …
They are a businessman, a smuggler and an army defector who became respectively the political officer, treasurer and military commander of a once-formidable battalion in northern Syria. …
“Maybe in 10 years we will all be bored with fighting and learn how to coexist.” He paused, then added: “In 10 years maybe, not now.” …
He opened Google Earth on his phone, zooming in closer and closer until the screen showed a small grey square: the house where his family used to live. “Before, all my family was in Syria, and I worried about them. Now, they’ve got out but I have lost my land. I have reached a point of despair,” he said. …
“I was in the revolution at the beginning, and I used to think that was going to be progress – but now we have lost everything. We don’t talk about military plans and hitting the regime – now the plotting is against each other.”
“I can’t defeat them [the jihadis] and the army. I am about to collapse. I can hold out for a month or two at most. Isis [jihadis] are expanding in a fearful way.” …
When they reached the base, the lieutenant sank down in a corner. He seemed weary. “I have been fighting for two years and a half. Tell me: what have I achieved? All I think about is attacking this checkpoint, getting that tank – maybe using the tank to attack another checkpoint.
“In all this time did I ever think of establishing governance? Did I consider working with the civilians in the areas under my control to get electricity or provide anything? …
He sighed. “… I want to get away from here and forget the absurdity of war. The liberated areas are in chaos: there is more purity on the frontlines.” …
“For three days I’ve been attacking this checkpoint,” said the lieutenant “I ask myself why, but I don’t know. Maybe because I can. Maybe because I need to keep my men busy. But honestly, I don’t know the purpose of all this. In Syria, everyone has lost. No one is winning.” …
The next day, the lieutenant decided he needed a break from war. A few days later, the smuggler, the lieutenant and another rebel officer were walking in an Istanbul shopping centre packed with Arab tourists. After two and a half years, the two men said they had finally decided to leave Syria and the war for good. …
Later, in the food court upstairs, the smuggler and the lieutenant ate lunch with another man, a people-smuggler, who told them how they could be spirited across the border into Greece and from there into Italy, where they could start a new life with their families. …
By now, the excitement of being in Istanbul had waned: the three men walked the streets aimlessly and sat for hours in cafes. … One evening, he admitted that he had tried to leave once before: he had stayed away for 25 days, but found he could not live in the world of peace: he missed the excitement, the combat, the camaraderie. …
The lieutenant left the cafe, and there was no news of him for weeks. Nobody knew if he was still in Turkey, or if he had gone with the people-smuggler and made his way to Italy.
When he finally called, he sounded relieved and almost cheerful. “I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t leave, I went back to Syria, to fight.”
People who go to war always say they do it to serve — their country, an ideal, their way of life, always something outside themselves. But then when the fighting is destroying what they care about they would stop, wouldn’t they?Print This Post