I don’t do anything, but I’m not doing nothing

I really like Milk Duds. I dunno why, exactly. They are mysteriously attractive.

I have over 100 stars in Mario Galaxy 2.

I had a thought. A bit of a callback to that Dark Tower post. A few months before I read the Dark Tower series, I read Ringworld. It is a good book. It is good sci fi. It explores several interesting ideas, as sci fi should, and is entertaining. I think Ringworld is an example of a case where deus ex machina could have been a problem, but decidedly wasn’t, a contrast to The Dark Tower Series. It is a bit unfair to compare a single book to a whole series (I haven’t read any of the Ringworld sequels) but Dark Tower makes me appreciate the achievement of Ringworld more, so I thought I’d share.

I just started reading American Gods. I like it so far, mostly, but I’m not very far. Don’t think I’ve read Neil Gaiman before, so we’ll see. I’ll let you know when I finish, if I have any strong feelings. Progress might be slow, however, as Lauren arrives for the summer tomorrow.

Om nom nom, Milk Duds.

One kinda dumb abstract case for overarching environmentalism

I imagine the environmentalism movement is getting a boost lately, due to that oil leak thing, but I haven’t followed that news well enough to really contribute anything. Gar mentioned Tuesday that he thinks the way to solve the problem would be to say anyone who plugs the leak gets the well, and I think that’s a pretty good idea.

I had a thought more about environmentalism in general I thought I’d write down, though. I’m pretty pro environmentalism, though in many cases I can certainly sympathize with the dissenters. But there are those people who seem to think environmentalism is a kind of weakness, and seem to purposely oppose it just because they can. Or some people just don’t admit that the environment is an issue at all. So I’ve got a idea those people should consider.

We, as people, are at the point that we frequently affect the world on a global scale. We can, we have, we do, and we will. This is fact. Here are some examples off the top of my head. Global warming. Deforestation. Over fishing. Nitrogen fixation. And then I’ll add in general chemical pollution since it seems that the sum of all our chemicals dumped into the environment certainly has had a global effect. These are all complex problems w/ many cause, effects, and interpretations, but it is an untenable position to say, at this point, that humans don’t impact the global environment.

Ok. So… now you agree with me there. For the next step you are going to have to believe in evolution. Not even that crazy controversial evolution by natural selection, though, just evolution by selection. I could go into why you should believe these things, but I have before, and I’m not into it at this moment. Just slap yourself if you’re still pretending evolution is “just a theory”.

K. So, we’re having these negative global impacts and maybe not yet (probably yet… shhhhh…) but say hypothetically eventually these negative impacts are going to cause living things to die. Now, as a greedy self important human, I definitely don’t care what happens to some tree/microbe/monkey/dolphin but lets consider the effect these deaths will have on the species. There are two possible outcomes for the species, either they will go extinct or they will evolve to handle whatever we did.

Now, nobody really thinks it would be good if pretty much all the life died out. But what about that second option. That sounds good. I submit that it probably wouldn’t be that good. I can’t predict what the results of evolution would be, but I can tell you that just because we cause the problem, does not mean we enjoy the solution, in fact, probably the opposite.

One solution to us dumping tons of plastics in the ocean would be to evolve to eat plastic which makes plastic pretty useless. It would become like any other material once there’s all kinds of stuff eating it. Or if we’re moving into your environment, you could evolve to be a predator of humans. So far that hasn’t really worked out, can’t see that one happening too often, but ya never know. More likely they’d do the pest tactic, like pigeons, rats, and cockroaches. We all need more of those. Or evolve to eat our crops and livestock, or spoil our food products.

Look, the specifics are impossible to predict, and frankly kinda silly. Most likely things will just die. My point is, any life that doesn’t will be in a constant arms race with us if we have a general anti-environment attitude.

At some point we’re going to have to stop going against the environment. If we don’t we’ll just continually have to struggle to maintain what we have, assuming we don’t just wipe everything out. Being an environmentalist isn’t being a stupid wishy washy hippy, necessarily. Maybe it just makes sense. Maybe we can engineer ourselves into the environment so we’re not the thing all life is evolving against.

Plus, don’t you want your grandkids to have something bigger than a cat to shoot?

1,203 words on mockery

Mockery is an important part of my life, and, as such, has recently been the subject of my self evaluative thoughts. It is something that I think is often over simplified, like so much of life, by most, but which is actually fairly complicated, and, I think, important. Below I attempt to evaluate the variables to be considered in moral mockery, and also the role of any fair legal system on mockery.

It’s always safest to define key terms, so I’d like to clarify before I continue that, by mockery, in this post, I mean, to speak negatively about an individual in the presence of members of an outside group, usually the mocker’s, with the intent or effect of implying negative characteristics about a group the target is a member of. The presence of other additional groups is common, but not required. Also, the presence of the groups does not have to literal, so writing in a public paper, for example, would count, as all groups are aware of the speaking, and all groups are aware that all groups are aware.

The factor that most people seem to take into account, to the exclusion of all others, is one’s relationship to the target of mockery, hereafter referred to as the mockee. It is generally acceptable to mock any group of which you are a member, regardless of other circumstance. There are several situations in which this doesn’t apply, but they are situations in which criticism or distraction are frowned upon in general.

Another important factor is the relationship between your group and the mockee’s group. This is a complicated assessment, but one that is, I think, mostly done subconsciously for us. We all instinctually have a decent understanding of the nuances of the social circles we frequent. An example of what I am referring to would be mockery from a member of a majority race to a mockee of a subjugated minority race.

It is usually less morally acceptable to mock groups of less power than one’s own. The problem of morality of such mockery is complicated by the observation that by refusing to mock a group, one is acknowledging the superior power of one’s group, or at least implying it. This complication shows the importance of mockery. In my opinion, there are contexts in which an expectation of mockery is much higher, and those contexts are important areas for exploration of new group vs. group dynamics. Examples of such contexts would be forms of professional comedy.

The expected converse is generally true, as well. It is usually acceptable to mock a group of greater power than ones own. Groups of comparable power are fair game.

Temporary adjustments to the calculus of mockery should be made for relevant local events. By this I mean that groups’ power standing can be effectively shifted, greatly, temporarily, by important events. Important to the mockee group. Depending on the group in question this could be a national tragedy, or some local election result, or any number of events insignificant on the public scale, but important to smaller groups.

One also has to factor in ones familiarity with the mockee group. In order to mock a group one has to know enough about their beliefs or ideas in order to disagree with them. Often people think they know what a group’s beliefs are, but in actuality hold a stereotypical, biased, over simplified or simply incorrect notion of the reality. Revelation of such mistakes in the form of mockery will have a backlash effect. To be a moral mocker, one must work to never make such mistakes, and to acknowledge and apologize for any made.

It is also wise to consider the subject of the mockery. It should target a characteristic that is both controllable by the mockee, and caused by a situation that was controllable by the mockee. This limits the mockery to productive criticism, and avoids low blows for unavoidable misfortunes. These restrictions might seem like they are simple enough, but there are many specific subjects on which there are legitimate disagreements on which category they fall into. For example, mockery over actions performed while drunk. Some people contend that a drunk person is not responsible for his actions, at least partially, since they are not entirely in control. Others contend that since the drunkenness is self inflicted, any impairment was caused by an unimpaired decision, so responsibility is still intact.

All of these other considerations can be relaxed a bit in the event of a counter mock, a counter mock being mockery in direct response to being mocked. Everyone knows if you didn’t start it you can be forgiven somewhat for defending yourself. However, the correct response to all mockery is not counter mockery. There are many circumstances where even in response to mockery, it would be immoral to counter mock.

The above are all the major considerations I can think of that impact moral mockery. If you think I missed any please let me know. All those rules, however, only apply to morality and say nothing about legality. You can break all those rules, and you’ll just be offensive. It is not the place of a just government to legislate offensiveness. Is there ever a time when the government should punish someone for mocking?

This is a complex question, since mockery is so broadly defined. First, you have a right to free speech, but not a right to mockery. Mockery is certainly punishable in cases where it violates other rules. An example would be separation of church and state. Since the government is not to favor any religion, it is also not to mock any religion. (I’d like to point out that in this case, Atheism would certainly count as a religion)

Another situation in which one might be tempted to outlaw mockery would be the extreme cases. These cases, where one goes against all the tenets of moral mockery, would be close to hate speech. It is my opinion that the mockery by itself would not constitute something that should be illegal. I’m not sure what the actual definition of hate speech is, but I think the importantly illegal part of it should be actually trying to convince one group of people to do illegal things to another group of people. Mockery could well be a part of that, but mockery by itself is insufficient. In order for it to be hate speech you would have to say something like, “and that’s why they should be driven from the land” somewhere amidst the mockery.

I cringe to use the word mockery to describe what would be used as part of hate speech, but it is apt. Mockery is a wide term and can describe both the beautiful and the repulsive.

I think that covers all the cases where the law might be involved with mockery. Basically, it shouldn’t be illegal, except when it breaks another law, and it can’t, by itself, do that. I’d love to hear about it if you think I’m missing something major. Eh… even minor. I’ve got time.

So use what I’ve taught you well, and mock mightily for your beliefs. Just don’t use it against me. That’s not coo.

The Economy and Me

A while ago I was bothered by the troubling realization that, fairly regularly, I was finding myself supporting government intervention, especially with regard to financial regulation. Not out loud, usually, but I’d read someone’s facebook status, or some similar such thing, and think to myself something akin to, “That’s retarded. More regulation is obviously better.” Which would be closely followed by, “That’s weird. I’m usually the libertarian nut job that people hate for being so callous and cooky.”

I don’t consider myself in any way qualified to speak authoritatively on the current economic situation, or the recent collapse, because I don’t know enough and I think it is probably way more complicated than general news coverage would lead one to believe, but I have listened when it has been discussed on the programs I subscribe to so I have developed some opinions. Yeah… how do you like that sentence?

What I’ve come to believe is that my opinions are pretty much unchanged, but the arguments on the subject have shifted a lot. I’m still largely libertarian. In general the government tries to expand it’s power and in general that expansion is bad for citizens and ill conceived. Concurrently, I think in general a free market leads to efficiency and effectiveness. So why do I think we need some regulation if I’m pro free market?

A free market does not only mean an unregulated market. How free would our society be if we had no rules or means of enforcement? It would revert to the strongest beating up the weakest and rights and liberties would be meaningless. The same can happen with markets, and it did. What we had leading up to the market collapse, and still have, is so unregulated as to closer to anarchy than free. We need some effective rules, and some effective police in the system, in order to make the markets free… or more free anyway.

The arguments related to the economy have been twisted by politics to a ridiculous extent. The Republicans, now committed to the “oppose Obama in everything no matter what” tactic, have managed to convince people that any new regulation Obama suggests is socialism. This is a simple redefinition of a word and has no relation to reality.

The Democrats, in order to counteract the political maneuvering of the Republicans, have taken to picking on a few cases, like Goldman Sachs, and just bashing on them to garner support. This may be effective, but it also somewhat dangerous. For one, if you hang your whole argument on a single case, then if that case goes against you somehow, you can lose the argument, even if the underlying principles of your case are sound.  Basically they leave themselves open to a hasty generalization, which though a fallacy, is non-the-less likely to be an effective argument in the political sphere.

A second potential problem with the Democrat’s tact is they may get distracted, pay too much attention to their chosen tree and forget the forest.  Any legislation they pass without considering the forest will be ineffectual, and possibly destructive, so they can’t allow the political debate to focus solely on Goldman Sachs.

In conclusion, I think that I have stayed in place while the political landscape shifted around me, and many of my “peers” and “compatriots” moved along with the landscape, influenced as they are by FOX News and their parents. 😛 Lawlessness does not lead to freedom, in the markets or in reality, so some regulation is a necessary function of a good government. And I can say that, cause I’m a libertarian leaning individual, not an anarchist.

Politeness and how it makes life worse for everyone

The lack of a kindness is not a meanness… or an offense.

I must make a distinction. A kindness, for my purposes here, is defined as an act performed by one party to its detriment for the benefit of another party. I think in common parlance there is another kind of kindness, which is truly mutually beneficial, but I consider this a totally different situation. One I’d label a transaction.

It occurs to me that this is where my lifelong problem with politeness arises from. I have a lifelong problem with politeness if you didn’t know. Politeness, too, I think, really is two separate things.

There are some rules of politeness that dictate you respect another person as an individual, and grant them the rights they deserve. For example, it is rude to touch another person beyond the normal bounds of the relationship, or to invade their privacy. These are fine. I like these rules, although I don’t think they should really be defined as falling under politeness. They make rational sense and the actions they dictate are mandatory given a non-hypocritical ethics system.

Politeness, in the negative meaning I think of it as, also has other rules. Like, you have to say “thank you” for everything. Here is how this ties in with kindness.

Thanking someone is a kindness, as defined above. It’s a pretty small kindness, but it is. I don’t want to say the words, in general. I, on some small level, probably am thankful, but I don’t want to express it most of the time, and if I do, then it becomes a transaction.

Saying “thank you” has become an expected kindness, though. I dunno which came first, politeness, or the mistaken interpretation of the lack of a kindness as an offense, but regardless, politeness reinforces this mistake. Further, the fact the politeness of this sort exists, somewhat justifies its own existence. By this I mean, since everyone expects me to say “thank you” it sorta does become an offense if I don’t extend the kindness. Now we’re getting into the dichotomy of perceived reality and reality, though, which is not likely to be fruitful. Let me explain why this is problematic.

A kindness by my definition is a positive for you, and a negative for me, but this is not the most important quality. That would be that it’s voluntary. A forced interaction that is negative for one party and positive for another is not considered a kindness. Everyone knows this. If you ask to borrow my pen, and I allow it, that is a kindness. If you just take my pen, and I never find out, I didn’t extend any kindness. If I find out, and don’t enact any retribution, the act of not taking retribution is the kindness.

So what does politeness actually do? It removes an opportunity for kindness and replaces it with an opportunity for offense. If we go back to the simple “thank you” example it is clear. You have just done me a service of some kind, but I’m tired or distracted or have bronchitis or for some other reason do not want to say, “Thank you”. I can either act on my desire, and you would take offense, or I could go against my desire, cause me harm, and you would get nothing, as I can’t truly extend a kindness under the pressure of politeness. On the other hand, if I did want to express a kindness, I would have to more than say, “Thank you,” as that is what you already expect. I must go beyond politeness to extend any kindness.

There are two take aways. First, politeness is dumb and makes the world a less happy place. Second, pressuring a kindness in fact nullifies the chance of a kindness.

Life is a game

Million dollar idea number… who can count? I’m writing it up here so that when it happens and I say, “I predicted that,” I’ll have some hard evidence to point to. So here’s the scheme.

You know those companies that make pretty much everything boring that everyone needs, like soap and toasters or whatever? I dunno what everyone needs, I don’t buy that stuff, but you guys know. Companies like GM or Johnson&Johnson or Coke and Pepsi. They have a wide range of products, many brands all competing with themselves and one or two other major companies, and a slew of tiny companies.

Imagine you’re CEO of Pepsi and actually want to do your job instead of sit on your piles of money. You have this problem. You have like 100M people that love Pepsi and only buy Pepsi and never buy Coke when they’re buying pop, but they buy some chips and bean dip and they buy uh… whatever chips Coke owns, not the Pepsi chips. So pick one of those people. Maybe this guy doesn’t really care which chips he buys, so it would just take a tiny incentive to make him go for the Pepsi chips instead. This is an opportunity.

Achievements. For those of you who don’t play video games Achievements (or Trophies) are the great innovation of the newest generation of consoles. They are awards given for accomplishing tasks in game that remain with an account outside of any game. So my friend who plays first person shooters gets awards for playing his games, and I can get awards for playing role playing games, and we can still have some competition and comparison between the two of us. It also gives extra incentives within a game. Instead of just saying, I beat Mario, you can say, I beat Mario and I never died, and I have the Achievement to prove it.

It sounds stupid. It’s not though. Meaningless points have meaning to people and the Achievement system has taken off in the gaming culture. I don’t think it has to stop there, though. I am proposing that companies make real life Achievements.

I don’t know exactly how one would want to implement such a thing, but I suspect a good way would be something like this. A person goes to a website and ops in, making an account at Pepsi.com or whatever. Once you have an account the user can look at all the Achievements out there to get. These would be things like, drink a swimming pool of Pepsi or eat a half ton of chips. On this site they would make clear what products count toward the Achievement. Then Pepsi would automatically track your progress based on your purchases, and you’d get little badges and stuff when things were accomplished. Now the user is part of the ecosystem. If he can he’ll get all his goods from Pepsi, barring some large difference in taste, quality, and/or price.

Partnerships could be made between companies with non-overlapping businesses. That way you could make one account and have Achievements related to a wider variety of products.

There would be fringe benefits besides the added tiny incentive. Companies could identify their biggest customers easily, and highlight them, using them for promotion and contests. Achievements could be used to encourage exploration within the brand, trying a variety of products, or new products when they are released. When another Achievement system is inevitably released, the rivalry between systems could increase sales for both sides, and would definitely increase loyalty and involvement of the customer bases.

I don’t think it would be without benefit to customers either. For one thing it might be the kick in the teeth one needs to realize they’re spending too much money on something, or that they need to eat healthier. When you get an e-mail from Pepsi congratulating you on your ten thousandth dollar spent at Taco Bell, you might view fast food a bit differently. It would also make shopping a bit of a game. Make life a little more interesting. It would be good to know I’d used 100 bars of soap when I have, or whatever. It could also be a tool for getting to know people. You could look them up and see what they were proud of. Some girl you think is cute has on her wall that she’s spent $10k at Taco Bell might be an interesting piece of information to have.

Perhaps the major companies won’t adopt this scheme. But it might be an opportunity for a new niche brand. If you make generic everything, perhaps you could use this scheme to gain a few percentage points of market share and earn those millions you so deserve. Or maybe some company will make the achievements and get the companies to sign on. Maybe the game is like a kind of advertising. If I was those guys that made Farmville I’d create some system like this, and get a few companies to sign on cheap to get started, and then new companies could get their Achievements added in for a reasonable price.

You convinced?

great idea

I just thought of this a tweeted it, but it’s such a great idea I have to elaborate a tiny bit.

We’ve been voting all wrong. We should run our elections in reverse. You get the huge pile of candidates, and then we vote them off one at a time. Last man standing gets the office.

This would solve a lot of problems for third party candidates. Right now when it’s a race between 3 candidates, people are loath to vote for a third party candidate they think will lose, as it seems like wasting their vote, making it less likely their second choice will win. With the survivor system, they could just vote out their least favorite, and then a week later or so they could make the final decision, knowing that at the very least their second choice is getting in. Well, that’s assuming the election went their way.

It would also be a good way of changing the debate. Instead of always arguing over the same issues throughout the election, the issues would get whittled away as the choices for candidates showed what the public cared about. Some people might be able to stop going to the polls as the election progresses, either happy or unhappy with all the remaining candidates and figuring they’re all equal.

Does anyone know why we don’t do it this way? I mean, obviously there are details that would have to be figured out, but in general, is there some major flaw with this I’m not seeing right now? Do any other countries operate in this manner? I wish it worked like this.

The commercials might get pretty dirty, but really, how much lower can they go?

the rational minority

Disclaimer: I am aware that no one is perfectly rational, even me. However, it’s much easier to write in absolutes and to include myself as a rational person. The text written below is meant to describe situations in which scientific consensus is not converted to public acceptance or policy, and should not be taken to be a manifesto supporting the creation of classes of human, rational above irrational, with me being king of the rational.

Rational people have many problems. One of them is getting people to listen to them and do the things that will make life better. This is sometimes difficult because the majority of people are irrational, at least with regards to some specific subjects. Probably just in general, but definitely given choice cases.

Since rational people are rational, the way they think is to gather the evidence, examine it, and draw conclusions based on that evidence. Since rational people are people, they then often make the irrational leap to assume other people will do the same. If you make this mistake you would think that if people just had easy access to all the information they would make the rational decision. This, of course, doesn’t happen.

I admit to frequently falling into this mode of thinking. It is a known trap, but one that is difficult to avoid. One tends to assume others will think like one does, and that differences are based off of differences of taste or information. Rational people cannot afford to make that mistake. So what options are there available to us, to pull the irrational our way.

One good option is to rely on different modes of communication, probably provided by different people. Scientists as a population are near 100% rational, at least in their field. They read the papers, do the research, examine the statistics, and form and opinion. When new evidence is present, opinions are adjusted accordingly. All is as it should be. However, scientists are not trained to present this information to non-scientists, aka the irrational masses. It’s not really a scientist’s job to do so, and as such, they are not necessarily any good at it. It would be great if they were, but I think the skill sets are too diverse and rare to expect the majority of the scientific population to be skilled in both. And we can’t rely on the occasional Gould, Segan, or Tyson to do all the work.

That’s why we need middle men. There are lots of people out there who are rational people, really like science the concept, but don’t really enjoy science the school subject. Some of these people have valuable communication and persuasion skills. Some are creative, able to write movies, songs, books, interesting text of all forms. These people need to be conscripted to promote the conclusions of the scientists to the irrational. People with these qualities should be looking for ways to offer their services, and science as an institution should be reforming itself to allow this new relationship to exist. By this I mean there should be works in the public media in promotion of the scientific view of things, and scientific bodies should be working to promote and fund these projects.

These middle men should be given lots of freedom by the scientists. Basically, there should be only one rule and that is strict accuracy in presenting the facts. Then the middle men are free to use their talents to communicate to the irrational in ways they’ll actually understand and care about.

The anti-science movements out there use all kinds of cheap marketing and gimmicky ploys to convince people to think their way. We rational people think they’re a joke, because we’d never fall for it, but there’s a large chunk of the population out there that will, and they’re the one’s we’re fighting for. Essentially, I’m advocating for using the same tools being used against science, for it. At least until such time as we can improve education enough that rational thinking is less of a rarity.

This goes against my instincts. It seems wrong to lower ourselves to the level of our detractors. However, I can think of no other way. Risks are high. Failure an unpleasant option. As such, it seems wise to go with the sure thing.

Democracy is only a good idea if you have something else preventing tiny majorities from bullying large minorities. That’s why we have the court system, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. We rational people need tools to keep the irrational majority at bay, and I think appealing to their irrationality may be our only chance. It might nauseate your idyllic sensibilities, as it does mine, to admit that marketing could be helpful, but when one pragmatically looks at human nature, I think it is the rational conclusion.