Saturday, February 28, 2015

Something else Obama and I have in common

I loved Spock.

When I was a kid I barely tolerated that loud-mouthed, pushy. manic-depressive buffoon of a captain. Spock was quite literally the only adult on the show. At one point he explains to Dr. McCoy, "It's not that I don't have emotions, Dr. Its that I don't let them control my actions." (OK I can't find this quote, but I certainly remember it, so it is an accurate impression of what I thought Spock was all about).

Spock was a role model for all nerds. We knew that our intellect would always be subordinate to some hairy ape's power lust, but at least Spock showed us we could be cool while we did it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wow. The mask has been slipping a lot more these days, but rarely does it fall onto the floor and shatter:
Only [raise the minimum wage] if you want to rip the first rung in the ladder of opportunity for teenagers, for minorities, for people who are trying to get into the job market for their first job.

California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock  on Rawstory

I cannot figure what he is saying here. Is he simply equating minorities with teenagers and first-time job seekers - i.e. untrained, unskilled, and unworthy of real careers until they prove themselves? Is he just admitting the existence of white male privilege, since they get to skip the first rung on the ladder? Are these three separate categories, or merely different ways of describing the same category - since teenagers are obviously first-time job seekers, did he mean that category to reflect the first or is it meant to refer to housewives seeking employment after raising their children?

Can anyone think of a interpretation that doesn't make McClintock look like a monster?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

More sightings!

I really like these photos, because I have never actually seen my book on a store shelf, what with living Down Under and all:

Spotted at Changing hands in downtown Phoenix, with the covers already facing out. :)

Thanks, A.B.! (You should also check out her blog; she's a more prolific writer than I am, both in books produced and blog posts about books.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

SotBL in the Wild

Spotted in the Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica:



Thanks, Josh!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The future of capitalism begins here

Workers at the LA Times just lost all vacation time.

This article explains the policy of regular accrued vacation has been replaced with "performance-based" snap judgment calls by managers. Meaning, of course, that getting a vacation now is a bonus instead of a benefit. And you know how frequently bonuses are being given out these days - well, if you work for a living, that is.

Now in any sane world, the LA Times staff would simply resign in mass. But of course there are no other jobs for them to take. It's not that they can't go to a different newspaper; there are no other jobs to be had at all.

How long before some other company notices this? Then they adopt the same policy. What are their workers going to do? Leave for the LA Times? Pretty soon you get to the position where your boss reduces your pay by a nickel every day. As long as all the other bosses are doing it, what can you do about it? And this wonderful race to the bottom doesn't require collusion, or conspiracy, or criminal intent: it is simply the natural outcome of the free market at work.

Here in Australia we have those pesky socialist labor regulations. Consequently even Subway workers get 4 weeks of vacation, health care, and a wage you can live off of. And there's nothing the bosses can do about. Well, other than seizing control of the political system and putting in a Reagan-like puppet who will dismantle government protections by convincing people government doesn't do anything. But what are the odds of that happening?

UPDATE: Faced with a massive staff revolt, they backed off. For now.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The new opiate of the masses is outrage

This is a excellent article that sums up why people choose to inflict outrage on themselves.

They said one possibility is that negative emotions represent “a reliable source of arousal, one that can be continuously converted into positive affect as long as people place themselves within a given protective frame.” This protective frame can actually take several forms: it can be that the individual feels the danger of the stimulus but has the confidence to overcome it; or that a “safety zone” is created, where the individual places herself sufficiently away from the danger; or, finally, that the individual observes the danger but simply doesn’t engage with it.

The Psychology Today article also notes that the expression of outrage signals affiliation—we know you’re on our side if you exhibit the same level of indignation at the same perceived violations. And since there is safety in numbers, when we see and hear the thousands of comments in our respective echo chamber we know we’re not alone—and this is likely what gives us such confidence to deal with those violations. We enjoy feeling outrage because it increases our sense of camaraderie with like-minded fellow believers. And as Tetlock says, true believers “seek reassurance from each other that their beliefs are not mere social conventions but rather are anchored in backstop or sacred values beyond challenge.”
Not only does this explain Fox News, it also explains the doctrine of Hell. Defining actions as moral crimes worthy of outrage, coupled with the protective frame of God's forgiveness, allows the believer to safely engage in negative emotions. Like a horror movie, he can scare himself silly and yet enjoy it because he knows he is safe. This creates camaraderie with other believers, which in itself feels good. But there is a more insidious aspect to that camaraderie: because belief in the protective frame is difficult to sustain, the support of the group becomes doubly necessary. The fact that the idea of God is not independently derivable from empirical observation and requires an act of faith means that a group of like-minded believers is necessary to maintain that faith. And since that faith is the protective mechanism, the group becomes inescapable: the more you indulge in the outrage and fear, the more protection you need, which means the more you need to identify with the group. And the group exists to indulge in outrage and fear. It's a self-feeding cycle.

It also means that de-converting someone is literally rescuing them from hell (or at least their imagination of it); but, like Marx's famous quote, it's not as easy as it sounds. Have you ever tried to get between a junkie and his opiate? He'll knife you in an instant. In the same way, people who are quaking in fear of Hellfire are actually thrilled; just like being in combat, every second counts, every action is significant, colors are brighter, sounds are louder, and the sense of engagement and presence in the world is turned up to 11. But unlike combat, this state is enjoyable, because they are certain they will emerge unscathed.

In other words, those hellfire and damnation traveling tent shows were the equivalent of the Saw movies. And watching Fox news is like playing Doom with your buddies. Outrage is the junk food of the mind, and the USA will stop gorging on it just as soon as McDonald's closes up shop.

(Note: this mechanism might also explain the growing contingent on the Left that seems to glory in how irreparably broken democracy seems to be. Escape I can't figure out what their protective frame is.)


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

People who drink too much

This chart is absolutely horrifying. It shows that 10% of Americans account for 60% of alcohol sales. The entire industry is propped up by its most loyal customers. That's not surprising; it's true of many industries. What is horrifying is how much those people drink: 74 drinks a week.

It's one thing to have a loyal customer base. It's something else for them to be killing themselves with your product. But the only way the alcohol industry can not murder millions of people is by accepting a 50% reduction in sales. Never mind blaming greedy corporations, such a thing isn't even possible in a capitalist system.The rules of the free market make it literally impossible for alcohol companies to provide a safe and healthy experience for all of their customers.

Under some kind of state-regulated scheme you could imagine a system where most people still get to drink once in a while, but nobody can drink that much. The only way to shape the market that way is government regulation. So the next time someone tells you we need less regulation, ask them if having 10% of your population literally drinking itself to death is good for the economy.