A Plethora of Links to End 2014

2014 is just about gone, and for the large part, I say: Good riddance. In many ways, 2014 was an awful year for civil liberties, freedom, and for people in general. Yet on the other hand, there are some positive things to report.

One of my 2015 resolutions is to stop posting so much political stuff. I know, I know – I say this almost every month, and yet it never happens. I'm going to try, though, this year, especially since I'm making the effort to make some resolutions. (I'm even going to print them out and put them up on my wall in my bedroom and in my office.) So in honor of that, I wanted to post some last political and semi-political links before the year ended, links that have been sitting on my mind:

THE BAD

2014 was a really rotten year for privacy, civil liberties, and in particular for public-police relations. For a long time I thought of writing up a list of all the issues of police overreach and brutality, but I don't have to. Radley Balko, one of the best journalists on the planet, rounded up 2014's civil liberties violations as a "Let me give some predictions for 2015" post. It's chilling to think that, in the nation that is supposedly the leader of the free world, we have so many horrible things going on – most, but not all, being conducted by state and local governments.

I mean, seizing someone's assets, then charging them with a crime, so they can't pay for their own defense? Arresting parents for letting their kids play without supervision? Claiming that your SWAT team is a private corporation and is thus immune to open records laws? Push for extrajudicial tribunals for people who may or may not commit crimes against a certain class of individuals, tribunals where "innocent until proven guilty" and the rule of law are thrown out the airlock? Punishing people who haven't been convicted of a crime?

These are not the signs of a healthy liberal democracy, they're the signs of a damaged one that needs repair, fast.

One story in particular has stood out to me. As many have defended the police in the recent incidents and stories, one thing they may have failed to notice is that even black police officers feel threatened by the "boys in blue". I think once cops are fearful of other cops, then we have indisputable proof that there is a serious problem. And yet people still ignore it. Read the link above for a maddening, frustrating look at what is wrong with policing today. (That one really grinds my gourd, because I think it will be ignored by most.)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, in 2014 progressives became nattering nabobs of negativity – or, in other words, conservatives. reason magazine highlights how 2014 heralded the return of "Neo-Victorianism", and I'm thankful that Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote that article because I've been struggling to find the right word for this new trend. It's the trend of using coercion and bullying to enforce a set of social norms, mostly deployed by feminists, it seems. The four major areas are increasing art censorship, a hysteria over sex-trafficking (that trampled over individual rights while simultaneously punishing sex workers, many of whom don't think they're victims and like their jobs, thank you very much), a dragging out of hate speech to absurd lengths that means you shouldn't say anything that could potentially offend anyone at any time, and a trend of treating women as dainty little flowers that need to be coddled and protected rather than being allowed to develop into strong and independent individuals.

It's all rather sickening. It too, is not a sign of a healthy democracy.

And let's not get me started on the various abuses by the NSA. Let's just not go there for once.

The Good

There are, however, some great things to look forward to in 2015 that continue from 2014.

The first is in terms of war and crime. Steven Pinker, a wonderful academic, details in a great article for Slate that planet Earth is actually becoming a very peaceful world. I found the article particularly interesting for the following tidbit:

But the red curve in the graph shows a recent development that is less benign: The number of wars jumped from four in 2010—the lowest total since the end of World War II—to seven in 2013. These wars were fought in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Syria. Conflict data for 2014 will not be available until next year, but we already know that four new wars broke out in the past 12 months, for a total of 11. The jump from 2010 to 2014, the steepest since the end of the Cold War, has brought us to the highest number of wars since 2000.
[…]
The 2010–2014 upsurge is circumscribed in a second way. In seven of the 11 wars that flared during this period, radical Islamist groups were one of the warring parties: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel/Gaza, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen. (Indeed, absent the Islamist conflicts, there would have been no increase in wars in the last few years, with just two in 2013 and three in 2014.) This reflects a broader trend.

That "broader trend" being religious hostilities, with "all but two of these countries" having those hostilities being "associated with extremist Islamist groups." I always find myself on a narrow tightrope when it comes to Islamism; on the one hand, I always find conservatives are far too hostile and kneejerk when they want to just fight Muslims and bomb them; on the other hand, I think that many libertarians and leftists slide Islam's problems under the rug and prefer not to notice. Don't kid yourselves, guys: although Christianity has issues, it has largely been tamed and neutered by modernity. Islam hasn't. And Islam has got loads of problems.

But even despite that, the world is far more peaceful than the news reports make it out to be. Outside of the Middle East, we have the conflict in Ukraine – and that has basically been frozen. The drop in oil prices has crushed the Russian economy, so I don't know if Putin will continue to help his "allies" in Donetsk and Lugansk. There are conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, but to be honest I know very little about them.

Meanwhile, Fraser Nelson in The Spectator (UK) reports on how we're winning the war on disease. In 1990, diseases claimed roughly 37,500 years of life per 100,000 people; now they claim only about 26,000 (judging by my eyes on that chart.) Starvation has dropped by over ten percentage points. Infant mortality has plummeted. These are all extremely good news to hear.

The last one is a story on upcoming disruptive technologies, many of which are going to build on 2014 discoveries. I post this one because I have a bit of a quibble with the author, Vivek Wadhwa. Although I think most of his points are relatively sound, inasmuch as I, not being an expert in these areas, could judge them, his section on energy has problems. First, he leads off by saying that fracking is a harmful technology – newsflash, it isn't. Second, he says that solar power will hit grid parity by 2020, which I think is unlikely considering how expensive solar power is. (Seriously, the people I know who study energy saw a similar story by Wadwha and they claimed it hurt their brains.) Third, Wadwha claims that if we have unlimited energy,

we can have unlimited clean water, because we can simply boil as much ocean water as we want. We can afford to grow food locally in vertical farms. This can be 100 percent organic, because we won’t need insecticides in the sealed farm buildings. Imagine also being able to 3D print meat and not having to slaughter animals. This will transform and disrupt agriculture and the entire food-production industry.

Wadwha might be right about unlimited energy and unlimited clean water, but even if he is, the rest doesn't follow. Water isn't the only resource. Why would we grow food locally? It's not necessarily more efficient than growing food on larger farms elsewhere. Secondly, what about the time involved? When Wadwha says "locally," I see the localist woo argument about people growing food in their backyards. But that takes time, and who wants to waste time growing your own food when you can buy it at the store and instead spend your time going to sports events, watching TV, writing blog posts, or going on romantic getaways? Wadwha ignores that, and it hurts, both his piece and my head.

I'm also a little miffed he didn't mentioned Lockheed Martin's new fusion reactor project (more on that later), but I totally agree with him on synthetic meat – which I think will be a huge advance – and he makes good points about 3D printing, finance, and healthcare. In all areas, we're talking about some radical decentralization.

The Awesome

Okay, the last bit. The really cool stuff.

Scientists did some really cool things in 2014. I mean, some really scifi things. Quantum teleportation for instaneous communication, blood based nanites to repair your body, 3D food printers, hoverboards – 2014 was a really cool year for tech.

Meanwhile, the one news item that really made me jump was Lockheed Martin's announcement that in five years they'll have a prototype for a commercial fusion reactor. There are a lot of questions and criticisms of this, with many having doubts – but if anyone is going to deliver a power source that is clean and nearly limitless, it's going to be Lockheed Martin. And I hope it turns out correct, because I think that:

  1. It would provide enough energy to avoid the coming energy shortfalls as our iCivilization keeps getting bigger
  2. It would go a long way towards making climate change a nonissue
  3. It would go a long way towards getting the US out of the Middle East as we wouldn't have to worry about the oil reserves there
  4. It would weaken OPEC, Venezuela, and Russia (yes that's a cheap geopolitical shot but I think it's valid)
  5. A fusion rocket could get us from Earth to Mars in 30 days rather than six months
  6. It could power the warp drive that NASA is working on
  7. As energy is one of the largest input costs, this could make everything cheaper across the board by a considerable factor
  8. Bonus – Gundams.

I'm really hoping that 2015 will turn out to be even cooler.

And finally, for one last speculative item, there's a guy in Nebraska building a warp drive in his garage. Okay, okay, it's pretty far out there, man, but when you read stuff like this:

He turns around and points to the back of his garage door, where a red laser — beamed at the weight and reflected back against the door to demonstrate the movement happening in the case — drifts from its original spot. Slowly, in incremental amounts, the weight is drawn toward the V-shape motor.

You gotta wonder.

People Should Stop Pontificating

My mother has a funny quote: “Opinions are like armpits. Everybody has two, and they usually stink.”

I can’t argue with that. Over the past few years I’ve lived in the DC area and become more involved in public policy debates, philosophical discussions, and politics, I’ve seen this ring true dozens and dozens of time over. Everybody has an opinion. And, with few exceptions, these opinions are generally awful.

I don’t mean they’re awful in that I disagree with them. I don’t mean they’re awful in that they come to the wrong conclusions. I mean that they’re awful because of shoddy reasoning, faulty premises, and often just kneejerk, instinctive responses rather than anything genuinely intelligent. You can be a smart person whom I respect even if we fundamentally disagree on certain points. But I won’t respect you if your logic is rubbish, you resort to fallacies, and you demand others do the research for you.

Why am I saying this? I guess it’s because I’ve been looking at myself in the mirror lately. I have a few posts in my drafts folder about a few high octane topics. One – which I will still likely publish soon – is over the whole “climate march” BS and the “Flood Wall Street” nonsense that went on last week. Let me be clear: I think climate change is happening. I don’t think it is anything to be worried about, and I most certainly do not want the government trying to “fix” it. But do I really have the grounds to be pontificating about climate change, on my personal blog? At most, I think what I can do is point out the absurdities and contradictions in the arguments and actions of the climate protestors, note the evidence we really have, and then just point out the potential consequences of undoing capitalism and trying to embrace some form of eco-socialism (which I personally think would be disastrous.)

But then that raises another question: even if we are not an expert in field X, does that preclude us from giving our opinions on field X? Must we refrain all the time?

I used to look at it as “Well, you can offer your opinion, but it will be weighted less than an expert in field X.” That seemed to make sense. But now, I’m starting to think that people outside a field might, in some circumstances, actually have a more valuable or intelligent viewpoint. But only in some cases. One case was when, for a group political blog, I wrote about an article where a college professor recommended that we get rid of the United States Air Force and roll it’s operations into the Army and Navy. I added on to that with some musing about whether or not we still needed the Marine Corps. Cue tons of angry commentators who said that I had obviously never been in the military and had no idea what I was talking about, but they had been in the Corps for years and knew exactly why the Corps was a necessity in this day and age. Yet, despite this, none of them presented a cogent argument for why it needed to be around. I look at the Corps, and what I see these days is a second Army, albeit one with more aviation assets and supposedly tied to the Navy. It looks redundant, and there is no reason that it’s “unique” features (namely, fast assault) can’t be rolled into the Army and redone there. (Wrong culture was one reason given; okay, then, change the Army culture.) Basically, their arguments were emotional appeals to tradition and patriotism, not logic.

I think that’s a problem when looking from the inside on any issue. You need people who are looking from the outside, who don’t necessarily have “expertise,” both to bring you back down to earth and to bring up things you may not have thought of. How many times have experts been so caught up in the weeds of their profession that they’ve missed the pasture, the river, and the neighboring forest? It happens all the time when I start programming, then I realize that nobody else knows how the heck I’m doing something, so I have to go back and make it easier for them to use. I also see it with scientists, who say “The data is saying X, ergo we must do Y” but they completely ignore A-W and probably Z, then get all pissy when people who aren’t scientists say “No, we shouldn’t.” “But you’re not scientists, you don’t understand!” Well, actually, we do, we just understand a broader context.

But overall, I’m not so confident that people should be voicing their opinions all the time. I’m not calling for restrictions on the First Amendment here; this has nothing to do with laws and regulation. I’m just talking about individual practices. Many look at Twitter and Facebook as “democratizing” the Internet, and think this is a good thing; what I see these days is that a lot of rather stupid, lowbrow people whose ill-thought opinions were restricted to themselves and a few others in their close social circles now have a platform to fling them out there into the world. Worse, a lot of these people have found others who are like them, and have banded together to promote this kind of content. Look at the calls for anti-elitism, anti-intellectualism, and populism. Not necessarily good things. The lowest common denominator now drives our discourse. Rather than actually research the topic at hand, be humble about what you’re putting forward (i.e., open to being proven wrong), and then present an argument based on the evidence, it’s all kneejerk opinionating with very little to back it up but more and more decibels. I mean hell if you can’t even be bothered to look up the basic facts of the subject at hand, you shouldn’t really be talking, just as a courtesy to everyone else.

Was there really a point to this blog post? I don’t know. It is awfully rambling. I guess what I’m trying to say is:

  • I don’t publish things immediately because I like to stop, think about them, and come back to them later…which other people usually do not;
  • There are an awful lot of people out there who really have no idea what on Earth they are talking about but pontificate as if they are serious philosophers;
  • Social media has turned me from a somewhat egalitarian “voice of the people” dude into an almost aristocratic conservative who thinks the peasants should really shut up now because they have no idea what they’re doing;
  • I am not above being one of the idiotic peasants.

So, basically, can everyone just shut the hell up for a little while? You’re all idiots. Myself included.

#ClimateMarch: A Campaign of Hypocrites And Fearmongers

So over a week ago, a large number of people went marching in New York City with the hashtag #climatemarch. The idea was to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming – excuse me, climate change – and get people, specifically politicians, to act on it. How? To be honest I’m not sure of the specifics, but it always seems to come back to higher taxes, more government control over the economy, and doing away with capitalism.

Nevermind that capitalism is why they even had a New York City to have the climate change march in.

I want to lay out a few disclaimers before I continue, to outline my views on climate change. These will take the form of a Q&A.

  1. Is climate change happening?
    Yeah. I mean, everything changes, so it would be silly to say that the climate doesn’t change. Nothing is truly static except death and taxes, and we may be getting close to getting rid of one of those.
  2. Is it anything to be worried about?
    Not really. Sure, there will be things here and there that climate change will affect that we’ll have to adapt to, and it may lead to some minor detrimental affects in some parts of the world, but overall it’s not something to get your panties in a twist over. It isn’t going to lead us to extinction, it’s not going to be the end of the world. Humanity has adapted for several thousand years, and I think it will adapt for several thousand more (unless superintelligent AI get us.)
  3. Are humans the primary cause of climate change?
    I don’t find this plausible. I can accept that we’re a tertiary or even secondary cause of climate change, because we definitely have an affect on the environment. But even if the planet is warming, can we really blame it on us? What other natural processes are out there? Have you ever looked up and saw that giant ball of exploding gas in the sky and wondered, “Hmm, could the sun have anything to do with it?” Earth is far larger, far more resilient, and far more complex than I think most people give it credit for.
  4. Should the government do anything about climate change?
    Absolutely not! This is the government, mind you, that screwed up the Middle East, spent over $600 million on a website, can’t keep track of billions of dollars of its budget, regularly violates civil liberties around the world, and is deeply in bed with large corporations in a cronyist scam that has gone back for decades. The last thing anybody should want is giving this incompetent bloated organization any more power than it already has – especially over such important things as the energy and the environment.

There, now that I have that off my chest…

The Hypocrisy

The first thing that really gets me about the climate march types is just how hypocritical they are. Pray tell, how many carbon dioxide tons did they spew into the air in order to get to New York City? They took planes, trains, and automobiles – diesel, gasoline, and other fuel sources emitting gases into the air. How much cleaner would the world be if all those hundreds of thousands of people, instead of taking this trip, just stayed home? Oh, yes, they care about the environment. They care about it so much they helped pollute it even more.

And then there are the images of the trash they left behind. How many Starbucks cups did they throw out? How much plastic did they use? It’s disgusting. Care about the environment, do they? Yeah right.

There’s also this image of a climate march interview going on above a sleeping homeless woman. Now I can’t actually verify if that body in the background is a sleeping homeless woman, but still, the imagery. That’s powerful. Here are some upper middle class white folks having an interview about how they must do something to save the environment because it’s oh so important, and yet there is a person on the ground right behind them that they’re ignoring who doesn’t even have a proper place to sleep. It sort of encapsulates the entire movement, in a way.

The Absurdity

One of the big reasons I personally can’t take climate change and the #climatemarch seriously is how it’s being blamed as the cause of everything. Open up any newspaper and you will see an article saying that “climate change” is the reason for the political instability in the Middle East. (Subtitle: “Why are deserts hot?”) Hurricane Sandy and local weather patterns have all been blamed on climate change and global warming. The bees are being blamed on it too, even though it strikes me as yet another media panic. Even the European Space Agency is now saying that global warming is affecting Earth’s gravitational field.

I can’t even.

And now the New Scientist magazine is saying that we’re on track for the “worst case” scenario. One Tweeter made the case that we’re headed towards extinction because of this. The problem with the article and the evidence, in my view, is that it isn’t really based on empirical data. It’s based on models:

The bleak image is brought home when emissions over the last few decades are plotted against projections for the future. Models predict how much the world will warm depending on how much we emit in future. Scientists typically look at four different possible futures, ranging from an uber-green society to a worst-case scenario, in which no action is taken to combat global warming. Le Quéré and her colleagues show how today’s emissions are near-perfectly in line with the worst-case scenario. This means that, according to scientists’ best estimates, the world will be as much as 5.4 °C warmer in 2100 than it was before the industrial revolution.

The chart in the article begins in 1980 and ends in 2100. Here’s a massive problem with this:

There’s no way you can predict what the world will be like in 2100!

Look at predictions from 90 years ago. How many were somewhat on track, and how far off were the rest? Could anyone have predicted the rise of the Internet, of Twitter, of the smartphone and now the “smart house,” of Dropbox and Spotify and global air travel and drone cargo ships and the private attempts to colonize Mars? In some places they may have gotten the basic gist of things – although, even in the case of Mars, they screwed up badly – but in the vast majority of cases they hadn’t a clue what the world would be like in a century.

That’s the same thing here. You can point to your models, but they’re just that: models. You can play around with models all day long, change them, tweak them, etc. German reporter and podcaster Fabian Scherschel made this point when he brought up his skepticism of climate change alarmism on his podcastLinux Outlaws (which, as you can imagine, doesn’t usually wade into this subject.) The data we have really only goes back two hundred years or so, not long enough to judge how the climate is being affected, which has been going on here for millions and millions of years.

And yet #climatemarch activists want to parade around and demand we end capitalism and the modern world because some model someone dreamt up said that we’re all going to die. Well, I have a model that we’re all going to die, but I can save us – if you just give me $5,000. Will you march for me then?

Oh, and by the way: sea ice has been increasing lately.

This isn’t activism. This is pure fearmongering.

The Insanity

One picture sums up a lot of insanity surrounding #climatemarch and what this is really all about:

This isn’t really about environmentalism. It’s about attacking the free market and trying to reinstate socialism. They’re watermelons – environmentally green on the outside, socialist red on the inside.

Let’s not forget what capitalism has brought us:

What has socialism given us?

  • Mass starvation
  • Authoritarian regimes
  • Gulags
  • Economic depression
  • Widespread violence
  • 100 million dead
  • Widespread environmental damage
  • Peasant conditions for many, especially in pre-modernized China

Capitalism isan economic order — any economic order — that emerges from voluntary exchanges of property and labor without government intervention (or any other form of systemic coercion).” By that, it means that individual people are allowed to control their lives, make their own decisions, and fulfill their dreams.

Socialism is “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production”.  And by that, what it really means is that the state becomes a dictator, takes away all the decisions from you, and uses you as a tool whose human worth is little.

What the protestors in that image are saying is that they hate people and want to inflict misery and suffering on them. Being an adult human who can make his or her own decisions, be autonomous, and enjoy one’s life is apparently a disease. That just shows you how nutty these folks are.

The Alternative to #climatemarch

Ronald Bailey of reason has done a much better job than I could ever do knocking these guys off their pedestal. See his story on #climatemarch here and his story on #FloodWallStreet here. He takes aim at their assertions and blows holes in them rather efficiently. They don’t even know the best strategies to address their own problem. The whole thing is just ridiculous.

What’s the alternative? I’m honestly not sure. I think, for starters, we can continue to utilize capitalism to experiment with new technologies in the energy sector, as well as lab-grown meat that would cut emissions by 96%. There are plenty of free market environmental alternatives out there that could be explored, but one thing that is important is having private property rights. Nothing halts environmental degradation better than by avoiding the tragedy of the commons. But I don’t really know what will fix the environment, if it truly needs saving. But you know what? That’s okay. The beauty of being a capitalist is that you don’t have to know everything; you just have to know that you have a system that is designed to discover and find things out, that champions experimentation and innovation.

That’s the alternative. It doesn’t rely on fearmongering. It isn’t based in hypocrisy. It’s not absurd. And it’s not insane. It’s just dealing with human beings as individuals. You don’t need to march for that. You don’t have to do anything special. All you have to do is respect other people as individuals, and live your life.

Featured photo licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC. Photo Credit: John Minchillo, via the Climate Change Network International Flickr page.

Going After Gluten: Tackling Fads & Annoying People

I like to call out bullshit on the Internet. One article of BS, I think, is the increasing trend of people to say they are “sensitive to gluten.” Although there’s been a lot of talk about this, and I have met a ton of people who said they are sensitive to gluten, where the science is concerned (so far), it appears that gluten sensitivity is mostly in your head. The evidence for this? A study by the scientist who originally concluded in a previous study that people were sensitive to gluten, which may have set off this whole thing.

I’ve heard people say that erasing gluten from their diet has led to all sorts of wondrous things, which always sets my sensors off. Whenever something gets blamed for a ton of problems, I get skeptical. Whenever a lot of people suddenly go crazy over something like this (i.e., not pop culture like a band or a TV show) I get skeptical. And in this case, I really do wonder if it might be harmful for everyone else in society. For instance, will people start demanding that government impose a gluten ban? If you had asked me that even a year ago, I would have said “Doubtful,” but seeing the craziness going on in society today, I’m not so sure. In most cases, there doesn’t seem to be a solid reasoning process going on, and that’s not a good thing.

The other thing that also puts me on alert is the defensiveness people get whenever I post something skeptical about gluten sensitivity, or when I bring up in conversation that I think it’s mostly bunk. Whenever I see someone getting defensive about things like this, my mind immediately starts thinking “ooh, cultish behavior.” Even if it’s not entirely fair (and it really isn’t fair in 90% of cases) my mind still does that. But sometimes it can really piss people off.

One article I posted on my Facebook wall was titled “Science Proves Gluten Sensitivity Isn’t Real, People Are Just Whiners“. Yeouch. That’s already taking a hard edge. I got into it with one guy about it (who got pretty defensive and upset about the article, and continued to be when I also posted the above PBS article) and then just let it be. Then someone else commented on it, asking why people had to attack those who claim they are sensitive to gluten (ok, my paraphrasing) as “whiners”, why reading “a few idiot articles online entitles people to look down on others’ health problems”, and “why does it hurt so much that there are some people avoiding gluten”. I wanted to write a response, but instead I thought about it, because I think she brings up good points.

There are some instances where mocking and calling people out forcefully are in demand. When you care about someone personally and they make self-destructive decisions, it might help. (Note I said might.) When someone wants to impose policies to the detriment of individuals using force, say, by replacing capitalism (the economic system of people being left alone to make their own decisions and persue their own self-interest, and which also led to the greatest rise in prosperity in human history) with socialism (the economic system of the central government owning the means of production and imposing its decisions on the people, and which also led to the one of the highest death tolls in human history), I think it’s fair to call such people “tyrants,” “wannabe mass murderers,” and other such names, because let’s face it, that’s the end result of their ideas. On religion, I’ve always held that we shouldn’t necessarily try to embarrass people in public, but in private, if someone says something that is either on its face absurd or deeply offensive, you should call them out on it and basically say “This is why you look like an idiot.” And no, you’re not being rude; they are, for demanding you believe something that is patently absurd and has no evidence. That is rude to any intellectual person.

But what about erasing gluten from your diet? I’ve thought about it…and it just doesn’t rise to anywhere near the same level. When the gluten sensitive start a campaign to ban gluten and use government to meddle more in our diets, call me. I’ll be there to denounce it. But for now, I can’t get that upset. I still find it personally annoying when there’s someone who claims they have this sensitivity and forces us to revolve all lunch plans around them (unless we order separately or it doesn’t affect our decision model much, and most people I know don’t make themselves the center of attention), but how annoyed can I really get? Calling people “whiners” for personal dietary choices is unfair and inappropriate. As long as they’re not harming you, you shouldn’t be using that kind of language. Maybe you think it’s silly – you can definitely say it in that way – but they’re not whiners. That’s just being unnecessarily mean. You don’t have to eat a gluten free diet, you can go off and choose what you want to eat. That’s the point of a free market society: individuals being allowed to make their own decisions. You make yours, they make theirs, you respect each others’ choices, we’re all good.

Usually, when people say they are hurt, I have the Stephen Fry response. Not here, however. In this case, I am being a jerk, somewhat, over a rather unimportant issue that doesn’t directly affect me. That’s just unnecessary and rude. I won’t actually apologize for posting the article, as I think it was actually fairly detailed and really informative. I do wish the authors had chosen a less hostile headline, though. I also hope I didn’t cause too much serious discomfort by posting it, and I will try to be more attentive in the future.

But for pete’s sakes, don’t get me started on those raw vegans. Holy crap…

RIP, Robin Williams: Let’s Stop Suicide Being An Avenue to Peace

Like many people around the globe, Monday night I was stunned to hear that Robin Williams had died at 63. Of all the celebrity deaths that have happened in the past five years – and it sure seems like we’re killing them off at a good pace – Williams actually hit me hard. I mean, jeez. This is Robin freaking Williams we’re talking about. He’s been around as a funny man for ages. I admired the man, loved his work, thought he was one of the greatest actors of my age.

And now, he’s gone. Forever.

More than the cold hard fact that he is dead, though, was how he died. The sheriff’s initial report said it was suicide by asphyxiation. Williams didn’t die from disease, or an accident, or natural causes, or – heavens forbid – foul play. No, he died by his own hand, apparently to relieve whatever pain or discomfort he was going through in his life.

Williams is not the first person in my life who has chosen suicide as a way to alleviate pain.

When I was a kid, I had one friend who was my greatest friend of all. Out of respect to his family, I will not go into many details; for this story, let us call him Richard. Richard was kind of an odd duck, but he was funny, lively, and had a great imagination. He was also one of the closest friends in my life, and in many ways shaped who I am today. But in addition to this, Richard had…issues. For some time, doctors were putting him on mental medication, for reasons I could not discern. He always complained about the doctors, had arguments with them, and to be honest to my eyes I didn’t think there was anything wrong. The only issues I could ever see was that he would have low energy, or sometimes walk around and mutter strange things. But to be honest, that could describe anybody over the age of forty, so I didn’t really pay it any mind.

After awhile, he started to get better. During the latter part of my adolescence, we were two guys who weren’t part of the social mainstream in any way, but we functioned and we continued. We had fun, we talked about serious topics, even played D&D (once) and Halo (a lot). I really thought Richard was on the up and up, and soon he would be going off to college and becoming a nuclear engineer in the military.

I was 18 when I heard the news. I was driving home from my summer job as a contract archivist. I pulled in the driveway, up to the garage door, when my mother comes running down the stairs, the phone in her hand, crying hysterically. She told me that Richard had shot himself, that he was dead, and I should probably go see his family.

He lived down the road from me, so I walked. I was just stunned. To this day, one of the things that really stuck out in my memory was that I didn’t shed a single tear. Instead, I just walked down the road with my mouth wide open, my body shaking in a silent scream. I was just so empty. I thought something was wrong with me. But no, I realized afterwards, there was nothing wrong with me. This was just how I was dealing with it.

I didn’t see his body until the service; I just saw it taken out on a gurney, wrapped inside of a bag. He left behind a note, a rather cryptic one, and all that was left was to pick up the pieces. I remember talking with somebody – I can’t remember who – that I was really surprised. “He was doing better,” I said. “Why would he do this?”

“Sometimes,” this other person said, “It’s when they’re coming up from the depths that they decide to do this. Because when they’re really down, they can’t get up the energy to pull the trigger. It’s only when they get enough to do it, that’s when it happens.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the basic point stands. You may think they’re doing better. You may think they’re “all right.” But nobody knows what truly goes on in the hearts and minds of other people. What you get, at best, is an edited simulacrum. So take the time to talk to people. Take an hour of your time and really understand them. Listen to them. Be there for them. If you truly care, then they are more than worth an hour of your life. My friend was certainly worth an hour. Hell, he was worth an entire month. I would have gladly taken that time to talk to him about his issues.

These people are trying to find peace from all their pain and suffering. That’s all. It’s not selfish, cowardly, or anything at all like that. In the state they are in, they are suffering deeply, and they need peace – and when they get to this point, suicide is the only option that occurs to them.

So do that. If someone you know is depressed, or worse perhaps suicidal – or even if they don’t appear to be at all – take a moment. Talk with them. Maybe take an entire hour, or more. Just talk with them, let them know you’re there and you want to help. That’s all. I didn’t do that because I didn’t recognize what was happening. Don’t share the same regret I feel today.

Your Life Is Worth An Hour

Above picture from the Facebook page “Your Life Is Worth An Hour“.

The Cult of Death Is Building A Temple in Canaan

I wanted to get a few things off my chest about Israel and Palestine, based on some really idiotic conversations I see going around. I want to preface these statements by making it absolutely clear that they are my opinion only, and do not represent nor reflect on anyone else (employer, sports team, country, etc.) Unfortunate we have to put those disclaimers in, but that is the society we live in.

I’ve been seeing a lot of cheering from those on the right towards Israel, which quite frankly disgusts me. It makes me want to vomit. It’s disgusting and abhorrent. No one should cheer the deaths of people, especially women and children. Nobody should applaud when missiles rain down and blow apart houses. A reasonable response to this could be “Good luck Israel,” or simple statements of support, but instead I am seeing “Yeah, go Israel! Fuck yeah!” and “Wipe out those subhuman savages!” No, really, this is typical rhetoric now being tossed about.

Just in case anyone says “Nobody actually says the Palestinians are subhuman savages” I present to you @CSunnyDaay and @secondthenfirst. Yes, these people do exist out there.

I don’t support Hamas, and I don’t support Hamas’ indiscriminate missile flinging into Israel. That’s not the solution to their problem. But here’s the thing: most Americans (and other foreigners) cheering on Israel don’t even bother thinking about the other side of the equation. They just think “Oh, these bad people are firing missiles at Israel! It’s self-defense! That’s it!” But they never bother to ask why the bad people are firing missiles, they just assume they are intrinsically evil creatures from Mordor.

Let’s examine why. Israel, over the course of decades, kicked the Palestinian Arabs out of their homes (though the initial blame lies with Britain, which decided to just mandate things.) They then forced these people into small areas, locked down running water and electricity, forced them to only get supplies from the Israeli government (which in turn could shut down the supply lines at any time), walk in and bulldoze people’s homes without warning, shoot them without warning or due process or anything even remotely like that, and then have the gall to build tons of Israeli settlements within the territory they’ve already set aside for the Palestinians! And then, when all that is said and done, the Israeli government drops bombs on hospitals, homes, shelters, just blows things up from the sky. And they have the gall to wonder why the Palestinians turn to support Hamas and their (largely ineffectual) rocket attacks?

If you corralled a bunch of red-blooded Americans into an area and shut down basic services and lobbed bombs and shells at them, after removing them from the land they used to own, do you think Americans would sit for that? Or do you think Americans would find a way to fire back?

The stupid, it burns.

Israel has been fighting this war essentially since 1948. It has taken on different forms, but the same thread of conflict has run through it all. You would think, by now, they may have wisened up and realized what they’re doing isn’t working. The US tried this before too. It’s called Vietnam. Our attacks there only galvanized the Vietnamese people to support the Viet Cong more, and they did – to the point where the VC forced us to leave and then destroyed the US-backed Republic of South Vietnam. What the heck does the Israeli government think this will accomplish? Do they really think that if they drop just another load of bombs out of the sky, that the Palestinians will finally be convinced that Hamas’ way is the wrong way and will stop?

Of course, I don’t think that’s what the Israeli government thinks at all. Like most governments, it wants votes, and like many people, a lot of Israelis want blood. Not all of them, but a fair amount, and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu represents those who do. And I think Netanyahu wants the conflict as PM because he can blame any problems in his government on the Palestinians. I’m not sure what those other problems are, I am not an expert in Israeli internal politics, but it has been a long lasting and celebrated political tactic to find an “Other” you can demonize and pin all your problems on.

Again, I’m not supporting Hamas. The Palestinians are stupid for supporting Hamas. Do they really think that more rockets raining down will fix their problems of no jobs, crushing poverty, lack of medical care, food, running water, and electricity? Do they really think the Israelis are going to soften and change their policies if their families are blown up? Yet I can understand – though not support – why they support Hamas. Most Palestinians probably feel they have no hope, that there is no alternative. (Sure, there’s Fatah in the West Bank, but Gaza and the West Bank are almost two different entities at this point.) When you have no jobs, no supplies, and there are bombs falling out of the sky, what’s left to do but die for Allah?

The point I’m trying to make here is not that Americans are supporting the “wrong side.” I wouldn’t want them to support Hamas either. The point is that many Americans are completely leaving out half of the equation here. They’re ignoring why the Palestinians in Gaza are doing what they’re doing. If you’re going to jump into a conflict, you need to understand why that conflict is going on, who the players actually are, who the players’ peoples actually are, and then what incentives are going to make each side stop fighting – both the incentives they publicly state and the incentives that we know, deep down, that will cause both sides to knock it off. But, like most foreign policy issues, Americans never bother to actually understand or learn the arguments, they just want some prewritten soundbite to utter that makes them feel all good and patriotic.

That disgusts me.

Addition

After conversing with some folks on social media, it appears to me that some clarification is in order. Two points.

First, some have said that Israel has done all it can, and now the ball is in Hamas’ court. That’s fair. While I can understand the sentiment behind a lot of antipathy towards Israelis, having the Israelis come in and basically kick the Palestinians out, the Palestinians need to accept they’re not getting it back. They are never going to destroy Israel and get their all-Palestinian state. They may be able to secure a federalist solution, at best, but they’re never going to kick Israel out. While Hamas will never come to that conclusion willingly – it would mean they would lose all their support as their raison d’etre would be violated – they need to accept that. So these folks are right, it is time that Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist (as much as any “state” has rights; only individuals can really have rights), and stop the rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli strikes still won’t lead to the Palestinian people moving against Hamas, but Israel has its hands effectively tied.

Second, some people have taken this post to mean that I support Hamas, that I don’t think Israel has a right to exist, and that the Israelis shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves. Nothing can be further from the truth. I don’t support either side in this mess. What I am writing against is the frothing, mindless support from some folks on the right for the violence in Gaza. For the people labeling Palestinians as subhuman savages and calling for more death, more bombs, more killings. That is what I am writing against. That is the point of this piece. For what it’s worth, I’m not even sure I care anymore about the conflict itself. I just want it to end. I just want the violence and death and destruction to stop. Is that so bad? Is it so bad that I criticize people who want this to continue? Of course, I shouldn’t expect any reason or intelligence on this issue. Almost more than anything else, this issue runs high on tribalism, to the point where nobody will bother even understanding the argument being made, they will just arbitrarily label the person good or evil. It is the Cult of Death I am fighting against, and the Temple they are building is the ritual chanting for more ordnance to fall. The Cult of Death is not Israeli. It is not Palestinian. It is, regrettably, American.

That is not supporting Hamas. That is not being anti-Israeli. It is being anti-death and anti-war, nothing more.

Update

The spate of attacks on my piece in social media has led me to read a lot more articles about Gaza than what I normally do. This one in particular has me all kinds of confused. Just what is really going on here?

The Force Is Still Strong With the Star Wars Expanded Universe

A not so long time ago, in a boardroom not all that far away…

So the news is out. The Star Wars Expanded Universe – all the books, games, comics, etc beyond the movies and the Clone Wars show – is essentially being put into storage. It will still be available, printed, and even to be used by authors and creators in the “new” timeline. Already, some fans are complaining hard about this, feeling they’re being Force choked by this decision. Things like “I invested years and lots of money into this!” are getting bandied about.

These complaints are really childish, and I actually think this is a good decision for Disney to make.

First, why the decision is good. While I certainly have my favorites from the EU canon – the X-Wing series, Young Jedi Knights, anything by Timothy Zahn, and I, Jedi all stand out – we must face the fact that a great majority of the Expanded Universe is, to put it frankly, bantha poodoo. I said as much back in January, and I just want to reiterate it more now. The Courtship of Princess Leia is as schlocky as they come, and The Crystal Star is…well, perhaps the less said about it, the better. There are many horrible Star Wrongs in the EU. In no way, shape, or form should J.J Abrams and the crew working on the next trilogy be beholden to them. I’m glad they won’t be!

But then, that’s the thing, isn’t it? The EU was always secondary canon. Even though it was canon – unlike, say, Star Trek, which basically said that it’s “extended universe” was not canon, no way, no how – it was always secondary to the two film trilogies and later on Clone Wars. (Ugh.) So even they technically were not really Star Wars. And for the vast majority of people who have watched the movies, they aren’t, because they’re not the movies. How many people read Star Wars novels? I’m sure it’s a large number, but it is nowhere near as large as the many who have watched the movies and never delved into the EU.

Now, why the complaints, in most cases, are pretty childish: because this decision in no way takes away from your enjoyment of those stories. We are dealing with a fictional universe, and you know where fictional universes live? In your mind, and in your heart. And nothing that Disney can do can take them away from those places. Sure, they may not exist in the same timeline as the new movies…however, fiction loves alternate timelines, so there is nothing saying you can’t just push the old EU to a different timeline and enjoy that. People are doing it with Star Trek, why not Star Wars?

Fact is, the Star Wars universe is one you make of it. I myself have completely disavowed anything from New Jedi Order onwards and most of the stuff set between the Exar Kun saga and the earliest “Last Days of the Old Republic” type material. (KOTOR, KOTOR II, The Old Republic, etc – all that stuff doesn’t exist for me, because it is all hilariously dumb.) Does that mean that content doesn’t exist for other fans? Of course not.

I really think fans need to get over themselves. Saying “the death of the EU hurts” is almost pathetic. Having your dog die hurts. Having a friend or family member hurts. Losing a job hurts. A company making a change in what novels it will accept as a backstory to a movie series doesn’t hurt, and if does you may be overly attached. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but come on. I love fiction as much as the next guy, and I love writing it and yes I do get attached to things sometimes, but at the end of the day these are all stories that exist in your mind. (Well, until Heinlein’s pantheistic solipsism is proven correct, that is…)

It’s whiny, entitled bullshit. I see this all over the ‘Net on all sorts of topics, and when it comes to something as silly as this – yes, “silly” and Star Wars do go together in this case – it just makes me sad. Sad that people are wasting their time on this. Move on, you have more important things to do. The Expanded Universe you love will always be there for you, forever.

(And before you say “But Jeremy – shouldn’t you have more important things to do than write a blog post like this?” why yes, yes I do. Which is watch the rest of Gundam Unicorn.)

Why Banning Learn To Code Bootcamps Is A Modern Atrocity

Over the past week, my Twitter feed has shown me at least two or three stories out of California on the state banning learn to code bootcamps. As someone who last year discovered had a natural talent for web coding and actually enjoyed it, leading to a career shift, this story dismays the hell out of me.

From VentureBeat, “California regulator seeks to shut down ‘learn to code’ bootcamps”:

BPPE, a unit in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is arguing that the bootcamps fall under its jurisdiction and are subject to regulation. BPPE is charged with licensing and regulating postsecondary education in California, including academic as well as vocational training programs. It was created in 2010 by the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009, a bill aimed at providing greater oversight of the more than 1,500 postsecondary schools operating in the state.

These bootcamps have not yet been approved by the BPPE and are therefore being classified as unlicensed postsecondary educational institutions that must seek compliance or be forcibly shut down.

“Our primary goal is not to collect a fine. It is to drive them to comply with the law,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for BPPE. Heimerich is confident that these companies would lose in court if they attempt to fight BPPE.

Heimerich stressed that these bootcamps merely need to show that they are making steps toward compliance: “As long as they are making a good effort to come into compliance with the law, they fall down low on our triage of problem children. We will work with them to get them licensed and focus on more urgent matters,” Heimerich said.

The question, really, is why there needs to be such burdensome regulation in the first place.

What happens at these bootcamps is that students come, they learn to code, they gain a valuable skill, and they can later turn that into a job. While the bootcamps cost between $10,000 – $20,000, they only last about 10-12 weeks, much less than the minimum $40k a year parents must shell out for 4-5 years of college. These bootcamps are a great opportunity: not only do the students get training in an actual, real world skill, but they do it for a lot less than a traditional college and they don’t waste 4-5 years unable to collect a paycheck, but can get right into the coding world with a job.

California regulators are citing “fraud prevention and safety concerns” as their reason for barging in and imposing themselves, but let’s be honest: that is not the case whatsoever. I would bet dollars to donuts that what’s really behind the regulators’ push is some market incumbent–some college, school, provider, whatever–that sees these bootcamps as a threat to its market share and wants them to be regulated so hard they go out of business, or at least until they stop being a threat. This is how the vast bulk of regulation in the United States comes about.

And here, because we are talking about education, knowledge, and individual empowerment, it’s especially atrocious. Any time someone steps in to prevent another from learning, well, mere words cannot describe how horrific such a thing is. I would never say it’s as bad as, say, the Holocaust, but it is truly a terrible thing. Knowledge is what empowers people to take control of their lives, better themselves, and in turn better all of the world. Knowledge knows no boundaries, no limits–except those imposed by the jealous and short-sighted. And even then, it will get out. You don’t need the bootcamps to learn how to code and get a job as a programmer, but it helps. A lot.

I myself was working in PR and media relations until the end of 2012. In 2013 I was very fortunate to have a friend recommend me to take a job in web programming, as he knew I had studied it a long time ago with my father. I was initially nervous, as I hadn’t done it in a long time…but before I knew it, I was becoming an expert on a completely new (to me, anyways) content management system, and was becoming an ace at HTML5, CSS3, and working my way into new forms of JavaScript. I became intimately familiar with responsive web design (taking one online course to help) which is a huge boon with the rapid growth of mobile web usage. This has opened all sorts of doors for me, and moreover, I actually enjoy it tremendously. It has turned me away from a period in my life where I was struggling to find what I was good at and could do for a day job, and was banging my head against the proverbial wall to do so, and into a life where I see possibilities and growth and a future and something I can do. Will it be easy? Of course not. It’s life. Life will never be easy. But now that I have this knowledge I have gained and taught myself, there is at least a path forward. That’s all anyone can ask for.

Why on Earth would regulators deny students this same empowerment? This is a modern atrocity.

Geography Schmography

Just before Thanksgiving, Buzzfeed posted an article about how some Brits couldn’t identify any of the US states. Then someone at BoredPanda responded that Americans could barely identify any of the countries in Europe. It’s a theme I’ve seen countless times before: Americans are unworldly, uneducated, and just plain stupid, especially when it comes to anything beyond their nation’s borders. The Buzzfeed article was, in some ways, a reprisal to that, noting “Hey, non-Americans are stupid too!”

What both articles completely ignore is the fact that geographical knowledge is really just bupkiss.

I mean, if you know all the countries in Europe, what does that do? Sure, you might  receive a “That’s cool” at a party, but beyond that, do you need to know all those countries? Unless you’re a geography teacher or a cartographer or something similar, no, no you do not need to know all the countries in Europe. It might save some embarrassment if you meet someone from another country, but in an age of Google Maps, there’s ultimately no purpose to taking up valuable space in your brain for detailed geographical knowledge of another continent.

There are many marks to gauge whether or not a “populace” is “dumb”. Economic & political knowledge of their own country; basic mathematical and scientific principles; general history; logic and critical reasoning (understanding cause & effect and fallacies & so on); and, I would also argue, ethics. A person without any understanding of ethics is a dumb individual indeed. But geographical knowledge? For 99.9% of the populace, the usefulness of such knowledge falls about in between the win/loss record of the Arizona Cardinals and exactly how many minutes it takes for paint to dry on a house in Alaska in the winter. If you don’t know where a country is, you can just Google it. It doesn’t mean that you’re dumb or uneducated.

It means you have better things to do than know precisely where the Entitled Peoples’s Republic of Bumfuckistan is (which, for your information, is wedged precisely between Snobbitonia to the north and the Federal Republic of Conceitania to the south.)

Jeebus, people, we have better things to worry about.

Featured image released into the public domain by Joebloggsy.

Can we just stop making stuff up?

The title of a recent article at The New Republic reads:

The Period Is Pissed
When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?

The author then goes on to assume that adding a period at the end of your texts indicates you’re angry.

This is one of the plainest cases of someone just making shit up. Ok, so he cites a professor of linguistics and the editor of something called the Awl (presumably short for “The Awful,” judging by the editor’s comments.) But this guy is definitely smoking something.

Look, a period at the end of sentences is not indicating aggressiveness. It is proper grammar. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, some people don’t do that and use line breaks because it’s more efficient to type that way on mobile phones. Not technically proper, but it’s a convenience to use such a wonderful device. I have no problem with that. But if you start assuming that using periods in a message indicates “anger,” well, then you’re going to have a lot of problems in your life. You’re probably going to end up hating a lot of people or feeling really bad about yourself. And then your life is going to get worse.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t assume. It makes an ass out of you and me.

EDIT: I am now very angry at my high school for making me think grammar is spelled with an “e”.