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Journal of No. 118


February 12th, 2017

DC @ 05:58 pm

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I went for a quick business trip to Washington DC.

Pictures here.

The flight out was pretty rocky. Coming in for landing at Dallas, the lady next to me had her airsickness bag out. It was a near thing, but we made it through together. Alas, my bag was so frightened, it stayed in Dallas. But it was coaxed onto the next flight so it arrived at my hotel at midnight. So much for getting an early night to help with the time change.

The business stuff was successful, and (as the photos show) I had some time to walk around the national mall before heading back to the airport. I was surprised there were no protestors at the White House. Just a small gaggle of tourists.

On the flight back, I couldn't help but notice the guy next to me with his e-reader set to blind-bat text size, especially when the screen read:

"aggressively sharpened on the whetstone of her sex"

Which reminds me... there was some commercial for something quoting Dylan Thomas - "Do not go gentle into that good night". Seems to me James Bond uncharacteristically missed an opportunity for a witticism in The Man with the Golden Gun.
 

The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters @ 05:17 pm

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A mystery novel set in an alternate (hopefully) universe in which the Earth is destined to be smacked by a large asteroid a few months in the future. This situation naturally has a great impact (er) on the way people think about their lives, and what they're worth, and what other people's are worth. There are a lot of suicides, and our titular detective investigates one such, an insurance actuary hanged in a McDonald's bathroom. Something doesn't sit right, and when you come to think of it... in a world where suicide is very common, what better way to hide a murder? Red herrings and revelations pull our hero by the nose through comedy and tragedy until the case is cracked. There aren't a lot of viable suspects, but Winters gives just about the right amount of hints and misdirection to keep the mystery mysterious.

I liked it a lot. Not quite love, but a lot. The book won the Edgar, and the followup won the PKD award, so I will probably make my way through the trilogy.
 

February 10th, 2017

The ALL NEW Don't Think of an Elephant! by George Lakoff @ 05:24 pm


Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

This is an updated (2014) version of the 2004 original by Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley.

Basic idea: conservative leaders have been better at framing issues than liberal counterparts.

Frames are embedded deeply enough in people that rational argumentation and facts are useless.

Voters have had these frames imposed upon them so that their kneejerk reactions are predictable.

e.g. describing a bill to lower taxes as 'tax relief' builds up the concept that taxes are (always) a burden. And inherently bad.

If liberals fight against these frames by mentioning them, this only reinforces the frame. Liberals may talk about tax relief for the middle class, but this leans on the idea that taxes are inherently bad.

Liberals need to find their own frames to use. 'Taxes contribute to the many valuable services we all make use of. They are investments in our future happiness and the happiness of our children. They are the 'membership fees' of citizenship.'

And then I start to get an itchy feeling.

"These are accurate views of taxes, but they are not yet enshrined in our brains. They need to be repeated over and over again, and refined until they take their rightful place in our synapses. But that takes time. It does not happen overnight. Start now."

Lakoff would like us to please brainwash ourselves.

This is not an exaggeration of his position. One of the strange things about the book is his frequent discussion that these frames are physical 'structures' in our brains. I mean, I too believe that mental states supervene on physical states in the brain, and there is no soul making 'free' decisions. But, unlike Lakoff, I don't think that makes rational argument useless.

“You might think that the world exists independently of how we understand it. You would be mistaken. Our understanding of the world is part of the world--a physical part of the world. Our conceptual framings exist in physical neural circuitry in our brains, largely below the level of conscious awareness, and they define and limit how we understand the world, and so they affect our actions in the world."

Inasmuch as he promotes frames as a weapon, he literally wants us to circumvent thought and react unconsciously to stimuli. [We will set aside his apparent disregard for the existence of an external world independent of ourselves.]

In discussing climate change, he notes that scientists are terrible at framing:

"The crucial words here are high degree of confidence, anomalies, consequence, likelihood, absence, and exceedingly small. Scientific weasel words! The power of the bald truth, namely causation..."

Those are not weasel words. Those are the correct ways to phrase these scientific results. If some treehugging granola-eater wants to wave a sign saying "Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy," that's fine, but it is not a scientific fact. Nor is it "the bald truth". It is irresponsible to ask scientists to say anything other than something like "it's unlikely for an event like Hurricane Sandy to have occurred without the influence of anthropogenic climate change." I know, it doesn't fit well on a placard. It's complicated. But it's what the science shows.

"The issue of "immigration" is about a new generation of such refugees. President Obama, in a speech ... beautifully states his moral understanding of the issue. His words showed that the current wave of refugees, referred to as 'undocumented immigrants' are in many ways already citizens --they contribute enormously to American society."

This has a couple things I want to mention. First, undocumented immigrants are not (in general) refugees. So Obama was right to so characterize them. Lakoff is indulging in spin, to put it most favorably. Second, Lakoff was hoping that by describing them as refugees, it would arouse feelings of compassion that would make us more likely to help rather than harm these people. Of course, Lakoff wrote his book in 2014. Right now, Americans are probably more afraid of 'refugees' than of 'illegal aliens'. I mean, that is perhaps a demonstration of the whole point of his book -- that there are different ways of framing the issue to cause kneejerk responses. But he has once again caused me some pause, since he starts his own framing exercise by lying, to put it less favorably.

In a FAQ at the end, he tries to distinguish between frames and euphemisms, spin, or propaganda. I wasn't really satisfied by his answer. Frames are not very different from euphemism, spin, or propaganda. These certainly have their place in politics.

His vision seems to be of two large masses of primates mindlessly shouting slogans at a small band of undecided primates in the middle, each hoping to inculcate the middle group with its slogan. While this is not an unfair description of American elections, I think we can do better. The way to fight propaganda is not (only) with propaganda of our own, but by exposing propaganda for what it is.

But possibly I'm wrong and brainwashing ourselves and others is the only route forward to victory.

Fortunately, it appears I'm not alone in being leery of Lakoff. I found a great point/counterpoint between Stephen Pinker and Lakoff. Skip to Pinker's Salvo to see his review of Lakoff's ideas from a different (but similar) book and a really good yo mama joke. This is apparently an outburst in a decades long intellectual war between the two, and I'm not qualified to judge the more technical aspects of their discussion of linguistics and cognitive science, but when it gets down to the political applications, I think Pinker is in the right:

But Lakoff’s advice doesn’t pass the giggle test. One can just imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff’s Orwellian advice tried to rebrand “taxes” as “membership fees.” Surely no one has to hear the metaphor tax relief to think of taxes as an affliction; that sentiment has been around for as long as taxes have been around. ... And even if taxes were like membership fees, aren’t lower membership fees better than higher ones, all else being equal? ... In defending his voters-are-idiots theory, Lakoff has written that people don’t realize that they are really better off with higher taxes, because any savings from a federal tax cut would be offset by increases in local taxes and private services. But if that is a fact, it would have to be demonstrated to a bureaucracy-jaded populace the old-fashioned way, as an argument backed with numbers–-the kind of wonkish analysis that Lakoff dismisses.
...
The problem with this burlesque is not that its targets don’t deserve criticism. It’s that it will backfire with all of its potential audiences. Any of Lakoff’s allies on the left who think that their opponents are such imbeciles will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. The book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals’ insularity and incomprehension.


Overall:

B+ for showing how conservatives have used framing successfully.
F for suggesting that the liberal's only hope is to fight fire with fire, brainwash ourselves, and lay off the facts and rational thought.
F for not really exploring the liberal frames that already exist. The shortcuts to careful reasoning. Diagnosing police brutality, racism, sexism, without the full facts. Nazipunching. Reading the book, you get the impression that only wicked conservatives have frames to manipulate people, while the benevolent, wise, but prone-to-losing liberals are stuck with only useless tools like facts and rationality.
 

February 3rd, 2017

The Business, by Iain [no M] Banks @ 04:46 pm

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The Business recounts a slice of life in an up-and-coming executive in the eponymous organization. It's a fictional(?) millennia old organization devoted to making money and amassing power. Not particularly secretive, but they don't make waves. Given its age and the nature of compound interest, The Business is well-funded and thinks big. On the current business plan is to find a modestly sized country and acquire it for business purposes. Being a Banks novel, it's populated by oddballs, strange details, and crackling turns of phrase. Lots of Machiavellian plots within The Business as different executives jockey for benefits both business-related and personal (and many of them can barely distinguish the difference). I enjoyed it, but felt the loose ends got wrapped up much too rapidly at the end.
 

February 2nd, 2017

Son of Nazipunch @ 05:29 pm


My rhetorical question appears to have been answered.

If one cannot bring oneself to punch a lady Nazi in the face, you should pepperspray her in the face.

Now, it's almost too good to be true that she had just finished saying "I'm looking to make a statement by just being here and I think the protesters are doing the same. Props to the ones who are doing it non-violently, but I think that's a very rare thing indeed."

So, if you're of a conspiratorial bent, this is a false flag operation or something. But I think it's fair to say that there were plenty of anonymous violent troublemakers there. The police are of the opinion that they were 'outside agitators' (a phrase I knew we would see more and more of) and not Berkeley students. Which is probably the case, since I'm now hearing all about these experienced antifa activists. Who are these experts all of a sudden and where did they get their expertise? There hasn't been a fascist state to fight in some time, and never in the US, so I find myself suspecting that these are just people who like to have fistfights with skinheads. Whoever they are and whatever their movement is about, they know squat about working against the excesses of a Trump Administration.

Instead, of course, they are falling into the trap.

Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?


Berkeley was literally the origin of the Free Speech Movement and Sproul Plaza is Free Speech Central.



The university did the right thing in not preventing the speech, and they (or the UCPD who made the call) did the right thing in shutting it down for safety reasons.

Of course the Donald had to weigh in on Twitter:

"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

This is literally one of the stupidest things I've ever read. Even among Trump tweets, this is a doozy.

But remember my warning "Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts"

Don't be down on Free Speech, just because Trump says he likes it. This is exactly the kind of emotional response thing that Trump apparently uses to perfection. Of course, it only works on stupid people. So don't be a stupid person.



Anyway, I'm reiterating my distaste for Nazipunch and the flawed philosophy behind it.

And again I'm warning against falling into the trap.

Because if not, something terrible is going to happen, and years from now, some kid will be walking with his grandfather on the campus, and grandpa will point to the pocks of bullets in a wall and say something like, 'And over there in that field is where it happened. It was a terrible thing those kids died. But these outside agitators (communists or anarchists or some such) came in and caused a lot of trouble, and stirred things up. Setting fires and so forth. Had to restore Law & Order.'

Because no shit that's exactly what my grandpa told me 40 years ago as we visited Kent State.
 

January 29th, 2017

Hollywoodland Stairs @ 03:16 pm


We took a hike this morning to climb up and down some of the stairs in and around the original Hollywoodland development. There's a nice guide to the trail here (and a couple other hikes on the site).

All the pictures.

You do get a bit of a work out.

Stairs Hike

Lots of crazy castles and castle-esque stuff up there.

Stairs Hike

Views of the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, the Ocean, and a few spots for DTLA.

Stairs Hike

Going down is less work, but reminds me of the dangers of climbing down Mesoamerican pyramids.

Stairs Hike


The guide describes this as Prince Valiant.

Stairs Hike

But surely Valiant is raven-haired! This is more Ivanhoe.



The grandest stair had two staircases. Originally, the middle had a stream that ran down it, now replaced by planters.

Stairs Hike

The sun was difficult for many shots in the early morning, but I still like this of DTLA through a tree.

Stairs Hike

Also ran into the Theosophists.

Stairs Hike

After the hike, we jetted down Sunset to an estate sale in Santa Monica, where we picked up a new desk chair for me, in which I now sit.
 

January 28th, 2017

Nazipunch 2017 @ 08:37 pm


Many people have recently opined about the justifiability of punching a Nazi(*) in the face. A surprising (to me) number of people are for it.

(*)To clarify, unless we're talking about these six Nazis, at best there are 'neo-Nazis' these days, or 'jerks with hateful ideas who are dangerously close to the levers of power'.

I test the Nazi punch hypothesis out in my own mind, and I just find it hard to accept. I mean, what if it was a lady Nazi? In Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah wisely observes that "in America, if a girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleman." Honestly, I'm egalitarian enough that if a boy or girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleperson.

And yes, if a boy or girl is kicking that helpless person over there's ass, this probably requires some intervention.

But these rules are not just about kicks and asses. They should be good for punches and faces. "Hey you! Anonymous coward punching an unsuspecting guy in the face! What's wrong with you?"

Anyway, some dudes may have some archaic patriarchal misgivings about punching a lady Nazi. Perhaps they could do something else generally considered illegal or antisocial? Maybe they could throw rocks at them or grab their pussies? This new moral hypothesis opens up so many interesting questions!

But it's fraught with so many logistical difficulties. I mean, not every neo-Nazi will go to the trouble of tattooing 88 on his forehead. They might look like anybody! If only we could form an organization that could identify them based on objective criteria and make them wear distinctive clothing or something, so we'd know who to punch.

But there seem to be deeper flaws that worry me. A lot.

If we decide that, for a certain class of people, we no longer have to treat them with the usual rules of civility and humanity, it would seem (to avoid being hypocrites) that other people could use this same hypothesis to justify treating other classes of people as sub-human.

Wait a moment! Have I fallen into Bizarro world? Nazis treating certain classes of people as sub-human is one of the justifications for treating them as subhuman. I have it all backward! It's not that we would be hypocrites to NOT allow other people to think this way in the future. It's that other people thinking that way in the past made US start to think like them.

You can't fight an ideology by implicitly accepting its tenets. You are strengthening it by making it the only way of looking at the world.


Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?

The good guys also have some experts at using 'the System', from politicians to judges to civil rights lawyers. I'm neither, but I expect they would advise you to refrain from punching people in the face.

Because it does play into their trap. Punch a few Nazis, set fire to a building, and the system might restrict the rights to "habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone". In the name of security. To protect the crybabies.

And what is the goal of Nazipunch? What positive result is achieved?



When Obama was elected, the racists were gnashing their teeth, and afraid, and the left held out its hand and said:



And the dummies on the right were afraid Obama was going to grab their guns and put them in FEMA camps.

And so they hid in their bunkers, clutching their guns and bibles, despising the left, falling into their own groupthink, biding their time until... well, until their savior appeared. And they voted for him, to the astonishment of all those who thought they were safely and silently encapsulated in gun-lined bunkers where their unchallenged ideologies couldn't possibly hurt anybody.

And you know what? As dumb as they are, they played by the rules. In the state houses, the governor's mansions, the House and Senate, and now the White House. It's true that "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".

Now the shoe is on the other foot.



And the other side is afraid Trump is going to grab their pussies and put them in death camps.

It's all very familiar. Not all that different.

Now this is not to say that everything is fine. Trump's actions have real effects on pussies and Syrians and so on. But do you know how many pussies get contraception coverage on their insurance when you punch a Nazi?

Zero.

If anything, it plays into the hands of crybaby Nazis.


If you are conspiracy minded, well... probably you have already written me off as a closet Nazi, but consider this.

We know the Russians want to create chaos in our country.

We know the Russians have worked hard to get the dumb-dumb right to distrust the government, distrust the mainstream media, and listen only to RT.com and Breitbart.

Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts, and are better replaced by punches in the face. Angry moron Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Only idiots would want to blow it up bigger.
 

January 15th, 2017

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a hand grabbing a human pussy - forever. @ 07:51 am


A well-known Greenwich Republican called a town worker "nothing but a bloodsucking lazy union employee" and later reached in from behind to place his hand between her legs and pinch her in the groin area, according to the police arrest warrant.

He allegedly replied: "I love this new world, I no longer have to be politically correct," according to the warrant.
 

January 8th, 2017

Santa Paula @ 05:28 pm


Photos from a quick, last-minute trip out to Santa Paula.

We didn't quite make it to the Punch Bowls before we got too hungry, but we enjoyed hiking up Santa Paula Canyon. The recent rains made a few parts slow going and mucky, but not too bad. The hike starts out along the side of Thomas Aquinas College, with lovely views of the campus... generally obscured by temporary trailers set up on the periphery of the campus. Then it takes you around oil fields, and alongside avocado farms, where they are deadly serious about avocado poaching.

Had a fine lunch at Los Arcos, where I made use of my legal right to use the women's bathroom if I so identify (and possibly also because they were redoing the tile in the men's). A little vintage/thrift shopping, where Dr. Pookie found a nice water lily-patterned bit of uranium glass. And then back down the freeways to home.
 

Softly glowing cloud tsunami behind DTLA @ 05:17 pm

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From a few nights ago.

Santa Paula
 

Journal of No. 118