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Journal of No. 118

October 21st, 2016

The Atlantic Abomination, by John Brunner @ 05:32 pm

I didn't have high hopes for this book, but I heard there might be some Lovecraftian elements. In the sense that a big monstrous being with some powers of mind control was in hibernation deep under the water and gets woken up by the sciences straining too far in one direction, yes it is Lovecraftian. But in any real sense, it is not Lovecraftian. John Brunner wrote many great novels; this is not among them.

Favorite moment: male scientist hero type assumes that attractive female scientists without boyfriends must have something seriously wrong with them. Fortunately, he overcomes this prejudice and marries attractive female scientist.

Anyway, go read Stand on Zanzibar.

October 20th, 2016

Torches and Pitchforks @ 11:06 pm

So there's been a bit of a kerfuffle.

The enigmachat email list has, over the years, died down in frequency to near moribund levels. But it perked up again with the campaign and questions about ballot initiatives. I gave my opinions. And there was a little back and forth. And then Darnell stuck his nose in with his usual flat-affected poorly-expressed stupidity. Now, I've only met Darnell in person a couple times, and nothing of much note occurred, but most of his email conversation has been repugnant and poorly thought out and expressed, as was this instance. So, because for me, he is only an object of disdain, detestation, and occasional humor, I tried to elicit further commentary from him, hoping to hear him express more poor, repugnant opinions for the edification of all (i.e. so that everyone would know he's an idiot with repugnant views).

But things took a turn. thefayth went off. "I am deeply distressed by the email I received today on the EnigmaChat mailing list by Mr. Darnell Coleman that continues a cycle of inappropriate statements and behavior over the last 5 years." [my emphasis]

For better or worse, this message hit me before dawn, before coffee, and the first couple responses I saw firmed up my impression, also influenced by certain whispers and gossip, that this was not just about ideas and words, but behavior. And then I fucking went off.

There was a blinding flash of crystal clarity that, although I saw Darnell as an object of ridicule with stupid ideas, and that (only in comparison, mind you) I could be Vol-fucking-taire in amusing myself in showing him up... in actual fact, he was causing harm to people. And so:

Thanks, Faith.

I detest Darnell. I have only met him once or twice, so most of my interaction has been online. But that has been quite enough to last a lifetime.

His opinions are usually offensive, and always poorly thought out and expressed.

Current leadership will have to decide whether his poisonous contributions to the club require action within the guidelines of the group.

I am sensitive to the issue of viewpoint discrimination. I wouldn't want him to be removed simply for holding, or even expressing, unpopular beliefs. But it may well be that his behavior has reached a point that necessitates action.

Looking back, Enigma has from time-to-time had its own little basket of deplorables. From the painfully socially inept, to the gropy, to the political morons, to the religious bigots, to the anti-religious bigots (hi!).

The (rarely used) solution has generally been to encourage the deplorables to 'self-deport'. Make it clear that many people in the club don't want them there. And maybe the best way to make that clear is for many people to actually express it to him.

For the sake of our inboxes, people should write to Darnell personally. However, it might be useful as a record if you could also post a comment in Faith's post to the Enigma Facebook group, so that the powers that be can gauge the sentiment of the members.

But while I have the floor...

Darnell... go away and don't come back. I don't want you in my club. Your negative presence distresses many members and detracts from their experience. I fear you may be a psychic vampire who derives some sick pleasure from distressing others; if so, please find help. Or at least find some other group to infest, because the villagers here are sharpening their stakes. If not, just go already.

I realize (both before and after coffee) that this was an extreme and extrajudicial step. But it was also clear to me that the judicial process had been tried, and those who had complained had received no satisfaction. I do feel for the people in leadership of the club, who are in a difficult position. But I mouthed off.

And pretty soon it was clear that the leadership was taking this seriously, and I tried my best to shut the fuck up, and let them work.

But the response to my incendiary post, and a few like it, was fascinating to me.

>>***: I think using a public forum to do this is unjustifiable and unnecessary, and I don't want to be a part of it.

>Thank you for saying that, ***. I agree fully that such an extremely public discussion is, at the very least, unkind.

Aye ***, well spoken sir.

My visceral reaction to the middle comment was: "Absolutely. Yes, it was unkind. I would be mortified if I was accidentally that unkind, no-- rude, to someone. This was calculated and intentional."

But the weight of these comments coming together in a row finally gave me some insight into what it is like to be 'gaslighted' to use the common parlance.

Maybe I was wrong for backing up Faith. Maybe going through official channels was the best way to deal with it. Maybe I was wrong to be intentionally and publicly rude to Darnell. Maybe this is a witch hunt, and for once I'm the torch-bearing idiot.

Then alpiyn dropped a nuclear bomb. As much as I was feeling gaslighted for picking on a moron who had done nothing worse to me than be a moron, how much worse or more alienated would people feel who had actually been harmed by this moron?

Now, I'm an old fart. And there's a new generation that's taken over. And that's as it should be. But I find it strange that I have (ok, had!) this idea that the younger crowd are much more up-to-date on this shit than the old fart brigade. We old farts roll our eyes at, "Do I have your explicit consent to nibble your left earlobe?" And we old farts who adore the First Amendment are a bit leery of the new guard's desire to curtail unpleasant speech. But I had this idea that the little pupal SJWs of today are out trying to make 'safe spaces' for everyone to enjoy. And at least in this case, it turned out to be a bunch of crap.

But at least I was right about the fuckdoodly First Amendment cuntborking.

When the official response came, part of it was this.

1) Many of these grievances spawn from online interactions and statements from this individual. In particular, many of them come from threads in the enigma-chat emailing list that is primarily populated by older alums of the club. The individual has been removed from these lists, as well as blocked from this group. That being said, it must stated that some in the officership were unaware of the existence of this list, and we believe that many of the current members who attend weekly meetings were also unaware of its existence. In light of this, we wish to formally disavow the enigma-chat list and leave it in the hands of the alumni. The enigma-chat list will remain as an opt-in option for all members, but we will not be responsible for its content. The transition of moderator responsibility shall take place in the coming week.
2) As for the individual’s continued membership in the club, we have yet to reach a verdict. We are speaking with our advisers on the best course of action to take to avoid repercussions.

Now again, I realize the leadership is in a tough position, and everything does have to be done in accordance with the guidelines (as I called for in my original rant), and this may take time. But I still think it's sad that the old farts on the email list get unceremoniously shitcanned, while judgment is reserved in the case of the malefactor. To be fair, this message was released before alpiyn unleashed hellfire.

It's also interesti.. no, infuriating, that some of the messaging has been that all of the complaints have been about just ideas and words. But Faith's message does mention behavior. My message explicitly protects ideas and expression, but draws the line at behavior. Again, I hope that the official response, when it comes, takes into account whether it was merely expression of unpopular views, or if it was behavior that created a hostile environment.

But getting back to one of the shortest of the many soapboxes I've stood on in this rant, enigmachat is too full of the free discourse of ideas and poopoo words to be a part of what the club wants to be in this day and age.

So in conclusion...

Fuck you in your fatherfisting cloaca!

/mic drop

October 9th, 2016

On the Beach, by Nevil Shute @ 11:05 am

Tags: ,

Not entirely realistic, but this 1957 novel is a depressing peek into those days of yesteryear when we all lived under threat of nuclear annihilation (and hey maybe those days are coming back, better than ever!). A nuclear war has killed the Northern Hemisphere, and as the airborne radiation slowly crosses the equatorial barrier, spreading further south, the various inhabitants of Melbourne slowly come to terms with the inevitable and do what seems best with their remaining months, weeks, days, and hours, as they lose contact with other cities in the southern hemisphere one by one. If you need a book that will grind down your your sense of hope, this will fit the bill nicely.

October 6th, 2016

Proudly Ignorant @ 01:23 pm

"My child's personal religious beliefs were violated,” said Edmisten, adding that her seventh grade daughter took zeros on the section on Islamic history after a teacher didn’t allow her to opt out of the curriculum and standards and do alternative studies. “Those are zeros that we proudly took and we will not compromise.”

Some people can't even face learning about something.

When I first saw the story on HuffPo, it seemed like it was just one crazy mom, but sadly that's not the case.

She got applause for her rant, and a board member made a motion to remove the textbook “because it does not represent the values of the county.”

And then there's this:

Hughes said Sullivan County must follow the law and standards “"whether we like it or whether we don’t.”

“I think everybody on the board agrees with the public. We live here, too,” Hughes said.

September 26th, 2016

Debate notes @ 08:07 pm

Tags: ,

I assume this was in the plan, but there was some perfect needling by Clinton that hit Trump at just the wrong time (from my perspective -- hopefully, from everyone's). Basically, encouraging Trump to boast.

Trump says it was good business to buy cheap property after the financial crisis.
5 million people lost their homes.

Trump (reportedly) owes $650 million. "That's not a lot of money."

In some years (where he had to report his taxes) Trump paid zero federal taxes.
"It was smart."


After Trump gibbered and attacked Lester Holt about whether he did or didn't support the invasion of Iraq, for him to move immediately to "I have a better temperament" was the height of absurdity.


Trump's answer on the race issue was completely tone-deaf. 80% law & order, stop & frisk. 20% black and brown people have it bad. (No shit.)


If I had been Clinton, one wonky thing I would have hit him with is that Japan cannot have an army, per se, because of the outfall of WWII and the treaty with the US. They have a self defense force. And we are, by treaty, obligated to handle external threats to Japan.


Trump (re)declaring war on Rosie O'Donnell added a nice touch.

September 22nd, 2016

Must be fall @ 06:25 am


I was wearing

when I ran into a guy wearing


September 19th, 2016

California Propositions 2016 @ 07:31 pm

Assuming you remember what phonebooks are, my fellow Californicators will be getting one for the ballot initiatives soon. Here's my regular dose of opinions to help influence the votes of people who don't want to do the research, thus magnifying my democratic power. Remarkably, I'm split exactly 50/50 on Yes/No, with one strong Maybe.


$9 billion in bonds for schools. Bonds are not a great way to fund anything. This plan does not seem to be very focused. There's no doubt there's a need, but I don't like this solution. Neither does Governor Moonbeam. Nope.


Seems like a messy shell game to get hospitals to pay fees to the state that are given back to the hospitals with matching federal funds. But it seems to work, and the NO argument (that this money is going straight to the fatcat CEOs) is just baloney. So if ain't broke, fix it in place permanently. Yes.


"Under the California Constitution, state general obligation bonds need voter approval before the state can use them to pay for a project. State revenue bonds do not need voter approval under existing state law." This prop would change the latter so that revenue bonds (over $2 billion) would need voter approval. While I'm tempted to have another way to partially veto the Monorail high speed rail, I don't see this additional oversight being helpful. Nope.


Aren't there enough roadblocks to getting things done? Adding a 'waiting period' for legislation seems unnecessary. I mean, best case scenario, evil law is proposed, and in 72 hours, someone's change.org petition gets a bajillion signatures, convincing the legislature to not pass it. Anything that wicked will get erased off the books under the present system. Worst case scenario, legislators (and their shadowy funders) will add amendment after amendment to bills, each one taking an additional 72 hours of waiting before a vote ever takes place. Nope.


Extends 'temporary' extra income tax on $250K+ taxpayers (Prop 30 in 2012) for another 12 years. Ooh, I'm really torn. If we could extend it maybe 6 years, I'd feel better. We could use some extra juice for the rainy day fund, and to really make use of the budget surplus to eliminate debt. I favored the more balanced prop 38 that would have raised everyone's taxes temporarily. Ummm. Eat the rich! Strong Maybe!


Triples the state tobacco tax (and adds equivalent tax to e-cigs). Most of the funding goes to healthcare or the existing programs funded by cigarette taxes. My favorite negative effect of the prop: "state and local governments would experience future health care and social services costs that otherwise would not have occurred as a result of individuals who avoid tobacco‐related diseases living longer." A pretty punitive tax, but I really hate that cluster of millennials smoking on the sidewalk when I walk by at lunch time. Yes.


Allows parole hearings a bit sooner for certain 'non violent' felons than is currently the case. Despite the doom and gloom of the NO argument, all of these people will get parole hearings, and the parole board will decide whether it's safe to let them out, and when. I don't see any legitimate drawbacks here. Yes.


Provides schools with more flexibility in establishing bilingual education programs, erasing some of prop 227. The goal is still to get students proficient in English. Schools should have more flexibility in order to find out what works. Yes.


A grandstanding advisory vote calling on California officials to work to undo Citizens United through Constitutional Amendment. Entirely futile, but yes.


"Cal/OSHA Already Requires Adult Film Condom Use" (Not that compliance is 100%)
"Allows Individuals to Bring Lawsuits on Regulatory Violations."
I'll join Dan Savage in voting no.


"would require all prescription drugs purchased by the State of California to be priced at or below the price paid for the same drug by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, which pays by far the lowest price of any federal agency. "

This is why you see tearful veterans on the commercials urging a no vote, followed by the tenth of second summary of major contributors like Pfizer and Merck.

On the other hand, the drug companies don't have to sell us discount drugs. And yes, they could decide to raise prices on vets. Because of all the moving parts, and inevitable squabbling and lawsuits, I'm leaning towards No. I don't think this is the solution to the prescription drug price problem.


Eliminates the death penalty (and resentences current death row inmates to life without possibility of parole). "These reduced costs would likely be around $150 million annually within a few years." Yes.


"Requires individuals to obtain a four-year permit from DOJ to buy ammunition ... Allows DOJ to charge each person applying for a four-year permit a fee of up to $50"

Really? I'm sure the laudable intent is to stop bad guys with stolen guns from getting ammunition, but as much as I'd like better gun laws, I don't think I can go this far. The legislature acted in July: "Specifically, under the legislation: (1) ammunition dealers would be required to check with DOJ that individuals seeking to buy ammunition are not prohibited persons at the time of purchase and (2) DOJ could generally charge such individuals up to $1 per transaction." That seems far more reasonable than what the proposition is calling for; and it is already law. No.


I don't like smoking (see 56), but it's definitely time to end our reefer madness. The bigger tax base and the effect on 'crime' are icing on the cake.


Directs 'fees' for paper bags at grocery stores to state environmental purposes. Currently these fees are just kept by the stores. Now, the bags cost the store something, so it's hardly fair to take all the money away from them. But then again, why do they benefit from our green awareness? If this is really a necessary source of revenue for retailers... they'll just raise prices on other things. And then this proposition is just a tax to support the environment. Which I guess is okay. Hmm. I really don't care all that much. I'm gonna just go with No, and whenever people point to California as being unfriendly to business, I'll point to how they get to freeload off our bag fees. See also 67.


"In addition, the measure changes how attorneys are appointed for direct appeals under certain circumstances. Currently, the California Supreme Court appoints attorneys from a list of qualified attorneys it maintains. Under the measure, certain attorneys could also be appointed from the lists of attorneys maintained by the Courts of Appeal for non-death penalty cases. Specifically, those attorneys who (1) are qualified for appointment to the most serious non-death penalty appeals and (2) meet the qualifications adopted by the Judicial Council for appointment to death penalty cases would be required to accept appointment to direct appeals if they want to remain on the Courts of Appeal’s appointment lists."

Death penalty cases are not like other cases. This prop is trying to grease the wheels by appointing unqualified lawyers to 'defend' poor inmates (and they can't refuse). Just no.


Enacts a statewide ban on plastic bags (similar to that which already exists where I live). I think it's been a good thing on the whole. Make it so, statewide. Yes.

September 15th, 2016

Everybody hates Everybody more @ 04:36 pm

Some of the same researchers involved in the 2003 American Mosaic Survey have released results of the 2014 study.

There a really glaring result relating to when people were asked to agree/disagree with the following statement across a variety of demographics:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society

Atheists 39.6% 41.9%
Muslims 26.3% 45.5%
Homosexuals 22.6% 29.4%
Conservative Christians 13.5% 26.6%
Recent immigrants 12.5% 25.6%
Hispanics 7.6% 17.1%
Jews 7.4% 17.6%
Asian Americans 7.0% 16.4%
African Americans 4.6% 16.9%
Spiritual, but not religious — 12.0%
Whites 2.2% 10.2%

First number is from 2003.

All of the numbers have increased. Some by quite a lot. Even white people, who are totally awesome and chill, went from 2.2% to 10.2%. Disagreement with conservative Christians nearly doubled to 26.6%. The previous study was not long after 9/11, but disagreement with Muslims jumped from 26.3% to 45.5%. Immigrants doubled. Hispanics, Jews, Asians, African Americans... all jump from single digits to double digits.

This is what polarization and demonization look like.

Mrs. Poe, by Lynn Cullen @ 03:02 pm

Tags: ,

For contributing to Bryan's Poe bust project, I received a signed copy of Mrs. Poe, which probes into the relationship between Poe and poet Frances Osgood (and Poe's sickly wife, and Osgood's absent, philandering husband).

It's a very successful piece of historical fiction, although a few details stick out as gratuitous results of research rather than being intrinsic to the story. Told from Osgood's point of view, it provides an interesting look into her mindset as she deals with her changing feelings towards Poe, who charms and glowers his way through New York literary society like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Largely faithful to the actual history, the book is least successful in injecting a bit of a mystery into the action. And as a Poe lover it was very satisfying to see Griswold hatefully portrayed.

September 9th, 2016

Back to the battle of objective and subjective @ 05:10 pm

Deep context: my conviction that Sam Harris is an idiot, and his idea of finding an objective measure of wellbeing is misguided from the outset. Making morality objective is like trying to make aesthetics objective -- it's just a fake way of baking in your own subjective opinions and declaring them objective.


The simplest explanation for biased algorithms is that the humans who create them have their own deeply entrenched biases. That means that despite perceptions that algorithms are somehow neutral and uniquely objective, they can often reproduce and amplify existing prejudices.

Headline: A beauty contest was judged by AI and the robots didn't like dark skin

Article also has a relevant link to a related story:

"To take just one example, judges, police forces and parole officers across the US are now using a computer program to decide whether a criminal defendant is likely to reoffend or not. ... If you’re black, the chances of being judged a potential reoffender are significantly higher than if you’re white. And yet those algorithmic predictions are not borne out by evidence.
The big puzzle is how the bias creeps into the algorithm. We might be able to understand how if we could examine it. But most of these algorithms are proprietary and secret, so they are effectively “black boxes” – virtual machines whose workings are opaque. Yet the software inside them was written by human beings, most of whom were probably unaware that their work now has an important moral dimension."

Journal of No. 118