Sometimes I have essentially decontextualized insights and I decide to write them down. I was reading some blog about current political events, and thought the following. It’s not a reasoned argument, just an idea that occurred to me.
In a true democracy, it seems to me that the things people believe about government will eventually become true about government. If people believe their government is dangerous, the government will become more and more dangerous over time. If people believe their government is corrupt, the government will become more and more corrupt over time. This can go the other direction too, though: if people believe their government is capable of solving social ills, then more and more social ills will be solved by government over time. If people believe their government is a virtuous protector of individual rights, then the government will become more and more virtuous in this way over time. There is a most disturbing aspect of this “spiral effect” of democracy, however: if people specifically come to believe their government is undemocratic, then the government will become less and less democratic over time. And the problem, there, unlike any of the other spirals, is that there is no way to spiral out from this problem once you’ve descended, because once the government is no longer democratic, this feedback process is no longer in effect. Thus the absolute most important belief for the nurturing and sustenance of a democracy is the belief in democracy itself.
What happened is I became sidetracked by the aesthetics of the picture, which seemed more within my grasp than the nature of the machine.
The picture looks like illustration from the cover of a science fiction magazine. It does not seem to, in any way, resemble what we think of as a “computer” as they currently exist. It is mysterious and beautiful and abstractly futuristic.
When he [the Raven] left that place,
here came another bird with no home of his own.
He was all by himself.
He had no place to live,
the Sapsucker said.
When he perched with other birds,
they drove him away.
And so, having no place to live,
he kept flying all the time.
And he searched the Islands for something to live in.
Then the Raven said,
"Fly to Hlaxaayik."
He said it because
something dead stood at Hlaxaayik.
"Peck the standing dead thing with your beak.
It's alright; it's your grandfather," he said to him.
Nevertheless, he was afraid of it.
When the dead thing understood
that he was afraid of it,
it said to him, "Grandson, come here.
Live in my heart,
and your children will not be left homeless."
That's where he lives even now,
because that is his grandfather.
- Kingagwaaw (Haida storyteller, early 1900s), translated by Robert Bringhurst
The above fragment appears quoted in the footnotes of Bringhurst’s translation of the Qquuna Cycle by the Haida poet Skaay, in Bringhurst’s volume Being in Being.
Periodically, in the United States, people go around with guns killing random people in public. This is just part of our culture, apparently – check the news.
Here is someone thinking about this cultural phenomenon.
The United States has institutionalized the mass shooting in a way that Durkheim would immediately recognize. As I discovered to my shock when my own children started school in North Carolina some years ago, preparation for a shooting is a part of our children’s lives as soon as they enter kindergarten. The ritual of a Killing Day is known to all adults. It is taught to children first in outline only, and then gradually in more detail as they get older. The lockdown drill is its Mass. The language of “Active shooters”, “Safe corners”, and “Shelter in place” is its liturgy. “Run, Hide, Fight” is its creed. Security consultants and credential-dispensing experts are its clergy. My son and daughter have been institutionally readied to be shot dead as surely as I, at their age, was readied by my school to receive my first communion. They practice their movements. They are taught how to hold themselves; who to defer to; what to say to their parents; how to hold their hands. The only real difference is that there is a lottery for participation. Most will only prepare. But each week, a chosen few will fully consummate the process, and be killed. – Kieran Healy
In fact, the incarceration of children whose parents are in violation of rules about migration is a global problem. I was recently impressed by some discussion of the growing problem in my erstwhile home, South Korea, where it is normally an untouchable subject.
You can read about it here. The below video is included on that site.
My important point is that the recent outrage among some parts of the US population about this issue is in fact quite narrow and parochial. This is a global problem and the US is at best a minor violator. That doesn’t excuse it. Rather, I think this core problem of child punishment for parental behavior is key to understanding why migration restriction regimes are on par with chattel slavery in ethical terms.
One of my hobbies has been to assist managing a website, related to my geofiction hobby. I’m not very good at it – I find managing a classroom of unruly 7th graders easier than managing what is, presumably, one of the better-disposed regions of the internet. I just don’t seem to have the right sort of charity in my character for coping with faceless trolls and idiots.
I had a kind of insight today, as I was reacting to a complaint that the documentation on the site is “too inconvenient to read” and that we should make videos explaining how to use the site and its toolset.
Here’s my thought, condensed semi-aphoristically:
There are two types of literacy: there is the ability to read, and there is the willingness to read. Arguably, failure in education is more about failure in the latter than in the former.
This poem, below, was not written by a human being, as best I understand. It was written by one of those new “learning algorithm” AIs (Artificial Intelligences), where you give the AI a large pile of “training data” (i.e. in this case, a vast corpus of human-written poetry) and then say, more or less, “OK, give me a new one like that.” It works similarly to the way google-translate manages to make sense out of changing one language to another, without actually understanding a damn thing. It’s statistics, writ large.
Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
Or, fancy-like, in some mirage she lies,
Majestic yet majestic, and of seems
The image of the unconquerable skies.
Methinks I see her in her blissful dreams:
—Or, fancy-like, in some majestic cell,
Where lordly seraphs strew their balmy dreams
On the still night, or in their golden shell.
There, in the calm of some Platonic dream,
Sits she, and views the unclouded moon arise
Like a fair lady full of realms divine;
And, all at once, a stony face and bright
Glittering in moonlight, like the noon-tints of a night.
AOC was talking at the SXSW conference. An excerpt:
We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work. We should not feel nervous about the toll booth collector not having to collect tolls anymore. We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.
We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in. Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage.
Capitalism is based on scarcity. What happens when there is enough for everyone to eat? What happens when there is enough for everyone to be clothed? Then you have to make scarcity artificial. And that is what has happened.- AOC
Then the moderator said: that’s “Full Star Trek Socialism.” AOC just smiled.
The concept of the “post-scarcity society” has been around for a long time. And now we find that AOC is fluent in this thinking – that was not a prepared speech, but rather a response to an audience question. I’m interested.
A mass movement readily exploits the discontent and frustration of large segments of the population which for some reason or other cannot face the responsibility of being persons and standing on their own feet. But give these persons a movement to join, a cause to defend, and they will go to any extreme, stop at no crime, intoxicated as they are by the slogans that give them a pseudo-religious sense of transcending their own limitations. The member of a mass movement, afraid of his own isolation, and his own weakness as an individual, cannot face the task of discovering within himself the spiritual power and integrity which can be called forth only by love. Instead of this, he seeks a movement that will protect his weakness with a wall of anonymity and justify his acts by the sanction of collective glory and power. All the better if this is done out of hatred, for hatred is always easier and less subtle than love. It does not have to respect reality as love does. It does not have to take account of individual cases. Its solutions are simple and easy. It makes its decisions by a simple glance at a face, a colored skin, a uniform. It identifies an enemy by an accent, an unfamiliar turn of speech, an appeal to concepts that are difficult to understand. He is something unfamiliar. This is not “ours.” This must be brought into line – or destroyed.
Here is the great temptation of the modern age, this universal infection of fanaticism, this plague of intolerance, prejudice and hate which flows from the crippled nature of man who is afraid of love and does not dare to be a person. It is against this temptation most of all that the Christian must labor with inexhaustible patience and love, in silence, perhaps in repeated failure, seeking tirelessly to restore, wherever he can, and first of all in himself, the capacity of love and which makes man the living image of God. – Thomas Merton (American monk, 1915-1958)
Here is a random philosophical thought, not fully developed, which occurred to me the other day.
Most people don’t care about the surveillance state and/or the lack-of-privacy which is being induced by modern technology. There is actually a simple reason for this lack of concern. It is because, in fact, that lack of privacy is the human cultural baseline. Through most of history, humans lived in small, extended family or tribal-sized groups where everyone knew what everyone else was doing. What is happening now is a return to that baseline, but within the context of a much larger social structure: city, nation, planet. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing: a global village of 8 billion. What’s to worry about? It’s like it always was. The anomaly was the period between the invention of cities and states (approx. 2000 BC) and the development of instantaneous universally distributed communication. In the grand scale of things, it’s a pretty short period of anomaly.
I recently learned that the famous classic rock song, "Smoke On The Water," by British rockers Deep Purple, was written about events at Montreux, Switzerland, which took place there in 1971 at the same time that the famous Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov was resident there. It's interesting to imagine Nabokov and the members of Deep Purple interacting in a small French-Swiss town. Nabokov was of a different generation, but he might have been interested in rock music, given his fascination with other aspects of emergent pop culture.
What I'm listening to right now.
Deep Purple, "Smoke On The Water."
We all came out to Montreux On the Lake Geneva shoreline To make records with a mobile We didn't have much time Frank Zappa and the Mothers Were at the best place around But some stupid with a flare gun Burned the place to the ground
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky Smoke on the water
They burned down the gambling house It died with an awful sound Funky Claude was running in and out Pulling kids out the ground When it all was over We had to find another place But Swiss time was running out It seemed that we would lose the race
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky Smoke on the water
We ended up at the Grand Hotel It was empty cold and bare But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside Making our music there With a few red lights and a few old beds We make a place to sweat No matter what we get out of this I know, I know we'll never forget
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky Smoke on the water
Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover) has a new song / video out. It's quite remarkable, and has received high critical praise from important media™. There is a detailed parsing of the video and song at Huffington Post, for example.
It's a rap song. It's also a dance composition. It's cinematography and poetry. It's also hefty, deep and dark social criticism. Make of it what you will. I'm impressed.
What I'm listening to right now.
Childish Gambino, "This is America." Is this America?
[Bridge: Childish Gambino & Young Thug] We just wanna party Party just for you We just want the money Money just for you I know you wanna party Party just for me Girl, you got me dancin' (yeah, girl, you got me dancin') Dance and shake the frame We just wanna party (yeah) Party just for you (yeah) We just want the money (yeah) Money just for you (you) I know you wanna party (yeah) Party just for me (yeah) Girl, you got me dancin' (yeah, girl, you got me dancin') Dance and shake the frame (you)
[Chorus: Childish Gambino] This is America Don't catch you slippin' up Don't catch you slippin' up Look what I'm whippin' up This is America (woo) Don't catch you slippin' up Don't catch you slippin' up Look what I'm whippin' up
[Verse 1: Childish Gambino, Blocboy JB, Slim Jxmmi, Young Thug, & 21 Savage] This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo) Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy) Look at how I'm livin' now Police be trippin' now (woo) Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy) Guns in my area (word, my area) I got the strap (ayy, ayy) I gotta carry 'em Yeah, yeah, I'ma go into this (ugh) Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo) Yeah, yeah, I'ma go get the bag Yeah, yeah, or I'ma get the pad Yeah, yeah, I'm so cold like yeah (yeah) I'm so dope like yeah (woo) We gon' blow like yeah (straight up, uh)
[Refrain: Choir & Childish Gambino] Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody You go tell somebody Grandma told me Get your money, Black man (get your money) Get your money, Black man (get your money) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Black man
[Chorus: Childish Gambino, Slim Jxmmi, & Young Thug] This is America (woo, ayy) Don't catch you slippin' up (woo, woo, don't catch you slippin', now) Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy, woah) Look what I'm whippin' up (Slime!) This is America (yeah, yeah) Don't catch you slippin' up (woah, ayy) Don't catch you slippin' up (ayy, woo) Look what I'm whippin' up (ayy)
[Verse 2: Childish Gambino, Quavo, Young Thug, & 21 Savage] Look how I'm geekin' out (hey) I'm so fitted (I'm so fitted, woo) I'm on Gucci (I'm on Gucci) I'm so pretty (yeah, yeah) I'm gon' get it (ayy, I'm gon' get it) Watch me move (blaow) This a celly (ha) That's a tool (yeah) On my Kodak (woo, Black) Ooh, know that (yeah, know that, hold on) Get it (get it, get it) Ooh, work it (21) Hunnid bands, hunnid bands, hunnid bands (hunnid bands) Contraband, contraband, contraband (contraband) I got the plug in Oaxaca (woah) They gonna find you like blocka (blaow)
[Refrain: Choir, Childish Gambino, & Young Thug] Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody America, I just checked my following list and You go tell somebody You mothafuckas owe me Grandma told me Get your money, Black man (black man) Get your money, Black man (black man) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Get your money, Black man (get your, Black man) Black man (One, two, three, get down) Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody You go tell somebody Grandma told me, "Get your money" Get your money, Black man (Black man) Get your money, Black man (Black man) Get your money, Black man (Black man) Get your money, Black man (Black man) Black man
[Outro: Young Thug] You just a Black man in this world You just a barcode, ayy You just a Black man in this world Drivin' expensive foreigns, ayy You just a big dawg, yeah I kenneled him in the backyard No probably ain't life to a dog For a big dog
This exchange actually happened in a 7th grade advanced class.
Julie: I don't like smart people James: I'm smart! Julie: So I don't like YOU. … Tobias: That doesn't make sense. … James (glaring at Tobias): Hey!
I found this incredibly funny, not to mention indicative a lot of cleverness on the parts of James and Tobias. Yet when I tried to explain it to my coworkers, we got bogged down in trying to parse the premises and implications of the statements. It felt like a kind of logic class for standup comedians, where the students were not all native to the same language.
So, here's my question for logic students: Why is Tobias's statement a potential insult toward James?
I gave up, in the end, in explaining it to my coworkers. But I had laughed hard during the class, and the boys were clearly intentional enough in their humor that they were pleased with the appreciation I showed them.
"I am my choices. I cannot not choose. If I do not choose, that is still a choice. If faced with inevitable circumstances, we still choose how we are in those circumstances." – While this quote is widely attributed (as an English translation) to Jean-Paul Sartre, I can't seem to validate it in any kind of original French-language text. Certainly he said something similar, though.
Ōoka Tadasuke (1677–1752) was a Japanese samurai and bureaucrat during the shogunate of Tokugawa Yoshimune. He served as a magistrate of Edo (Tokyo), and his roles included chief of police, judge and jury. He has evolved into a kind of folk hero, as an archetypically fair and honest judge. There is a famous story called "The Case of the Stolen Smell." Ōoka heard the case of a paranoid innkeeper who accused a poor student of literally stealing the fumes of his cooking by eating when the innkeeper was cooking to flavor his dull food. Although his colleagues advised Ōoka to throw the case out as ridiculous, he decided to hear the case. The judge resolved the matter by ordering the student to pass the money he had in one hand to his other and ruling that the price of the smell of food is the sound of money. (Above adapted from the wikipedia).
I've been trying to eat more beans or other legumes and vegetable protein.
After my cancer, my weight dropped below 70 kg, but four years later I have completely bounced back to my pre-cancer weight equilibrium, which, frankly, I think is just a bit heavier than my ideal, which I'd put at around 75 kg, maybe. I'm currently about 84 kg.
Back in 2006-2007, when I successfully dropped from around 120 kg down to 80 kg, I did so through three main lifestyle changes: 1) walking everywhere as my primary mode of transport, 2) reducing stress by quitting that horrible job in Long Beach, and 3) eating an almost entirely vegan diet.
So, being vegan is not easy, and especially in Korea. In fact, I have no ideological interest in being vegan – therefore, for example, I have no issues with eating meat when out with coworkers or friends or whatever. Nevertheless, I recognize that less meat is probably healthier, and so I try to balance my daily diet toward vegetable proteins. The hardest thing, always, has been reducing or eliminating cheese intake – despite my lack of taste buds, there are still aspects of cheese that I enjoy, including the satiety it grants, the strong, nostalgic smell of things like mac and cheese or pizza, and whatever 'mouthfeel' is, I still experience that, too.
Anyway, all of that is background to mention I was going eat some beans, today, with my rice. And although I sometimes cook my beans from scratch, I also sometimes get lazy and use canned beans. The Korean market for canned beans doesn't run further than simple "pork and beans" type things, or I guess I've seen the native red beans pre-cooked in cans, but of course that product is painfully sweetened – like the red bean paste that is so popular here – I find such sugary prepared legumes almost unbearable (if you're not familiar with it, imagine some Mexican-style refried beans, with a cup of sugar added for good measure). So mostly if I buy canned beans I prefer to get Anglosphere brands (i.e. US or Australian products in Korean supermarkets). They're hardly expensive and easy to find, and so I buy them frequently.
Now, to talk about what I really wanted to talk about: I wanted to open my can of beans, imported from Australia.
Most canned foods, these days, have those "pop tops" – you pull the tab, the can opens. I don't, therefore, own a can opener.
But this can of beans I'd bought didn't – it had the old style top: just your plain surface tin can.
The convenience store downstairs in my building sells can openers – I've seen them there, in a little display with some other common simple housewares. But I have a different approach: a very "low tech" approach, that might be familiar to my grandfather's generation.
My pocket knife (a "Swiss Army Knife" as they're called) has as a can opener tab. It's quite useful, though entirely old-fashioned. You have to develop the right rhythm of push, tilt, advance, retreat, but you can walk it around an old-style can in about the same amount of time as with a normal manual can-opener.
It occurred to me that despite being fully embedded in the 21st Century, with my computer stuff and my smartphone and my highly urban existence on the edges of the Seoul megalopolis, I still use this antiquated method of opening my canned food. And it's worth observing that that pocket knife is now 30 years old – I received it as a gift in 1988.
I snapped a picture (right). The can that I wanted to open, on the left, and a more typical 21st century can on the right, with my low-tech solution below.
Currently I am a long-term expat. I observe my home country, the US, from a distance both psychological and physical. The whole "gun thing" seems both tragic and absurd, from my perspective. I currently live in a country with one of the lowest incidences of gun violence in the world – a cursory examination of a list of countries by incidence of gun deaths shows South Korea as being the 3rd lowest, only after Hong Kong and Japan.
Anyway, it's pretty safe here, from gun violence. I have sometimes wondered if there exists any kind of "gun culture" in South Korea. Actually, I speculate that there does, in fact, exist such a culture – but it would be inextricably linked up with the military. Since military service for males is obligatory, that means that, in theory, at least, every Korean adult male in the entire country has fired a gun at some point in his life, and the vast majority have probably qualified with a rifle. That's interesting, vis-a-vis the non-military culture, right? It makes it a far different situation than either Hong Kong or Japan, where military service is, in the former instance non-existent, and in the latter instance, extremely rare and utterly voluntary (given Japan's relatively small military, in per capita terms, compared to South Korea). What it means is that any Korean man who wants to "play" with guns in a safe and responsible manner has an easy way to do so: he can continue to serve as a "reservist" – which many Korean men do. Then he can go out on the range and shoot as much as he wants, several times a year, I can imagine.
My own experience with guns is broader than you might expect, given my liberal white privilege. I qualified with a rifle during my Army service – as an expert, even – though I sometimes felt I had simply had some very lucky days on my qualifying days. I had even gone on to take the first steps on qualifying with a pistol, as well, before I mustered out.
Further, despite having avoided seeing any actual action in the first Iraq war (1991) – which took place during my military service, and which I watched on the barracks televisions while stationed here in South Korea at that time – I have nevertheless had the experience of having been shot at, directly. I was lucky, in that the man shooting at me was too drunk to aim well. I was not hurt. There is no doubt I might have died – I consider it one of the several times in my life when I have had to look death right in the eye.
Additionally, I once witnessed a man being shot dead. This was during my time traveling in El Salvador, in 1986 – which was during the civil war. It was not clear to me if I witnessing a crime or an act of "enforcement" – there were plenty of uniforms present but it wasn't clear to me if the uniforms were military or rebel forces, and how it all worked. I suspect that during the Salvadorean civil war of that era, the line between crime and military enforcement was pretty blurry. My main reaction was to get away from the situation as quickly and as unobstrusively as I could manage. I boarded a bus and let it take me away.
In the end, my view of guns and gun violence is complicated. I think I have no issue with the type of allegedly draconian gun laws as exist in Japan or South Korea. I think it hardly makes these societies "less free" – there may in fact be ways that these societies are "less free" than in the US, but I don't think the relaxing of gun controls would impact that in any positive way. My libertarian tendencies are undeniable, however. In principle, I have strong sympathies with the "2nd ammendment types" who will brook no infringement of individual rights. My biggest concern with those people is that they are, almost without exception, utter hypocrites – they are libertarians on gun control, but if you ask them to opine on issues like women's rights or immigration, they are all about control and restrictions. This is "libertarianism for me but not for thee." It makes me much less sympathetic to their position – when I find mostly hypocrites holding a given political position, my gut-level response is to assume this is strong evidence of some kind of flaw in that political position.
I will conclude with a humorous video I ran across – a tongue-in-cheek "European perspective" on the American gun problem, which could probably just as easily represent the typical (informed) Korean position.