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Self-portrait. Drawing by Brady Dale, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.


This page is just ideas that crossed my mind that I wanted to write down and share but only sort of. You really need to be committed to stop by here. I'm not sharing these. I reserve the right to delete them. And I always reserve the right to be stubbornly obviously wrong.

April 12, 2021

Principles are important because there will always be a string of reasonable sounding words that can justify (close enough to) anything.

April 10, 2021

Cool, cool, the biggest news publication in the land is advocating for blacklists and de-platforming, in its news pages.

This stuff is censorship, by the way. It doesn't violate the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, but it's still censorship. Just because it would be legal doesn't make it not censorship. Please read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty for a good explanation of the original Englightenment conception of freedom-of-expression.

De-platforming is shunning at scale. Shunning is censorship.

March 27, 2021

Headlines shouldn't be all caps — where's my "This I Believe" essay spot, NPR?

March 21, 2021

Have I writen anywhere that I think maybe Venkatesh Rao might be the smartest thinker about this internet machine out there? This essay on what it means to blog now, with regard to the online writing options like Substack that are doing better at making money, is one of the only critiques of the Substack trend I've found at all compelling. But of course it's a nuanced take and doesn't at all say that people shouldn't do newsletters. It just says that blogging is a much edgier move and probably always will be.

Anyway is blogging like the Lovecrafting monster of the internet? Maybe, but if there is such a pantheon one must include email itself as well.

March 20, 2021

I'm starting to feel like the reason Stranger Things spoke to everyone so much was in part just this concept of an upside down world, where everything is dark and predatory and dangerous. Maybe the online world, which in some ways feels more powerful and therefore more real than the real world, is this upside down that's always there, all around us, and it's this thing that used to be separate but now is invading our normal analog space.

March 4, 2021, II

If someone wanted an animating slogan that could unify a political party, drawing from people on both the left and the right, and yet sit somewhere orthagonally from each side's entrenched concerns, one could do worse than "Public Opulence."

March 4, 2021, I

This Grammarly app seems to be catching on. It helps users tighten up and clarify their writing in real time. It seems like one tool imposing an aesthetic on lots of writers all at once. For most writing, this is probably fine, but I wonder how long before it becomes really obvious that someone is using Grammarly? Like the point at which all text seems the same? Like how all hot girls on Instagram seem to be gravitating to a certain same sort of face.

March 3, 2021

Clubhouse was born a starfucker app and it will become a pile-on app. This is all so obvious.

March 1, 2021

About one in six of my Git commit messages include the word "dammit".

Feburary 28, 2021

I really appreciate this post on Coinbase by Eric Newcomer. I have liked being a tech reporter but I often find other tech reporters myopic. Obviously, skepticism is a critical part of the journalist's stance, and when people are raising $15 million for an Uber but for basketweaving or creating a "juice press" that only squeezes a glorified Capri-Sun bag, that's worth calling out. Fine.

But tech journalists don't have much of an eye for real innovation and it's tedious. The number of tech journalists I know who still disdain podcasting in baffling. That alone.

You'd think it would be obvious by now that journalists would understand that when some engineers and designers make something so weird that you don't even see what the point of it is, it might be time to sit up and watch. Real innovation is often hard to make heads or tails of, because it's new.

But it honestly seems most of the time that journalists look at everything as if it were Uber but for basketweaving and have no idea how to tell when this time it might be bitcoin.

I applaud Newcomer for at least looking back and admitting that he got it wrong.

For those looking for a heuristic: If it's derivative, it's worth mocking. Even if it makes money it's not creative. If it's barely comprehensible and particularly if it intentionally eschews all known pathways for getting work done, pay attention. You don't need to laud it but there's no need to make fun of it. You might end up on a constant loop on YouTube for the rest of history.

February 27, 2021

In 2016 one of the leaders at Y Combinator, Paul Graham, wrote a blog post (archived) that I've been mad about for five years. He basically argued that it doesn't matter how rich he is, just how poor the poor are. It's so daft. Inequality is itself vampiric. I tried to make the point in an essay for the Observer then that I'm not even going to link. That said, this blog post does a great job countering it, even though it doesn't point the post out. It explains how the need to appear well off creates cascading stressors on people that makes the whole country shitty. He goes after doctors. It's fun.

Graham, for his part, is not letting his daft takes drop. (Archived)

February 26, 2021

This story is so fucked up.

Multiple working class staffers suffer serious repercussions for being called racist when in fact they did nothing wrong. All the happened was that a student had gone into a closed area and been asked to leave. It led to an endless drama.

February 21, 2021 II

Planet Money has a series going on the intellectual property of superheroes. I love it. OMG. They are going to do something with an amazing public domain hero they found called Micro-Face.

I'd get back into comics again for a hot minute to do an anthology book of public domain superheroes.

February 21, 2021

I don't wanna be all Foucaultian dystopia or anything but sometimes I listen to a song and can't tell if I like it and suspect I need someone to tell me.

February 20, 2021

If I were mayor of a modest city I would fight to build a local internet system. I'd take it a step further tho.

I'd hire some writers and some actors and some musicians and we'd have a nightly theater show in some community space in the city. I'd find a way to give them artistic freedom so they could be at least as adult as like a late-night show. It would be something that the community could come out and watch, but it would also be broadcast on the local network. There would be a website that would only show on our ISPs.

Obviously this would be very hackable but that wouldn't be the point. The point would be to signal that it was very much for the community.

Adult at night and on Saturdays and Sundays there would be a family friendly version with puppets and stuff.

People need regular things that bring them together.

February 18, 2021 II

Ambivalence is the key to understanding how humans misunderstand ourselves. People talk about ambivalece as this wishy-washy state where you feel a little bit one way and a little bit another. This is a delusion. More often than not we feel fiercely one way and ferociously another. It makes us confused.

Narratives about "contradiction" and "hypocrisy" assume that humans are these viewpoint monads, with one even and unvaried set of values and outlooks on the world. In reality, we each exist in a torrid emotional eigenstate perpetually. That eigenstate is forced to collapse periodically into a behavior that resolves against one of the conflicting values, but those are real moments. They are not reflections of the thunderstorm inside.

February 18, 2021 I

Oh cool it's now woke to commit seppuku on your career. This is fine.

February 17, 2021

I read two pieces on Deribit Insights that not only were great entry points to understanding the crypto markets, they are really great entry points to understanding the macro perspective in a connected world. Part one and part two.

February 15, 2021

Rescheduling is always a flex.

February 5, 2021

I buy so many books it's insane. Any time a book seems at all interesting to me, I either buy it on paper or I buy it on my Kindle. I buy far faster than I can read. It's nuts. Anyway, I never think very carefully about what I'm going to read next but I feel like there is a real bias toward the most recent thing I thought to buy. So, I decided to make a Google Doc for myself to keep a running list in one place about what to read next from what I have. The idea is this is an order of priority, but also an order where I work some more fun books in with the heavy stuff. No doubt the order will move about constantly. Anyone who sees this is welcome to leave comments on it.

January 25, 2021

As soon as people started moving onto Signal in large numbers following the nonsense in D.C. it was pretty obvious where was going to go. On Jan. 14, I tweeted this question: "Seriously how long until folks start to be viewed as suspect by the discourse because they believe in strong encryption?"

Eleven days later! Casey Newton puts up a post about how it's a problem that an app that's end-to-end encrypted and whose creators can't see much of anything about how users use it might be open to "abuse." That is: people they don't agree with.

Not hard to see where this is going. I mean there's like basically a playbook at this point.

January 24, 2021 II

This philosophical essay on what attention really is — that is, cognitive attention — is worth a read. Everyone talks about the way the internet is undermining attention but he contends we need a clearer concept of attention first before we can really evaluate that claim.

The essay is by a writer I'm new to, Justin E. H. Smith (a name I always read first as "Justine"), and I think what he settles on is this idea that attention is a moral investment. Well I know he says that, but here's what I think he means: That when someone intends to something or someone, they open themselves to being changed by it. Even with an object, attention is a dialogue. It's one thing to get in the water and and another to attend to it.

The internet does not yet really help us attend to it and grow. I mean I know y'all got your CALM app, but...

I had this thought: early TV was garbage. People called it the idiot box and the boob tube. Now it's much better. The TV apparatus had to learn how to make things that could have real meaning, but perhaps it's also worth saying that viewers also had to learn how to actually attend to to TV, how to be open to fare that could change them.

January 24, 2021 I

Read this blog post this morning and feeling just a little bit too seen.

January 23, 2021

I've been in a bit of panic for the last few weeks because I finished a notebook and then couldn't find it. Turned out it was just tucked under some other books on my book shelves. But there's some stories in there that I wrote by hand that I need to type up and I really worried they were lost. So I have it now! w00t!

P.S. no one spells "w00t!" with actual zeroes anymore like they should and it's fucked up.

January 22, 2021

Don't sleep on deleting your Twitter app and watching way, way, way less TV.

January 21, 2021

I wish I knew why the whole concept of Clubhouse makes my skin crawl so hard but it does. Fairly or not, it feels like the latest, purest manifestation of the star-fucking economy and I just cannot. I had a similar reaction to Tinder sight unseen. I did eventually give in and try to Tinder and I found it was basically what I expected, which is strange becuase I wasn't super sure what I expected.

In the interest of intellectual honesty, I will say this: part of my aversion to Tinder stemmed from a suspicion that I would be received poorly there. I was. Was my instinct about the app fundamentally wrong or was it largely informed by my ancticipation of its suitability to me? I don't know. I don't plan to check my results on Clubhouse but in all fairness I'd probably be received roughly as well there.

January 13, 2021

This "postcards from a dystopia" post is incredible and it just keeps going on and on. It's one of the wildest things I have found on the web in a while.

December 29, 2020, II

When I was 17 years old I thought I wanted to be a robotics engineer, only because my little wanna be sci-fi writer brain could see a bright future in that field. My mom and I went to Carnegie-Mellon to visit the school, which was the best place for robotics, and I had a long talk with a professor there.

I did not become a robotics engineer, but anyway I remember this particular moment when he said something like, I just can't figure out why it's so hard to make robots that can walk?

He stared off into the distance as he said it, a puzzle that really haunted him.

It's been about 25 years since that day, now that I do the math. Now.

December 29, 2020, I

I like Hudson Jameson a lot but I have to pick on him a little for this tweet.

Basically, he's complaining that bitcoin is not serving its original intended purpose as cash native to the internet.

It's not. He's right. Basically nothing is for a variety of reasons, but other networks are getting closer. If "electronic cash" ever does show up, it probably won't be on bitcoin (it will certainly be because of bitcoin, but that's another topic).

Here's why I want to pick on Jameson: I just wish we could finally retire this phony narrative of technologies failing to live up to their "intended" purpose.

It is basically always true that when people invent something that is genuinely new, the world uses it in a different way than their creator intended. This is a story as old as inventing. The fact that a technology has entered the world and escaped the gravity of the problem its creator wanted to solve is no critique.

That's just what happens. So what?

June 13, 2020

Networks online are going to stop being so inclusive. Nothing else makes sense. Public social networks are just places for vigilante hordes to roam around and look for whatever excuse they can come up with to bludgeon. Once all the people without bad faith leave they will start cannibalizing each other, like Paris during The Terror.

I did a story this week which included a description of a DAO. It made me think that it would be cool if there were an easy way to spin up private social networks where you and a bunch of friends could share around links and micro thoughts and they also worked as a decentralized autonomous organization so that all the posts were organized to highlight the best stuff.

One of the things that's hard about new services is remembering to visit them once you've tried them out. On something like Arweave or Blockstack it would be easier though because you log into the internet itself, rather than to each service. So inevitably someone will build a panel that will show you the latest stuff from all your little private social networks, which makes it easier to remember to revisit them.

Conversations with the whole world just don't work. We know that now. We need ways to have more effective small to semi-large group conversations online, and I think the decentalized web stack is well equipped to deliver it.

June 10, 2020

I'm tempted to make much too much of The Ratio but I can't help but think it is very truly deeply symbolically important, and in the worst possible way.

June 9, 2020

So I sat down to write a post about how I've started only replying and retweeting on Twitter. It felt like it might be funny in my head. Is was about how I was "Reply Guy Only" now, but you know what? Thinking about Twitter just made me feel dead inside.

Twitter is a game and I have lost.

I think this is something more and more people are going to find in the coming years. You use it because you want to get some level of attention for whatever it is you have to say.

You need to either need to:

I have to stay on there because it's a big way to know what's going on in the world I write about, but energy put into it is just wasted energy.

I'm not going to blame anyone for this but myself. I tried to play it and I lost. I invested a lot into Twitter so it sort of feels like a breakup to walk away from it.

June 7, 2020

This sounds like a firing to me. This does not make me feel good about the Times or about the state of journalism/publishing in general.

June 6, 2020

So no one knows who said that history is "one damn thing after another," but the alternate view is that of Hegel, who I wrote about here, and who describes this cyclical process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis (many others argue Fichte really said it first and then Hegel turned it into a home run). Hegel said history had a process and that it had resolved to a point in which governing men had been kind of sorted out. This last part is rather ridiculous of course, but so is the argument that events that nothing to do with humans, like tsunamis and coronaviruses, are a counterpoint to Hegel.

Hegel's philosophy of history seems to be primarily concerned with human thinking. It's true that nearly apocalyptic events happen that have nothing to do with human thinking, and yet human thinking seems to soldier on and there is a narrative to it. That narrative hasn't stopped moving largely in a direction that seems somewhat discernible.

I was listening to John Michael Greer on the Hermitix podcast, and they were talking about the silliness of Hegel, joking that COVID-19 isn't a thesis. It's just a thing fucking with our lives. That's true, but there is a thesis for it. Nassim Taleb's whole philosophy is undergirded by the idea that humans need to approach the world assuming that black swan events will hit (though this wasn't really a black swan). He's the one pointing out that our worldviews aren't adequately factoring in these sorts of huge, disruptive events. So there's the thesis, guys. I don't see a tension here.

June 5, 2020, II

I need to confess something to you guys. This week I wrote something that briefly confused Wittgenstein with Kierkegaard in my original draft. Pretty embarassing. The honest reason? They both just have names that are much too long.

June 5, 2020, I

I find a lot of times when I'm talking to people they tell me they disagree with me but then I get them to listen to me say the same thing again with more emphasis on some part and they realize they can't argue with what I'm saying. Usually this is when I say something they haven't thought about before. Regardless, the point is I realize that they edit while listening. They hear, simplify it down in their head and then respond. Through dialogue this can be resolved if I'm listening to them carefully, but it just goes to show how hard writing is. You don't get that feedback on the page and yet we still tend to just make each point once, assuming the reader took in the whole point, nuance and all. No doubt they did not. No doubt I often do not when I read.

June 3, 2020

The next great auteur moviemaker is going to completely eschew on location sets and expensive special effects, but the sets and the effects won't be "bad." They will be abstracted. They will be intentionally phony looking as a way to emphasize other facets of a given scene.

People have dabbled in this so far. Louis CK did it with his HBO series Lucky Louie and the 2012 Anna Karenina movie experimented with abstracting sets but at the extremely high end.

Great story tellers will come along and shoot films on movie sets running their sets much like the theater does but taking advantage of things like musical scores and sound effects. It will focus people in on strong characters and strong arcs.

The arc of filmmaking that attempts to be more and more realistic is coming to an end. It's getting weird. It's in the uncanny valley. Sure probably that problem will be solved but there's space for someone to become unforgettable forever by heading in a wildly different direction.

June 2, 2020

I heard the Hon. Tulsi Gabbard tell this story on an appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast. The way she tells it, she's in the middle of a presidential debate (I think the first one), she's doing well and she has a whole Google Ads campaign loaded up for people searching for her name. Just as the searching kicks off her ad campaign gets suspended for several hours, with no explanation.

So she sues under the First Amendment. The case gets thrown out because Google isn't the government. All true, but what else can she do? This is profoundly sketchy on Google's part and illustrates just how much power they have. What else could she have done to hold them accountable? Also, it's a little disturbing to me how much The New York Times here downplays the particulars of the case, though its original story on the law suit explains more.

She could have been fudging the story a little, I don't know, but when you consider who her enemies are and which parts of the establishment Google has aligned itself with, it's pretty wild. Not a bad take.

June 1, 2020

Social media creates, at times, a single narrative bubble. In a world of 7 billion people, this is probably never the right way to think about the world, and it doesn't happen that often, but it definitely happened this weekend. It felt wrong to talk about anything other than the protests this weekend and honestly it kind of didn't even really feel right for me to even talk about that.

This idea of one big conversation was articulated by this post from the Mercatus Center which was written by an ex-CIA guy. So keep that perspective in mind. Still. It made me think of this tweet by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, in which he basically says "Shut up about your regular lives right now." I retweeted it. It felt right at the time and it still feels correct. He wrote "read the room" and that room in this case was Twitter. And I think that's the right way to think about it. I don't think it's wrong to say that on Twitter.

But I do think a lot of us have walked into a room and feel locked there when we could just leave.

It's tough. I want to be online. I want to have an audience and I want to have people to interact with online, but I increasingly don't want to be on other people's platforms. When I write here, I think literally zero people read it. When I write on Twitter it gets seen by a very small number, but it's much larger than here. It would be nice if there were a way for us to have our own websites but to interact with each other by means of our own online rooms.

Platforms make it much easier to build audiences and communities and that's addictive, but addictive things are usually bad.

May 31, 2020, II

Three thoughts about policing.

ONE: What if policing itself is more important than arrest and conviction? That is, what if the act of being present was more important than making collars? I understand that a major part of how police are supervised pertains to, said simply, how many people they bust. But what if we built police forces that were trained in peace keeping, intervention and deescalation, emphasizing the overall crime and disorder rates rather than the arrest and conviction of criminals? Everything comes down to what people are managed around. Departments could be graded on the overall crime rates of their relevant areas. I understand the appeal of apprehending perpetrators but what if we actually found making it more difficult to do harm went further than busting bad guys? This might be a better framing for policing. Of course it raises other issues about how data is collected and reported but that's for another time.

TWO: Cops should have to live within the municipality they serve. Full stop.

THREE: It might make sense to take away the guns of beat cops. Perhaps guns should only be carried by officers in designated tactical roles, such as SWAT? Like, if a gun was needed a gun would have to be summoned. The gun would not be something every police office always had with him or her.

May 31, 2020, I

It took 40 years to begin the gospels. Innovative ideas will only be clearly explainable once they have been proven.

May 30, 2020

Before ever referring to anyone else as a "quasi-" or (worse) "pseudo-intellectual," check to make sure you are like... hella smart. Good question to start with: do you know the difference between "quasi" and "pseudo"?

May 28, 2020

A lie that makes people feel empowered is still a lie.

May 27, 2020

I am considering changing the name of this page to "Aphorisms." Fight me.

May 26, 2020

A manager is someone who can't tell the difference between a measuring stick and a compass.

May 23, 2020 II

Where do the dreams of economically stable but unremarkable yuppies go when they die? Based on the relatively large network of such people I have come to know and whose lives I can follow thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and (crucially) Strava, they go on triathlons. That's where those dreams go.

(people in my parent's generation seem to put it into gardening which seems like a better move, because when you finish a race you have a record on Strava. If you garden you have a garden.)

May 23, 2020

Kudos to anyone still working on micropayments. I am a big fan of paying actual money for digital products (apps and media), but we need a model that can work for buying individual pieces. I'm sorry Foreign Affairs and The New Republic, but I will never, ever subscribe to you. Not if I had a billion dollars. But when you put something out that's making buzz I'd be happy to drop a nickel or even a quarter into the digital arcade that is my browser to support your work.

We need a way to make this work. To make it effortless. I sure as fuck don't want to load a credit card authorization to run a micropayment. Every time I have to load a credit card number is like a javascript waterboarding. I want to load $20 into my browser every month with a click and then agree to pay little dribs and drabs to the sites I visit every six months when someone points me there.

This seems do'able, so please someone just do it.

May 14, 2020

I don't know why I am even writing this down... but it's a little story about how I used to think about The Beatles.

I have always liked Paul Simon. I think the first time he really entered my consciousness though was when his iconic video with Chevy Chase for "You Can Call Me Al" came out on MTV. I feel like I can still remember the first moment of seeing it. I know for sure what room I was in. I didn't have cable, but a boy named Randy down the street did, and I would go over there and watch MTV and Nickelodeon with him after school. I loved the song, though it was years until I had a copy of the album. I must have had it on audio cassette. The song about Fat Charlie the Archangel really amused me.

Later I'd buy it on CD and later still I would buy it over iTunes. It may be the only album I have bought that many times.

When I was maybe 22 or 23 I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine at one of my first jobs about Paul Simon. She was much, much more knowledgeable about music of all kinds than me. And I said: Wasn't he a member of the Beatles? She started laughing. I think that's when she said something like, "He's a little Jewish boy from New York City!" Because of course the Beatles were famously all from Britain (Liverpool, right?)

And I realized at this moment (this would have been 1999 or 2000, fwiw) that all older white musicians who were viewed as "venerable" on some level were "ex-Beatles" in my mind. He seemed to basically fall in the same mental slot for me as Paul McCartney, so why wouldn't he be a Beatle? I might have also thought of Eric Clapton the same way at the time.

It's probably worth noting here that I also hadn't really come around to the Beatles yet at this point, but it's also just funny thinking about the conclusions our young brains can quietly come to, the associations it makes and settles on that we never really think to investigate.

May 9, 2020

There's an article about preppers in The Atlantic, and it's not about how they are all racist monsters. This is striking to me. This is a real shift. We have had this tendency intensely over the last few years that everyone should avoid anything that's been signified by something toxic. I once had a friend tell me I shouldn't wear New Balance shoes because the alt-right likes them (I kept wearing them). In the current crisis, publications are being forced to reevaluate some lazily arrived at conclusions from the good times because we are in a moment where pragmatism supersedes optics.

Maybe folks should consider that they shouldn't leap to wild conclusions about people based on an interest or quirk that some thinkfluencer has decided was a signfier.

It's amazing how easily some people will fall for the fallacy of the taint. If a movie director is suspected of bad behavior of some kind, for example, no one will go see any of their films any more. Their films are tainted. I had a friend who was an LGBT activist at Notre Dame as an undergrad, and she told me once about a stunt they pulled. They used sidewalk chalk and wrote in front of a bench: "This is a gay bench." They watched as people suddenly would not sit there.

Tainting isn't really real if there isn't liquid involved, generally.

May 4, 2020

I know that this will be taken as a fucked up thing to say by some people so I'm only saying it here on not on any social platform where folks might flip out, but... I don't miss any of the things everyone else misses.

I am worried about my mom and other people I know with health conditions or who have to go to work. I don't like being afraid of going outside. There's nothing I'm like dying to do out there, but I would like to live in a world where going to restock on soy milk doesn't feel like a mildly life risking event.

Other than that, though? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

May 2, 2020

It is so easy to do things but not the thing.

April 29, 2020

What I am about to write is going to sound like a joke but it's not a joke.

Umair Haque has written an interesting post about how the last great leap forward philosophically was existentialism. He points out that Europeans went humanistic with it and Americans went nihilistic. Basically, sharing v selfish.

He points out that America has shown itself to be a cratering, self-cannibalizing society that's falling apart. Sort of! But also we're not boring! Europe is boring.

This is honestly a dead serious point to me. My country makes me insane on a regular basis but I also can't help but notice that basically everything that anyone finds interesting over time comes from here. That doesn't seem to be entirely non-coincidental with the fact that we're also a harsh place that's quite uneven in its treatment of it's people.

From chaos springs change.


April 27, 2020

There's more nutrition in the orange rind than in the orange flesh.

If that's not a whole and complete metaphor for life, I don't know what is.

But hold on! It takes a little getting used to, but — if you have good part and the bitter part together at the same time, it's not bad at all.

April 25, 2020

Ezra Klein wrote a great follow-up to Marc Andreessen's essay (I wrote about it, too), "It's time to build," over on Vox. Klein argues that American institutions are biased toward vetoling things. Man-o-man do I ever feel that.

As an aside, I would have expected Klein to do what the rest of East Coast media did and dismiss Andreessen out of hand. He did not. He built on the discussion nicely, not without criticism, but he definitely expanded the conversation rather than closing it down. Nice job.

April 23, 2020

Last night I had a dream that I woke up too late to take an international flight that I had planned for months. Then I realized that I did have time, I just needed to cancel something else I had planned. But then I screwed around too much and still couldn't make the flight on time. Throughout the dream I had this nagging suspicion that I was doing all this because I didn't really want to go.

I have always sort of suspected that I don't want to travel as much as I want to want to. It's not surprising that this feeling is surfacing during this crisis, where I've been forced to stay at home for 43 days now and honestly haven't really gotten at all stir crazy.

Also dreamt last night that I randomly ran into my favorite ex. There was something sort of weird about the encounter and a little while later I saw her again and it turned out she was meeting a woman for a date. She hadn't wanted me to see that but there was no help for it. She hadn't dated women before when we dated. No idea what that one was about.

April 19, 2020

I've watched three documentaries in the last couple weeks that I thought were really good.

Slay The Dragon, about the national fight against gerrymandering. We got a few wins a couple years ago, if the courts let the wins stand.

Beyond the Visible, an exciting film about the work of a stunning artist, Hilma af Klimt, whose work was hidden from the public for about 100 years. She may eventually be recognized as Sweden's greatest painter ever. I saw her work at the Guggenheim and it was amazing. When this crisis ends, I might go to Sweden just to see it again.

The Biggest Little Farm, a world class cameraman and his food blogger wife give up their old lives to move to a decrepit farm in Southern California and over 7 years turn it into a model of traditional farming (and make a really beautifully shot doc about it — which is why the husband's profession is relevant here). It's great to imagine farms like that all over. It's great to see it serving as habitat, though they never address the key question: What's the calorie-per-acre productivity? No doubt we could have a lot more farms like that but we have a lot of people in this world. No doubt our industrial farming is in part driven by the fact that we just have so damn many people and we have to max out calorie production. Could all our food really be made that way? Still, would be nice if a lot more of it was. There's obviously room for that. Anyway, it's also a nice story of two people making themselves a little paradise.

April 17, 2020

I don't think I'm going to sound crazy to see it seems like all the American leaders are getting just about everything wrong. The weirdest thing is it's hard to believe that they don't even know they are getting everything wrong, but they kind of can't help it. they seem to be following a script.

So maybe there's going to be a new script written and new leaders will read from that script. Writers are going to be more important in the next little bit than every before.

Something something, whatever it was Keynes said about some obscure scribbler.

April 6, 2020

So an incredibly disturbing thread came out on Twitter today about how hard it has become to manage all the dead bodies being produced across the city due to the coronavirus. At the end of the thread, they float possibly temporarily burying people in the parks. It's horrific. Then an extremely popular comment appears following the thread where someone named Mark Hatfield suggests taking Trump's golf course for the purpose in the Bronx.


I don't like the President either, but this is not an appropriate context in which to score political gotcha pointss. Do you understand? People can't bury their family members. This is not a "But Seriously Fuck Trump" opportunity. I know it's only the internet but try to be a human being.

Also, does everyone understand how much brain space you are giving the President and how much he's fundamentally winning when we let him be the grounding of every conversation? This horseshit is giving him power. The cornavirus in and of itself deserves our attention. Anything that combats it is good, anything that lets it last one minute longer than it should is bad.

April 5, 2020, II

Scott Aaronson's blog, which I have never read before this week, just did a post that almost perfectly captures the course of my thinking around COVID-19 and I just needed to log that here.

April 5, 2020, I

I'm a big fan of science but only up to a point. One trend I've noticed in recent years is people unwilling to believe anything unless there's evidence derived from applying the scientific method for doing something. The easiest example is probably medicinal herbs. Ancient people said a thing was helpful. People say "there's no evidence for that" as if that settles it.

Anyway I've thought mor and more about this with regard to the debate about masks. I've become convinced about masks. One thing that's become clear is that virus exposure dosing (how many particles you get hit with) is important to determining how bad your sickness is. But beyond that, it just makes sense when you think about it.

Scott Alexander, a big proponent of science, kind of comes around to this view in a recent post on the evidence around masks, while noting that there are some key points of uncertainty.

March 30, 2020, II

The only thing anyone is talking about is the coronavirus, COVID-19, and this goes doubly for the rationalist community that I have taken to following online. One of its pioneers, Robin Hanson, has been banging the drum for intentional exposure. It's such an extreme position that I've yet to see it echoed by his peers. He doubled down on it this weekend, with a big post articulating a scheme for villages that could be set up where people could volunteer for low dose exposure.

If this is freaking you out I can't imagine you're alone. No passage in the post better captures the way I imagine Hanson sees the world than this one:

"While you might think policy wonks would be eager to cut Covid19 death rates by a factor of 3-30, few have so far been attracted to discuss or pursue this concept. It seems to push the wrong buttons in many people. "
And yet I spent this weekend in low grade fretting that this pandemic could go on a very very long time. If it does, we may end up here regardless, and when we do we will look back on the shift and regret not doing it sooner. All I know for sure as that the way Hanson talks about it will never convince anyone to get there. If anything, he's slowing it down. UPDATE: OK I wrote about this.

March 30, 2020, I

Just before my brain and everyone else's became completely taken over by thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic, I read the post "The Internet of Beefs" on Ribbonfarm. It was one of the most exciting things I've read in a while. Apparently I am not alone. It had such a traffic spike for the blog that it was almost a problem for the blogger, Venkatesh Rao.

The crux of the post is this: We all know there is an endless fight going on online, but Rao explains it through what he calls an "economy of mooks." Mooks are all the nameless partisans who believe they are doing some good in the world by waging their war online. They follow "knights," these are leaders of hordes of mooks. These people make their living off these fights. It makes them famous. Gets them on TV. Lets them run popular podcast. So they have an incentive to stir up their mooks again and again.

You should really read the whole thing. I thought it was so great that I thought I'd do a series of my own blog posts about it but that hasn't happened. So I'm just logging it here.

March 15, 2020

Fitness people can be a bit stupid about their fitness. I think we can all agree on that right? As a long time fitness person, I can say this. So they are less likely to engage in social distance appropriately unless urged to do so safely and in a way that allows them to keep burning calories.

In this time of COVID-19 we need to direct that energy appropriately.

This is a moment for mobile apps like Strava to shine. Here's what I would do if I ran Strava right now: I would organize a massive and virtual early morning race where people were encouraged to run, say, a 5K near their place at 5 AM. So then runners would be out and exercising and competing but they'd be doing it at a time when they were unlikely to interact with anyone else. The All Mobile COVID-19 Classic!

I'm sure runnerly folks are like, but the course! The course! The course wouldn't be the same! True. But I think big data could largely fix that.

Here's the thing: Strava could use its extensive data about roads to normalize everyone's courses. Participants would submit a proposed 5K route (like a "Segment, familiar to Strava users already), and Strava would automate approving it, making slight tweaks in courses in order to normalize total effort over the course (not manually, again I think the software could do this). It would take a mean total difficulty of all courses and then make everyone shorten or lengthen their courses appropriately so they are all roughly putting in as much effort over time. Like people running more uphill would be get theirs shortened a bit, and vice versa. People running on gravel or sand would shorten as well.

But what about weather? That's fine too. Strava would know what was happening at the time of the run everywhere! It would be fixed by creating more prizes. Best time under 30 degrees. Best time in the rain. Best time with snow on the ground. Etc. etc. etc.

Futher, leading up to the race, people could get badges on their profile for doing the most training before 6AM. People who did a ton would race with gold stars on their profile. A little less silver, etc.

As races go, it wouldn't be perfect but this would be a fun run, not a Boston Marathon qualifier. Still, it's a good way to galvanize people around safer behavior. Races involve big crowds and a lot of intimacy, something we do not need. But it seems like people could still get that competitive satisfaction &mdashh; to a degree &mdashh; safely, and it would be a good hook for broader public education.

March 11, 2020

Do you want to be better at interpersonal communication?

Here's a simple way to improve. First: when you ask a question, pay attention to whether or not people answer the question you asked or some question you are really asking.

For example, you ask, "Is it raining out?" and they answer, "If you're wondering if we should still go out, I think we should."

This is hard because sometimes you are really asking that other question, but maybe you do just want to know if it's raining? Maybe you want your garden to get some rain? Maybe you just like weather?

It's always advantageous to answer questions directly first. Take people at their word. Answer what they ask.

OK, so once you start paying attention to how people answer questions, then start watching yourself. Do you answer questions directly or do you search around for the "real" question?

I promise you that if you start answering questions directly first from here on out, people will start to think of you as easier and easier to work with and talk to. And when people don't answer your questions directly, call them on it.

"OK but is it raining?"

March 9, 2020

Simply naming groups has become enough to dismiss them, particularly on social media. This works particularly well for groups the speaker/namer mostly aligns with.

An example, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren showed signs of falling out of the race for POTUS, I saw screenshot of a Tweet on Facebook by a young African-American woman saying something like: "RBG tote bag twitter is in full meltdown this morning."

This tweet was pretty effective. A sufficiently savvy person pictured exactly who she meant: young feminist white women, very likely in glasses, maybe a Bryn Mawr grad, who loved the idea of an educated woman in the White House. The funny thing about it is, it's a safe bet that you'd have a hard time finding very much that the person tweeting and RBG tote bag Twitter disagreed about at any given time except right now. The tote bag team liked Warren. The person tweeting (I presume) liked Bernie. Rather than engage on the substance it was much easier to simply diminish.

Name. Force an image. Reader laughs. Repeat.

I suppose this sounds like a critique and I guess on some level it is, but to me what's interesting is this: All it takes is a name. A name just creates two categories: that / not that. If you can picture the group named and you aren't in it, then they are "that," you are "not that" and you laugh.

It doesn't seem like people interrogate it any further than that! If you can picture it and you are "not that" it's funny. All it takes is naming.

Addendum: I can't quite explain this yet but I also submit that — for reasons I can't quite explain — the closer the group named is to your group culturally, the better it works. So it's more effective, in the example above, for one person in the broader liberal/progressive milieu to name and shame another liberal/progressive category than it is to name and shame, say, a non-urban more traditionally minded person.

February 20, 2020

I wrote a Twitter screed last night that I thought I might as well link here. I started reading this Bloomberg Businessweek story about a bunch of venture capital backed loan sharks called Tala. The story honestly got me so upset I couldn't finish it. Microlending is a good concept but only when it's done by non-profits like Gameen and Kiva. For profit microlending is bad.

End of story. Done. Finished. That's it. It's bad and the people who do it are bad people.

There is a very simple rubric for telling the difference between good and bad credit toward people in the developing world. Does the profit made on the successful loans remain in the local economy or does it ultimately find its way back to a much richer country? I think you can work out which one is good and which one is bad.

Globalism is a complicated topic because of the developing world. It's clearly good for the rich world, for everyone else though it's more case by case.

But here's what I really logged on to write: when do-gooders think we should love them because they are just trying their best, it annoys me. When do-gooders do a bad job at doing good and willfully try to paper it over, it makes me angry. When evil people couch terrible behavior in a narrative of philanthropy it makes me so angry my body starts to shake and my heart rate feels dangerous.

February 8, 2020, II

"Love thy neighbor as thy self" was a great idea, but it isn't selling. How about this everybody?

Love thy neighbor as thy second cousin.

Can we make that deal? I'll take that deal. I really will.

February 8, 2020, I

If someone is sensitive about something (their looks, their brains) it's not kind to point to that thing and say: yes that's bad. You are, in fact, quite ugly. You are, in fact, quite dumb.

Similarly, though, it is also not kind to compliment that person in a way that you both know contradicts the truth. If someone was just rejected and implicit in the story is fear that they lost out because of their looks, it's not kind to call them "beautiful" or "handsome."

And yet you see this online all the time. People show a little vulnerability and people respond with false affirmations and everyone applauds. We don't want anyone to feel dumb. We don't want anyone to feel ugly. We make false affirmations for the crowd, not for the person being vulnerable.

February 1, 2020

This is an election year so there's going to be a lot of moaning from left-leaning people about voter turnout, blaming the system for preventing turnout when in fact it's really just personal choice. People don't want to vote. They don't care. The end. Deal with that, crybabies.

This is not an uninformed opinion. I was community organizer for 13 years. I've tried to get more people to vote than you can possibly imagine. I have seen and talked to an unbelievable number of people on and around Election Day who definitely could vote who just would not/did not.

Look, it comes down to this: people vote when they wanna vote. Making it easier does not matter. It just doesn't.

There is just example after example of people given chances to participate in decisions in very simple ways that just choose not to. Great example, the colloquially known "Motor Voter Act" of 1993. It got a lot more people registered to vote by basically making it easier to register than not to register. Whoop-dee-do. Impact on actual voting? Basically non-existent.

Anyway, whatever you think on this topic, for the love of God, keep voting off the internet. For. Fuck's. Sake.

January 17, 2020

Someone commented to me recently that people always cluster around the bar at parties, and she asked (admittedly, rhetorically) why?

I couldn't help but get to thinking about it though, and I think I have an idea. The context here: she was at a party at the Consumer Electronics Show, which meant that it was largely made up of people who didn't really know each other. It was some brand party.

This kind of a party isn't much of a party. It's a drinking session where people hope beyond hope that they might do some useful networking, but mainly they hope they won't get stuck standing alone. So on this level everyone is an open nerve.

Think about any time you've been standing with someone you didn't want to be standing with. You need a way to politely escape. As long as you are in a dull back and forth, it feels tough to move on. What you want is a transition. Any kind of transition.

So my theory is that at a low familiarity party like that, people are the most likely to bump into each other and start chatting at the spot with the most jostling and movement: the bar. Then once they find someone, they are very insecure about getting stuck alone. So they don't want to move at all. They stand fixed in place, at the nearest spot to where they first started talking, because they are insecure that their interlocutor is looking for an out, so they don't want to move at all lest that feels like a transition and gives them an opening to go.

January 1, 2020

The quote, "I don't want to believe, I want to know" is like a beautiful little rationalist koan, because everyone believes they know who said it, but they don't really know.

December 31, 2019, IV

Ever since Planet Money explained how our tax filing system in the U.S. is needlessly complicated it has made me very angry. That began to change yesterday, probably largely thanks to more excellent reporting from ProPublica on the topic. Journalism works.

December 31, 2019, III

From 2010 to 2019 a lot happened. I left Philadelphia. I decided to really become a writer and I did it. I relocated to New York City and finances have not forced me to leave though it was touch and go at times. I had my longest ever romantic relationship but that's over and I'm back to being just as bad at that stuff as I ever was (but it's fine). No big health problems. I did have my first real surgery though, from which I am still recovering. I got even more into art. Too bad the webcomic didn't work out though. Or the podcast.

That reflection is almost entirely about work which, as they say, says a lot. I know.

Oh I also left the country finally for the first time and have now been to Canada, Britain, France, Mexico, Germany, Iceland and Denmark. My limited scope of travel has always been somethhing that bothered me, so it's worth noting this.

December 31, 2019, II

When I started this site, I had this cute idea that there would no consistent style to the site. I would use a template for each post and as I updated the design it would change going forward but the old posts would retain their original style. Well the truth is that the design, such as it is, has hardly changed at all. But yesterday there was a big update with this post about blogging. The links to other parts of the site look much bolder now, with hand drawn images.

December 31, 2019, I

I am often a dick on Twitter. I need to stop doing this. When I want to shit on something other people are doing, I really need to force myself to stop and try to find a way to make the same point as a joke. If nothing else, it's a good way to stretch my creativity.

Three trends right now, with the New Year almost here: predictions, listing books read in 2019 and (for fellow journalists) listing favorite stories of the year. So I tweeted a tweet that said: "Predictions are bad. Congratulations on reading books. Tell me what your shitty stories were." I deleted it. A few seconds later my friend Alex tweeted something that captured at least some of the sentiment in a much funnier way.

December 29, 2019, III

I have been sitting around reading today when I meant to be writing which is probably why I keep coming up with random things to put here. So you know how all the movies these days are either remakes or rehashes of old intellectual property that studios think will be nostalgic enough for moviegoers to come out and see? Such as Jem and the Holograms and the various G.I. Joe flicks. Oh and that time they made a movie of the game Battleship. And then just like all the remakes. I don't know like... The Mod Squad — yes I should be able to come with a better example, fight me.

Well, I'm always trying to remember TV shows a used to watch. For some reason it's satisfying when I think of one I haven't thought of for a while. Today that was Throb, about this little record lable. As a kid, I used to be a pretty big boob for tubes — everyone was. There's some pretty forgotten shows in the dustbin of history. Head of the Class, My Two Dads, My Sister Sam. There are tons. Perfect Strangers!

You know something I would be super into? A sort of meta-flick that took a bunch of these shows... say, a bunch of the sitcoms based in New York City (plenty to choose from), and put together some insane plot that wound its way through all those show worlds. That could be pretty fun. And really weird. Even better if they don't really try very hard to establish these worlds. But just like... I've got to go to this recording studio and visit this photographer who works from home and see this teacher in this gifted class. Maybe some of the characters join in the little quest. I don't know?

Glom these little narrative biomes together!

Comic books are great at this. Sitcoms should try it on the silver screen.

Yeah! And it should all start from the bar in Cheers

December 29, 2019, II

I submit: when paintings get weird, they get a lot weirder than songs really ever do.

Why do you think that is?

(I'm not going to defend this position right now because I don't honestly think it's necessary, but if anyone wants me to, just ask. I think I can pretty easily.)

December 29, 2019, I

So Scott Alexander, the guy behind the blog Slate Star Codex, has written a novel called Unsong, which I have beeen reading for a while now, but I highly recommend it. I only found out about it because he wrote some note in one of his blog posts that flagged it. It came out a while ago. I am so, so into it, but it's taken me forever to read because he only has it up on a Wordpress site and since I do a lot of my reading in places where I don't have internet access, this has stymied my ability to read it.

I was complaining about this to a friend and she just did a quick google and found that one of his fans had processed the pages and turned them into PDF and epub and mobi formats, making it suitable for any kind of offline electronic reading you might want to do. Why did I not think to do this? Obviously one of his many geeky fans would do this. They are posted on Github.

It's very hard to explain the book. It's a sort of mix of internet culture and Jewish mysticism. The key technology in this version of the world is the names of God, which work a lot like magic spell, but aspects of God are also major characters. There's also this character called the Comet King and when it came to his origin story I was crying on the subway as I always do when I encounter stories of really amazing heroes.

So you might like it I don't know. It's a great book and for some reason the author is making it as difficult as possible to read. He has so many fans! If he just released this as an ebook himself he'd basically print money, because all his fans would buy it and then that would ping the algorithms who would show it to lots of other nerds who don't know him but they would buy it and they would like it (because it's pretty great) and then boom. Bajillions. But no one asked me.

By the way if you are skeptical about that last paragraph I did a series of interviews with people who are basically printing money writing books self-published on Kindle. Here's one likely relevant to folks who would like Unsong, and another, just for fun.

December 28, 2019

I go to a lot of museums and have been for years but my pace has accelerated in the last years. Here's something I have only recently realized: enjoying museums is really cumulative. They are pretty tough places to appreciate early on, but if you keep going you start to recognize artists, see themes, see connections and it becomes a lot more fun. Like massages, the more often you do it the more often each time benefits you.

If art leaves you cold but you suspect maybe it shouldn't just expose yourself to it more, and try to focus on a genre that seems to intrigue you, even if you aren't sure why. When I'm at a museum, I'm looking for European and American paintings and drawings from about 1850 to to about 1930. That's sort of my sweet spot.

December 23, 2019

This is one of my favorite blogs of all time and I'm sure it's in the top 1% of blogging posts — ever: "This is the Dream Time." I read it again today and remembered it as much longer and much more detailed than it is, but I guess that reflects how much it got my brain popping the first time I read it. The crux of it is this: either humanity will survive and eventually settle down into a long period of relatively stable, boring and egalitarian future or we'll all die — actually it doesn't say that second thing, it's just implied). If we survive, people will look at this time as a wild era in which we couldn't tell the difference between good thinking and bad which had the counter-intuitive impact of deluding us into thinking almost anything was possible, which is a rare and beautiful feeling that humanity will only experience during a few brief eras in its history. So live it up, folks. You are lucky to live in a rare era.

December 19, 2019

One of the best weapons in an office environment is dead silence. Once you rise to a point where people start to listen to what you have to say some, it can be tempting to use your voice all the time, but it can be a mistake. The main danger: you can be heard but not heeded. It's easy to dismiss something if it's clear that someone has gotten a chance to express their view. But meeting things you dislike with dead silence? It unsettles people. They don't know what to make of it.

November 11, 2019

Bertrand Russell convened a tribunal on American war crimes in the nation of Vietnam in 1966. Jean-Paul Sartre got so interested in the idea that he ended up serving as a sort of master of ceremonies. I don't think we really have philosophers today who would capture much of the public imagination if they were to convene such an unofficial inquiry into something today. And that's really too bad.

I finished listening to a biography of Sartre recently. To him, activism and philosophy were one and the same. I don't know that I had reallly thought of them that way before, but I suppose it makes sense.

To do: look into whether anyone has done a book or at least major article looking back on this. If not, consider the feasibility of doing so.

November 3, 2019

So when you do journalistic writing there's a constant tension between two competing interests: smooth, compelling to read writing and accurately presenting the quotes as given to you by sources.

Quotes are best attained orally because regular people speak much more honestly than they write, but when they speak they ramble and interject in the middle of their own thoughts and generally just give quotes that aren't a little bit quotable.

A great journalist here's what they need in the moment and asks the same question the new way so that they say it a little more succinctly. The rest of us figure it out later when we are looking at our transcript.

To further complicate things: Stylistically, I hate dividing a quote with ellipses [ ... ] in the middle. This kind of thing. "The bread was so stale though ... so finally I decided there was nothing for it but to make a pudding."

I hate it. I don't know why. It's irrational. It just looks like you did a bad job seeing the quote when it was said and reframing the question so your source would say it better. And I mean, that is what I failed to do when I use an ellipsis, so that's why it looks that way. And it hurts me.

So here's a thing I often do. Someone will say two things that go well together, but they might say them at a wildly different time in the conversation. You want to put them together. You want to put them close together. So here's a workaround that I believe to be right and good.

Say I have two wildly separated quotes that I think sit well together. Such as:

"The funny thing about bread pudding is it doesn't look anything like bread."


"Honestly I don't think I would have even known what bread pudding is at all if it hadn't been my grandmother's favorite desert."

Here's what I will do in such a situation. I will arrange these this way, separated by an initial attribution that is assumed to be applied to the subsequent quote, in regular useage.

"The funny thing about bread pudding is it doesn't look anything like bread," the source said. "Honestly I don't think I would have even known what bread pudding is at all if it hadn't been my grandmother's favorite dessert."

But it's not unusual that one of my editors will put the two quotes together and move the attribution to the end, assuming that I just put it where I did because I liked the rhythm. Like so:

"The funny thing about bread pudding is it doesn't look anything like bread. Honestly I don't think I would have even known what bread pudding is at all if it hadn't been my grandmother's favorite dessert," the source said.

This bothers me enormously, because that is to me a different quote. One in which the source said the one thing directly after the other, but I know they did not do so.

Do I think that my reader is sophisticated enough to consider that these quotes might be from two parts of the conversation when it appears my preferred way? No. I don't think they think about it and I don't think it really matters if they do or don't. What I do think is problematic, though, is to reconstruct the quote in such a way that it definitely would be read as if they were said one thing after another, when I know that's not true.

But honestly I have never heard this topic discussed openly in any journalistic circle. I don't know if:

a) I'm overthinking it, b) I'm right and my editors just haven't thought about it or c) I'm wrong to use the attribution to separate two quotes like this without specifically indicating that they were separate statements, such as by putting in something like: "He added," before the second quote.

But I think about this all the time, and I do think it's really important that we represent these small things as accurately as we can. We are already taking an enormous liberating by winnowing down so much what people tell us, we shouldn't misrepresent what's left in even a small way.

October 27, 2019

Venkatesh Rao, the guy behind Ribbonfarm, is trolling his rationalist followers pretty hard right now. He's been tweeting things about how astrology is interesting in different ways, with the linked tweet as only the most recent example.

Rational people hate astrology. It's nonsensical to them to think that the future could be written in the stars. Or even to think that the stars could have anything to say about human affairs.

And that's a perfectly reasonable stance, but the position that Rao is taking (and the position that I would argue a lot of interesting, open-minded people take) is that whether or not the stars themselves have anything interesting to say, the tradition provides a lot of really interesting starting points for personal reflection.

A Sam Harris would argue that the kind of observations you get from an astrological or tarot reading are so open ended that they could apply to almost anyone. Maybe so! In fact, let's just go snag a random astrological reading for today. I googled "virgo horoscope today" and came up with a first result on Horoscope.com. Here's what it said:

Oct 27, 2019 - The special someone in your life might feel a little jealous of your friends now. Perhaps you've had a number of invitations that only involve you and your pals. It might be a good idea to turn down one in favor of being with your partner. Goals and projects may be blocked temporarily, which is frustrating. Let them ride for now.

Pretty open! But I would argue that these specific — yet vague — observations, may still be a better starting place for self-reflection than 'how do I feel right now?'

Personally, I think tarot does this better than astrology. In fact, tarot does it so well that any introspective person is actually crazy not to futz around with tarot some in my ever so humble opinion. There, I said it.

Rational people's insistence on the optics of rationality verges on irrational.

October 19, 2019

Everyone agrees that wisdom starts with doubt. The hard part is accepting the fact that doubt is where it also ends up.

September 29, 2019

Last night I saw Prof. William MacAskill speak at NYU. He's a young Oxford professor of philosophy and one of the early proponents of the Effective Altruism movement. He spoke on taking a long term view, one that values future people the same as people who are currenly alive. He argued that future people have moral value and that we are really largely neglecting any serious evaluation of the impact of present decisions on future people.

I thought it was interesting, but maybe a little crazy when he went so far as to argue that we should think on a billion year time horizon. I think he was really being somewhat provocative in arguing that, but I didn't find it at all hard to get behind the idea that we ought to index the lives of future people much more highly.

What surprised me though was that in the Q&A and in one conversation I had afterward, some folks found this idea really upsetting. It seemed that they took the idea of valuing future people highly meant devaluing present people. I guess there would be some truth for that. For example, in one of MacAskill's examples, if we taxed the use of fossil fuel in a way that took a long time horizon, we'd need to tax it much more highly.

But I guess to me it was just hard to connect with people who actually became emotionally disturbed by this position. I can understand having some give and take over the time horizon (I personally think a one hundred to two hundred year view would be more than enough). But to be upset by it?

I think it comes down to this: folks feel bad for some people in the present and anything that takes attention away from present suffering feels hurtful. But that's efffectively doing with time, now, the same as what we did with land for so long. It's very recent that we began to morally value all humans. It used to be you just worried about your own countrymen or even your own village or tribe. It may be that one day doing the same thing temporally will be viewed just as barbaric.

John Maynard Keynes said that in the long run we're all dead, but it may be that unless we index for the long run we really will all be dead.

September 28, 2019

I had shoulder surgery on July 16, that's why I have hardly been blogging. My job requires a lot of writing and it was all I could really manage there for a few months. It's getting easier, but I was also out of anything like a habit that I'd ever been in.

Anyway, this is one of the best things I have read in a long time: Too much dark money in almonds. Its an alternative take on money in politics. Long story short, Scott Alexander points out that, for all the talk of money in politics, Americans spend more collectively on almonds every year than they do on politics (that's lobbying and election donations combined). Pretty wild when you think about it, right?

August 3, 2019

lt is political season here in the United States and the most interesting candidates are making policy proposals that sound fairly far fetched. Elizabeth Warren wants to forgive everyone's college debt and make public higher ed free. Andrew Yang wants to forward a freedom divident to every American of $1,000 every month. Gov. Jay Inslee thinks we reallly can get out of climate change.

A common critique of proposals like these is that they are pipe dreams, but they aren't. They are starting point. It's intellectually dishonest to attack a sweeping policy idea exactly as stated. The honest way to engage with it is as a broad idea, a goal, that if we became galvanized behind would go through the legislative process and inevitably evolve, just as Obamacare did. Obamacare came out still Obamacare even though it wasn't really what Obama as candidate campaigned on.

Candidates like John Delaney are so dangerous because they really do see their limited imaginations as a virtue. Great, sweeping programs have been accomplished in this country and they tend to be achieved by people who start big and see where it goes. A person like John Delaney really can't even fathom it. Don't vote for a vapid dreamer, but vote for someone with a track record and a vision, even if you can't see it.

The specifics are much less important than the will and the intention.

July 13, 2019

I listened to this episode of Planet Money today about what a mess recycling has become in the U.S., largely due to a diminished demand for our waste abroad and our incapacity to prep our waste for sale.

It made me wonder if design couldn't be really useful in making recycling more efficient. One of the bottlenecks is cleaning out plastic containers. What if they were standardized in such a way though that the recycling sorting process could also clean them out.

I'm not even an engineer and I can envision an rudimentary design that would make this doable. Imagine a standard bottle designed to be easy for a machine to grab and hold for cleaning, a high pressure water system to shoot into each one and blast out whatever's inside and a giant pool of water used to rinse out the bottles that had a centrifuge attached such that the water could be used again and again, making it more water efficient than home rinsing.

In fact, if we could just get the caps to be the same plastic as the bottles (this must be a solvable problem) so that the caps don't have to be removed, that would be a great step. I imagine that the best way to clean these things would be to lop off the bottom anyway, right?

It would take times to get enough products to move to a uniform enough design that machines could easily manipulate them in the thousands to clean them out, but that brings us to the second part of the design: policy design.

Companies that put stuff in containers should be taxed on the containers in such a way that encourages them to generate fewer containers. All of those funds should go to subsidizing recyclers incorporating these new technologies for improving their stream of product.

Making product containers more uniform would undermine companies' ability to market and position their brand as unique, of course, but I think we'd all persevere in a socialist dystopia where he had to make due with fewer kinds of dish soap. God help us all, but I think we could get by.

June 16, 2019 — III

I read this Slate Star Codex post today about the fact that there is no real debate going on between political sides. That is, two people aren't meeting in a room in good faith and talking to each other with the goal of both listening and persuading.

It would be pretty cool if someone put together an organization testing the impact of real debate. Organize debates between major Republicans and Democrats across the country. Not the actual candidates, just people on each side. Maybe even folks who aren't tied to campaigns but really like one candidate or another. That would be an interesting experiment (and also quite relevant to the point I posted two openers down...)

I bet people would show up to listen. Maybe not thousands, but solid dozens. Even hundreds sometimes. It could be a thing that grew and might have a surprising effect.

Whatever you think of this idea, I just want to add this quote from the post which I thought was funny and clever and illuminating:

"As the old saying goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they fight you half-heartedly, then they’re neutral, then they then they grudgingly say you might have a point even though you’re annoying, then they say on balance you’re mostly right although you ignore some of the most important facets of the issue, then you win."

June 16, 2019 — II

I have been reading The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch (1997). It's filled with surprising facts. Physics has a lot of those, especially if you start talking about quantum level observations. Some of the facts are so surprising that they don't square with "common sense," that is our basic (and largely reliable) mental model for the-way-things-work.

So I got to thinking about the cognitive slipperiness of surprising facts at the end of his third chapter, "Problem solving."

I used to work in politics, and one of the things people on the left are grappling with these days is the cognitive weakness of facts. In their minds, the facts are on their side, so why don't people agree with them more?

For years there has been a cadre of lefties arguing: quit obsessing on facts! Make values based arguments! People don't care about facts. If a fact doesn't square with a person's mental model, they just forget it. It isn't even conscious. Their brain just does it!

We all do this constantly in all kinds of ways. Example: Think of watching a movie. At the end of a good movie, you understand it, but could you describe everything that happened? Even right after? Could you even easily recall what happened in the middle? Often, no. You threw out a lot of facts, but you still "get" the movie.

So I wondered — and I bet I know the answer but I'm writing this because it would be neat to learn if someone has tested this — if people tend to also forget facts about things that don't fit their mental model for topics with less emotional valence than polical and social issues tend to? Like, I bet there are some surprising facts in the world of forestry. And I think we all have some kind of mental model for forestry, right?

So if someone gave a lecture on forestry to a room full of people filled with a wide array of facts scored from "very common sense" to "holy shit, seriously?" what would happen if you tested people right after, a week after, a month after and a year after the lecture? Would they be more likely to recall the facts that scored closer to common sense?

I bet they would!

June 16, 2019

Today I emailed an old friend of mine on LinkedIn and said, "The internet really rewards people descending into their full personal crazy if they have any sort of public profile." This old friend of mine is someone I've barely spoken to in 20 years but we are kind of back in touch because she met someone who I've met here in New York and this person is so batshit nuts (not clinically insane – sane crazy, which I submit is far more dangerous).

All we talk about when we talk is this person. That's it. No how's your family? how's your job? Just "Holy shit did you see this thing she did?"

I'm not going to say who it is because infamy feeds her like sweet potatoes feed the rest of us, and so she's decently well known in certain circles. The last time I saw her in person was years ago on a night that happened to end up being one of the most personally dramatic of my life — but that's an aside. It started at a party she organized in which she stood on a table in a bar and yelled to a room full of people that it was the greatest night of her life.

Everyone in that room had just watched her fail epically on national TV.

I wrote what I wrote after this old friend sent me an Instagram selfie this woman posted on her way to the hospital. She was going there because she has been very public about a particularly ridiculous lifestyle choice that makes zero sense and leads ineluctably to this condition in every single case. It's basically the definition of this lifestyle choice.

When I write "crazy" I don't mean "mentally ill." I mean crazy, which I'm tempted to call a strain of stupid, but it's a kind of stupid exhibited by some pretty intelligent people. The internet really fosters it.

I would not be surprised if someone were writing that she's "so brave" in her comments right now.

June 1, 2019 — II

To our brains, words are real objects, and they function much like seeds.

Which is to say, a thousand times yes to this post from Olga Khazan from The Atlantic: give up on work-life balance.

"Work-life balance" is a notion that someone came up with to name a series of shared observations, creating a fresh new problem for humans to obsess on. Once named, people agreed it was a problem. Is it though? Or has life always been just one goddam thing after another, much too complicated, much too exhausting? Isn't life just sort of necessarily set up that way?

Isn't it better that we live in a world that's much too interesting rather than one that's much too boring?

Naming a thing is a very good way to create problems by making a fresh new something that once was nothing inside our heads. We name it, so we reify it, fixate on it and nurture anxiety around it.

Just let the idea go.

June 1, 2019 — I

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who understand the law is a means to an end and those who confuse the law with reality.

Here's a good example: there's a class of people who criticize initial coin offerings because the tokens they create are "obviously" a security under U.S. securities law. To people of the former persuasion, this fact alone is all that matters. To those of the latter persuasion, the reply is, "So what?"

The law is fine and good, but the point of the law needs to be that it constructs a way of coordinating the world that's for the best. It may be true that under the traditional way of viewing securities, these tokens definitely are. But is that for the best? And does it make sense to challenge that notion? Whether in the courts or legislatively?

Or just by sheer defiance?

I'm not weighing in. I'm just commenting that there's a certain class of commenter who seems to say that because these tokens do meet that definition, then these projects are ill conceived on a prima facie level. And that bugs me.

Someday I will follow up on this point and kvetch a bit about the way in which people conflate legal identities with organizations. They aren't even kind of the same thing, and the only time it's helpful to think of them that way is when people are doing taxes (and really, that's all the state cares about too).

Long story short: the law is a coordination mechanism, it's not reality.

May 31, 2019

We have an unhelpful cognitive dissonance when it comes to bringing big companies and powerful people to justice: We mistakenly think it matters when the big guns get busted. I don't think it does.

I was confronted with this discomfiting truth again reading something a reporter I'm friends with, Timothy Lee, wrote this week — an epic rundown of the legal decision against a tech company that you probably have heard of but barely think about: Qualcomm.

It left me wondering how much Qualcomm profited in the end. Sure we got a destructive business practice stamped out, but odds are whatever costs they face to their bottom line now is dwarfed by the money they've made by establishing a privileged position for themselves in the mobile industry and strangling competitors.

See also: the originators that set up all those poor people with mortgages that yielded the financial crisis. They sold those loans on and moved into mansions. They've been sitting pretty ever since.

On a related noted, tonight I was hanging out with my coworkers and talking about how unlikely that most blockchains will ever be able to sustain their decentralized security models on fees alone down the road. But of course that isn't really the goal. Whether a lot of these creators admit it to themselves or not, the real goal is to get the initial instigators and their cronies very rich — come what may.

If subsequent innovation proves their vision right in the long term, great! That's good for the ego.

But if it doesn't? They'll still be rich.

May 30, 2019

This morning I saw an old black guy in Bed-Stuy looking in one of those worksite windows that NYC requires. He had this look on his face that suggested to me that he wasn’t just curious, but he actually understood what he was seeing.

Like it was the sort of work he used to do. He was lean, like someone who had never had a lazy day. He had a wiry energy to him, like someone who was always busy.

He sported a neat silvery mustache and a baseball cap. Everything about him said: working man. The site was just some new rowhome, or maybe a tiny apartment building. Nothing fancy. Just a bit of neighborhood redevelopment.

It looked like he was retired but some part of him wanted to be in there, doing the part he knew how to do well. Work sucks for a lot of people, but when it doesn’t, nothing is better at giving life meaning.

Leisure is nice, but a sense of accomplishment is better. It is hard to get started working but it’s easier on the soul than quitting forever.

April 10, 2019

So the way I see it there are two possible futures:

One, climate change wipes out humanity or at least civilization as we know it. Or,

Two, Hollywood comes up with like 25 movie scripts that turn out to be the perfect calendar and every year they just remake those same flicks again and again, with different actors, different haircuts and minor script changes to satisfy the moment.

April 8, 2019

For weeks now I have had an issue of The Economist open on my desk at home with a bunch of notes written on the paper version of this editorial about The Green New Deal. There's a number of things I want to say about it, but I just never seem to get to it.

So let me just say this, which is the main thing.

Carbon offsets would be a very fine idea if not for politics.

Quick refresher: the idea of carbon offsetting is that every company that produces carbon emissions would get some kind of emission allowance for total pollution, the sum total of which would be a net reduction in national emissions. Polluters could then trade emissions allotments so that the companies that could reduce the least expensively would reduce the most, paid for by the companies for whom reducing is expensive.


If only it were so simple. There is a minor problem and a major one.

The minor problem: companies would lie and cheat about how much they polluted and regulators wouldn't be staffed well enough to catch them cheating or to enforce the rules when they did so.

The major problem: carbon credits would create a new industry that would want to persist whether global warming gets fixed or not. The more credits those entrepreneurs had to trade the more fees they would get, so there would be political pressure to push the total allotment up (whatever it did for global warming).

And to be honest there'd be a third problem. The ways in which companies would game the system would ultimately prove vastly more complicated than the two examples above and it would be a real mess to sort out but it would all add up to the same thing: undermining the goal of stopping climate change.

In a pure, pure world where all the variables stayed put and everyone followed the rules, I would agree that carbon emission taxes would be a great solution for much of the world's global warming pollution, but the world isn't that simple and markets aren't magic. They are insidious.

Though to be crystal clear, I would definitely support virtually any carbon offsetting measure proposed by anyone that did much of anything at all. But still. I also think the Green New Deal is realistic in a way free market true believers willfully ignore.

April 1, 2019

Is fiction a technology?

Last night I was reading Lovecraft's "The Other Gods" entirely because it was mentioned in Slate Star Codex's "Meditations on Moloch." The blogger, Scott Alexander, describes it this way: "As stories go, it lacks things like plot or characterization or setting or point. But for some reason it stuck with me."

I found thhat take a little hyperbolic once I got going with it. I mean, dudes climb a mountain. That's a plot. But whatever; I see his point. In particular because I have been writing a "short story" right now that's more of a sketch of a science fictional world than it is a "story" in the current sense. And I very much mean the current sense, because I think what I'm writing might have flown with a lot of editors at another time.

But these days editors of fiction are much more strict about this stuff. You can't just string together a bunch of imagery for a reader. There needs to be a reason they are going to through it, a person they care about, a change that occurs in the world and themes that become illuminated.

This is why I started to wonder if fiction functions something like a technology. Our software stack has built up over the years. We have greater expectations of what works. More refined collective expections.

Or maybe that's all just fashion and it will all swing back?

Anyway I'll finish up this world sketch and then I'll come up with a story taking place in this world I'm imagining and that's what I'll try to get shipped off somewhere.

February 18, 2019

Discussing ideas makes them stronger but if ideas have to be defended long enough it drives their proponents to the extreme of the idea, and then the idea becomes ridiculous. The temptation to think any idea that's any good then must be good taken all the way to its logical conclusion. This is nonsense I blame on the Platonic notion of "ideals." Which is garbage. Plain and simple. Anyway, political conflict is making many perfectly reasonable ideas into caricatures.

Feel free to replace "idea" with "opinion" or "proposition" in the above.

February 17, 2019

My friend Sonya asked on Twitter recently how many disciplines required practice as well as teaching and study to master, and it quickly became clear that the answer is: all of them. This might seem obvious, but the implications of the answers to this question are profound once you play it out, in my opinion.

It hit me that this fact demonstrates how bad language is at communicating subtle knowledge. If you can't transmit the how-to of a given practice, then it illustrates that there is a ton of data that language just can't convey. It doesn't matter if you can't possibly imagine how anything about the tiny subtleties you glean by doing whatever it is you are good at could ever be conveyed in language. That's not the point. The point is that it can't. Yet.

On a related note, I was jogging and listening to a lecture on Nietzsche's writing style by Prof. Kathleen Higgins from "The Great Courses," and she argued that Nietzsche wrote using a lot of diffferent styles because he believed language needed experiments to get it to work better.

It hit me then: language is technology.

So all those people who resist language changing and growing and taking on new forms: they are very bad. They are harmful reactionaries.

It is very easy to be misunderstood in this life. This leads to a lot of needless pain. Language needs to be much better, and it's still very early for language. It is very rough technology. Every tongue in the world is a bad beta test. We should really encourage all kinds of forays into new realms for transmitting meaning between two brains.

Language is very much unfinished software. Keep forking words and grammar, everybody.

February 11, 2019

Today while riding into Manhatttan on the subway I read a briefing from The Economist about Exxon. TL;DR — the fossil fuel behemoth is doubling down on oil and gas. It doesn't think that political leaders will get their acts together (and even if they did, it probably guesses it can command whatever demand remains, through scale).

Then later in the day Buzzfeed's Ryan Broderick tweeted about this Kickstarter campaign for a device called "LoveSync." It's two buttons that couples can use to silently communicate if they both want to bone.

Honestly? I don't know which bit of news about the world makes me hate it more.

February 9, 2019

Last night I finished reading Rüdiger-Safranski's Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography at a bar. I think the Fugees were playing as I got through the last bit of Nietzsche's personal timeline. I'm not sure about the book, but it left me thinking that Nietzsche really was a fascinating human being, but I don't know that this is the book that people thought it was. I think I needed more of a typical biography. As a biography and as a summary of his work, it didn't seem great at either. And yet Nietzsche shines so bright that I still think I got a glimmer of what's always drawn me to him.

What a legend to end on! To throw yourself into defending a defenseless animal and then go mad. That's how a philosopher should go out...

February 3, 2019

Let me just pre-emptively grant the fact that the following thought is socially irresponsible and reprehensible. But it's real:

Do you ever wish there were a way that some of the most vehement deniers of climate change could be granted an extra long lifespan? I know this seems crazy, but I feel this way all the time. It hurts me deep inside that the people standing in the way of dealing with easily the most significant threat to humanity in its entire existence are going to be dead when its real effects hit.

I want Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Senator James Inhofe alive and well in 2100 so I can drag them around the world and say: Look! Look at what you and your kind stopped us from dealing with! Can you see how wrong you were now? I want that schadenfreude. I want it desperately.

It hurts me deep inside that they will be long dead as the very worst effects hit, though I think they will live past the point of complete undeniability. Then again, I think we are already at that poing.

This is a three paragraph way of saying that Wired had an incredible story in this month's issue about a gigantic slab of ice in Antarctica called Thwaites Glacier that looks ever more inclined to slide off the continent all at once. When and if that happens the effect on seal level rise is going to be dramatic and quick and very, very bad.

And remember that scientists in this field have consistently understated the threat. So.

January 28, 2019

I guess the editors at The New Yorker sat down this week and said, "What the hell? Let's publish two totally entrancing stories that absolutely destroy our readers' hearts at the end. Why not!" This is the second one. The headline online is very bad. The headline in print was "Turn Every Page."

I haven't finished the Murakami short story yet, but odds seem good that might be wrenching by the end as well.

January 27, 2019

Not only is this Jill Lepore article in The New Yorker a thoughtful meditation on the death of journalism's path to professional development, but it ends on a stunning and heartbreaking personal moment that's completely salient and you won't see coming.

Here's the quote from early on that totally locked me in though:

From bushy-bearded nineteenth-century politicians to baby-faced George W. Bush, the paper was steadfastly Republican, if mainly concerned with scandals and mustachioed villains close to home: overdue repairs to the main branch of the public library, police raids on illegal betting establishments—“Worcester Dog Chases Worcester Cat Over Worcester Fence,” as the old Washington press-corps joke about a typical headline in a local paper goes. Its pages rolled off giant, thrumming presses in a four-story building that overlooked City Hall the way every city paper used to look out over every city hall, the Bat-Signal over Gotham.

Emphasis mine.

January 15, 2019

A topic we hear about in New York City endlessly is the failure of the city to provide affordable housing for working people. The Economist has a story about some research that suggests the reason working people don't move to cities might have less to do with expense and more to do with opportunity. The urban opportunity premium has vanished for non-college educated workers, according to MIT's David Autour. So it could be that people aren't coming, not because it's too expensive, but because it isn't worth it regardless.

So if his research is right, is there a way to make better observations percolate through the public consciousness more quickly? Or is it okay that it will take a long time to get through because it might still need further testing? (after all, he might have missed something).

Autour's idea might not be good, but let's assume it is. It seems that better observations still have a hard time making it through the public mind and finding their way into policy interventions. Is there a way to test and then propagate good observations that undermine wrong assumptions more quickly so we can make better collective decisions?

January 13, 2019

Here's a facet of surveillance society that hasn't been much discussed: how distracting it is is to know you are being watched?

I became a regular paying customer of music streaming services since about this time last year. Maybe a little bit sooner. Because I write about this stuff, I find myself thinking all the time about what kind of information I'm feeding the service about my choices. I find myself thinking about two things:

What do I care? Why does it matter? But I think about it all the time and it takes me out of the moment of just enjoying music.

January 12, 2019

I don't know if this was the example in question, but I know at some point last year I came across a challenge for writers of the world to focus more on utopian visions of the future.

Challenges like that always grab my imagination, but I have a hard time with the idea of utopia.

I know this will be very unpopular to say and I guess that's why I'm burying it here, but still saying it: as far as I'm concerned, much of the world is close enough to being a utopia today, and yet it's pretty hard to find anyone who doesn't think everything is very terrible and awful and we're all doomed.

"We're doomed": that's the fashionable take. Really, the only take.

However, most people have a good supply of safe water, people are generally fed, fewer people than ever are super poor and there's less war than ever. That's as much as I can be bothered to defend the position right now. It's all true though.

I've become more and more convinced that humans just kind of lose it when there's no collective threat. If we aren't actually threatened, we'll make up a threat.

Here's an easier way to say it: if we got to a point where there was basically no murder in the world, but one year there were two murders in one city, right? People would say that crime is out of control in that city.

Even if we did live in a Gene Rodenberry style utopia, I don't think we'd ever admit it to ourselves, and if no one allows themselves to feel like they are in a utopia, are you really in a utopia?

January 11, 2019

When you're talking about funding creative work, "fans" are people who would be excited about hearing a creator of some kind speak, for example: a film director. Regular people just want to see the movie. A lot of people describe themselves as "fans" but in terms of thinking about an ecosystem of artwork, they aren't really.

Fans are ones who want to interact or understand the creator better.

Most people don't really want to. They just want to switch on the radio and hear "Born to Run."

This is important because, in terms of building an ecosystem around a kind of artwork to support it, "fans" will respond to calls to action from creators. Regular people won't even hear the calls to action. They'll only consumer the work they like and ignore the broader interest of the creative community and individuals that made the content possible.

January 6, 2019

Man in the middle attacks are a real thing. News organizations should defend against them by building cryptographic signatures into their content management systems. It wouldn't even be hard (I can't imagine).

Eventually, nation states are going to see that it's better not to block content they find offensive, but just to change it a bit before it reaches their subjects. This is totally feasible for a sufficiently powerful adversary (such as a nation like Cuba, where the state is the internet service provider).

But if the content was cryptographically signed, readers could see that something had changed. The state (or whatever adversary) would not be able to mess with the signature. Any way they did would show.

January 5, 2019

I added this page 'Openers' to this site today. I have a bunch of old notes here. I just went through some old files and notebooks and added some quick things I have written down in the past so there would be some content on here. Not that it matters.

November 19, 2018

Philosophy is alienating because philosophers write themselves into corners that strike normal people as obviously false.

For example, in Notes From the Underground, the protagonist convinces himself that the only logical thing to do is absolutely nothing. He might have arrived at this with sound reasoning, but any regular person knows the conclusion makes no sense. It's obviously dumb.

The philosopher would point to the words and the logical structure, but the regular person will just shrug and think: it's still wrong.

So when regular people read lines of reasoning that lead to conclusions they find idiotic, it leaves them questioning the whole enterprise.

I don't think regular people would put it this way, but they have an instinct that words are the way we communicate as best we can about the world we're in, but words are not the world. Language is easily conflated with reality.

Philosophers fool themselves when logic takes them somewhere the world contradicts. When that happens, the world's not wrong. The logic is. And people know that.

Philosophy is too good and important to rub people the wrong way like this.

November 7, 2018

It would be great if On the Media did a story about what happens when the media all forms a consensus around describing a thing that is not the thing they are describing and what happens when they do.

A new truth gets created.

My case in point: Gianforte's attack on a journalist in Montana.

He did not body slam him. He executed an arm-bar takedown.

Was it physical? Was it assault? Was it completely inappropriate?

Yes, yes and yes.

But it's the difference between a slap and a punch.

But now the whole world believes that Gianforte picked a person up over his head and threw him on the ground rather than, in fact, simply using superior strength and leverage to press a person from a standing position to one on the floor.

The trouble is more people have heard "body slam" than have SEEN what he did, and in much of the world, those words have meaning.

To reporters who don't care about wrestling, they think what's the difference. But there is a very big difference!

It's like calling a Ford F-150 a big rig.

It's like calling a battleship an aircraft carrier.

It's not the same thing! But reporters have created a new truth with their words that doesn't reflect what actually happened and it has had the perverse effect of making Gianforte seem mighty and strong in a way he is not.

November 11, 2016

Presidents shouldn't care about convicting corporate criminals. They should care about strong, compelling indictments. About big press conferences and apoplectic grand juries. If they piled up facts in the case against corporate America's malfeasance, threatened them with the worst possible consequences and made corporate law firms madly, insanely wealthy, it would start to make a dent. They'd start to fear indictments, not just convictions. They could build a drumbeat.

October 13, 2016

It probably makes sense to think of identity politics more as a religion than an ideology. As an ideology it has a way of crumbling quickly under much scrutiny. Reductio ad absurdum tends to be pretty effective in one of these arguments, except it's not effective. Those argument don't convince adherents.

Religions are good at establishing social norms, powerful norms. If a person violates those norms, they get cast out. Which really does a good job of enforcing a moral orientation. And that really seems to be the goal.

September 3, 2015

I was reading Jessica Abel's book Out On The Wire and she discusses the problem of constucting a compelling piece of content in the face of many many interesting facts. Apparently the guys at Radiolab call this "the German Forest." I think my problem is that my mind kind of likes it there.

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