Worlds & Time

Friday, November 04, 2016

Questions for Trump Supporters (that will never be answered directly)

1. Prominent economists, business leaders, and bankers are suggesting that electing Trump might cause global financial turmoil, like the Brexit vote in the UK but on a much more massive scale.  Why does that seem like an attractive option to you?

2. Many leaders of allied nations have said that the election of Trump would hurt America's reputation in the world.  Leaders with an interest in destabilization of the United States have actively praised his selection.  Why do you support the candidate opposed by our allies and supported by our enemies?

3. Donald Trump has been repeatedly accused of sexually harassing women.  Even if those accusations are lies, what do you think that his election communicates to women that actually have been sexually abused by their employers or rich businessmen they've met?

4. Trump has explicitly promised to role back gay marriage rights in the United States.  Why should married gay Americans support Trump, or even support you (a Trump voter) based on his support for revoking their marriages?

5. Without referencing any other candidates, can you explain why Donald Trump, who was born to a multimillionaire and never has experienced poverty, is a good person to empathize with lower and middle class Americans?

6. If Trump came to you for a loan of a hundred million dollars, guaranteed by your house, car, and all of your possessions, and the possessions of your children and/or spouse, would you personally loan him the money?

7. After further questioning, you find out that the loan is for one of Trump's casinos that went bankrupt in Atlantic City.  If it goes bankrupt again, your entire family will be homeless. Do you still loan him the money?

8. If your next door neighbor, a military service member with a disabled wife, personally asked you not to vote for Trump, how would you reply?

Answering these questions by challenging the premises or by bringing up any candidates also running for President this year count as attempt to try to change the subject, and thus as utter failures to answer.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Libertarian's Minimum Wage

I was letting YouTube run for background noise and this started playing:

It's Sam Seder debating a Libertarian Professor Walter Block.  Even if this link is down, you can probably find it with a search of YouTube.

I got about half way through before I got so angry that I had to stop it.  For a professor (of Economics?  I have trouble believing that) he seems to have a really limited understanding of basic economics.

The Professor's argument is that a minimum wage of $7 per hour interferes with a free market of a boss hiring a worker paid at $6 per hour to work productively because the boss would be losing $1 per hour on the transaction.  When Sam countered that real world data doesn't demonstrate that, Professor Block makes an argument that there is a disconnect between the regulation and the eventual effect, his example is the automatic elevator taking over for the human elevator operator taking many years after the raise of the minimum wage from $0.40 to $0.70.

There's a massive glaring flaw in that argument that should have been obvious to absolutely any thinking person.  A boss wouldn't ever hire a worker at $6 per hour to generate $6 dollars of productivity.  It would be, for the boss, actually a loss, because there are external costs to the hiring of a person: insurance, infrastructure, utilities, rent, blah, blah, blah.  If those costs come up to $1 per hour, then the boss would need to hire that worker and pay them $6 per hour for $7 per hour of productivity to break even.

Again, that generally wouldn't happen because any real boss is trying to make money for the company and himself.  So a boss would go out and hire a worker for $6 dollars an hour, pay $1 for their external costs, and then try to get the greatest amount of productivity out of that worker because that gap between costs and productivity is where the profit comes from.

The Professor is also ignoring the more salient fact about wages and productivity that came up when I went to hear Eric Schmidt talk.  Wages and productivity are not necessarily related.  Since 1973, productivity has increased 73% while inflation-adjusted hourly wages have basically stagnated.  Schmidt also ignored that disconnect, although he later revised his statement to be specific to technical workers.

The current model of the economy isn't to pay someone $6 per hour, $1 per hour of costs, and make $1 of corporate profit.  It's to pay someone $6 per hour, $1 per hour of costs, and then make $4 per hour of corporate profit.

When the government raises the minimum wage by a dollar, to $7 an hour, the equation for the boss isn't becoming negative, it's thinning the margin of profit from $4 per hour to $3 dollars per hour, even if they don't pass those cost on to the consumer, which sometimes they do.

Also, aside from the Professor's evident ignorance of those clear facts, he's just a terrible, terrible communicator.  His inability to stick to the point, his whining about being interrupted, and his soliloquies for every answer are grating.  I doubt I could talk to him for very long just based on those issues. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tonight (Explicit Language)

Tonight, right now possibly, a friend of mine is probably getting fucked by a porn producer and former porn star.  My friend is a porn star too, and because of what they film there are a couple of things that I can reasonably assume.  My friend is bottoming, the producer is topping, and they're fucking bareback.  Whether or not he's having a good time isn't something I can know, but I presume so.  They're in the producers NYC condo, which I presume is gorgeous.  That won't ever be my life.

Another friend of mine is on a date.  Not really sure what kind of date, but he's straight, so it may or may not include sex.  It's not something I think I'm particularly comfortable thinking about too much, so I'm not going to.  That won't be my life either.

A little while ago, maybe twenty minutes, I was in the bathroom after Ghostbusters and I ran into a guy that was one of my best friends about a decade ago.  It's one of the guys that I would probably hide a body with, not necessarily because who he is now but who he used to be to me.  My life is being alone.  Very, very alone.

Tonight, I'm hitting a level of depression that I haven't touched in a while.  I was thinking about who should get my stuff when I'm gone.

There are a couple of things I care about.  The books.  . . . uh . . . The books?  Lol.  My Ka-Bar?  Geez, not that much I guess.  The books mostly to Jeff, the rest of it to my brother, including the Ka-Bar, which was a gift from him in the first place.

I'm not to "second stage" yet.  I'm not planning on how I'm going to do it.  It's still a long way off.  But I'm thinking about the preparation that needs to go before the act, so that the things that I'm leaving behind aren't accidentally destroyed.

And so I'm also writing.  Because that's kind of the point of despair, when I feel like I should write.

I'm not a danger to myself tonight.  Thanks, I know that better than you do.  But this life isn't something that I enjoy, and I find it sick and twisted that the world expects so much pain out of me.

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Friday, June 03, 2016

Notes on X-Men: Apocalypse

I went to see X-Men: Apocalypse tonight and it was okay.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't X-Men: Days of Future Past either.  I would have made a few corrections, and because of the nature of this post, be aware that the entire thing is either spoilers for the movies or the books.

So, first, Apocalypse had two important powers.  The first was that, through the use of a giant mechanism he could transfer his "soul" to a different body and thereby gain the powers of that body.  The second was that he could create "horsemen" by enhancing the powers of other mutants.  He also could rearrange matter and teleport, but those aren't relevant to the actual plot of the movie, so whatever.

Of the two important powers, only one of them was actually necessary.  And hint, it wasn't the first one.

There's already an X-Person with the ability to steal other mutants powers.  Her name is Rogue.  The entire first movie was about her, and she appeared in the next two movies in increasingly insignificant roles.  The reason that her roles were increasingly insignificant was due to the fact that, as a plot device, stealing other powers can become really boring unless it's really well written, and Apocalypse wasn't well written.

But the second power, now that was the interesting one.  Apocalypse had his horsemen from the comics, and from the Bible.  He finds the mutants that are already the most powerful and enhances their powers even further.  That presents sooooo much opportunity for interesting characterization.

In the movie he uses Storm (great), Angel (okay), Psylocke (ugh), and Magneto (oh yeah baby!).  The Psylocke character really could have been anyone, and although I like Olivia Munn, she was terribly, terribly used in this movie.

Imagine now that Apocalypse doesn't have his first ability, he just has the second one.  Suddenly, the four horsemen aren't just cannon fodder for the X-Men to fight, they're essential to the power that Apocalypse wields.  The more powerful the horsemen, the more powerful that Apocalypse is. 

That makes Apocalypse much, much more interested in the horsemen.  Perhaps he can only invest four people at a time, and he has to be really choosy about who he's going to pick.  That sets up a conflict among the horsemen, they want to keep Apocalypse happy to keep their increased powers, but they also have a reason to fear other mutants and want them dead: if Apocalypse discovers that some other mutant is more powerful, he'll withdraw his blessing and bestow it on someone else.  I'd add a little extra: his powers are addictive and the more you get the more you want.

By the way, I will say that Psylocke is a psychic, and if Apocalypse had found her first (or if she had found him first) that would have alleviated the need for the "TV will teach me English" trick.

Generally, the plot would go as it already does, until they reach Magneto.  He's ridiculously powerful already, and so his powers added to Apocalypse seem like a great deal for Apocalypse.  He's got some issues though, and at the point that they kidnap Xavier I would probably give him some issues.  He should give Apocalypse an ultimatum of some sort, Charles goes or I go.

Apocalypse really would want Magneto, but something tells me that he'd want Charles more.  So he releases Magneto and takes Charles instead.  This leave Magneto less powerful than he was, in withdrawal from Apocalypse's powers, and angry at Charles and Apocalypse.

Here's the thing, I would have had Apocalypse successfully turn Charles Xavier into a horseman.  He sends the message (and the secret message), the X-Men come for him, there's a fight in front of the pyramid.  Quicksilver, Mystique, Beast, Cyclops and Nightcrawler, are beaten into the ground, and dismissed as not worthy of becoming horsemen (although I'd seriously have to think about Quicksilver, if I were Apocalypse, since he's pretty up there in terms of powers).

But let's say that with the help of Jean, Nightcrawler manages to take Charles back and they hide in the building.  Charles starts fighting Apocalypse in his own mind, trying to wrest away from the addictive powers of Apocalypse and now Apocalypse is determined to get him back.  Only Magneto decides to get in his way.  He's way more than enough to take out Psylocke and Angel, but watching enhanced Storm go up against Magneto would have been a seriously cool fight.  She wouldn't have been throwing just lightning, she would have been throwing fog, snow, wind, and everything else at him.  That could have been a very fair fight.

So Apocalypse rips the side off the building, and he finds . . . Jean Grey, sitting with Charles.  He takes a couple of swipes at her, but she fends them off.  He tries to get Charles to attack her, and Charles does, but she's Jean Grey so of course she's still fine.

And Apocalypse realizes that Jean may be more powerful than Charles.  And more powerful than Magneto.  More powerful than all the rest of his horsemen, and Magneto and Charles combined.  Her powers are really broad, from telepathy to telekinesis to . . . crazy things that shouldn't be mentioned in polite company.

So he tries to convince her to become a horseman.  He talks about how powerful he could make her, how she could be a God-Queen at his side.  And she seems a little tempted by all that power and maybe says . . . after a pause . . . yes?

So Apocalypse makes her a horseman.  He reaches into her and unlocks what Charles tried to keep locked, and finds that at her center she's more powerful than the burning heart of a star.  She couldn't beat him before, there was just too much holding her back, so much that Charles did to try to give her control.

But now she's Phoenix, and Apocalypse can't even bear to look at her.  He tries to yank his powers back, control her, but of course there is nothing that he can do.  He's spent so long bending power to his will than he couldn't have imagined that there were powers that he just couldn't control, and now he's discovered one and that discovery has killed him.

There's a flare of incandescence.  The pyramid vanishes.  All of the X-Men plus the surviving horsemen, and Moira, and Magneto and what remains of Apocalypse wake up on the lawn of the Xavier Institute, which looks like it was never destroyed.  

And then the rest of the emotional stuff happens, Xavier kisses Moira, blah blah blah.

But that creates a much more emotional resolution.  Apocalypse was beaten by his own greed and his own attempts to take control rather than the "alone vs. team" theme that Charles quips in the real movie (because it's not f---ing true!  Did you not notice his four horsemen?  He wasn't alone!)

This whole revision does leave a couple of plot holes.  Instead of the original opening bits in ancient Egypt, the giant golden pyramid machine isn't a body transfer machine, it's something that Apocalypse builds to make him immortal.  And it works!  Huzzah!  But then rebellion and burial, etc. It can still wake him up with the sun touching the apex of the sunken pyramid, and then it becomes unnecessary.  Because honestly, Apocalypse shouldn't be so reliant on a big golden machine.  It's a big weakness, and the fewer massive weaknesses that your enemies have, the more dangerous they seem.

Oh, the other thing about this movie?  Psylocke can't make lightsaber whips.  Lightsabers aren't solid, they can't thrown things around.  Thats kinda the whole point.  If she caught Beast around his neck, she should decapitate him, and it really bothered me that didn't happen.  She should have other powers, that would have been cool, but no whips morons.  That's like the opposite of the Indiana Jones gun vs. sword fight: she could have ended the fight in two seconds but didn't because of no particularly good reason.  Beast is very smart, he could have fought her to a standstill without the stupid whip.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Back to Dating

I found out last night that my ex is dating again.  Not the casually-meeting-guys-online-and-having-sex kind of dating, but he met someone that he thought he might be able to have a relationship with and dated him for a couple of months.

Honestly, the bigger emotional jolt was just talking to my ex.  When he responded to me from Shanghai then started actually talking to me, I started crying, and by the time he mentioned this new guy (Joey) I was done with the tears and didn't feel the need to start up again.  I have to wonder if that's a normal reaction to have.  I think that most people would freak out more about their ex dating someone new even if they stayed friends and are on speaking terms.  That's not me though.

I've been doing mostly the former kind of dating.  I wouldn't mind the latter kind of dating, but I just haven't found anyone.

More specifically, I've found a couple of guys that like me and one guy that I liked.  The guy I liked had a very serious different of opinion about what should comprise a relationship than I did, and so that didn't work out at all.  The other guys, the ones that like me . . . I'm just not interested in them for a variety of reasons.

My relationship with my ex taught me a lot about what I'm looking for in a relationship.  My breakup from my ex has taught me other things.  The thing that has surprised me the most is that I no longer like being the smartest person in a room.

Almost all of my ex's friends had Ph.Ds, MDs, or JDs.  One of his best friends did not, but that friend eventually became a VP at an international bank based on mad skillz.  I have a BA in English and not a lot of other stuff going on.

Don't get me wrong, I never felt like I was out of my depth hanging out with them (well, I mean, except for the drinking, but I never tried to keep up with them anyway).  They all had their subjects, but I had mine.  I know science fiction and fantasy and publishing.  I have stories about meeting GRRM, Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton and working on Polar Express and The Little Prince.  I follow politics more than enough to know what I'm talking about and have specific opinions that I can generally defend.  I know enough about economics, religion, science, and technology to be able to have meaningful conversations with people actually working in those fields.  I've also traveled extensively, love weird historical bits and pieces, and can talk a bit about art.

All of the people around me in Boston were exceedingly successful, and the people that I've been meeting here in Albuquerque . . .

I've retreated into my head a little bit.  I don't feel like I can be myself around a guy that thinks that the movie "The Immortals" is a good representation of Greek myth.  I have to carefully tailor what I say so that I don't slip up and imply that he's an idiot for not understanding why I don't think that Zeus and Athena having sexual tension is appropriate, or that I've been to Greece and know that it's not a featureless desert.  I have to explain brief references to popular media that seem obvious to me.

This is just frustrating.  I look at these guys and know that it would drive me absolutely insane if I tried to date them over the long term.

A week or so ago I did exchange a quick series of texts with my ex and mentioned that I was talking to a doctor, and he said, "Oh, so you're dating again."  That was nice of him, but it just reinforces this point, that I guess I can't date below a certain intellectual threshold.  Maybe I could, but not without a set of other positive attributes to make up for that huge lack.

So, I'm sleeping my way through Albuquerque, to see if you can do a relationship that way.  Waiting for a decade for a friend of a friend to introduce me to my next boyfriend seems like too long to me, and even then, it would be ridiculous to assume that it will last all that long.  My ex and I lasted for seven years, but that was probably longer than it should have lasted.

I am open to alternatives.  We'll see.

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Praying for you & Free Will

I saw someone pull the old "I'll pray for you" to an gynecologist the other day on Twitter, and one of the videos I was watching on YouTube (I can't recall which one, sorry) had been talking about God's position on free will.

Generally, most of the Christians that I've talked with have insisted that God doesn't interfere with human free will.  There are a couple of reasons why they have to argue that, both Biblical and related to the problem of evil.  After all, if all evil in the world is caused by the fall of man, and Christians have salvation in Christ, one might expect God to intervene to protect Christians or perhaps the innocent.

Spoiler alert, that doesn't happen.

If everything is the fault of free will, including death and disease and etc., then that allows Christians to side step the issue of what God could be doing while still blaming humans. Humans brought any pain and suffering on themselves and others, and any interference in that would somehow meddle with free will, somehow.

Also, just to point out, the belief that god doesn't interfere in free will is explicitly contradicted in the Bible.  God hardens Pharaoh's heart multiple times, preventing him from making reasonable choices in the face of the plagues that Moses is bringing down on his people.  And just to note that these choices are directly linked to the possibility of Pharaoh's salvation.  If he believed the miracles that he was witnessing first hand, he might have decided to worship the god of the Bible.

I suppose I should also point out that faith instead of knowledge being required for salvation is also murky.  After all, if early Christians witnessed the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth, they didn't need to have faith in him, as Christians today will define the concept. 

So, ignoring Pharaoh, if God really doesn't interfere in free will, what exactly are people asking for when they say "I'll pray for you"?  the vast majority of those people are praying to a God that they themselves don't believe will change a human's mind.  Not because he can't but because he actively refuses to do so.  So . . . they're praying for God to do something that they know he won't?  Actively praying against the explicit will of God?

There's an atheist meme, "Prayer: How to do nothing and pretend that you're doing something."  However, assuming that the people aren't pretending but actively hoping for a change, saying "I'll pray for you" is even worse, because as honestly as you might hope for a change you're also sure that it's not going to happen.

It's quite literally praying for nothing.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Executive Bubble

It seems pretty clear to me that there's an executive compensation bubble that isn't being addressed by corporate America, primarily because it's driven by the same people that run corporate America.

Eventually I think that's going to pop.  I can't predict when, mostly because I really thought it already should have happened.

I have a longer set of thoughts on it, but I just wanted to put this down somewhere.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Lack of Objective Morality in Religious Morality

To lay out the basis of this post, I was debating with a polite conservative Catholic on Twitter a few months ago, and he asked me about where my morality comes from if it doesn't come from God.

So, I tried to explain, briefly (as befits Twitter), that my moral system is based on a couple of basic principles.  At the time I feel like I only really worked through the first, but I've added two additional principles here to try to further explain my thought process.

  1. It is possible to differentiate between moral and immoral acts based on a framework of empathy and relative harm.  Eventually this devolved into "feelings are meaningful" but obviously there's substantially more to it than that.  A large part of why this is a basis for morality can be described as the "Golden Rule."  Treating people the way you would want to be treated is good, treating them as you wouldn't want to be treated is bad.
  2. Morals are situational.  That is, the more that is known about a situation, the more well understood the morality of the situation.  Saying that "hitting someone" is moral or immoral is difficult if not impossible based on the vague nature of the presented situation.  Additional information can easily turn an immoral act into a moral act.  However, the morality of a situation can be judged from the best, if imperfect, understanding of any situation.  
  3. Morality is not relative.  If two situations are precisely the same, then the morality of both those situations is the same.  Any differences between two situations, no matter how slight, might change the morality of those situations.

Additionally, because I was debating a Christian on this, at some point I stipulated two additional things:

  • The world exists.
  • People exist.
I should have additionally stipulated that there are moral, immoral, and amoral acts.  That sometimes choices have no real moral content.  I didn't think about that at the time, but I'll try to recall that for next time.  As it was, I'm glad I stipulated to at least the two things above because they headed off the worst of the "How do you know?" and "What if you're wrong?" questions.

Just a note, Matt Dillahunty's talk on secular morality, "The Superiority of Secular Morality" helped me understand and phrase my own point of view of this subject.  Thanks to him for his excellent discussion there, and on episodes of The Atheist Experience.

So, I was trying to understand the conservative Catholic's framework for understanding morality so I asked a series of questions, which all really boiled down to "where does your morality come from?"  I'm paraphrasing here, obviously, but he stated that moral and immoral acts should be clear to people because of his god's revelation, especially to Catholics.  When I asked how some Catholics could disagree about morality, his reply was that one of the Catholics would be wrong, and that wrongness would derive from the failure to understand or submit to God's will.

That's where I started getting really interested, because to me it seems pretty clear that this is where we split on my principle number 1.  While I think that morality is based on empathy and relative harm, he thinks that it's based on the will of God.  In that sense, I think he would accept my second principle, but only where better understanding of the situation can be clarified by the Bible or his god's will.

I kind of followed that through to my third principle and realized that while there was a difference of opinion in principle number 1, the third principle fell apart completely.  We were both talking about objective morality and we were talking about two completely, completely different things.  I wanted to try to focus on that, but first I wanted to talk more to establish a larger basis of common terms and ideas with which to discuss it.

I don't generally use the term "absolute morality" but when I followed that thread down, my understanding was that "absolute morality" was the morality of his god, and that while it existed to him, it could not be perfectly understood by imperfect beings.  So it was a real existent thing, but it also wasn't something that we humans couldn't completely grasp.

To underline that he said "Morality isn't determined by men but by God."

We spent most of the rest of the conversation talking about why people's feelings matter to morality, and how morality can be based on harm, societal impact, feelings, and all of the other things upon which I base my premises.  He views feelings as evidence of moral law, which I obviously don't.  I pretty much view things from the opposite direction, moral law is evidence of feelings.  Human morality is what we build up on top of the basic observable effects of our actions on other people (which, if you'll recall, I had to stipulate existed). People are hurt by cruelty and abuse, and they suffer and society suffers as a result.  Being nice and moral lead to better outcomes, both for individuals and society.

I do need to clarify that all of this is based on the idea that people are physical beings, and that feelings and harm are physical states.  Society is also a construct made up of many people, all of whom are physical beings.  Since I'm observing physical people though, I can make objective statements because the statements I'm making literally relate to objective reality.  

I continued to consider this after the conversation had finished, and I came to a few additional realizations.

First, given two situations that are morally equivalent but not exactly the same situation.  A simple moral situation to use could be two men, acquaintances but not friends or relations, one of whom is jealous and kills the other to rob him.  So we have four people, two murderers and two victims.

To me, given similar moral circumstances (neither of the murderers was acting in self defense or for the defense of another, the motivation was robbery in both cases, and the murderer wasn't coerced or forced in any way) I can say that both of these situations are bad because the actions of the murderers are both immoral.  The murderer is clearly wrong to do what he did.

I can say, given the situations, these killings are objectively bad.  Does it result in good outcome for both parties?  No, half of them end up dead.  The killers' financial windfall doesn't mitigate the loss of life by the victims.  Murder 1 is objectively bad, and Murder 2 is objectively bad.

There is a major missing factor for some other conservative Catholic to judge the situations though, which is the will of their god.  Let's assume that Murder 1 occurs without countenance from God.  Then my hypothetical Catholic friend clearly says that the murder is objectively wrong and bad.  Assume though that Murder 2 occurs but is condoned by God (for any reason, known or unknown).  Well, then my hypothetical friend would have to say that the murder is objectively good.

Aside from the opinion of God, what has changed in the situation?  Well, nothing.  Two people have still murdered two other people.  The direct circumstances of the situation haven't changed, and to me the opinion of God doesn't change anything, both are still bad.  To me, the actual situation matters, not what the opinion of a third party is.

To my hypothetical philosophical sparring partner, the situation doesn't actually matter at all.  What matter is the opinion of that third party.  So "robbing and killing" someone isn't actually an objectively immoral act, because the determination rests on the subjective opinion of a third party.

I think it's obvious that the immediate response to this would be "God wouldn't condone killing."  Except, clearly he has.  He condoned and even ordered significant amounts of killing in the Bible.  Some Christians argue that this was a moral thing because killing is not against the command of God, but murder is.  To some extent I agree about the difference between "killing" and "murder," but my agreement is all situational: was it in self defense or in the defense of another?  For the hypothetical Catholic though, again, the actual situation doesn't matter, what matters is the approval of God.

And, of course, I'm assuming the manifestation of God to the Catholic to make his will known, which I know is unreasonable.  As my real Twitter acquaintance made clear, it's impossible to perfectly understand the mind of God.   That just makes me more confused about why they think that their morality is "objective" though, because the opinions of God are unknowable.  Who can say that God wouldn't prefer stoning of atheists, idolators, and blasphemers today or that our society has violated the will of God to forbid Biblical slavery?

There might be an assumption, especially for non-prophets, that certain acts are acceptable or forbidden by God according to the dictates of the Bible, but those are just assumptions.  It would be impossible to discern the exact feelings of their deity on each specific case. 

Thus, it strikes me as completely ridiculous that Christians claim that their morality is objective.  It certainly has nothing to do with the objective reality of the situation, or even really of their own laws or opinions.  It's clearly a subjective morality where the "subject" is their god.

Certainly, the more accurate assessment would have to describe secular morality as more "objective" than the muddy and subjective morality that requires a constant stream of opinion from God.  After all, it's much easier to say "robbery and killing" or "kill their men and capture their women" are immoral in the secular system than in the religious one.

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

A Letter to Colton

Hi Colton Haynes,

First, I have to say that I'm a huge fan.  I have been for years (I wrote a piece on you back in 2013) and I still am and will probably always be.  I saw San Andreas specifically because you were in it, which does not embarrass me at all.  I have a crush on you, which I hope you can forgive me for.

That said, I'm old.  Like, in my mid thirties old.  Ancient.  Those dozens and dozens of months more life experience that I have more than you have given me some wisdom which I wanted to pretend to share, in the hope that it helps you recognize how amazing you are.

One of those things that I was wrong about in that piece I wrote years ago was speculation on how easy your life has been.  Not only was I wrong, I was completely torn up to hear about your hospitalization.  When I was about your age I was hospitalized for depression, which is something I almost never talk about, and that's a luxury that I have that you don't.

My experience was pretty terrible.  It turns out that hospitals are generally the most depressing places on the planet, and so going to the hospital for depression is a really stupid thing to do.  Therapy and medication have helped, I am still alive, but I'm still depressed.  I'll probably be depressed for the rest of my life and there isn't anything that anyone can do about that.

Except for you.  You have made my life better, which I bet you think is ridiculous, but it's completely true.  Following your career, seeing fragments of your life in the news, and generally idolizing you have given me something to look forward to.  As small as that is, and as shallow as that makes me, it's something that can get me up in the morning.  For someone as ridiculously and profoundly depressed as I am, that's something that I need to hold on to.

So please be aware that your life has meant something to me, even though we've never met and likely will never meet.  You have helped me through tough times without even being aware of it, although I know that doing so has meant giving up so much of your privacy and putting yourself in public view.

I can't imagine what that's like.  I just don't have the context to understand what it's like to be a public figure like you are.  I can only imagine what it's like to know that cameras and weird fans (like me) are watching you, and the pressure that puts on you.

If I were you, and I had the chances to do what you've done, I probably would have made the same decisions.  I would have felt twisted up knowing that being gay could damage my career but hiding it would be terrible. You had to live with that for years which, again, I can't even comprehend.  I'm so sorry that you had to go through that because of people like me.

But know that you'll have at least one fan out there that isn't going to abandon you.  I wouldn't have abandoned you if you were straight, transgender or even a Republican.

I need to add something to that though: you don't have to be perfect.  You don't have to be Roy or Jackson either.  I idolize you but I also know that you're a real person, and people aren't perfect.  I'm sure as hell not perfect.  My ex isn't perfect (he's a great guy, don't get me wrong, but not perfect).  My brother the genius & businessman isn't perfect.  My best friends the lawyer and the banker aren't perfect.

People are going to tell you that you're a role model, and you will be, but don't believe anyone that tries to tell you that you shouldn't be who you are to be a role model.  Does that make sense?  People will tell you that a role model means this or that, and that you have to be that because you're famous.  Screw that.  You don't need to be anyone other than who you are to be a role model.  You're Colton Haynes, the fantastic actor, the guy with the best Halloween costumes, the guy who can pull off a salmon Marc Jacobs suit and who goes to NY Fashion Week looking boss.  You're an amazing guy just for being you.

The most important part of not being perfect means that you have to take care of yourself, physically and mentally.  If the stress means that you can't ever act again, then don't.  I would rather that you be happy and healthy even if that means that I never get to see you again.  Granted, that would suck for me, but I don't expect you to be perfect.  If you want to do something for me as a fan, then go be happy, be a good brother and uncle, be yourself.

Thank you though, for what you have given me.  If you can continue, then I thank you even more.

You're amazing, Colton.  If you ever need that said again, all of us, your fans and your friends and your family, we are all there to say it to you.



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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Using the internet to redo politics, again

You know one thing that the internet is really good at?  Accessing large databases from anywhere.  That's Google, Facebook, Twitter, and just about any message board in the world.  Those are massively huge databases, and those websites are pulling content out of them on the fly.  Often people are adding content, and it's filing that into the database and feeding it to your friends when they scroll down the Facebook wall in nearly real time.

There's a database that's really important to elections: voter data.  Especially the public voter data of registered voters that they can get from election districts which has a name, an age, a political party, an address, and maybe a phone number.  When you volunteer for a campaign you generally end up doing one of two things, both of them connected to that data.  The first is make phone calls to people to ask them for money, ask them to volunteer, or ask for their vote in the election.  The second is to go out on the street and actually knock on people's doors and ask them to come out to vote, called canvassing.

Those work. They show your neighbors that the candidates have dedicated people working for them, and it really sticks the name of the candidate in a percentage of people's heads, and going house-to-house gets a certain percentage of people out to vote.

But the way that that data is handled is a disaster.  For both previous presidential campaigns I made phone calls at least once.  Both times I was handed a sheaf of paper printouts with the names of the people that I needed to call, and I called down the list and marked a box with the responses.  The given responses were usually "no answer," "refused," "willing to volunteer," and "willing to donate."

Nearly immediately I ran into a ton of problems.  The first was "That's not me, I just got this phone number."  That's not a no answer, and it's not technically a "refused to answer" either.  It might mean that the number was listed wrong, it was changed to another person, or that the person is lying and doesn't want to talk to me.  But that doesn't mean that the person couldn't be contacted through another number or by email, or that the lying person wouldn't mind getting emails.

The second was "I was just called by the campaign five minutes ago" or "I've been called five times by the campaign today" and one caller actually said "If I get another phone call tonight from you I'm not going to vote for Obama."  You know why that was happening?   Because in the database that the Obama administration was keeping listed these people as "need to be contacted" and multiple call locations would just print out the top of the list.  At the end of the day, all that data needed to be put back in the system so that people could be marked as "contacted." That meant tons of confusion about who needed to be contacted, who had been contacted, and who didn't need to be contacted again, and another round of volunteers who had to input the data.

The third was, "I'd love to volunteer or donate . . ." As the person on the phone with them though, there was no way for me to take a donation over the phone.  You're not going to be having volunteers taking credit card information, and without access to their email address, there was no way to actually follow up with that specific individual to remind them to donate when they aren't on the phone.  Once you say "go to the website" then you have to hope that they will follow through on their own.  The same is true for volunteering, where I would often check the "willing to volunteer" box on the sheet of paper, but couldn't give them any up-to-date information on ways to volunteer in their area without asking them to go to the website on their own.

A secure xml database with a every person's basic information input (no credit card information) that volunteers could access directly could have solved all of those problems.  First, it would have been much easier to change between phone contact and email contact, and incorrect numbers could be marked without necessarily deleting the person entirely off the lists (you could even email them to check if they'd moved or changed phones).  Second, marking responses could be done directly to the database to make sure that people weren't called five times in a row.  Third, a system that allowed flags for different kinds of follow up would have made the lives of the campaign directors much easier by tracking those requests.

Let's say you have that information in a database already.  Perhaps you create an iPhone app that can access one or two records at a time.  The app could allow a volunteer to contact the next person on the list with one touch, and lock out the entry for 15 minutes so that it wouldn't pop up for anyone else.  At the end of the call, the app could present questions for the volunteer with buttons as simple as "Yes" and "No" that would allow the campaign to control the information gained, such as "already contacted," "needs follow-up," or create flags and messages that later volunteers could follow up on.  That information can flow directly into the database, or it can be sent to a trusted supervisor anywhere in the country to be reviewed before being input. 

The flags could be used to create lists of people that need assistance getting to the polls, or who want to volunteer.  If the person contacted speaks Spanish, it could be tagged for follow-up by a Spanish speaking volunteer.  The system could keep track of issues that voters care about and call scripts could add specific information based on what the system knows about the political views of a particular candidate.  All of this could basically function in real time. 

With the prevalence of smart phones, a similar system could be used by canvassers going door to door, getting information to the campaign as people are contacted.  You could even have multiple rounds of canvassers hit the same neighborhoods at the same time without fear that you would knock on the same door multiple times.

And having that better data would improve the analytics of the campaign by a thousand fold. How many people need follow up?  What kinds of questions are they asking the volunteers who are calling?  How many people in a given location need rides the day of the election?  Are certain canvassers getting better responses, and if so what are they doing to be more effective?  Are certain people better at talking to people on the phones?  And you can have records of which person contacted which other person and perhaps even have the same people following up. Imagine the experience of knowing that "Jackie from the Obama campaign" is the only person who will call you, and you can ask her questions and she'll get back to you if she doesn't know the answers.  She speaks your language, and can arrange a local ride to your specific polling place for you.

Let's go back to the watch party I mentioned in the previous post.  People might be uncomfortable inviting other people over for a watch party in their homes, but what if they know that campaign has all the information on those people, and it will usually be the same people coming to events every time?  It's the same concept as Uber, you have a trusted group of people whose information is on file getting electronically matched together to create a better experience for the host and for the participants. By building a community of people with the same views, you get them more involved in the process.

From the perspective of the volunteer, this system also makes so much more sense.  You can make calls from anywhere, at any time, for just a few minutes or a few hours.  You can canvass in your own neighborhood for 30 minutes after work instead of needing to take four hour shifts.  You can even reward the volunteers who canvass and do the most calls with campaign swag that they can show off in person.  Perhaps the best caller and the best canvasser in an area can get VIP passes to a candidate event when Obama is in the area, and get to shake hands and get a picture?

Supervisors could also review new input from anywhere, even while out canvassing themselves, or even across the country.  The system would allow people in Maine to help out people in Hawaii if Hawaii volunteers got overwhelmed.  Programmers could even create different user interfaces, as long as the architecture of the database was properly structured, analogous to the way that Facebook on a desktop computer is different than on a phone, or the way that Tweetdeck allows different access to twitter than the native app does.

Finally, this kind of system could be useful even more for down ticket races.  What if Jackie called you back for the midterms to ask you to vote?  Maybe even for your mayor or city council person?  By building relationships between volunteers and voters you could drastically impact local races.  You could print up direct mailers specific to individuals to keep them informed about their specific local elections, and the issues that they care most about.

This is the system that the Democratic Party needs to build to mobilize the next generation of political supporters.  The paper and pen canvassing and random calls make the party look disorganized and out of touch with modern technology.  The party will also be moving into step with the current culture of personalized information technology and using technology to connect local volunteers together toward common local, state, and national goals.

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