Worlds & Time

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A simple (but long) explanation of Gamestop, RobinHood, Capitalism, and Socialism

First, let me say that capitalism isn't "less government" and socialism isn't "more government." But seeing as how many people are confused by that, I'm going to relate them to those concepts in a general way because for some people that will make the sides clearer.

Second, this is laid out in three parts.  The first indentation at the top is a description of what has happened so far. After that, without indentation are the answers to questions about socialism and capitalism. At the end are two indented parts, one for other considerations and the other for what will happen.

This is what happened.

Several institutional investors (hedge funds) placed large bets that GameStop, the company that sells computer and video games in malls, was going to fail.

GameStop, it should be said, made money last quarter. That doesn't mean that their business could continue forever, just that they weren't insolvent yet.

The bets that were placed on the failure of GameStop are called "shorting" the GameStop stock ($GME).  The bets were noticed by other investors, and so more bets were placed.

When this happens, people generally see the end coming and they try to sell their stock for the best price that they can get, which means that they sell their stock *NOW* before it goes down further.

Selling stock reduces the price of the stock, creating more rush to sell stock.  The stock would then go down further, and if it would go low enough, generally the company would be unable to get loans because they would be considered worthless on the markets, and they would have to declare bankruptcy.

However, in this case what happened was that Redditors from /r/WallStreetBets looked at the shorting of GameStop stock and decided that it was creating what might be called an upside-down bubble. GameStop *wasn't* dead yet, and so acting as a group of small investors, they went out and bought $GME.

Buying stock increases a stock price.  This countered the slide started by the shorting and was enough to increase the value of the GameStop stock.

So, here where I don't know if it was just the original /WallStreetBets folk or a second layer of people that I'm going to call the F*ckWallStreet people. They realized that if the $GME stock didn't go down, they hedge fund bets would lose, and they would lose their money.

So the F*ckWallStreet people doubled down on the $GME and the price went WAY up to at least 14,300% of what it originally was. 

Now, shorting is a bit different than a bet you'd have with your friends. Instead of being out just the money they laid out on the bet, if the stock price went UP above the original price of the stock, you OWE the difference on the increased price of the stock to the person you bet with. (Technically, you need to purchase the stock, so that means that this is driving the stock price higher as you fight with small investors for them).

That meant that at least one of the hedge funds, Melvin Capital, was bankrupted by the increase on the stock price.  There may be more by now.

And here's the thing about the psychology of the F*ckWallStreet people, their main motivation was that they wanted to fuck Wall Street (the institutional traders, basically). The name I chose was no coincidence, eh?

So they realized that they could really, really hurt some hedge funds, and so the strategy spread to a few other companies.  AMC movie theaters ($AMC), BlackBerry ($BB), Macy's ($M), Nokia ($NOK) and National Beverage ($FIZZ) have apparently also seen increases.

Ok, now if you invested at few hundred dollars on Monday, on Wednesday you could have tens of thousands of dollars, and the news was reporting on the "GameStop stock" thing. That news exposure actually increased the demand on GameStop stock by two groups, the loveable F*ckWallStreet group and people that wanted to make money (i.e. Latecomers).

Today is Thursday, and what happened is that retail (RE: small investor) trading platforms suspended the ability of users to *buy* $GME and other affected stocks.

The reason that RobinHood gave is that they were trying to "protect" their users from the bubble that was being created. This would be the Latecomers that were mentioned two paragraphs back, who were buying high priced GameStop stocks on the hope that it would go even higher.

But you'll notice, they still allowed users to *sell* GameStop and other affected stocks ("close their position" is the jargon they use). And when a stock is sold, the price goes down. So users could sell their stock, but only for *less* than what it was worth at Wednesday's high point.

So if all the small individual investors were only allowed to sell their stock, you should ask "Who was still allowed to buy?" Funny thing, the answer is institutional investors, like the hedge funds that desperately needed to drive down the price of the stocks that the individual investors were holding in order to cover their short positions.

Here's the thing though, the F*ckWallStreet people were never really in it to make money.  They didn't want to be "protected" from bubble losses, their whole point was to create a bubble that was going burst under Melvin Capital and other hedge funds. So when RobinHood and other platforms froze their ability to buy, they were actively protecting hedge funds from the F*ckWallStreet investors.

You might enjoy the irony in that: a company called RobinHood was protecting the rich from the poor(ish).

Knowingly driving down the price of a stock could also be called "stock price manipulation" so now there is at least one class action lawsuit (same link as last time) by the people affected by RobinHood closing down the ability of people to buy more $GME stock.

Lots of people are pissed, including politicans from both sides of the aisle. They have differing motives, but are coming to similar basic conclusions.  

First off, the left side you have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is pissed off about the manipulation of the stock price to hurt small investors, because until recently she probably wasn't rich enough to own stocks, and identifies with those small investors.

On the right side you have Ted Cruz, who is pissed off that the F*ckWallStreeters were stopped, probably because hedge funds give millions of dollars more to Democratic Party politicians and seeing them collapse is highly enjoyable for a Republican.

The politicians that you probably won't hear excoriating RobinHood et al., are people like Schumer (D, who got millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street), Pelosi (D, the same), McConnell (R, who suckled on the Wall Street teat too) and former Senator Kelly Loeffler (R, who is married to the head of the NYSE).

So, in the comments on Twitter, I see a lot of people arguing about FREE MARKET CAPITALISM and SOCIALISM and wondering which of those would have solved this.

Neither of those things works like that, but let's look at what people are actually asking.

So the first question is "Would a free market have helped?" and what they usually mean is "Wouldn't free trading of the stocks have helped?"

It certainly would have helped the users of the RobinHood App, who wanted to keep trading. But RobinHood App is a private company, and they are free to set the rules by which their users trade.  I'm sure there is some language in their user agreement that allows them to close down trading if they wish.

So what people that want a "free market solution" are actually asking for is to be free of the rules that the RobinHood App set, they want to take their ownership of stocks to a different platform and continue to buy and sell there.

Except, by asking for a free market, they don't seem to realize that RobinHood would still be able to set their own rules for use as a private company.  Additionally, in a free market, stock price manipulation wouldn't be illegal, so there would be no class action lawsuit through which they could seek redress.

The next question is "Would socialism have helped?" and what those people usually mean is, "Wouldn't increased regulation have helped?"

Maybe. Some kinds of regulations could have helped people get their money and stocks out of RobinHood and the other retail stock traders, but only if regulators had seen this coming (which I don't think anyone could have). Thankfully, at least the "don't fuck with stock prices" regulation was in effect so that users can sue the apps that they used that ended up screwing them.

The next question is "Would socialism have helped?" and what *these* people mean is, "Wouldn't socialism have helped?"

No. Socialism doesn't work like that. Stock markets like the NYSE would be incredibly different under any *remotely* socialist system. Under communism, any kind of stock exchange would be virtually impossible.

But here's the thing, we exist in a system that is mostly capitalist and partly socialist. Pure free market capitalism has never existed because it fucks everyone so quickly. "Pure" socialism, as it has been previously been attempted, still fucks up people, but slower.  Things could be better, but that means different regulations (maybe more, probably not less). That doesn't mean America is going to be more socialist or more libertarian. Being better means better politicians.

Next, there is an additional concern that I need to address that I feel is relevant to the story but I didn't want to include above.

One thing that has been talked about in a few places is the existence of high frequency trading (HFT), where a computer system buys and sells stocks based on algorithms in fractions of a second.

Apparently, RobinHood the app, was selling their user's trades to HFT companies, so that the high frequency traders could see the trades that users were making fractions of a second before RobinHood could make them.

This means that it wasn't just users that were making money on the stock increases that were occurring when they bought shares of $GME and other affected stocks, some institutional investors were making money buy buying stocks fractions of a second before the small investors.

And when you buy a stock the price goes up.

These HFT sales are, in my opinion, a kind of mirror to the other investors that sell a stock when they see an institution short a stock. What they are creating is "momentum," that is, more people follow along when one person does something. Maybe "person" is the wrong word there.  Maybe "actor" would be more precise since there are small traders, HFT computers, and big investment firms all involved.

Momentum is seen throughout this entire situation. Shorting creates momentum.  r/WallStreetBets created momentum.  The F*ckWallStreet people created more momentum. Then the Latecomers created momentum. When RobinHood and the other stopped their users from buying, they were meddling with momentum.

Momentum is a huge deal in stock trading. Any opinion on a financial news show is probably an attempt to create or increase momentum, and those networks are built around that.

It's also dangerous. The latecomers are probably going to lose thousands, maybe millions of dollars because they were following the momentum. Melvin Capital was effectively killed by momentum, created not only by the small investors but the HFT competitors that magnified what those small investors were doing.

I'm personally in favor of a trading tax, probably a cent or less per transaction. That would instantly kill the HFT. It would also make following along after other actors slightly less desirable, and so it might slightly reduce momentum in stock trading and decrease volatility overall.  I think that would be a good thing.  You might disagree.

Finally, what do I think is going to happen with this?

People are angry at RobinHood, and that's pretty reasonable. They did something to protect rich investment firms from their clients. This lawsuit is not good news for them.

On the other hand, they protected the big rich investment firms, and investment firms don't like it when they get hurt, so they might pull some strings in the background to help out RobinHood.  And maybe the SEC will just give RobinHood a slap on the wrist.

That would be really bad.  Not for RobinHood or the big rich investment firms directly, they'll probably be happy with an outcome where they take zero responsibility for screwing people. It would be really, really bad for confidence in the stock market, specifically the New York Stock Exchange, which is currently owned and operated by Intercontinental Exchange, a public company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol $ICE. That's the company that Kelly Loeffler's husband started and runs.

Is anyone else smelling a market opportunity?

It seems like a stock exchange that guarantees that it treats the small individual investor equally to the larger institutional traders, perhaps by requiring institutional firms to abide by the same rules and restrictions as small investors and forbidding small investors to be locked out of opportunities like RobinHood did? Perhaps that forbids high frequency trading and has rules in place that limit volatility?

Maybe, and this is just spit-balling, the company running the exchange could institute rules that would limit the hedge funds that it trades from owning huge shares in it, unlike Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE $ICE).

Maybe that would also cause people to pressure their companies to switch their 401(k) and other institutional investments to this new, less risky and more fair stock exchange.

That would probably cause a massive dip in the stock price of a company that runs the NYSE.  Gee, they'd probably have to worry about a bankruptcy of their own then, eh?

Of course, I can't do this.  I don't have the billion dollars or experience required to establish a new stock exchange and marketing campaign by Monday, February 1st, 2021.  But if someone was inspired and wanted to run with it, I'd be happy to take a few million in options as payment for the idea.  I even have more suggestions, and a communications company that could advise.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. A more realistic prediction is that the pro-corporate politicians in our government will intervene somehow, and even though that will cause some sort of confidence crisis involving the NYSE, nothing will really change while small investors find themselves restricted by their retail stock brokerages, until eventually something else breaks. Who knows what that crisis will be, or what will happen then.

I think that's enough for an evening.  Let's see how things go, and how my predictions hold up.  Cheers.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Gay Roles, Straight Actors

I'm thinking through an idea that has been in my head for a long time.  This is the criteria:

  • Relatively large budget, which basically means I'm excluding movies that I haven't heard of.
  • Gay male central character, at least out of the top two.
Where possible, what is the sexuality of the actor in the leading role?

Brokeback Mountain (2005): Neither Heath Ledger or Jack Gyllenhaal are gay.

Call me By Your Name (2017): Armie Hammer is straight and married.

Milk (2008): Sean Penn is straight and was married.

Capote (2005): Philip Seymour Hoffman was straight and married.

Moonlight (2016): Mahershala Ali is straight and married.

A Single Man (2009): Colin Firth is straight and married.

Philidelphia (1993): Tom Hanks is straight and married.

Mysterious Skin (2004): Joseph Gordon-Levitt is straight and now married.

Love, Simon (2018): Nick Robinson is straight.

Love is Strange (2014): John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are both straight and married.

The Imitation Game (2014): Benedict Cumberbatch is straight and married.

Rocketman (2019): Taron Egerton's sexuality is unknown.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): Matt Damon is straight and married

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018): (Although Freddie Mercury was bisexual) Rami Malek is straight.

Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): Hugo Weaving is straight but unmarried.  Guy Pierce is straight and has been married.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001): John Cameron Mitchell is . . . vague.  Probably gay.

Latter Days (2003) Wes Ramsey and Steve Sandvoss are both listed as unmarried in IMDB.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975): Al Pacino is straight.

The Broken Hearts Club (2000): Ben Weber is straight and married.

The Boys in the Band (1970): The majority of the cast appears to be openly gay.

Billy Elliot (2000): Jamie Bell is straight and married.

To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995): Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo are all straight and married. Patrick Swayze has since passed away of pancreatic cancer.  

A Single Man (2009): Colin Firth is straight and married.

Maurice (1987): All three of the primary actors in this, James Wilby, Rupert Grave, and Hugh Grant, are straight and married.

The Birdcage (1996): Robin Williams was straight and married. Nathan Lane is openly gay.

I Love You Phillip Morris (2009): Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are both straight and married.

Wilde (1997): Stephen Fry is openly gay.

Querelle (1982): Brad Davis was straight and married.  Franco Nero is straight and married.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997): John Cusack is straight . . . famously.  Kevin Spacey is (now) openly gay.

In & Out (1997): Kevin Kline is straight and married.

The Skeleton Twins (2014): Bill Hader is straight and was married.

Bruno (2009): Sacha Baron Cohen is straight and married.

The Happy Prince (2018):  Rupert Everett is openly gay.

The Final Portrait (2017): Geoffrey Rush is straight and married.

Jeffrey (1995): Steven Weber is straight and married.

Trick (1999): Christian Campbell is straight and married.  John Paul Pitoc is unclear.

All Over the Guy (2001): Dan Bucatinsky is gay and married.

The Opposite of Sex (1997): (skipping over Christina Ricci as main character) Martin Donovan is straight and married.

A Home at the End of the World (2004): Dallas Roberts is straight and married and Colin Farrell is Colin Farrell.

Other People (2016): Jesse Plemons is straight and has a son.

Alex Strangelove (2018): Daniel Doheny is unknown.

The Cakemaker (2017): Tim Kalkhof is unknown.

So that's every single movie that I can think of that features a gay male lead or central character.  Somewhere around 57 parts, 52 excluding The Boys in the Band which is kind of a special case.  At best, 6 are openly gay, giving me 11.54% of the movies about gay men featuring gay actors.

Also, none of the big budget films seem to be headed by gay men.  The largest to feature a gay man is The Birdcage, which has Nathan Lane in a support role (WWG is $185 million as per IMDB).

The runner up is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in which Spacey is also only a supporting character ($25 million).

That means that the highest grossing film in which a gay man is played by a gay man isn't even that. Hedwig and the Angry Inch has a WWG of $3.6 million.  At least, assuming that Taron Eggerton is straight (he's probably straight, despite his IMDB page having multiple quotes from him gushing about the physiques of his male costars. 

Edited: The reason that Boys in the Band is a special case and not included is that it was directly adapted from a stage play of the same name and the cast of the play directly reprise their roles in the film. They were all openly gay, and none of them had significant careers in film after this.

Also, added Talented Mr. Ripley 7/26/20

Labels: ,

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. 

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , ,