My Opponent’s Tweet

(Posting this here so I can find it again)

A time there was when life was good
I’d greet each day with verve
I’d meet each challenge to come my way
No less than I deserved
Though adversity might slow me down
I knew that soon or late
I would triumph over life’s cruelty
I thought it was my fate.
I feel naught but bitter mockery now
In the smiles of those I meet
The light has gone from out my eyes
Someone “liked” my opponent’s tweet.

I’d thought that I had crushed him sure
With logic none could refute
That all I would receive was praise:
“You’re so brilliant, sharp, astute.”
I welcomed his so vain discourse
(So cruel is irony)
For I felt my argument so strong
All would, perforce, agree
I knew that all who saw the thread
Would know that he’d been beat
Pride goeth sure before a fall
Someone “liked” my opponent’s tweet.

That a virtual heart could be so cruel
Surpasses comprehension
Yet the evidence lies before my eyes
Trapped within my mentions
Now I tread on life’s harsh road
Each day by weary day
With bleak horizon greeting me
The sky unbroke slate gray.
Where once the wind was at my back
I trudge through gale and sleet
All Mudville shines compared to me
Someone “liked” my opponent’s tweet.

Do You Believe In Science?

And then this happened:

And here are the lyrics:
Do you believe in science in a young girl’s mind
Testing results to verify what she finds
And it’s science it makes you happy and cheery
From hypothesis to demonstrable theory.
I’ll tell you about the science it’ll take some proof
The neverending search for objective truth

If you believe in science, don’t bother to guess
If it’s observed in a lab, if it passes the test
Then do it again so the results are reliable
As long as what your looking at is falsifiable
You won’t be convincing if your data’s too scant
So outline your plan, apply for a grant.

If you believe in science come along with me
We test what we know and we know what we see
Farewell now, to every phantom and wraith
And every idea based only on faith
We’ll look great in our white lab coats
And I’ll follow you around and keep careful notes.

Yeah, do you believe in science
Yeah believe in the science that’s what we should do
And we’ll send it out there for peer review
Believe in the science that can find the truth
Ohhh, talkin’ ’bout science
Do you believe in science

A Modest Critique

A not uncommon flaw in many thinkers is what we might call, “fail to scale.”  In other words, a good idea emerges for solving a limited problem, and certain people immediately jump to the conclusion that this same solution can be applied more broadly, without taking into account the additional problems that arise from greater size and complexity.  One example of exactly this problem has come across my field of view recently.

In 1729, noted economics expert Jonathon Swift made a modest proposal to solve the Irish problem, to wit, the eating of Irish babies.  Though never fully implemented, no good criticism of this plan has ever been made, nor, in fact, could be.  The difficulty comes in because today more and more economists are suggesting we expand this policy to include, not just Irish babies, but all of the poor.

Since the time of Swift’s writing, however, the world has changed sufficiently to make this impossible. Consider that as of 2013, median household income worldwide was about 10,000 dollars. In the US, most households gross less than $40,000. Anyone can see this means that there is no shortage of poor people, and so, at first glance, exploiting this food source would seem to make a good deal of sense.

In reality, the cost to butcher, render, prepare the poor and bring them to market (not to mention FDA testing) requires semi-skilled workers, who are, today, for the most part, exactly the ones who are unemployed or under-employed (and, at least in the US, generally without healthcare, thus making them unreliable as a workforce). The result is that we find ourselves in the situation where the only way to actually exploit the poor as a food source would require them to perform all of the required labor. It ought to be obvious that, while it may be possible to convince them to butcher themselves, each step after that becomes increasingly impractical.

As much as I admire those who have followed in Mr. Swift’s footsteps, I’m afraid other solutions must be found.


To Capitalism: Notice of Termination of Employment

From: History
To: Capitalism
Subject: Termination

Good Morning:

In light of the length of your service, we felt that a personalized letter was appropriate. You have been with us for five hundred years, and, though there is much to complain of in your work—as there is in anyone’s—we recognize that you have done good service. Early in your career, you spread democracy, increased human rights, and, above all, built up the productive forces to the point where today no one need to be hungry, or homeless, or without health care. While these activities were accompanied by whole file cabinets full of HR complaints about you (cf colonialism, sexism, racism, &c. &c. &c.), still, they are noteworthy accomplishments, for which you will have our eternal gratitude.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. Please understand that the decision to let you go was not made lightly. But the democracy you spread is contracting, the human rights are turning into abuse, more and more people are homeless, fewer can afford health care, the planetary ecology is in imminent danger, and, well, I know you don’t like to talk about it, but there’s the whole war issue, about which we’ve been trying to schedule a meeting with you for eight years. After a thorough discussion, the Department of Basic Human Decency has had no choice but to conclude that your most recent act—the hiring of Donald Trump as manager of our US operations—demonstrates that you are no longer able to address our needs.

I understand that your replacement, socialism, hasn’t been tested, but the resume is outstanding, and after a thorough investigation of all of the objections (which I have to point out we traced to your office, and many of which are libelous to a degree that could be actionable), we believe we can expect outstanding results for some time to come.

Please take with you our sincere thanks for those contributions you have made.

If you aren’t gone by Monday, we will be forced to have security remove you.



Did you hear the one about…

Some years ago I met a guy who works as a comedian, and I got to see his act, which I liked a lot—I’m a snob when it comes to stand-up, so it pleased me that he was good. He had some excellent bits (“I ain’t gay. Anyone who thinks I’m gay can suck my…wait a minute”). Also, he liked my books, and played poker. We hung out some, and at various times he would give me funny looks I couldn’t parse. Later, after he’d returned to California, it hit me that those looks came when I told jokes, and they were the same looks I give people when they find out I’m a writer and start telling me the plot of the book they might write someday—it was the, “You aren’t impressing me, you’re just embarrassing yourself” look.

What’s weird about that is that there really is no connection between telling jokes and doing stand-up.  I’d have told him those same jokes if he were a chef or a truck driver. He thought I was trying to impress him, I thought I was establishing community.  Because that’s the difference.  Stand-up, at its best, is about the same thing fiction is, at its best: helping people see the world in a new way, exposing what is hidden, revealing absurdities and contradictions that we often miss—as witness the line of his I quoted above. Comedians use laughter where we use catharsis and suspense and so on.

Jokes serve a different social purpose.  Jokes are about saying, “I invite you into my circle, into my tribe,” or maybe asking, “Are you part of my circle, my tribe?” I mean, we enjoy making people laugh, but the social function is to bring us closer to each other, to create and solidify community.

“Whom.” We’re grammar nerds.
“…but now it’s MY fault.” We are familiar with IT and business management.
“What is this, a joke?” We appreciate the self-referential.
“You can’t have mass without me.” We know at least a little about physics.
“It’s called a lamp.” We have some familiarity with theater.
“Two to hold down the author.” We get publishing.
“About a hundred yards further than last year.” We think it’s okay to be disrespectful about Americans.
“A pilot, you fucking racist.” We think racism is contemptible.

Religious jokes, in this regard, are weird, because they range all the way from, “We are both familiar enough with this faith or this subculture to feel like members,” to inviting contempt for a specific article of faith, to inviting contempt for those who subscribe to it, or any of several other things. Is this Jewish joke perpetuating a stereotype that dehumanizes Jews, or is it an invitation, one Jew to another, to chuckle at the peculiarities of a shared culture?

With this in mind, when someone tells you, for example, a racist joke, what circle are you being asked to join? Yeah. And at some level we’re aware of that; it’s why those jokes make us feel kind of unclean, even if (especially if) surprise pulls an unwilling laugh out of us.

And, of course, society changes, culture changes, and it does so unevenly, and so the meaning of the same joke can change, and maybe someone telling it doesn’t see the invitation to join the same group you do: are you being invited to join the group of those who think domestic abuse is okay, or the group of those who “think this PC stuff has gone too far,” or those who are so tightly knit, and so certain of each other’s attitudes, that it is safe to be transgressive with each other?  When I tell you, “Bam, the Greek disappears,” am I inviting you to share in stereotyping Greeks, to share in a distaste for homosexual acts, or to share in the pleasure of subverting Antisemitism?  When I tell that joke, it is the latter; yet I have to be aware that people might take it to be either of the others, and be careful of the context in which I tell it.  When someone tells the, “That’s the spirit!” joke, is it saying that rape is a laughing matter, or recognizing a shared interest in an alternative subculture?  Context is everything.

My point is not that you ought to “call out” Aunt Edna for her racist joke, or Uncle Frank for his blonde joke; that’s up to you—my own opinion is that doing so accomplishes nothing except to ruin Thanksgiving dinner. I’m simply suggesting that it is useful to be a little bit aware of what in-group someone is inviting you to join.