Planck For Everything

planck_constant_measuring_thingSome news from the always-fascinating world of weights and measures: It seems the object that weighs so close to a kilogram that it’s used as the reference for how much a kilogram weighs no longer weighs a kilogram. It’s only natural that it will lose a molecule here and there over time, so it’s bound to lose a miniscule portion of its weight.

To rectify the situation, scientists will redefine the kilogram as the number of Planck mass that it weighs. They’ll be able to sleep easier at night knowing that the new definition is based on an unchanging constant rather than a chunk of metal subject to the laws of entropy. But why stop there?

It seems to me the scientists weren’t thinking big enough. Wasn’t the necessity of replacing a means of defining a quantity a sign that the quantity itself was arbitrary? Why not create an entirely new system of base units based on the Planck constant?

In the age of quantum computing, the current units by which we measure quantities in our world seem rather outdated. I suggest we replace them with these:

Length: The Jot

One decillion Planck lengths (roughly 16.16 millimeters or .6363 inches).

Mass: The Nub

One million Planck mass (roughly 21.76 grams or .7677 ounces).

Time: The Tap

One tredecillion Planck times (roughly .05391 seconds).

Thermodynamic Temperature: The Pin

Where absolute zero is zero pins, and Planck temperature is one decillion pins (so water freezes below ~1,928 pins and boils above ~2,634 pins).

Amount of Substance: The Cob

The amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 1 nub of carbon 12 (roughly one septillion).

Electric Current: The Zip

I don’t have enough expertise in this field to define what this is, but that would be name for it and it would be derived from Planck units.

Luminous Intensity: The Dot

See “Electric Current,” above.

From here, we can create derived units, e.g. for volume (one blip equals one cubic jot, roughly 4.22 cubic centimeters or .86 teaspoons; one chug equals 1,000 blips, roughly 4.22 liters or 1.12 gallons) and velocity (one jolt, meaning jot per tap). We’ll replace everything from the newton to the calorie.

And this system of measurement will eventually spring from the laboratories to the rest of the world. Milk will be sold by the chug and beer by the decichug. Speed limits on the highway will be set at one hundred jolts. Videos will be shot at one frame per tap (two for action-heavy fare). We will finally have a logical and science-based system of measurement to quantify the universe around us for an age in which we start venturing off into the stars.

Of course, every worthy movement must start somewhere, so if you could pass this message along, I’d appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

A possible action to take on mass shootings, and the importance of letting cooler heads prevail

popular_science_brain_scansWhenever there is a mass murder in this country where firearms were used, many politicians will inevitably take to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their community, and many other Americans will just as inevitably criticize them for offering something so useless in the effort to prevent another such mass murder. Thoughts and prayers, everyone can agree, aren’t going to stop the next mass shooter, so what will?

They also balk at the suggestion that it’s the time to mourn, not to start debating over the best method to prevent further attacks. These shootings seem be occurring with greater and greater frequency, so if it becomes verboten to discuss solutions too soon after the shootings, will there be any time when they can be discussed?

It’s understandable that people would be clamoring for ways to stop shooting sprees soon after one occurs, as was the case after the slaughter of elementary school students in my home state of Connecticut and the recent shooting in Florida. If there’s anything that humans are biologically programmed never to take in stride, it’s the deaths of human children. When over a dozen of them are slain at a time, we react with mental anguish, and from that an overpowering desire never to have to experience such anguish again.

But is a time when emotions are boiling over really an ideal climate for reasoned political debate? After senseless death occurs, people overflow with empathy towards the victims and their families. And one thing about empathy to remember is that it cannot be exercised simultaneously with logic.

Does a time when empathy is at its high point really sound like the best time to make decisions on public policy?

If we are to assume that these shooting sprees can be prevented, let’s assess the situation rationally. When many people look over the recent shootings, they notice a common thread: The majority of them were committed using a specific design of gun, the AR-15 assault rifle. Therefore, if the shooters were unable to acquire this AR-15, they would be unable to commit the murders. Therefore, if the AR-15 became illegal to sell or purchase, mass shootings would significantly decrease.

It seems so simple. So obvious. Or at least it does in the heat of the moment, when one is reeling from a mass killing and is desperate for some way to stop them from happening. But perhaps it’s worth the time to assess things further.

What motivates the average spree killer? It’s impossible to give a definitive answer, but it seems as though their goal is to kill as many people as possible. Perhaps it’s to seek fame by any means necessary. Perhaps it’s extreme misanthropy. But whatever the underlying motivation, the fact remains that their immediate objective is to maximize casualties.

Thus the prevalence of AR-15 rifles in these shootings. The AR-15 is the most powerful type of gun that can be legally acquired by civilians in the United States, so of course those preparing for a mass shooting would be drawn to it. Does this mean they would be deterred from committing a shooting if they couldn’t access an AR-15? Of course not. They’d just purchase whatever took its place as the most powerful type of gun. (If one had a dim view of Americans’ capacity to learn from their mistakes, he’d presume there would be a push to criminalize that gun, continuing the cycle.)

Furthermore, the habit of ensuring their gun is procured through legal means might be the MO of a spree killer, but not the overwhelming majority of those who purchase guns with the intent to cause harm with them. If someone wants to commit a mass murder in a twisted bid to make a name for himself, he will want to stick to legal channels when preparing for it, lest he attract the attention of law enforcement before he can commit it. Most criminals, however, have no compunction in breaking laws to acquire guns to be used to break other laws. Making guns illegal would have no impact on those already committed to illegal activity.

So if passing laws to make guns illegal won’t discourage mass shooters, what will? Let’s take another look at their apparent goal: To kill as many people as possible. And what tends to stop mass shooters from continuing to kill people indefinitely? Being confronted by someone else who is also armed.

This explains why mass shooters are drawn to places such as schools: They are crowded areas, full of targets, but where nobody is usually allowed to carry a gun. With no substantial means to defend themselves, the victims have no choice but to run to the nearest room and lock the doors until someone else with a gun arrives on the site.

But what if guns were allowed on the premises in the first place? What if there were a number of firearms throughout the building, that if need be could be accessed by adults who were trained in how to use them? What if this was well-known?

Would such a building still attract a mass shooter? Given that the number of likely fatalities would presumably be significantly diminished in such an attempt, it wouldn’t be nearly as tempting a target.

So that’s the solution that is reached when logic is employed rather than emotions. You may scoff at such an idea, but open-mindedness toward concepts that seem illogical at first blush is the responsibility of those who aim to set policy. And the possibility of an unorthodox solution to be the most (or only) viable one is why it’s necessary to wait until one’s empathy has ebbed and logic can take over.

Why the Men’s Rights Movement?

mockup-fe0f3200Today marks International Men’s Day, a day for societal introspection regarding the current state of the welfare of men and boys. Needless to say, there are a lot of pressing concerns, from high rates of suicide among men to lower lifespans in general to a growing gender gap in academic performance. But as to be expected, plenty of screeching can be found about how in order to tackle these problems, the “patriarchy” must be dismantled first.

As I’ve noted before, feminists have trouble recognizing when double standards hurt men more than women. Perhaps the narrative with which they’re familiar causes them to see things through such a distorted lens. All differences in which the genders are treated by life society are due to a vast patriarchy designed to oppress women; any evidence of men having it worse off is due to unintended consequences of the patriarchy’s actions.

For those of you fortunate enough never to have heard of a blog called “Shakesville,” here is a rather revealing piece about an ugly incident. A man was murdered by another man who was recently hit by a woman. His assailant refused to strike a woman, even the one who struck him first, so he vowed to attack the next man he saw instead. The column is titled “Today in Misogyny.”

A woman hits a man. Said man does not retaliate against her, as he was raised never to hit a woman. A man is attacked, and killed, in her stead. According to Shakesville, this serves as an example of sexism… against women. And this is the same site that has mocked the idea of a men’s rights movement. How exactly can one’s personal mindset become so hideously warped?

Their insistence that a men’s rights movement is unnecessary seems to be this: The goal of feminism is gender equality. If the goal of the MRAs were really gender equality as well, they would simply become feminists. Their refusal to do so is proof that their goal is not gender equality at all, and must be something else — presumably a patriarchal society.

So what sort of campaigns for equality can masculists look forward to by being welcomed into the folds of feminism? How about something such as the incredibly high rate of incarceration of men when compared to women? Surely the feminists are up in arms over such a gender gap?

Not really. I’ve never heard of any self-professed feminist declare that the discrepancy in male and female incarceration rates are a problem.

Well, perhaps that’s understandable. Surely it’s self-evident that men are different than women in ways that mean they are more likely to break the law. Men take bigger risks, are more prone to violent behavior. So it’s understandable that their greater rate of imprisonment is due to natural differences in gender rather than any issue that can be solved with a change of policy, right?

So let’s look at something that does raise the ire of the mainstream feminist movement: The gender gap in regards to salary. Conventional wisdom holds that for every dollar a man earns, his female counterpart only earns about 75 to 80 cents.

Well, “counterpart” may not be the right word. The statistic doesn’t take into account the fact that women and men tend to work different jobs. Men work more hours in higher-paying jobs, and women tend to favor careers that are less demanding with a salary that reflects that.

Not that feminists are assuaged by such an explanation, however. Why are men and women drawn to different careers in the first place? One theory holds that the omnipresent patriarchy has instilled a set of gender roles in people. Women are not as ambitious in seeking high-paid jobs because they’ve been conditioned to think of themselves as the homemakers and men as the breadwinners. Therefore, say the feminists, the gender pay gap is a problem, even if it doesn’t take such factors as different career paths among the genders into account.

And so, one of the main current goals of the feminist movement is to force companies to hire women through mandatory quotas. As a majority male board of executives in a company must be an indicator of sexist hiring practices rather than a majority of men seeking and qualifying for such positions, the only fair thing to do is to force the companies to hire more women.

(It’s interesting to note, however, that when feminists speak of hiring quotas, they’re always referring to quotas for positions in boardrooms, rather than, say, sewers or oil rigs. They seem to lack any interest in changing the workplace fatality gap, which is far more glaring than the pay gap. But I digress…)

But… Wait.

There seems to be a conflict in this line of thinking. We’ve already dismissed the incarceration gap as rooted in biological differences between men and women. So why can’t sexual dimorphism explain the pay gap as well? What if whatever drives men to commit more crime also drives them to earn more money? Why is the feminist movement demanding that laws be passed to force the closing of one gap but not the other?

(It’s worth noting, though, that even aside from men committing more crime, women still receive more lenient sentences when committing the same crime as men. Unlike the pay gap, the imprisonment gap doesn’t significantly diminish when accounting for other variables… And the pay gap is still regarded as a more pressing problem. But again, I digress…)

It would seem that the feminist movement isn’t as steadfastly determined to fight for men’s rights as those insisting that MRAs should be feminists would have us believe.

But I am reasonable. I am perfectly willing to accept this modern feminism as legitimate. All I ask is that feminists do at least one of the following:

• Lead a campaign to instill quotas for the percentage of female prisoners, urging stricter sentences for female offenders and even demanding that male prisoners be released if necessary;

• Abandon their calls for gender quotas and efforts to close the “gender pay gap,” instead letting the chips fall where they may in terms of who is hired for which job and how much salary they receive, and give equal attention to the issues facing men;

• Cease all claims that their brand of feminism is also beneficial to men, and allow separate men’s rights movements to continue unabated with no further hindrance on their part;

• Provide a logically sound, highly compelling explanation as to why they will not do any of the above.

I think that’s more than fair. Until that happens, I will proudly call myself a men’s rights advocate and refuse to apologize for being one.

What Makes a Movie Remain Scary

Source: implied promises that the installment before this one would be the last, there’s yet another Saw movie out. I can understand to some extent why audiences find them entertaining, and perhaps even scary. But if the movies do manage to scare people, it’s not as if they deserve any accolades for doing so.

By releasing so many entries in the series, the Saw franchise has essentially admitted that not much effort is needed to frighten the viewer in the manner they’ve devised. The formula is fairly simple: Show a victim trapped in a room who will soon be killed unless they manage to survive through means that will cause them great pain or mental anguish. Sure, it’s scary when the viewer thinks “What if that was me,” but it’s a fairly obvious means of frightening someone, and the filmmakers aren’t demonstrating a great deal of talent. Anyone could devise one of Jigsaw’s games given an hour’s time.

There’s a difference between a movie that is scary when it’s seen and a movie that remains scary afterward. Exceedingly few films have succeeded in generating fear long after they’re over. I’ve been left queasy after a movie is finished because of its implications for the future of its characters and society as a whole, as was the case with Larry Clark’s Kids, but very rarely frightened for my own sake.

Former Tom Servo Kevin Murphy, in his book A Year at the Movies, describes the criteria for a film to be genuinely horrifying:

To genuinely evoke fear, a movie can’t simply address our fears, it has to dig them out of where we hide them, in our subconscious. Find a filmmaker who can draw from our subconscious and show it to us, and you have a true master of horror.

Given this definition of a true horror film, it’s no surprise that he goes on to name David Lynch’s Eraserhead as the most horrifying movie he’s seen. The premise of Eraserhead — as best I can understand it, anyway — is that a young man discovers that he’s fathered an illegitimate child with his girlfriend, and is now expected to take care of it as any father would. And the baby in question has… something wrong with it.

I’ve read about a common archetype of a monster being an entity that is human in most respects, but is still not quite right, dipping into the “uncanny valley.” Eraserhead exaggerates this trope with the baby, which given the shape of its head is suggestive of something cute and infantile, but sweet Jesus is that thing NOT an infant and it sure as hell is NOT cute. It channels our innermost instincts to care for and protect anything that resembles a human child and then vomits them up right in our faces by showing itself to be repulsive upon closer inspection. It’s the same reason we are put off by pictures of dolls that have been abandoned and subjected to the elements.

Murphy writes of Eraserhead: “David Lynch has managed to do what few other filmmakers can accomplish: to present on film a dream, or in this case a nightmare.” Through the medium of a film presented through the filter of “dream logic,” Lynch portrays the fear inherent in the newfound responsibilities of parenthood.

But while the revolutionary means of storytelling establish Eraserhead as a cinematic milestone, it did not strike me as especially horrifying. I suppose it would have a far greater impact on me if I saw it as an expectant father, just as I’d be frightened by Rosemary’s Baby. But other movies have certainly succeeded where others have failed, with one outstanding example.

The movie that scared me the most is one that I’ve never seen described by anyone else as one that scared them. Actually, compared to the likes of The Exorcist and Eraserhead, I’ve hardly seen it discussed at all. It’s Sisters, one of the early efforts of Brian De Palma. (You may not recognize his name, but you’ve almost certainly seen at least one of his movies.) The plot concerns a pair of conjoined twins that have since been surgically separated… Oh yes, and one is evil.

Granted, the premise may not exactly be anything too groundbreaking, but that wasn’t the aspect of the film that I found so frightening. I was most scared by two scenes toward the end that had little to do with the conjoined-twins plot. Nobody was killed in these scenes, nor even a single drop of blood spilled.

(Of course, to explain why these scenes are scary, which I’ll now proceed to do, would entail spoiling the ending. Read further at your own discretion.)

The protagonist of the movie is a reporter, notable for her columns critical of law enforcement, who witnesses a murder at the hands of the presumably evil twin. As the police are wary of her given her body of work, they are incredulous of her claims, and it falls on her to solve the crime herself with the help of a private investigator. Not that she displays a great deal of competence in contrast to the cops: Right after the murder is committed, she finds a cake wishing two people a happy birthday, proving her claim of twin sisters rather than an individual living in the apartment. She brings the evidence to the detective… And then trips, dropping the cake and smearing the frosting.

Her leads eventually lead her to a mental hospital, which employs the murderer’s accomplice and ex-husband as a doctor. She’s then found, however, by another staff member, and said doctor explains that she’s a patient who has delusions of being a reporter. She refutes that she really is who she claims to be, which can be proven by her ID… which she left in her car. After a few minutes of being condescended to by the staff member and her desperation growing, another of them arrives with a needle. The reporter screams for help to no avail.

After being sedated, the reporter is then subjected to hypnosis by the doctor, who repeats that the murder she witnessed didn’t actually occur. By the end of the film, he too falls victim to the murderer, drawing the attention of the police, who now have reason to believe the reporter’s story. So the previously incredulous detective sits her down and invites her to reiterate her story…

…Which goes nowhere, as she’s been successfully brainwashed by the doctor and can only repeatedly insist that the whole thing was a ridiculous mistake. And unless the private eye can actually come up with something, the murder will be unsolved forever. The end.

So there are the two scenes that scared me, the one where the reporter tries fruitlessly to prove her identity and the one where she demonstrates herself to be brainwashed. And while I found them both frightening, they were frightening for different reasons.

The first scene was a classic example of the protagonist as audience surrogate becoming trapped and helpless, in the same vein as Jigsaw’s victims. But there are some key differences here. The most obvious is that the audience has followed the reporter’s plight for a while now and has had time to establish rapport with her, so they can relate to her more than someone who is introduced to them already chained up in a filthy bathroom. The other may be connected to the aforementioned monster archetype.

The Eraserhead baby was far scarier than the Blob or Mothra because it was not something so exaggerated as to be unrelatable. It started out as something to be nurtured and not feared, and then corrupted. Likewise, the asylum scene in Sisters was not a situation as outlandish as finding yourself needing to gouge out your own eyeball in order to survive. It was a logical escalation of the film’s conflict, and it bore some resemblance to commonplace, everyday arguments with with most audience members would be familiar.

It was all too easy to imagine myself in the reporter’s situation, surrounded by people whose trust was gained by my enemy rather than me. And like the reporter’s previous incident with the cake, her having left her ID in her car was her own fault that she could easily have avoided, thus adding another layer of irony. If only she’d brought it with her…

It wasn’t just the set-up of the scene, either: Its pacing and staging built perfectly to its conclusion. As it plays out, the viewer slowly and steadily comes to the realization that the woman is completely screwed.

I have never been kidnapped by a sadistic madman or a serial killer. I have, however, been antagonized by people who wield some degree of authority. I could easily envision myself falling victim to an authority figure who managed to outwit me, and his pawns who thought they were doing what was right. The believability of the scene enabled it to bore into me like few movies could.

The scene where the reporter shows herself to be hypnotized showcases a scenario that is truly terrifying: What if, under outside influence, one can be betrayed by their own mind? What if the very tool that is used to perceive and store information about the world around them can become someone else’s plaything? What if we can no longer trust our own memories? It’s classic paranoia fuel, and the only consolation is that the concept is simply a Hollywood fiction that can’t be reproduced in reality… Oh, shit.

That’s why Sisters was the film I’ve seen that I found the scariest. (It’s also one of the reasons I consider De Palma to be an accomplished filmmaker — call him a shameless plagiarist of Hitchcock if you want, but the fact remains that Sisters frightened me more than Psycho and The Birds combined.) I realize that doesn’t mean it’s the scariest film I’ve seen, of course. Every audience member is different, and the task falls to the storyteller to figure out which parts of their psyche will recoil when prodded.

Happy Halloween…

Election 2016: Double Standards on Parade

I remember when I was a boy of about ten years. Multiple women at least thrice my age called me “cute” or “handsome.” Two women kissed me without my consent, with one going so far as to grab me and force me towards her. My parents even claimed that one of my female teachers had “a crush” on me. And I was a very shy child — I have no idea how women would see fit to treat me if I was more outgoing. Nor, for that matter, do I have any idea how people would react if I was a ten-year-old girl and a man I barely knew forcefully pulled me towards him and kissed me.

Women discuss groping men without their consent all the the time. Sometimes, they even go through with it, possibly because they realize how unlikely it is that they’ll face repercussions. A woman molested a sports star in public, and no one seemed to care.

Now it’s been revealed that Donald Trump has been acting in much the same way those women have, and he’s facing serious scrutiny. I’d be lying if I said I was shocked.

A Primer on Pills


So there’s this new documentary out called The Red Pill. It’s from the point of view of a feminist who starts researching the men’s rights movement, and gradually starts to realize the movement may be in the right. Thus the film’s title: She “took the red pill,” or at least she did from the point of view of a men’s rights advocate.

The phrases “red pill” and “blue pill” have seen an upswing in use as of late, and they’re often associated with certain social and political movements. But given the potential of the expression, it shouldn’t be tied down to any one specific mindset.

The terminology of red and blue pills originates from the hit 1999 cyberpunk sci-fi movie The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowski… Well, let’s just call them the Wachowskis. It may seem odd for a motion picture to serve as inspiration for an idiom, but it’s hardly unheard of: You may have heard that someone who abandoned their moral principles in their pursuit of wealth or prestige has “gone to the dark side of the Force.”

On the off chance you haven’t seen The Matrix, here’s a recap of the relevant details with spoilers minimized as best I could. Keanu Reeves stars as office drone Thomas Anderson, though he prefers to use his hacker moniker “Neo.” Neo has been getting subconscious urges to seek a mysterious figure known as Morpheus. When the two finally meet, Morpheus compares Neo to Alice on the brink of the rabbit hole, and offers to show him “the truth” about something known as the Matrix. He presents Neo with two pills, one red and one blue, and offers him a choice:

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

It wouldn’t be much of a movie if Neo took the blue pill. After ingesting the red pill, Neo is shown the shocking, devastating truth about his entire life: It was a complete lie.

It was a computer simulation the whole time, to keep his mind occupied and unable to see the world for what it really is. Nearly everyone he knew was also trapped in the Matrix, created by sentient machines to harvest humans’ body electricity. (So why, you ask, do the machines bother farming humans and setting up this simulated reality to use their body electricity for energy, instead of just burning whatever they’re feeding them for fuel directly? Well, that will have to be a story for a different time.)

Morpheus introduces Neo to others on his team, most of them former Matrix inhabitants who have presumably taken the red pill themselves. They live a rather miserable life, manning a futuristic hovercraft and roaming a wasteland devastated by the war between man and machine that machine won. Their mission is to “unplug” more people from the Matrix and give them the red pill, so they too will be awakened and realize the truth about the world. But Morpheus explains this will not be easy:

The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

It would seem that not everyone would be open to the idea of leaving the reality to which they have grown accustomed and start exploring the real world. In fact, not all those who have already been unplugged are satisfied with their choice. One of Neo’s shipmates confides in him that he wishes he took the blue pill. He’s aware that he would be living a lie if that were the case, but at least he wouldn’t be stuck in a vast dystopia eating food of dubious origin on a tiny ship. “Ignorance is bliss,” he moans as he savors a bite of juicy steak that by his own admission is really nothing more than a few lines of code.

Such is the choice to be made by the inhabitants of the Matrix. Do they take the red pill and learn the bitter reality of the world around them? Or do they take the blue pill, and remain in a comfortable dream world, avoiding unpleasant truths at the cost of their own freedom?

That dilemma is central to the expressions regarding red and blue pills. When you are offered the chance to see the world for what it really is, do you accept, and risk facing unpalatable realities, but gain enlightenment and the ability to improve the world? Or do you refuse, and continue to live a life that is fake but comforting, being part of the problem as you allow the state of the real world to stagnate?

It is rather obvious that this allegory feels relevant to those who believe the common consensus about society does not reflect the actual state of it. It’s especially useful when the speaker believes that people believe falsehoods about their reality because they have been brainwashed by a malevolent, powerful force, and the truth is difficult to take in and handle.

Therefore, to “take the red pill” is to accept the knowledge of how the world really is and how it functions. To “take the blue pill” is to be offered a chance at the truth, but to refuse, as they are so helplessly lost in lies that they refuse to consider they have been lied to, or they prefer a comforting lie to an inconvenient truth.

Here are some ways the terminology of pills can be used:

“James has suddenly started questioning the effectiveness of the 12-step program the court ordered him into. He must have taken the red pill.”

“Of course it’s in the Rothschilds’ best interests that everyone keep taking the blue pill.”

“I didn’t really consider the possibility that Jews control the banks and the media until I took the red pill.”

“Don’t send your kids to public school — they’ll be force-fed the blue pill every day they’re there.”

“A redpilled group on campus is challenging the gender studies majors who claim that gender is just a social construct.”

“Bonnie still refuses to read about how the world is really run by a cabal of humanoid lizards. She really must have swallowed that blue pill hard.”

The speakers in each of these situations may or may not be correct in terms of these statements, but they are using the expression of red and blue pills correctly in the context of their beliefs.

The same cannot be said of some I’ve seen using these sayings. The most glaring error is attempting to adopt the action of taking the blue pill as a badge of pride: “I’m glad I took the blue pill.” This makes no sense, just as you would not say, “Well, I guess ‘not being the sharpest knife in the drawer’ must be a good thing!” If someone accuses you of taking the blue pill, the proper counterargument is that the pill allegory does not apply to the topic at hand, or that it is in fact they who have taken the blue pill.

So there you have it. The allegory of pills can be useful when discussing matters of censorship and unpleasant truths. Just don’t assign the idiom to any specific movement.

Also, if you really haven’t seen The Matrix, you should. But do yourself a favor and take the blue pill — pretend the sequels don’t exist.

Subtleties of the NAP

Conservative vlogger Paul Joseph Watson recently released a hit piece on Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for President. Many of his criticisms are perfectly valid, but he starts off his rant by accusing Johnson of endorsing measures that violate the “non-aggression principle.”

The non-aggression principle, or NAP, is an axiom commonly used in libertarian circles, and it essentially amounts to “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” It is their method of determining the ideal legality of any action. Any action that does not impinge upon the rights or well-being of others should be legal; any action that does — whether committed by civilian or government entity — should be illegal. The government should have the power to violate the NAP only to punish individuals who have themselves violated the NAP.

So Watson asserts that Johnson’s policy proposals fly in the face of the libertarians’ dearly beloved NAP. For examples, he lists his support of mandatory vaccinations for children and a carbon tax to discourage excessive production of greenhouse gases. And indeed, both of these concepts seem to run counter to the NAP and libertarian values in general, at least at first glance. But remember the government power that is allowed them even with the libertarian mindset: The power to inflict punitive damages upon its citizens if said citizens’ behavior is detrimental to others.

Should it be within a person’s rights to refuse to have their children vaccinated against infectious disease? Their children themselves may beg to differ when they are suffering from an easily preventable strain of whooping cough. And the lives of other children are jeopardized as well, given their community’s now-weakened herd immunity. The metaphorical nose doesn’t seem especially safe from the swinging fist.

Then there is the issue of the government’s taxation on emission of greenhouse gases, intended to function as negative reinforcement. The excessive production of such substances may not seem very criminal, but then again we’ve been conditioned to think of crime (theft, murder, fraud, assault, and the like) as something that has immediately perceptible consequences. Indeed, excessive damage to the environment is probably something that libertarians should consider controlling (an issue about which I myself made an inquiry once to Gov. Johnson, and later received a response that left something to be desired).

And it’s true that an individual’s impact might be infinitesimal on a grand scale. But perhaps I could produce counterfeit money so realistic that its recipient could spend it without any problems, and so on ad infinitum. It doesn’t seem that any noses are being broken by my fist, so does that mean my actions should be legal?

Of course not. My actions may not directly impact any one individual, but they still lead to overall inflation, as well as my profit despite nonexistent contributions to society. I, like antivaxxers and polluters, would fail the “What If Everybody Did It” test, something that should probably be administered when determining whether the non-aggression principle is being honored.

Obviously, this does not mean that the solutions proposed by Gov. Johnson are practical or feasible, or even the best means to solve what he believes to be problems. But the underlying concept of using governmental control to solve these problems may not necessarily violate the NAP.

The NAP has some intricacies that are not readily apparent, especially when it comes to violations that are not readily apparent. Mr. Watson can be forgiven for believing that Gary Johnson’s proposals make him a poor example of a libertarian, but it’s a good idea to make a thorough assessment of any action before judging measures to control that action.

Five Awful Movie Taglines

5. Die Hard (1988)

Uhh… No, it isn’t. When John McClane first realizes the plaza building is under attack, one of his first courses of action is to call for help, so the odds won’t be against him. After all, he may want to rescue the hostages and have the training of an NYPD officer, but he’s only human — which is kind of the point.

After audiences had their fill of Stallones and Schwarzeneggers, Bruce Willis breathed new life into the action hero archetype with John McClane. McClane would never refer to crime as a disease with himself as the cure. He would never wax poetic about crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him, and hearing the lamentations of their women.

So he was clearly a different kind of action hero, and Die Hard was a different kind of action movie — which would seem like its main selling point. But no, the tagline makes McClane out to be no different than the larger-than-life meatcakes before him. How often do you see a tagline that actively negates what the movie has to offer?

4. Psycho (1998)

The necessity of Gus Van Sant’s practically shot-for-shot Psycho remake was and always will be questionable at best. It certainly doesn’t help that its tagline depends upon audiences’ foreknowledge of the original film to work, and implies that little will be different this time around. How exactly does one expect to sell tickets by saying, in effect, “You’ve already seen this before”?

3. Yogi Bear (2010)

Come to think of it, I don’t really feel like dwelling too much on this one. All I’ll say about it is that the poster doesn’t help matters. Moving on.

2. Clockstoppers (2002)

On its surface, the tagline “What if you had the power to stop time?” is merely boringly simplistic. But given that this movie is targeted at teens and preteens, it really becomes a problem.
It insults the intelligence of the one group of people who really don’t want their intelligence insulted, and would prefer to be treated as reasonably mature whenever possible. “What if you had the power to stop time?” is so lacking in nuance that it sounds more fitting as a premise to a Saturday morning cartoon rather than a movie that adolescents wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen watching. It also sounds like the prompt for a school writing assignment.

On the plus side, however, this tagline can inspire you to create taglines of your own that follow the same format. “What if you could enter someone else’s dreams?” “What if your daughter was possessed by the Devil?” “What if your family started to draw you into organized crime?” “What if the ghost of your father visits you and claims he was murdered by your uncle so he could be crowned King instead?” Have fun!

1. Contact (1997)

Let’s get this out of the way first. I liked Contact. Yes, even the ending. But this tagline… It’s a matryoshka doll of terribleness. Where to start?

First, there’s the overall structure. A tagline consisting of multiple paragraphs is not unheard of, so long as there is an overarching focus. Nothing of that sort in Contact‘s horrifically disjointed tagline: It meanders listlessly from one possible point of interest to another. It’s as if the marketers resorted to throwing random bits of what could pass as a tagline on the poster to see if anything would stick.

Furthermore, bombastic claims about the film’s epic scope are far too vague to leave any impression. Messages from deep space and journeys to the heart of the universe could be featured in anything from a space opera to a gory extraterrestrial monster movie.

And as for who will be the first to go, why should anyone care if they’re not yet familiar with the plot? The question is of little importance, as they haven’t been introduced to any of the characters and see no reason to root for any of them in particular. And why is this such a point of contention anyway, as potential viewers are unfamiliar with the context of the issue and don’t understand why everyone who wants to go can all go at once?

For a story about a woman overcoming the odds to explore different worlds, communication with extraterrestrial civilizations, and humankind’s place in the universe and potential to better itself through science, the tagline causes it to come off as boring.

Distributed Social Networks (And Other Means of Decentralization)

AsteriskIt’s an era of uncertainty for the Internet. While the technology behind it improves, the laws surrounding it are poised to suck out its lifeblood. SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISA, the TPP: The powers that be seem intent on subjecting the public to a nonstop barrage of threats against online freedom and privacy until we’re too exhausted to fight back.

There is, however, one proposed means of ensuring online communications remain uncensored and private (or as private as the content creator intends): Decentralization. Rather than having all Internet traffic managed by ISPs, which are hardly dependable as guardians of the First and Fourth Amendments, every Internet device is directly interconnected to form a “meshnet.” Encrypted content makes its way around the globe by jumping from node to node.

Needless to say, of course, the logistics of this proposal mean it will take some time to come to fruition. There needs to be a number of people, living in the right places, who are willing to invest their time and money into making a meshnet a reality. There have been a number of promising-looking plans mapped out, such as Hyperboria and MaidSafe, but few are counting on their becoming a reasonable replacement for ISPs any time soon.

However, there’s one thing everyone, even the not particularly computer literate, can do in the meantime to stymie the forces that aim to restrict what they can speak about and search their digital papers and effects. They can join what is known as a distributed social network.

Most social networks have a few things in common. First, all the content that is shared within the network is routed though a choke point: The network’s servers. Second, they are for-profit companies that rely on ad revenue.

Therefore, it is in the best interests of the social networks to trawl through the content that is posted by its users, in order to tailor their ads to them… Or sell the information to third parties. Furthermore, as they are businesses who have brands to protect, they may succumb to demands to censor content — from customers complaining about “offensive” content, from other corporate entities worried about content that threatens their own business (such as negative reviews of their products), and from governments looking to suppress information. Finally, all that content collected onto a single set of servers makes it a ripe target for governments out to snoop on their citizens.

A distributed social network is different in those key aspects. It is not owned, furnished, and maintained by a single corporation. Anyone can set up an account on their own server, or join a preexisting host. The accounts can communicate with others on different hosts, just as users of two different email providers can email each other. Most of these hosts are funded by their users’ donations.

The user can choose from a wide variety of such hosts, or create their own. This competition means that the user can select a host that has a reputation they find agreeable, in terms of their policy on privacy and what content is allowed. One that relies on donations rather than ad revenue will mean it has little impetus to collect users’ personal information. The user can share any content, so long as it’s not illegal. (And if their host does censor anything, the user can simply move to a different one.)

Right now, the most prominent distributed social network is Diaspora*. You can read more about it here, and find your “pod” here. And yes, many Diaspora pods offer you the option to post content simultaneously to other places such as Facebook, if you’d prefer to wean yourself off them rather than going cold turkey.

Join and tell your friends. Or just tell your friends, if you yourself aren’t interested — you might be surprised at who else is. And, of course, you can share with me here (or here).

One small step at a time, we can pull ourselves apart from the pillars that comprise the present Internet, and form the Internet as it was meant to be.

“I’ll Be Progressive on Your Behalf”: Silencing Diverse Voices for Their Own Good

I suppose there’s something of a silver lining in this news item from San Francisco.

It used to be that whenever I was asked why I held “Social Justice Warriors” in such disdain, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’d probably start out with their consideration of their own feelings before the facts, or their unending quest to censor speech they consider offensive, or their tactic of handling dissenting opinions by demanding they be disallowed rather than engaging in honest debate.

If only there was a single story out there that succinctly illustrated the flaws in SJW logic because it was so utterly ludicrous, I might have thought. Well, it seems that wish has now been granted:

The principal of Everett Middle School in San Francisco tells KTVU that the results of the school election have been publicly announced.

The results had been withheld immediately after the election because the principal felt that the winners weren’t diverse enough.

We’ve learned that the majority of the winners were white, despite the fact that the student body is 80% students of color.

The incident happened at Everett Middle School in San Francisco’s Mission District. The voting was held Oct. 10, but the principal sent an email to parents on Oct. 14 saying the results would not be released because the candidates that were elected as a whole do not represents the diversity that exists at the school.

The email went on to say they were thinking of ways to value the students who won, while increasing the diversity of the group.

Long story short: A diverse student body was allowed to vote for which classmates to represent them in a democratic election. The students democratically elected candidates, most of whom just happened to be white. The school’s principal halted the election process, because the elected candidates do not “represent the student body” due to their lack of racial diversity.

They don’t “represent the student body”? They were democratically elected by the student body. How much more proof do you need that they represent the students?

The principal says she wants “to make sure all voices are heard from all backgrounds.” THEY JUST WERE.

A common SJW tactic (that has been repeatedly used against yours truly) is to conflate criticism of their talking points with prejudice against the groups they are [claiming to be] helping. Do you support the right of people to write and publish hate speech? Then you must agree with said hate speech. Are you against programs and institutions created with the intention of providing assistance disenfranchised groups (regardless of their actual results)? Then you must be prejudiced against those people.

But this principal seems to have finally tipped the hand of the social justice movement. She, like so many SJWs, considers diversity for its own sake of higher importance than democracy. She wants to force her students’ government to be as diverse as the overall student body, over the wishes of those very students.

In other words: In the interests of giving minority students a voice, she is silencing the voices of those minority students.

And yes, the principal in question is white. That doesn’t necessarily make her actions any more or less wrong. But I suppose it does make them more ironic.

The most laugh-or-cry moment in this news story is her describing her actions as a “learning experience.” An experience of learning what? That decisions made via democratic elections can be altered by another governing power, and this is not to be questioned? Or that minorities are so ignorant they can’t be trusted to vote in their own interests?

I know enough about the SJW mindset that I can probably guess the principle’s rationale. The minority students must have been brainwashed or gaslighted (gaslit?) into believing that the white students were the best choices to represent them. They must have internalized the prejudice against them to believe that it should be white students on the student council… Because the factor of race trumps all others when considering a leader. (That last sentiment may not have entered her thought process to the point that she was conscious of it, but it’s a concept that is heavily implied in the SJW philosophy. Especially where arguments for affirmative action are concerned.)

There’s a panel from Plebcomics that’s strikingly accurate in its depiction of the Social Justice Warrior’s line of thinking:

"You poor, ignorant, stupid fool who has internalized white supremacy and racism! Don’t worry, I’ll fight the good fight for you, since you are obviously too brainwashed to know better! I’ll be offended on your behalf!"

In light of this latest news, however, they seem to be stepping up their game in claiming to speak for minorities in a way that silences their own voices.

They’re being progressive on their behalf.