Thursday, June 30, 2011

Brainstorming Immortality (part 2)

Alright, I'm a fucking idiot, but is that ever a surprise? Charlie Stross modified the discussion on the consequences of a medical revolution resulting in a universal provision of eternal youth. He added the following:
"One constraint on this question that I forgot to add was, I was asking, what are the short-term consequences? Because, obviously, if we look 100-1000 years ahead, the waters will be hopelessly muddied by other independent social and technological variables."
Yeah, well. I still maintain its a revolution that will result in financial chaos for quite some time. But here's why I am an idiot. I've been thinking like a privileged white male about it. You know, like the way an overfed, overgroomed, pampered sleek house cat, one that had a relatively affluent (compared to a feral or alley cat) existence filled with luxuries and distractions, would think about things.

Silly me! I just naturally assumed that everyone wants to live forever. I didn't stop to think that the majority of the people in this world live miserable fucking lives. Maybe it's because I've never had to eat rancid meat, spoiled vegetables, drank water laced with someone else's shit in it. Experienced the wonders of massive parasitic infestations, worms, leeches, bug larvae under my skin, trypanosoma, malaria, protozoans, not to mention the usual wasting diseases. Living hand to mouth in squalor for the next thousand years, with occasional bouts of famine and war, and the associated maiming and disfiguring, suddenly eternal youth doesn't look too appealing.

It seems to me the majority of the resources, cash, talent, and time will be devoted to quality of life enhancements for the rich immortals. And why not? They can pay for it anyway. Why live in fear of getting cancer, or a stroke, or a heart attack? Let's fund all that right out of existence. Because all those frat boys and sorority girls deserve to live forever (and that mentality will quickly become calcified into their social consciousness).

Whoa, wait a minute, what about childbirth? Even under "modern" medical conditions, giving birth is a pretty fucking dangerous thing. If I'm a woman that has perhaps a thousand years ahead, I'll be thinking twice about having a kid.  Perhaps I can find a surrogate mom. Even better, gang press them into service. Womb farms. A return to chattel slavery? And why should these walking wombs need to be smart? Lobotomize 'em, which is what the machine ought to have done in "The Matrix". A Brave New World?

Again, I ask the question, is this condition of eternal youth heritable? Because if it is, are you ready to curse someone with a birth defect or an accident of delivery to a thousand years of disabilites? Chronic pain? Are you ready to fend after them, take care of them? I thought not. You are going to have to seriously rethink abortion.

And, let's face it, if it turns out that the condition of eternal youth is not heritable, you have a whole new underclass to exploit. "Shorties", the short-lived, to do all those dangerous jobs, to do all those tedious menial things, to be property. Or at the least, the equivalent of subhuman. Like Jack Vance's "Telek".

And what if this rejuvenation turns out to regress brain structures? Sure, you may be 80 going on 25, with a lifetime of wisdom, but, working around twenty-somethings all day, I can tell you there's something missing in the thought processes. That brain has not quite grown into the front of the skull yet. Are you ready to be ruled by trillionaire frat boys? Retarded smug gods?

Oh, I'm not liking this at all... I'm seeing the darkest Dark Ages we never come out of.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brainstorming Immortality (part 1)

Charlie Stross is on a roll. I don't know what's going on at that pub he frequents, but there must be something in the beer. He's had a grand-slam of posts that have fun and interesting ideas to play with. I hate to be a coattail rider, but I've got to play with his thought experiment, which can be read here.
"Thought experiment: It turns out that there is no single senescence "master switch", but there are three or four fairly simple genetic tweaks we can make (either via epigenetic modulation or by actual insertion of a handful of genes by way of a suitably customized virus) that (a) slow the ageing process in young adults by a factor of ten, and (b) partially reverse the ageing process in middle-aged or elderly adults so that after a few years or decades they recover physically to the equivalent of a 25-year-old. A vaccine is developed, becoming available some time between 2020 and 2030, which can be mass produced for roughly $5 a shot — one injection, and the recipient isn't going to die of cellular senescence. Note that there is some small print attached.
(Small print: This is not a magic cure-all. It doesn't cure bacterial or viral infections, cancer, prion diseases, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or neurological conditions. It doesn't enable the user to regenerate lost limbs. It does enable stem cells in adult tissues to produce more new cells, improving recovery from injury and attrition due to age (such as damage to cardiac tissue or progressive loss of cortical matter in the brain). It does not preclude the development of other treatments for the above conditions.) What do you think the consequences are likely to be"?
  I can't resist. A cheap inoculation that grants eternal youth. Eternal? Well, no, but almost a thousand years or so, which gives you a good chance (providing civilization keeps on chugging away), of someone further refining the technique towards near immortality.

Rereading the above, I think one thing - a very important thing - is left out of the small print.

Is this condition heritable?

Oh, I don't know, is it that important? You see, my short answer to what the consequences will be is easy:

The End of Humanity. Death by population implosion.

Whether the condition is heritable merely postpones the end a few hundred thousand years or so. Maybe I better backtrack...

Do I really need to list out the short-term consequences? I don't think they'll matter, but why not? They are the easiest to foresee.

So. Everyone gets a shot. I think everyone could scrape up five bucks to become immortal. Which means, we can no longer afford poor people. No more safety nets. No more retirement, unless you have a few hundred million socked away, and even then... some unfortunate stock crashes, and you'll have to work the rest of a very long life. Stock crashes? Guaranteed! Think of all the useless services and products once people are immorbid (which is to say, not immortal, but youthful, and therefore not  frail, not feeble, not decrepit). You probably will wear out teeth. The dental industry is safe. As are emergency services. There will be HUGE influxes of monies into curative and preventative procedures for the thousand arrows flesh is heir to in the small print above. Nevertheless, there will be major financial calamities from having so many healthy people around.

Oh, that's right. Healthy people. Young healthy people. Horny young healthy people, who, now that they have their youth back, will want to be fucking. A lot.  I'm sure worries about a population explosion are obvious, but I'm nonplussed about it. Given that this is an obvious thing to worry about, it will be addressed post-haste (we already worry about it). I would assume that draconian measures would be put into place. A replacement lottery, perhaps. Some type of meritocratic filter, perhaps. Doubtful, though for the idle rich. If you thought they are useless parasites now...

Speaking of draconian measures, what to do with all of these people? Are there enough jobs to go around? And will people, now cognizant that they may have centuries of life ahead of them if they cut down on the risky behavior, be willing to take on dirty and dangerous jobs? And what about the next generation? Will they have jobs? We barely have them now! Oh, you'll adventurers, surely, risk takers and thrill seekers. But will they inherit the planets, the stars? I kind of doubt there will be enough willing to go off-planet.

This future is not looking so hot.  But I'm sure some type of quasi-stable dynamic equilibrium will be arrived at, to keep things going. Question is, once you have powerful immortals running things,  keeping very close tabs on things, do you want to live in that world? You do now.

Regardless, attrition will occur. Accidents, cancers, plagues, strokes, heart attacks, forces of nature.
There's no reason to think that would keep the population down.

Ah, resource depletion. There's a problem. Not to mention you can always have a societal collapse. And when that happens, when immortals have to live under, say, 1st century BCE conditions, or 10,000 BCE conditions, I think inevitably you reach a point where there's fewer and fewer of us.

And if we head towards a bright and golden future? Technology and science keep on advancing? I've always maintain that a post-scarcity society is the best horror story of all. Simply because it is uncharted territory.

I can't see how you avoid a posthuman world. So, humans still disappear, as we augment ourselves past the hominid stage. Oh, you'll have some perverts and fetishists, the curious who will take a shot at trying out the human form, but the rest of us. Who knows what kind of monsters we will become?

But I'm betting finally, nothing lasts, we're done, we're gone, and thats the end of us.

I think I'll go find out what Charlie's scenario is...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Singularity Indefinitely Postponed (part 2)

Quite a a few people reacted to Charlie Stross' opinion piece that the Singularity is unlikely to occur. You'd think he'd have said it won't happen at all, from the reactions of his commentators, and those few bloggers who have (ineptly, IMO) attempt to refute him.

Of course, there's really not much to refute. It's Charlie's opinion that such a thing is unlikely. What's the big deal. You'd have thought he traveled back in time and performed an abortion on the baby Jesus, or something. And actually, his argument really boils down to this:
"human intelligence is an emergent phenomenon of human physiology, and it only survived the filtering effect of evolution by enhancing human survival fitness in some way. Enhancements to primate evolutionary fitness are not much use to a machine, or to people who want to extract useful payback (in the shape of work) from a machine they spent lots of time and effort developing".
 So, what I get from this is he's saying either 1) a machine intelligence based upon human architecture is probably not the most optimal machine intelligence you could make, or 2) a machine intelligence based upon a human architecture is probably going to be no damn better at anything a human can do already. Furthering the argument would be tafter wasting time to make a human intelligence, the next step - a superhuman intelligence - from the human template is an equal waste of time.

What he is not saying is you can't build a thinking machine, or that there is no point in trying, which seems to be lost on his detractors. Any arguments in this direction are therefore irrelevant.

My objection to either 1) or 2) above is: So Fucking What?

I can find plenty of sub-optimal designs in nature (many of them existing in our own bodies) that are, well... sub-optimal designs. Kluges, Rube-Goldberg-like biological contraptions with barely functional features pressed into service via chance and contingency, exist all throughout nature. They are sub-optimal, inefficent, grotesque, gangly, awkward, clumsy, even downright butt-ugly, and yet, there they are, surviving, even thriving, in the universe. So, so what if you use a beach ape operating system to manipulate information in a computer persona or entity? It would seem that Charlie's objection is more aesthetic than logical, and therefore, easily dismissed.

What about 2)? Is it worth it? What if, upon a huge amount of time and effort, you end up with a human intelligence that basically tells you to fuck off? Well, anyone who's raised kids, or been near someone who's raised kids, knows that that possibility cannot be ruled out. (Assuming that you've raised kids for the inhumanly selfish sole purpose of getting some work out of them).  And are there better means of cranking out robots or computers which are not sapient and yet will perform whatever task it is you want?  Again, yes, of course. But there are just a few, just a very few, instances where it would be advantageous to have an artificially intelligent generalist around to do work in dangerous circumstances, where it would require even more time and effort to equip a human to survive. Deep sea or space travel springs to mind.  Again, Charlie's objection seems more aesthetic than practical or logical.

Now, I can think of a good argument for not pursuing hyperintelligent AIs, which is the existential threat. I build an intelligence which decides that I'm the useless one. That scenario I think we need not go into. But I think it an unlikely one, and probably more out of an arbitrary choice than anything else.

But I do think there is one exception to Charlie's objections which I haven't heard yet. I've mentioned in the previous essay that perhaps we are a bit more optimal than Charlie goes on about - given that we have these tool incorporation adaptations, and, if you consider experiments with virtual reality body configurations etc, a flexibility to be something other than human. There is good evidence that this thing we call our mind is constantly simulating ourselves. We are dynamically updating our identities. We are actively seeking out data (within the body and outside it, including our accoutrements and possessions) to simulate us. And I think we are generalist enough to handle cyberspace much more fluently than is generally surmised.

But another refutation is: Love. Yes, my loves, Love.

If you think about it, we already are kind of a superorganism as a society, which suggest a more than human intelligence operating out there. (I would even surmise that occasionally we form collective  - usually psychotic - personalities, like, for example when Europe, or part of Europe, briefly became an entity called Caesar, or Napoleon, or Hitler).

We more than are our embodied brains simulating us and our incorporated environs. We also incorporate into ourselves our loved ones.  I'd love to take credit for this, but hear out Doctor Miguel Nicolelis, in his book "Beyond Boundaries" (page 219):
"Although experimental evidence remains scant, I firmly believe that, in their perfectionist drive to achieve the ultimate simulation of the self, our brains also incorporate, as a true part of each of us, the bodies of the other living things that surround us in our daily existence. the refined neural simulation routine I am proposing  may be better understood if we call its final product by its more colloquial  and well-publicized name: love"
Right now, I've family in Wisconsin, Indiana, California. I've a niece in Kansas City, Mo. I've friends in places as diverse as Texas and Hawaii. I'm a continent straddling Colossus. I've a sister-in-law in Paris, France at the moment. Which bumps me up to international status.

I have loving memories of uncles and aunts and grandparents living and long departed. I've, through them, memories and stories that span a century or more. I've read books. I've watched movies. Heard songs. Enjoyed poems. Examined paintings. My memories, metaphorically certainly, in actuality quite possibly span the entire age of the universe.

I am more than just who I am. And so are you. I think, to simulate us in a computer, requires much, much more than just my current connectome. To simulate me, you might just need to simulate my world, my universe.

A superintelligent AI from me, or someone like me, alone? Unlikely.

But me, plus me and mine, plus me and my world...?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Singularity Indefinitely Postponed (part 1)

Charlie Stross is at it again. He has the Extropian world reeling in a tizzy with the heretical pronouncement that "Santa Claus doesn't exist". If interested, you can read the essay and the accompanying comments right here.

For my quick and dirty summary of the singularity, check out "The Singularity Will Not Be Televised".

Interestingly, Vernor Vinge, the guy who first expounded upon the Singularity, has a new book soon to be out in October, called "Children of the Sky". It is a sequel to his 1991 space opera, "A Fire Upon the Deep".

Let me tell you, if the Singularity is anything like what happens in AFUTD, you really don't want it to happen, because it basically involves a malevolent 5-billion-year-old slightly-more-than-weakly-godlike superintelligence that makes the existential threat of being Bizarro Superman's room-mate seem like a pleasant distraction.

Damn, I really don't have time to do this subject justice today. Charlie's arguments are a scab worth picking at, but I've a tight schedule. As a compleat tangent, I would like to direct your attention to one fine little opining on Charlie's part regarding libertarians, to wit:
"I'm definitely not a libertarian: economic libertarianism is based on the same reductionist view of human beings as rational economic actors as 19th century classical economics — a drastic over-simplification of human behaviour. Like Communism, Libertarianism is a superficially comprehensive theory of human behaviour that is based on flawed axioms and, if acted upon, would result in either failure or a hellishly unpleasant state of post-industrial feudalism."
 Ah, good old Charlie. (Old? He's nearly a decade younger than I).

What is funny is that later in the comments, as if having the Singulitarians wail and gnash their teeth that One Whom They Assumed Was A True Believer points out flaws in their Vision Quest were not enough, some dopey anonymous libertard tries to make him see reason, vis:
"You claim, quite incorrectly that you are not a libertarian because "is based on the same reductionist view of human beings as rational economic actors as 19th century classical economics" and that "is a superficially comprehensive theory of human (sic) behaviour that is based on flawed axioms..." Wow, these statements are riddled with so much non-fact, I had to respond. I'll do my best in a couple minutes to bring a light on the subject".
Oh, God, fucking spare me right now by putting a gun in my mouth, rather than listen to another load of butt froth poorly disguised as a reasonable argument. Charlie is more succinct:
"You're telling me you have greater insight into my internal mental state than I have?
Piss off."
Excellent. Although I do need to throw this in as a rejoinder. Anonymous libertard opines:
"Austrian economics, and Hayek in particular, argues quite the opposite of what you stated about economics (and right along side you that the singularity-uploading of consciousnesses is a myth); that it is impossible to concentrate enough knowledge to engineer a top down economy."
Really? I'm sure every fucking CEO of every fucking corporation in the world - every single one of them a miniature small top down hierarchical command economy - will be thrilled to know that Mssrs. Mises, Hayek, et al. has determined that they cannot possibly run their company. At any rate...

Basically, the counterarguments, more like irritated noises, within the comments typically invoke either Moore's Law, or  just a great deal of hand-waving. Basically, the argument is a reliance upon trending. Technological trends envision a future where silicon intelligence is possible that rivals or exceeds meat intelligence.

I would point out the weakness of the trending argument. Consider our own history. Fossil evidence deems it highly probable that we were bipedal apes long before we were big-brained hominids. And look at what happened. Here you had a nice spine, well adapted as a horizontal suspension bridge for hanging muscle and gut off it in a foot and knuckle gait, suddenly - and chronically painfully - modified to an upright stature. Further, you take a nice wide pelvis, and pitch it forward and narrow it to get the hip joints  directly under for a solid bipedal gait. And as a result, you end up narrowing the birth canal gap from the copious and roomy pre-human pelvis to the now dangerously smaller gap of the bidpedal ape.

Trending suggests that you end up with smaller headed bipedal apes - you make baby heads smaller to accomodate the narrower birth canal. Trending does not  suggest  a highly dangerous birthing with a big giant fucking baby head, or for that matter,  a  premature fetal ape living and developing outside the womb.

So, yeah, with that and about three hundred billion other examples I could write up, fuck the trending argument.

Charlie's argument is basically that the only form of intelligence we would be interested is based upon the human template, which in turn is a evolutionary result of plains ape technology, itself probably not well adapted to inhabiting cyberspace. All well and good. There is more than one kind of intelligence on this planet - social insects, crows, dolphins, whales, to name the obvious.

I agree with him that I think it (developing an AI based upon a human template) is not the most promising route to produce a superhuman intelligence that bootstraps us all into Info-Valhalla. On the other hand, with the expansion of the frontoparietal circuitry in modern brains, we do have that very interesting new ability - or rather, an enhanced existing ability - of seemlessly incorporating the artifacts we fabricate into our sense of self.  Our brains have that amazing plastic ability to make our tools extensions of our bodies. In fact, I suspect that this ability points towards an even more interesting plasticity involved in shamanism - the imagining, the simulation, the ability to become other animals and other beings.

Suffice to say, if the superhumans do show up, they will be enhanced humans.

Likely? Maybe, but again I would avoid a trending argument to back this up. And my cynical optimism - emphasis on the cynical - prods me to hope it doesn't come to pass.

And unfortunately, this is as far as I can take this discussion for now.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Game Changers

As a cynical optimist, I've a feeling that not only will our civilization be around a lot longer than most people think, but that we are still in the dawn time for our species. That's pretty optimistic, given that, depending on how liberal you are with the definition of what "human" is, our species has been around for  a quarter million years or so.

However, the cynical part means far future people are going to make serious fun of us primitive, paranoid early humans. Case in point: energy production. There will come a day when far future people will make the statement: "Can you believe those assholes burned oil?!!!?!!!"

Instead, of, you know, using it to manufacture youth butter, the stuff that keeps us all looking immortal and ageless.

But, energy production. I think we just might be entering the era where we go beyond the primitive 19th century techniques we've used so far: burning shit to heat water up to make steam. Wow. Fucking cave people.

Your Government (US citizens) has some programs funded through Arpa-E that, in the unlikely event that any of them prove fruitful, would be major game changers. (See, this is why the government should NOT be run like a business, which is what so many butthead conservatives think is a good idea. It is, in fact, a completely fucking stupid fucking wet little turd of an idea, since the purpose of running a business is to make money,  and if a business can get away with offering you a shitty, fucked up, shoddy product or service and you, the consumer are dumb enough to buy it, then everything is just fine. If, on the other had, we run it like a government, which has more public accountability and is thus held to higher standards...).

Scientific American has identified seven government funded programs here. (Sorry, link is for subscribers). I particularly like the syngas (petrochemical precursors) production using sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and rust. Another innovation which I like is the quantum dot solar cell. This really pushes the efficiencies of solar cells to a point that solar generation is well below the cost thresholds that fossil fuels enjoy.

In fact, when it comes to solar, the prospects are just starting to open up. Certainly within the next decade, production costs and efficiencies will be easily competitive with all other energy production schemes, especially fossil fuels. More importantly, as can be read in the previous link, solar manufacturers built, shipped out, and installed 17 nuclear power plants (17 gigawatts @ 1 plant per gigawatt) worth of generating equipment in 2010 alone. How long does it take to get a nuke plant built, let alone licensed?

But hey, speaking of nukes, there's a fun possibility that you might see small nuke plants being built. Ones that can't melt down. Ones that don't generate toxic wastes, or rather, just a tiny fraction of waste that the current monsters produce. Japan and Germany are considering dropping nuclear power generation entirely. If this thorium reactor design comes to fruition, they may want to rethink their policy.

This pint-sized thorium reactor, which uses a particle accelerator to power the reaction, could be just the thing we need.

And, of course, there's always fusion. The joke is fusion is always just thirty years away. Always. But, who knows, some schemes may work out that don't require megatons of equipment, and billions of dollars to build. (MY bet is that a fusion rocket is easier to build than a fusion power plant, and perhaps, in combination with advanced magnetohydrodynamic studies, that's the way fusion power will materialize. In space.)

In any case, I'm cynically optimistic about the prospects. Technologists area little overdue at pulling something out of their collective ass.

It may be an extremely large rabbit that pops out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Driving Drowsy

This seems to be the week for embarrassing personal revelations. So time I admitted I've driven under the influence - of sleep.

I love to drive. There are very few parts of the country I have not driven through. Sections of the east coast north of New Hampshire and south of New Jersey. The Deep South (uh, is there any good reason to go there)? I've driven cross-country to both coasts seven or eight times, and every single time there has been some stretch of road I had no business being on because I was driving while undergoing reptilian torpor.

Probably the worst was coming back from Seattle. I stopped into a restaurant in Osseo, Wisconsin called the Norske Nook. After a lunch of breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, and a slice of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream, I found myself being awakened by the rumble strip on I-94 south around Tomah. I was probably asleep for a good thirty seconds. For the longest time after that, I had a hard time shaking the idea that I was in the Bardo - that transitional state the Tibetans suggest we go through between lives. Nah. I don't believe in that anymore. Of course I wasn't, but once you go through one of those coulda-shoulda-been-killed-or-at-least-mutilated episodes, there is a tinge of unreality about life that sticks with you for a bit.

At any rate, since I am one of those people (possibly due to being a runner?) who tries to pay close attention to one's internal bodily states (possibly why I don't have the knack as a meditator?), I've noticed things going on inside my brain when I start to doze off. I'm very much aware of my conscious states in those situations like drowsy driving - because, you know, you are fighting to stay awake.

One thing I've noticed is it seems like there are parts of my brain that are just completely shut down in this drowsy state, and that other parts are talking to each other. It's just barely perceptible, like hearing a conversation in a distant part of the house. I've chalked it up to the idea that my conscious part of me, my awake personality, is just the tip of the iceberg. I know for certain that there are vast unconscious processes - all that maintenance and housekeeping - going on inside me that never quite bubble up to the surface.

Well, it appears I'm correct. Researchers who have done brain scans of people falling asleep are astounded to see specific regions "talking" to each other. The theory is that some regions are actively inhibiting other regions. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they all interdependently, in a weird kind of relativistic spacetime brain continuum way, make each other "go to sleep" in an acausal nonlinear loop.

I'm sleepy.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shit. Shat. Shut.

I have mentioned before that I have shat into a brown paper bag, and not just for entertainment purposes. More than once.

I've a fairly cavalier attitude towards shit, which is to say realistic. As I've mentioned before, we live in a world of shit. This is the shit world. Take a ride in a convertible sometime, holding a petri dish against the wind. Incubate. Behold all the little shit-eating inhabitants floating around for you to smack into while joyriding in that car. Why, there's aerosol particles of shit everywhere.

Oh, it used to be a much, much shittier world. Go back a mere two billion years, back before any multicellular (as typically defined) life existed, back before there was much in the way of oxygen content in our atmosphere, and it was quite a shitty world. Without the bleaching action of oxygen, the air smelled like a big giant fart. The water of the oceans, without oxygen to precipitate the iron out, was a shitty brown color. Shit brown sky too, what with all the CO2 and methane. In fact, everything looked shit brown. The term fecal coliform bacteria didn't apply to the little guys back then, as there was nothing that could be defined as feces, let alone anything like a colon for the feces to pass through. But there they were, ready and waiting to colonize the colon, once such a thing was invented.

And they had some major shit storms back then.

The really hard thing about riding out a Force 12 shit storm is the aftermath. Oh, you think the worst is when you are in the middle of it, but believe me, that wind driven shit gets into everything. Every nook, every cranny, every orifice you got is liberally coated in liquid shit. It don't matter how tightly you clench your eyes or your mouth, it gets in there. Why it can take weeks for the pores of your skin to be completely free of the shit. Surprisingly, the one organ you'd think wouldn't mind being inhabited by shit comes through shit-free. Your rectum comes through the ordeal with no non-native inhabitants invading its space.

All hail the anal aperture. I guess. Seems to be in charge at least. In the strictest business sense.

So about that brown paper bag... well, this is a cautionary tale, mind you, for the edification of those unborn generations yet to be.

We (my eldest brother and I) had after a very late start of the beginning of the college year, had rented a house that no one else in town would rent.

We ended up calling it "The Depresso House".

It was to be condemned the following year, and that was a year too late. It was a rickety house, worn down to the stubs. The roof leaked. The floor was canted. Snow would drift under the doors and windows in the winter. We ended up stuffing newspapers in every crack we found. For heat, there was a single space heater in the kitchen. The plumbing worked well enough, except for the toilet.

Ah, the toilet.  The toilet would back up if you looked at it wrong. The toilet was a random element thrown into our lives, but, basically, after several overflow mishaps, we gave up using the toilet. For most of the fall semester and into winter, we were able to use the restroom of the Taco Tico next door to us. But eventually the manager caught wise, and forbad us from the establishment.

Long story short, we sought alternate depositories throughout campus and town, but circumstances would catch you with an urgent request at the domicile, and the preferred heuristic was to shit into a paper bag. Said bag would then be heaved into the dumpster of the landlord, conveniently next door.

Well, coming home one particularly brutally cold evening, I was struck with an inconvenience. Faced with the prospect of a sub zero squat in that squalid and useless bathroom, I decided to avail myself in front of the space heater. Yes, I took a shit in the kitchen. I shat where I ate. Ah, the shame. But it was the only warm place to shit.

Just as I had completed my ritual evacuation, my eldest brother arrived home with his date for the evening...

They witnessed the spectacle of me,  crying "Don't come in! Wait! Wait!" as I frantically frog-walked myself out of the room, bag tucked up against my bum.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"How's That Taxey Cutty Stuff Workin' Out for Ya?"

June 7, 2011 is the tenth anniversary of the Bush tax cuts. How's that goin' fer ya? Huh? Sarah? Palin? Dumb bitch? Yah, hey dare!


So, the latest Republican dipshit, Tim Pawlenty, just can't seem to get enough of those tax cuts. His version of conservative unicorn donut shit is even more of the early 80's/asshole Steve Forbes/Jack Kemp/flat tax/trickle down magical thinking that has served our American economy so well these past thirty years. Pawlenty calls for even more tax cuts, more belt tightening for the poor and middle class, more perquisites and subsidies for the rich, and this will result somehow in a job creating high growth economy like what the Bush tax cuts have given us for these past ten years. Oh, yah!

Honestly, is there a window these fuckers can look out of? Because they seem to be getting all of their information about things outside of their tiny little heads through a fucking crystal ball or magic mirror or something.

How have those Bush tax cuts worked out for all of us over the past ten years?

  • Well, let's see, the worst performance of a US economy since the end of WWII. 
  • Job creation? A net negative. (Why yes, I am including the Great Recession in the numbers, and why not?)
  • Debt creation. At least $2.6 trillion in lost revenue (50% of the total debt accrued in that time).
  • Unnecessary added interest on the debt: $400 billion
  • Additional interest on the debt this year due to the tax cuts: $50 billion
  • Making the tax cuts permanent: From 2012-2021, pile on an additional $4.6 trillion to the debt
  • Making the tax cuts permanent in future decreased revenue: $423 billion, so change that $4.6 to $5 trillion of new debt over the 2012-2021 period

I'm not even going to talk about income and wealth inequality that the tax cuts have created. That's only accelerated the trends of the neo-liberal revolution over the past thirty years. Rose petals for the hundred millionaires and up crowd, and the rest of that thorny rose bush shove up your particulars for the rest of us.

One things is for sure. Want to get rid of the debt??? How about 3% growth a year? Tax revenues from that will at least stabilize things, maybe even drive the debt down. Revoking the Bush tax cuts: wiping out the debt. That would be nice. And we still get to keep all of the "entitlements" that we have all been paying for all of these decades.

So, House Republicans, how about some jobs, fuckers? No ideas? Same old bullshit? Thought so.

So, when is the hallucinogenic meth crank ball that the Republicans are snorting, when is that going to wear off? When will the Republicans be finally happy?

When the American economy is in a complete shambles? When our ankles have all been broken with a sledge hammer, and we are permanently bed ridden like in that Steven King movie? When every single worthwhile industry has finally left the North American continent?

When there is only one trillionaire left? And everyone else is pushing shopping carts around mumbling to themselves?

I guess.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pathophysiology of Arsenic Zulu Tango

Lately, I've considered publishing a science fiction short story here. The only problem with this idea would be,  I'm guessing, writing the damn thing.

There's that. Actually expending effort and time in coming up with what, in all probability, be a rather lackluster and quite ordinary piece of pulp fiction. The other problem in writing something would be cryptomnesia - that state of affairs where you think you come up with something original, when in fact, you are merely unconsciously plagiarizing the works of someone you have since forgotten you read. Case in point: Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita".

I actually almost succumbed to this when I started to write up a treatment about a future world involving a great many, many, many have-nots, ruled over by only just a handful of haves. Oh, wait, that's our recorded history, with a very brief and anomalous few decades when a middle class existed.

However, this  diseased and unnatural time will soon cease to be - as is only fitting. Certainly, such will be the case if  when the Republican wet dream comes to pass* and all the wealth of the world is finally concentrated back into the hands of the ruling class. It has been a distressing number of decades when, ugh, practically anyone was allowed a decent living. Ah, but soon the world will be set aright again, the privileged few will once again be the few, and the rest of us?... why we can go fuck ourselves, as is our wont.

But there actually was a book I read some years ago which explored this theme to its bleakest extreme. I can't remember the title. It was a summer read, a book I picked up from the library mostly based on the cover art, and it was set in a post-scarcity world of the 22nd century. Robotics and cloning had made sure that no one ever really completely starved to death, but the surfeit of available labor, and the lack of jobs requiring skills, made sure that no one but a favored few would have anything close to a fulfilling and dignified existence.

Then, of course, there were the hyper-rich. The trend towards increasing wealth concentration (1970: the top 1% of the US population taking in 9% of the nation's income to 2007: top 1% taking 23.5% of the income  to 2030: 1% grabbing 99%...) continues. The novel explored the interesting condition where, by  2097 or thereabouts, some dozen people controlled 99.999% of the world's wealth. And those dozen people, having acquired the lower 99.9999% share of the pie, their greed insatiable, proceeded to divest the upper 1%, and then the upper .01%, etc. of their wealth in a cannibalistic feeding frenzy of truly artistocratic proportions.

You can imagine the stinking black venom of fear, the sickly swamp glow of jealousy, the scintillating pulses of purple paranoia, the oily psychoses, the razor pathologies, all pulsing and throbbing through the demented intellects of those twisted, fucked-up souls populating the increasingly small top of the food chain. What a fucking nightmare that book was.

Ah, the very flower of humanity.

*Really, read the link. Looking so fucking prophetic now. Krugman nails it. A manufactured fiscal crisis via the Bush tax cuts, so that current 2011 Republicans can point to a massive deficit, which they caused, in order to deprive, defund, dismantle the assets of federal and public institutions, and sell them to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, all public means of assistance to promote the general welfare shall be privatized, meaning you are fucked pay double: once to corporate providers of shoddy assistance and rickety social safety nets, and again through past payments to public funds now in the hands of your corporate overlords. AND! AND!  They get the tiny-brained Tea Party tards to fuck themselves up the asshole with no lubrication by accepting austerity and thinking it was their idea. Fucking A!

In short, the corporations won, and the current fiscal crisis was manufactured just to clean up the chump change. Welcome to the Age of Neo-feudalism.

What say you? About ready to sharpen up those guillotine blades?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Tragedy of the Commons

The other day I saw a piece of crap panel van with the bumper sticker "Go Galt" on it. All I could think of was "Please, yes, stupid motherfucker, Go Galt, the quicker the better, go hide in your fucking hole in the mountains, so that we can be rid of your incompetent services, and someone better than you can do your job a lot better than you ever could, you fucking moron".

I honestly don't understand how these snaggletooth dipshits can consider themselves indispensable. I just wish they would find out soon, by running away, how fucking replaceable their studid fucking asses are.

Garrett Hardin wrote the Tragedy of the Commons in 1968. The essay is basically a Malthusian-tinged plea against the continued despoliation of the planet, the continued exploitation and extraction of every available resource for human need and greed until the world is scraped clean down to bedrock. Clearly, the essay has been ineffective.

Over time, the essay has since been mangled, manipulated, and mutilated to fit as supporting evidence for various political and economic agendas. The most egregious argument typically comes from  the free market capitalists, most stridently from the seriously fucked-in-the-head libertarian arm of the free market fundamentalist cult. They will present the argument as against communism. I find this distasteful. Not that I have any strong love for communism, I don't. I just find the idea of a fucking lie as distasteful. Which, of course is what the libertarian argument is - a fucking lie.

Ignoring the fact that the argument contained in the essay is against a libertarian way of life (rationally self-interested individuals seeking to maximize personal happiness through private wealth creation) is easy for libertarians to do - considering their ability to ignore every single shred of empirical evidence stacked up like a fucking Japanese tsunami against the shabby rickety seawall of their political philosophy. But then, living in denial is easy to do when you consider that the idea that being a selfish inconsiderate asshole is a virtuous and laudable thing.

But really, the argument is thus. Take a meadow open to all in a village for grazing sheep. Each shepherd wishes to graze the most sheep, so he can grow the most mutton and wool, and thus maximize his profits. this is a rational thing to do. But, all the shepherds acting as rationally self-interested individuals, grazing as many sheep as possible, quickly destroy the meadow. Too many sheep eat all the grass. A rational individual course of action has yielded an irrational destruction of property for all.

The libertarians argue that, had the meadow been parceled into plots of private property, the tragedy would never have occurred. (Ignore the fact that there is no reason for a shepherd to despoil his own private property in pursuit of maximum profit - as happens so frequently in real life). They ignore the fact that, out in the real world, where these types of things occur all the time, individuals will band into communities, work out a common solution,  regulate themselves and others with a social contract or agreement, and so the tragedy does not occur. (They choose to ignore this because there is just too much of the C-word going on here - common, commune, community).

The other aspect that is ignored is that, even though this is an open resource, the ownership that causes the tragedy is not one of common "property" (the grass), but of private property (the sheep). Again, there are plenty of examples where, through the unrestricted operation of individual action, a common resource becomes depleted - oil fields, fishing grounds, aquifers. In other words, without some type fo communal ownership, the private actions, unfettered and unrestricted, result in tragedy.

Take, for example, Sainik Farms, an "unrecognized" neighborhood within the city limits of Delhi, in India. This once illegal settlement, now surrounded by metropolitan Delhi, must make do without city services. The residents themselves must provide their own electricity, garbage collection, lighting, water supply, etc.

At one time, each individual homeowner drew their water from private wells. But over time, with so many wells drawing water, the aquifer had drawn  down. Each  home owner, competing with all others, was forced to drill deeper and deeper wells, until finally, no water could be drawn at all from any well.

(A similar thing happened in Texas at the beginning of the last century in the oil fields. A forest of oil derricks sent the pressure of the oil field down to zero, and no oil could be extracted).

This is an exactly equivalent situation with Hardin's. "And you see?", say the dumb-as-shit libertarians, "this is why communism won't work. The shared resource cannot be managed well. Had the water been owned by each individual, and parceled up privately, there would have been no problems!"

But the water ownership was not the issue, just as grass ownership is not the issue in Hardin's argument. The well ownership is the issue. Those were privately held, privately owned, on private property. Each well - unmetered, unbilled, unmonitored, taking as much water as it can, without regard to the needs of any other property owner or the health of the aquifer - is a monument to unfettered capitalism. It's winner take all, every man for himself, I am the biggest selfish asshole and Fuck You if you don't like it, raw, free, unfettered, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness capitalism. And that's what you get from that. The destruction of an aquifer.

Fortunately, the residents of Sainik Farms were not libertarians, were not selfish assholes. They realized that the solution to the problem was something that all of them together had to work out.

The solution was twofold. First, operating with a group called FORCE (Forum for Organized Resource Conservation and Enhancement) they set about replenishing the aquifer through rainwater harvesting. The overabundance of the heavy monsoon rains, which caused a great deal of flooding, was collected, filtered, and pumped down the dry bore wells to restock the aquifer. Talk about a win/win!

Second, the residents gave up most of their private wells, and have moved to a system of twenty community wells, with distribution pipes and monthly fees. By abandoning the policy of selfishness, by changing the attitude from one of being a selfish asshole individual with entitlements, to a member of a community with obligations and responsibilities to other members, the residents of Sainik Farms now have water. Better water. Cleaner water. Water all the time, for everyone.

This is a lesson your average infantile libertarian (nee Republican) just isn't going to get, and perhaps we should just slag them off and let them go fend for themselves, as they threaten to do with bumper stickers.

I give 'em a month. Then it's all rampant homosexuality and cannibalism.