Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Prehensile Penis

Привет мои русские друзья ! Если вы оказались здесь , чтобы увидеть пенис слона , страницу вниз к нижней части эссе...
I think I know what I want for my birthday. A grip dick for those times when you need an extra hand.

Although the sexual advantages have not escaped my attention. Being able to commit a "come hither" gesture with the cock might make for some interesting moments.

Okay, what's the deal with the prehensile penis? I mean, aside from it being my current favorite phrase?

I'm reading "Packing For Mars" by Mary Roach. You may have read her. She has previously written books like "Stiff", "Spook", and "Bonk". She is an enjoyable and informative read the same way Bill Bryson or John McPhee is.  The book is about what is it going to take to live in space. And by live, I mean just that. Living in space, as in more than just working. Living in space, as in eating, sleeping, bathing, and also, puking, peeing, shitting, and fucking.

After reading the book, I would very much like to find the recipe for NASA synthetic space poop. Someone came up with a recipe for poop that closely resembles the item in both consistency, texture, viscosity, and color, but not smell. The eight-year-old that lives inside me desperately wants the recipe. Now, the reason the poop was developed was for the Space Shuttle's zero-G toilet, which is basically a shop vac with a butt-sized attachment. Everything that goes into space must be tested under similar conditions. Weightlessness is achieved by riding in parabolic flight in the infamous Vomit Comet. The freefall portion of the flight is only about 20 seconds, and though there are some people who can shit on command, most people have difficulty going number 2 in only twenty seconds before the plan has to climb again.

"Go! Go! Go!"

So, you come up with a poop delivery system, like a big toothpaste tube, and an appropriate delivery product, to do your test.

The space toilet requires toilet training to learn, which may sound a bit of a stultifying thing for an adult to have to undergo, but I suspect the training is preferable to shitting into a baggie. Or a brown paper bag. Both of which I have done. But those are stories for another time. If ever.

So... what's the deal with the prehensile penis?

A trip to Mars could take up to five hundred days with primitive chemical rockets. Five hundred days. Five hundred days in zero G, with cosmic rays coursing through your body, and solar flares dousing you with X- and gamma rays, means you are pretty much an prematurely aged, decrepit invalid when you are ready to touch down. No thanks.

I think we seriously need to rethink the whole point of going to Mars. I know there are some people who would go regardless of the risks. They are stupid. Honestly. If the whole point is to just plant a fucking flag, aren't there enough up there already? I'm divided on the manned space program issue, but the bottom line is this: if you don't go to with the goal of staying there (wherever) permanently, of committing ourselves to a permanent presence out there off planet, we are wasting our fucking time.

Alright. Alright. The prehensile penis. Long story short, in the chapter on space sex, a fun little scientific fact is revealed. Male dolphins have a prehensile penis. Encounter groups have had to exclude certain frisky males who have grabbed people by the ankle, and dragged them about the lagoon. Well, I'm up for recombining my DNA for that particular enhancement. Only problem is, it's not quite true. Dolphins do not have a prehensile penis the way a monkey's tail is prehensile. It cannot wrap around and grab things. The male dolphin can manipulate his penis at the base, which allows him  to pick up objects and the like. Okay, so it is no monkey's tail, but good enough. I'll take it. Considering your average human male can, with the  BC and IC muscles, waggle the little guy around in a limited range, but it's not nearly as spectacular as some other denizens of the animal kingdom.

Now, you want to see a prehensile penis? Look to the elephant, old son.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sessions From the Hut - Aftermath

We started our jam session promptly at 7pm Friday evening, and continued through until 5am Saturday morning. I gave up around 3:30 am. I copied the music files onto a thumb drive, and we reviewed excerpts Saturday evening. Sunday evening, I got a phone call from my older (eldest) brother Eric.

John: "So, we had our first jam session Friday."
Eric: " The Motherfucking Cocksuckers??!!" Eric's enthusiasm is genuine, although hard to tell whether he likes saying the name, or he was vicariously interested in the session.
J: "Yes. I reviewed the tapes Saturday afternoon, and they were just... horrible!"
E: (laughs)  "You guys are really that bad?"
J: "Oh, it's not that we lack talent. We have an abundance of that. We just lack skills."
E: "You guys need to practice."
J: "Craig (my brother Chris's best friend, owner of the garage/studio) and I listened to the tapes Saturday evening, and after about a half hour, he said 'Oh my god, we are just... horrible!'"
E: (laughs)
J: "It is painful to listen to me playing the keys. Embarrassing. Like, watching the Hippie Episode from Star Trek embarrassing".
E: "Practice."
J: "So... do you know that your baby brother Christopher is a Nazi?" (Chris plays bass, and has played in rock bands for more than thirty years).
E: "!"
J: "Oh, yeah. You can hear him dictating the terms of surrender about every five minutes. After awhile, I gave him the nickname of Alphabet Nazi".
E: "Why?"
J: "At one point, we swap positions. Dean, the guitarist, takes the drums. Craig, the drummer, takes the keys. I grab the guitar. As we are playing, you can hear Chris barking out the chords he wants us to play. Uh, excuse me? I can work out what fret/string is what note after about ten seconds. I doubt that Craig understands the difference black keys and white. But there's Chris shouting letters at us. A! D! F! C!"
E: "The Alphabet Nazi!"
J: "He keeps this up, he'll be a Republican soon".
E: "Don't say that!"
J: "I thought you were a Republican?"
E: "Not recently. Shaved Apes on PCP. That's what they've turned into. And those fucking Tea Party assholes..."
E: "I remember attending a seminar on birth order and leadership. Basically, the eldest and youngest are nazis. Tyrants. Kind of leaders you want if no one is expected to come back alive."
J: "That's about right. I just wanted to jam and have fun."
E:  "Yeah, well, you drive nazis crazy. Second-born children are risk-takers, open to new experience and experimentalism. Rebels."
J: "Oh, you mean I ignored his every command? You got that right."
J: "You know.. the funny thing is it all sounded pretty damn good while we were performing".
E: Why do you suppose that is?"
J: "Well, ti is a lot like an acid trip once you put those headphones on. You are in your own little world of your creation. I figure it's like 'rapture of the deep'. You know, the euphoria deep sea divers experience when you go down too deep or for too long".
E: "Nitrogen narcosis".
J: "Yeah, except in our case, it's sound."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sessions From the Hut

I have, so far, wasted this entire day trying to find a good replica sound on Apple's POS Garageband for a Farfisa Compact Organ with vibrato. Considering I've only the unmodified software with no patches or instrument downloads or AU plug-ins to work with, the best I have come up with so far is the Dry Organ software instrument with the harmonic and cutoff steps options set to "small".

Who fucking cares? Right?

Well, I care, because tonight, Friday, March the 18th, will be the second annual opening recital for our mid-life crisis garage band. I'm as excited as a Norwegian can get, which is to say, for a cold people from a cold country, not very, or not outwardly. It's a terse, taciturn version of excitement. But I am excited. We will stay up to the wee hours of the morn, drinking and making bad music.

I am the keyboardist/alternate percussionist/vocalist/sound effects member of the band. Those titles are, at the very least, a conceit, as I really don't play the piano, or the drums, or keep time very well. Though I don't have much of a voice, I can at least stay in tune, and make interesting noises. This is sufficient to provide an ambient atmosphere to the performance, at least until I am told to stop, which happens pretty frequently.

But then again, our band is, quite awful. Really fucking terrible. So it really doesn't matter. One of these days, I'll set up something through a third party host for some of the tracks and then embed them here for your listening pleasure, and oh my, you will regret it.

(I think I've mentioned previously the band is known as, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages... The Motherfucking Cocksuckers! And yes, I know, not the best name for a rock-n'-roll band. When my brother and his best friend first organized the band in his detached garage a year ago, many names were bandied about. Somehow, as a joke, the MCs were thrown out there, and there it is. At the time, they were intent upon coming up with stage names for their personae, and all I could think of was "So... are we gonna have a tree fort clubhouse too, and a secret password?")

According to my brother, last year we did 78 songs, which is to say we covered some 60 or so songs and created 10-12 originals. Those who have listened to the tapes agree that it is best listened to stoned, but rare favorable comparisons have been made to Spike Jones and Frank Zappa - in that we tend to do narrative pieces that are not very serious.

Last fall, during one late night critical review of the tapes, involving philosophical discussion and beers, my brother and I laid down some new ground rules.

We had kind of started out with one ground rule right from the start, borrowing from improv: Never Say No. If someone wants to do a cover, or wants to do something, whatever it is, we do it. The problem with this type of tolerant and creative magnanimity is that anarchy eventually favors the strongest personalities. Which is to say, upon review of the tapes, my brother and I agreed that a new ground rule is that the Kurman Brothers Really Need to Shut The Fuck Up.

Listening to the tapes, there were far too many time when someone would start playing something cool, and the idiot oblivious Kurman boys just  stepped all over it with  some stupid comment or musical crap. So, we are to police each other tonight. We'll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I'm back to finding that elusive high-pitched Martian space vibrato.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wagers On Magical Creatures

I wish, now, that I had devoted more of my time in college to academic pursuits. At least I come by it honestly. In Bloomington, Indiana there is an off campus area on 5th street which was filled with bars and taverns. I don't know what is there today. My father recounts that, during his time at IU right after WWII, on the day when the GI Bill checks arrived, the gutters on that street would be jam packed with passed out veterans the following morning. And he was one of them.

Alcohol was never my particular weakness, although there is the usual Northern European genetic tendency towards that addiction floating around in my somatic consortium.  The more "hep" recreational drugs were my abuse of choice, and I regularly entertained that weakness. I now wish I had spent less time smoking dope and playing video games, but such regret is useless. Better to use the time I have now in worthwhile pursuits. I know that they say "Youth is wasted on the wrong people", but I also think that  youth is there to be wasted.  It's a period when we are invulnerable, infallible, and immortal, and so why not waste the time?

Besides, it's not like we can go back in time and change the past, right?

No, actually. No, I'm not.

Although the time travel thing reminds me of some thoughts I had on what it is we can and cannot know.
If you want a word for that, it's called epistemology.

I've always gone with the principle that all of our knowledge is provisional. Our facts are conditional, contextual, and contingent. This does not mean I subscribe to some kind of Leftist butthead postmodern relativism. Rather I will weight my facts on a gambling basis. Some facts that I will stand behind, and bet a billion gajillion dollars on. If I were to put odds on things, or as a percentage, I'd say anything beyond fifty percent I'd put a wager on, considering how many coin flip moments my extremely tenuous grasp on reality turns on.

So, like what?

Well, I'll bet that life exists somewhere else out there in the universe. I'll bet that it is fairly plentiful - at a bacterial level. Given that, I'll bet that intelligent life exists out there. Given that, I'll bet it's pretty sparse. I'll bet, utilizing the Fermi Paradox, that we are the only intelligent life in this galaxy. I'll bet that our nearest inteligent neighbors are at least 100 million light years away. I'll bet that it is unlikely we are even remotely close technologically speaking. I'll bet that most intelligent life is millions, or even billions of years ahead of us. I'll bet that we really don't want them knowing about us, in the same way that mildew really shouldn't make it's presence known in your bathroom. I'll bet that there are immense and powerful forces out there that it is just as well they don't know about us.

On the other hand, I'll bet that we share this planet with another intelligent species. I'll bet that none of the obvious candidates (dolphins, whales, elephants, etc. ) are one of these species. In fact, it is a favored creepy fantasy of mine that we are, in some kind of vampiric parasite manner, preyed upon by an unseen species. (But without the actual vampirism, more like elves or pixies stealing stuff). Why would I entertain this notion? Well, it's fun. It's a fun intellectual exercise, and it is sufficiently creepy. And, courtesy of Richard Hamming, it goes like this:  

"Just as there are odors that dogs can smell and we cannot, as well as sounds that dogs can hear and we cannot, so too there are wavelengths of light we cannot see and flavors we cannot taste. Why then, given our brains wired the way they are, does the remark "Perhaps there are thoughts we cannot think," surprise you? Evolution, so far, may possibly have blocked us from being able to think in some directions; there could be unthinkable thoughts." 

And since these are, in a sense, blind spots, or holes in our minds, it seems only reasonable that evolution would come up with creatures that exploit the holes in our minds. There could be creatures on this planet that exist, but since it impossible for us to think about them, they are, in a very real sense, invisible to us. So, I'll bet they exist, but since there is no empirical way for us to prove that, I'll not wager to much on them. There are accidental ways to find out, but in a sense, this could be anecdotal, in a magical sense. Regardless, like I said, it's just fun.

What else? Well, like, I'm 99% sure that I (me, my personality, my mind) will cease to exist when I die. I base this on the assumption of Landauer's Princicple: All Information is Material. (In other words, my definition of material, regardless of its esoterity, is that it exists). So, the only things that will remain of me will be fond memories of my friends and loved ones, the malicious glee of my rivals and enemies (if I have any, probably not, so then, maybe just a fleeting good riddance from those I have annoyed), and the other slightly more "substantial", less ephemeral, artifacts that remain, such as my art works, writings, stupid jokey songs.

And, oh my, if it turns out the Internet is forever, or as forever as the universe allows, then, Far, Far Future, I sincerely apologize for wasting so much energy on my crap. But you know they say, youth is wasted on the young.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Monster That Lives Under Japan's Bed

No, this is not an attempt to joke about Japan's situation. Despite the fact that I have kind of a generalized dislike for the Japanese people, my heart genuinely goes out to them and I wish their suffering to be kept to a minimum. (I honestly have no good explicable reasons for it, I just have the vague sense that they play at being a little too cute - trying to hide a long abiding savagery which certain unfortunates in the mid-20th century got to see firsthand). That sentiment may not sound like the most sympathetic or empathetic, but there you go. As a human being, operating under the default setting of benign indifference which I think holds for most human beings, I do wish them all well.

I know the Japs have a renown for low budget monster movies. But what we see as cheesy, the Japanese see, probably subconsciously, as a real and ongoing threat. For the longest time, we in the US assumed those monster movies were about us. Yeah, us, the, you know, the fat, beefy, overly loud people who actually pounded the crap out of them with monstrous weapons some fifty years ago. But no, sorry to pop your bubble, but we were just an afterthought.

The real monster under the bed is quite literally living under the bed of every man, woman, child in Japan. And this monster is real. Magnitude 9 real.

I have no doubt that, big picture, long clock wise, they are going to get through this. They have that "No surrender" spirit which made them so insanely arrogant and barbaric. They will make it.

What's my point here? Nukes, I suppose. People are freaking out about the Daichi meltdown(s). There can be no doubt that Tokyo Electric Power has screwed the pooch, that there was way, way too much corporate greed going on here, not to mention some serious casual assumption making on the part of their engineers. But despite the current panic, let's face it, nukes ain't going anywhere.

I understand the Germans are completely freaking about it. Completely natural for them to do so, given that they are health nuts. You would think France would be freaking a bit, but no, why should they?

A quick survey shows that France gets 75% of their power from fission, some 400 terawatt hours. Japan, generating a little more than 250 terrawatt hours gets about 29% of their energy from it. The big elephant in the room, with about 20% of their energy from nukes, is the US of A. Almost obscenely, at only 20%, we generate nearly 800 terrawatt hours from nuclear power. Twice what France does, and only a fifth of our total consumption! Piggy, pig, pigs! as my father used to say.

But back to Japan. Some experts (hah!) are now saying this is the death knell for nukes in Japan.

Oh, bullshit.

You got 128 million people crammed into a nation the size of California, of which most is mountainous, and so really they are jammed into a little crinkle cut little patchwork bits of flat land, of which most they need to keep as arable farm, with no oil, with dick for coal reserves, hydro completely in use and tapped out, no land for solar, and offshore windfarms susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis , so what they gonna do?

There's a reason they went nuclear. It wasn't just a whim. And unless somebody comes up with a science fiction gadget that either transmits power with near-zero loss, so that they can import energy, or build solar collecting satellites, or build a working fusion plant, the people of Nippon pretty much have to rely on nukes.

I honestly wish for some kind of science fiction gadget that gets pulled out of our collective ass, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Um... Don't really know how to end this one, so I'll just say... Hey Japan? Get well soon.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fred Goodwin is a Wanker

Strange title for those of us not from the UK. Just doing my small part to insure that, per Charlie Stross's request, Fred Goodwin, cocksucker extraordinaire, is the top google result for the search term "wanker".

Other terms for Fred Goodwin would be - considering he received a massive severance package for crashing and burning the Bank Of Scotland -  an asshole, or, per the libertarians and Randians who always get things completely ass-backward, a"looter", a fucking leech, part of the rich parasite class.

While we are it, let's throw in the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, and his manufactured budget "crisis". Scott Walker is another cocksucker.

Scott Walker Loves Koch
And let's not forget the Ohio governor John Kasich, who, as a managing director at Lehman brothers, invested Ohio public pension funds (the hard-earned monies of teachers, firefighters, and the police) into the toxic waste bubble, blew it all right down the toilet, and then turned around and foisted the blame of Ohio's troubled pensions upon those greedy teachers, police, and firefighters.

(And if you think that that was taxpayer money flushed down the toilet, you must be some kind of fucking Teatard stupid asshole as well. Those monies were earned  by public employees. The fact that the source was from the taxpayer as opposed to the consumer is irrelevant. In a sense, a consumer is paying a form of tax (a transaction) to get shitty goods and service from private enterprise, and so the source doesn't matter, does it? But, Teatard asshole, go back and find out what the verb "earned" means, dipshit).

So, Governor Kasich, there is a special place in Hell for you, and, with a little luck and timing, I will be the executive demon in charge of supervising the shoving a white hot, razor-sharp, barb-wire-and-spike-encrusted, million-volt cattle prod up your butthole for the next million years or so.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Just for the heck of it, in wondering just how efficient capitalism is. I think it is obvious to anyone above the mental age of an eight-year-old that our market system is neither rational  nor efficient. People panic to sell and panic to buy. Greed, a complex emotion consisting of equal parts envy, fear, covetousness, and stupidity, teamed up with fear, seems to be the primary driver of capitalism, and the question is, is capitalism really the most efficient system there is? Clearly it is not the most equitable, but if the argument goes that the efficient spread of labor and resources results in a kind of equity within human society, then you can't do much better. Kind of like Winston Churchill's funny about democracy, that it is the worst form of governing except when compared to all other systems.

Seems to me a system that:

  1. Perpetuates eliminable forms of human suffering
  2. blocks universal suffrage, as to equal access to emplyment, and community- and self- improvement
  3. encourages authoritarian behaviors, stifles individual freedoms and autonomy
  4. violates liberal* egalitarian ideals of social justice 
  5. artificially restricts laborers choice of work, or ability to work, or access to work 
  6. is environmentally destructive, and fails to register the true cost of this destruction, and in fact foists the true cost of destruction onto society as a whole, in some fucked form of socialism
  7. has a systematic bias towards restrictive consumerism
  8. undermines moral and ethical systems in favor or market mechanisms (another weird and fucked up form of socialist garbage disposal)
  9. corrodes community and social ties, creating artificial class structures to "divide, conquer, and devalue" the  dignity of  the real producers of wealth - the workers
  10. limits democracy

All of the points above could be argued against, save for the most damning point of #5, which I would suggest is an inefficient and wasteful use of "human capital", poeples' time, skills, needs, and most importantly, will to work. I looked at the wikipedia website (I generally do not trust wikipedia) to see how many times the US economy has gone into the shitter. Back then, they called them "panics". Nowadays, we call them recessions or depressions. Regardless, it is interesting how those with the capital seem to thrive regardless of the boom or bust cycle. Indeed, it is interesting how they do even better than average during the down times.

Now, to be fair, you simply can't just count up the number of years the economy went south and divide by the total time, or tally up the drop in GDP from peak to trough to see how the American worker has, for over two hundred years, been fucked by the rich guy. Although a very good case can be made that Americans are fucked daily.

But I think you need to divide history up by time periods. So, from the Revolution to the advent of true laissez-faire capitalism under the Democratic jackass Andy Jackson, you've got the Panic of 1797 when the first real estate speculation bubble went bust, through the first real depression of 1815-1821 (climaxing in the Panic of 1819), the Panic of 1825 (another land speculation bubble burst), to the recession of the 1830s, you have the nation's economy in the shitter more than half the life of the US. There are no records of GDP or unemployment for that time, but , considering  the nation's economy is relying upon the continuing western expansion onto "free for the taking" lands, basically a cheap and/or free exploitation that is a Communist wet dream, that's a pretty piss poor performance.

The period from, say, 1836 to the 1865-1867 downturn just after the end of the Civil War saw 8 recognized periods, with the depression of 1839-1843 seeing a whopping 39% drop in business activity (the Great Depression of 1929-1933 was -24.9% of GDP), the Panic of 1857 saw banks and businesses collapse like card houses. In total, the percentage of years in downturn (nearly 20) to elapsed time (31) was 64%. Again, considering the expansion into "free" land with "free" (slave, indentured, and underpaid) labor, that is still fucking dismal.

The period up to the Panic of 1907 (when JP Morgan bailed out the government) must be considered the period of the unsupervised economy. After 1907, and increasingly, the federal government steps in to restrict unbridled capitalists, and protect the consumer and the investor.  From 1869 through 1907, there were nearly 20 years of collapse out of 38, or 52%.

This period include the Long Depression of the 1870s, the Panics of 1883, 1884, 1893, 1896... jesus, Get the idea? This is, outside of the Great Depression, the closest the US ever came to revolution by extremist elements. As it was, with conservatives firmly in control of all political and economic institutions, I can practically guarantee that any attempt at revolution would have followed existing history, and resulted in declaration of emergency, a right wing dictatorship which would probably exist to this day. (There can be no doubt that, throughout the history of the US of A, the Left has never, ever posed a serious threat to power. A socialist or communist America is simply not in our cultural DNA. A Nazi right wing America is far too easy to envision and contemplate).

So, the period of 1907 to 1933? Thirteen years of economic downturn in total. A percentage of 50%. Well, it seems to be getting better, ignoring the fact that this is generally considered a boom time.

1933 to 1982. I make this a separate period because, with the advent of the Neoliberal Revolution, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II dismantle the financial safeguards and protections put in place by the New Deal. From 1945 to 1976 you have the Long Boom, powered by one-time rebuilds of bombed out economies from WWII, and, of course science and technology. From the Recession of 1937 (with a peak unemployment of 26.4%, far worse than after the Crash of 1929, and due to an attempt by Republicans to tighten fiscal policy and balance the budget - sound familiar?) to Reagan's Recession, we have a total of 13 years in the shitter, 49 years in span, a percentage of 26%. The greatest boom in the history of the world.

1983 to present: a duration of 28 years. Wikipedia seems to ignore the Panic of 1987, but there you go. That's wikipedia for you. They tally up almost 3 years of downturn. A percentage of 10%. Well, that's an encouraging trend. But, considering we are, in many respects, what with wages flat and benefits down, what with productivity and profits at a paradoxically and anomalously all time high, despite the offshoring of decent jobs, despite the prevalence of new jobs being menial shit jobs, or part-time jobs with no benefits, living in an economy that is like eating a giant fucking turd sandwich.

And I blame the bosses. Maybe it isn't capitalism that sucks after all. Maybe its all the psychotic boneheads that, because there is something inherently insane within our collective psyche, get put in charge of shit. Maybe that's why the labor statistics show, again and again, that people ready, willing, and able to work , aren't allowed to work. Maybe the Russians are right: "Whether salt water or fresh, shit floats to the top".

Myabe the prisons are filled with the wrong people.

Something to fantasize about, at the very least.

*In actuality, like it or not, since we all seem to have a sense of justice that probably stems from the detection of cheaters in hunter/gatherer times, we are all of us practicing liberals. Yes, because we all think fair play is a good thing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Brain Center at Whipple's

Rod Serling wrote the episode which aired May 15, 1964. It is set in the near future year of 1967. Mr. Whipple, head of a vast manufacturing corporation, automates every position he can. Robots replace workers. Serling uses the standard Twilight Zone reductio ad absurdum reasoning to eventually replace the chief executive with a robot as well.

Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.  I may not have precedence, or for that matter, any profound prescience, but at least I'm on the winning side. So, here you go. In this article, lawyers to be replaced by cheap computers. (Where's the lawyer joke?) And, in this article, pretty much anyone else to be replaced with a computer.  (And with regard to healthcare, who goes last? My money is, surgeons among the first to go, nurses the absolute last. Anyone care to wager? No. Good for you. I'll tell you why. Specialized knowledge and tasks, such as those done by doctors and surgeons, will be the first to fall to the robots. More generalized behavior, such as that done by nurses, will be harder to reproduce in silico).

Would you buy a used war from this guy?
Does this mean no more jobs? Oh, there will always be jobs. Some it's just cheaper to use people for. And I suspect some jobs we would never want a robot filling, like, for example, soldiers. 

But I have a feeling, if you can break a task down into components, you can automate it. That may even include things we would never consider as automatic tasks, like creativity, exploration, genius, random chaotic fun, curious behaviors, things that artists and authors and poets and musicians and scientists do. (No, not designers and engineers - they've already been automated).

So, is it too late for us? Nah, I don't think so.

But the minute the robots start having more fun than us, then we are doomed.

The Revolution That Almost Wasn't (Part 2)

As I sit upon this bar stool in air-conditioned splendor, in a wondrously ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing building on a heart-achingly beautiful world circling a fantastic star some 450 million light years distance from the planet Earth, here in the year 2011CE, I've to wonder how all of us, each of us, could have been so fortunate to live in the Best of All Possible Worlds. As I sit here, dictating notes and examining the might-have-been and could-still-be scenarios through a very clever device wrapped about my head (looking for all the world like a metallic hairnet, and giving me the appearance of wearing an aluminum afro), I note, for good or ill, all, the fleeting phantom pasts and futures competing for existence to become objective reality. 

Some scenarios are quite horrifying for being extremely unpleasant, others even more horrifying in their impossible perfection, but here everything is  just right. Yet, it didn't necessarily have to be that way, for, as I said before, the Glorious Revolution of 1877 may not have happened.

Throughout the 19th century in the old US of A, there were hard times indeed, but few would find things harder, or stranger than the period of industrial expansion following their Civil War. The entire maximum effort of the country, far more than had been expended in the war, was devoted to the massive project of railroad building. Even within the confines of the Northern Union the primary focus was upon the expansion of rail into the West. This all, almost as a side note, while opposing a Confederacy fighting for its very survival. And few could understand the impact of the rail. Along with the telegraph, it threatened the destruction of time and space itself, the boundaries of which were shattered from human into inhuman dimensions. In the case of the telegraph, information moved the speed of a horse to the speed of light. With the advent of the rail, the pace and pull of an oxen was replaced a thousandfold by giant steel monsters. America would have to wait for the atomic age to see a similar leap forward.

And all this came at a disastrous cost. The people of America, with industry already straining the sinews and bones of society, the rich sucking the blood and fat from the workingman, were barely able to keep up with these inhuman demands. People were breeding at the biological maximum. A flood of immigrants, stemmed by depression and war, was unleashed. Despite the expansion, jobs were parceled out by the miserly rich, to save costs and increase productivity. In an effort to make more and more monies, the situation for the average laborer was constantly deteriorating. The railroads, growing despite the woefully incompetent and criminal behaviors of the tycoons that ran them, were constantly in arrears in wages. In bad times, the first impulse of the parasitic rich was to cut the already abysmally low wages of the laborers and producers, while continuing to enjoy enormous salaries and issue high dividends to impatient investors.

Such a situation could not last. And so, with the long accumulation of grievances towards the wretched plutocrats that employed them, the American workingmen finally had had enough. In July of 1877CE, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad notified its employees that it would make substantial cuts in their wages. For men barely able to feed their families on the existing pittance, emotions quickly ran the spectrum from despair to rage. On July 16, the date railroad wages were to be cut, at Camden Junction near Baltimore, Md, the workers walked out. Their strategy was to halt all freight traffic. Soon, other workers in Baltimore, both union and non-union, joined their ranks - canalboatmen, canmakers,  boxmakers, and sawyers among them. The strikes quickly spread to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo, St. Louis, and Chicago. The governor of Maryland called up state militias to deal with the mobs. The 5th regiment, the "Dandy 5th" opened fire on men, women, and children at Camden Station, but the shops and warehouses of the B&O remained in the hands of the mob.

This was alarming enough. News from Pittsburgh did not help. Rumors that the officers of the Pennsylvania Railroad were forcing a freight train through the blockade there brought out a crowd of 10,000. A number of Philadelphia guard units, composed of the city's socially prominent young men, opened fire on the crowd with two Gatling guns. As reported by the New York Herald, the soldiers ceased firing revealed such a sickening sight of men and boys "writhing in their death agonies... with a number of children killed outright", resulted in the Pittsburgh militia throwing down their arms and joining the crowd.

The flash point, the turning point, occurred in Reading, Pennsylvania (and notice we have all the railroads on the Monopoly board, save the Short Line, represented). The state militia, composed of the 4th and 16th regiment, with no provocation, opened fire on an unarmed and peaceable crowd in the middle of the city. The 4th, composed of the so-called Easton Greys, another of the "gentleman" units from Philadelphia, was particularly brutish. The 16th revolted and joined the mob.

News of the slaughter of civilians soon reached Washington. President Hayes ordered federal troops into action. The Army, practically all Civil War veterans, refused to a man to engage in violence against the people.

"No amount of property is worth taking another innocent life" declared General Winfield Scott*. What had started out as the most lurid and violent riot in the history, quickly evolved into armed insurrection, and then finally coup d'etat. The Glorious Revolution was upon them. The plutocracy was no more. A national convention was convened, the 18th and 19th amendments added to the Constitution. A far more fair and equitable nation was born.

The interesting thing to note, some few years later and afterwards impressed into the New Business Philosophy, was that, under the citizen committees and action groups, the railroads during the strike were better run and managed than under the old bosses' network. This soon resulted in the "wisdom of crowds" political philosophy, the People's command economy, the open-source method of management and manufacture, and, naturally, the Free Education movement. All these in turn resulted in the realization, some one hundred years later, that "It", the collective consciousness of the superorganism known as Man, had actually been in charge all along. And in different circumstances, things could have gone much, much, much, much, worse.

From Spiral City, Bottoms up, My Brethren and Sestren!

*Note: In the majority of scenarios, General Scott said no such damn thing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Revolution That Almost Wasn't (Part 1)

Dear Readers,

I'm having entirely too much fun with Alternate History themes. If it's alright with you (as if you have a choice), I think I'll continue this exploration from my barstool in the Best of All Possible Worlds...

Paging Dr. Pangloss!

Scrying my way through all of the possible Nows, that land of hungry ghosts of which, naturally and fortunately, there is only the One, I happened to stumble upon a particularly horrible universe.

It all started with a sidewise view of just a snippet of an article, which, through great effort and expense, I managed to salvage whole from a magazine called "The Atlantic". It was an article about some creatures called "the super-rich", who, apparently, subscribe to the extinct notion that they have somehow, through dint of personal will and hard work, through some archaic notion of rugged individualism, created themselves into successful business types. This peculiar psychosis of self-created material apotheosis, with absolutely no nod at all to the vast support structure known as "society" that actually provided all of their good fortune, I'd have thought discredited a long time ago. But then, in this awful world from which the article originated, only a very few enjoy comfort and material wealth, while the vast majority of the Earth's populace suffer unspeakable indignities, disease, squalor, and poverty. A truly psychotic world.

The clearest evidence of this psychosis is attributable to one quote in the article:
The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.
Of course, if the senior colleague had been dropped from the ranks of the super-rich, 30,000-40,000 people from China and India would have been lifted into the middle class -  a far more advantageous trade.

Considering the amount of dumb luck involved in entrepreneurial decisions, an arrogant and parasitic executive being replaced by an automated management device, or even a chimp operating a coin-flipping machine, would surely have produced the same or superior administrative performance. One wonders if the senior colleague would consider my assessment any more cavalier or callous than his, and given that I am not the sociopath, I think we know the answer.

Regardless, in this strange world, one barrier of predation after another was eliminated starting with the improbable election of a grade-B actor to the office of the President of the United States (following a whole series of unfortunate - and equally improbable events), resulted in something called the Neoliberal Revolution. There was nothing neo, or liberal, about it. During this period, all capital controls were done away with. Welfare payments (a form of government security to the unfortunate) were redesigned to "force the unemployed to look for work". (Though one would imagine a lack of income was more than incentive enough). Large swaths of regulation put in place after a fairly intense period of economic predation and collapse (during the 1920-30s) were cast aside as misguided hindrances to business. The shift lifted many protections that had shielded laborers from the harshest privations. In short, predation was proclaimed good behavior. Or at least, no longer considered bad behavior. And given that predation is merely the final form of parasitism, the parasite class, the top wealth holders, were allowed to suck all of the wealth from the wealth generators beneath them.

And that is the most amazing thing of all! That these rich creeps, through some bizarro logic, came to the conclusion that they were the true wealth producers, rather than those whose honest toil had provided everything. Everything. Incredible. Because, you see, in this nightmare shadow, in this palsied parody of a society, the Glorious Revolution of 1877 had never occurred!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

If Your Money Makes More Money Than You, What Do We Need You For?

Not that I want to get drawn into the fetid muck of popular culture, but Charlie Sheen recently mentioned that most people's brains could not handle being on Charlie Sheen.


Charlie Sheen?
Judging from what I've heard from him, I'd be able to parallel process about forty Charlie Sheens on my brain. Charlie Sheen's brain on John Kurman; however, would rapidly become a superheated plasma of colliding near-light-speed particles, resulting in a Crab Nebula explosion, fatally irradiating dozens of unfortunates around him. In other words, Sorry Charlie. You are not as hot as you think you are. I know literally hundreds of people that are smarter and more talented than what we see in Hollywood. It's just that they ain't as pretty... and goddamn, Charlie. You are starting to make Larry King look healthy.

I often have difficulties composing essays. It is not because I have nothing to say, or no subject matter to write about. Quite the opposite. I usually have too many things to write about, and this blender of a brain of mine really doesn't help matters at all. It also doesn't help to write down reminders, because usually the summary ends up being "Note to self: Write about how it's all just a bunch of bullshit".

I want to comment again about IBM's Watson, and it's real, ultimate impact upon society.

IBM's Watson's Avatar
Cut to the chase.

Once Watson is implemented as a real expert system in dozens of professional occupations, you will see the final revenge fantasy of the working class hero. When bankers, doctors, lawyers, financial analysts, corporate executives, and engineers are standing in the breadline, because their jobs have been automated, they will receive no sympathies from the regular folks. Finally, the Eschaton of Marxism, the End Times of that particular religion, will be realized. The dictatorship of the proletariat, always assumed to be far in the future, will be here.

This was aptly put in the movie "The Incredibles", when Syndrome/Buddy Pine/Incrediboy states "And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so everyone can be superheroes! Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super, no-one will be".

Welcome to the club, schmucks. You are just another expendable cog, fucker. Give up your pretense to exceptionalism, because, guess what, any talents you possess are now only marginally greater than other people's, when compared to a hypercomputer. Because, honestly, I have no doubt whatsoever that a chimpanzee brain, loaded down with the appropriate software, will easily out perform any of today's professionals. Reason being, most people's "expertise" is just being exposed to enough examples - and a hell of a lot of luck (often confused with skill). And with the computer's brute force ability to hold trillions of examples, several million human brains worth of examples, there really is no contest.

For the past hundred, two hundred years, there are has been a battle between capital and labor. Capital has won due to the anomaly of history here in America - of an embarrassing wealth of untapped resources, land, and cheap labor. Capital (the upper classes), with the Social Darwinist/Manifest Destiny conceit, has been able to deceive itself into thinking the carrying capacity of the economic environment is infinite, and that Capital's (the upper classes') "genius" of continual and remarkable growth is purely one of superior talent and divine providence, when it is hardly any of the sort. It's the case of a lucky bacterium being dropped into an empty Petri dish of plenty.

This country was built upon a steady supply of cheap labor and untapped resources.

It's going to be fun to what happens when brains and intellect are now the cheap exploitable labor, if you, that is,  have a funny idea of what "fun" is.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

2050CE Redux: "If You Tear It Down, They Will Not Come"

Actually, the phrase "If You Tear It Down, They Will Not Come" may be a good bumper sticker for Red State so-called "thinking" along federal and state budget lines. Cut revenues for science and education, and you've cut off your dick, or at least the nation's dick. Even if it is the ridiculously short one that Republicans (Mainstream and Teabaggers) seem to possess - as in can't see beyond the end of - it's still a fucking short-sighted tragedy and a completely fucked up way to balance a budget. Balanced, as always, on the backs of the present and future workers. The bankers and Wall Street parasite class? Well, fuck you man, they got yours already.

Regardless, I won't turn this into another political diatribe. Room enough in the future for saying I Told You So. Instead, I was thinking of all fun I had composing the 2050CE essay. All the behind-the-scenes- world building that went into crafting a fabulation. We do it all the time in regular life. Planning. Day dreaming. Entertaining the fictive experience is rewarding in both a mental and emotional sense, but probably in a evolutionary/survival sense as well. Trying out a thought experience with no risk to life or limb does have its advantages. and it has been quite useful, after experimentation and theoretical calculations, running Monte Carlo scenarios (models, now, but not always, on computers) has been very, very fruitful.

Anyway, I had fun building up a world, and a kooky theory, to hang my little speculative scarecrow on. And I do have a kooky theory. That's the nice thing about having a fable, it provides a fictional vehicle to seat your kooky theory in, so that it can be as loony as it wants to be, waving its hand to the crowd like a queen, and no one takes it seriously. Like the Emperor Norton.

Anyway, here's my theory, and it has to do with time, and alternate history, and general relativity, and quantum mechanics, and all of them twisted up nicely together with time travel and add a wormhole twist.

(And the cool thing about this theory is, it contains elements I cannot  - or will not - explain, and parts that, by the very fact of being intractable mysteries, make the whole thing internally consistent.  And, of course, that's the fun part of fiction. If I tell you everything up front, you won't be entertained, or curious, or terrified. The End.)

So, the thing is, relativity and quantum mechanics so far irreconcilable, and the reason being is we don't quite have a handle on Time. Figure Time out, process or entity or what, and it all falls into place nicely and ready for the next conundrum. So, the figure at the top of the essay. The vertical dimension of time, and the horizontal dimension of space labelled "Hyperplane of the Present" or "The Infinite Elsewhen". Now replace the label of "space" with Chance. In which case it becomes the "Hyperplane of All Possible Presents". With me so far? Okay. Here's the kicker.

There's only the one present. There are no others. In other words, no parallel timelines, no parallel universes. There are, however a whole multitude of futures and pasts. Weird, huh?

There is only the one timeline.  Only the one universe to change through time travel, and yet, no changes are allowed. Or at least no changes that allow paradoxes to occur. Is this a paradox?

Some might say, "Oh simple, this is just a variation of the old Godellian closed timelike curves, but with future postselecting them so that no backwards time travelling causes a grandfather paradox or suchlike. Something like the theoretical experiments that Seth Lloyd and his team have played with recently".

Um. No. Whomever it was that said that. No.

Alright then, this is similar to what David Deutsch has proposed. That if you go back in time, you go back to a different past than the one you remember. Like, you can go back and twist the heads off as many dinosaurs as you want and nothing bad happens, right? Um. No. There's only one Now, remember. If you go back into the past, you are in that Now, and there's only one of them. Interesting thing in this scenario is, even though that past is now the Now that is the past you remember (the "real" past) you can twist the heads off all the dinosaurs you want and not change the future. Weird, huh? How do I explain it? I don't.

So, is this a variation of Roger Zelazny's "Amber" series? There's only the one really real universe and all others are shadows? ...maybe. ... kind of. But the difference is, there are no other shadow universes. You can't pull a travel to parallel dimensions in the present routine.

No all the futures influence the one present, just as all the pasts influence the present. They are ghosts tugging at your legs and arms. That's the weird thing. That's the key. That's the fun. All of those awful things I wrote about? All Monte Carlo simulations, but real, but not real.

But, for some reason, in every single alternate history scenario, President Sarah Palin is eventually eaten by her office staff. Funny how things work out, huh?