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rrneck's Journal
rrneck's Journal
June 14, 2014

Life on the edge and Decision Fatigue

The thread about the single mom leaving the kids at alone night might be a good example of decision fatigue. The more decisions we have to make, and especially the greater the gravity of those decisions, the more they can cause us to begin to make bad choices out of simple cognitive exhaustion. It's difficult enough to resist a sales pitch among a cornucopia of products, but imagine that each decision you make between extra cheese or mayo could have life altering consequences.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

I can't knowledgeably speak to the particulars of why some single mom couldn't seem to pay the gas bill or manage her work schedule. But I think that she, like millions of other Americans, is operating on the edge of a cognitive envelope. And before you reflexively leap to the group of your personal interest, I think that desperation and its negative consequences are happening across the social and political spectrum.

Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there aren’t a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If you’re shopping, you’re liable to look at only one dimension...

I think tunnel vision as a result of decision fatigue is an important factor at the macro level of culture and politics. Jonathan Haidt and George Lakoff have described the basic pillars of our moral and political motivations. When we are put under pressure I think we could, as a result of decision fatigue, develop tunnel vision around those basic values. We "revert to type" when we are under pressure or exhausted. So, while people on the political right may become inflexible about guns and in extreme circumstances shoot police officers and drape their bodies in a Gadsden flag, members of the political left might, in a fit of communal need for change and disregard for established authority, gang together and start burning down buildings to "rip it all down and start over". It's happened before.

We have become increasingly, and dangerously, politically polarized in this country. At the root of that polarization is profit. Tribalism through confirmation bias pays, and pays well. That's how the 1% pits members of the 99% against each other. They don't see us, they only see how much money they can make by telling us what we want to hear. And they're working both sides of the street.

The only solution I can see is to view our political opposites as human with legitimate values and try to make our values appeal to and support their values. That creates political allies because the worse the problem gets the more of a mandate we will require to rectify it. If we fail sooner or later there will come a serious economic or environmental shock that will push one side or both into open confrontation against the other, then it will be too late.

June 8, 2014

Well, lets have a look at the law in question


(1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by a complainant. ... It is the responsibility of the person who wants to engage in initiating the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the consent of the other person to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.

That is certainly the way things ought to be done, but how will the accused prove he complied with such a standard in the real world? What mechanism will shield him from liability? How will the accused prove he has fulfilled his responsibilities? Granted, it's not a criminal charge (yet), but there will nevertheless be consequences otherwise why put the policy in place? Those consequences will be unjustly applied without some mechanism to prove compliance.

Of course, if the accused is charged with rape how long do you think it will take the prosecuter to introduce evidence of disciplinary action by the school? Read a little further in the bill and we find this:

(2) A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in the disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the sexual activity under either of the following circumstances:

(3) A preponderance of the evidence standard in the determination of disciplinary action.

So someone can be charged with rape and be disciplined by the school based on a significantly lower standard than that required by the courts. He can have his reputation savaged and his college and further career destroyed based on the same standard required by a civil claim. And that's before the courts even see the case.

And as we read further, we find this:

(8) Investigating allegations that alcohol or drugs were involved in the incident, and providing amnesty from disciplinary action if the victim violated the school’s policy when the sexual assault occurred.

So not only is the accused saddled with an impossible burden of proof, the accuser is absolved from responsibility for her actions even if they clearly violated school policy. There is nothing about this law that is fair or just.

I can understand the motivation and the need for this effort, but the law as proposed is a travesty. And I think I know why. It's a sort of ideological distortion that happens on both sides of the political aisle.

The concept of personal responsibility has been distorted by conservatives to further the ends of wealthy oligarchs. It has been used to convince people that they don't need single payer health care, decent infrastructure, unions, transparent banking and investment practices, clean affordable energy, and common spaces free from private interest. That distortion does not negate the value of personal responsibility. Each of us is responsible for our actions even if the consequences of those actions result in injustices because of the failures of others. We are all, as free agents and responsible citizens, expected to exercise due diligence.

The concept of support and mutual nurturing gets distorted by liberals as well. As much as I would like to live in a world where a twenty year old woman can get drunk and fall unconcious anywhere in the country in perfect safety I simply don't see how that can happen. The system simply cannot provide that kind of security.

This law requires colleges and universities to reduce the requirement of due diligence on the part of the accuser and increases it on the part of the accused with no mechanism for him to accomplish that objective.
May 3, 2014

Three Davids

Donatello 1430–1440
Michelangelo 1501–1504
Gian Lorenzo Bernini 1623–1624

In the Late Middle Ages (1340–1400) Europe experienced the most deadly disease outbreak in history when the Black Death, the infamous pandemic of bubonic plague, hit in 1347, killing a third of the human population.

1402 The English Bedlam institution, a former monastery whose named derived from Bethlehem, began to house the poor and incurably mad.

1412 Jan 6, According to tradition, French heroine Joan of Arc was born Jeanette d'Arc, in the French village of Domrémy. When she was 12 years old, she began hearing what she believed were voices of saints, sending her messages from God. When she was 17, the voices told her to leave her village and save Orléans. Joan convinced the dauphin that she could lead French troops in resistance against their English invaders, and she was given a force of several hundred men to command, whom she led to victory at Orléans in 1429.


1500 Jan 26, Spanish explorer Vicente Yanez Pinzon reached the northeastern coast of Brazil during a voyage under his command. Pinzon had commanded the Nina during Christopher Columbus's first expedition to the New World.

1500 Aug 10, Diego Diaz discovered Madagascar.

1500 Desiderius Erasmus, Dutch humanist scholar, published his "Adagia."

1500s Europe began to restrict the practice of medicine to qualified doctors.

1501 Jul 27, Copernicus was formally installed as canon of Frauenberg Cathedral.


1600 Feb 8, Vatican sentenced scholar Giordano Bruno to death.

1602 Mar 20, The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was chartered to carry on trade in the East Indies. The VOC traded to 1798 whereupon its possessions were dissolved into the Dutch empire.

1608 May 19, The Protestant states formed the Evangelical Union of Lutherans and Calvinists under the direction of the elector of Brandenburg.

1633 Feb 13, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei arrived in Rome for trial before the Inquisition.
April 13, 2014

Winners and losers.

Two separate issues with the same common denominator: The abuse of the world economy to the enrichment of a few wealthy oligarchs, and the the abuse of public lands to the enrichment of a single cattle farmer. Both are abuses of the commons to the detriment of the people.

But the iconic images that record the events surrounding the controversy are very different. Who are the winners and losers in the images above? On the left there is a huddled mass of unrecognizable people defeated by a fat cop with an aerosol can. In the image on the right there is a lone individual defending a barricade.

Those in the image on the left have already lost the battle, but the image on the right shows a citizen taking charge of his fate and willing to die for his cause. If you didn't know the circumstances behind the images, who would you bet on to ultimately win? Who would you follow?

When a single rancher steals public resources for twenty years and the authorities finally move to end the outrage by arresting his cattle, people sympathetic to his cause, fraudalent though it might be, show up by the hundreds and make it perfectly clear they will do whatever is necessary to stop the confiscation. On the other hand the housing market is turned into a casino and millions of people lose their homes and are turned into the street. So what did those protesters do? They sat down in front of an office building and allowed themselves to get pepper sprayed. Given the millions of opportunities to show up at the point of the outrage - actual homes where people were being evicted - a gigantic groundswell of support would have been inevitable.

Since the OWS protesters focused their efforts on an abstraction, damaging to the public good though it might be, they were unable to make their message real to the people whose help they needed for meaningful change. Instead of a protest to defend the citizenry against a genuine threat they wound up doing performance art.

You don't have to show up with a gun to have an effective protest. But you have to show up willing to do whatever is necessary to stop the outrage. Beneath the abstract economics, media buzz, political mechanization and ideological posturing the conflict is the same as it was ten thousand years ago. People compete for resources; food, shelter, and energy. Look at the images above again. The most important players are not the idiot with the rifle or the OWS protesters cowering on the ground. They are the bystanders. Why didn't the huge crowd of people come to the aid of those kids instead of standing there watching the show? And why are those three people busy photographing that idiot with the rifle? The answer to those questions explain what happened to OWS and why the BLM backed down.
February 22, 2014

Two pairs of images.


February 18, 2014

A short rant about the Kate Upton "vomit comet" photo shoot...

Let me get this straight. A glossy magazine devoted to the documentation of egregiously frivolous entertainment thought it was a good idea to photograph a woman whose sole job it is to look good in a 133 foot long, 85 ton, $22,000,000 dollar aircraft 33,000 feet off the ground. This technology, that has for most of human history been an impossible dream and requires resources beyond the wildest imagination of anyone only a few hundred years ago, was pressed into service so that we would be able to enjoy photographic evidence of the concept of zero G boobies.

I say concept because I saw the video and I couldn't tell any meaningful difference between airborne zero G boobies and boobies appearing in their natural earthbound environment. That's probably because within the pantheon of soul crushing troubles with which a multi millionaire supermodel may have to contend, gravity ain't one of them.

There should be no need to belabor the gargantuan waste of natural resources required for this vacuous bit of pop meringue, but I will add this: The Boeing 727 used for that exercise in libidinous affectation burned approximately 23,000 pounds of jet fuel. That's about 3,382 gallons, or enough to heat a home for about five years. Maybe longer if you wear an insulated gold bikini.

But there is another insulting waste in the performance of this stupid stunt: the waste of human resources. From the ground crew to the flight crew literally tens of thousands of hours of training and experience are required to keep eighty tons of aircraft in the air. I'd hate to think my career as a highly trained professional depended on making sure somebody got a picture of some mostly naked woman floating in zero gravity.

Among the uncounted fucks that I don't give about stupid shit, whether or not men look at naked women will count for at least a few of them. Men have been looking at women for millions of years, and they will continue to do so as long as they have something to look with and something to look at. But the gigantic wast of real stuff like natural resources, technology, and the expertise of people who take their jobs way too seriously to appreciate a stupid stunt like this should be an embarrassment to anyone with a conscience.

You may resume your regularly scheduled programming.

February 10, 2014

The gender wage gap controversy reminds me of an old joke...

If this is the wrong place to post this, feel free to lock it.

Bob and Ray are digging a hole. It's hot, miserable work. Ray says, "Howzit the boss is up there sitting under a tree drinking beer and we're down here digging this fucking hole?" Bob says, "Beats me, why don't you go ask him?" "Believe I will."

Ray climbs out of the hole and asks the boss about his unfair advantage. The boss just grins, sets down his beer and says, "Here, I'll show you." He holds his hand against the tree and tells Ray to hit it as hard as he can. When Ray swings, the boss pulls his hand away and Ray punches the Oak tree, breaking four knuckles. The boss says, "Do you understand now?" "Yep", says Ray, nursing his damaged hand. "Then get down there and get back to work."

When Ray returns to the hole, Bob asks him what he found out. Ray says, "He explained it real good. Here, I'll show you." With that, Ray holds his hand in front of his face and says, "Hit my hand".


So Joe and Mary both work for Fuck You Inc sucking stink for twelve hours a day. Joe makes four dollars an hour and Mary pulls down three fifty. How does it make sense for Mary to demand to be paid as much as Joe for sucking stink? That's not equality, justice, or progress. It's an endorsement for paying stink suckers a shitty wage.

Robber baron Jay Gould once quipped, "You can always pay one half of the poor to kill the other half."

February 9, 2014

The chattering classes, the culture war, and Tetris

Remember Tetris? The player’s objective was to shift and rotate puzzle pieces to fill rows of squares. If the rows got filled, they would disappear and leave more time to figure how the next piece would fit. If too many unfilled rows pile up, you lose.

Okay, stop staring at the gif and keep reading.

The key to playing the game was to learn to recognize and configure the falling pieces as quickly as possible. If you had to analyze them you wouldn’t last long. Don’t think about it, just take what the program gives you and deal with it instinctively.

Each mistake causes the unfinished rows to pile up and forces the player work under increasing pressure to beat down the backlog. This idea isn’t new. Henry Ford used to make sure there was at least one maniac that lived for a particular task on each assembly line. That maniac would shove pieces down the line at a tremendous pace, forcing the other workers to keep up thus increasing production. This was known as a “ringer on the line” or, more appropriately, a “Dick Move”.

Of course our manufacturing base for actual products a lot smaller now. But we have a gigantic industry for the manufacture of ideology. We’re turning out memes on three shifts and the ringers are working double overtime. We are living in an ideological consumer’s paradise.

So what if those shapes in Tetris weren’t groups of colored squares, but rather prefab memes that look like this:

Most of you wouldn’t find it too troubling to shove that into what could be an ideological matrix at the bottom of the screen. This piece, on the other hand, might be a bit of a problem even though it’s just another configuration of four blocks:

They’re all just groups of four blocks after all. It will fit somewhere. Remember, you’re under pressure to beat down that backlog…

And what happens if you get a few of these:

You’re don’t have time to decipher those acronyms, just fill the gaps and get on with it. Remember, you have no control over what the software serves up; all you can do is to try to make it fit into the ideology you’ve already built. It won’t matter if they change the colors of the blocks or the letters inside them, as long as you can slam it into place in time to figure out what to do with the next piece. In fact, the more you play, the more invested you become in the game and the less likely you are to give too much consideration to the subtleties of individual block identification. That’s because the game’s objective is to keep you playing the game.

The funny thing about Tetris is that when a row is completed, it disappears. It is forgotten in the rush to install more blocks. Just like on an assembly line you have to take product you didn’t design and make it work before it disappears forever down the line. You’re invested in the process, but your investment stretches no further than completing a process you had no role in developing and what insufficient wage you get from dealing with it. And if management is smart, there will be a ringer right there next to you shoving product your way. That ringer defines the limits of your control over the memes you see.

And the ringers are more invested than you are. They are doing what they were born to do, and it ain’t quality control. They were carefully selected and if they work really hard they will move up the pay scale ladder. They will be movers and shakers just like the big bosses in the corner office. When they talk, people will listen. And they know they will be respected, revered even.

Of course, there are ringers and there are ringers. Some are upstanding citizens, others are buffoons. Most, while possibly well meaning, are in it for the money. That's why the 1% pays them all that cash. Because truth to tell, that ringer standing next to you on the line isn't any smarter than you. He doesn't know anything you don't know. He didn't design the product he shoves your way. He just knows how to work the system better than you.

Generally speaking, the more successful the ringer is, the more the product looks like this:

January 31, 2014

Why the NRA wins. (4)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

If conservatives were left to run the country you’d have, well, what we’ve got. They’re just not very good at it. From human rights, economic parity, environmental protection, and international relations if you study what they do and then do exactly the opposite you’ll get it right. But they do one thing very well. They follow orders and fight. That’s right up their alley. That’s why they’re big on the military and guns. Guns have become their sacred totem. They rally around them like moths to a flame and the NRA makes money hand over fist cheerleading for their cause.

For liberals guns have become an anti-totem because they symbolize everything liberals would rightfully like to avoid. Guns are made to kill people, and killing people is wrong every time no matter the reason. If we want to survive as a species we have to learn to get along with each other and share the resources available to us.

Unfortunately, the more we embrace liberal ideology, the further we are drawn from the actual problem itself. Liberal public policy attempts to nurture a way to a solution by progressively micro-managing the economic, social, and cultural chain of custody related to firearms. They are efforts to create a support network that grows from impractical to absurd the more passionately one embraces nurturing as way to deal with violence after the assault has begun.

Mutual support and cooperation between citizens is how successful civilizations thrive. The chaos of violence, whether it happens between individuals or entire countries, is uncivilized, which is to say the network of cooperative nurturing has failed and does not exist. The absence of civilization and a means to deal with it lies beyond the ken most of liberal ideology. We simply don’t know what to do when the fight starts. Unfortunately, conservatives sit around and wait for that eventuality.

In the pantheon of human affairs liberal ideology works best almost all of the time. But there is one instance where the conservatives have us beat hands down. And when we venture out of the ivory tower of ideological theory into the real world, we will meet real live people that know that no matter how hard we may try, humans aren’t perfect and sometimes we fall to fighting. And the NRA sees the potential in that ghoulish market and exploits it to the fullest. And that’s why they win
January 30, 2014

Why the NRA wins. (3)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

Human beings aren’t perfect. Some are a lot less perfect than others. Approximately 1% of the population, about three million people in this country, is sociopathic. Add to this reality the disparity of resources, opportunity, and history in an imperfect world and violence between people in even a wealthy and peaceful country is unavoidable.

One especially tragic form of violence is the mass shooting of people by a disturbed individual. There are few things more terrifying for the public than the possibility of a formerly safe place turned into a shooting gallery. Given the already ubiquitous presence of guns and the reality of disturbed individuals to wield them, mass shootings are a certainty for the foreseeable future. It’s only a question of where and when.

Solutions for this problem have been offered from both sides of the political aisle. The right seems to favor arming as many people as possible for reasons related to economics and the ideology of self sufficiency. The political left tends to favor the restriction of access to firearms to reduce the chances of such a tragedy. Such policy positions follow the underlying morality of authority and nurture respectively.

If the political left had achieved every policy initiative attempted after Sandy Hook, there would still be approximately one gun for every man, woman, and child in this country. And many deadly weapons would have gone unregulated. The most those initiatives would have done is to reduce the frequency of gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular somewhat. Eventually. Maybe.

So sooner or later there will be another mass shooting and the media will be overwhelmed with images of people fleeing the scene, terrified and weeping survivors and family members, impromptu memorials to the fallen and disturbing profiles of some individual that might be typical of someone from our personal experience. And the most that the left could say after a string of difficult and politically expensive legislative victories is, “If not for us this tragedy might have happened a little sooner. Maybe”. Such solutions that suggest a corrosive effect on civil liberties to problems that may affect any given individual with about the same chance as being struck by lightning offer at most a pyrrhic legislative victory. Such a victory might well result in a one way bus ticket to the political wilderness for any political party responsible for it.

While conservatives with the NRA in the vanguard can point to an actual object that can be acquired by individuals to empower them in the absence of any help from society at large, liberals are left fighting for an abstracted percentage and the hope that legislation will result in a fractional uptick in the odds of one’s survival from assault and the notion that some homicidal maniac will be slightly less efficient. That’s because the political left is attempting to redefine the problem to conform to an ideology that overlooks a rare albeit important facet of the human experience: sometimes in the real world people have to fight.

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