25 years ago: Yes, maybe, and nofuckin’ way

Things I could have easily believed about the year 2017 twenty-five years ago, when I graduated from college:
  • People would be using computers to videoconference in real time
  • The notion of “writing letters” would be a quaint memory for most
  • Most entertainment (music, movies) would not be stored on the physical media of the day, but retained digitally in remote places or on tiny devices
Things I could have believed with only minor difficulty:
  • The Red Sox would win three or more World Series
  • I would run a marathon at 5:30 pace
  • I would settle in Colorado
Things I would not have believed under any circumstances:
  • The U.S. President would be both deranged, stupid, and proudly immoral
  • A lot of people would be happy that the POTUS was deranged, stupid, and proudly immoral
  • That POTUS would be Donald Trump
Anyone who thinks I dislike Trump because he’s a Republican is mistaken. I do hate congressional Republicans uniformly and a good many Dems as well, and figure that almost anyone who runs for high office has some kind of obvious flaw inviting a massive and crippling punch to the middle of the face.

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We don’t just resist enlightenment; we like being ripped off

According to another depressing poll from the Pew Research Center, churches and banks earn more trust from Americans than colleges and the media. Not surprisingly, Republicans and right-leaning people are more openly hostile toward reality and more eager to embrace horseshit and ruinous influences than others.
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Say what you will about the media and higher education, but lying to people for the purpose of parting them from their money is almost the sole intent of the people running churches and banks. Read the rest of this entry »

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Donald Trump walks into a hotel room

Donald Trump walks into a hotel room. Vladimir Putin is standing at the foot of the bed with his pants around his ankles, clasping his rigid phallus, which Trump enviously notes is nearly four inches long. Ivanka lies naked on the bed, arms and legs akimbo, a pool of yuck betwixt her meticulously groomed thighs, and even more vacant look than usual on her kewpie-doll features.

“Did you just fuck my daughter?” Trump asks incredulously (and again, with no small amount of envy).

“Of course not,” declares Putin, nonchalantly tucking his rapidly deflating meat-whistle into his goofy pants. “We were just discussing policy.”

“Great!” booms Trump, his familiar ugly rictus of a “smile” quickly polluting his features. “We’re done here — but would you consider naming some good folks to my new U.S. Anti-Extramarital Affairs Council? Send me your best.”

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More hollow appeasement of idiots by most visible idiot on Earth

Donald Trump remains a bloated old shitbag who looks so openly irate and stressed and confused while performing the most basic of tasks, like signing his own name, that it’s impossible to not feel a modicum of pity at the sight of him in addition to the frustration and despair any decent or sane person has to experience when confronted with the fact that we Americans live in a country that elected such a worthless human being president, and therefore live in a country with numerous people whose major function as citizens is taking up space unnecessarily until they blessedly expire and rot into forgotten irrelevance, as Trump himself will do one day erelong.

I’d love to tell him all of this to his face, but the real impact of this executive order, like so many of his preceding ones, is probably minimal. He’s basically telling preachers of the swamp-dwelling Elmer Gantry type that they can officially tell parishioners whom to vote for, which is like giving a teenage boy permission to masturbate vigorously and often. Read the rest of this entry »

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Don’t worry, be happy (or I’ll fuckin’ kill you)

d72bc7759697b04042b588adf44a701bIt seems that the inspirational-quotes genre — and I’m talking about entire Twitter feeds and e-mail lists devoted to the phenomenon, not the posting of a few go-get-’ems here and there — should be self-limiting. Exhortations to ditch negative people and situations in favor of joyful smiles and unconditional love would disappear from circulation if these quotes were actually inspirational in the literal sense, because people the world over would simply put all of these messages to practical use and no longer need to continually receive them.

But of course it doesn’t work this way. The people I know who love posting kum-ba-ya fluff are often inspired to do no more than repeat this exact process every day, and worse, they are usually contemptuous gasbags and founts of banality who blame others for their dismal life choices and attendant poor outcomes. Read the rest of this entry »

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The book — a revelation

I grew up in a nonreligious household in what was even then a notably irreligious part of the country (an hour north of Boston in New Hampshire). Dad had gone to Catholic school in the Midwest but never bought the scheme; Mom had gone to some nondenominational Protestant church as a matter of social course and was told little more than “Don’t wear make-up and short skirts.” There was no Internet, all of my churchgoing friends were Catholic, and discussions of theology among friends and family members were just not a part of my life. I did understand that atheists were a much-tsk-tsked bunch of people, but this was mostly an abstraction. Read the rest of this entry »

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I wrote this post in 23 seconds with my feet, beating my time from 1935

607Do self-deluded people have a finite well of horseshit to draw from, or are there minds capable of just churning out an inexhaustible supply of it?

I’m not talking about unfortunates such as unmedicated schizophrenics who are literally disconnected from reality 24/7; I mean the everyday drones who are, to hear them tell it, one or two steps away from national recognition as an athlete, actor, entrepreneur, socialite, etc.

You often see this sort of circus playing out online: Over here is the yammering lady who’s going to marry Justin Bieber because he tweeted the same article she did, over in that tent is the guy who’s going to make the Olympic Trials in the 400 at age 43 off a 25-year-old PR of 56 seconds, and in that corner is the guy who keeps sending resumes to the Argonne National Laboratory claiming he once got a lawnmower to run for 18 straight hours on a mixture of goat cheese and Gatorade. And yeah, these fuckers are a little nuts too, but folks like this are out there in society and more or less functioning and looking normal as long as they don’t say much or stay outside for too long or look anyone in the face while speaking. If they speak. Read the rest of this entry »

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In case you’ve never been to Goat Scrotum, U.S.A.

Psychological projection is a potent force, and smart people are at least as susceptible to its wiles as anyone else — maybe more so. Even continually and accurately pointing out examples of projection in other people won’t immunize you; only cold, uncomfortable reality can break its spell.

If you’ve been telling yourself, in spite of what mounds of polling data and other metrics of public opinion reveal every day, that “no one” or “hardly anyone” really thinks that a wall along the Mexican border is not only worth the expense but sure to be effective, you are wrong. If you tell yourself that “no one who’s paying any attention” really thinks that Trump plans to repeal the ACA and immediately replace it with a better plan, you are wrong. And it’s not just complete backwoods tunnel-vision ninnies who believe such things, although it’s safe to say virtually all such people believe them. I have spent some time in less urbanized, less economically flourishing parts of the state recently, and it has been an eye-opening, even jarring experience in terms of the dearth of cognition that occurs in an abundance of people between hearing something on the news and ejecting it from the primary hole in their faces. Read the rest of this entry »

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The paradox of the rhetorical circle-jerk

A lot of us are familiar with sort of belligerent online ranters who aren’t afraid to “speak their minds,” “stir the pot,” “put it out there,” and so on — as long as they can control the conversation, that is. On their blogs and social-media profiles, these people grow comfortable talking either into a void or to a (typically small) cadre of equally mindless followers. It is usually evident that their toxic views and flights of ideas are fueled by some combination of glaring intelligence deficits or legitimate mental illness. Their output is blatantly dishonest, repetitive, self-contradictory, and in violation of countless rules of grammar and style.

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Getting unfriended in five joyous steps

I’ve mentioned before that I have more than a few friends who voted for our ever-more-embattled C-i-C, and that they not only don’t take umbrage at the stuff I write about various pertinent goings-on, but also chuckle at a lot of it.

But not everyone has such accommodating people in their online lives. If you have friends or “friends” who disagree with your politics or religious beliefs in a manner you find toxic, don’t worry, you don’t need to take action — soon enough, they will.

This is how it goes: Read the rest of this entry »

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Trump’s first success will be a failure

It’s interesting to imagine what will happen when President Trump first achieves what he honestly believes to be a genuine political victory, and what even some objective observers might view as one. (Insert old metaphor about stopped clocks and twice-a-day correctness.)

Trump will be eager to take full credit for whatever this turns out to be — say, a surge in employment in a given sector or the capturing of an Islamic terrorist on U.S. soil. This is nothing new, since he regularly assigns himself credit for things he had nothing to do with or aren’t even going well, bullshit that the media has been happy to call him on.

Trump is used to being disparaged and mocked in the press, but I suspect that there is a part of him that thinks that he can turn this around by perpetrating some grand or merely grandiose act of presidential shazam. When this doesn’t materialize — and as I think we can all agree, it won’t, as the media is going to keep taunting and baiting him and exploiting his personality disorders for a whole array of good reasons — I think he will be deeply disturbed.

In other words, Trump can take the potshots he’s getting now — not with any amount of grace or equanimity, but without literally collapsing or doing something so egregiously fucked up that some authority greater than him has to intervene. But I don’t think he’ll handle the continued jeers and taunts and insults and criticism when he truly believes he’s being a good president and no one seems to notice or care. Because if there is one thing a narcissist despises more than his poor qualities being maligned, it’s his supposedly good ones being ignored.

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Dumb and dumber, and no fucking way

fb_img_1486073038241I need to un-train my mind in certain ways.

I see this sort of thing and continue to think, “How the hell is it that so many people can rally behind anyone, let alone a U.S. president, who both rages away at phantom enemies (and legitimate criticism) like this and is functionally illiterate to boot?”

Then I recall the output of the most vocal Trump fans I’ve crossed online paths with recently, and remind myself of the obvious: People who like Trump unconditionally aren’t disregarding the fact that he thinks and writes like a preteen with severe lead poisoning; they actually don’t even notice this. If anything, they probably assume that Trump is turning out Shakespeare-caliber prose and thundering away perfectly on-point every time he ejaculates this sort of unintelligible, raving nonsense. They can no more appreciate how his words look to normal people than I can follow the logic of someone doing tensor calculus in his head or merely speaking Russian.

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Every conservative is a fat, Christ-addicted gun nut (and here’s a meme that proves it)

Not exactly, but isn’t it fun to think that way? Doesn’t that get your liberal heart beating with real force?

What I’m actually considering here is a doppelganger of sorts of that argument — the persistence of the “liberals want to live on government handouts” myth. It’s an interesting political phenomenon in that no one internal to the idea actually believes it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mental disarray and personal politics, part II

Building on an observation I made yesterday: When people who are clearly mentally unbalanced are at least coherent enough to form political opinions, in any contest they observe between a candidate who goes about things comparatively quietly and one whose chief strategy is inexhaustible high-volume raving about Stuff That Needs Fixing, they invariably go for the shrieking demagogue. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mental disarray and personal politics, part I

I continue to be intrigued by people who self-identify as conservative in spite of having been supported by some combination of the government and other people’s charity for literally their entire lives. I ponder the underlying psychology and then conclude there’s actually nothing unusual about this seeming contradiction: If you can’t or won’t make your own way in life to an even marginal extent, it eases your internal conflict to symbolically align yourself with those who can and do.

I’m trying to come up with the liberal answer to this kind of person. Maybe a closet racist or closeted gay person who wishes to shed such biases because it’s “right” and who therefore superficially adopts anti-bigotry political stances?

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Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and its seven-astronaut crew.

As a sophomore at the high school where Christa McAuliffe taught social studies as well as an aficionado of the space program, I formed a lot of memories of this event and its aftermath–in terms of both the Concord community and NASA–in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed.

Ten years ago, I expanded on these in a series of five posts on this blog, and nine years ago on this date I underwent a surprising experience related to the disaster. Links to all six entries are below.

Into the distance, a ribbon of black
“A major malfunction” turns 21
Life in a Northern Town
STS-51-L: what went wrong
The galactic price of organizational arrogance
Reflecting on a retrospective–with a jolt

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Some thing’s never change’s: Grokster’s still happily inhabiting an alternate realities

Until today I hadn’t looked at Granite Grok in several months. With a Clinton presidency all but assured and the Dems’ taking back the Senate more likely than not, I figured that the loons who keep that Internet turd bobbing along in the sewer pipes of cyberspace had become even more irrational and incoherent than usual. Then I remembered that their achieving this is as about as feasible a prospect as exceeding infinity; maxed out is maxed out. But I was nevertheless far from disappointed.

This post jumped out at me because it has all of the usual Grok nonsense: written in barely comprehensible English, relying on fringe characters and sites as sources, and laced with untenable amounts of wishful thinking. The lowlights: Read the rest of this entry »

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“New Atheists” may chafe, but that doesn’t make calmer approaches to fundamentalism effective

Yesterday, TIME’s online edition ran a column jointly created by three fellows who purported to have a new answer to combating Islamic fundamentalism. They invoked the annoying term “New Atheist” a lot, and while they acknowledged that the stridency of some of the highly visible contemporary atheists has its place in productive discourse, in their view it would be preferable to approach would-be jihadists in a gentler, more diplomatic way.

I was immediately skeptical of this for reasons I will get to even though they are probably obvious to many of you, but I kept reading to see what this novel and apparently magical strategy appealing to jihadists’ kinder sides would consist of.

And then the column ended. Read the rest of this entry »

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The paradox of human intelligence

You have to love it when someone burbles, “I’ve finally realized after all these years that I was doing X all wrong” immediately before making the very same bad life choice he or she just claimed to have put in the past. No, really, I do. The ability to simultaneously learn from a mistake and make that mistake repeatedly anyway is an exquisitely human thing. (I don’t like it when someone who happens to consider me a mortal adversary plays this game, but this is rare, even if it’s what inspired this post.)

In practical terms, wild animals with small brains alter their behavior in accordance with reward-punishment schemes much more readily than people do. If a lizard eats a plant that makes it sick, thanks to its limbic system and the intimate relationship between olfaction and memory, that lizard will never eat that type of plant again. A human, on the other hand, is inclined to engage its cerebrum, and concludes things like, “Well, maybe if I switch from vodka to beer, alcohol won’t be a problem” or “I’ll at least mix in some filtered cigarettes” or “As long as I limit myself to 10 tanning sessions a month, the gratuitous UVB rays really aren’t going to serve as a cancer risk.”

Ironically, we’re the only animals smart enough to be capable of completely pulling the wool over out own eyes. We readily conflate being aware of a problem to having solved it with no further effort.

Is this trait adaptive? It certainly helps reduce cognitive dissonance, which always  provides psychological relief, but in general — no. It allows people to repeatedly engage in behaviors that cause them pain, and the fact that it exists to a more obvious degree in mentally unstable but otherwise fairly intelligent or even very intelligent people seems to suggest that it’s not a good approach to the world.

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A subprime extended analogy

Imagine that for some reason the Bolder Boulder 10K — which I will be running for the first time on Memorial Day — fronted me 200 race bibs for this year’s event, and told me that they wanted $10,000 ($50 per bib) in return. Recognizing that the homeless and low-income population of Boulder is an untapped and eager market for this race — there’s a lot of free food and a free T-shirt involved, after all — I canvass the downtown area and offer to give race bibs away for $5 each, along with any EBT cards with a balance of between $25 and $50 (I might throw in a pint of vodka to sweeten the deal). I am able to very rapidly hawk all 2,000 numbers, giving me about $1,000 in cash and a pile of EBT cards. I have no idea if these have any value and I don’t check because I don’t care.

The reason I don’t care is simple: I’m on the hook for ten grand to the Bolder Boulder, but that is about to become someone else’s problem. Through a process of possibly illegal but complicated forgery, I manage to make the 200 EBT cards look like Whole Foods gift cards with a value of $250 each, and I offer these to people around Whole Foods stores and on Craigslist for $50 in cash, explaining that I have a gripe against the company and want no part of any of their nasty-tasting, overpriced garbage and homeopathic woo-woo. In the fine print of the agreement, which is written in Sanskrit, I have each “gift card” buyer sign for my personal tax records, it says that they also owe the Bolder Boulder 10K $50 in the form of a mandatory charitable donation to the Bolder Boulder 10K itself. It also says that the gift cards are only good in Whole Foods stores that open on or after January 1, 2020. No problem. Read the rest of this entry »

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