All posts by dd f

Mad Max : Fury Road

I felt it was time to write about George Miller’s most recent Mad Max film now that Oscar season is right around the corner, and there is talk of a special release of the film that will be entirely in black and white. I must admit this film caught me by surprise. I didn’t quite know what to expect based on the trailers. My first viewing of this film was a visceral punch to the gut and brain. The film breaks out of the action movie mold of the last 25 to 30 years and is basically just one long, extended car chase and fight scene. Mad Max completely captured my attention with the sound, the music, and the practical effects (lots of real explosions and stunts and minimal CGI). The thing that most stood out to me after my first viewing of this film, however, was none of that, it was the incredible performance by Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. I had not paid much attention to this movie before it came out, and Theron so completely transformed for this role that I did not recognize her until after the film ended and the credits started rolling. As I watched the film a second, third and fourth time in the theater I became even more impressed by Tom Hardy’s solid job as Mad Max, and I picked up on lots of little things George Miller and the actors put into this movie.  I continued to be amazed by Theron’s performance as well. A trailer may give the impression that this film is just a big, dumb action movie but it is actually quite deep, exploring themes that are highly relevant to the post-modern era.

The major themes that resonated to me were warnings about nuclear war, climate change, and religious and political extremism. The other theme carried throughout the movie is the power of women. There are no damsels in distress in this film. The women in Mad Max: Fury Road are just as ferocious and capable, and sometimes more ferocious and capable than the men.  The redemptive power of women to undo the damage wrought by men through nuclear war, climate change and extremism is one of the main lessons of this film. In that way this work agrees with another one of my heroes, George Carlin, who rightly places most of the blame (but not all) for the insanity of this world on men. That insanity is reflected in this movie, which eschews pacifism and calls for a struggle against tyranny and extremism as the only way to make the world a better place.

How to end global poverty with radical change

It’s hard to find sources on this, but many of my ideas have been suggested by economists and think tanks before, I just combined the ideas that I think would work best. I think there are benefits to both capitalism and socialism, but the excesses on both sides can be harmful. Too much capitalism or too much socialism can lead to different bad forms of totalitarianism in my view. I think proponents of both tend to idealize their systems and ignore some of the inherent flaws.

I believe there needs to be a balance between the two, combining their strengths. Capitalism mixed with government investment in key areas is a great way to advance technology, for example. Capitalism is very effective at generating wealth, but without a social safety net enforced by the government, wealth inequality becomes such that the very wealthiest consolidate so much power that they are essentially able to write the rules for everyone else, in the form of local laws as well as international regulations (think trade deals). I basically think a stronger form of global governance is needed. Here’s a brief list of some of the things I think should be implemented on an international level to deal with poverty:

1) Eliminate all government subsidies for all corporations. This would have to be enforced internationally, but would allow small business owners and producers in all countries a more level playing field, because as of today they aren’t able to purchase the political influence major corporations can.
2) institute a global currency. I think there would be many benefits to doing this, namely wealthy countries wouldn’t be able to use their currency and foreign exchange rates to dominate weaker countries. Here’s an article on the subject that deals with what I’m thinking of.
3) eliminate all trade laws, tariffs and excise taxes. These laws mainly serve to protect corporate interests and the interests of the wealthiest countries and companies that write the trade laws. Eliminate them, create true global competition.
4) create a flat, unavoidable corporate profits tax, as well as personal income tax, worldwide, eliminating corporate inversions and tax shelters and havens of any kinds. Make sure all global money is taxed in one form or another.  60 minutes just did a big investigation into how the rich are able to shelter their money from taxes due to weak laws.
5) provide a basic social safety net that includes food, shelter, clean water, health care, and education to everyone on the planet. Pay for it with the money raised from eliminating tax shelters and corporate inversions.
6) Find a way to reform patent law so price gouging doesn’t happen – either buy out the patent of successful medicines or pay companies a bounty for succesfully coming up with a cure, like an X-prize. This model can be applied to government funded research in all areas, especially green energy technology and medical technology.
7) provide a minimum income (cash payment) for everyone on the planet. This website provides a good explanation of the benefits of a basic income.
8) any money you make on top of that and the taxes you pay, you get to keep
9) set a limit on the ratio of how much more an executive can make than the lowest paid worker.
10)  require corporations to give a share of the ownership to the workers, so that the workers have voting power in the companies. This is basically a lighter version of what is known as anarcho-syndicalism.
11) Create a global set of environmental regulations and labor laws that include jail time for executives that violate them.
12) Some form of debt forbearance or forgiveness for countries at the bottom of the economic system.

Obviously, these ideas would require some radical changes to be made. I think it’s time to make globalization work for the people instead of the elites. Due to the rates of technological change and interconnectedness of markets, it is in my view impossible to stop globalization or capitalism, I think it needs to be directed to more positive, just ends.

Nowhere

You got to go
Nowhere seems nice
That death wish means
Nowhere is where you end

Junkie is just a bag of bones
and meat waiting… spiraling down
waiting to be thrown away

You say you know what’s good
You say you got shit down
But truth is you don’t know shit

I see myself in you, I see your pattern
It’s like looking in a mirror
It makes me angry

I can’t help you live
I can’t let you drag me down
I can only watch you die
From a safe distance

Nowhere is where you end
Nowhere is where you’ll be
This is the last you will see me

I don’t care about video games (anymore)

I’ve played video games of one sort or another from a very young age. I remember when my grandparents bought my family an IBM PS/1, and I played some really basic games on that computer when I was around the age of 7 or 8. Even before that, at Christmas time I would go over to the grandparents and me and the other kids would play Track and Field and Duck Hunt on the NES that they had purchased, which I was only allowed to use on special occasions. My gaming life really took off when I finally convinced my parents to buy me a console, a Sega Genesis, a 16-bit system that included the greatest video game ever made in my opinion, NHL 94. Around that same time, as the PS/1 was outliving its usefulness, again my grandparents bought my family a Gateway 2000, with a beastly 75 mhz Pentium processor. I was able to play games like Mad Dog McCree and get on Prodigy or AOL and even play the occasional game online. Not long after, one of my best friends, who was also a neighbor, somehow managed to convince his mom to get him Warcraft II, and I also managed to get the game (I don’t remember if I just borrowed it from him or what), and we would tie up both our home’s phone lines as I would dial his modem and we would play head to head Warcraft battles lasting hours. These matches would of course get interrupted any time one of our family would pick up the phone to make a call. I really loved PC gaming as a kid, and it continued as I got older. I also kept up on console gaming as well… even while I was playing sports practically full time, I was staying up til 1 or 2 am on school nights playing video games. Outside of playing youth sports as a teenager, video games were my number 1 hobby.

I would call my relationship with video games obsessive or even addictive. This relationship continued all throughout my 20s and early 30s. As I got older, this relationship got more and more unhealthy. PC, hand-held, and console games were the primary way I filled my time, along with plenty of alcohol and drugs. I watched fewer and fewer movies and spent most of my time couch-bound. I’ve never exercised consistently since I got out of school and stopped playing sports. I would also smoke cigarettes fairly obsessively as I took part in this past-time. When I was unemployed for long stretches I would just play games most of the day and get wasted. Not exactly a productive use of my time, I know. Eventually, Hearthstone came around, and I started to play it obsessively. I was never that good at it due to the negative headspace I was in, but I played it for basically a year straight, non-stop, at the expense of nearly any other gaming experience. The only time I would pick up another game is if a friend was in the room with me and wanted to play a fighting game head to head, or something like that. Eventually, my relationship with Hearthstone soured, I had used it to fill a void in my life, and after spending far too much time and money with it, my play eventually tapered off. This happened because I got clean, and I got a good job that kept me busy 30 hours a week. Eventually, after losing a match in Hearthstone made me too angry one day, I dropped it completely.  I’ve now gone 6 months without picking it back up, despite the sunk costs I have in that game with hundreds of hours played unlocking a multitude of useless digital bullshit in that game. I’ve thought of selling my Blizzard account but truthfully I have no desire to use my Blizzard account ever again or even come close to playing Hearthstone ever again. It completely crowded out my enjoyment of video games and became a sick compulsion for me.

Since I stopped playing Hearthstone, I’ve only picked up one other game, Magic 2015, which I only play occasionally. I get more enjoyment watching others play it and comment about it on YouTube, personally. Since I stopped playing Hearthstone every day my use of other video games has still not returned to normal levels. I attribute this to getting clean, getting a good job, and attempting to be more social with people in person, rather than living 90% of my life in front of a TV or computer screen. Whenever I think of playing a game or picking something up I start to get nervous because I feel incredibly burnt-out. I certainly enjoyed playing games in the past and feel I generally got my money’s worth in terms of entertainment value, but on the other hand I’m starting to look at it as a massive waste of time. The joy I used to get from gaming is mostly gone. I look at the use of time spent gaming as a chore or a burden now, especially since I have found more interesting things to do with my life. I don’t know, it’s weird and somewhat hard to explain, but I’m trying to change my patterns of activity and thinking into a more positive direction, and one of the ways I’m doing that is basically by only playing games a few hours a week, if that. I just don’t care about video games any more.

Free Will or Determinism?

All too often I feel that formal philosophy presents arguments based on the assumption that two different viewpoints are necessarily opposed to each other. The idea whether human action is based on free will or determinism is presented as a binary set, with the thinking being that it must be one or the other. I know I’m not alone in saying this, but I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. Life isn’t black or white, or a set of absolutes dictating what we know to be true. There are shades of grey. The right answer is not always apparent. As we learn more about science we peel back another layer to get a closer look at reality. As we delve deeper we uncover even more mysteries and more unanswered questions. I think that’s exciting, the proposition that there is still so much to learn about the natural world. Back to the question: are we free to control our actions as we wish, or are our actions a product of deterministic forces in a universe completely beyond our control? I believe it’s too simplistic to say either or, I believe both arguments are partially correct.

It appears that we make choices. Decisions and choices are pretty much what life revolves around. As I experience my own conscious mind on a daily basis I feel I am presented with a set of choices in each encounter with the world that I’m involved in. The notion that I have free will is a very strong one, personally, because I feel it gives me agency. Yet as more scientific discoveries about the body and brain are made, the argument for determinism grows stronger, casting doubt on the concept of free will. The idea that we are largely influenced in our lives by our genetics has only really come about in the last 70 years. The concept that in many scenarios the brain triggers a reaction before we can even consciously process it is an even newer discovery. Is it arrogant to think we have free will? I don’t think so. I still believe we have free will, even if we somehow know physically before we consciously make a choice. That physical knowing that takes place in the brain is a product of our upbringing, our life experience, our personality makeup and our genes. Even though we still have a choice, we are largely unaware of all the forces that drive us into a circumstance where we are forced to make that choice.

Determinism also raises a host of legal issues as well. If it can be proven we really aren’t in control of our choices, how can we legally convict someone for murder if we can scientifically prove they are technically not responsible for their actions? It’s clear that the notion of free will is actually rather integral to most of modern society. The entire market economy relies on individuals making choices about how they are going to spend their resources. The entirety of criminal law rests on the principle that individuals must be held responsible for the choices they make. Interestingly, some nations make an exception in the case of insanity, and refer people to treatment rather than prison as a result. If it could be proven that no one is truly responsible for their actions in the free will sense, what happens to criminal law? I think as a practical matter, we must look at human action through the lens of free will.

Comfortable is bad

For too long I’ve been comfortable with failure. Comfortable with mediocrity. Comfortable with boredom. Comfortable with not taking risks. Comfortable with stagnation. An outside observer might call it laziness, but it’s more than that. It’s a fear based decision-making process. By putting off any and all decisions, I effectively decide by wasting time until the decision is made for me by self-created circumstances. I’ve avoided growth because I was afraid of change. I don’t want to live like that anymore.

In the last 9 months I’ve become much more focused on achieving goals and making progress in my life. I’ve changed a lot of things as a result, but confronting my own negative patterns of thinking and acting is the hardest part of this process.  These patterns have been ingrained in me over most of my life, so escaping them is harder than I thought it would be. I now appreciate how difficult it is to change my outlook and perspective, along with these patterns. My main mode for doing this has been by taking positive actions in my life to get me feeling better about myself. One goal has been to repair and renew existing relationships with people I care about, as well as foster more relationships with new people, to make myself more open and vulnerable. Getting to know someone isn’t hard, but letting someone else get to know me has always been a struggle. I used to be better at it when I was younger, but as fear invaded my thinking over the years it became more and more difficult. The barriers I’ve created for myself are pretty neurotic, it’s like an unfunny Woody Allen movie in my head all the time.

Another part of this process is catching the lies I tell myself as they happen and challenging them on the spot. This forces me to confront my own bullshit. One of the things I avoided doing for years was writing. I used to love to write. I would blog every day 10 or 12 years ago, and it came effortlessly. As I got further and further away from that, one of the lies I told myself was that I couldn’t write, that I had nothing to offer, that my creative spark was gone, so what was the point? I have made it a goal this year to write with something approaching regularity. I can’t challenge these lies I tell myself simply by out-thinking my own brain, I have to take action to produce the evidence that stands in sharp contrast to those lies. That evidence is now here on this blog, and by doing this I really have improved my own outlook and my sense of self-worth. Which might sound crazy to you if you are well-adjusted and already like yourself, but for me it has been a struggle and being able to write again is a big deal.

The goal with this blog is to just write about whatever interests me, or whatever’s on my mind. The goal is not to cater to an audience or even for other people to read this stuff. I’m working on improving and refreshing my writing skills and rebuilding my self-confidence in my ability. To be completely honest, I don’t care if anyone reads this stuff. If someone does and likes it, that’s just an added bonus. So far so good.

There Is No Why

There are questions religion, and theology in particular can’t answer. At least in my opinion, they can’t answer them. They attempt to answer these questions, and I believe that they fail to. The classic question “why do bad things happen to good people” comes to mind. One could also ask “why do good things happen to bad people.” It seems just as relevant in light of how the world actually works. The ancient Greek thinker Epicurus worded the dilemma of evil this way:

“The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are able and willing.

If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent.

Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, why does it exist?”

Of course, as humans we have to agree that evil is even a real thing. We have to accept that evil exists and is a force in humanity. We have to agree on an acceptable definition of what activity or behavior is evil. Humanity does not have this agreement, different cultures have different values, but most cultures at least have a conception of evil, even if they disagree on the definition. Some extreme religious cultures view blaspheming God as evil and deserving of death, while other cultures (I would argue more civilized ones) would view the killing of a “blasphemer” as evil or immoral. Anyone that accepts the concept of evil and also believes in God is confronted with the Epicurean dilemma, even if they might not directly acknowledge it. In philosophy this is known as The Problem of Evil. Attempts to answer this problem have been made over the many thousands of years, usually by people trying to justify a belief in God.

I believe this happens because as humans we have a strong desire to answer the question “why?” Why is the world this way? Why would God allow this? Why do bad things happen to good people? In a way I am asking why. Why do we need to know why? The stand-up gag about a 3 year old constantly asking his dad why is a classic bit in comedy. I would say our desire to know why is not merely strong, it is pathological. This desire has driven most of Western thought and science. We want to understand our world. Not every philosophy or culture assigns as much importance to the question why, however. Buddhism sees no need to explain the nature of God or the origins of the universe. To know why in these cases is simply misguided desire and a waste of time. In a way Buddhism is disputing the notion that there is always some answer to the question why.

Sometimes, I believe, there is no why. Because we can view cause and effect in nature, allowing us to make scientific discoveries about how things work, we wrongly assume that cause and effect is a principle that applies everywhere. We may learn one day how the universe came into existence, and in a way that answers why, but in a way it does not. If we never make contact with a God or gods, we can still ask, what is the purpose of this universe, why are we here? I doubt there is any answer to this question. There is no why. There is no greater purpose or answer to discover here. We exist, we came into being, and it is up to us to assign our own meaning to this existence. On a personal level, I don’t find any need to have some made up story about God’s plan for the world or the afterlife to find meaning in this world. There is meaning in struggling to survive in this harsh universe, to make our mark that we existed and flourished in spite of the odds.  The very concept of existing and discovering more about our world and the universe is exhilarating to me, and I don’t need any greater meaning or purpose than that.

The Republican Suicide Pact on Immigration

Estimates vary, but there are probably between 18 and 21 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States today. Official estimates say the number is between 11 and 12 million but that estimate is heavily disputed. Very few reasonable political solutions have been offered for fixing this state of affairs. Democrats have proposed legalization of these immigrants, by offering them a legal process whereby they can become tax-paying citizens. Many Republicans, especially on the far right of the party (largely the Tea Party membership) are vehemently opposed to any path to citizenship, and favor instead mass deportation and building a huge border fence across the entire southern border of the United States. This situation has created a major problem for the Republican Party, in terms of demographic appeal, especially for its presidential candidates. The Latino minority voting population in the United States now accounts for 11 percent of all eligible voters.  The Tea Party’s extreme position on immigration, which the Republican party is tied to, is extremely unpopular with the Latino voting bloc. The recent fights over immigration and the rhetoric from the Tea Party has only served to further alienate Latinos from the Republican Party.

The Republican positions on immigration create a very difficult problem for any candidate running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. In order to win the party’s nomination, candidates must appease the Tea Party wing and appear “tough” on immigration. Namely opposing a path to citizenship for immigrants and speaking in favor of this nebulous idea of “protecting the border” or some such nonsense. Without doing this, a candidate’s chances of winning the Republican primary are slim. The problem for the candidate is when they get to the general election. In order to appeal to the ever more important Latino bloc, a Republican candidate, to have any hope of winning the general election must appeal to some percentage of Latino voters. This means taking a more moderate tack on immigration. This will, of course, open them up to attacks of being a flip-flopper, and may cause many in the Republican base who are extreme on immigration to stay home on election day.

The Republican Party is increasingly viewed as the party of old white people. The recent highly publicized killings of unarmed black men by the police have highlighted just how out of touch most of the Republican Party is with the African-American community. They have succeeded in totally alienating African-Americans from the party by constantly defending egregiously violent cops at all costs, by trying to maintain the racial status quo in this country, and by constantly attacking Obama with criticisms that to many are just thinly veiled racism. Whatever hope they had of gaining votes from this critical voting group is long gone. The Republicans are about to make the same mistake with the Latino community, depending on who wins their nomination. As much as I dislike Jeb Bush, he is one of the few sane voices in the party on immigration. The Republicans, through the sheer force of demographic trends and by their own actions, have ensured that in the future they will be a permanent party minority. If that means fewer wars in the Middle East, and fewer tax breaks for billionaires, then I’m all for it.

Robots and the Basic Income

Robots will replace much of the workforce in the next 20 years. Predictions vary, but as automation technology and software improves, more and more jobs will be replaced by robots. There is a strong business incentive to replace workers, skilled or unskilled, with robots and software. This is because software, or robots, require minimal maintenance, and do not require a salary or benefits of any kind. The potential costs savings to businesses are enormous. It’s important to note that both skilled and unskilled labor will be replaced by robotics and software. Higher skill jobs like attorneys, insurance adjusters, or accountants could easily be replaced, as well as lower skilled jobs like cashiers, drivers, call-center employees or janitorial workers. Most forms of labor outside of creative work or work that requires direct person to person interaction is a candidate for replacement by technology. This process is already well under way, and the replacement and loss of these jobs for the human workforce is probably inevitable.  One consequence of this process is that unemployment on a global scale will probably increase.

While many see the coming increase in automation as inevitable, very few people are offering up any kind of plan for how to address the job loss that will result from this automation. The workers displaced by the advancement of technology will need money to live, and will need alternative ways to earn money. I get the feeling that the super wealthy are not particularly concerned about this problem. Indeed, most of them only seem concerned with increasing their bottom line. A permanent underclass of 30% unemployed, or possibly more, could be formed, and my guess is many of them still wouldn’t care, since they can all afford private security and their own fortresses in an increasingly destabilized society, a society collapsing due to massive unemployment.

This coming situation calls for what is known as a basic income, minimum income, or citizenship dividend for all citizens, rather than means-tested welfare that countries like the United States currently use today.  A set amount of tax free money would be given to each person on a monthly or yearly basis, sort of like a permanent stimulus. Any money earned on top of this by an individual would be taxable. This would give each individual enough money to live on their own, and also allow them the flexibility to pursue alternative means of earning money, be it through creative work, or pursuing an education in a new field, acquiring new job skills online, or any number of other activities. As a starting point, it would encourage most people to want to earn more as a way to improve, build a savings, own a home, buy a car, and take part in the consumer economy. It would allow people at the bottom of the economic totem pole to spend money, and would help drive the economy, especially in the USA, where nearly 75% of the economy is powered by consumer spending.

Naysayers may argue that it would be too expensive, that giving everyone $15,000 or $20,000 a year is fiscally impossible, but that is a lie told by austerity hawks whose primary goal is to further enrich and protect the wealthy elites that run the world system. The fact is, we can easily afford a basic income, especially compared to how much money the Federal Reserve has generated for the banks, or how much was given to Wall Street for the bailout in a single year. The bailout for the banks and the automakers was for hundreds of billions of dollars, and in 2008 and 2009 alone, the Federal Reserve gave $13 trillion dollars to the banks, primarily to Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch.  $13 trillion in two years. Imagine if that money had been put in the hands of regular consumers, education, and national infrastructure. The impact would have been enormous. Instead the money went to the wealthiest people in society, and went to managers and bank executives in the form of bonuses.

 

A basic income could actually result in a net cost savings for the government, because it could replace the complicated welfare and social security system bureaucracy, where everyone simply gets a check or electronic deposit based on carefully monitored economic need. Means-tested welfare as it is administered today keeps people in a poverty trap, because if an individual earns too much money then they lose their government benefit. It encourages people not to work or save money. It requires a massive bureaucracy to make sure everyone follows the government’s ridiculous rules. A basic income simply issued to all people would make all of that unnecessary. Skeptics say it is impossible and violates basic tenets of human nature, that people need an incentive to work. Well, it’s already been tried, and it worked quite well.

The time is now to seriously consider implementing a basic income, for everyone.