Friday, July 18, 2014

Scary Words

So today I'm sharing a reply to a Facebook thread. Sorry Valerie! :)

It was a thread about GMO food myths that started a rather lively debate. One that I just had to jump in to. Here is what I had to say about it.

It is merely important for rational ideas to be the foundations of policy and public discourse, and very little of the GMO fear mongering I see demonstrates any of this in practice. 

I certainly won't argue that corporatism isn't a huge and foundation
al problem in this country with far reaching and detrimental ramifications. But by the same token there is hardly any real credible evidence that GMO foods present any health dangers in and of themselves. What few legitimate concerns there are, are in reality monoculture concerns when examined critically.

Sure there are other concerns with GMO's, real ones. But those are primarily political and economic ones. Having basic foodstuffs become legal entities of intellectual property for one. This is of course true worldwide with seedstock, and true regardless of whether the stocks are a GMO variety or not. GMO's however do make the issue more intractable from a legal perspective.

The deeper issue here is one of deciding how we're going to feed people. Even today we live in a world where an astonishing number of fellow human beings go to bed hungry. Most of the people that don't owe practically their very existence to one agricultural geneticist, Norman Borlaugh. If ever a person gets my vote for being the greatest human being who has ever lived, he is top of my list.

Ever heard of him? I suggest learning about him. And I'd suggest learning more about how food "works". I work in a food related industry, and it is quite eye opening to realize how popular trends in foods play out within public discourse, and how we all pay the price to varying degrees for good sounding ideas that fail to materialize as anything remotely good when attempted at the scale of a society.

Organics? Here in particular is an area of food where naivety comes into clear focus. When you walk a produce rack and compare organics and non organics you naturally notice the organics are more expensive. And while it is true that organic farming is more expensive (and land intensive and usually water intensive) this is only a part of the story. Organic methods tend to lead to less attractive produce on a pound per pound basis, and *THIS* is primarily what drives up cost to the end user. That less attractive looking produce simply doesn't end up on your local produce rack. We are jaded and let our eyes and decades of expectation determine whether or not something is "good" or "nutritious".

It gets worse. Because organic methods are intrinsically less safe at scale, and because imported organics from asia, central america and the e.u. face less legal scrutiny than international mail.....AND BECAUSE POPULARITY DRIVES PEOPLE GIVING A CRAP IN THE FIRST PLACE, our markets are flooded with excess "organics" that end up as food ingredients. 

As someone who sees manufacturer and FDA driven product recalls on a regular basis I can say with certainty two things. Most safety related product recalls today are driven by food ingredient country of origin issues. It is an ironic twist given our countries huge problems with monoculture, corporate dominated farming (from political and price stability standpoints) that most of our food safety problems now exist because of public backlash against big AG. The second thing? As these are safety related issues, we in the food industry react IMMEDIATELY, because of liability concerns. Maybe 40 years ago most of these recalls would be headline news, but today with our monolithic media only a handful of these ever see major coverage.

...and don't get me started on "gluten free" of the largest public health scams of the century...

People like "feeling" like they're a part of something important. They want to "feel" like they are making good choices. And unfortunately this often leads to "joining" things, like movements. And equally tragic this often means people latch on to ideas because they have a community to be a part of. It is however equally important that what you believe be based on reality, and reality is usually more complex and less forgiving than a tshirt.

As one of my favorite people once said, "If feeling good and wasting your time sounds like a good idea, maybe Heroin is for you!" 

There are legitimate concerns with GMO. And indeed there are hugely legitimate concerns with corporatism. But they are not the same concerns. It's best to at least begin wrapping your mind around the real complexities here before you let scary words bamboozle you into valuing the wrong ideas.

Monday, June 23, 2014


One of the most important ideas we value in our day to day lives is the idea of privacy. We consider it a foundational idea from which we construct our lives and our choices about how we choose to live them. I wrote extensively about this topic many years ago, long before Edward Snowden was out of grade school.

Long before most people really cared about it. Long before most people considered it under siege.

But it is under siege, and has been for a very very long time. But does it matter? And more importantly if it does, exactly why does it matter?

I tend to see it like this. Not only is our parochial idea of "privacy" an illusion, it isn't even the proper language to describe what we should be caring about.

A practical example... . Want to breadcrumb your way into knowing personal information about someone?

Here's me looking myself up. And I literally did this just now. I opened a new tab and searched for myself, saved a screen capture and imported it. And with knowing almost nothing about myself except for my name and roughly where I live I can figure out which of these would directly relate to information about myself (two of the listings do).

Most of the hyperlinks on an individual link out to pay services (this is how Zabasearch itself, being free, affords to do this), so really you hit a brick wall pretty quickly. Or do you?

If you click through, you'll find a link to my blog as the sixth link in a google search (even has my ugly mug). Big data services like Intelius dominate the rest of the links, and with them you have to pay.

All of $10. Pretty cheap if you ask me. Want to date me? Want to hire me? Just curious about me because I've ticked you off in a forum thread?

This shit is easy. And cheap! And stuff like Zabasearch is just the tip of the iceburg.

And??? This has nothing to do with "privacy". What do I mean??

You won't find very much in the way of unfortunate information about me online. Part of the reason for this is signal to noise ratio. I happen to share names with a moderately famous PGA Pro Golfer. He has way more public exposure than I do, so search results that are relevant about me get pushed much further down in search results.

But, if you are tenacious you will find me. You will find out about my voluminous anime collection. You will find out about my family, my children, and likely find out at least some information relating to my divorce sleighride twelve years ago if you dig deep enough. You might even be able to find out what kind of erotic material online stirs my Kool-Aid. For the record, my tastes are pretty vanilla insofar as that goes. :P

But one thing I am certain of is this. You will find nothing whatsoever about me that I'd not simply tell you if asked.

I wrapped my mind around not only this illusion of privacy ages ago, but also how meaningless it is as a concept. The way most of us view this topic, well it should be more focused on a concept of anonymity rather than privacy.

The only privacy you and I and everyone else has, or has ever had, is the one we're innately stuck with. Our minds and thoughts. This is all we've really ever had. Once a thought or idea is voiced to another, privacy is dead in the water as a concept.

So lets talk about anonymity, because this is the real concern here. And truthfully it largely no longer exists. Whether or not this given truth really matters however, is a more complex idea.

As I say above, given a little tenacity you can easily "find" me. Indeed I realize this. But this works in both directions too. For instance, back many years ago I was an active writer and editor for a few tech publications. As an editor and co-owner of a website it made sense that I keep track of the search engine reach of the things I wrote, for numerous reasons. I wanted to be aware of negative press and negative feedback (which would affect our readership and advertising partners) and any plagarism.

I've had a series of constantly running daily searches on me and my life going since 2004. And it's not paranoia. I set these up back when they were relevant to the business at hand and they just run on their own. I get an email from google whenever relevant data about myself gets indexed anywhere on the public web. Most of the time it's info that leaks through about that PGA Golfer dood (hell I still occasionally get his professional mail).

Having had this free (and painfully easy to set up) service going for a decade has been informitive. Firstly it is equally easy to set this up....on someone else that isn't you. And I haven't done this of course, but there's absolutely nothing stopping me.

I have done searches on people before. Potential dates and mates are an easy target certainly, but I've only gone there when I've hit brick walls that concern me. When stonewalled about things you should know about people you might consider getting horizontal with it is difficult to know whether someone is merely being cautious, or whether someone has something to hide. And to be clear only a handful of times has this saved my bacon. But it did, and that's the point I'm trying to make.

Insofar as myself? I stopped caring about my anonymity a long long time ago. I've been on the internet in one way shape or form for 27 years, which is longer than the world wide web has even existed. I figured out a long time ago the importance of being who you are. Of how to stay under the radar, but accepting that there is no way whatsoever to be invisible. Of owning who you are, what you like, what you do, and how you go about all of that.

Our lives are increasingly a mishmash of what we say and do in the physical presence of fellow humans, and what we do in the digital realm, which is also in the presence of fellow humans. And our innate psychology tends to make us "care" more about what we do face to face than what we do behind a screen.

This is a mistake. Indeed it is *THE* mistake.

And it's a mistake that so many people make so reliably. Because I'm rather network and computer savvy, and because I think rather deeply and deviously, I've actually been involved a few times in my life in bringing this painful reality to the fore. It is an unpleasant business too, which is why these days I shy away from being involved with it.

Nevertheless I've been consulted with on several occasions. Cheating spouses. Porn addictions. I could go on, but you get the gist.

Secrets. It's always about secrets.

I don't believe in secrets. I stopped valuing secrecy a very long time ago. AND YOU SHOULD TOO!

Secrets are simply statements that say you aren't willing to be honest, and this almost always starts with being dishonest with yourself. Secrets have almost no value. They protect almost no one. They offer up little in the way of comfort, or safety, or kindness. Sometimes it is necessary to hurt other peoples feelings, but we shy away from doing this if such a conflict also costs us something we value.

So lets recap... an illusion. nearly impossible.
Secrets...are stupid ideas largely in the way of embracing your existence.

Any questions? :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The American Spring - A sad day

Well, today was supposed to be the big day.

An estimated (according to operatives like Alex Coffey) 10-30 million americans were to swarm onto the National Mall in Washington D.C. to kick off Operation:American Spring.

A cursory head count from one of the several live video feeds from the mall today (thank you internet age) shows about 100 people, most of whom are touristy types staring at the couple of dozen banner wavers.

Unless we assume the rumored FEMA encampments were miraculously filled up in the span of 24 hours with rounded up "patriots", this must indicate some level of failure on the organizers parts.

It is abundantly clear that the lunatic fringe of the right is angry. Indeed one could say that the lunatic fringe of the left is also angry. And there are plenty of people who wouldn't align with either of these camps at gunpoint who are also angry. And there are a lot of things to be angry about.

A crappy economy. A vanishing middle class. An education system where even the government profits from it, at the expense of students. Healthcare reform that, while better in some ways than what we had, is still lipstick on a pig. Too big to fail banks that are bigger and more profitable than ever. And a political process driven by money, greed, and special interests.

Today's lack-of-an-event reminds me in a very roundabout way of the Occupy Wallstreet movement. Though eventually disbanded, they were actually able to pull something off and stay organized and relavent for quite a long time. And it's clear why this was so.

There was no hatred. True, there was a deep and strong sense of injustice, and a lot of righteous anger, but no blanket "blame" in the same sense we see with the extreme right Tea Party wackadoodles. Within Occupy, we saw participants of various genders, creeds, colors, religions, ages, and socioeconomic status coming together for a common purpose. Sadly one that didn't resonate loudly enough.

Most of the noisemakers who were loud and obnoxious enough to have gotten the attention of media for today's nonevent? Largely angry aged white men. People willing to ignore all the easily obtainable evidence about Clive Bundy, who is merely a deadbeat. People who are convinced that FEMA is going to round up millions of Americans. People who expect martial law any day now (I've been hearing this one periodically for years now from a relative). Still waiting...

I have a family member who is one of these people. And it is a frustrating reality to see how genuine concern, anger, and ire can become so easily twisted into conspiracy theory chaos simply because someone is blinded by that anger.

We do have real problems in this country. Real concerns. But they are not conservative concerns. They are liberal ones. Every single solitary social advance that has ever come to any citizen in the United States has been fought for diligently by progressives, and fought against with equal fervor by conservatives.

Today's angry non-event shows more clearly to me than anything recently just how clueless right wingers have become. More importantly it shows how deftly the right wing establishment is at keeping it's fringe occupied with nonsense, just to keep them stirred up....and on their side.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Dangerous Game

Ever been on a first date? Or a blind date?

I'm not asking this question to some teenager or twenty-something either. When you're that young all sorts of fears, uncertainties, and doubts rear their ugly head that don't happen (hopefully) when you're 30 or 40. Well perhaps they do.

Things tend to proceed in an almost scripted manner, and you spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on where your eyes are (don't stare at her cleavage), or where your hands are (don't play with my hair, don't seem too forward). A lot of it is rather silly in hindsight, and yet we still do it.

Some of this is entirely because of how we are made. Being male *means* you sexually evaluate females nearly every waking moment you see them. Women do this too so it isn't quite a black and white difference, but not to the degree men do. This is an entirely separate process from evaluating how much you like the woman across from you however. Totally separate, though women often fail to realize this. Women evaluate intentions and try to glean understanding constantly from a myriad of passive signals. Sadly these passive signals are ones females are much better than males at revealing. So women use intuitive tools, that don't really work well when evaluating a man's mind.

These innate things create little more than "mystery" when you fail to grasp the truth of them.

Our cultures and societies add structure to the progression of our lives, but most of these distort the intent of our more basic behaviors, making an already difficult process all the more complicated.

We live in a world now of unprecedented freedom. And I don't mean this in the immediate sense. Sure, the economy is still in the toilet...etc. I mean in the broader sense.

Women were basically not in the workforce much at all before 40 years ago. A married couple could raise a family of four on even a shitty one man salary in the 1960's. Neither of these things are true today. And though the economic aspects create some level of hardship, the broader result is...


Men and women no longer have to play out the same story. More to the point, that same old story is barely feasible anymore. Though "Leave It To Beaver" was just a television show, people for many many generations have bought into that nuclear family thing as how things should be, at a level of precision that often made sense to try for. Such things are now not only impossible, but ludicrous.

Even though we have much more in the way of choice in our lives (and it's true to say most of this new found choice is for women's sake) WHY DO WE STILL PLAY BY THE OLD RULEBOOK?!??!?

Why are men who dally around called "Players", yet women called far more horrible things like "Whore", "Skank", "Slut"? Language matters a great deal because it colors how we think of things. These travesties of thinking survive because we still collectively view a woman's chastity as something to be venerated.

It is not to be venerated! It is a mistaken view, held by men and women, that turns ones gonads into a discussion of ethics, and it is a stupid idea. It turns the whole notion of sexuality itself into a video game, with a woman's pants the "Final Boss".

And everyone is disappointed when you've beat a game. The game is over after all. That's how games work. And men and women behave in ways that reinforce this stupid line of thinking.

This is why so many people who are single at this stage of life are unhappy. They are playing out a new found experience (i.e. being single and content) based on an old set of rules that no longer work. Women withhold access to intimacy (far broader a concern than mere sex) because they consider access to their sexual nature a prize to be won. Men persue intimacy (an equally broader concern than mere sex) until they at last achieve it. We make that one fearful thing way too important. Not because it isn't important (because it is) but because we've made it into a false prize due to misplaced pride.

Both parties end up being let down, because they have let a cultural taboo become too much of an obstacle. Overcoming that obstacle thus becomes more important than it actually is, and you realize in the end...

You've wasted your time because you let a really stupid way of thinking about your own sexuality drive you into a corner.

Why do we do this? It's because we've culturally turned sex into something too private. Too dirty. A taboo.

Think this is crazy? We all know intuitively that liking people, loving people, and understanding people are how all *other* relationships work. And for the most part we do this easily and effortlessly. I love my children, my mother and my brother. And I even have close friends whom I really really love. Some of them are male, and I'm not the least bit attracted to them, but I do love them.

Why is love between a man and a woman (gonna stick to hetero here for simplicity) different? Sex??!?!?! Though sex is indeed a *NEED* as important as food, water, and shelter, does it make such a relationship elevated above all others? Or do we simply think this is true, and just deny that sex is just an aspect of that particular type of relationship.

The more and more I feel these ways of thinking are true, the more I realize how so few others see this. Moreso, I begin to see why and how so many people create their own misery. I've encountered this indirectly looking at other people's failed attempts at relationships as well as my own. Too many times I've broken up with, or been broken up with by someone who has let this distorted sense of their nature keep them from accepting me, or force them to run away in fear.

Understanding yourself, and attempting to understand others around you? Well this is really the only game in town. All of existence is about this one thing. And not realizing this turns many of our attempts to reach out to others into merely a dangerous game.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Trick

There is a concept in mathematics, developed in the late 1960's known as game theory. One of the classic experiements in game theory is known as the prisoners dilemma.

These were the first types of experiments done in algorithmically determining the value of what we refer to as the concept of reciprocal altruism, which is a concept in human sociology often used to describe the basis of most of our ethical and moral behaviors. It is also a concept often devalued for its simplicity. It just seems intuitively to be too simple a ways of describing how our behaviors work and play out in the real world. But our intuitions can fail us, as we all know too well.

The prisoners dillemma is fascinating in it's simplicity, and also in it's ability to confound what one would assume is a winning strategy in a game.

In the prisoners dilemma you are to imagine a scenario where you are a prisoner with a cellmate, and you are left with the option in a given turn of the game to either give evidence against your fellow inmate or not.

The scoring is really simple. If you give evidence and your cellmate does not, you get 10 points, and your cellmate gets 1 point. If you give evidence and your cellmate does as well, you each get 5 points for being mutually not nice. If you decide not to give evidence and so does your cellmate, you each get only 3 points for mutually deciding to be nice.

On the surface of it this would seem to be easy to figure out. Intuitively most people can see the point system and realize that to win is to not be nice. And indeed in multiple trials with one individual this is the winning strategy.

But our lives never involve merely interacting with one other person. Our lives are a construct of continual interactions with astonishing numbers of people throughout our lives. 

And ironically in this prisoners dillemna when you take the iterations of it and expand it out into more and more interactions with more and more prisoners, the odds flip...and rather drastically. So drastically that over those many iterations the strategy that is a winning one on a purely one to one basis becomes the one guaranteed to lose you points over the course of many games.

The strategy that wins? And more importantly always wins. And even more importantly always wins in every iteration of game theory that has been imagined in computational mechanics over the last 40+ years? Tough but fair. In other words, simply deciding to be nice from the get go, until you encounter those not nice back to you, and being not nice back until THEIR BEHAVIOR CHANGES so that you can go back to being nice again.

In other words a preference towards being genuinely good and giving towards others, whilst being mindful that this tendency can be taken advantage of (and the strength of self to react accordingly), always wins.


It's a lesson we all need to internalize and cherish for the truth that it is.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The (perhaps not so) Secret Guy Code :)

Ok ladies. It's time you heard some of this. A lot will perhaps be obvious, but there's a possibility that some of it is news to you. I'm going to try to break down for you some of male behavior in a way that might clarify things for you. And no, this isn't going to be "Men Are From Mars" nonsense. Males and females, once we get past the imperatives of our genders aren't really different at all. But those gender differences do exist, and not merely physically (fun as those can be in practice).

So with that in mind....

Men sexually evaluate every single solitary female they encounter.


This occurs for all intents and purposes instantly...and constantly. We're wired to do this. And we do this with all females. Even the ones we're related to. Before you let that revelation creep you out, read on. It's important to understand some distinctions here. :)

That isn't to say we consider every vaguely attractive female a sexual partner. We have some protections built into our psychology from incest and the odd Oedipus complex of course. Indeed men tend to be particularly protective of their female offspring precisely because of this, as we realize not every man is this females father, but we realize all too well the very nature of our deepest behaviors.

Women do this to men too, so I'm not claiming some odd exclusivity, but it is nowhere to the degree that *ALL* men do. And when I say all men, I mean all men. When that elderly gentleman compliments you on how pretty you look today, he's meaning it in precisely the same way a man closer to your age means it. And he's evaluating you sexually for precisely the same reasons, and in precisely the same ways. The imagination lingers long after the body stops being willing.

If this creeps you out, it shouldn't. It's really how this works in the male psyche. It is indeed this powerful for us. That old saw about men having sexual thoughts several times a's true, and verified scientifically. And any man who claims this isn't true might be lying to you, or just in denial of his nature.

What this means for you? Well you just need to be aware, and realize the decision about persuing intimacy (at least initially) has already been decided by your date before you've uttered a single word. And there's nothing you, nor we can do about that.

Now, if this were as far as it went, you'd be totally justified in feeling a little negative about this, considering at least a significant part of your nature as a female has been evaluated as succinctly as making a sandwich. But it always goes farther. At least if you're one of those men who isn't in denial of his nature.

Those men who are in denial of this are precisely the ones you're likely to have problems with. And sadly, if you believe their denial because you also fail to see the truth of this you're as much a part of the problem here.

Why? Because they've not really thought this out for themselves, realized how true this is, and further realized how this one thing is just one small (but important) aspect of relating to the opposite sex. You never find the things that are truly difficult to find, if you can't at least acknowledge the easy and obvious ones. Fooling yourselves about our nature isn't helping you at all.

Both men and women have been found scientifically to be happier, if they are in relationships with people THEY FIND ATTRACTIVE SEXUALLY. There's more to this than meets the eye though.


We live in a culture that tends to objectify women, and certainly men have played a strong role in this. But ironically, not to the degree that women have and still do. Some will disagree with me here, but I think I at least have a leg to stand on.

Granted it's pretty impossible in the western world to walk past a magazine stand without seeing impossibly thin, porcelain skinned, giagantic boobed goddesses in bikini's or lingerie. And no man is going to decry this in his deepest nature, though a thoughtful man will as likely have enough sense to realize the impossible ideals here. And perhaps thoughtful men who are in touch with themselves and honest about their nature are the ones who most easily dismiss this eye merely eye candy and largely unimportant.

What's important here is how much of this is driven by and for...other women. As men compete in their telling ways for access to females, so do females themselves compete for access to men. And as importantly, they compete with other women for the sake of it, in many ways that men do not with one another.

What I can say about this from a man's perspective, and to be clear it's not just a personal one as I've talked to many many men about such things over the course of my life, is that men are largely indifferent to much of this.

When we say you look great, when you don't measure up to your own standard....we mean that. Makeup, that little red dress, those 5" pumps. We like it when you make the effort to be attractive around us, but we've already decided long long before this that we're attracted. We appreciate the guesture, but it isn't explicitly necessary.

If it is, you're with someone who wants arm candy and little else (see previous comments about men in denial of their nature). If you merely think it is, then just realize you're doing this way more for yourself than us. And that's fine. I like to dress up and look smart when I go out, but I do it explicitly for me and my own personal self image. Just be more mindful of how this really works.

Once we've gotten to the stage of the relationship we want to be in, we know what you look like naked, and that's what matters. More importantly we trust you when you are willing to be in such a state of undress with us, and that matters more. In a sweatshirt and baggy jeans, it's still you. So relax. Do what you need to so you feel good about yourself. Dress for success with your peers. Just don't think any of that is necessary once you have us. Once you've decided we're ok, and that we don't suck (and we've done the same after we get past our own decisions in regards to you) we're fine. Truly. :)