Thursday, November 5, 2015

Food For Thought

So, you want to take things slowly? You want to be friends first?

Ok...but you do realize those two statements are fundamentally in conflict with each other right? You do realize the above statement is so vague as to be nearly guaranteed to confuse?

Take....things....slowly. What does that mean? For me it would mean recognizing that transitioning from a romance to something more directly committed (living together, getting married, etc..) is something far more complex than romance and needs time and discovery to reveal its possibility or even desireability.

For many women I've encountered it means that getting to the romance phase itself proceeds at an iceburgs pace. Maybe some of you don't realize how insulting that can be (it can be). Maybe some of you don't realize its a cynical tactic to try to get everything on your terms so you can protect yourself from emotional harm (it is a cynical tactic..and it doesn't really work this way).

Do you "take things slowly" when making friends in a scenario where there is no intimate context? I don't see how that is either possible or even particularly friendly. Developing friendships is a skill we are basically born with. A four year old knows how to make a friend, and it is a deliberate thing that doesn't proceed....slowly. Quite the opposite.

When we are young we dive in to romance head first, and as we get older and gain more experience we become more....cautious. We think we've learned so much more about the world and about other people (which we have). But we also overvalue the supposed truth of this. Teenagers had it right all along. What they lack isn't experience. Rather it's simply the stability of adulthood that allows you to cope better with disappointment as well as maximise the value of it. We fail to realize the truth of this.

Relationships are things you *do*. Talk is necessary, but also cheap in this context. And too much caution practically guarantees disappointment. Intimacy is a gift, not a burden.

I have no interest in an intimate relationship with someone I cannot be friends with. But in that context I'm not here for friends. Neither are you.

Just some food for thought... :)

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Problem We Actually Face

Yes, it has happened again. Another school mass shooting. Our 45th this year.

And the predictable wave of persecution and hurt-feelings-cards are playing out as they always do in social media and blogs.

- Time for gun control!
- Persecuted Christians!
- We need more guns!

Sigh.....It is depressingly ironic that almost none of the posts I've seen can indulge in a bit of simple human compassion over a tragedy without pulling out one of those cards.

One curious pattern though has emerged in a few conservative leaning posts I've read. That being referencing european countries like Sweden and Switzerland, both of whom have high per capita gun ownership. In the case of Switzerland military conscription and gun ownership are mandatory.

While it is true gun ownership is high in those two european countries, both countries have strictures on the use of guns no conservative gun advocate would tolerate. And let's be frank gun ownership per capita in those two countries is MUCH lower than the United States.

It is also true that those countries have....
- Progressive drug laws
- National healthcare being a right
- Small militaries
- Progressive taxes on the rich
- Strong mental health systems being a right
- Higher education being a right
- Politics dominated by and large by Socialist Democracy.

I don't see a lot of conservatives advocating for any of the above. Sounds more like Bernie Sanders than Donald Trump for their liking.

As I have said before in several blog posts, the problem is not guns. The problem is a broken society, and grossly distorted priorities. We have many realities that easily spell this out.

- America is awash in guns. There are more guns here, either per-capita or in actual numbers of guns, than any other country on earth. More guns is the answer???? Really??? 300 Million isn't enough??!??!?

- Individual gun ownership is a right granted by our Constitution. No amount of gun control law (short of a Constitutional Amendment) is going to change this. It's curious to note however that gun ownership began to skyrocket 30 years the mechanisms for keeping legal guns in check were being dismantled.

The real problems are these.
- Who gets to decide who gets to sell and own guns? A deliberately grossly underfunded BATF that cannot do it's legally mandated job. We can thank gun lobbyists for making this government departments budget untouchable since the Reagan Administration. 
- A desperate populace waking up to the fact that the American Dream is just that. A dream, because you'd have to be asleep to believe it.
- Non existent welfare and mental healthcare. As a nation we spend 20 times more on business subsidy (i.e. corporate welfare) than we do on individual welfare. People cry about welfare! Welfare has been dead for 20 years. And mental healthcare is a joke.

It all comes down to understanding the psychology, economics, and politics of violence. In that context the proliferation of guns is actually a symptom of the deeper underlying problems in our society.

Until we can figure out why....
- it's easier to buy a gun than get a State ID card in many states
- it's easier to get a Federal Firearms License than a liquor license in most states.
- We arrest and incarcerate more people than most of the rest of the world does.
- Our mentally ill are either on the streets or living with family or in jail instead of getting proper care.
- Spending more per day in Iraq and Afghanistan than NASA's annual budget was a great idea.
- China built more infrastructure in the last 10 years than we've built in the last 120.
- Paying people a living wage is a terrible idea.
- Getting a college education grants you loan interest rates that are similar to credit cards, and do not qualify for bankruptcy protection like credit cards do.

And yes I did deliberately include many things that on the surface have nothing to do with guns. And that my friends is the point. Gun ownership, as a constitutionally protected right, is one that will only ONLY ever be modified to the satisfaction of extremist liberals with a Constitutional Amendment. So, to focus on that alone is quite honestly to expend an incredible amount of effort on what is only a tertiary aspect of the problem. We've amended the Constitution a handful of times in the last 250 years, and it's no easy process. And to my way of thinking it is a distraction from the larger issues at play.

The larger issues? Let's just say it. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. There is nothing really stopping us from reclaiming that title, but you can only solve a problem by recognizing that it exists. We have terrible priorities as a nation. When we had progressive priorities, progressive taxation, strong labor unions, strong banking regulation, and a strong focus on individuals (you know...back when corporations weren't people) we were the envy of the world. Now we're the worlds favorite joke.

We have an angry populace as a result. Much of that anger is justified, but much still is just anger for the sake of it. And this is a common malady when we fail to even have an honest conversation about why.

And to those who think all of this is new? I merely direct you to the history of the gilded age and the great depression. We currently live in a dysfunctional political oligarchy, and it's obvious. We've been here before several times.

Guns? Gay Marriage? These are the touchstone issues of our times??? Nigga please. :P

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Words and why they piss people off.

I'm guilty. Guilty as hell.

Guilty of being literate. Guilty of having read hundreds of books in my childhood and subsequent adulthood. I can speak from direct experience that through the process of reading (as well as many years writing) you can make surprising strides in your understanding of words and language without having completed college courses that relate.

Rocking my good ol' High School Diploma (Class of 85' ...go Cavaliers.....bleh) I find it astonishing just how often I confuse the fuck out of grownups with words and sentence patterns I take for granted.

I suppose I should explain myself. I come across an otherwise innocuous picture on Facebook, posted/shared by a friend of mine.

Slightly cynical, but mostly funny I decided to read a few of the comments. And the comments, well, they spoke precisely to the obvious cynicism.

Three comments in line before I respond were as follows.

"Lol.How about a girl capable of making a commitment!"

"Or telling the truth.."

The lady who posted this responds... "I'm capable of both"

...and then I say this in reply to the thread...because anyone reading this exchange would have to see that well.....there's some cynicism going on...and it's wholly unnecessary.

"this is a mistake we all make....conflating our bad experiences with reality....and it's difficult...extremely not become cynical.

almost as difficult as realizing ones own cynicism is what is really getting in the way."


Oftentimes people accuse me of being rather "preachy". And perhaps that is true to some degree. But I have this illness where I have to respond to things I am utterly convinced through a lifetime of experience are things that get in the way of our happiness. And, I stupidly feel compelled to share my thoughts.

I'm still really not sure how those two sentences could be unclear, and yet the follow up commentary made it obvious that quite a few didn't understand what I said. Like at all.

And in the context of the picture and the subsequent cynical comebacks it should have been painfully obvious what I was saying.....shouldn't it have been?

Are words like "conflate" and "cynical" too difficult? Did I magically piss people off with words I learned before puberty?

I suppose I take the subject matter a little too seriously, and a little too personally given my long running singledom.

My initial reaction would have been thinking that perhaps I said too much....or that I hit a little too close to home with that comment. But I didn't comment in an unkind manner. I actually went out of my way to be careful and deferential with my conviction that WE are largely the ones that create our own conflict by believing our own bullshit. I even made a specific effort to use the word "we", because I've been as guilty of such a cynical view of women as the original poster apparently has of men (though admittedly tossing in Santa and the dragon made it palatably funny).

But I actually think it was just the words I used that confused, and that's actually more troubling.

Words are the tools of ideas. Language matters. Without it understanding is incomplete, and misunderstanding nearly a given.

If any of my friends wonder why I often go out of my way to spend five sentences of my time explaining something they'd think one sentence would's is precisely because of this.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Monetary Security

I ran across a post in my Facebook feed today about the ability to skim credit cards, specifically pointing out the vulnerabilities of RFID cards. The video wasn't entirely truthful, and borders on fear mongering.

First of all, RFID cards are rarer than hens teeth. And the guys little "case" had both RFID and magnetic loop detectors. Magnetic loop detectors can glean the same info from older normal everyday magnetic stripe cards. None of this is new, or news. Just remember that the video is featuring a man who charges you money to protect your identity.

The reporter then claims to have used this guys equipment to skim a colleagues card (with permission) and made a purchase online with L.L. Bean. I decided to check so I went to L.L. Bean.

Bottom line you cannot purchase from L.L. Bean with merely the credit card number. They, like nearly everyone else online, asks for expiration dates, CV2 codes, and billing zipcodes. Two of those things are not revealed in a skim, so I call bullshit on a reporter trying his damndest to make a sensational story.

Here's the inconvenient truth.

Actually doing something with recovered numbers without fully expressed account names, billing zipcodes, CVV2 codes found on the back of the cards is a whole order of magnitude more complicated than implied and would require the resources of organized crime to do anything meaningful with, unless your laundering stolen card numbers through flimsy security overseas websites for merchandise (or for an asian or eastern european crime syndicate). Things do get more dicey if the numbers are used to make a physical card however as I'll cover below.

Smart cards (the ones with that thingy that looks like a SIM card (it actually *IS* a SIM card) and tap pay systems with phones are an order of magnitude safer than anything else you pay with, except for cash.

What is the least safe method to pay for anything? Personal checks. Given that most companies process these electronically as an ACH transaction, they are the absolute least safe thing you can use. The numbers on the bottom of the check are the only thing required for a transaction to process and can be easily duplicated by criminals with 1980's tech...merely by stealing your mail to get those numbers off of a check and printing their own...with their own names, addresses etc, to get past the one thing companies do check. ID's...which can be easily faked. Electronic ID checking does not verify who you are. ID checking is merely done to look for "flagged" ID numbers of people who have bounced checks.

Low tech crime is made easier by a high tech world you're not willing to join. This is why you should tell your parents and grandparents to STOP WRITING CHECKS. They are a bad idea, unless you pay bills and drop those bills at the post office. Putting bills in your mailbox in this day and age is phenomenally stupid. And you might as well tell them and everyone else you know that direct deposit makes sense for equally simple reasons. The ability to easily cash payroll checks is quickly going away as banks and retailers do not want the risk, because they can be so easily duplicated and stolen. You can also tell your older friends and relatives that it'd be a good idea to be more cautious doing credit transactions period, at least until Smartcard reading systems are more widespread. Why? Because in a brick and mortar scenario you are never asked for your CV2 code or billing zipcode. The idea here is having the physical card represents equivalent security to a pin code, but this is incorrect. People are encouraged by banks to do credit transactions, and they reward you with "points systems", but here's the inconvenient truth. Firstly, if you think running a bank card linked to your checking account as credit gives you the fraud protection of a proper credit card (based on a line of credit) you are woefully mistaken. The law about this changed in 2008. If it's linked to your checking account you have no greater legally obligated protection from your bank than you do if you do a debit transaction or write a check. Secondly those rewards are paid for by retailers, because banks get to charge retailers nearly three times the transaction fee of a debit transaction. THAT is what pays for those rewards. Thirdly, credit is a weakness in the current system precisely because all it requires is the physical card without a pin code. Credit cards can be easily duplicated. The pin code used in a debit transaction is nowhere on your card and is verified in an encrypted network transaction. Sadly most debit cards are also Visa cards...and this is by design. Banks make more money off of the higher credit transaction fees than they lose through fraud. 

If it's a debit Visa, you're as likely to be on the hook as you would be if it weren't a Visa.

By November of this year PCI Compliance regulations will demand that all retailers than use national credit and debit card processing networks install NFC and Smart card compatible payment systems (these have been the norm every where else in the world for over a decade). These systems are encrypted and create one time use "numbers" that are tied to a time window (they're only valid for a few seconds, and are NOT YOUR CARD NUMBER). They are also pretty much impossible to skim without physical access to your card or device.

If retailers fail to install this newer equipment they will be on the hook for any fraud. Not you. Not your bank. So there is a strong impetus to comply. However.........

Companies like Walmart and Home Depot (and a few dozen others) are railing against this and are attempting to put in place their own system, known as Current-C, which is far less safe but far more profitable for them, because it's cheaper and forces consumers to bear the brunt of fraud protection by turning electronic transactions into ACH (checking) network transactions, in essence a system barely safer than already unsafe personal checks. This will require signing up for Current-C and giving your banking information over to them explicitly. This saves those companies anywhere from 20-50 cents per transaction compared to existing and future debit and credit charges they pay, and puts all of the burden of fraud protection on you and your bank.

It's a changing landscape, but you have to be aware and change with the times.

Friday, February 6, 2015


In order to have an opinion about anything you have to begin with a series of basic assertions and assumptions. And even though we prefer to have our worldviews grounded upon concrete experiences and ideas, the truth of the matter is that this isn't really ever the case.

The reality is that we, as human beings, choose how to approach the world around us based on many often contrary sets of stimuli and ideas. As a fundamentally tribal species of primate we do share many foundational traits regardless of ethnicity or culture, the evidence of which is all around us. And yet when these similarities become modulated by culture they can also lead to vast and shockingly opposing worldviews.

One need only be a passingly attentive student of history to realize one fundamental truth about human beings. Humans can be convinced, at the level of the individual up to the scale of whole societies, to value the wrong things. Granted, by even making such a statement, I am making a truth claim about what constitutes right and wrong. And that my actually the point of this little blog post.

Before we make judgments about the things we observe and experience in our lives, we modulate our opinions through a series of foundational ideas we rely on as “our truth”. Whatever that “truth” might be for you or for me might be different, true enough, but in my experience the differences are often negligible. Rather, what I often see and experience is people in general seem to share a commonality in ethical considerations that they merely fail to apply as globally to their existence as they think they do.

My foundational philosophy is painfully simple, and one that doesn't require the structure of a dogma or ideology to support (which is perhaps the primary reason I'm both not religious, nor all too keen on things like political affiliations).

  • Learn more about myself and the world around me than I knew before.
  • Know and experience the value of compassion and love for those around us, and strive to alleviate suffering where you can.

You'd be surprised how far that can get you, and all without dusty iron age books or authority figures telling you what to believe, value, or fear. Simple in statement, yet complex in practice, it does at least save you from the pitfalls of being wrong about something because you valued authority over evidence. It doesn't absolve you from blame, rather it lays the blame solely where it belongs when things go south (i.e. namely at your own feet), which is equal parts humbling and liberating.

Learning is the most difficult aspect of this simple philosophy of mine. Because it requires that you actually pay attention. It demands that you devour information. And it requires you to be healthily skeptical of almost everything, even and especially of things you might at first glance agree with.

To make decisions based on the knowledge gleaned from learning you must also equally grasp the real nature of compassion and love. And it's really here where the difficult ideological battles occur.

The nature of love and compassion can be deconstructed in scientific and evolutionary terms, but often that truth is largely meaningless to most people. For some reason, to many, being able to explain why our emotional frameworks work as they do somehow cheapens the experience. I think this is the reason why people hold onto ideas like “spirituality” or concepts like the human soul, because it is somehow more comforting than accepting that how we experience the world (and our place in it) is all due to a few pounds of meat in our skulls.

This “otherwordly” nature most people ascribe to their ethical frameworks is, in my experience, almost entirely why people can often value the wrong things. The other significant reason is simply the fact that people can be convinced that almost anything is true, even if it's a truth that is demonstrably false. Even if it's something that goes against our nature.

I recall this image being discussed in a book I recently read.

One of the most difficult things to do is fake a smile. One of the reasons why we revere actors in our culture is that they have mastered the difficulty of portraying believable emotions. It is the reason why actors have to immerse themselves in a character, because it is nearly impossible to portray emotions that you do not inwardly experience. It is also the reason why 3D CGI can come across as creepy (hence the term “the uncanny valley") because human facial expressions are complex and nearly impossible to fake.

Because of this it is perceptual childs play, from a scientific perspective, to spot genuine and fake smiles in a photograph. As human beings we do this intuitively, but thanks to the analytical capabilities of machines we can and have raised this to a fine art. As such, the photograph above has been shown objectively to clearly depict people feeling genuine happiness and joy, within themselves and with their colleagues. There are no fake smiles there, so it'd be difficult to think of these people as monsters wouldn't it?

The fact that the picture is of the administrative staff of the Auschwitz concentration camp, a place where unconscionable horrors against our fellow humans took place, in no way seems to have interfered with their ability to have fun. Disturbing? Perhaps. Telling? Most definitely. And what it tells us is a rather disturbing truth about ourselves. Remember this picture the next time you form some opinion or other about a fellow human being.

One of my favorite quotes, which is also an important foundation of my second point about compassion is this.

“Anyone, anywhere in the world, for any reason suffering needlessly is enough reason for me to question my values.” - Penn Jillette

There are many things I would not find myself agreeing with that have crossed the lips of that guy, but this isn't one of them.

The next time you feel compelled to form an opinion on some trending topic of the day “gay marriage, transgenderism, racism, guns, free markets, vaccines, government regulation, contraception, gmo's etc...” at least do yourself the courtesy of going back to your foundations and asking yourself whether or not the opinion you have formed tracks with what you say you value and believe in.

It keeps you from letting your perceptions and innate biases steer you on the wrong course.

Friday, January 23, 2015

How To Offend People In Three Easy Steps!

Have you ever wondered to yourself, "Self, how can I insure that people are offended by what I say, think, value, and believe?"

Well look no further than this handy guide. I'm here to help.

1). Pick a subject. And, it can quite literally be anything. Ping pong balls, feminism, bacon sushi, etc...

2). Say whatever you think about this subject. Preferably one should stick to a discussion they are familiar with. Ideally you do want to know what you're talking about, but this is actually optional.

3). Wait...

That is all. There are no other magical steps required. Congratulations! You have now almost with certainty offended someone!

Now lets discuss why giving too much of a shit about someone elses offense is a waste of effort.

For instance, what do the following words mean? Try to come up with a definition that will fit into a conveniently sized sentence.

- Feminism
- Atheism
- Dogma
- Agnosticism
- Humanism
- Egalitarianism
- Political

I could make a much larger list of course, but these are words in particular I have experience with. What I tend to find is that such words have varying definitions depending on who you talk to. I'd wager that everyone who might read this blog post will at least have a slightly different take on these words.

Some few will have near instant knee-jerk reactions to merely seeing these or other "certain words". And what usually happens is a process of demonization, or merely discounting the quality and precision of ones words, all because of disagreements over what particular words mean.

This will often incite further discussion, though often of an unproductive variety. This aspect really depends on who might be in the discussion.

The thing to keep in mind, in any intellectual endeavor is simply this. Expertise does matter. More importantly, ones lack of expertise matters too, but this is something you have to remain open to and aware of about yourself as much as those you engage in conversation.

I'd personally love to be invited to a symposia on cognitive neuroscience or even quantum mechanics. Those are two "hobby subjects" of mine that I find both fascinating and intriguing. I feel I've learned quite a bit, at least from a laypersons perspective, about both fields. And, I even feel I could construct a talk to give at such an event. I'm reasonably confident with at least some of my understanding of the topics.

What I am not however is a neuroscientist, nor am I a physicist. Though I would feel comfortable giving a talk in front of neuroscientists and theoretical physicists, I wouldn't pretend to posess knowledge they do not have about these fields. I would be very careful to be deferential to the expertise surrounding me in the room. And this deference wouldn't mean I had nothing of value to contribute. However, and here is my point, the value of my contribution would be judged. And it would be judged by those with greater knowledge than my own.

Being offended is merely not liking what you hear. Sometimes that offense is genuine, but as often that offense is not.

There is value in knowledge and expertise. There is a huge value in understanding the language you use. If people are unable or unwilling to face the discomfort within themselves to better their own understanding, it's just too fucking bad. And this is true of myself, yourself, and anyone else who becomes embroiled in a discussion.

The pope doesn't attend symposia on molecular biology, nor is he ever invited to speak at one. It is as unlikely that a physicist would be invited to issue a Fatwa on the Kasimir Effect. In many realms of discussion expertise not only matters, but is vital.

Not all opinions have value, and some people? They're just fucking stupid. :P