Down with politics

Elsewhere in the world I have been discussing the book Soonish, which is about incredible inventions that are on the cusp of making the world a better place. Some of the proposed technologies were interesting, some were ho-hum, and some were completely pie-in-the-sky. The thing about the book that most leapt out at me, though, was the politics that it was uncritically espousing.

Several times the book discusses how the inventions will be used by the American military, which made me pull back with some befuddlement – how, I asked while reading, is improving the way people kill each other making the world a better place? What I found especially striking was that it was clear that the authors took it for granted that supporting the US military was an unqualified good and most likely didn’t even consider it as a political act at all.

The other thing that struck me about the book, which shouldn’t be surprising considering its “science fuck yeah” tone, is that it insisted on technical solutions for political problems. The section on housing goes on about how outrageously outmoded the current construction model of building houses is, and what with the housing crisis in America today the best solution is some kind of modular houses that assemble themselves or some shit (I read the book months ago so I don’t remember the specifics).

In fact, the book argues, with the rising homelessness crisis and unaffordability of housing in places like San Francisco, it’s practically a moral necessity to get these robot houses approved and building themselves ASAP since they can do the job faster and cheaper than what we have right now.

That line of argument reminded me of how some people talked about fixing world hunger back in the nineties. If we could just develop the right fertilizer or right GM crops or whatever then we could increase crop output and famine would forever be eradicated. Of course, this ignores the fact that the world hunger crisis exists at the same time as the world obesity crisis. The problem isn’t that there’s not enough food for everyone – if that were true, it would be impossible to eat enough to become obese. The problem is that food goes not to who needs it, but who has money to pay for it. Which is to say that the problem is political, not technical.

It’s the same thing with the current housing shortage. If developed countries really, really wanted to, then everyone who wanted a home could have one. But a host of of political problems – baby boomers who want real estate prices to stay high because selling their houses is their retirement plan, developers chasing luxury prices for wealthy international elites who just want someplace stable to park their money, widespread societal aversion to the idea of renting, a regulatory environment that makes approval of new construction so arduous that it incentivizes developers into only focusing on the absolutely most profitable projects, and so much more – combine to stymie efforts for change.

So my expectation is that if self-building robot houses or whatever are approved, the savings in time and money will just mean larger profits for the developers and no meaningful difference will be made in the amount of housing being constructed. But woo robot houses.

Remember the Ides of November

Legends of Eisenwald looks to be a fantasy roleplaying and strategy game about leading a noble family in medieval Germany.

However, while researching it I found out about its standalone spin-off, Eisenwald: Blood of November, which apparently is about the 2016 US elections.

No, I have no goddamn idea why or how the game developers did this but almost every review on GOG states that Blood of November transposes the electoral showdown between Trump and Clinton into a fantasy version of medieval Germany. According to one review the story works like this:

The gameplay and the low fantasy medieval setting has all the qualities that made me love Legends of Eisenwald But this stand-alone spin off is also an absolutely hilarious rewriting of the recent american elections. Here it’s the Duc that died heirless, and the barons have to elect his successor. The 2 main contestant are a man named.. Dieter Horn , and a woman, Hanna Eisig , and you have to pick a side and help it win. The extravagant rumors about both candidates are offen medieval views of the actual campain events , and it’s amasing how medieval it does feel indeed ! The game is still great even if you don’t want to pay attention to that double entendre, but much funnier this way

So, uh, yeah. I bought Legends of Eisenwald but now I wonder if I should buy this spinoff as well, since it sounds either stupid or brilliant. I don’t think I’d be able to catch every in-joke since these days I avoid consuming too much news about the minutiae of US politics, but campaign season for the 2020 elections has already started so playing it almost seems topical. And it’s only like $3. Maybe I can buy one less coffee next week?

Kung fu TV

Warrior is the shit. It’s a violent kung fu spaghetti western that’s so very over the top. It’s set in 19th century San Francisco and I think is basically what Bruce Lee had wanted the original Kung Fu TV show to originally look like. The protagonist is literally fresh off the boat from China, but unlike other FOBs he knows kung fu and starts kicking racist ass as soon as he arrives.

The show has a lot about the politics around Chinese immigration at the time – the way politicians stoked working class racism at lost jobs, the way the Irish workers shat on those lower down the ladder than them, the way the rich businessmen gladly exploited the Chinese, the resentment the Chinese had against their oppression, and the gangsters and criminals who didn’t give much of a shit as long as they profited. But all this is expressed in modern-ish language (in fact, very hip hop language), and thanks to the magic of TV we hear English when the Chinese characters are talking all funny among themselves.

Did I mention the show is violent? Because it is. It’s what I wanted out of Into the Badlands and damn if it doesn’t deliver. If nothing else, just watch the opening, it’s stylish as hell. I like the whole 70’s kung fu movie poster thing.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Sheesh, when it’s laid out like this then the parallels are just ridiculous:

– living five adults to a two room apartment

– being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you

– ‘totally not illegal taxi’ taxis by private citizens moonlighting to make ends meet

– everything slaved to the needs of the military-industrial complex

– mandatory workplace political education

– productivity largely falsified to satisfy appearance of sponsoring elites

– deviation from mainstream narrative carries heavy social and political consequences

– networked computers exist but they’re really bad

– Henry Kissinger visits sometimes for some reason

– elite power struggles result in massive collateral damage, sometimes purges

– failures are bizarrely upheld as triumphs

– otherwise extremely intelligent people just turning the crank because it’s the only way to get ahead

– the plight of the working class is discussed mainly by people who do no work

– the United States as a whole is depicted as evil by default

– the currency most people are talking about is fake and worthless

– the economy is centrally planned, using opaque algorithms not fully understood by their users

The Non-Americans

Fascinating article from The Guardian about the US-raised children of a couple in Russia’s infamous Illegals spy program. It would of course be mind-blowing to discover as a teenager that your parents were secretly Russian deep cover spies trained by the KGB, and the article covers that in depth. Peripherally related to that issue is the fact that the TV show The Americans is very loosely based on the Illegals Program.

It’s kind of interesting to think about how the fictional kids on that show would react to the same revelation of their parents’ secret lives as enemies of the state. The real-life sons are currently trying to regain their Canadian citizenship (their parents’ cover having been that of Canadian immigrants to the US) and on reflection I think I wouldn’t mind if they became legit Canadians. As they point out, they barely know Russia and have few personal ties there. Plus they seem eager to live in and contribute to Canada, so what the hell. There’s plenty of room.

Also interesting is this video of the father in the story, Andrey Bezrukov. There is a noticeable non-native accent in his English speech, but it might be that he is no longer trying to disguise his origins or that his speech patterns have been influenced by the people around him after he has returned home – or both, probably.

American Justice

A proposal on reform for the United States Supreme Court:

My view of statutory and constitutional interpretation/construction, btw, is that appellate judges should always strive to figure out what a law could reasonably mean (by looking at the universe of possible meanings derivable from the text and the circumstances of its enactment) and then pick whatever meaning that Captain America would prefer. If the Supreme Court did this consistently, I am sure that we would live in a much better country.

Thar she blows

Big Marijuana is coming like Big Tobacco did decades before, but it’s taking a detour through the 1920s and the Prohibition Era first. If and when marijuana is legalized in the United States, it will almost definitely join the other legal drugs in being pushed by profit-driven corporations willing to kill as many trees as it takes to be in the black. In the meantime, heavily armed pot growers are destroying the environment well enough on their own.

So sayest MoJo:

Although the original Northern California growers saw pot cultivation as an extension of their hippie lifestyles, their environmental values haven’t readily carried over to the next generation. “They are given a free pass to become wealthy at a young age, to get what they want,” Silvaggio explains. “And do you think they are going to give it up when they turn 20, with a kid in the box? They can’t get off that gravy train.” But with prices dropping as domestic supply expands, “you can’t go smaller; you’ve got to go bigger these days to make the amount of money you used to make. So what does that mean? You have to get another generator. You have to take more water. You’ve got to spray something because you may lose 20, 30 grand if you don’t.”

Past is President

Odd fact No. 2,596,322 about the United States of America: Should George Washington return as a zombie, mummy, lich, revenant, poltergeist, or other type of undead, the armies of the United States are required to follow his orders. 

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list; Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

That (a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.

Public Law 94-479

The hidden price of cheap online dildos

I just read this eye opening piece from Mother Jones about the inhuman working conditions to be found at the logistics firms that run the warehouses which ship the online gewgaws that we swim in. It’s shocking to find out about the hidden costs of being able to order cheap dildos on the Internet.

The annoying thing is that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’ve written about Taylorism and scientific management – I defined it as “a discredited management philosophy organized around getting the most productivity out of workers and damn their health and comfort” – and I know perfectly well about the dire labour conditions to be found in states with right-to-work laws, which severely curtail the power of unions, and I also know about the demand towards timeliness with Just in Time shipping which has companies do their level best to turn their workers into unfeeling cogs who don’t pee or get sick.

I knew all that and yet I didn’t connect those things to the free shipping that Amazon and almost every other large online retailer provides and the guarantees towards getting items fast which are always shouted out in giant letters on a company’s website. Really, though, I’ll pay for the damn shipping and even wait an extra couple of days if it means workers won’t get fired for attending the birth of one of their kids.

Still, the article is about American third-party logistics firms so I wonder if I can still order stuff online in Canada with a clear conscience. I know at least three things different between Ontario and this unnamed state west of the Mississippi:

  1. Minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, well above the $7.25 those poor slobs were getting;
  2. Mandatory overtime is illegal;
  3. All residents would be on the provincial health plan.

Just to be safe, though, I think from now on I’m going to buy stuff in person whenever I absolutely can. All those trucks driving around delivering stuff can’t be good for the environment, anyway.

Law and the Multiverse

I’ve just discovered Law and the Multiverse, a blog devoted to exploring the legal ramifications of life in a superhero universe. For example, one post discusses human rights in the context of non-human intelligences (i.e., aliens), while another covers Superman’s immigration status and whether he counts as an American. Like its subject matter, the blog deals mostly with the American context, but sometimes it deals with issues with a greater scope, such as whether supervillain lairs in outer space are protected by the Outer Space Treaty forbidding the militarization of space. It’s fascinating, though the American focus means I end up reading only half of the posts (what do I care about US traffic laws?).