The more things change…

This 1960s era Lego commercial is amazing. The core values of the company don’t seem to have changed. (Video found at this site.)

A couple notes: while the sing-song about the girl does show her building a house, the later shot of the 3 kids playing has her working on a skyscraper. It’s less of “homemaker” fantasy than an “architect” fantasy.

Something on display here that Lego does well and a lot of companies could learn from: Lego has all sorts of price points. Any given series of Lego product will have sets that range in price from “Affordable-on-8-year-old’s-allowance” to “Affordable-on-*ahem*-36-year-old’s-allowance”. Relatedly , When I was 12, the competitionist in me made me save up for some of the $100 kits, but I had never felt like any of the less expensive kits was “lesser”. Lego knows that giving good value at all pricepoints makes customers feel comfortable spending more in the future

Another thought: Lego pieces aren’t markedly more complex today than they were in the 1960s (at least, not judging by this commercial). But the things people do with Lego kits are significantly more complex than they used to be. Look at this Lego Sopwith Camel:

That propeller actually spins.

Yes: there are some pieces there that are simply not seen in that video above. And no: I’m not prepared to say that the people who designed the Sopwith Camel on my mantel are smarter than the people who invented Lego in the first place. Nor would it be fair to say that the people who designed my Sopwith Camel are smarter than the people who designed the most recent Lego Sopwith Camel. But in 2012, the designers had a working example of what a Lego Sopwith Camel ought to look like. They had over a dozen years of extra experience to work with. And so on.

The thing that makes our species thrive, what gives us our power- what makes us worth preserving- is that we are capable of adapting our memes in response to new information. Maybe one day we’ll hit a dead end and run into a problem our collective experience and communication cannot overcome. In the mean time, there’s Lego making everything awesome.

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The greatest of these is Hop

So I was all set to write something about the humanity of Jesus meaning that his followers heard him fart, etc. I was then going to follow up on this by imagining a Gospel in which an offhand reference to a belching Jesus was made- and how American Fundamentalists might deal with that sort of passage. A good time may have been had by all.

So that led me to looking up the text of 1 John 4:3. My memory had it that the text of this passage was a) the only time “Antichrist” was used in the bible, and b) ascribed the Antichrist label to people who denied the humanity of Jesus.

So… imagine my surprise when I looked up a few different translations of the passage in question. Half the translations (generally those following the King James tradition) seem to hold with my understanding of the passage. The other half simply damn to hell those who deny that Jesus is the anointed one. In other words: the translators cannot seem to agree with themselves whether it is more important to note the flesh of Jesus or the spirit of Jesus.

I’m pretty sure that if I could get my hands on a copy of the original* Greek I would be able to actually figure it out for myself. But that’s a project for another day. In the mean time, I’ll have to make non-biblical fart jokes.

*Yes, yes, the oral tradition that got written down as the Bible started in Aramaic before being added to and translated into many languages. But the Gospel of John seems to have first coalesced in the Greek language before being translated into Latin and so forth.

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Mrs Sandman. Bring me a dream….

Today, for the first time, I heard the phrase “so and so has sand in their vagina”. And I’m freaking in love with it.

The thing is: I understand _exactly_ why someone with that condition would be irritable about everything, ever. Moreover, it seems like that’s the worse possible place to have sand. Sand in your eyes? Humans have tear ducts specifically to deal with this situation. Sand in your mouth? Unpleasant, but saliva will deal with that over time. Nostrils? Sure, but… the nostrils are open. The vagina will rub against itself, causing chaffing. And the asshole is bad place to have sand, but as it’s generally dry, I don’t think it’s as bad as a place to have sand as a vagina.

Except.

The problem (with this idiom) is that only one gender has a vagina. Moreover, the term “vagina” (or any of its derivatives) tends to be a rather specific insult. Much as straight dudes and gay ladies are supposed to enjoy interacting with that part of the female anatomy, saying that someone personifies one is somehow not an endearment. And falsely saying that someone has one is (weirdly) a way of calling them weak.

Now, we could ungender this idiom by replacing “vagina” with “urethra”- which both men and women have. Sadly, replacing a vulgarity with it’s scientific term pretty much always robs a phrase of the oomph it needs to be meaningful.

So what should we do? Ideally, we’d simply declare that the phrase is gender-neutral and refers to someone who is pissed off in general about things that don’t really have to do with the issue at hand. But if we’re not adult enough use the phrase gender neutrally, perhaps “sand in his dick/her vagina” will suffice?

I dunno. What are your thoughts?

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The world ended. I still feel fine

Earlier this week, a coworker told me that he was trying to save money to get married. I congratulated him and asked if she knew yet. And then I stopped myself and said “er, her, right? Or him?”

I’m not always the most eloquent of people.

This coworker clarified that it was a lady, and then thanked me for pausing to make sure. We both sort of realized that heteronormativity is both easy to slip into, and a bit painful to be on the wrong side of. During the course of this conversation I learned that this coworker is the sort of christian who is waiting until marriage.

Let me be clear that I respect that choice. It’s not the one that I made, but I do respect it. And waiting until marriage to have sex is a choice, in the way that being gay is not a choice. That understanding is the reason American society has been rapidly swinging around towards acceptance of gay people as people- as fully human and deserving of all the happiness that life can bring. It’s that very understanding that lead a US District court to strike down a Utah law banning same-sex marriage.

I bet there are a lot of men in Utah tonight frantically looking for a suit in which to get married. I don’t mean to exclude the women from that sentence, but, well… 364 days ago today I was scrambling around San Francisco looking for a suit in which to get married. I found one, and a day later I said some vows, my lady said some vows, and our lives changed.

It was cold that night. Cold enough that I really did think it plausible that the world might descend into entropy the way crackpots were saying the Mayans had foretold. And I was happy enough to make jokes during the vows.

She married me anyway.

I can’t even say the way being married has changed me. I know it has, but when people talk about a “mystical union” they’re right. And today and tomorrow and for a long time to come, an entirely new group of people will feel that fierce joy that I have felt on being in a partnership with another human being. For the rest of our lives.

Mazel Tov

(But I’m the one who married Sorako, so I win.)

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When you talk about destruction, Don’t you know that you can count me out.

There is a cancerous cult stalking our nation’s discourse. It is not the curse of ill conceived nazi analogies, though those are always great fun. Rather, it is the “journalistic” tic of false equivlence.

Let us understand what is happening in Washington DC today. While I write this, 97% of the US Federal government is shut down. Much of the remaining 3%- including the FBI and air traffic controllers- are being asked to work with only the hope of retroactive pay. As this is happening, we grow ever closer to a point at which the US Federal Government will need to pay certain bills, but not have the legal authority to borrow the funds to pay those bills.

These are two separate events. Either of them taken alone would be bad enough. The fact that they are occurring together is- like an earthquake during open heart surgery- a potentially catastrophic coincidence.

The debt limit thing is a bit hard to explain the details of, so let me be super simple. People are willing to lend us money because we have always paid them back. _Always_. When you have a reputation for always repaying your loans, people start being being willing to pay you for the privilage of loaning you money. Like as if you gave me a dollar today with the promise that tomorrow I would give you 99 cents back. That’s a fantastic deal. it exists because financial world craves solidity and order.

The sun goes down, the sun comes up, the US pays its bills. If the US government defaults on even one loan, it will be the first time in nearly 300 years it will have done such a thing. That would cause as much turmoil to the world financial markets as the sun stopping at midday would to human physicists.

So on one hand we have a Republican party that is willing hit the debt ceiling and not pay (some or all) our bills. And we have a Democratic party that really, _really_ does not want to do this. And similtanously we have a Republican party that likes the fact that the government is shut down, and a Democratic party that does not. And there, in that very second link above is Chris Matthews writing about how “both sides” need to give and take.

What president Obama and the Democratic party have decided- what all decent Americans should decide- is that paying our bills and having a functional government are not negotiable. They are certainly not bargaining chips. They are, in fact, the starting points of a functional American society. They are the sine qua non of any society. America has invaded other nations for less cause than defaulting on our loans would be giving, say, China.

Not to mention the global catastrophe that would happen if large banks/nations were planning on repaying their loans with the money they were expecting to get back after having loaned it to America.

We can argue- and should- about the things the government ought to do. We can even argue that it is wrong for the government to assume more than a certain amount of duties even if all the things we’d like it to do are wholly legitimate. But once we make protecting the existence of the government the responsibility of one party we begin a very short road to disaster. I’d like the media to be doing a much better job explaining this. This is a another problem we have, separate from the shutdown, the potential default, and conspiracy of math that makes the first two problems almost inevitable.

The difference between this problem and the others is that we can ignore Chris Matthews until he stops being so fucking stupid.

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Hate the players, sure. And hate the game

Football has a problem. Players are getting massive concussions that can cause them health problems and death upwards of years after they retire. Replacing all the players and coaches won’t fix this problem. It is a problem that owes to the design of the sport itself. Likewise: holding new elections won’t fix America’s problem. America’s problems are endemic to the design of our electoral system.

Let us assume that we could actually hold new elections tomorrow. Our system doesn’t allow for it; we’re in hypothetical land, so it’s ok. What happens in those elections are that congress basically gets returned exactly the way it is. Unless we think are any Republicans so upset about the way their GOP member of Congress is handling this shutdown that they’re willing to vote for a Democrat. Or likewise: that there are so many Democrats pissed off at their Democratic House Representative that they vote for a Republican.

In a certain sense, the game is rigged in favor of incumbents. We’ve all heard about the evils of gerrymandering, and while there is some truth to it, the problem might be more fundamental the who draws the lines. Nor, indeed, does it seem that gerrymandering actually causes the extremism we see in our political system.

The problem is how we choose who represents us. The incentives are pushing in favor of extremism, and sharpening the divide between the two parties.

And, indeed, the fact of a two party system is the problem. Read that sentence again. Carefully. Note that I used the word “system”. The way that Americans vote- our first past the post, winner take all system- creates a two party system. The two party system is the natural resting place of all voting systems like ours, though times of upheaval might temporarily cause multiple parties to vie for dominance. The last time this happened in America was roughly 1859, when the Republican party grew out of the Whig party. Your high school history teacher might have touched on the events of the following 5 years.

The problem with a 2 party system is that it allows only for binary choices among policy options, and exaggerates differences until they appear catastrophic. Which is not to say there are no differences between the Republican party and the Democratic party- there are! But the differences are along a very small number of preferred policy outcomes. Neither party, for instance, is seriously suggesting a 70% top marginal tax rate. Nor is either party in favor of returning the copyright term to 14 years. Instead, they’re arguing about how big the market for health insurance ought to be. The party in favor of fewer and smaller healthcare markets is so upset by creation of larger and more healthcare markets that they’ve gone so far as to stop paying all government employees except themselves.

The solution to this temper tantrum is not “vote only for the tea party instead of the Republicans”. Nor is it “vote for the Greens instead of the Democrats”. We’d just end up back in this mess several years down the line. No.

Instead we must create a House of Representatives with multimember districts such as in Japan, or a mixed Federal/local voting system such as in Germany. If the example of those two nations seem vaguely historically sinister, take heart: those nations have great electoral systems because they were written by patriotic Americans after we defeated each of those nations in the Second World War. Those systems aren’t at all foreign, they were some of our best exports.

Things must change, and therefore they will change. The question of our time is not whether they will change, but how much destruction will accompany that change. Let us amend our own Constitution, change our own institutions, and let America get back into business.

It’s time to bring good governance back home.

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Indignant Desert Birds » Sunday Morning Reading Material Last Sunday in 2012- What a Long Year Edition

This year I began the processes of being adopted- in the next couple of weeks, this ought to be finalized and I’ll have a mommy. Any other year, and that would be enough- dianu. This year I made a commitment to share the rest of my life with another human being. This year we bought a house. This year marked the end of the world as I knew it, and I feel fine.

Now I just need a new job. You know, a real job with benefits and vacation days.

This article asks all the wrong questions: Anyone who is so badly off that he is hiding is new shoes for fear of having them stolen is not “undeserving” of our help. That person is needs even more help than a new pair of shoes can accomplish alone. How can we as a society have let ourselves get to that point?

Assuming we don’t kill ourselves with pollution- and that we find renewable, constantly growing, sources of energy- we humans are on the cusp of ending scarcity. I recognize the enormity of every clause of that previous sentence.

Constantly improving information technology has made it trivial to design new… things. Washers, driers, cars, desks, etc. Moore’s law is putting “computer assisted” into “computer assisted design” tools. And 3D printers are becoming a cheaper, better, more powerful.

3D printers allow a person to feed a block of wood into a machine, hit a button, and get a new table. Some day soon, we might be able to build car parts on demand, TVs built to spec in a store. Every book will be print on demand– and you’ll only have created a physical copy of that book because you love it so much you wanted it in your house forever.

We are very close to breakthroughs in biology which will allow us to grow steaks without cows. Chicken breasts minus the chickens. We will soon be able to feed the world in the style Americans are accustomed to eating- without the negative side effects of factory farms.

If we can find the energy, we will soon have replicators like in Star Trek. What will we do with it?

Given unlimited supply of the basics of food, shelter, (and hand-waving our energy requirements away), we could end hunger and privation. Given the course of American public policy, I fear we won’t.

America has chosen to create a shortage of doctors in order to drive up the cost of medicine. America has been expanding protections for intellectual property to include basic biological discoveries. We could have plenty of food and shelter- or we can allow copyright laws to create artificial scarcity and artificially high prices.

I’m not sure that the EFF is on the right track, but I am sure that we need to think about how to create and nurture a world of plenty. That’s the note I’ll end 2012 on. That’s the song we’ll sing in 2013.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material Third Sunday in December 2012- Winter is Coming Edition

It’s Sunday Mourning. Time for refection.

In China this week, 22 school children were attacked by a madman wielding a knife. Those 22 children will live, though several of them will have serious injuries for the rest of their lives. 20 American school children were shot and killed this week- on the very same day. Guns it turns out do kill people.

Other arguments I no longer want to hear: The need for access to mental health instead of gun control laws. I’ve got ADD, I really do want this country to talk about mental health problems! But those kids were shot with weapons purchased by someone with no mental health issues. They were- in effect- stolen. As were the weapons used in the other gun-related massacre this week.

Maybe if we convince ourselves that these shootings are a part of a massive Al Quaeda plot to sew terror, we’ll start taking serious steps against guns.

I’d love to know how these questions are worded, so that I can judge how to understand the results. Nonetheless, it’s telling that NRA members want more strict gun control than the NRA leadership.

I think most of us are like this: we simply do not care about the constitutionality of laws. What we care about is outcomes. That’s why no one is upset about violating the 1st Amendment right of advertisers to scream into your home.

And… if you click just one link:

Austerity economics don’t work. Pass it on.

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Weighed and found wanting

The first time I was ever handed a gun I was taught the only safety rule that matters: Never point a gun at anything you don’t want dead. Every other gun safety rule is mere elaboration on that point. American laws need to change to reflect the basic deadly nature of firearms. Here is a proposal.

Let me be clear at the outset: this is not a call to ban guns. In fact, what I’m about to propose could be used to allow for the private ownership of tanks. But in the United States, in 2012, there have been 7 gun-aided massacres. That number may or may not go up again in the next two weeks. Part of the reason these attacks are terrifying is their seemingly random nature.

Many in the US are claiming that guns don’t kill people, that it is deadly intent that kills people. As a point of reference, I want to mention that today in China, there was a mass stabbing. 22 children have been hospitalized as a result of this attack. 22 children injured. But not- as of this writing- dead. Crazy people do irrational things in response to bad mental stimulus. We cannot prevent the brain from misfiring. We can make it harder for those with ill-will to turn their intention deadly.

Let us say that any person who wishes to buy a firearm must get a license. Any firearm someone purchases must be registered to that person. Firearms may not be stored in any private home. That sounds crazy, but please keep reading.

Accidental shooting deaths are routinely in the top 10 non-natural-causes deaths in US. In fact, the NRA tells us that accidental shooting deaths happen- on average- twice a day. Getting guns out of homes wouldn’t do as much to reduce accidental deaths as putting the speed limit back to 55 miles per hour, but… one thing at a time.

Instead of storing guns in the home, lets allow people to house their guns in private gun clubs. Clubs might simply offer secure lockers- or they might be full-service facilities which also offer shooting ranges, cleaning gear, ammo, etc. Someone wants to own a fully-automatic military-issued weapon? Why not? As long as she numberswiki.com

can convince a properly licensed, monitored, insured, (and soundproofed!) gun range to hold onto it between weekends spent firing it off, there’s no problem whatsoever.

Or, you know, all of the above. But with tanks instead of guns.

So what happens when someone wants to go hunting? No problem! First you would need a hunting licence for a specific, in-season, animal. Then you’ll need to say how long you’re taking it out for- up to a week. You get your gun, you go camping, and then you shoot your limit. Bonus: it helps keep animal populations healthy by preventing over-hunting.

Any time there’s a gun-crime, police would be able to track down where that gun belonged. They’d be able to find out why it was taken from where it belonged, and they’d be able to find out how long it had been gone for. If a gun were stolen, it would be reported nearly instantly- and we’d probably see rates of gun-theft plummet– after all, a club would be selling their reputation for your private possessions secure. Why wouldn’t they do everything possible to ensure that security?

The degree of annoyance involved in getting a gun out of a gun range would nearly eliminate crimes of passion that end in gun-caused murder. In case of invasion, gun clubs would pretty much instantly become armories stashed across the nation.

Finally, by making gun-ownership even slightly difficult- something that has to be actively maintained and paid for- society begins to limit gun-ownership to people who are actively interested in maintaining their skills. Hobbyists would be able to become “a well regulated militia” in short notice.

In light of today’s schoolhouse massacre, I am trying to refrain from frothing at the mouth and screaming about what needs to be done. I think this is a fairly balanced proposal that accounts for the interests of hunters, gun enthusiastic, and the need for Americans to not be murdered in their beds. As an added bonus, this would not cause serious issues with the Second Amendment. There may be holes in the proposal, but it provides a framework.

Update:
I seem to have stumbled into an American version of what the Swiss are using. So that’s a good sign.

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Opening the Overton Window

In light of today’s massacre- and the 5 previous massacres this year- I think it only fitting, prudent, and responsible to call for the complete banning of privately held weapons. Anyone who disagrees with this position is objectively on the side of child-murder.

I don’t actually agree with that position, but the fact that no one can make such a public pronouncement and be taken seriously is a part of the problem. In a few moments, I’ll start writing a post an actual proposal to limit gun violence. It will also be politically and socially unthinkable, but should not be.

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