Saturday, June 11, 2016

without proof or editing, everything al dimond 2016

1. The thing that always left me cold about Bernie Sanders was all the “big banks” stuff. It's the political version of Walter Sobchak ranting about Vietnam: it has nothing to do with anything! Did the banks have something do do with the housing bubble and its 2008 collapse? Sure. But the banks aren't behind what underlies so much pessimism about the economy. The recovery since then has been very unequal, jobs haven't returned in many cities and many sectors. They point to larger concerns about our future: trends toward wealth and resource consolidation, how automation and ubiquitous information affects the future of work and the value of knowledge and understanding and the project of humanity and living a meaningful life. We need a conversation about that stuff that's smart, humble, and inclusive.

2. In my professional circles (in the field of software) people often say that the top n% of devs are m times as productive as the average dev, where both n and m are somewhere around 10. Over time this statement seems to be spoken with dread, not joy, as we all realize, “There's a (100 − n)% chance I'll be one of the people out of a job when the n% write an AI that's m − 1 times as productive as me.” The AI will make some embarrassing mistakes and its work will lack taste and craft, but will have speed to make up for it. Its biggest problems will be fixed quickly by the smartest people. My biggest problems are harder to fix and I only have myself. For the project of humanity and living a meaningful life, I really hope we can all have eachother.

3. I'll repeat that link from #1 about economic pessimism. I had a bit of a similar thought when I saw a flowchart about how to vote in mid-primary season, including both Ds and Rs (I think Matthew James drew it), where the top-line question was, “Is shit fucked?” A “Yes” answer led to more questions, and ultimately, Bernie, Trump, or Cruz; a “No“ answer ultimately to Clinton or Kasich. Shit is more fucked for, broadly, people that aren't white in America, but for white people shit is fucked in relatively novel ways. This is part of the story behind the demography of the 2016 Dem primary, but probably not all of it.

4. I can't find it right now (so much for ubiquitous information), but I remember reading some quotation of a famous existentialist author upset that his novel was called a “psychological” novel by a critic, because of course the novel was not about some particular psychology (the author's own?) but about some fundamental fact of the human condition viewed soberly, or something. This is how I made sense of it before filing it away but I don't really know about this stuff; anyway, I wondered if maybe the lowly critic had it right, and if maybe the author knew it. That's what I think when I listen to any album Kanye West has made after his... err... 2008 collapse. It doesn't put him in bad company. I think the same thing when I listen to any album Bob Dylan has made starting with Blonde on Blonde.

5. Some U.S. Senator just quoted Psalm 109 (of the Bible), to pray for U.S. President Barack Obama, “May his days be few.” You wouldn't have to be in an age of ubiquitous information, any U.S. hotel room in the last hundred years would do, to be able to quickly check the context. The “days”, unambiguously, were the days of a ruler's life, not his days left in office. Anyway, you wouldn't have to be in an age of ubiquitous information, any room with a calendar in it would do, to know the number of days a lame-duck President has left in office, except in the case of death or impeachment, and a Senator need not pray for an impeachment, merely call some like-minded Representative! Seems pretty clear-cut: the Senator openly prayed for the President's death! On the other hand, people use scripture in weird ways sometimes. A few years ago I was at a Christian service that featured a reading from a psalm that was excerpted in a strange way (with no explanation given), starting near but not at the beginning, and with several verses snipped out in odd places; that might be a reasonable way to quote exposition or dialog, cutting irrelevant or repetitive parts, but not poetry! Later that day I was in a hotel room, and I'm a curious fellow, so I got out the old Gideon Bible and looked up the psalm in question, and it turned out that all the cuts were basically done to hide the context, involving military triumph. Anyway, I'm sure this sort of thing happens all the time in all sorts of churches when it's more important to quote the words of the Old Testament (because that's what fits in the liturgy, and liturgical authority is all today's church has left, having lost all reasonable claim to authority on matters of truth or morality — I won't go any more into that but I heard it from the pulpit so I'll leave it here without proof) than to quote words in a way that basically preserves their meaning and tells you something about why they were written. So the prevalence of this practice gives the Senator at least some cover. Which is kind of dumb.