DO NOT DISABLE YOUR AD-BLOCKER!


If you’re using an ad-blocker like AdBlock Plus (you should be!), and a page tells you that you need to disable your ad-blocker to see the content, it’s time to leave that page, and not return until they change their policy. Here’s why:
 
1) The most popular ad-blockers have “whitelists” that let content providers submit their ads for screening. If their ads are respectful–don’t install malware on your computer, don’t pop-up and cover the screen, don’t play loud videos, etc.–then AdBlock Plus and similar will let you see it! There’s no excuse for not being on the whitelist.  Are you a webmaster?  Click this link.  Now, you really have no excuse.
 
2) If an ad is not on the aforementioned whitelist, it’s because it’s a truly obnoxious ad, and/or the site’s owner isn’t a responsible citizen of the Internet. It’s literally unsafe to display such ads. In addition to being REALLY ANNOYING, they can install viruses on your computer/phone/device, steal your credit card information/identity, give your personal information to dangerous people, cost you hundreds or thousands in electronics repair bills, etc. There’s no good reason for displaying such an ad.  There’s no good reason for trying to make people see such an ad.
 
3) If you boycot pages that refuse to make their ads respectful and safe, you will force web site owners to make their content respectful and safe…which they should have, to begin with. Don’t give in. Yes, that includes Forbes.com, or your favorite “reputable” web site. It’s only as reputable as its content.  Be patient, and keep your ad-blocker on.
(You should also consider installing Web of Trust.)
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Anthropological Motivation For Not Fighting About Politics


For context, look up popular American news articles for March 12th, 2016.

Raja Yoga (the Hindu philosophy of using physical movement to achieve a higher spiritual state–called simply “yoga” by most westerners) seems to have arisen out of a collection of movements and postures practiced as part of human life. From bowing to a king, to taking a wide stance in preparation for delivering a sword blow, to stretching in the morning and evening to alleviate muscle and joint pain, to picking up a baby–this is a system of kinetic learning intended to explain and teach the human condition and how to function within it.

Humans are loving. Humans are powerful. Humans fight for survival, spend their days gathering resources; humans follow leaders; humans battle for control over the followers and means of acquisition. (Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably seeing you as their follower…) This method of teaching translates literally to “royal yoga”. As profound as it once was, it fails to teach apt governance or understanding in the absence of the cultural understanding that could only be truly had in the more revered and wealthy circles of the ancient world.

What would such a system look like, if it were created out of the successful strategies of governing and being governed within our own society? Are there any motions that we can still use to universally increase our usefulness and success as a part of the human meta-organism? Today, we crave a method that works for almost everyone, and mourn the absence of any such thing that can make us happy. There is currently no “one size fits most” method for anyone born after 1980, or, perhaps, before.

In politics and religion, alike, we are bereft of truly effective guidance. We celebrate the death of “storge” love while complaining about lack of agreement in public matters. (This is a contradiction.) We seek ancient wisdom that hardly translates to how to make a real living, today. We are amply taught, in school, church, home, and in casual society everything but what is known to be truly, universally effective–because nobody knows of any universally “human” means of survival that has, itself, survived the test of time.

In the last decade, much of the world has awoken to this predicament, and we are fighting each other because nobody can figure out how to make things work, again. The information age arose out from Pandora’s box, and our greatest minds have yet to tame it in a way that lets everyone live happily, who is willing to keep trying.

Or maybe that is the nature of the human condition: as the Buddhists say, “suffering exists”, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with that.

It is a part of human nature to fight. We committed genocide against every human species that came before us, until only Homo sapiens remained. (A chilling thought, but true, according to archeologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists.) A new way of living will one day emerge out of the ashes of analog society and the minds of those who, like Homo erectus, failed to adapt (despite having a larger brain). In the mean time, let’s limit our battles to the ones that actually matter.

If an idiot or a fool gets elected president, let them show us how not to do things.

Some arguments can only be won by letting your opponent win, and then realize, on his own, that he should have been wiling to compromise (A.K.A. “adapt”). We decided in the late 40s that killing all the stupid people is wrong, so if such people end up running things, and we don’t crash and burn because of it, we will have proven that the antiquated morals of centuries past–survival of the fittest, when you boil it down enough–are truly not as good as the softer ones we revere, today.

And if letting stupid people self-actualize turns out to be a problem, we can always decide that Hitler had the right of things and commit genocide until all the stupid people are extinct, and we evolve into a species that’s better than Homo sapiens. (Personally, I don’t advocate this method.)

Seriously, folks, don’t get into physical fights over political beliefs unless you think we should silence, cage, and eventually extinct all the imbuciles–including, possibly, you.

Trump and Sanders fans, I’m looking at you.

When It’s “Worth It”: The Ratio of Human Interaction


There’s an inherent calculation of human interaction that goes something like this:
 
(How much they improve your life) : (How much trouble a person causes you)
 
Put another way, it’s a ratio of Benefit:Cost or Happiness:Trouble.
 
Most people phrase this in an emotional context, but the meaning is ultimately the same. Personally, I find a simple mathematical ratio easier to convey than the amount of prevarication it would take to express such a thing emotionally.
 
When that ratio is consistently greater than 1:1, that’s a person who is worth “keeping”. If it’s only greater than 1:1 in some situations, then those are the only situations when it’s worth interacting with that person. When that ratio is consistently less than 1:1, it’s time to let that person go, and avoid him/her as necessary.
 
Naturally, foresight and personal preference comes into play, here. If a person is mostly troublesome, right now, but you foresee him/her being beneficial in the long term, then it might be worth keeping them around. If you’re OK with 1:1, even if it’s never greater than that, then that’s your threshold for deciding whether it’s “worth it”. Most people require a ratio much greater than 1:1 to consider it “worth it”. People with large circles of close friends that they consistently have problems with are less picky (requiring a lower ratio to be satisfied); whereas those who only really want to hang out with a few people who are particularly valuable to them are more picky (requiring a higher ratio to be satisfied). I’ve noticed that this level of “pickiness” directly corresponds with the amount of energy a person has for social interaction. Those who are more concerned with other things tend not to have any interest in those with less than, say, a 2:1 ratio of benefit:cost or happiness:trouble.
 
If you’re not providing at least a 1:1 ratio for someone, you’re doing it wrong. If you really want someone in your life, you need to provide them a higher ratio, and be sure that they’re doing the same for you, before committing to anything long-term.
 
Charity is an exception to this rule. (I’m using “charity” to refer to selfless love, rather than “giving money”, which, as an exclusive term, is a perversion of the original concept.) Charity is when someone offers you less than you would otherwise accept as a ratio of happiness:trouble, but you give that person your time, energy, and resources, anyway. You self-sacrifice for that person out of kindness. We can only do this to the extent that we have personal resources (time, energy, patience, emotional stability, money, etc.) to spare, and when we run low on this excess, we can no longer afford to give without receiving; otherwise, our own lives will suffer quite substantially. One only allows that for those we love most, such as family members. We give what we can, when we can, because we choose to; “obligation” is anemic to true charity, unless it’s someone we’re truly responsible for taking care of (such as an aging parent, a sibling in distress, or a child). Nevertheless, charity is what makes society worth having. We care for people who can’t give back as much as we give them, and, in turn, people do the same for us when we’re in need. Sadly, our society isn’t quite at the point when we can do this for each other very effectively (due to economics, and anger, mainly); but as we improve our way government and interpersonal interaction, this will slowly change–as it has been since the dawn of civilization.

A Centrist’s Analysis of the 2016 Presidential Election


A.K.A. “You heard it here, first!”

This started off as a Facebook post, about a week ago.  Many of the people who replied to the original post are of a liberal persuasion, and some took umbrage to my assertion that Sanders isn’t as intelligent as some of the other candidates.  The second half of this essay is a response to those objections.  As with all my posts, I take no offense at being disagreed with, but do request that any disagreements be presented respectfully and intelligently.

The Analysis

As a self-described centrist, I’ve watched the most recent Republican and Democratic presidential primary debates. I’ve noticed some striking differences that have influenced my opinion substantially, at this juncture.

1) Right or wrong in her policies, Hillary Clinton is the most intelligent person in the running.

2) Sanders is the only one who seems to care about or understand the major concerns of the millennial generation. He is, however, extremely vague (compared to Clinton) about how to fund any of the changes he wants.

3) The Republican candidates disagree with each other a lot less, but they don’t go into as much detail about their positions, or how they intend to accomplish their goals.

4) The Democratic debate facilitators ask much harder questions. Their candidates often dodge the question, but have stayed on topic better than in past elections. Republican debate facilitators ask much easier questions, and their candidates don’t dodge them as often.

5) The Democratic candidates put more focus on how they intend to do things, and are more specific about what they intend to do. The Republican candidates focus more on who they’re angry at.

6) Governor O’Malley makes much more concise, salient remarks, and asks harder, more intelligent questions than the facilitators or other candidates. He seems to lack the assertiveness to lead effectively at the presidential level, but he adds much to the election by way of keeping the other candidates honest.

7) Sanders and Trump are more childish than the other candidates, in their mannerisms and speech patterns. Trump is extremely so, to the point that I wonder if he suffers from a neoteny-related disorder.

8) Bush made more sense than any other Republican candidate, and seems to have some understanding that issues that have yet to be solved are unsolved because they’re complex and are trade-off centric. Clinton has a much better apparent understanding of this than any of the other candidates, including Bush, although Bush may be catering his responses to the less detail-oriented format of the Republican debates.

9) Sanders and O’Malley seem to be the least corrupt, in terms of taking money from special interests.

10) Sanders and Clinton get almost all the attention, and are rude to O’Malley when he tries to speak.

11) Trump really is an idiot. He has basically no understanding of politics, diplomacy, foreign affairs, economics, the economics of immigration, etc.  (Research early 20th century immigration and it’s effects, if you don’t believe me.)

12) Sanders is also pretty stupid, but he has a handful of ideas that could basically save my generation if he implements them with sufficient foresight (which he may or may not possess). If elected, he would screw a lot of stuff up, but maybe fix the things that most need fixing. He also doesn’t understand foreign relations, many aspects of economics, diplomacy, etc. In other words, a vote for him is a vote for sacrificing a lot of things that (mostly) work in favor of fixing a few things that are severely broken–if he’s clever enough to pull it off, which is worth questioning.

13) Clinton would hold down the fort with stunningly apt alacrity, but not seriously work on our country’s most severe domestic problems. She would make small, incremental improvements, and do a darned good job of that…slowly. Under her rulership, we should expect small, consistent improvements across the board (barring unforeseen circumstances). She has foresight, leadership ability, and genius-level I.Q. She’s one of the greatest diplomats alive. What she lacks is out-of-the-box thinking on some pressing issues.

14) I’m sad to admit that, in spite of my centrism, I can’t see any of the Republican candidates’ proposed solutions as being very sapient or realistic. Sorry, guys: you’re going to lose, this year.

15) Clinton listens intently to each of her opponents and nods appreciatively, apparently to herself, when they say something particularly intelligent. I expect that, like Obama, she’ll ask some of her former opponents to join her cabinet. Sanders is an ideologue who is too busy concentrating on making his next point to listen very well. (Referring to active listening, not hearing loss.) He may or may not have the wisdom to hire his former competitors.

16) Sanders has an annoying demeanor. Those I was watching the debate with (stalwart democrats) kept turning him down because he was a “loud mouth” and a “hot head”, which mostly speaks to his presentation, rather than his ideas. If people can’t stand listening to you, it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are.

In conclusion, either Sanders or Clinton will most likely be our next president. I like what Sanders is trying to do, but his demeanor is unpalatable, and he lacks the intellect to do a good job, on most fronts. He has admirable compassion, but precious little logistical sense, and would end up a lot like Jimmy Carter, in the eyes of history, were he to win. Clinton will probably be our next president, and will almost certainly do a very solid job of it, taking into account the quirks specific to her party (fixation on gun control, LGBT/race/female issues–all of which are sometimes sensible, and often not), and a penchant for small, safe changes, rather than large, riskier ones (some of the latter we seem to need). To put it simply, we are probably in safe hands, this time around, and the big changes will probably have to wait.

 

“But I like Bernie Sanders, and I think he’s smart!”

“He’s been working for decades to do what he claims to want, so shouldn’t we give him more credit?”

I don’t doubt that Sanders is sincere, or that he’s been working toward his goals for a very long time. He is, indeed, very committed. My concerns about his intellect come from a variety of things about him, most of them small and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t also noticed it. Here are a few that seem relatively easy to communicate.

1) He stays “on message” a lot more than the other candidates. When asked about gun control, he talked about Wall Street. When asked about digital security and Constitutional concerns, he talked about Wall street, and then, eventually, about terrorists. When asked about racial inequality, he talked about Wall Street. Yes, the financial sector (which is larger than just Wall Street in New York City!) needs to be sat on for the way they have screwed up our economy and some other stuff. Yes, they’re crazy rich, while their employees are just getting poorer. They’re on my “sh*t-list”. They are not, however, the cause of every evil in the world, and changing how we interact with them isn’t going to solve most of our problems. That’s lazy thinking. He’s been on the job for long enough to know better…but he apparently doesn’t.

2) His vocabulary is limited.

3) He’s reactionary in the same way as people I know who have a fanatically-held set of beliefs, but who lack the wherewithal to justify those beliefs saliently to others. He gets upset, raises his voice, interrupts incessantly, gesticulates to get attention, etc. This is another sign of a weak mind.

4) His facial expressions are very limited. This one is a bit harder to explain, but I’ll try. For illustration, watch Trump speak and count how many distinct expressions he has. That’s an approximate number that can be used to extrapolate his range of emotions. People who have only, in the extreme example, “happy” and “sad” make you think of what group of people?  According to psychologists, what is the average IQ of people with that kind of disorder? (Down Syndrome sufferers are one example.  They have an average I.Q. of 80, whereas “normal” is ~100.) A person without nuanced feelings is probably incapable of understanding partial victories, mitigated defeats, trade-offs, moral gray area, etc.; if they did understand these things, they would have a decidedly more developed range of emotions, which would result in more unique facial expressions. Trump regularly displays fake sadness, sullenness, child-like delight, and anger–and not much else. Now, watch the same length of video and count Sanders’ unique expressions. There aren’t many more. Now, take a look at either of the Clintons (who have approximate IQs of 138 and 140, respectively). Do they look sideways in amusement? Do they smirk, wink, look ponderous, etc? You bet they do. They have also been shown to understand things like partial victories, mitigated defeats, trade-offs, moral gray area, etc. I know this might not make a lot of sense unless you’ve already noticed it, but here’s hoping…

5) He doesn’t seem to know when he has made his point, and people have stopped listening intently.

6) When he was asked whether he was raising taxes on the middle class to pay for universal health care, he prevaricated for over 2 minutes, apparently without realizing that everyone with half a brain cell would see that he was doing so. If you boil it down enough, his answer was, “Yes, I’m raising taxes on the middle class, but the savings from medical costs will be bigger.” For many, including me, this is probably true. However, anyone with a little life experience knows that some people get sick and/or go to the doctor more than others, so for the latter group, the math doesn’t add up. (I go to the doctor more than most people.)  Having worked on this problem for several decades, he should know better than to make such a brash assumption, but either he doesn’t know better, or is lying. It’s been previously agreed (by most in the conversation, so far) that he’s genuine; therefore, he’s stupid.

7) As obtuse as Congress is, if he were even a little bit good at explaining his ideas in a way that made other people who knew about the subject matter agree with him, he would have gotten the Democratic Party leadership on-board with his plan, after all this time.  Overwhelmingly, his colleagues seem to think of him as being unrealistic.  Often, when he seems to have “stumped” his opponent with a response, the expression on the opponent’s face isn’t one of concession or sullen disappointment about being bested in an argument, but of bafflement that he would even say such a thing.  How do you deliver a snappy retort to a statement that’s factually incorrect on a dozen different levels?  If you think back to a time when someone made such an argument to you, that debate dynamic will become painfully clear.  As previously mentioned, he consistently dodged Clinton’s questions about his previous voting record, and likewise refused to explain in any detail how he intended to mitigate the negative side-effects of his proposed changes.  Many of the bills he authored are only a couple of pages long, and make no effort to state, in practice, how they are to be accomplished, if made law.  Valid questions include: How do you enforce it?  What are the specific rules that businesses, individuals, and government agencies must follow, in day-to-day life?  Are those people actually able to follow those rules without it putting them out of business or turning everyone into a criminal–technically or judicially, depending on enforcement?  A 2-page bill can’t address these concerns, and Sanders repeatedly presents such bills, trying to make them into laws.  They are consistently voted down by his peers.  (Yes, he has managed to pass a handful of laws in the 25 years since he first got elected to Congress, which means that he occasionally writes a law that his colleagues don’t think is asinine.)  To my understanding, his biggest accomplishments as a member of Congress center around adding a little “heart” to bills that others have written–which makes him a decent Congressman, but doesn’t qualify him for the duty of vetoing poorly-written laws.

I could go on, but this should provide a little justification for my assertions about his intellect. Again, I think he has a few really good ideas; but I doubt that he has much understanding of what the side-effects of those ideas will be.  Therefore, I’ll reassert that a vote for Sanders is a vote for sacrificing a lot of things that (mostly) work, in favor of fixing a few things that are badly broken.  This comes down to the priorities of an individual voter; but be warned: some of the things he wants to change will make essential goods like food, fuel, clothing, and building supplies more expensive.  Will his other ideas counteract this by making you richer?  Will you be made richer in a way that doesn’t prevent industrialists from making those goods at a reasonable price?  Maybe, if he’s smart enough.  Do you care to roll the dice?  Vote according to your mind, heart, and conscience.

Open Letter To My Horrible Roommates (Or: “How Hippies Can Be A-Holes, Too”)


This is an ugly post, detailing the awful way in which some of my housemates have behaved.  Some of their behavior involves the abuse of children.  Much of this post is dedicated to the background of how I ended up living with these jerks.  To read the letter, please see roughly the bottom half of the post.  I strongly believe that such behavior is only allowed to continue because people in my position keep quiet.  Today, I’m speaking up.

 

First, some background.

On June 7th, I moved into a home with some people who were interested in starting a Non-Violent Communication (NVC) community.  This sounded really cool.  There were to be 7 adults and 4 kids living in a 100+-year-old house in a good part of town.  Two of the adults are really nice, neat people whom I respect quite a bit, and was excited at the prospect of living with them.  The others seemed nice and reasonable enough, as well.  (I still respect and generally like one of those with whom I’d not previously been acquainted.)  We agreed beforehand that the only “cause” of the household would be NVC.  Sadly, a week before we moved in, some of the roommates who had come up with this community idea abandoned NVC (emotional and communicative non-violence) in favor of adding stuff that we all had to live by–after we’d all given notice to our landlords, and had no time to find a new place.  This includes living and promoting Quaker ideologies, not having a TV in the living room (which forced me to give away $300 in related equipment, since there was no space, elsewhere), subscribing to a particularly naive form of environmentalism (“let’s not put liners in the trash can; instead, we’ll spray them with water several times a week, during the worst drought in recorded history;” and “let’s keep the windows open while the AC is on, so we can get ‘natural’ air in, and still be nice and cool”), and other unreasonable demands.  Those who refused to follow such ideals, they said, were going to be kicked-out forcibly (evicted).  Of course, this is illegal, and in violation of numerous verbal agreements…but the threats remained and intensified throughout June, until something truly absurd happened toward the end of June.

(Please note: I have nothing against Quakers, in general, and fully expect that the people mentioned in this post are grossly misrepresenting their religion, just as people from all walks of life sometimes use their beliefs to justify bad behavior.  I hope, one day, to get a chance to discuss theology with someone who can represent this religion as it’s intended, as I tend to find substantial wisdom in all faiths.)

Part of the ideals they were insisting on having followed was “consensus-style decision-making,” with emphasis on CT’s method.  (I’m not including this person’s full name, to avoid possible liability.)  Despite my reservations about letting this man preach his cause at me, my less-kind roommates decided to invite him and his partner, Wren, to dinner, so they could meet me, and so I could hear their message.  I was not OK with this, but was simply so tired of saying “no” for the last month, and having it ignored that I agreed, anyway.  (Note: the root word of “consensus” is “consent.”  Ironic, eh?)  So, my roommates and some of their friends came to dinner at my dining room table, and so did CT and Wren.  At this point, I decided that I just didn’t feel good about being forced to meet someone for the purpose of being preached at.  I’d agreed to read their book at some point, and consider it on its own merit, but that was as far as I was willing to go.  So, I stayed in my room and put a “Privacy, Please” sign on my door.  A few minutes later, someone ignored the sign and knocked.  With a muffled groan, I let Cedar enter, and told her why I was avoiding the gathering.  The conversation, in brief, went something like this:

Dane: “I’m in here because I don’t feel genuine about meeting people under coercion.  At some point, I might like to meet them, when Meagan’s not trying to ram them and their method down my throat; but at this time, it’s just not OK.”

Cedar: “Why don’t you go in there and tell them that?  I’m sure they’d understand.”

Dane: “OK.”

So, like an idiot, I assumed that these hippie-teacher celebrities would have sufficient humility to accept that while I’d like to meet them under different circumstances, now was simply not a time when I was interested in their company.  I came over to the table and explained this to them from a crouching position, in a soft voice.

At first, it seemed promising.  They replied to the effect of, “We were not aware that this gathering has a coercive element!  Sure, let’s do this at another time, under different circumstances.”  So, I went into the kitchen, got a plate, grabbed some food, and began walking back into my room, as I said I would.  Then things started to go badly.  (The below is paraphrased and abbreviated.)

CT and Wren (indicating agreement with one another): “Now that I think of it, I’m not OK with you going into your room while we’re eating out here.  In my culture, breaking bread is a sacred thing, so having you go into your room while we’re sitting at the table doesn’t feel right to me.”  (What culture this Californian white guy was referring to yet eludes me.)

Dane: “OK, I’ll sit at the table.”  (At this point, I sat down in an empty chair.)

CT&W: “I feel really wrong about sitting at a table and eating with you unless you’re ready to schedule a date to get to know us better.”

Dane: “I’ll only feel right about that once Meagan stops trying to force you and your method onto me, and after I’ve had a chance to stop being so irritated about it.  I don’t know when that will be.”

CT&W: “I’m not OK with that!  Here we are, sitting at this table, and breaking bread together, and you’re not ready to extend us your friendship!”

Dane: “I understand that you’re uncomfortable about this, and that you see eating together as a sacred event among friends.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t set a date, right now.”

(This part of the conversation repeated for several minutes, with CT and Wren getting more and more animated, loud, and angry, as the conversation progressed.  As is the nature of the NVC method, I made a point of reflecting their feelings before adding my responses.  CT and Wren don’t like the NVC method, and my using it seems to have triggered a somewhat unpleasant reaction, as below.  I have an unusual capacity, which people sometimes comment on, for keeping a calm tone of voice when being yelled at, and as such, never reciprocated their volume increases.)

CT&W: “You’re just repeating what we say, and then re-stating what you’ve already said!”

Dane: “I’m trying to show that I understand your position.  This doesn’t mean that I have to change my own, and I would appreciate it if you would respect my decision.”

CT&W: “I’m just not OK with sitting here, at this table, with someone who’s not ready to extend his friendship to me!”

Dane: “In point of fact, it’s my table.”  (In hindsight, this wasn’t the most diplomatic thing to say…but I’d really had enough, by this point.)

CT (yelling): “I don’t have to sit here and take this!  I’m leaving!  Wren, if you want to stay, you can, but I’m leaving.”

At this point, both CT and Wren left in a huff, slamming the front door behind them.  The other people sitting around the table were absolutely shocked by this.  These two are commonly billed as being foremost “gurus” of effective community communication training, and here they were throwing a tantrum and storming out because I wouldn’t be coerced into being their friend.  We sat around for a few minutes talking about this as a household, until Dan, a friend to several house members, said to me, “I’m impressed with your ability to eject obnoxious people from your home.”  Then, Meagan began yelling, addressing me, and starting with, “I think you’re obnoxious!”  She said that she’d “decided yesterday” that I’m leaving, and there was nothing I could do about it.  (I still don’t know what prompted this decision, but her poor behavior toward me the day before suddenly made sense, once she said this.)  She said she was leaving the house, and would not come back until I was gone.  I replied that I accepted that she believed that I was leaving, but that I had no plans of moving out.  She stormed out, and the rest of the housemates and guests expressed horror at her behavior.

Then the really odd thing happened. The next day, Jack and Maggie (wonderful people) left town for two months, as they’d been planning to do.  A few hours later, Cedar pulled me aside, into a bedroom of a roommate who was also out of town (Heather), and said the following (paraphrased/abbreviated):

Cedar: “I can’t handle the presence of a male who might take charge of meetings accidentally (referring to a meeting about kitchen stuff where nobody else volunteered to facilitate, and I was asked to take notes), because my ex-husband was verbally-abusive to me.  Also, Meagan has said she won’t come back until you’re gone, and I have a pact with her to help her work out her issues, so you have to leave.  This is not a negotiation.”  (The italicized text is her exact wording.)

Dane: “Is there anything I can do to assuage your fears?”

Cedar: “No.  This is non-negotiable.”

Naturally, only she, Heather, and Meagan had gotten a say in this (with the other lease-holder, Lauren, abstaining), despite the obsession about “consensus” that had been displayed for the last month.

Later, she said that I was being asked to leave because several of the people living here are “raging feminists” (her words).  Then, in emails to me and the other house members, she said that I was being asked to leave not because of gender discrimination (since that would make her look bad), but “to preserve the values of the house.”  Translation: “You’re not a Quaker, and not my type of environmentalist, and have no interest in acquiescing to my ideals, so you have to leave.”  (The emails expound upon this point at great length.)  Heather, who’d been out of town since about a week after we moved in, decided, without ever having spoken to me one-on-one for more than about 30 seconds, that she was going to side with Cedar and Heather on the issue, since she, too, is a Quaker, and has known Cedar for quite some time.  (The others in the house, including Lauren, are basically agnostic, but are quiet about it, and avoid conflict almost pathologically.)

Since then, I’ve made it clear that I’m not leaving, and Cedar, Heather, and Meagan can’t make me.  I’ve spent the last two months trying to get people to de-escalate this conflict, and have made every effort to be friendly to my house mates, including striking up pleasant conversations when I see folks in the common areas, and sharing tasty food for no reason at all, other than to be nice, and hopefully to re-kindle frienship.  Lauren, Maggie, and Jack seem too afraid to speak out against these three militants, since it could involve losing their own ability to stay here, as well as having the others make their home-lives miserable.  Cedar, Heather, and Meagan have done everything in their power to make me miserable and assert dominance over me (including Heather buying a redundant phone/Internet account, and convincing everyone to switch over to it, so I’d have to pay the entirety of the old account’s bill, at the locked-in contract rate), while constantly using NVC language and making small platitudes, so that it would look like it’s all “OK,” and to avoid cognitive dissonance.  Today, I decided I’ve had quite enough of their hypocrisy, and wrote the following letter, emailed to all the house members (as well as some folks whom I’ve been employing as witnesses for legal reasons), posted it on Facebook, and am now posting it here.

Oh, and did I mention that one of the horrible roommates is now sleeping with two out of three of the other lease holders?  She seems to break up with one or the other of them on a roughly bi-weekly basis, leading to some “interesting” household interactions.  (I’m on the lease, as are the other roommates, but as a resident, not a lessee.  The wording of the lease technically makes me, Maggie, and Jack “tenants” with all the same rights, and none of the legal/financial responsibilities.  We have no subleasing agreement with the lessees; our only legal relationship in this matter is with the property management company.  This has not prevented C., M., and H. from trying to evict me, anyway.)

The Letter

Some of my roommates are nice, considerate people (Maggie, Jack, Lauren).  The others are exceptionally horrible (Cedar, Heather, Meagan).  This is an open letter to the horrible ones, including pictorial illustrations of the crap I’m having to put up with.

Those of you who have been following this drama are aware that they’re (Cedar, Heather, Meagan) trying to evict me because my beliefs are different from their own, and I don’t wish to acquiesce to their Quaker ideals; and, in Cedar’s words, because some of them are “raging feminists,” who can’t handle having men around who speak their minds.  (This gives real feminists a bad name.)  Supposedly, the “theme” of this house is community and emotional/communicative nonviolence.  I have yet to meet a household full of more emotionally- and communicatively-violent individuals.  They’re also big into “environmentalism,” but gripe at me for asking them to close the windows when they have the AC on.  This letter is my way of calling them on their hypocrisy and expressing a big “WTF?!” with regard to the messes they expect me to clean up.

Fair warning: this post contains evidence of child abuse/neglect/endangerment, and will probably make your blood boil.

Today, Cedar, Heather, Meagan, “Sai” (not his real name, I assume), Maggie, and Lauren went on a trip to the hot springs, somewhere north of here.  True to form, the horrible ones of the group made sure I wasn’t invited, but that everyone else was–which isn’t really a big deal for me, given the poor company.  I made one request of them before they left: please don’t leave me a mess like last time.  Below are pictures of the mess they left, this time.

The entirety of what you see on the dining room table was found in Cedar’s room when I peeked in to make sure the windows were closed before turning on the AC.  Many of these dishes and flatware items are mine, and I’d been looking for, and inquiring about them for weeks, to no effect.  Since I’m having company over on Saturday, I decided to take them downstairs and wash them, rather than waiting for Cedar to do them, probably some weeks/months from now.

As I gathered these items, I also noticed a large amount of food on the floor (which isn’t my problem), as well as a number of prescription pills that had been spilled, and could easily be eaten by the children and animals who live here (4 kids, 4 cats, and one dog–the latter being mine).  An ~8-year-old girl with type 1 diabetes lives in this room, with Cedar, and is frequently left home, alone, or without an adult who has been made aware of her presence, or been trained in giving emergency insulin injections (in the case of fainting, seizures, strokes, or other emergencies relating to blood sugar problems), and often without the girl knowing where her mother is, or when she’ll return.  She and her brothers are often left without food while her mother is away, and sometimes they ask me for food so they don’t have to go hungry–which I provide out of ethical obligation.

Side Note:
There is also a person living here (Meagan) who was engaged in hitting her live-in boyfriend, “Spectrum,” just a few months ago–and who is now living with 3 teenage boys, some of whom she babysits and tutors, at Cedar’s request.  She has recently invited her new boyfriend, “Sai,” to live here, without asking the rest of the household.  He’s a nice guy, and seems to have no idea what he’s getting into.   I’ve been told by someone I trust, who works with sick children for a living that all of this constitutes neglect, and possibly abuse and child endangerment–but that it would do little for me to report it, unless there was an acute issue in-progress for the police/CPS to witness.  So, the kids get to keep suffering.  😦
(End of side note.)

The mess you see in the pictures includes:
-A dishwasher full of dirty dishes, which nobody saw fit to run before leaving.
-A stove covered in dirty pots, pans, and other implements.
-A sink full of dirty dishes.
-A laptop and cables left on the floor, which pose a tripping hazard.
-Three full trash cans, two of which I emptied just yesterday.
-Four clean plates left in the cupboard–which is to say, what was left after Cedar hoarded the rest in her room.
-A 6-foot by 4-foot table covered in dirty dishes, cups, glasses, and flatware found in Cedar’s room.  The moldy quesadilla is a particular gem.
-A dish drainer overflowing with clean dishes that nobody bothered to dry/put away before leaving.
-The ant problem is back because my roommates don’t clean up after themselves.  (See below.)

The last time my roommates went out of town, far worse things happened.

-Cedar threw an overnight birthday party for her 16-year-old son, including her 14-year-old son, and about three of their friends.  She left the following morning, leaving them all in the house with just me, after I told her I’m not interested in watching her kids.  She didn’t bother to shop for food beforehand, so her youngest son went hungry.  (He didn’t like the kinds of food I had on-hand to offer him.)
-I was left with over three dishwasher loads of other people’s dishes, many, but not all of which were from her son’s party.
-Her son’s friend badly scraped his knee, and didn’t know how to treat the injury.  At the request of the kids, and to prevent infection, I applied water and hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound, then antibiotic ointment to disinfect it.  There were no bandages in the house (that I knew of), so I used a clean paper towel and packing tape to cover it, then instructed him to change the dressing at least daily and seek medical help as soon as he was able.
-Nobody bothered to make proper arrangements to take care of their cats.  The cat box was so full and smelly that I had to clean it myself, so my Dungeons and Dragons guests would stop gagging.  I had to give the cats water and food.  Had their owners bothered to coordinate with me, they would know that I keep the doors locked when I’m sleeping or absent, and as such, whomever they intended to come and take care of their pets (since they said they didn’t want me to do it) would have to call before doing so.  Evidently, the people who were supposed to do the job could only come at night…and I’m not OK with folks I don’t know well walking into my home at night, when I’m asleep, without my permission.  (Really, who is?!)
-The kitchen was full of ants and cockroaches because my roommates kept leaving food on the counter tops and floor.  I dealt with it by putting insect bait/poison around the perimeter of the house’s ground floor.  We were pest-free for several weeks after that, but now they’ve returned, for the same reason as before.

This stuff really pisses me off–and I’m still floored at how some of my roommates are so obsessed with “saving the world,” and yet fail to make the most basic efforts to take care of their kids, pets, and home.

“Being a good roommate 101: CLEAN UP YOUR OWN FRIGGIN’ MESSES.”

End of rant (for now).

–Dane

 

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Current Organic Farming Methods: Why They’re Unethical and Unsustainable


Fair warning: this post will “burst your bubble” regarding the perceived virtues of organic food.

I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, lately.  I have a lot of friends who are really into the organic food movement, many of which often insist that it’s the only moral/ethical way to eat.  On the other hand, I also have access to persons who understand why not all farming is done organically.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that, in its current incarnation–notwithstanding future changes–the methods of farming, marketing, and distribution employed by the purveyors of organic food are grossly unethical for humanitarian reasons (i.e. hunger), and unconscionable in their reliance upon the ignorance of the public.  This is not to say that organic farming can’t become a wonderful thing, and ultimately replace more mainstream methods; but for now, I submit my thesis that it’s nothing more than a “feel good” hobby for those with disposable income.

Organic ≠ Sustainable

Most people who are into organic food have something to say for it, in terms of “sustainability.”  Let’s take a look at that word.

Sustainable

1:  capable of being sustained
2 a :  of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture>

 b :  of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>

If by “capable of being sustained,” we assume that we want to continue to be able to support the current population (and unavoidable population growth) with a given method, for an extended period of time, we must admit that “sustainable” also means sustaining humanity–not just nature.  So, if a method cannot sustain humanity at its current level, with expected population increases, then it’s not “sustainable.”

Ending World Hunger

Let’s take a look at why we use pesticides, in the first place.  Circa the late 1800s, we set out to find a way to feed everyone reliably, at minimal cost, so that everyone could afford adequate food.  In well-developed countries, we’ve very nearly accomplished this goal.  Doing so, however, required us to find ways of farming very efficiently and reliably, and chief among farming efficiency concerns is crop yield per acre.

Pests: weeds, insects, animals, fungi, and others are the single largest threat to crop yields.  If you don’t get rid of the pests, you won’t get much food.  In fact, you can lose entire crops due to pests, causing famine.  This is where pesticides come in: once about 30% of the plants in a field are affected by a particular pest (or broad type of pest), common practice is to apply whatever type of pesticide will remove (kill or otherwise hinder) the pests.  This more-or-less minimizes the use of pesticides (and the costs associated therewith), and ensures that the entire field won’t become affected, destroying the yield.  Most organic farms use pesticides to limit the effects of insects and fungi on yield–but do very little in the way of anti-weed care.  In fact, many large organic farms don’t do anything at all to remove their weeds; they just let the fields sit, and hope that there’s something to harvest when the time comes.

Organic yields are between 5% and 35% lower, on average, than mainstream methods.  The loss is dependent on what’s being grown: some plants don’t need a whole lot of non-organic care to thrive, but others–like grains (the staples of diets around the world!) take the biggest hit.  Of course, during bad years, pests can get out of control and take even more away from the crop.  When left untreated during an especially bad year, it’s possible that nothing, at all will be harvested.

Some organic farms get around this by using good, old-fashioned manual labor to get rid of weeds.  Like most eaters of organic food, I’m strongly favor of this–so long as I’m not the one doing it.  Usually, large farms make heavy use of migrant farm workers, who work 12-hour days, don’t get overtime pay, and typically only make minimum wage.  This might sound almost-reasonable…but if you ever spent a day pulling weeds in 90-115F weather, you’ll quickly change your mind.  (I can attest to this, personally.)  So, again, we see that this organic movement isn’t really a movement, so much as a market for those with enough money to pay someone else to do the hard work.

So, if we don’t want to do the work, ourselves, and find it unconscionable to have others do such hard labor for such long hours and little pay, where does that leave us?  For the most of the world, the answer is “starving.”  Even with this current labor force in place, 1 in every 100 people (according to the farm advisor I spoke to)–throughout the entire world, including “suburbia,” would have to quit their jobs and become farm workers–working 12-hour days for crappy wages in order for everyone to be able to eat organic-only diets.  Or, to ensure decent quality of life for the workers, 1 out of every 50 people would have to do the same.  Of course, the wages would still be terrible, but the work days would be closer to what we’re used to.  So, how about it?  Are you willing to quit your job and get to work?  For most of my readers, the answer is a resounding “no.”  This might induce some people to feel a wee bit hypocritical…which is exactly the point I’m making with this part of the essay.

This means that we’re back to the problem of inhumane treatment of those in the lowest rung of society, and non-organic food for the rest of us, until those with disposable income decide to get their hands dirty.

Dishonest Marketing

You may be surprised to know that many commonly used–and sometimes dangerous–pesticides are derived from nature.  One example of this is the insecticide Pyrethrin, which comes from Chrysanthemums.  This nerve agent is one of many pesticides permitted for use in organic growing.  It’s considered one of the safest insecticides out there, since it (supposedly) biodegrades quickly.  Nevertheless, users are warned:

Care should be taken to observe direction labels when using this substance around humans and animals. Overdose and toxicity can result in a variety of symptoms, especially in pets, including drooling, lethargy, muscle tremors, vomiting, seizures and death.[12] Toxicity symptoms in humans include asthmatic breathing, sneezing, nasal stuffiness, headache, nausea, incoordination, tremors, convulsions, facial flushing and swelling, and burning and itching sensation.[13] The latest information regarding toxicity of piperonyl butoxide has determined that it can pose a distinct health risk when it becomes airborne and pregnant women are exposed during the third trimester. This leads to delayed mental development in young children.

Others include the bacterium, Bacillus Thuringiensis, which produces deadly BT toxin, and causes the innards of insects to rupture–but is sort-of safe for human use.  Organic farmers use the microbe, directly (spraying it on crops), which is eaten by pests, causing it to release BT toxin.  Non-organic farmers use the BT toxin, directly.  It’s assumed to break down equally well in both cases, before it reaches your dinner table…but you may want to wash those organic veggies, anyway, since they’re probably still covered in Bacillus Thuringiensis.  Monsanto recently began to sell genetically-modified corn seeds, wherein the plants’ cells produce BT toxin.  This is somewhat different from spraying it topically, but in either case, you’re probably still going to be eating it.

So, let’s see a (metaphorical) show of hands: how many of my readers knew that “organic” food is sprayed with “chemicals?”  (Technically a “chemical” is anything made of atoms…but the term is used to mean “pesticides” when speaking of organic food.  Similarly, “organic” technically means “containing carbon atoms,” or “relating to life,” but is used differently when referring to food products.)  Do they put this on the label of the $8/pound grains, fruits, and vegetables you’ve been buying?  Of course not–because if they did, they could no longer get away with charging such a premium price.

So, what is “organic food,” really?  Marketing.

The essence of the perfect marketing campaign is to imply everything, but state nothing.  Yes, it’s grown differently–but not in the way people think.  Words are simply redefined, and standards formulated to let people think what they want to about the “product.”  “Natural” doesn’t mean safe–not by any stretch of the imagination!–but it does imply safety.  “Sustainable” sounds like it means that we can grow food this way indefinitely, without negative consequences–but it actually means dumping harmful stuff onto crops and into the ground–but only certain harmful stuff–and relying on the modern equivalent of slave labor to pull weeds, in the rare occasions that they bother to do so.  Additionally, “organic” implies GMO-free–but these farms aren’t regularly tested for cross-pollination, and the farmers have very good reason to avoid testing at all costs.

Price Gouging

The sad truth about the inefficiency of organic farming is that they have financial incentive to keep it inefficient.  The price of any good or service is subject to the Law of Supply and Demand.  If supply increases without demand increasing, price goes down.  When that happens, each hour of work or unit of currency you’ve spent on producing the product will bring back less than it otherwise would have.  So, if you want to maximize profits while minimizing expenses, you have to keep your product scarce.  This means that when you buy organic food in the store, there are several reasons why it costs so much:

1) Marketing: people will pay more because they believe in the product.
2) There’s more demand for it than there is supply.

In fact, most large organic farms produce mostly non-organic crops, and use their organic crops as a sort of “side gig” for bringing in a few extra dollars with a bare minimum of investment.  I’d be very surprised if the major organic producers in Butte County, CA produce even a tenth of the organic food that they produce in non-organic food.  The major farms with which I’m familiar (i.e. the ones with lots of acreage–not the tiny, local communes) produce most of the area’s organic food, but produce about 100 times that much via mainstream methods.

Conclusion: It’s No More Ethical Than Mainstream Food

In terms of plant products, organic food is no more ethical than non-organic food.  In fact, I believe I’ve made a strong case for it being markedly unethical, as presently constituted.  Despite this, I trust that in time, we’ll see a shift toward better organic practices, and much wider adoption.  Until then, though, I’m going to buy whatever’s cheapest, unless the more expensive food (1) tastes/feels substantially better, and (2) is still within my price range.  I won’t support a trend that doesn’t work as advertised.

You may have noticed that this post didn’t cover animal products.  This is a very different matter in some ways, but in others it’s much the same.  Issues of hunger, dishonesty, pesticides (by any other name), and so on still come up…but free-range animals are definitely a lot happier than caged or “cage-free” ones.  (Note: “cage free” animals are crammed in butt-to-nose, wade through their own feces all day, and live in warehouses where their dead siblings sometimes rot on the floor.  I question whether this is at all ethical.)

Let’s produce an organic movement that’s worth having by removing our rosy glasses and seeing the ugliness of what we have now.  Only through seeing how things really are can we hope to change them for the better.

For further reading on how “organic” foods might kill you, go here.

The Parable of the Circular Track


Imagine that life is lived upon a circular track.  It’s not a race, of course, but rather, an event wherein every participant uses this opportunity to better themselves.  Here, we seek to become more physically and mentally fit.  We seek to improve our running, jogging, and walking techniques, and to learn proper pacing.  The more we learn, and the harder we work at it, the faster and more steadily we are able to proceed around the track.  Eventually, we decide we’ve had enough, and walk off, hopefully better than we were when we stepped on.

There’s a huge throng of people on this track–everyone who’s alive right now.  It’s crowded, and we often bump into each other, sometimes becoming annoyed or aggravated.  Still, we do our best to see what’s ahead, and to respect and travel peaceably with those around us.  Some people on the track have gotten into better shape than others.  Some have learned pacing better than others.  The most sought-after teachers are those who have learned how to better themselves and those around them at a great rate.

The Runner In Front

About 50 feet ahead of you is a runner who’s moving a bit faster than you are.  He appears to be confident and in decent shape.  Naturally, you assume that this person would be good to learn from, so you shout ahead, “Please share your understanding with me, so I can go faster, too!”

The runner glances back, and, seeing that you’re moving slower than he is, begins to tell you everything he’s learned, since–obviously–he must have some insights that you haven’t gathered, yet.

The Runner Behind

About 50 feet behind you is a runner who’s moving at about the same pace as you.  She’s in decent shape, but seems to have little or no interest in going faster.  Consequently, you shout back to her, “Let me show you how you can go faster!”

Assuming that, because you’re in front, you must be more skilled than her, she accepts your offer and tentatively begins trying to emulate you.

Teacher vs. Student

The reality is, however, that the person in front of you is actually almost an entire track-length behind you; and the person behind you is almost an entire track length ahead of you!

The person in front has no grasp of pacing, and keeps urging you to run faster; and the only reason you can see him is because he keeps trying to run faster than he has strength, and has repeatedly fallen down due to exhaustion.  At the moment you see him, he’s desperately trying to catch up, again, still confident that if he only runs fast enough, he’ll be able to re-join his friends.

The person behind you has no immediate interest in running faster because she’s found her rhythm: by running just a hair’s breadth faster than you are–imperceptible to the untrained eye–she’s able to consistently out-pace everybody else on the track.  She doesn’t care who’s going faster or slower, but is still keenly interested in improving herself, and is willing to take advice from anyone who gives it, in hopes of learning something new.

So, whose lesson do you really want to learn?  Chances are, you can learn valuable lessons from both people, but you’ll only be able to run alongside one of them for any noteworthy distance, before the other vanishes from sight.

The Lesson This Track Teaches

Sometimes, we latch onto the teachings of those who appear to be more wise than we are, because we desperately want to speed ahead and improve ourselves as fast as we possibly can.  In doing so, we primarily rely upon our perceptions of social currency, and trust that whomever has the most (according to what we presently value) must be the person(s) most fit to teach us.  We look to gurus, priests, PhDs, celebrities, popular friends, and others, and do everything in our power to emulate them.  Simultaneously, we dismiss or seek to teach–but not learn from–those who, by our current standards of perceived social currency, seem to have nothing to teach us.  Only after we’ve spent years, or even a lifetime following those who are more clueless than we are, do we sometimes come to realize that we’ve been valuing the wrong things.

So, here’s the lesson:

Sometimes, the person who’s the least attractive to our current sensibilities is the person most fit to teach us the things we desperately want or need to know.