When I am listening to Vivaldi or Japanese music or making spaghetti at 3 in the morning and realize that I don’t have the proper sauce for it, fame is of no use." — Saul Leiter, RIP.
Ólafur Lárusson, Attempt to Get Rid of Mystery, 1976Nov 25, 2013
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a real rant.
As a prelude to this post, fuck crowd sourcing. I don’t give a shit if you found out you’re a transsexual robot or you needed oral surgery or you faked that you faked that you faked depression. If I pay you for something, you better give me that thing. Otherwise, you can go fuck yourself, you ungrateful shit. Yes, I’m speaking to you, John Campbell. You just posted yet another project update to your crowd-funded book, this one telling us that despite the fact that you have already produced the books we paid for, and have already sent out some of them, you’re going to have take some more money to send out the rest. No. Keep my money and feel bad. I’m not paying more money for something I already paid for 18 months ago and have yet to receive. Kickstarter is not a charity, you fuckface.
Other people who can go fuck themselves are The Sochi project. These guys consist of two dutch photo/journalists who have been documenting all the seedy shit Russia’s been hiding for the past five years in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Сочи, the old Soviet resort that sits in the neighborhood of breakaway republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The project is crowd funded. Being a fan of the project, I contributed a small amount, not a big amount, because I’m not rich. Then they released a statement saying small donations were a net loss for them. I cancelled my support, yet the ungrateful shits keep sending me emails encouraging me to donate more. Go fuck yourself, you lying shitsacks.
Why am I angry at these bastards? Possibly because they think they’re the only one who have problems. The difference between them and me is that I don’t take money from people and then afterwards tell them to go fuck themselves and give me more money. My existential woes are free.
Why do you think I identify with your comics, John Campbell? Could it be because my life is a black fucking void? Cocksucker. Fuck. I don’t even feel good typing these words, but I’m typing them anyways. These are probably the last words I’ll be typing here in a while.
I went to see a psychologist today. Normally, I wouldn’t share this on my blog. But I figure, hey, it’s just my one hundred and three thousand closest internet friends reading this. None of my real friends know about this blog. If I even have any left.
I’ve never been to a psychologist before. Which isn’t entirely true, but true enough. One of my first memories is being in taken away from the other children at daycare to go into a small room with a strange woman. This strange woman gave me a maze puzzle, the kind where you have to trace a path on paper. Apparently I was really smart since I finished the puzzle so fast. I don’t know what the purpose of the test was. None of the other kids had to go in a room with a strange lady and solve a puzzle on paper. Apparently my parents were “concerned,” about what I don’t know. Later, I talked to more experts. I was bullied. Talk to these strange people and they will help you solve that problem, they said. The problem of other kids being shitheads to me every day. At the end of the process, they gave me a diagnosis. Congratulations. You are now officially not good in the head. That’s why the other kids are mean to you. What a mother fucking consolation. Fuckheads. By the way, there is no cure. You get the stigma of a diagnosis, but none of the perks. Let’s just say I haven’t had good experiences with psychiatry.
I quit my studies in June because of a crippling fear of strangers. It’s infectious. After a while, even friends felt like strangers. That’s why I sat in a room today talking to a woman who seemed way too young to be a medical professional—with a glass of water in front of me that I would later accidentally knock off the table and crush all over the floor like a retard, a thousand broken glass pieces, there’s a poetic fucking image for you—answering questions from a schema. How depressed are you? I’m not depressed, I’m fucking afraid of strangers, which has caused me to be in a shitty life situation. How suicidal are you? Not a lot. I don’t want to kill myself right now. But if things don’t get better, I’ll be dead in six months.
Have you felt like things aren’t real lately, like reality itself is unreal? Sure. Apparently that was really interesting.
The worst part of feeling like shit all the time is that when you get a glimmer of happiness, you feel guilty. Like all the suffering has been invalidated. Like you can’t really be all that fucked up if you’re capable of laughing for three seconds before thinking gloomy thoughts again.
I read The Great Gatsby this summer, for the first time. I gotta say, I don’t give a fuck about rich people and their problems. I was more moved by The Crack-Up, which was scandalous in its time for talking about the kind of shit I’m talking about in this post, in public. Ol’ Fitzy’s friends all thought he was a pussy for talking about having a mental breakdown in a men’s magazine. Better to write about fictional trillionaires who are sad because they can’t get that one girl, despite the fact that they have half of New York’s finest begging to fellate their cock. That’s real literature, folks. Add in a car crash, a mistress, and a clueless narrator—why the fuck was he in a mental hospital in the latest movie adaption, that’s not how the book went, was it?—and you got great literature. No, give me a fucked up personal crack-up story any day.
How’s that for a horror story on All Hallows’ Eve. Personal ghosts aired in public. What a pussy. Masculinity card revoked. New York high ladies fellatio put on hold permanently. Future employers, if you ever read this, go back to the soul-sucking corporate world and suck some CEO’s dick, I don’t want to work for you. I want to work for me.Nov 1, 2013
Tumblr philosophy, 85,887 notes. Take something that sounds vaguely good until you think about it for one second, divorce it from all context, reblog like crazy. Apologies to Amy Poehler, I’m sure she didn’t mean it that way, but the internet has completely stripped her words of any illuminating context. Here is what the above reads like: morality and reflection are so passé. Let’s never discuss what other people do, or think about it, and certainly not disapprove of it. Oh, look at that kitten murderer over there! Let’s not judge him, let’s not say a word about him. Let’s go on an adventure and dream and support the kitty murderer! That there is a man who does things! A man with a real dream! So much fun! Yeah! Life affirming! Wow! Some real gold here! This I like! yup yup yup yup yup yup (how many yups was that i lost count) exclamation pointOct 19, 2013
The greatest horror is internal. It is the creeping desire to escape your own skin and the knowledge that you cannot. “
No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself," Haruki Murakami writes in UFO in Kushiro. In Manhole 69, J. G. Ballard suggests that perhaps sleep is such a sanctuary. A group of men surgically enhanced to be ever awake go insane. The scientists who performed the experiment muse: “
Continual consciousness is more than the brain can stand. Any signal repeated often enough eventually loses its meaning. (…) They must have reached a stage beyond which they could no longer contain the idea of their own identity. But far from being unable to grasp the idea, I’d say that they were conscious of nothing else." So did they then escape into psychosis? Of course not: "
The psychotic never escapes from anything. He’s much more sensible. He merely readjusts reality to suit himself." But where there are dreams there will be nightmares. And there is always a lingering fear that the mad might be right. That we are the psychotics. We are the ones who readjust reality to suit ourselves.
There is a strain of horror fiction which taps into this fear. The genre is called cosmic horror, which is a misnomer, because the fear can be identified either by looking inwards or by looking outwards. It is not the direction but the intensity of the looking, and perhaps of the looker, which determines the horror.
Lovecraft is the icon and canonical example of cosmic horror, to the point of self-parody. In Lovecraft’s stories, there is frequently a mad scribe who documents his descent into madness until the very end. In his stories, the mad aren’t wrong. We lock them up because they have readjusted reality to suit themselves, but in actuality, they have grasped something which we have not. Abominable wretched truths. They have grasped things which Lovecraft, to his credit and to his fault, can only circumscribe. He can only bring us to the threshold of madness and suggest the final step, but he cannot bring us farther. What he suggests, roughly, is that the world is not rational or meaningful in any human sense; those who come too close to really perceiving reality for what it is go mad. There exist powers far more powerful than humans can imagine, but they exist on planes we cannot comprehend, and they are utterly indifferent to us. What seems evil is simply cosmic indifference. And the only way to understand and harness these powers is to cross over into madness. We must cease our continual readjustment to reality; in the process, we lose our humanity. We are no longer existing on the plane of consensus reality—by definition, we are psychotic.
Lovecraft is at his best when he reveals the least. My favorite story of his is The Color out of Space. An alien presence crashlands on Earth. It poisons the soil, kills off livestock, drives men and women mad. In the end, it rises out of an old well and reunites with the sky; the alien did not come in any conventional humanoid shape, but rather as a light colored in hues never seen or imagined by humans before or after. The alien is simply light that defies the senses. It has no known motivations, it betrays no feelings or thoughts, it defies all expectations, it leaves behind scars which tell nothing of their origin. The end. The world has for a moment been touched by something greater than itself, by something godlike, and far from understanding it, harnessing it, prospering from it, we have simply been befuddled, scarred or driven mad.
Perhaps, in a sense, looking into a microscope is the same as looking into a telescope. Perhaps looking far away is the same as looking very, very close. Perhaps the universe at the largest possible scales mirrors the universe at the smallest scales. Or perhaps not. But undeniably these two perspectives share the same sense of alienation. The realities of the universe at large scales and the universe at small scales—of superclusters and quarks—look equally alien to human eyes. Conventional reality is but a reality adjustment maximally conducive to the survival of a species of great apes in prehistoric conditions on a small planet orbiting a small star in a vast universe. A planet of thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans.
I feel a little late to the party: only recently have I discovered internet sensation Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast that takes the form of a community radio broadcast from a fictional small town that is maximally weird: every paranormal or conspiratorial belief appears to be true at the same time. With shades of everything from Kafka to Monty Python, the narrator describes shadows, ghouls, aliens, mysterious hooded figures, and agents from a vague, yet menacing government agency as if they were notes from the latest meeting of the local zoning committee. In the mode of good magic realist fiction, it manages to make the weird seem normal and the normal seem weird. Frequently, it’s funny.
It should come as no surprise that a universe created by a publisher named after Lovecraft’s notebook would contain Lovecraftian overtones. However, where Lovecraft frequently takes himself too seriously, Night Vale sometimes doesn’t take itself seriously enough. It’s hard to fault the show for simply doing what they intend do: comedy. Unlike Lovecraft, whose eldritch abominations can be unintentionally funny, the over-the-top weirdness and non sequiturs of Night Vale are intentional. Perhaps if I were in a different mood, I’d enjoy it more. But it’s precisely because it can offer an arresting portrayal of this feeling of cosmic horror when it chooses to take itself a little more seriously that I’m disappointed when it doesn’t.
Indulge me. Let’s do a serious reading of my favorite episode, the one that best exemplifies the themes I’ve elaborated above. A Story About You. (You should listen to it, but in writing this I have been referring to this fan transcript for convenience, and will blame any transcription errors on that poor guy.)
From the first sentence, the episode goes off-format. Breaking the fourth wall, the narrator addresses the listener directly. “
This is a story about you." The second person voice is criminally underused but so, so easy to make a cheap gimmick. It works. Throughout the episode, the narrator will tell a story about "you," a you that lives in Night Vale. Eventually, this omniscience becomes a plot point. Has the listener gone mad? Is he, like a psychotic, hearing the radio talking to him specifically when it is actually addressing him generically? But then why do we, the listeners of the podcast beyond the fourth wall, why are we hearing the story about someone who is clearly not us? You in the story immediately accepts the strange fact that the radio seems to know everything he does and is broadcasting it for all the town’s inhabitants to hear. You are pleased: after all, you always wanted to hear about yourself on the radio.
Early on, we get some backstory about you. You didn’t always live in Night Vale. But one night after work you had a vision:
You saw above you a planet, of awesome size, lit by no sun. An invisible titan, all thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep turbulent oceans. It was so far away. So desolate. And so impossibly, terrifyingly dark.
Then you simply walked out on your fiancee, on your job, on your life, drove all night and ended up in Night Vale. Ever since, you have been terrified by how easy it was to leave your life: “
The complete freedom. The lack of consequence. It terrifies you." Now you live in a trailer and have a new job as a cog in some inscrutable machinery. Every day except Sunday you move wooden crates from one truck to another—sometimes the crates tick—while strange men, a different man each time, watch silently. You do this for a while, get paid and live a quiet life, but one day you steal one of the crates, and this launches a series of events that will bring you back into reality.
What we have here is a protagonist who has, in a sense, stepped into the dimensions beyond human understanding often hinted at by Lovecraft. Nothing he does seems to be of any consequence. He completely leaves his life, and there are no repercussions whatsoever. Nobody attempts to find him, or perhaps he cannot be found. He effortlessly slides into a new life, gets a meaningless menial job that nevertheless pays well enough. Many people would give anything for that kind of freedom, but perhaps it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Perhaps it is a state humans were not meant to be in. And so he takes the crate. Not because he has any shred of curiosity about its contents; he doesn’t even open it. No, he only wants his life to have consequences; he wants to be a cause and to feel effects. He is like a criminal whose life has become meaningless after long-term imprisonment and subsequent release: the relative freedom of the world outside prison seems to lack consequence, so he commits another crime and gets locked up again. Back to the familiar world where whatever you do it comes back to bite you in the ass, and rather quick, like.
Eventually he must flee. The radio continues to tell his story. People higher up have noticed the crate’s absence and are trying to find him. Eventually, they do. How? “
Everything you do is being broadcast on the radio for some reason. That made it pretty easy." Of course. But before that is an interlude which I think is an instance of the show trying too hard to be funny or quirky at the same time as it’s telling a serious story, thus undermining both the comedy and the drama:
Behind you, you see helicopter searchlights sweeping down onto your trailer. There are sirens. A purplish cloud hangs over the town, glittering occasionally as it rotates. (…) The Purple Cloud, now floating over the heart of the city, reaches its tendrils in and out of buildings. You hear screams, and gunfire. (…) Several buildings are on fire. Crowds of people are floating in the air, held aloft by beams of light, and struggling feebly against power they cannot begin to understand.
What is the point of all this? Why are random people floating in the air, held aloft by beams of light and struggling feebly against powers they cannot begin to understand? Why the whole charade when the hunters find the hunted easily enough by listening to the radio? If these elements had not been present, and this had been the story of one man and his struggle against powers he cannot begin to understand, the whole thing would be more compelling.
Finally, after that aside, the confrontation. Two men catch up with our hero. His fiancee steps out of the men’s car. She has not aged. Our hero doesn’t know how long it’s been. Has he existed outside of time? She asks one question: “
Why?" The men open the crate, but the contents could have been anything, they don’t add or detract from the story at all. A knife is pressed against our hero’s throat. He is ecstatic. Finally, consequences. Punishment. He has been a cause and the quality of the effects matters less than their existence. The knife doesn’t hurt. He looks up and sees the "
dark planet of awesome size perched in its sunless void" again. It’s closer now. Could almost touch it. The radio moves on to other things. The story ends.
What does the dark planet symbolize? When I write a story and put in a symbol, I don’t put it in because it fits into a slot that literary critics can check off. Oedipus complex. Chekhov’s Gun. No, it is more because I have an unvocalized idea that it fits, it complements the story in some way. It is the sort of thing that doesn’t point to any one meaning, but rather gestures in whichever direction the wind’s blowing, the wind, in this case, being the reader’s interpretation. And within my framework, the interpretation I have been teasing throughout, the planet represents some dark, hidden truth about all of us, or perhaps about the nature of reality itself. The very far and the very close have their similarities: we can’t see either very well. We are all both long- and shortsighted. We need our telescopes and microscopes and our Large Hadron Colliders to see.
When does the planet first appear? It appears when our protagonist first steps out of space and time. When he first steps into that void where nothing has any consequence, when he first gains a freedom so terrible that humans go mad over it. Just like Lovecraft’s beings bend around the usual causes and effects of physics, just like they possess a freedom greater than humans, so does our protagonist. He has a vision of the planet and suddenly he can do whatever he wants, with no consequence. He is free and haunted by it. Where does the planet first appear? So far away.
When do we last see the planet? In the final scene, when consequences finally catch up with you. And where is it then? So close, so close you can almost touch it. The visionary planet, then, is the key to a life outside space and time. To freedom beyond compare. It is a secret about reality that most people don’t know. It is so near us, at all times, that we can’t see it, just like we can’t see the atoms that make up our noses or the air we breathe; only by gaining distance, or perhaps by magnifying ourselves, which is a way of distancing ourselves from conventional thinking, can we see it. And when our protagonist breaks down and can’t handle the freedom, when he forces consequences into existence, that is when the planet grows nearer. If we project further in time, beyond the ending of the story, the planet comes even closer, so close it can no longer be seen at all. Its doing so coincides with the unseen action, the ultimate consequence: the knife slicing the throat. And this is preferable, to the protagonist, to you and me, it is preferable to the terrible freedom from consequence which robs our lives of meaning.
It is better to die meaningfully than to live meaninglessly. Perhaps that’s one reason why I’ve always found superheroes boring: when nothing is at stake, when nothing has consequences for you in any real sense because your supernatural powers can always undo anything that is done unto you, your life and your story lack meaning.
That, of course, would be one grave, very serious interpretation of a single episode of a comedic, weird fiction podcast broadcast over the internet with the intent, presumably, to entertain. Perhaps it says something about my state of mind that I skip the comedy for the existential horror.Oct 18, 2013
Photographic lessons in chaos theory (2011)
Dread Pirate Roberts was in the empire business. In a twist of fate, Silk Road, the largest online drug marketplace, has been shut down by authorities just a few days after the Breaking Bad series finale. There’s talk of $1.2 billion in transactions and $80 million in personal profit for Ross William Ulbricht—a number which happens to equal the sum Walter White buried in the desert.
The latter part is bullshit, of course. There’s a quote from the film The Guard: “You lads are always announcing a seizure of drugs worth a street value of ten million dollars or twenty million dollars or half a billion dollars. I do always wonder what street it is you’re buying your cocaine on, because it’s not the same street as I’m buying my cocaine on.” The eighty million and one point two billion figures are based on current bitcoin exchange rates. An academic study which crawled the entirety of Silk Road almost daily for a period of eight months from the end of 2011 through the middle of 2012 reports that the bitcoin exchange rate was only 30 cents in January 2011, when the Silk Road opened. Today’s exchange rate is around $120. The value has fluctuated wildly. This study estimates average monthly transactions of about $1.22 million in the time frame studied, a far cry from the 40 million average it would take to get the 1.2 billion figure in roughly thirty months, even accounting for growth in the year between mid-2012 and mid-2013, when law enforcement obtained server logs from the Silk Road.
Despite the inflated numbers, it can’t be denied that Silk Road was an enormous undertaking in monetary terms.
Of course, money is the motivation of free market capitalists. Capitalism is the ideology of those who believe they would be ahead if only the market were freer. I had a roommate who professed anarcho-capitalist beliefs, and we would frequently debate this topic. He could never convince me how, exactly, an anarcho-capitalist society would not devolve into despotism, with the rich simply torturing, jailing, deporting or paying off anyone who didn’t toe the line. His appeals to the good in human nature—that no one would buy anything from an extortionate or murderous company, and thus being good would be profitable—seems false on the face of it.
Dread Pirate Roberts was an anarcho-capitalist. In fact, one of the clues to his identity were his association with the Mises Institute and his professed admiration for Murray Rothbard, founder of the anarcho-capitalist doctrine. Ulbricht/Roberts also paid for the murders of two people, although one of the hired hitmen was an undercover agent and the authorities never uncovered any evidence that the second murder ever took place. Silk Road was an anarcho-capitalist marketplace, as close to one we have ever seen anyway, and this is what it drove the founder to do. The parallels between Heisenberg and Dread Pirate Roberts, between their aliases Walter White and Ross Ulbricht, are clear. Ulbricht expresses the same uncertainty in ordering the first hit as Walter White expresses committing his murders in the first seasons of Breaking Bad. “
I’m a little disturbed, but I’m ok… I’m new to this kind of thing is all.”
Here he is a couple months later, trying to order a hit on a Silk Road vendor who was extorting him, threatening to reveal a large number of Silk Road buyers’ and vendors’ personal information unless he received half a million dollars to keep his mouth shut: “
I would like to put a bounty on his head if it’s not too much trouble to you." What a gentleman. Then, later, when negotiating the price, he affects the tough guy persona he has not yet come to embody: "
Don’t want to be a pain here, but the price seems high. Not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80k." Given enough time, this guy would definitely have turned into a Heisenberg. That is, assuming these records are correct. After all, it seems odd that no evidence of the alleged murder-for-hire was found, yet the extortion issue seems to have disappeared.
The FBI didn’t crack PGP encryption, bitcoin tumbling or the Tor anonymizing network, the latter of which their own official documents claim to be practically impossible to track. Ulbricht was caught through several mistakes he made on social media which ultimately, in aggregate, led the feds to connect his identity to Dread Pirate Roberts and Silk Road. Why you would ever write anything even remotely implying your involvement in a multi-million dollar drug empire signed with your personal GMail address is beyond me. Nor, it appears, is it a good idea to publicly profess any ideological orientation if you’re a deep web drug kingpin, as one of the clues was DPR’s signature on the Silk Road forums linking to the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s website, where Ulbricht had a profile.
Conspiracy theories abound: of course there are those who claim that the conglomerate of US law enforcement agencies responsible for the bust really found DPR through fundamental breaches in the Tor network, in bitcoins or common encryption schemes and then reverse-engineered the “evidence” in order to give the impression they were still in the dark about these anonymizing technologies, hoping criminals would continue to use them so as to set up future busts. I think that’s horseshit. If they’d cracked Tor and bitcoin tumblers and PGP, more busts would have happened already.
Many consider DPR dumb. How could he be so stupid and get caught for such silly reasons? Those people are idiots. It took the combined efforts of a series of alphabet agencies and the liberal use of international treaties to gather the necessary information. The guy operated the largest, most high-profile black market online for two and a half years before getting caught, raking in millions in profits for himself. Silk Road has been an embarrassment to the misguided soldiers of the drug war since its inception. The fact that it existed for so long—and that the billion-dollar gap in its wake will certainly be filled by smarter, ever more cautious entrepreneurs in the months and years to come—is a testament to the guy’s twisted brilliance. He really is Walter White incarnate.
Murder solicitations aside, Silk Road also illustrates everything that is right with anarcho-capitalism and with internet anonymity (the latter of which I’m a big advocate for). The official documents themselves clearly state that, across hundreds of purchases made by undercover agents on Silk Road, the analyses have consistently proved them to contain high purities of the drugs they were sold as. This is huge. The War on Drugs is a catastrophic failure which is causing more problems than it solves. Buying drugs on the street is risky business. You don’t know what you’re getting or at what purity. This is the cause of countless overdoses and other bad drug experiences. Consider 25i-NBOMe, a drug resembling LSD in effects. This drug is a direct produt of the drug war. There would be no market for 25i if LSD was legal. The reason 25i has reached its current popularity is its legality and ease of access. Yet the therapeutic index (the ratio between lethal and effective dose) is much lower than that of LSD. You can eat a hundred-strip of LSD and be fine, at least physiologically, but five hits of 25i could cause seizures or even death. Knowing what you get and what purity it is, is vital to safe drug use. One might think that an anonymous feedback system would be unreliable—anyone could create an anonymous account and falsely report on a substance—but the samples procured and analyzed show that it actually works.
Worldwide drug policy is based on the false idea that recreational drug use is evil, unless the recreational drug in question is legal, such as alcohol and tobacco, statistically the most dangerous drugs known to man (in terms of actual injuries/deaths attributable to the drug, not adjusted for amount of users). The idea that voluntarily putting a mind-altering substance into your body is evil—despite not hurting anyone—is in itself antiquated and illogical. But even if you accept this idea, even if you truly believe that drug use must be eliminated—even if you discuss the horrors of drug addiction over your twenty-second cigarette of the day or your third glass of whisky—absolutely all the empirical evidence shows that drug prohibition doesn’t work.
By eliminating Silk Road, you have not eliminated drug use. You have simply eliminated one of the safest sources of drugs—one of the few places people could go and be reasonably sure that what they bought was what they had intended to buy, at the purity level they were led to believe. One of the few places where one could obtain illegal drugs without directly meeting up with criminals—it is no secret that procuring illegal drugs will often require the user to get into criminal milieus where far worse things than smoking some weed or popping some ecstasy is going on. You have eliminated the steady supply of addicts who will know have to scramble to obtain alternate sources for their drugs. According to the aforementioned academic paper, the fourth most popular category (and the most popular non-generic category, after weed) was benzodiazepines, a group of medications which, like alcohol and unlike heroin, can kill you during withdrawal.
In human terms, the closing of Silk Road is a tragedy. Not the arrest of the would-be murderous scumbag DPR, but the disapperance of one of the safest—from a harm-reduction perspective—drug markets in the world. Drug use will never disappear. The question is simply how you minimize the harm of inevitable use. A first step might be to recognize that not all drug use is not abuse; abuse is abuse. It follows that removing drug use from society should not be a goal; especially so since it is impossible, akin to basing public policy on the discovery of a perpetual motion machine, or on world peace, one forbidden by the laws of thermodynamics and the other debunked by ten thousand years of human history.
Signed, someone who browsed Silk Road out of curiosity but never made a purchase.Oct 3, 2013
The lesson of the moth, by Don Marquis. Sep 21, 2013
i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires
why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense
plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves
and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself
John was shivering. When he signed up for the job, this wasn’t what he had in mind. Mindless drudgery in a cubicle? I’ll take it. High-octane adventure in the Himalayas? No thanks. Today, like yesterday and the two weeks before that, he was attempting to deliver a whisper to a Buddhist monastery. Apparently satellite phones go against the Eightfold Path.
John was almost done feeling sorry for himself and ready to start on the climb again when he heard them. The whispers in the shadows. Corruptors. Competitors, probably. Out to mess with his mind, destroy the message he was carrying. Usually John was a dutiful employee and the prospect of delivering a corrupt message would have horrified him. But today, he was glad just to get the job done, whatever state the message would be in when he arrived. He just wanted to get it over with and return home to be with his daughter.
But it was not to be. The whisperers in the darkness were not out to corrupt him. They were out to destroy him. As the figures emerged from the shadows and pushed him over the edge, John realized that he was about to become part of a statistic. He was about to become acceptable packet loss.Sep 20, 2013
Yesterday, Monday, was the Norwegian parliamentary election.
Topping the human development index for five years running, including the inequality-adjusted HDI. According to one measure, the world’s second happiest country. According to another, the third most gender-equal country in the world. Taking third on the Environmental Performance Ranking for 2012 as well. One of the countries least affected by the worldwide economic crisis. Not coincidentally, in the possession of a fortune in oil, natural gas, and stocks bought with oil money. The question is: why would we want to throw out the government that presided over all this? Why would we ever want to change?
By midnight, it was clear that’s just what we’ve done. The current red-green, left-wing coalition government is done for. In its place will be some undetermined constellation of right-center parties, led by Erna Solberg. Like Margaret Thatcher was, she is the leader of the Conservative Party and has been nicknamed an iron lady, although possibly as much for purposes of alliteration as for her tough policies. (“Jern-Erna”, Iron Erna, is catchy.) Erna is a somber nerd who never appeals to emotion when reason will do, and who prefers knowing each political case better than her advisors and assistants. Three of the four party leaders who have promised a new government are women reputed to be strong-willed; the fourth, leader of the Christian Democrats, is a man popularly parodied as a weakling.
I feel bad for not caring more about politics. It is, after all, something that affects me; politics frames and directs society, which frames and directs our lives. But I think the ability to ignore politics is simply a mark of the enormous privilege invested in every Norwegian. Politics bores me. Therefore I feel like ignoring it. And if I really wanted to, I probably could, and nothing majorly bad would happen to me.
Nevertheless, I have a certain sense of civic duty and so exercise my right to vote, which means I’d feel stupid not to care about politics. At least for six weeks every four years. Unlike some countries which shall not be named, the election campaigns don’t drag on almost from the moment the last one stopped. The politicians go on vacation, come back, and then campaign for six weeks. Then there’s an election, and that’s it. It feels comedic to hear politicians speak of their marathon campaigns, to thank all their party fellows and campaign helpers for their momentous effort, when you’ve been exposed to election campaigns that last for years. But that’s par for the course in the world’s greatest country, the country that prides itself on being “annerledeslandet,” the “different country.”
I hate admitting that Norway is the greatest country on Earth. I have very little national pride. I am miserable most of the time and I wish I could blame it on politics. Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, Norway consistently scores in the top three (and frequently in the top one) on almost every international measure of happiness, health, equality or environmental policy. Patriotism is the father of fascism and the cause of countless wars; it is the killer of constructive criticism, and the calling card of warmongers and dictators and two-faced lying bastard politicians everywhere. I am an anti-patriot. I would gladly sell out my country for the sake of humanity. Nation states are made-up abstracts that exist only in people’s minds; humans are what matter, and the moment I become convinced that the best interests of the nation state conflict with the interests of its people, I will commit high treason and burn the state. I’d be a revolutionary if I wasn’t so apathetic, a rebel if I had a cause, and a traitor if ever the abstract and the real came into conflict. I’d be an anarchist if I wasn’t such a misanthrope. Trust me, the fact that I was born and raised in this country is not the reason I grudgingly declare it the best country on Earth.
If I could smear the world with my shit-feelings, I would, but in all honesty I can’t. Since my problems are not caused by politics, there is no reason to think politics is the answer. The question then becomes: in a perfect world, why change? In the greatest country on Earth, presided over for the last eight years by a highly capable government, why vote for a new government and a new Prime Minister?
I voted to throw out the current government. To understand why, you have to understand how annerledeslandet works. First of all, we’re filthy rich for no good reason. We happen to own lots of dirty fossil fuel. Pump it up, sell it and get rich. We did nothing to deserve this. The world’s third most environmentally friendly country is trusting its pensions to petroleum money. This gives us a huge cushion to protect us from bad economic policy. Second, and this is something we maybe do deserve a little credit for, we’ve developed a very efficient form of social democracy which I believe is the most just, most humane form of government humanity has developed yet. As corny as that sounds. And there is a broad consensus about this: not even the most extreme parties whose rhetoric is that of revolution want to seriously rock the boat. Everyone who has any chance of getting into parliament and thus influencing who gets to form a government is behind this model. They just want to make changes within the model.
As a result, the stakes are lower. My thinking, which I believe is pretty much the common man’s thinking, is that no realistic coalition can truly fuck up the country in just four years’ time. So then if you happen to agree a little more with the side that’s been in opposition for the last eight years, or even if you’re simply tired of the current coalition and their empty promises and want to give a different coalition a chance not to deliver on their promises, their slightly different promises, then why not go ahead? We have been steadily moving forwards for the last thirty or forty years, certainly for the last couple decades or so that I’ve been alive, and we still like to vote out our governments even if things are looking perpetually up, whoever’s in charge.
I voted for the Liberals, whose Social Liberalism, a mix of social democracy and classical liberalism, a slightly more liberalistic take on the welfare state than the current Labour-led government’s, I most agree with. It’s the same vote I cast four years ago, when the party lost eight representatives in parliament due to falling 0.1% short of the magical limit, four percent, which determines whether you get adjustment seats (basically, a way to make proportional representation more proportional by adjusting for the fact that we vote by county, and don’t dole out parliament seats based on the national sum of votes). This election, the party gained about one percentage point more compared to last election, enough to easily clear the magical four percent hurdle and gain back seven of the eight seats they lost eight years ago. But they are still a tiny party compared to the two behemoths that will lead the new government, the Conservatives and the Progress Party.
The latter is the only reason I doubted whether I should really vote for the party I most agree with, which is to say which I least disagree with. The British newspaper The Independent brings out the tabloid headlines: the Progress Party “has ties to” the mass murderer and terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Which is to say, he was once an ordinary member of the party, although he never held any important positions, was never elected to represent the party in any official capacity. I’m sure a lot of deranged murderers have at some point been members of one political party or another, which is no reason to demonize the party.
It isn’t the dubious “ties” to a mass murderer that leads me to doubt the party. It’s the simple fact that it represents the lowest, basest instincts of humanity: greed, xenophobia, racism. It’s a populist party known for promising cheap booze and getting dark strange men who are living like kings on our modest welfare and not contributing to society the fuck outta here. Let’s spend all our oil money quickly, and all on ourselves, and fuck everyone else, they suck. They’re not really human, if you think about it, those fuckers who don’t look like us and weren’t lucky enough to be born into the cultural sphere of the greatest country on Earth. Although the party’s leaders and its official program never express these sentiments directly, local party representatives frequently betray them. Sixteen percent of the voters supported these guys. Not all of them are greedy racist scum—to say so would be to generalize in the manner of greedy racist scumbags—but a disproportionate amount of them are. The Progress Party is the party that most appeals to the lowest, foulest parts of human nature, and their strict immigration policy in particular, founded on a basic disregard for the value of human life born outside the Western cultural sphere, is a deal-breaker.
The Progress Party is sort of like our Tea Party. Home of racists, conspiracy theorists, populists, and confused ideologues, although like any large, heterogeneous group of people, also home to some intelligent, loving people who happen to disagree with you. Since the last election, the Progress Party and the Conservatives have swapped places for the spot as the leading right-wing party. Right-wing, in this context, simply means in relation to everyone else; no one is seriously suggesting we should replace our welfare state and social democracy with something else. But this time, unlike any earlier time in its forty-year history, they’re looking to get into government. Although the PM spot goes to the Conservatives, I can’t imagine what important position will be marked out for Progress leader Siv Jensen. I’m certain that Norway will become a less friendly country to outsiders and to different people—annerledesfolk in the annerledesland—in the next four years. And the party I voted for is going to help put her and her party fellows into government.
In a country with proportional representation and a multi-party system—eight parties got seats in parliament this year, ranging from 1 seat to 55 out of a total 169; four are in discussions about forming a coalition government together—there’s a lot of room for tactical voting. There is a lot more nuance to the choice of which party to select, unlike in a system where two large parties dominate. A lot more politics happens as a result of gnarly negotiations between parties, and internal party politics stays internal. So the question becomes whether you should vote for the party you most agree with, if they in turn are forced to support the party you least agree with. But according to polls, the victory for the right wing was a lock anyway. The only question was how much influence would go to the extreme right (which is not extreme by, say, American standards, where it would be characterized as the extreme left due to its support for a continued social democratic welfare state). In the end, my Liberal vote functions as damage control. The extreme right can’t get into government without the center parties.
Ultimately, though, my vote is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. One vote more or less makes no difference. I vote mainly so I feel subjectively justified in complaining. If the party I voted for gets into government, I can complain that its coalition partners are hampering its ability to effect its policies, thus clearing myself of any political error. And if they don’t, obviously any problems are caused by the lack of my party’s presence in government.
I despise politicians and secretly love them for doing the job. I’m too much of a nervous wreck to ever be a politician or run a country, even if I had any interest in politics.Sep 11, 2013