Hiroshima Day

On August 6th, 1945, the first use of a nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Hiroshima killed more than 80,000 people immediately and thousands more over the years died from the effects of the radiation from this weapon.

After 78 years, the bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only use of nuclear weapons. But, the anniversary, Hiroshima Day, is a good time to reflect on how long that will remain the case and to consider the problems presented by militarism around the world generally.

Can we imagine a world where the use of nuclear weapons is inconceivable? And if not, why? The existence of nuclear weapons is an existential threat to humanity and the larger world. Isn’t it time we worked to eliminate that threat?

Really Reading Means Being Open to Change

To really read any discursive text, whether a philosophical tract or a legal contract, is a disturbing and cognitively disorienting experience, because it means allowing another person’s thoughts to intrude into your own and rearrange your beliefs and assumptions — often not in ways to which you would consent if warned in advance. Even when you deliberately decide to learn something new by reading, you put yourself, your thoughts and your most cherished suppositions in the hands of the author and trust her or him not to reorganize your mind so thoroughly that you no longer recognize where or who you are. It’s very scary; hard, painstaking work of determined concentration under the best of circumstances. So particularly with philosophical texts, the whole point of which is to reorganize your thinking, people often don’t really read them at all; they merely take a mental snapshot of the passage that enables them to form a Gestalt impression of its content, without scrutinizing it too closely.”

—Adrian Piper. Interview with Lauren O’Neill-Butler. “Adrian Piper Speaks! (for Herself).” The New York Times. July 5, 2018.

Excellent interview throughout. For this part, I think you could extend the point to any kind of lived experience. Authentic experience is breaking from the automatic, the prejudicial mental models that we have created to navigate the world and experiencing the world in a way that might fundamentally change us rather than limiting our vision to our existing worldview that renders anything outside of it invisible.

Bad Gyms

When some one enters a gym for the first time, what are they looking for? If they are young, the driving force is often performance. Athletes want to be better at their chosen sport, and the gym provides a training ground in which to improve.

For the non-athlete entering the gym later in life, the focus may be on a particular goal – such as losing weight, cardiovascular fitness, or strength, but these too are performance goals. A desire for improvement is the motivation.

But, there is an interesting disconnect between the user of the gym and the gym owner. The concern of the gym owner, particularly if the gym owner is a corporation, is to reduce their risk of liability and reduce costs.

Enter any “fitness center” offered as an amenity by a corporation and you will find a wide variety machines that are designed, primarily, to prevent people from injuring themselves. These machines encourage repetitive, defined movements that limit the range of motion and the potential for injury. Free weights, if they are available at all, are confined to low weight dumbbells.

The simple fact is exercise machines are less effective forms of exercise than exercising with free weights. Yet, machines are the only options on offer because they are safer, and machines are cheaper than paying for staff to help people learn to exercise with free weights safely.

As a result of this typical safe gym environment, we almost never hear the simple truth. The overall best exercise for improving fitness is lifting heavy weights over a complete range of motion. If you wish to improve your health and fitness, deadlifts and squats are the single best way to do it. People using the gym need to learn how to do these exercises safely. A good gym trains people to do effective exercises safely. A bad gym provides machines to do less effective exercises that are safe and cost effective. Almost all the gyms we have are bad.

History Rhymes

“Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world’s population—close to 4 billion people—will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever….

…The power of the Web wasn’t taken or stolen. We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways…

The idea is simple: re-decentralize the Web. Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data.”

—Katrina Brooker. “‘I Was Devastated’: Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets.Vanity Fair. July 1, 2018.

Even if a successful decentralized platform is developed, won’t the increasing value of the web combined with people’s willingness to exchange their information for useful tools and convenience offered by a few multinational corporations simply lead to a similar outcome? Or to pose the central question of the article:

“…we are at a societal inflection point: Are we headed toward an Orwellian future where a handful of corporations monitor and control our lives? Or are we on the verge of creating a better version of society online, one where the free flow of ideas and information helps cure disease, expose corruption, reverse injustices?”

Likely both, with much more of the former than the latter.

You Can’t Tell People Anything

“We all spend a lot of our time talking to bosses or investors or marketing people or press or friends or other developers. I’m totally convinced that a new idea or a new plan or a new technique is never really understood when you just explain it. People will often think they understand, and they’ll say they understand, but then their actions show that it just ain’t so…

…What’s going on is that without some kind of direct experience to use as a touchstone, people don’t have the context that gives them a place in their minds to put the things you are telling them. The things you say often don’t stick, and the few things that do stick are often distorted. Also, most people aren’t very good at visualizing hypotheticals, at imagining what something they haven’t experienced might be like, or even what something they have experienced might be like if it were somewhat different.”

—Chip Morningstar. You Can’t Tell People Anything. Habitat Chronicles.com. April 22, 2004.

A variant of “show, don’t tell.” If it is not based in experience, then imagination has to do the heavy lifting to make meaning, and most of the time, people’s imagination isn’t up for the task.

Janes, v. 20.18

The subtitle of the article really says it all:

“A secret network of women is working outside the law and the medical establishment to provide safe, cheap home abortions.”

—Lizzie Presser. “Whatever’s your darkest question, you can ask me.” California Sunday. March 28, 2018.

The prevalence of, for lack of a better term, Jane Networks, is probably an interesting social indicator worth some study. Facts:

  1. A society needs means of controlling reproduction.
  2. If reproduction is not controlled by society, then it will be controlled by Malthusian environmental forces.
  3. Society has a variety of techniques of dealing with the problem of reproduction that run the gambit from puberty rites to modern birth control.
  4. Jane Networks are typically talked about as informal networks that provide abortions, but it probably should include sex education services, use of contraception, etc.

Jane Networks have been around for as long as women have been having children. The only real question is how effective and safe are/were the methods used.

Ergot, for instance, was used as an abortifacient in medieval times. One person used it, survived, and used that experience to help other women. The knowledge spreads and a Jane Network forms.

The real need driving a woman to risk dying to prevent a pregnancy isn’t ever going to go away until we solved the problem of reproduction, i.e., when we can have babies only when we want them. It’s certainly not something the law can try to prohibit without making a mockery of itself, by creating the need for large Jane Networks.

Like with drugs, if government wants to control abortions, it needs to get in the business of providing it in a safer, more cost effective form than a Jane Network. Prohibition will cause Jane Networks to form anywhere there is unmet need.

Engaging with the problem and providing a comprehensive approach that includes multiple techniques, such as sexual education, birth control, adoption and yes, abortions is the only way to significantly reduce the number of abortions. The only real question, for a society, is: who provides these services? Should it be a Jane Network, the state er something else?

Personally, I think developing a modular, community approach that tries to bring as many techniques as possible to bear on the problem of reproduction is the way to go. Let there be millions of Jane Networks. Lets learn from each of these experiments and develop safe, inexpensive and effective techniques for handling the problem of reproduction.

When Toast Was “The Tip of the Hipster Spear”

“For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know.”

—John Gravois “A Toast Story.” Pacific Standard. January 13, 2014.

I remember going to a bar once, and everyone was wearing clothes that were popular three decades prior. It’s startling to be so completely disconnected from the normal distribution mindset and suddenly noticing how much of our world is based on conformity to arbitrary norms.

This story about toast, for instance, got so popular it made it to an episode of This American Life, a show that could plausibly be described as “the base of the hipster spear”. Maybe toast can provide us with some insight into how these things gain traction and maybe help with seeing it ain’t all bad. Really, who’s against toast?