Archive for February, 2010

Joe Stack’s suicide note

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

This was the gent who flew into the IRS building today. Sounds like a lot of frustration, and too much of a state of fear from watching/reading mainstream news:

Well Mr. Big Brother IRS man… take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time. The writing process, started many months ago, was intended to be therapy in the face of the looming realization that there isn’t enough therapy in the world that can fix what is really broken. Needless to say, this rant could fill volumes with example after example if I would let it. I find the process of writing it frustrating, tedious, and probably pointless… especially given my gross inability to gracefully articulate my thoughts in light of the storm raging in my head. Exactly what is therapeutic about that I’m not sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are all taught as children that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. We are further brainwashed to believe that there is freedom in this place, and that we should be ready to lay our lives down for the noble principals represented by its founding fathers. Remember? One of these was “no taxation without representation”. I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood. These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a “crackpot”, traitor and worse.

While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say.
Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.

And justice? You’ve got to be kidding!

How can any rational individual explain that white elephant conundrum in the middle of our tax system and, indeed, our entire legal system? Here we have a system that is, by far, too complicated for the brightest of the master scholars to understand. Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand. The law “requires” a signature on the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that’s not “duress” than what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is.

How did I get here?

My introduction to the real American nightmare starts back in the early ‘80s. Unfortunately after more than 16 years of school, somewhere along the line I picked up the absurd, pompous notion that I could read and understand plain English. Some friends introduced me to a group of people who were having ‘tax code’ readings and discussions. In particular, zeroed in on a section relating to the wonderful “exemptions” that make institutions like the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church so incredibly wealthy. We carefully studied the law (with the help of some of the “best”, high-paid, experienced tax lawyers in the business), and then began to do exactly what the “big boys” were doing (except that we weren’t steeling from our congregation or lying to the government about our massive profits in the name of God). We took a great deal of care to make it all visible, following all of the rules, exactly the way the law said it was to be done.

The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living. However, this is where I learned that there are two “interpretations” for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country.

That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0. It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie. It also made me realize, not only how naive I had been, but also the incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, line, and sinker, the crap about their “freedom”… and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them.

Before even having to make a shaky recovery from the sting of the first lesson on what justice really means in this country (around 1984 after making my way through engineering school and still another five years of “paying my dues”), I felt I finally had to take a chance of launching my dream of becoming an independent engineer.

On the subjects of engineers and dreams of independence, I should digress somewhat to say that I’m sure that I inherited the fascination for creative problem solving from my father. I realized this at a very young age.

The significance of independence, however, came much later during my early years of college; at the age of 18 or 19 when I was living on my own as student in an apartment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My neighbor was an elderly retired woman (80+ seemed ancient to me at that age) who was the widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on.

In retrospect, the situation was laughable because here I was living on peanut butter and bread (or Ritz crackers when I could afford to splurge) for months at a time. When I got to know this poor figure and heard her story I felt worse for her plight than for my own (I, after all, I thought I had everything to in front of me). I was genuinely appalled at one point, as we exchanged stories and commiserated with each other over our situations, when she in her grandmotherly fashion tried to convince me that I would be “healthier” eating cat food (like her) rather than trying to get all my substance from peanut butter and bread. I couldn’t quite go there, but the impression was made. I decided that I didn’t trust big business to take care of me, and that I would take responsibility for my own future and myself.

Return to the early ‘80s, and here I was off to a terrifying start as a ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ contract software engineer… and two years later, thanks to the fine backroom, midnight effort by the sleazy executives of Arthur Andersen (the very same folks who later brought us Enron and other such calamities) and an equally sleazy New York Senator (Patrick Moynihan), we saw the passage of 1986 tax reform act with its section 1706.

For you who are unfamiliar, here is the core text of the IRS Section 1706, defining the treatment of workers (such as contract engineers) for tax purposes. Visit this link for a conference committee report ( regarding the intended interpretation of Section 1706 and the relevant parts of Section 530, as amended. For information on how these laws affect technical services workers and their clients, read our discussion here (

(a) IN GENERAL – Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:
(d) EXCEPTION. – This section shall not apply in the case of an individual who pursuant to an arrangement between the taxpayer and another person, provides services for such other person as an engineer, designer, drafter, computer programmer, systems analyst, or other similarly skilled worker engaged in a similar line of work.
(b) EFFECTIVE DATE. – The amendment made by this section shall apply to remuneration paid and services rendered after December 31, 1986.

· “another person” is the client in the traditional job-shop relationship.
· “taxpayer” is the recruiter, broker, agency, or job shop.
· “individual”, “employee”, or “worker” is you.

Admittedly, you need to read the treatment to understand what it is saying but it’s not very complicated. The bottom line is that they may as well have put my name right in the text of section (d). Moreover, they could only have been more blunt if they would have came out and directly declared me a criminal and non-citizen slave. Twenty years later, I still can’t believe my eyes.

During 1987, I spent close to $5000 of my ‘pocket change’, and at least 1000 hours of my time writing, printing, and mailing to any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen; none did, and they universally treated me as if I was wasting their time. I spent countless hours on the L.A. freeways driving to meetings and any and all of the disorganized professional groups who were attempting to mount a campaign against this atrocity. This, only to discover that our efforts were being easily derailed by a few moles from the brokers who were just beginning to enjoy the windfall from the new declaration of their “freedom”. Oh, and don’t forget, for all of the time I was spending on this, I was loosing income that I couldn’t bill clients.

After months of struggling it had clearly gotten to be a futile exercise. The best we could get for all of our trouble is a pronouncement from an IRS mouthpiece that they weren’t going to enforce that provision (read harass engineers and scientists). This immediately proved to be a lie, and the mere existence of the regulation began to have its impact on my bottom line; this, of course, was the intended effect.

Again, rewind my retirement plans back to 0 and shift them into idle. If I had any sense, I clearly should have left abandoned engineering and never looked back.
Instead I got busy working 100-hour workweeks. Then came the L.A. depression of the early 1990s. Our leaders decided that they didn’t need the all of those extra Air Force bases they had in Southern California, so they were closed; just like that. The result was economic devastation in the region that rivaled the widely publicized Texas S&L fiasco. However, because the government caused it, no one gave a shit about all of the young families who lost their homes or street after street of boarded up houses abandoned to the wealthy loan companies who received government funds to “shore up” their windfall. Again, I lost my retirement.

Years later, after weathering a divorce and the constant struggle trying to build some momentum with my business, I find myself once again beginning to finally pick up some speed. Then came the .COM bust and the 911 nightmare. Our leaders decided that all aircraft were grounded for what seemed like an eternity; and long after that, ‘special’ facilities like San Francisco were on security alert for months. This made access to my customers prohibitively expensive. Ironically, after what they had done the Government came to the aid of the airlines with billions of our tax dollars … as usual they left me to rot and die while they bailed out their rich, incompetent cronies WITH MY MONEY! After these events, there went my business but not quite yet all of my retirement and savings.

By this time, I’m thinking that it might be good for a change. Bye to California, I’ll try Austin for a while. So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work. The rates are 1/3 of what I was earning before the crash, because pay rates here are fixed by the three or four large companies in the area who are in collusion to drive down prices and wages… and this happens because the justice department is all on the take and doesn’t give a fuck about serving anyone or anything but themselves and their rich buddies.

To survive, I was forced to cannibalize my savings and retirement, the last of which was a small IRA. This came in a year with mammoth expenses and not a single dollar of income. I filed no return that year thinking that because I didn’t have any income there was no need. The sleazy government decided that they disagreed. But they didn’t notify me in time for me to launch a legal objection so when I attempted to get a protest filed with the court I was told I was no longer entitled to due process because the time to file ran out. Bend over for another $10,000 helping of justice.

So now we come to the present. After my experience with the CPA world, following the business crash I swore that I’d never enter another accountant’s office again. But here I am with a new marriage and a boatload of undocumented income, not to mention an expensive new business asset, a piano, which I had no idea how to handle. After considerable thought I decided that it would be irresponsible NOT to get professional help; a very big mistake.

When we received the forms back I was very optimistic that they were in order. I had taken all of the years information to Bill Ross, and he came back with results very similar to what I was expecting. Except that he had neglected to include the contents of Sheryl’s unreported income; $12,700 worth of it. To make matters worse, Ross knew all along this was missing and I didn’t have a clue until he pointed it out in the middle of the audit. By that time it had become brutally evident that he was representing himself and not me.

This left me stuck in the middle of this disaster trying to defend transactions that have no relationship to anything tax-related (at least the tax-related transactions were poorly documented). Things I never knew anything about and things my wife had no clue would ever matter to anyone. The end result is… well, just look around.

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.

As government agencies go, the FAA is often justifiably referred to as a tombstone agency, though they are hardly alone. The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government. Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough). In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws.

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing, at and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

Joe Stack (1956-2010)

Angkor Wat syndrome

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

ankgor_wat_syndromeRecently a new article appeared on CNN about the old temple Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Archaeologists have published a new map over the area, revealing that Angkor Wat wasn’t just a temple, but once an ancient city comprised of complex infrastructure and residential housing. The overwhelming beauty of this place and the fantastic architectural skills possessed by those who built it, are however obscured by a dark conclusion from the archaeologists: the city fell apart due to environmental catastrophes.

The size of the original city residence and the highly complex water management system, seem to have led to an overexploitation and deforestation of the natural resources around the area. One can imagine the crisis that went on during the time of its fall: too many people crammed in at a space too small, combined with a rapid technological and infrastructural development, that on the outside must have seemed to be astounding by the population of that time, unknowing of the future consequences that this development would lead to.

Angkor Wat is a fascinating but scary example of the inherent problem with all social communities that eventually grow to become large societies, or even whole civilizations. When people leave their caves to build new homes, new technology and new social ethics, it’s easy to forget the natural world that they came from. Angkor Wat collapsed internally due to overexploitation of natural resources. Nobody today thinks of the fact that we’re actually still just organic life forms on this planet, dependent on water, food and sunlight to stay alive. We’ve spent too much time in small offices, at supermarkets or by the TV, to catch up with the real world. Suddenly a group of scientists study the climate and find out the horrible truth no one gave a dime about until now: “Oh no, we’ve punctured a hole in the ozone layer!”

To some people this may seem as outright stupid; why didn’t we think of this before? The answer is easy: our civilization, probably like with the ancient Angkor Wat, has forgot about the outside world, too busy upholding a social reality to satisfy the comfort of its citizens. If someone today would point out that we’re too many people consuming way too much resources, he or she would either be hunted down and turned into a lamp shade, or thrown in jail for violating the unquestionable Human Rights. That is, the Right to consume, the Right to take place, the Right to stay alive and live life as the individual sees fit; the Right to live in a self-referential fantasy world where the individual doesn’t have any obligations to the surrounding environment. We’re supposed to be able to take how much we want and dump the garbage at the nearest park or lake, since we’re modern now and don’t need to feel humble in front of nature.

The problem with this happy illusion is that it’s like living inside a bubble; it feels good as long as it lasts, but sooner or later the bubble bursts and the game’s over. What to do? To people living in a comfortable civilization where water, food and entertainment are taken for granted, the outside world is a scary and unequal place. There you have to actually fight just to stay alive for the day. Life is a struggle and this struggle more or less fades out when living in a complex technological society that seems to create food and pleasure out of nothing. Sadly, this is not how things work.

The Angkor Wat syndrome of creating a parallel, social world next to the real world, or reality, usually strucks all civilizations at one point or the other. What defines this syndrome however is that it always appears in decadent societies already going downhill. We see this most clearly in our own time: depression and obesity are on the rise, people spend their time watching TV and chasing careers, corporate businesses manipulate the political leaders into dissolving culture and nation to create one global consumer supermarket, and our values have become selfish and shallow. We’re regressing inwards, but like how it must have been for the citizens of Angkor Wat, most people have no idea what’s going on until it’s too late. That’s the final stage of this disease and those who have anticipated the end all along will patiently wait for the coming collapse, so that a new healthy order can be established upon the ruins of what was once a great empire.

Can Life Prevail? by Pentti Linkola

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Can Life Prevail?
by Pentti Linkola
200 pages, Integral Tradition, $25

Very rarely does a book make you feel good about receiving bad news. Usually, there’s something you fear so much that you want anything but to face it. But if someone is able to explain in clear steps what you must do to face it, and how the other side is indeed brighter, it lessens the burden. With decreased resistance and doubt comes greater effectiveness, and you may emerge with more triumph than suspected possible.

Can Life Prevail? is one such book. Since I was old enough to walk and perceive, it has been clear to me that something is very wrong with our world. Our adults are not focused on the task of living, but on the task of managing their self-image. Consequently, they ignore stupidities great and small. From the dumbness of school to the boredom and fear inherent to the workplace, to the poor design of everyday objects, to the inanity of our public culture and the transparency of our politicians’ lies, adults are oblivious. They are easy to deceive and are so distracted they are “shocked and amazed” any time their children have sex or take drugs, their politicians cheat them, corruption is found to be rife, etc. In short, our civilization is a ship with no one at the helm. Most disturbing is our effect on the environment; we can get more humans if we screw them up, but we’re short on extra earths.

Unlike most environmentalists, Pentti Linkola does not try to talk to us through the filter of denial and distraction. Instead, he levels with us as a Machiavellian scientist would: each additional person takes up space our nature needs, we have too many people, most are thoughtless oafs who destroy eternally beautiful things for temporary cash, and our modern laziness arises from the ease with which we interact with life through machines. In this collection of provocative essays, Linkola targets every sacred cow with an even-handed but unequivocal whittling down of our resistance to the obvious: our species is out of control and needs pruning, and the problem is too many individuals of low intelligence and character. Unlike most “environmentalist” books, this is not a hand-wringing or maudlin work; it is forthright, assertive, strong and also very funny as Linkola probes the ostensible logic behind our decisions and contrasts it with his observations from many years in the field as an observer of birds, fish and trees.

Linkola asserts a number of worthy points:

  • Habitat loss is more destructive than pollution;
  • Climate change is a vile problem resulting from lack of woodlands;
  • We can fix climate irregularities by re-planting forests we killed;
  • Domesticated animals destroy wild species;
  • Most people are careless and unable to be stewards to nature;
  • Democracy will not limit the selfish actions of individuals;
  • Human overpopulation is the driving factor behind habitat loss;
  • We are too distanced from nature, even the gross aspects;
  • Our machine-oriented mentality makes us lazy and weak.

At his best, Linkola is half scientist and half satirist, always nudging us back to a level of reality. If nature were a machine, he seems to say, we’d pay attention to signs of its decline. But it’s too complex for our point-to-point modern mentality, so instead we space out and hope for the best. Each of these essays picks an intriguing angle to its topic and explains it through a clear example, usually backing up observations with factual data from ornithology or the experience of a fisherman. As stated above, it gives hope by giving us a clear analysis of the problem that isn’t mired in ulterior motives or the greatest ulterior motive of all, “don’t rock the boat.” Where most green books offer you what’s basically a shopping guide for “green” products, Linkola goes further — not only by realizing that consumerism and environmentalism are incompatible, even if that consumerism is of a “green” kind, but by striking against our preference for all things human. He makes the point many times that we only consider human emotions and thoughts, and do not stop to observe our world. If it were named Steve and talked with a lisp, we’d respect it as equal. But outside the anthrosphere, nothing gains equality to us brave equal humans.

He brushes by the question of our reactions to, or judgments of, his ideas. Like a researcher he gives us the data and recommendations, and leaves it to us to react in private and then realize our reactions have nothing to do with nature; as history shows us, only what is effective matters. All of our fond notions and egalitarian sentiments, politics and politeness, feelings and validations are entirely irrelevant. What works matters. What is not part of that process is irrelevant and forgotten by time. I find this very comforting because our world normally has a stop-start rhythm where a new concept is uncovered and then we must all wait for the inevitable simian panic, outbursts and finally grudging admittance. This part of our monkey heritage disgusts me the most. There is none of it in Linkola. It is like reading a lab report on the fauna of the North Atlantic. It’s unusual to see humans treated like the other subjects we write about, but comforting in that it is purely logical.

There are parts of this book where I cannot get onboard the Linkola train. It’s hard to tell when he is provocateur and when he is prescribing a medication of lucid sanity, but in most cases, he seems to be serious and it’s hard to disagree. It shocks the average human when he rails on housecats as killers of birds, but when we think back on our own experience, we’ve all seen stray cats slaughter wrens by the bushel. I can handle that, and the idea of being less squeamish about day-old fish, but during the last few pieces, Linkola outlines more of his ideal for a society and it falls short. Primitivism is a neat idea on paper and would solve the problem, but lose so much of what makes us vital. Unlike Linkola, I cannot blame our machines for the fact that most people are thoughtless, destructive, short-sighted and corrupt. I think we need to realize that we like the wrens are biological creatures and just do as our instincts instruct. Perhaps another future thinker will suggest that those humans who do not have such frailties should prevail, and the others quietly go away, but Linkola stops short of calling for world eugenics on that scale.

Most importantly, Linkola says what so many of us think in private moments. There are too many of us, and too many idiots. If we keep growing we’ll kill everything. People sacrifice nature for short-term profit. Because most voters are idiots, we cannot control this process. The instant we try something constructive, a corrupt person will buy a few hundred thousand dollars of TV time and use it to sway the masses of useful idiots to do his bidding. As a result, our current civilization is like a speeding car with no brakes. We’re out of control and cannot stop. As we accept this, day after day, it kills us a little inside. Linkola is the antidote who removes our false pretense and the emotional manipulation of our fellow citizens, giving us instead a clear path to victory that true, must rocket through taboo and the herd fear of a mass of humans whose average IQ is barely 100, but nonetheless can be achieved if cooler minds prevail — and are willing to as relentlessly manipulate the masses as their ideological opposites.

Disclosure: Our author Brett Stevens wrote one of the introductions to this book. It was not reviewed. Our collaborator Vijay Prozak wrote a review here which was not used in the writing of this column.

Deconstructing our sense of self

Friday, February 5th, 2010

A lot of what we do here at Amerika is to re-mix news articles. By changing context, we show you where the ideas discussed are applied. An idea by itself, in abstract, seems both universal and applied nowhere — an echo of our own self-perception, by which we are perceivers and only secondarily realize we also have bodies and are participants.

The first point we have for you today is the nature of language. We tend to think of it as a tool; however, it’s a tool that also shapes how we look at the world. When you have a hammer, everything’s a nail:

One researcher who has pioneered this theory is Professor Friedemann Pulvermuller, a language specialist at the University of Cambridge. He is particularly interested in the relationship between language and action, and supports the philosopher Wittgenstein’s view that language “is woven into action”.

It is well established that listening to action words such as lick, pick and kick activates the brain areas that control the tongue, hand and foot. Pulvermuller’s research goes a step farther, suggesting that the brain’s action system does more than respond to meaning — he believes that it contributes to it.

To test this theory, Pulvermuller ran a study in which he stimulated different parts of the action system using TMS while volunteers listened to tongue, hand and foot-related words. The level of TMS was enough to increase the neuronal activity, but not enough to knock out the region. He found that stimulating the hand region made people quicker to comprehend hand-related words, such as stitch and pick.

The Times

And how this tool effects us can be quite fascinating. For example, we pick ideas that are easier and consider them true. While this is the path of least resistance in psychological action, it’s also dangerous in that a half-truth is simpler and easier than a whole truth, and truths often include difficult things for us to accept personally and thus to wrap our minds around. So we discard them in favor of a simpler explanation, and claim it’s more truthful:

One of the hottest topics in psychology today is something called “cognitive fluency.” Cognitive fluency is simply a measure of how easy it is to think about something, and it turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard. On the face of it, it’s a rather intuitive idea. But psychologists are only beginning to uncover the surprising extent to which fluency guides our thinking, and in situations where we have no idea it is at work.

Psychologists have determined, for example, that shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names do indeed significantly outperform those with hard-to-pronounce names. Other studies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process – even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it – can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author and their confidence in their own judgments and abilities. Similar manipulations can get subjects to be more forgiving, more adventurous, and more open about their personal shortcomings.

Because it shapes our thinking in so many ways, fluency is implicated in decisions about everything from the products we buy to the people we find attractive to the candidates we vote for – in short, in any situation where we weigh information. It’s a key part of the puzzle of how feelings like attraction and belief and suspicion work, and what researchers are learning about fluency has ramifications for anyone interested in eliciting those emotions.

Boston Globe

As you look out at that big world around you, remember this is how most people make decisions:

  • What they see first stimulates how they think about the decision. The tail can easily wag the dog.
  • What is easier for them and more pleasant is more likely to be what they pick as true. We filter the world before we figure it out

The result is decisions based on the convenience of the individual’s psychology. We first find what our brains like; from that set, we pick what might be the most likely answer, or at least the easiest. It would make more sense to filter less and consider our options more systematically.

Net neutrality: not what you think it means

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

As part of the progressive dumbing down of our society, we live by political “issues.” These are clever symbols for problems we need to solve. They are usually framed by whoever comes up with them first.

This framing puts a spin on them so that it’s hard to disagree. When one side calls itself “pro-life,” who are the others supposed to be? If one group of people decide they are pro-democracy, the implied adverse is that the other group is anti-democracy. Popular terms to use in creating successful spin: free, freedom, peace, love and neutrality.

Neutrality sounds good to us because it’s the absence of conflict. It also means an absence of bias, and with that, oversight. When we talk about neutrality, we talk about that moment when the teacher leaves the room “for just five minutes” and tells us to be good. Then the door closes and anarchy begins. Sure, the honor students study, but they’re so outnumbered if it comes down to the line they’re doomed in thirty seconds.

You’re going to see more of the word “neutrality” soon. As the topic of net neutrality again hits the news and the campaign trail, just about every pundit and his dog will offer an opinion on it. Most are going to take advantage of the fact that English is divided into dialects. There’s a technical dialect in which the term “neutrality” means a lot less than it implies in the terms you hear on the news.

In the technical dialect, “network neutrality” means no site can refuse to forward traffic to another. In the common dialect of the Oprah-watching Facebook-posting useless modern corporate feudal peasant, “network neutrality” means no oversight and that Big Daddy Government is going to stop ISPs from demanding we stop downloading gigabytes of horse anal porn when little old ladies need to check their email.

The internet works like a giant game of secret, but with a twist. Instead of passing messages straight across the room, you tell your the person next to you “Hey, tell Dave that he’s a fag.” They then tell the person next to them to pass that message to Dave, and it goes through a bunch of people before someone finally gets punched out.

Network neutrality means that Susie, who is running for class president against Dave, can’t suddenly decide to stop passing on messages to Dave. Engineers designed the internet to be flexible and resilient in case of attack, so that if the guy who sits next to Dave gets shot, the message can still reach Dave another way. The net only works because every site talks to every other site, in theory.

In reality, that’s inconvenient. If you’re a big media giant like CNN, and you make a deal with Comcast, you want people to be able to get to your site first and every other big media giant’s site second, if at all. A recent example can be found in the case of AT&T and Apple, who signed an exclusive agreement. If your testosterone drops and you buy an iPhone, you will be using AT&T service.

Network neutrality proponents hate the idea that if you sign up for one service over another, it limits the parts of the internet that you can connect to. However, there is nothing in network neutrality as a technical concept that implies ISPs have to let you keep downloading those gigabytes of midget rape porn.

ISPs still have the ability to offers tiers of service and to decline service to people who cost more than they are worth. Telling people that they’re fags causes fistfights and is the preference of only a small part of the population. There is no reason to guarantee you that “right.”

As with all concepts thrown at the feet of the thronging masses, network neutrality is a good concept that has been perverted into the usual demand. They’re expanding the definition of net neutrality from a technical one to the usual touchy-feely political bullshit. If you offer everyone the right to do whatever they want without oversight, they like it — and we all suffer when the teacher comes back into the room.

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