He has some reasonable ideas amidst the stuff that you know will keep him out of serious running. On the one hand, he wants good education for everyone, a flat tax and a has a Libertarian stance on recreational drugs. On the other hand, the party platform has stuff like phasing out jobs for humans, creating rights for cyborgs and stressing secular values.
If his novel, The Transhumanist Wager, however, is more of the platform manifesto it seems to be, he'd be a bit on the dangerous side for the world.
The novel itself paints a picture of a futuristic, science-based capitalist near-Utopia that really is not all that far off. People will live forever in good health thanks to medical procedures that renew our systems and a change in telomerase rates (that's something SENS is actually working on in real life — I've written about them here before) and the introduction of mechanical implants.
The nation that develops this technology, Transhumania, exists because some of the world's great scientists, under the direction of American movement leader Jethro Knights, are forced out of their own countries for their views on transhumanism, the idea that humans can evolve into something greater.
The anti-transhuman movement is driven in large part by religious groups in the U.S., and in particular by Reverend Belinas, a megachurch leader with deep political connections. He advises the president and many members of Congress, as well as some of the country's wealthiest individuals.
The world's top powers get together and decide to put an ultimatum on Transhumania, but Knights goes before their leaders and demands their surrender. The powers eventually kidnap Knights, but he escapes thanks to some of Transhumania's inventions and a chip implanted in his neck. When the top nations attack Transhumania, it turns out the defense systems are so complex there are barely any injuries on Transhumania's side; meanwhile, redirected rockets are responsible for the allies hitting each other's ships, killing thousands.
At this point, Transhumania puts its military might to work, letting all the countries know which symbolically powerful landmarks will be wiped out so that people can be cleared away. Knights' forces then destroy religious and political landmarks, from the Vatican, Mecca and the Western Wall to Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the White House.
Once the centers of superstition and power are wiped out, the reasoning goes, science can take over.
After this attack, Knights launches into a speech that feels as long and overwrought as John Galt's 98-page monster in Atlas Shrugged (it's not nearly that long, but sometimes it feels like it). Join us and live forever, Knights says, or we're just going to leave you behind. You're to be well-educated and productive, or we might as well just kill you and have you stop using our resources. There are too many people; decide which side you'd like to be on.
The book ends with some medical science at work; medical science that we're headed toward in real life. Morgan Spurlock saw some of it in Season 2, Episode 2 of "Inside Man" (see him talking about it a little bit here).
There's certainly some validity to transhumanism. We're not ready for it in our current generation, I don't think; it requires allowing everyone to rise on their own merit, turning ego only to improving oneself without allowing for competition. The kind of empathy transhumanism allows is evolutionary, not individual — we're not out to save all lives, just the lives that will help advance humans.
But read the book. Get educated. For as alarming as the anti-religion, anti-nation bits are, there's a new perspective that a growing population is finding worthwhile.
I was having a discussion with someone recently about media bias, and more specifically about how reporters are biased.
"Of course they are," I said. "They're human. Their job is not to be unbiased, it's to be objective."
Let me explain.
People are biased. We like some candidates better than others. We like some sports teams better than others. We like some dog breeds better than others. We like some foods better than others.
If you take away the biases a person has built up, you take away something of the essence of the person. Something essential — something that maybe led them into writing, into reporting, into being the sort of person people trust enough to talk to.
Objectivity, on the other hand (at least from a journalistic standpoint), is coming at an issue from multiple angles, reporting as many reasonable angles as possible (hang on, we'll get there), and allowing people (readers, viewers, etc.) to reach their own conclusions.
Why do so many journalists seem to have a liberal bias? Because something on the order of 70% of journalists (according to the recurring study The American Journalist) claim liberal views.
So, there's the bias. Now take that bit of information and allow it to color how you take in stories. You should ask your reporters to give you as much information as possible, not tell you how to think about it.
Now, what do I mean as many reasonable angles as possible?
I mean, at some point, you have to stop digging and just get the information out. If you're doing a story on the Patterson-Gimlin footage, maybe you find someone who thinks it was really Bigfoot, maybe you find someone who things it was a Bigfoot costume, and maybe — just maybe — you find someone who thinks it was an alien. But you can't just keep going down the spiral, looking for someone who thinks it was a giant deformed rabbit and claims he has the DNA to prove it.
Even when the Fairness Doctrine was really in effect, it allowed media outlets to stop at some point. You had to give Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders equal time, but you were under no obligation to the Zoltan Istvans of the world.
Not that I don't think Zoltan Istvan wouldn't make a wonderful president. Just he's not exactly really in the running.
We're certainly in an interesting time in journalism. More than ever before, we have the ability to say, simply, "this happened," and we can do it by showing you. But I think journalism really needs to do well at providing context.
Journalists aren't just supposed to tell you what the power elite (be it the government, celebrities or big business) are up to, but also provide you with some clues as to what it means in your life.
You should still take in stories with an eye toward understanding where the reporter comes from, but also understand that the reporter's job, fundamentally, is to provide you with more than just a report of what happened. Understand also that, whatever the journalist's biases, most reporters will have some history reporting on the same topic over and over again, so will have wider material to draw on than you will — the same way that you'll have better insight into your job than the journalist will.
I do want to touch a little on news consumer responsibility, too.
Inasmuch as I think it's up to a good journalist to come at stories objectively — give me information and context without judgment — it's up to me as a news consumer to take the information, determine what is fact, what is opinion and what is context. It's also up to me to determine whether I think the journalist fulfills his or her job, but after I do that, it's up to me to determine whether I consume news from that source again, not whether the journalist should be fired.
It's also incumbent upon me to take in news from multiple sources, preferably with a variety of perceived biases — the stuff that overlaps in reports is fact and/or context, the rest is commentary.
It's not my job as a news consumer — and, let's be honest, in this season, a voter — to either take all information without consideration, or to take out my frustrations on people who have presumably been hired and retained because they're good at what they do.
It occurs to me that you can't have good days without bad days. Life bounces you like a pogo stick all the time, how high or how low is variable.
Running is front of mind for me, because I do it so often.
Saturday, I ran what Runkeeper tells me was my 99th fastest 3-mile run. Ugh. It was crap. I knew it was going to be crap, of course. Thursday had been St. Patrick's Day, and I partied it up with the best of the Savannahians. OK, let's be honest, I was definitely second tier. That morning, I was out for a run and by 6:30 a.m., people were already well into their second round of brats and second cases of beers.
By Monday, I ran my fastest seven-miler and then Tuesday was my third fastest 3-mile run. Good days, rebounding from the bad ones.
This happens everywhere, though. In sales, at work, whatever. Take the bad days as lessons if you want, but whatever you do, don't use them as fodder for quitting. Use them as motivation to not only have, but also enjoy, the good days.
I spent a little bit of time the other night piecing together the photos below of huge lines and crowds from the primaries in Arizona and the caucuses in Idaho and Utah.
Some people in Arizona were voting two and half hours after polls closed — after standing in line for three or more hours.
In Idaho and Utah, officials had to open not only auxiliary rooms to handle caucus-goers, but in some cases auxiliary buildings.
In both Arizona and Utah, they ran out of official ballots and had to hand out provisional ballots, which means they'll need to verify all the voters are actually registered, since there's no way to determine whether the provisional ballots were handed out because there were no official ballots or because the voter was supposed to fill out a provisional ballot.
How did officials underestimate the number of voters who turned out so badly? Do they think people just aren't interested in voting, despite the fact that we've had record turnouts throughout primary season?
It really is a shame. I don't have any answers as to how to fix this election system, but it definitely needs to be fixed.
I know we did a bunch on Joe Rogan's podcast with Mike Baker in the problem with US politics post last week, but there was another thing they touched on a for a while that I wanted to discuss.
Around 56 minutes, Baker transitions the conversation to changes coming to Monopoly, then the two move into a discussion of youth sports — the first few years of organized sports, they don't keep score. The kids all kept score in their heads, but the adults wouldn't want them to experience losing.
"We're getting to a weird point," Rogan says, "where we're trying to coddle people, to not let them feel defeat." Those people are now in college, and, adds Baker, "they think that being contradicted means they're being persecuted."
Losing, feeling uncomfortable, Rogan points out, is how we grow.
And he's right, I think. If you're never uncomfortable as a child, you won't deal with it well as an adult — and there are plenty of opportunities to feel uncomfortable as an adult, whether you want to or not.
This goes way beyond being politically correct, but let's start there.
I think I'm part of the generation somewhat at fault for political correctness. In high school, we demanded recognition for everybody. We changed language. In the religious services we performed, we either took out masculine language or anywhere Biblical men were listed in prayers, we added their female counterparts. We rebelled against our parents' feminism, which we found to be a search for female privilege, favoring instead "equalism."
Sometime after the mid-1990s, though, things went off the rails, and today, it seems that if people disagree with you, you think you're being bullied. And if someone doesn't learn 30 new pronouns and ask you each day which one applies to you, you're being marginalized.
Colleges and universities are offering "safe zones" and telling professors to watch themselves under threat of firings and lawsuits. It used to be you'd learn activism via liberalism or conservatism from professors. Now if an educator holds an opinion that's contrary to anyone, the biggest worry is being labeled a bully.
It seems mental or emotional discomfort is equated with a feeling of being unsafe.
Look, if you're always comfortable, you're never going to grow.
And while you should certainly spend as many years of your life as possible living in such a way that allows you to feel physically safe, we need to understand that not getting your way all the time is not a physical threat. Remember hearing, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? Now actually take a look at what those words mean.
I'm totally good with the notion that new words crop up and that words that didn't used to be offensive become that way. But in the same way you don't want to learn the names of 30 types of trees that are new to you, I don't want to learn 30 new words that each describe two dozen people in the world. I'd rather just not have those 600 people in my life. And if that's the sort of thing you want your educators worrying about, you're contributing to the fact that more college grads than ever are finding themselves unemployed.
But let's move on from political correctness.
Let's talk about discomfort.
Let's start with "moving outside your comfort zone." This is entirely valid. It's a great way to start to grow. It's being critical of others with your real name on your social media accounts and comment profiles. It's running your first mile. It's quitting the Propecia and shaving your head.
After you've had a taste of the growth that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone, you can actually start getting uncomfortable. Lift some weights. Run your first 5k. Or your first half-marathon — take the chance of getting hurt, or actually get hurt. See that it's not that bad.
Are you doing pretty well on your side gig? Maybe it's time to take that jump and go off on your own. What's the worst that can happen? You need to find another day job?
Eliminating competition as a child and taking out emotional discomfort as a young adult makes for adults who are scared to play with fire, scared of failure, afraid to lose.
You can't win if no one loses, and winning never feels good if you don't know what losing feels like. Success might feel good, but it feels so much better if you have previously failed.
And if you have previously failed, or lost, or been hurt, the corresponding success or victory or survival is leaps and bounds stronger than it would be without having first been down.
Remember your U.S. history? America was started by people who were so uncomfortable they got up, left, then fought with guns against their oppressors. They could be killed for practicing their religion. They were subject to high taxes without having a say in their government. They were locked up for being who they are. Now, we just want the people who want us to think to be fired and bankrupt.
Let's all raise our bars. Let's all get uncomfortable, then let's all grow and conquer. Don't let's all meet in the middle. Let's meet at the top or not at all.
Note: This podcast was recorded before Ted Cruz's Super Saturday victories and Ben Carson dropping out of the race.
We have problems with our politics these days. I've been holding off on posting about it because I'm not sure I've had reasonable words, but comedian (and UFC commentator, etc.) Joe Rogan and former CIA covert operative Mike Baker really get it right.
Baker, who is more a rationalist than anything else (he has operational issues, for example, with Hillary Clinton — he explains in plain language what happened with her email), spells out the issue with anyone willing to run for the presidency: "There's a certain personality type that's way up its own ass that allows you to think, 'Yes, I should be president of the United States.'"
"We're down to assholes, basically," agrees Rogan. "Bernie Sanders seems like an old kook, he doesn't seem like an asshole," but he doesn't seem to think we should really be voting for anyone who would actually want the job.
That all happens in the first few minutes of the podcast, by the way. You needn't put yourself through very much of the video above (the first five or seven minutes will be plenty to get you started) to see where they head with the conversation.
Let me be honest with my perspective, before we get too deep in here. I'm a disenchanted liberal. I grew up in a strictly Democratic household, and identified as a Democrat until about 2000, when I really saw Ralph Nader's point. Barack Obama brought my back into the party, but quickly lost me (here's my very hopeful post after his first inauguration, and my jaded look forward after his reelection). I now live in a state with open primaries, so I have no need to register for a party ever again. In political "quizzes," I match up as a left-leaning Libertarian.
Louis C.K. — another comic — writes, in what I think is a really important rant about Donald Trump, puts it nicely:
When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while.
Around 11 minutes into his discussion with Rogan, Baker points out that somehow compromise is now seen as a weakness. And that's really a major problem for me. That's what we're built on: discourse and compromise. The rhetoric from both sides these days is not only angry, it's vindictive. And that's our fault as voters.
It's been pretty well figured out, I think, that to win a primary, a candidate has to move toward an extreme, and then will have to move to the middle to win a general election. What we don't know is what happens when the president gets into office — on Day 1, is he handed a book (he, here; we haven't had a she yet) of what we know and then he has to look back on his campaign promises and say, "Holy crow, we can't do that!"
Baker says soon we're going to need an end to the two-party system, to really have stronger other options. He also goes on to say he thinks presidential candidates should have to disclose who they'd like in their cabinet: after all, presidents don't know everything about everything, they take advice from their circle. Rogan goes even further, saying maybe we should eliminate the position of president, instead making decisions by committee.
We sort of do that, actually. We need a point person, and the president sort of acts as CEO — the board (cabinet, generals, etc.) gives him all the options, and the president has to make the final call. For example, Baker points out, there's a lawyer in the White House who advises the president on whether the secondary casualties that would result from going after a "high-value target" make it a doable operation.
As for Trump, Rogan says that people like him because he "talks shit," which he clearly does. Personally, I don't want someone who's verbal political tactics are a great way to get into a bar fight. "There's so many goofy white guys who are ready and psyched to have a reality star as president," he says.
C.K., in his rant, calls for people to just read up a little on Trump. "If you do vote for Trump," he writes, "at least look very carefully at him first." Here's a guy who has said he likes people who weren't captured, but further, that John McCain, who was the target of that criticism, "has to be very careful" for criticizing the candidate and that "he'll find out" why. I don't know about you, but the way I read that, any US soldier who gets wounded or captured is going to be in trouble, and that if you say anything bad about Trump, you'd better be prepared for...something.
We do know that Trump wants to change libel laws (that's a conservative publication I linked to, by the way). The Daily Beast (which claims to be independent but seems to lean liberal at a quick glance) has a good explanation of our current laws and Trump's proposed law.
Whatever you think of the Chronicle's take on Trump gutting the First Amendment, I can say that I watched his Super Saturday rally and noted that Trump said, before taking questions, "you know the press is among the most dishonest people created by God, so I would love to take a few questions from these dishonest people." Start around 12:37 here:
If I'd have been there, I probably would have left. As a voter (and Jew and member of the media), I'm scared of Trump; as a journalist, I'm over him. If you could get me to go to cover a rally, I'd be there with duct tape over my mouth.
Trump calls reporters dishonest, says he hates answering questions and that he'd rather just campaign. Let's just stop covering him.
I'll close with Baker talking about Trump and the American Dream. Baker served the US as a covert CIA officer abroad for many years, and now runs an intelligence agency called Diligence LLC (around 51 minutes into the conversation).
How does it happen that this country — this fantastic country, and again I've spent most of my life overseas — I can go to the deepest darkest shithole out there, somewhere out there [in the] middle of nowhere, and someone will say, "if I go to America and I can work this hard and I can do really well, I just have to, you know, if I can get to America," they still — people out there in the middle of nowhere — still believe the American Dream.
And yet you worry about it, because I think we seem to be giving up on it here. If this is the best we've got, if we're willing to follow this guy down the tunnel, I don't know where we're heading, but it's not good."
I decided to get back to some fiction early in the year. My reading had been slowing down, and I'd been a little overwhelmed by life in general. Fiction always provides a nice respite, which in turn lets me relax in other aspects of my life, and now I'm all relaxed and ready as spring hits here in coastal Georgia.
Some recent reads:
Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk. Madison Spencer, who beat Satan at his own game in Damned, returns to the world of the living for her annual Halloween candy collection (candy bars are currency in Hell), but through some trickery on Satan's part, gets stuck for the year (if you're not back in Hell by midnight, see ya next year).
She had previously communicated to her Hollywood do-gooder parents that the way to Heaven was through general rudeness: cussing and flatulating cheerfully. She was kidding, of course, and now she faces an Earth full of joyfully disgusting humans, all doomed to Hell for their behavior, thanks to her. And she's back to fix it.
Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club and a pile of other books I love, and while this isn't among my favorites of his, it's definitely good for a few hours of escapism.
Not a Star by Nick Hornby. What happens when you're a middle class English mum and you come home to a DVD slipped through your mail slot, and the guy on the cover looks a lot like your son? What happens when you discover it is your son? What happens when the film on the DVD is pornographic?
Hornby is another one of my favorites (High Fidelity, A Long Way Down, others), and this novella from the Open Door series is great for a rainy day with a cup of coffee.
Bad Monkeys by Mike Ruff. I'm not sure how I've never heard of Ruff before (I mean, there's a quote on the book's cover from Christopher Moore), but this book is a twisted, paranoid look at the world. I don't even want to give much away, but if you think you're being watched, you probably are — but not by the government or your ex.
You may have heard the name Walter O'Brien in your sitting-on-the-couch moments. It's the character played by Elyes Gabel in the CBS television drama "Scorpion."
Also, he's a real dude. "Scorpion" is his nickname, and also the name of his company. It's a company that does a bunch of stuff, including inventing a lot of the systems you see on the show — notably a device that feeds oxygen to the blood so that you don't have to breathe, giving you, say, 20 minutes or so underwater, as long as you remember not to try to bring air into your lungs, thereby swallowing water.
Scorpion was his hacker name back in the '80s, when, as a child in Ireland, with a 400-baud modem before most of us had heard of the Internet, he downloaded mechanical drawings of the space shuttle. The U.S. one. From NASA. From their "secure" servers.
Imagine his parents' surprise when he produced an extradition waiver from his book bag, since he figured law enforcement would be knocking on his door.
He turned 41 yesterday; it's not like he's been at this stuff for all that long.
In case you're wondering, and I imagine by now you are, his IQ was measured at 197.
O'Brien notes that the purpose of our bodies is really to keep our heads functioning, and more specifically, our brains. Our brains are essentially wired data networks. While we have memories that it's easy to think about as data, like computer files, they also have a bunch of software in them, if you will. The brain keeps the heart beating, the lungs functioning, and moves our limbs, without conscious thought.
It stands to reason, then, that all that data could be backed up, the way a hard drive is backed up. O'Brien thinks we'll be able to get a brain's worth of data on a chip in about 10 to 12 years.
How? Clone yourself with stem cells, change the programming on the telomeres so that you get to about 20 years old in, say, four years before you slow the aging process back down, then simply do a data transfer from brain to chip to brain.
O'Brien tells Ferriss we should be able to transplant (such as it is) a brain with 80 to 85 percent reliability in the next 15 years or so. Ferriss' question described "success" as being able to make the new body walk and write with the dominant hand. It sounds, though, like O'Brien thinks those successful transplants might do better than that.
The second piece I want to mention is something that O'Brien talks about when explaining another of his businesses, ConciergeUP. The tagline for that business is "Any funded need." Basically, if you want something done, it's not against O'Brien's ethical code and you're willing to pay for it, you can hire ConciergeUP.
He tells the story of a billionaire dad whose wealthy son was the target of a gold-digging scheme. He wanted to stop the impending marriage without his son knowing he had anything to do with it.
It took a long time, but suffice to say it included enough actors that one point everyone in a full Starbucks except the perpetrator was working for ConciergeUP. You have to hear O'Brien tell it — it's the sort of thing that makes you think Osama bin Laden really could be alive if someone wanted badly enough for him to disappear but keep breathing.
The third thing is O'Brien's discussion of IQ (intelligence quotient) vs. EQ (emotional quotient). He's of the opinion that there's only a certain amount available in total, so people with higher IQs often lack emotional connections (like empathy), and that having an IQ over, say, 120, might start to be an impediment to getting a job or finding a good relationship. If you've watched the show, you'll recognize the character Paige, played by Katharine McPhee, who helps explain normal emotional interaction to a bunch of out-of-touch, really smart people. He's actually had to hire people like that.
I hope I haven't said so much that you're not going to listen to it now. It's so amazing I had to share.
While it's not Susan Cain-level science, it's a spot-on explanation of how things go with me: Even if I know you, good luck getting me on the phone, but I'm happy to schedule lunch; I'm not scared of parties, but I'd rather stand in the corner alone than have to deal with people talking to me about nothing.
Especially if you're an extrovert, if you're wondering how to deal with an introvert, here are a three tips (assuming other introverts are like me):
• Make it known you're interested in a conversation, but don't be overbearing.
• "Hello" is a fine way to start a conversation, followed by either nothing, or something really interesting. "It's a nice day" is an awful way to start. I assume either that you're just now noticing, or you think that I haven't noticed yet. If it's the first, I assume you're unobservant. If it's the second, we're not going to get along if you think I'm unobservant.
• If my headphones are in or I'm reading a book, I don't want to be disturbed. Say hello if you must, but I'm actively staying away from interaction.