I'm pretty much Gandhi, but better.

This Is The Most Important Post You’ll Read All Day/Week/Month/Year/LIFE

Really, truly, this is it. This is the post that will change everything. After this post goes viral, nothing will be the same.

Dogs will be cats. Gravity will pull up. Nicholas Cage movies will be good.

This post is so earth-shatteringly, life-changingly, adverb-creatingly important that you need to share it immediately, before you’ve even finished it, because I promise it’ll be worth it and why even think about it, just Tweet it and Facebook it and Tumblr it and Instagram it and Myspace it and Snail Mail it and Pony Express it and Carrier Pigeon it because if there is anyone who hasn’t read it by the end of the week they won’t be able to function in the new paradigm that will have shifted or begun or matriculated or whatever it is paradigms do.

You remember that post last week that was the most important post you had read all week? This post is even more important-er than that.

And that video you saw yesterday, the one that was going to revolutionize the way the world thinks about stuff? Yeah, well, be prepared to be nostalgic, because that’s the past. This post is the PRESENT! No, wait, this post is the FUTURE! YES!

This post is so revolutionary that it’s preemptively nullified any upcoming ‘Most Important’ posts that haven’t been created yet.

That’s right, Upworthy.com, this post single-handedly makes your entire existence meaningless. BAM! I’d apologize, but I don’t have time for that, I’ve got to write the single most important thing to ever exist in all of history. Suck it, The Bible.

For too long, the world has existed the way it is, with bad things happening to good people, and the rich getting richer, and low-fat ice cream not tasting as good as real ice cream. Well, NO MORE! It’s time for a change, and I want you to remember that it was in this post where you first read someone calling for change.

Sure, sure, other people have called for change, in the past. The Occupy Wall Street movement wanted change. And the Tea Party wanted change. And Obama wanted change. And Bush, Jr. wanted change. And Hobo Henry wanted change. But their change wasn’t the same as the Change I want. So my Change is more important. And better, and faster, and sexier, and bluer, and less filling, and twice the flavor, and child proof, and chemical free, and available in your choice of Red, Blue or Taupe, and perfect for those quiet Sunday afternoons when you’ve got nothing to do and you’re bored and want to leave the house but you don’t want to go to the movies alone and it’s too cold to walk around downtown so you stay in and flip through the channels all day and then on Monday Susan asks, “How was your weekend?” and you’re like, “It was nice,” and then you just go back to your desk.

Yeah, that’s my Change. BAP!

I hope you weren’t too attached to the status quo, because: BOOM! That’s dead.

Someday, your children are going to ask you about what the world was like before the existence of The Most Important Post Ever and you’ll think back wistfully and try to remember, but you won’t be able to because it’ll seem like a completely different life and so you’ll send little Bobby and Esmeralda to bed and sit in silence in your easy chair and wonder if you’re too old to wear skinny jeans, but NO, you’re not too old, because ‘too old’ is a construct of the world that existed before The Most Important Post Ever and that no longer applies in this newer, better world, so go ahead, buy those skinny jeans, they look great on you. FLURP!

And when the world comes knocking on my door to thank me for FINALLY changing the world in the right way after all those other posts and videos and viral links didn’t do the job, I’ll be modest and say, “I just knew something had to be done.”

It was the least I could do.

You’re welcome, world. You’re welcome.

I'm pretty much Gandhi, but better.

Socialism and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Karl Marx

As we march towards the Secret Muslim Totalitarian Socialist Society, it seems that the earmarks of Socialism are everywhere. Taxes, an institution of civilization that have always been begrudgingly accepted as part of living in a community that serves public needs, are now “Taking from us to give to them.” Social Welfare programs, created to help keep fellow citizens from falling through the cracks into utter ruin, are now nothing more than scams used by The Lazy (code for Black People) to milk the hard work of True Americans.

I know all of this is true because I have coworkers that told me so. One of these particular True Americans ranted about how he always sees these welfare rats driving around in nice cars, never working. “They” are lazy and will never do any real work as long as society keeps supporting them. This is, generally, the Conservative standpoint, and it has its roots in a sociological understanding of Game Theory, specifically the version known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Via Wikipedia:

The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and gave it the name “prisoner’s dilemma” (Poundstone, 1992), presenting it as follows:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. If he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge. Oh, yes, there is a catch … If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.

Or put another way:

How does this play out in society? Pretty simple in a system like ours. We would all be better off if everyone contributed their fair share, allowing us all to equally partake of the mutual benefits. Alternatively, we could all refuse to work and then society would crumble. The more realistic scenario is in between, a society where some people work and others do not and those who don’t (or don’t work as hard as others) benefit disproportionately.

Selfishness pays off, as long as some people are not selfish.

This is the reality of civilization. Not Socialism, civilization. Socialism (government mandated communism) actually gets around this problem by basically turning its citizens into slaves for the state. This is why I don’t want a Socialist society, and it’s why the U.S. is in no way Socialist.

This fear of ‘moochers’ is rational and based in established understandings of human nature, which is why I can sympathize with the Conservative view. But the far Right response to the problem strikes me as a kind of political Cold War in reverse, in which we strip our government further and further of all social programs and “entitlements” until the federal government is toothless and as symbolic as the British Monarchy and we return to the failed version of America that existed briefly under the Articles of Confederation.

It didn’t work then, it won’t work now.

So, what (the Conservative asks), we just let the moochers win?

Socialism In The Wild

While at work the other night, it struck me: I’m watching a miniature Socialist system and it’s exactly what the Conservatives fear. At my restaurant, the servers all pool their tips. It doesn’t matter if you serve 10 tables and the other server(s) only has 5, at the end of the night everyone splits the tips evenly. There is a logic to this sort of system (it doesn’t punish a server for having a particularly needy table) and generally it works well. A server has their own tables, but if they can help another table they should.

There’s no denying, though, this system also works in the favor of a selfish server who only looks out for him or herself. Since there are managers, food runners and other servers to do work, if one particular server chooses to do the bare minimum to get through the shift, it’s almost invariable that one of the other workers will be forced to pick up their slack and the lazy server’s pay will suffer none for it.

Remember that coworker I mentioned earlier, the one who is terribly annoyed by the moochers on welfare driving nicer cars than him? Let’s call him Cal. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Cal is milking the Socialist Tip system at work. He only takes food to a table if it’s his own, and usually when he sees a food tray coming he walks the other way. He’ll let a dirty tray of dishes build up and wait for a food runner to take it instead of just caring it back himself. And at the end of the night when the side work must be done, he disappears for upwards of twenty minutes.

But at the end of the shift, Cal’s share of the tip pool is no lesser. If Cal worked harder, it’s likely the guests would get better service and, thus, give bigger tips, but even if that wasn’t the case, working harder would get everyone out faster. In other words, everyone working together benefits everyone, but everyone else working hard while Cal twiddles his thumb benefits only him.

How is this allowed to happen? Shouldn’t someone call him out on it? Shouldn’t the management step in? Of course, and Cal has been called out on it, but the management is largely ineffectual. Cal knows that the managers are usually distracted and too busy doing other things to pay attention to work ethic.

Imagine both the stereotypical Conservative and Liberal responses to this problem. Liberals might suggest the restaurant add another manager whose sole job was watching the servers and making them work fairly. This manager would cost the restaurant more money to basically babysit adults who would resent the ever present eye. On the other hand, the Conservative would abolish all management, saying, “Hey, we’re all adults, we can govern ourselves.” Now there’s no one but servers on the floor and it becomes an everyone for themselves Wild Wild West.*

Neither solution is ideal. Neither solution is really even feasible. But in our politics, this seems to be the two choices we are left with as both sides of the debate are seemingly moving more and more extreme in their positions.

There is a middle ground, though, and I think both the Republicans and the Democrats will come to it when (if) they stop listening to their extremist factions (in reality, the leftist extremists have rarely had any real political power, certainly not in the way the Tea Party has; Obama is pretty damn Centrist).

The restaurant doesn’t need more management, it needs better management. Maybe that means paying a little more to either a) train the management or b) bring in stronger talent, but that cost wouldn’t be nearly as much as hiring a whole other manager. On the opposite side, once that better management is in place, we need to cut off the moochers. Have a server that consistently and blatantly abuses the system? Stop giving him shifts, especially on the busy nights, and if the problem is bad enough, lose him altogether. There are plenty of people looking for work, and some will work hard to earn it.

This sort of compromise doesn’t appeal to people on the edges of the debate, but for the rational middle this is an effective way to eliminate the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Will it be perfect? No, no system is, especially when you add in millions of independent factors with minds of their own. However, a solution that allows us to preserve a social safety net while cracking down on moochers is truly a win/win.

How does this play out in the real world? Well, it will require more of “our tax dollars” being spent to patch up the holes in the welfare system, but in the end that will make the system more effective, allowing these programs to fulfill their promise: Keeping the poor and downtrodden from falling between the cracks long enough to get on their feet and become productive members of our True American Capitalist Utopia. More productive citizens benefits everyone, even the rich (especially the rich).

In other words, we have to spend money to make money.

There will always be selfish people in this world, and no system of government will ever change that. But having no system of government will only allow that selfishness to spread like a disease. There is a reason we as a species came together to form civilizations and, eventually, governments. Left unchecked, our natural selfishness will kill us.

It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: The solution to our selfishness is not more or less government, but more effective governance.

Give Em Something

*The other Conservative response could loosely be called Privatization: Get rid of the tip pool and just have everyone earn their own. I’ve worked in both types of restaurants, and while there is an appeal to not sharing one’s tips, there are plenty of ways this sort of system can be abused and plenty of ways that circumstances can cheat a particular server. When you work in a restaurant (or live in a society), there is no such thing as being truly, completely autonomous.

Sandy Hook Conspiracies and the Need for Order

Social networking is a miracle of technology, a tool of unprecedented global reach. Its power to connect is truly a wonder.

Which is why it’s so disheartening to see it used too frequently for the spread of misinformation and lies. Some of it is innocuous or so blatantly false that it barely warrants comment.

But occasionally there’s a video or link so abhorrent, so ignorant, so devoid of value that by the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen it posted, I can’t help but react.

US-SCHOOL-SHOOTING

The Sandy Hook Conspiracy Video is just such a video (I almost don’t want to include the link and give it more exposure, but by this point the dam’s already burst).

This post isn’t about refuting the claims of the video (or the other conspiracy theories sites out there). That’s been done plenty already.

Nor is this a post meant to address the larger issues and failings of conspiracy theories, as I’ve already written on that topic before.

No, this particular post is about the sad human weakness that causes people to latch onto conspiracy theories, especially ones as reprehensible and without merit as the Sandy Hook Conspiracy.

The Spread of Lies

Conspiracy theories have a lot in common with religion. When pushed, they both survive on faith and (at best) circumstantial evidence, with a healthy dose of confirmation bias. But beyond that, there’s also a kind of haughty assumption that they, the soldiers of the faith, are in possession of knowledge that the vast majority of people are too ignorant or too brainwashed to know or understand.*

But Conspiracy Theorists as a group aren’t all that remarkable. They tend to hide in their bunkers (metaphorical or real) and throw rocks at soft targets, and even though the internet has given them a louder voice, they’re still largely ineffectual in winning adherents.

No, it isn’t the ‘professional’ nutjobs that get videos up to 1,000,000 views. It’s normal people, your friends and family, your coworkers and fellow students who pass on a video, not because they believe it, but just because they “find it interesting.”

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a video. We’re all intelligent, reasonable people, we can look at the evidence and decide for ourselves. And in this utopian world where people always do follow-up research and big breasted mermaids bring us lemonade on hot days, that’s fine.

But in the real world where we actually live, people rarely (if ever) do their homework. Someone posts a video, you watch it (or part of it when it’s 30 minutes long) and either roll your eyes, hit ‘like’ or repost it, and the virus spreads further.

Most everyone I know who posted this video (and they have been legion) have done so with the caveat, “I don’t necessarily agree, but it is interesting.” Well, I disagree with that premise. The video isn’t interesting at all. It’s pathetic and it’s hurtful.

But it’s effective.

The Need For Order

The reason videos and conspiracies like this spread, even among people who aren’t naturally prone to conspiracy theories (although those numbers seem to be dwindling) is that the underlying premise is actually quite reassuring, almost hopeful. These conspiracy theories argue that atrocities like this aren’t meaningless and horrific acts of unpredictable human insanity, but rather they are the carefully crafted and orchestrated acts of governments in complete control.

Yet another similarity to religion: The false promise of order. No, the universe isn’t an indifferent void ruled by life’s endless fight for survival, there is a God and He has a plan and He cares about you. And no, these shootings aren’t random acts of violence by unhinged psychotics, they are chess moves in a national or international agenda and if enough people open their eyes we can rise up and stop it.

There is something absolutely pleasing in the promise of order, but all one has to do is take off your myopic goggles and look around to see that this version of ‘order’ doesn’t really explain everything as neatly as you’d like. God loves us all? What about AIDS babies in Africa? Mass shootings are an elaborate hoax in a scheme to set up a totalitarian government? Then why are Obama’s gun control efforts so pragmatic and frankly miniscule? (Yes, there are always answers to these questions, but when pressed further, the answers only become less and less satisfying.)

The Good Book

What’s the Big Deal?

So what, though, right? What’s the harm in indulging in a little conspiracy mongering? I mean, you don’t really buy into the theories, you’re just asking some questions. What’s wrong with asking questions?

There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, it’s the hallmark of an engaged populace. But, remember when they told you in elementary school, “There are no stupid questions?” Well, they were lying to you, there are stupid questions, and you’re asking them.

Before you get all huffed up and insulted, let me say that asking a stupid question doesn’t mean you are stupid. Very bright people can be sucked down very dumb rabbit holes. Consider this: Is there some opinion that you find completely ridiculous that is still held by smart people? I, for one, can think of countless examples.

But this isn’t about you.

Children have died, and not for the first time. I’ve spent most of my life knowing that any random person could get their hands on a gun and walk into my school or my place of work and kill dozens of people. My parents didn’t grow up with that kind of reality. But our kids will, that’s for sure.

We’re being told that gun control is a way for Adolf Obama to suppress the people for his authoritarian take over of our lives. Besides the fact that this is about as farfetched a scenario as they come (have you been watching Obama? He can barely get his own party to stay in line, let alone lead a lockstep army), it takes focus away from the real problems and the real solutions.

However you feel about gun control, I think we can all agree the Adam Lanza’s of the world shouldn’t be getting their hands on automatic weapons. Maybe you have a better solution than restricting access to such guns. If that’s the case, we should be talking about that along with having a real discussion about gun control, one free of hysteria and conspiracy theories and baseless comparisons to Hitler.

What we should not be doing is wasting 30 minutes of our day on ignorance-filled propaganda** that encourages its adherents to harass grieving families and decent people who tried to help.

There is nothing wrong with questioning, but some answers aren’t worth your time.

windy

*A whole other post should be written on how people who claim to have knowledge based on scientific evidence are considered arrogant, but professing knowledge based on intuition is somehow pure and the mark of humility.

**From Wikipedia: Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed towards influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument.

Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage

There’s not much I’m going to add to this video right now.  I believe this to be a tipping point for the movement (the first standing President to support same-sex marriage) and very likely a re-awakening of enthusiasm for Obama’s base.

In the next few days, pundits will go back and forth debating what this means, what it’ll change (if anything) and arguing whether this is just Obama playing politics.  None of that matters.

Today is a momentous day for the fight for equal rights.  I’ll let Obama speak for himself:

“When Mitt Romney Came To Town”

This is not usually the kind of entry I write, but as a follow-up to my last post, it feels apropos.

Watch this, if you’re up for it (it’s long but has points of interest):

 

What’s interesting about this video, other than the content (which Romney would probably dismiss) is that it wasn’t created by a Democratic member or Super PAC, but by the conservative Super Pac “Winning Our Future” which just so happens to be in the bag for Newt Gingrich.

By now, thanks to Stephen Colbert, we’re all pretty aware of how these Super PACs work, and we also understand that, like in the case of Winning Our Future, they can be run by people very close to the candidate they are supporting.  So, sure, Newt Gingrich has some wiggle room on this one and can claim to have nothing to do with the making of this video, but everyone knows his non-coordinating fingerprints are all over it.

In light of what I wrote in my previous entry, though (that Romney will ultimately get the nomination), it’ll be interesting to see what happens to this video.  Gingrich may never officially endorse Romney (his pride might not let him), but as a Republican who wants to unseat Obama, he’s going to have to at least be on his side.  Which will make his connection to this video incredibly awkward.

Because, even if this video is proven to be filled with exaggerations, it’s still a damning piece of political propaganda.  The Obama campaign would be smart to make sure this video keeps circulating in the wake of Romney’s almost-certain nomination.  If the election comes down to winning over working class voters, this will not play well for Romney.  Like Newt, though, the administration will want to be careful to obscure any direct connection to the spread of this video.

This is what is so interesting about our political process.  Candidates spend months bashing each other in hope of getting their party’s nominations, and then when someone finally prevails, the losing candidates have to turn around and play nice as part of the party establishment.  Talk about flip flopping.

Does this video hurt Romney’s chance of getting the nomination?  Well, sure, it could.  But I doubt it’ll make too much of an impact at this stage (at 30 minutes, the only people who are going to watch it all the way through are those who are already anti-Romney).  But, when it comes down to the real election, this video, chopped up and spread across the internet, could not only hurt Romney’s campaign but also Republicans in general who are already seen as catering to Corporate interest.

Now it’s time to just wait and see how this all plays out (in the company of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert).

 

Ron Paul Is Not Going To Be The Republican Nominee

And other obvious facts in this presidential race.

First off, let me say, this is an opinion piece on the likelihood of candidates getting the Republican nomination, not a statement on their policies, and certainly not a diatribe on why Obama is or isn’t a better choice than them.  But, who am I kidding, I’ll probably make fun of some of their stances in this, too.

It’s Tuesday, so that means another meaningless primary.  Meaningless for two reasons.  One, because whoever ends up winning the nomination, all the negative comments said about that candidate will be ignored.  Come six months from now when it’s time to start going after Obama, all the losers will act like nothing happened and throw their support behind the winning Republican nominee simply because he is the Republican nominee.

And, two, Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee.  He always was, no matter how much the Republicans don’t want him.  Yes, there is plenty to be written on how he represents a split in the Republican party, how he is the pragmatic choice versus the other, ideological choices.  There’s a lot to be said about this clusterfuck of a nomination process, but I’ll leave that to the New York Times and Jon Stewart.

The fact is, Romney is going to get the nomination, and nobody is going to be really happy about it besides Romney, but since his smile looks so fake, we won’t really be certain he’s all that happy.

Rick Santorum will not get the nomination.  There’s a reason everyone ignored him for pretty much the whole run-up to these primaries.  His views are batshit insane.  Put him up against Obama and Obama will be shown to be what he has been all along: Centrist.  The Republican party only has one chance of beating Obama, and it’s by playing to the lie that Obama is a Socialist extremist.  But if you put a real extremist up against him, it becomes obvious how moderate the president really is.  (I wish he were a Socialist extremist, because then maybe some shit would get done.)

Rick Perry‘s been out of the race ever since his famous ‘forgot the third one’ gaffe at the debate.  Everything since then has been prologue, but, like, one of those prologues from a satirical novel where the narrator says everything tongue in cheek and it’s really just an excuse to get a few more digs at the dopey main character’s expense.

That’s been Perry’s campaign for the last couple months, and when he makes another 4th or 5th place appearance in New Hampshire, he’s gonna pull a Bachmann and drop out, hoping for the VP.

Oh, Newt Gingrich.  This guy has no business doing this well this late in the game, but here he is.  And he’s done it by appealing to the strongest contingent of the Republican party:  The old, senile members who can’t remember what Gingrich was really like when he was in office and also don’t know how to use the internet to see that Gingrich has completely re-created himself in the image of the modern Republican party, all the while ignoring everything he was just a decade ago.

This man has balls, I’ll give him that.  He’s willing to stand up for the ‘sanctity’ of marriage after leaving two different wives for younger version, one of which had cancer.  John Edwards did this shit once and he hasn’t been heard from since.  Gingrich just won’t go away because he already thinks he is the president.  This whole nomination/campaigning process is a formality.

As ridiculous as he is, I actually think he represents the only true threat to Romney.  He’s been the frontrunner not just once, but twice.  Will he actually get the nomination?  I doubt it, but this guy is crazy, and for all we know, it might be his snow globe we’re all living in.

Let’s see, who else?  Oh, yes, Jon Huntsman.  I will say this, I like Huntsman because he’s fairly sensible (even though I wouldn’t pick him over Obama), but he doesn’t have a chance, which is exactly what is wrong with the Republican nominating field.  Huntsman is a sound Conservative with a non-racist, non-Cowboy view of foreign relations, and for that reason he never once got the ‘Republican frontrunner’ status that everyone, and I mean everyone (even Santorum!) got at least once.  That says more about the current state of Republican party than anything.  Sad.

Huntsman, we barely knew thee.

And that just leaves Ron Paul.  Paul has never had a chance of getting the Republican nomination, not least of which because Ron Paul is not a Republican.  He’s a Libertarian, and despite the fact that our two-party systems likes to suck up every group along a continuum under the Elephant or the Donkey, he is just too far afield to be a Republican nominee for president.  Sure, he can be considered a Republican congressman from Texas because… well, have you seen the politicians that come out of Texas?

The same people Ron Paul appeals to are the same people Ron Paul infuriates, because ultimately Ron Paul (and his opposite political doppelganger from a parallel universe) exposes the hypocrisy in all of our political stances.  Sure, he’s consistent, but Republicans aren’t consistent.  They say they want smaller government, but they want to outlaw abortion and pass an amendment to ban gay marriage.  Ron Paul wants smaller government and he won’t touch your reproductive or marriage rights (presumably), and for that reason he just won’t appeal to the buffet-style Republicans who like to pick and choose which freedoms the government should allow.  (To be fair, Democrats are often the same way, just on different rights.)

I don’t have the time or interest right now to express why I think Libertarianism is ultimately an unrealistic and unworkable philosophy for a country this large, but let’s just say that Paul is the Republican boogeyman that gets pulled out when they want to whip their children into shape.  When Paul starts to surge in the polls, it’s really just a reminder to Romney to buckle down, act Conservative and eat his peas.

Ron Paul should run as a third-party candidate because that’s what he is, and because while he would certainly draw away some of Obama’s youth supporters (but by no means all), he would siphon away even more of the Tea Party Conservatives, and that would be hilarious to watch.

So, there you have it, Romney is the Republican nominee.  I’ve been saying it for half a year, along with most everyone who doesn’t have money to gain by pretending like this is a horse race.

Get ready Republicans.  I know you don’t like it, nobody does, but this is who you have to pretend to support for the next 11 months: