A place for new ideas to settle.

25 June 2015

Wednesday Links -- 24 Jun 2015

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.

The kind of rejection letter I can get behind: Open Letter to the Music Industry: I WILL NEVER EVER PAY FOR STREAMING!
I am well aware you don’t care about me. In the 21st century you have made crystal clear that you much prefer 9 to 14 year olds as customers, so I can hardly be shocked that we are headed for a divorce. Oh well, I will always have 35 years of memories. And the CDs. As long as there is still an operating CD player within my reach, I will keep playing them and ignoring whatever scheme you come up with to get me to buy the same music yet again.
Gotta say, I'm right there with him. Pay-for-streaming still baffles me.

Aeon magazine always has some interesting essays, and this one is no exception: Do We Really Want to Fuse Our Minds Together? The gist is that, according to current neuroscientific evidence, individuality is basically a lie—there's no fundamental unit of self at any level of cognition, it just seems that consciousness "tops out" and forms a self from everything contributing to the act. The implication is that if we do truly develop "mind meld" technology, you'll get a whole lot more than telepathy. Pacific Rim's concept of the Drift could very well be more accurate than we think! A very interesting potential failure mode, and, perhaps, a possible (Great) Filter for other sentient civilizations. I confess that my biggest reservation about the project of transhumanism is that human physiology just isn't equipped for networked brains and functional immortality, and we could all just go crazy after the Singularity with or without rogue A.I. helping that along. "Go mad from the revelation or flee screaming into the safety of a new dark age" and all that. Here's hoping I'm wrong!

I haven't really read that much from Mashable and now I know why, as they've jumped to the top 5 of my Most Insufferable Reads list. First it was an article about the "Oregon Trail generation" that made some rather creative assumptions about the rate of technology adoption, and now this, hailing the death of the hipster and the rise of the "yuccie," a portmanteau combining "yuppie" with Y.U.C., that is, Young Urban Creative—imagine now the bile rising in the back of my throat.
Yuccies are hardly mythical creatures. If you live in a metropolitan area like New York or San Francisco, you probably know plenty. They’re social consultants coordinating #sponsored Instagram campaigns for lifestyle brands; they’re brogrammers hawking Uber for weed and Tinder for dogs; they’re boutique entrepreneurs shilling sustainably harvested bamboo sunglasses.
Haha burn it all down

I think the biggest thing about the article is how it seems so self-deprecating and self-marketing, at the same time. Which I suppose is the whole point. Pandering advertisement via gentle mockery. And my undying hatred.

Meanwhile, in the Yay Civilization department: Toting panels on donkeys, Maasai women lead a solar revolution. Kenya's development is really fascinating, as they're sidestepping a lot of "classical" development. Cell phone penetration and now self-contained solar power generation before roads and sewers in these rural villages, for example. This seems very much like a Good Thing, as (notably!) it's giving Kenyan (in this article, Maasai) women some much-desired economic freedom, outside of traditional patriarchal rulesets. One of my favorite TED Talks is by Hans Rosling, who beautifully makes the case (with statistics and beautiful data!) that economic prosperity is the key to liberation from a lot of bad old things. If you can let a machine wash clothes, you can spend that extra time reading books to yourself or to your children. Laundry begets education. Which begets freedom.

Speaking of the wash, rich Californians seemingly double down on being douchebags in the wake of the drought, as profiled in this Washington Post article. I don't know the strength of the evidence behind "stereotype threat" but this seems like an example of it:
“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world,” said Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear. She said her water bill averages about $800 a month.
It's also, I daresay, a great example of so-rich-you-don't-think-or-act-like-a-regular-person syndrome.

Back in the cyberpunk days of 1996, virtual reality was "just around the corner" but it could also ruin your life. The news clip is quite silly, except that actually "simulation sickness" is a real thing.
Simulation sickness is similar [to motion sickness] but in the opposite direction. Vestibular and proprioceptive input are telling your brain that your body is not moving, but your eyes are telling your brain that it is. There seems to be a threshold effect for this to kick in, and it is likely different with every individual. I have played many video games with screens of various sizes and distances from me. If the screen fills a certain amount of my visual field, then playing action games will produce simulation sickness. Simply moving back from the screen or reducing the size of the game window is all that is needed to avoid feeling sick.
More on the level of "temporary nausea" than "IT'S JUST LIKE BEING SEVERELY DRUNK" but still.

This went viral but it's still really cool: Inceptionisms. One can get an amusing textual analogue by just hitting the same option on your phone keyboard's word suggestions. Machine learning is even better when it's learning the wrong things!

Just amusingly weird, but obvious in retrospect: Meet the Mormon survivalist preppers of Pinterest

An old, neglected problem for economics, that of overcommitting to "interests" while ignoring "passions":
The lack of focus on the true passions leads to the fabled “nation of no imagination.” Yet it’s not Marxism that suggests an antidote, as Marx remains firmly focused on “interests” in simply other forms. I think that you must go back to Greece and Rome to find thinkers who attempted to find a successful integrated societal model of the “passions.”
John Stossel makes the absurd claim at Reason that the Left's bad ideas about science are worse than the Right's. What are these bad ideas of the Left? Anti-GMO paranoia, anti-vaccine paranoia, anti-nuclear-power paranoia, and politically-correct opposition to research into human biodiversity. Well, I'll grant that you do see these on the Left, but most prominently on the far Left, which as everyone recognizes is not warmly welcomed into a mainstream American political party. On the other hand, the Right's anti-science nonsense includes: anti-vaccine paranoia, global warming denialism, anti-abortion authoritarianism, tyrannical sex negativity, and, yes, anti-evolution propaganda and opposition to stem cell research. Stossel is ridiculously glib when he asserts that "species will keep evolving regardless of what conservatives believe"; it's not about whether evolution is true in general but rather (1) what we should teach kids, and (2) what the status of science and scientific knowledge is in our society. One political party in America has embraced anti-science, anti-intellecual nonsense wholeheartedly, and it's not the one on the left.

Speaking of right-wing craziness, look no further than the manifesto of the Charleston white-supremacist terrorist, in which he repeats a lot of talking points that wouldn't be out of place on AM talk radio. And to test the "Which political wing embraces its crazies" conjecture, look no further than the Council of Conservative Citizens—née the (White) Citizens' Councils, formed in precise opposition to Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated schools. In particular, both South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and Mississippi governor Haley Barbour (among quite a few other politicians) have connections to the CofCC (cf. the tagged posts at LGF). Yep.

I wondered: Is the niche American pastime of Civil War reenactment unusual for countries that have had civil wars? As it turns out, no, South Koreans do it too! Other notable reenactments include Waterloo (at least in Belgium), the Battle of Roarke's Drift (which, as colonial-versus-indigenous conflicts go, you could do way worse), and... the American Civil War... in Germany. I guess nobody's up for Franco-Prussian War reenactment, then? War of the Spanish Succession? Guys? Anybody?

Math is weird and will destroy you if you aren't careful: Examples of eventual counterexamples. One such is that "The numbers 12, 121, 1211, 12111, 121111, etc., are all composite - until you get to the one with 138 digits, that's a prime." Again, math is weird and will destroy you if you aren't careful.

Isaac Asimov reads one of his favorite short stories.

Theme music(s) for the week:

Folk song in an extinct variety of English, called Yola or the "Forth and Bargy dialect"

And, in honor of the summer solstice, two more songs about summer from the British Isles, as the actual theme music for the week: Make Some Noise by Big Big Train (featuring big big trains!) and Moths by Jethro Tull... they both feature some flute. And if you watch the BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell you can judge for yourself how the actor playing hobo-magician Vinculus is totally copying Ian Anderson's schtick there.

10 June 2015

Wednesday Links -- 10 June 2015

As part of my combined "really trying to blog more, seriously, I promise" and "you know, I think I really will stop using Facebook" efforts, I might as well do what other blogs do and make a links post.

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.

I randomly came across this rant against "Agile" development and Scrum. I'd love to hear opinions from people who have actually been "in the shit," so to speak, because this (and Church's other essays/rants) really feeds my biases against tech/startup culture. It's might explain why so many neo-feudal reactionary types come from Silicon Valley tech and venture-capital, and why they have a very odd characterization of Western liberal democracy as "demotism." I'd fear the plebs too if I had to work in (or subject them to) an Agile environment.

Current peak stupidity in the startup and Kickstarter arenas seems to be hydration. Witness: HidrateMe ($45), a "smart" water bottle that reminds you when to drink water because you are an adult baby who can't just plan things out for yourself; or JOHN TUMBLER ($50), a non-ironic "minimalist" rectangular black travel mug that seems like hell to try to hold or drink from; or the Memobottle ($23 – $33, various sizes), because "It is pretty much safe to say that we can all agree with the long held belief that staying well hydrated is one of the most important aspects in maintaining a healthy, beautiful being. The problem is though, we struggle on a daily basis with the nightmare of having to lug around the prescribed amount of water as most waterbottles just do not fit into our bags! Enter the Memo Bottle: A Minimalist’s Water Bottle."

Rest assured that Startup Stupidity Syndrome is only just emerging in the home appliance market, with this $1400 "smart" toaster oven that has Wi-fi, an internal HD camera, and its own app. Thankfully, the almost-assured security flaws in this Internet-of-things thing will make it much easier to burn San Francisco to the ground in future.

One of several non-obvious "fuckboy" screencaps I've seen recently. Have we reached the inflection point where "guy I personally don't find attractive" starts catching up to "guy who's a major asshole and/or pervert" as the colloquial definition? Two speculations: first, maybe the social mechanics of shaming can actually override notions of "punching up" or "punching down," so that it's too easy to lose track of what's what. Second, I wonder if guys use self-effacing photos in the same way girls just state "Not interested in hookups." What would be the reaction, I wonder, if a guy had that on his profile? I might test it out.

A rare moment when social media virality and outrage culture actually improved someone's life for the better after they messed up: This Man Learned His Lesson in the Best Possible Way After Attacking Caitlyn Jenner Online. The headline isn't actually that hyperbolic, the guy demonstrated remarkable strength of character for admitting that he was wrong and that his beliefs had changed accordingly.

Charlie Jane Anders, contra many reviewers, on why Tomorrowland is not at all an optimistic movie: "Nostalgia is closer to being optimism’s enemy than its friend. Nostalgia is a fundamentally regressive, non-constructive sentiment. Geek culture, and by extension the activities that geeks are engaging in, are overloaded with nostalgia for futures that didn’t pan out, and images that we loved decades ago. We don’t need more nostalgia." She goes on to break down, in detail, the fundamental misanthropy at the heart of the movie.

File this under Things I Did Not Expect To See Developed So Quickly: "A diverse team of physicists, neuroscientists and chemists has implanted mouse brains with a rolled-up, silky mesh studded with tiny electronic devices, and shown that it unfurls to spy on and stimulate individual neurons." The same team showed how cells can be persuaded to grow around an electronic mesh in a dish in 2012, and now in 2015 we have prototype mesh sensors in a living mouse brain. (See also the original article in Nature.)

To understand my reaction to this news, consider: the only other times I recall reading about neural mesh devices were in post-Singularity science fiction, specifically Iain M. Banks' Culture novels (where every citizen has a neural lace), and Posthuman Studios' Eclipse Phase RPG (where it's called a mesh insert):
The interconnected components of this system include:
    Cranial Computer: This computer serves as the hub for the character’s personal area network and is home to their muse. It has all of the functions of a smartphone and PDA, acting as a media player, meshbrowser, alarm clock/calendar, positioning and map system, address book, advanced calculator, file storage system, search engine, social networking client, messaging program, and note pad. It manages the user’s augmented reality input and can run any software the character desires. It also processes XP data, allowing the user to experience other people’s recorded memories, and also allowing the user to share their own XP sensory input with others in real-time. Facial/image recognition and encryption software are included by default.
    Radio Transceiver: This transceiver connects the user to the mesh and other characters/devices within range. It has an effective range of 20 kilometers in deep space or other locations far from radio interference and 1 kilometer in crowded habitats.
    Medical Sensors: This array of implants monitors the user’s medical status, including heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, temperature, neural activity, and much more. A sophisticated medical diagnostic system interprets the data and warns the user of any concerns or dangers.
The order of development is probably the reverse of this list, as the team is actively looking towards medical-research applications. Radio/wireless/Bluetooth comes with this as a matter of course. But it's really only a matter of time after this (hopefully!) gets adopted as a treatment for various brain-instability disorders (Parkinson's, epilepsy, etc.) that non-medical applications follow. Get on this, bio-techno-ethicists! It kinda seems important!

Speaking of the Culture, it's never a bad time to remind anyone who's reading this why the Culture is chief among my "I want this future" wishlist. Iain M. Banks' A Few Notes on the Culture:
In the midst of this, the average Culture person - human or machine - knows that they are lucky to be where they are when they are. Part of their education, both initially and continually, comprises the understanding that beings less fortunate - though no less intellectually or morally worthy - than themselves have suffered and, elsewhere, are still suffering. For the Culture to continue without terminal decadence, the point needs to be made, regularly, that its easy hedonism is not some ground-state of nature, but something desirable, assiduously worked for in the past, not necessarily easily attained, and requiring appreciation and maintenance both in the present and the future.
There are actually more than a "few" notes on the Culture in that essay, but nothing compares to reading the actual books.

Who said cyberpunk never happened: In 1989 Oldsmobile introduced a touch screen CRT monitor to its Toronado Troféo luxury coupe. For a mere $1295 (that's just shy of $2400 in 2015 dollars) you could get this most cyberpunk of accoutrements. A cellular car phone was also an option. I'm pretty sure the bad guys in this Shadowrun core book cover are driving a 20XX Troféo.

Meanwhile, Toyota boldly embraces ultra-whiteness in this 2010 promotional video for the Sienna van... also known (by nobody) as the SWAGGER WAGON. Maybe we should have called this "mediocore."

A man experiences the terror of bleeding from his "down there":
You see, I had a super fun invasive butt surgery (a fistulectomy if you’re super curious), and the doctor instructed me to use maxi-pads to both help care for the incision and to save my clothes from certain ruin.

Of course, prideful me whooped and hollered that I could do no such thing; I’m a man, dang it, and I will simply will the blood and drainage away with my mental grit. Ain’t no maxi-pad gonna be in these $26 fancy drawers of mine with their fancy built in front-junk-pouch. These underwear are masculine and they will stay that way.

“Man up,” he told me. “Use the pads. Nobody will know anyway.”

I gave him a death stare. I Gollum-whispered. “I’ll know, doc. I’ll know.”
Strong evidence against a benevolent God, I reckon. Also, for those who have to deal with something like this every month for what, three or four decades of their lives? I have no words. Read more here.


I dunno what's more shameful, this power-tripping Warrior Cop in a Texas suburb, or the why-is-it-even-surprising-anymore mad scramble among the right wing to excuse his behavior and blame the young, trunks-or-bikini-clad black teenagers enjoying the cop's knee in their backs or gun in their faces. Fortunately, the cop has since resigned, in an undeniable victory for public sousveillance (looking from below). See also A Former Cop On What Went Wrong In McKinney.

In more light-hearted policing news, Drunk Pennsylvania Man Sets Up Fake DUI Checkpoint, Is Promptly Arrested. "When real troopers arrived, police say Shaulis tried to hand a BB pistol to the car's passenger and said, 'I can't get caught with this.'"

One of the rare Slate Star Codex posts that I find myself in vehement opposition to by the end of it: Against Tulip Subsidies. "(yes, it is nice to have college for non-economic reasons too, but let’s be honest – if there were no such institution as college, would you, totally for non-economic reasons, suggest the government pay poor people $100,000 to get a degree in Medieval History? Also, anything not related to job-getting can be done three times as quickly by just reading a book.)"  I'm all for de-emphasizing the "you must go to college immediately after high school" norm but I also really liked college, specifically because I learned things that I might not have considered learning a priori. Literature is a huge one.

This article seemed polarizing. I personally think the woman is a selfish asshole: "Why Don't I Like My Own Child?" Note that some parents legitimately fail to form attachments. This woman apparently just really wanted her kid to be this longtime fantasy of The Perfect Child. I remain nonplussed.

Theme music(s) for the week:

Rick Perry hick-hop hit is latest Republican campaign theme song
Ted Cruz endorsed in song by a right-wing Christian rap group

Actual theme music for the week: What better way to honor the simultaneous anniversaries of D-Day and the formation of the modern Swedish state, than by rocking out to a song about the former by a band from the latter? Primo Victoria (Live at Woodstock Festival 2012) ~ Sabaton, or the extra cheesy a capella cover by primo rum-diddly-dum-dum band Van Canto.

(I firmly believe that even one Sabaton video will make up for the decidedly pessimistic slant—even accounting for the aggressive optimism of the Culture novels—of this first links post.)

08 June 2015

Diagnosis of an overwhelming fear, pt. 3

This post is a follow-up to Diagnosis of an overwhelming fear, pt. 2, and a partial-follow up to Rhetorical imperialism

I.

The new hotness in this micro-epoch of the Age of Outrage is at Vox, where a pseudonymous professor touts his liberality but claims that his liberal students are terrifying. "I'm a liberal college professor," cries the headline, "and my liberal students terrify me":
I'm a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.
He goes on, talking about how "boat rocking isn't dangerous, it's suicidal" and citing the rather insane job market in academia.
This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don't get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I'm not giving our customers — er, students, pardon me — the positive experience they're paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?
This seems like an overwhelming fear, all right. And then he really cements the position of his article, an awkward posture that is guaranteed to polarize:
The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed's current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.
This is the liberal complement to the complaints of the neoreactionaries. (Actually, lots of the specific complaints are the same. Hrm.) But as I said in that part of the apparently-now-serial diagnosis of an overwhelming fear:
My more general worry is that our civilization's tough social-political problems are coated in a blubbery layer of ostensible facts that just serve to confirm biases, and that just below that layer (which few ever drill down to, because confirmation bias is a great and terrible power) are surprising facts that explode lots of preconceptions. Facts that, I might hopefully add, are happier endings than a death spiral of reciprocal terror such as neoreactionaries fear.
Here I think there's actually a good mix of facts, they're just presented in a very unfactual arrangement. "Professor Schlosser" is echoing a lot of other stories of student outrage and censured faculty, but his (and the Vox editors') framing of the problem as primarily driven by students and pop-culture social justice? Blaming his fear on Tumblr, in other words? I've said a lot of things about the social-media version of social justice, and I'll say even more in the future. But I don't think that's the Fourth Horseman of the Academic Apocalypse. Not even one of the other three. While the poisoned discourse in online spaces is important to highlight and (hopefully) cure, academia is simply a different story.

My friend Asher put the distinction very well in his own commentary on the Vox piece:
One of the most frustrating things about Schlosser’s article is how close he comes to identifying the actual issue at hand. He laments the difficulty of the academic job market. He notes with concern that the “student-teacher dynamic” has become increasingly consumerist. He holds that it betrays the purpose of education to treat students as “customers” who are paying for a “positive experience.” He’s absolutely right, but the corporatization of education and increasing instability in academic employment can hardly be blamed on the purportedly misguided views of students. For one thing, college students have always held inconsistent political views based on false information cobbled together from dubious sources. College students have also always been easily offended. Neither of these long-consistent trends can account for relatively recent shifts in university operations.
This is all very true, and an important guide to how we should frame "the problem" with American higher education. However, I think some of the backlash against the Vox piece stems from a certain reading of why the piece is called "My Liberal Students Terrify Me," and why the author bothers to mention his students' supposed hypersensitivity.

II.

Asher takes the author to task for this:
Schlosser is kicking [the students] when they’re down, wrongly blaming them for all his colleagues’ misfortunes.
But his criticism is mild and quite fair. Compare to this entire blog post worth of satire:
But here's the rub: political correctness has gone mad. You truly cannot say anything any more. Or rather - to be technically correct - you can say whatever you like, but there will be consequences. And this is an extremely troubling development.

As a middle class white man I'm accustomed to being able to express my opinions freely. That has been my right (I refuse to use the word privilege, which has been taken from us in much the same way "gay" was) for as long as I have been alive, and it's a right I hold dear to my heart.  Many of my opinions are the result of literally hours of concentrated thought experiments carried out in the laboratory that is my mind. Some opinions I have adopted - they are the offspring of other thinkful men like me, and I've seen something in them I like, and so have taken them to my bosom to raise as my own. It matters not the origin of my opinions, what matters is that I hold them - but what matters more is that I feel free to share them.

[...]

I will end with a plea, directed to the Orwellian New Liberal Thought Police - those who believe that a white man's opinions have no innate value and may not be as objective and free from bias as any sensible person knows them to be - and 'tis simply this: can we not return to a simpler and more innocent time? A time when discourse was conducted between social equals, when men could delight themselves and their audience with discussions of abstract concepts, unconcerned with the dismal realities of those who might be affected by that which amused them so? Is that too much to ask?

Because I fear that if we cannot return to those times - if you will insist that every thought that pops into my head must be examined and considered before being spoken aloud or shared with the world in text - I may have to stop being a liberal at all and go over to the reactionary side, where they care not a whit for such niceties.  And that would be a loss to us all.
That's four out of ten paragraphs all in the same vein. It strikes me as the faintly nasty kind of satire, the kind that says "Look at this fool who spoke publicly and had nothing accurate at all to say. Let us mock his wrongness." Don't get me wrong, I like satire like that. But it does presuppose that the target of the satire is at least mostly wrong. And the thing is, I don't think he is; he just managed to arrange his mostly-true facts in a way that made the whole thing come off as entirely wrongheaded.

Consider P. Z. Myers' take over at FreethoughtBlogs:
But hey, let’s get right down to the really important stuff. Edward Schlosser is apparently a white man. He’s terribly concerned about the oppression visited upon us white men, as you might have guessed from that link to his blog post, where he was troubled that he was denied the right to date his students. We must protect the privileges of white male professors, even if it requires that we willfully misinterpret criticisms!

[...]

I think we see what this teacher is really afraid of: falling back on centuries of established thought is demanding acceptance of dogma and orthodoxy in lieu of questioning. He’s afraid of being challenged in the classroom!
There's some noticeable effort being put out to cement the identity of this "Edward Schlosser," who is maybe a man and maybe white but given that it's a pseudonym could easily be neither. It really seems that (1) there's this assumption that anyone who says these sorts of things (that the critic disagrees with) must be a straight white closeted-conservative male; and (2) if we can determine the straight-white-maleness of this speaker, everything he says can be roundly discounted, disdained, and mocked. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide whether Myers or "Graham Murkett" had the more audacious set of assumptions about "Schlosser."

You can tell that they didn't read very closely (I mean they read extremely shallowly). Myers links to the author's Tumblr blog, for example, and yet you can look at some other posts and get the impression that this person is quite liberal:
Yes, we’ve had unreasonable demands placed upon us.  Yes, this country is run cyclically either by idiot cultists who think the earth is 5000 years old or third way financio-utopianist technocrats who believe that the problems inherent to capitalism can be fixed only by giving more unbridled leverage to business and finance.  The world is shit.  Obviously.
That one, incidentally, is a follow up to the Vox piece,  and in this ask "Schlosser" criticizes the Vox editors for making the piece extra clickbait-y:
One regret I have with the Vox piece is that the editor changed it so that I explicitly expressed fear about liberal students.  That’s not what I wanted to say, because it’s not just liberal students who are capable of ruining an instructor’s career by asserting discomfort (blaming liberals in specific led to some A++ clickbait, however, so I can’t question her decision too harshly).  Liberal students have momentary political leverage that enhances their ability to assert discomfort, but that won’t last forever.
This suggests that "Schlosser" is not the pearl-clutching closet-conservative naif that the above takedowns want to portray. There are more orthodoxies than just the ones that someone doesn't like. And there may be genuine reasons among liberals to fear the rise of "progressive outrage" in higher education, in addition to the creeping administrative bullshit.

Professors and adjuncts have basically no control over the administration, but they have to deal with students every day. You can see how any changes to the professors' behavior might be weighted by students' influence more than admins'; even though the admins are the ultimate problem for professors in academia, students are a non-trivial, proximate problem.

III.

Whence the fear of students?  Certainly the Vox piece is not the only one of its kind. The past few years have seen an explosion of think-pieces about outrage culture and the role of academia in shepherding students through discomfiting lessons. These range from the pointed:
The juxtaposition of the two films [Triumph of the Will and Night and Fog, in the author's sophomore-year sociology-history class] was, of course, no accident. They were programmed in sequence to make unavoidable the sense of a causal vector running from the submissive ecstasies of Nuremberg to the horrors of Auschwitz. You didn’t need a diagram. It was a shattering afternoon. The audience left in dead silence.

I’ve not forgotten the shock and logic of the segue. (Neither has a classmate I checked with, who was there as well.) Those images were engraved into our souls. The cinematic double whammy certainly made me, to use the current euphemism, “uncomfortable.” Oh yes, to put it mildly, it made me very uncomfortable. That was the point. Mission accomplished, Professor Sam Beer of Harvard’s Soc Sci 2. You impressed upon this 19-year-old soul an unbearable, ineradicable warning about mass rallies and mass murder. You didn’t draw me a diagram. You burned into me that more powerful thing: a synapse.
to the philosophical:
Best practice, then, means that we should reject the imposition of official policies about TW, but also that faculty have a (moral, pedagogical) responsibility to conduct themselves in the classroom in a way that serves their students to the best of their abilities. And this may include occasional warnings for specific instances of potentially disturbing material. But bear in mind the conclusion of Gitlin’s essay mentioned above: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make ye free” Not comfortable — free.”
to the dismissive:
Sadly, the decline in free speech at American universities, and the proliferation of ludicrous “trigger warning” mandates for books and courses, are topics covered largely by the right-wing media, so often I must hold my nose as I examine their sources. But even a right-wing venue can get stuff right, as Legal Insurrection does on the latest bit of nonsense from American campuses: a request from students at Columbia University (a great school, by the way) to put trigger warnings on the work of Roman poet Ovid.
to the snarky:
The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.

When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.

I don’t want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That’s why we have Canada. That’s not us. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.
to the exasperated:
So, yeah, I dared to enter the Hysterical Indignation Vortex in the wake of the tragic and very likely criminal shooting of Trayvon Martin without expressing enough indignation to make the liberal masses happy. I know this because about ten seconds after my piece got tweeted out — admittedly by me, so I know that I get what I deserve — it was retweeted again and again and suddenly every friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend or nobody-in-particular with a Twitter account and a somewhat justifiable sense of outrage at the death of Trayvon was pounding on my digital door, ready to publicly flog me for my impertinence while basically misunderstanding every goddamned thing I’d said. Some of those raking me over the coals, in fact, admitted that they found my entire premise so “repellant” that they didn’t even bother to read the piece all the way through — not surprising given both our 140-character attention spans and blinded-by-passion discourse these days, but still a lousy way to come out on top in a debate.
to the counter-outraged:
 It’s a place of unchecked executive authority and mind numbing regulations run amok. No, I’m not talking about Washington, but your typical modern university campus. College costs more than ever and students and parents increasingly fret whether they’re getting their money’s worth. But there’s one area in which American colleges are excelling: banishing certain ideas from public debate.

A generation ago, college students marched demanding freedom of speech. Now many of those old campus radicals have become administrators and are demanding freedom from speech, including ”microaggression” reporting services designed to cleanse the English language of any locution that might offend. Didn’t George Orwell warn us about this?
to those written by David Brooks, who is possibly not okay you guys:
There will always be moral fervor on campus. Right now that moral fervor is structured by those who seek the innocent purity of the vulnerable victim. Another and more mature moral fervor would be structured by the classic ideal of the worldly philosopher, by the desire to confront not hide from what you fear, but to engage the complexity of the world, and to know that sometimes the way to wisdom involves hurt feelings, tolerating difference and facing hard truths.
You've got stand-up comics like Patton Oswalt, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld lamenting the rise of outrage culture and how it's destroying comedy. You've got activists giving up and leaving activism because of opposition from their own allies. It may not be new, but it's also not nothing.

III.

And yet this isn't the whole story. As Asher also points out, through a Marxist lens:
[...] We live in a post-industrial, late capitalist, neoliberal hellscape. The only fields experiencing stable growth are low-paying, at-will McJobs at one end and administrative “bullshit jobs” at the other. The bourgeoisie have really begun to own their political emancipation in the past few decades, and they have shifted regulatory schemes accordingly, eroding employee protections and public programs. The natural rate of unemployment shot up a percentage point during the last recession, and we’re lucky it only went up that much. The results of all this? Administrative positions at universities have grown at a far greater rate than tenure-track faculty positions. Many public universities remain woefully underfunded. Faculty and classified staff naturally bear the brunt of any funding cuts. On the demand side, meanwhile, students increasingly, and not unreasonably, understand a college degree as a ticket out of the service industry. It is, in the driest and most clinical terms possible, a service that they purchase in order to build human capital.
Put less Marxy, university education is now viewed as a commodity, a purely commercial endeavor, a credential for getting a better job that "shit shoveler." That's from the student end. On the administrative end, prospective students are viewed as sources of funds, as traditional state funding has dried up. And where has that gotten us? The blog Gin & Tacos, written by a Political Science professor somewhere in the retrograde Hell that is the Midwestern United States, contains many windows into this brave new learning environment:
Some of the administrative bloat is pointless. The rest of it is a result of two legitimate problems. One is that competition for students is intense (at private schools, "desperate" doesn't go far enough to convey the enrollment situation these days) and colleges increasingly look to compete by turning the experience into a playground. Not only do they need to spend billions collectively on creature comforts – elaborate Rec Centers, luxury student housing and food, etc – but they have to hire countless paper pushers to administer the programs intended to keep students entertained. A gym is more than throwing up a building and filling it with treadmills. There have to be group fitness classes, semester long programs in whatever is trendy, a calendar full of events, and anything else you'd find on a cruise ship or resort.

The second part is the one people only whisper about. More and more students are going to college over the past two decades, partly driven by the availability of loans and the inability to enter most fields without a degree. The end result is that moreso than any time in the past, today there are huge numbers of students flocking to college who have zero ability to succeed there. Universities of course want to retain these students, and in order to do so they have to create a massive bureaucracy of support services. Any skill tangentially related to completing college level work now has a lavishly staffed support center devoted to it on campus. A writing center, a study skills program, tutoring services, a math helpdesk, a massive bureaucracy devoted to the shockingly large share of students diagnosed with various disabilities, and anything else you can imagine.

If you want to stay open, you have to admit a certain number of students. In an ideal world you accept only students who can succeed given the nature of the school. In reality you end up taking a lot who probably can't. And if you accept students who do not know how to write sentences in English, you better have someone ready to hold their hand if you expect them to last longer than a semester. That costs money – a lot of money.
Or, in pithy conclusion: "College costs a lot more than it used to. But "used to" didn't include paying half a million bucks to bring Katy Perry to campus and having to teach high school graduates how to do math involving fractions."

I try to believe that Western Washington University is, if not avoiding this trend (because it surely isn't), at least suffers from only a very mild case of administrativitis. And that it's not so desperate as to vacuum up anyone vaguely college-aged with no regard for prospective success—not that it has much choice, given the widespread failures of K-12 systems anywhere that's not affluent and white, and maybe even those places too.

That said, as a teaching assistant I got course evaluations opining about the validity of letting a graduate student teach freshman algebra, in a class where more than a few students legitimately did not know how to do fraction arithmetic. So, there's that.

Framed this way, it looks a hell of a lot like the administration is playing students against faculty. But even that narrative grants individuals too much agency; like it or not, this really seems like another Moloch problem—perverse incentives run wild, proving that this is why we can't have nice things. Sure, the poisoned discourse on social media isn't helping, but it's a complete accessory to the real problem on college campuses.

So in some sense, the professors' fears are justified. To make a blunt analogy: When you're in a room that's full of gasoline fumes, you're going to fear even the tiniest spark, even if that spark alone won't hurt you. The administration is the gas; the students' outrage is the spark.

05 June 2015

Fiction Friday - 5 June 2015

This was provoked by Scott Alexander's wonderful story "... And I Show You How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes." I decided to take the original Tumblr meme and put a pessimistic, Needful Things-esque spin on it. Comments and critiques are welcome: I wrote this all at once in a mad haste of inspiration (thus my earlier word choice) so it may or may not be rough.

"Let's just say you don't pay... with money." — Mr. Needful

***

YELLOW

"Gives you the ability to read and search the minds of anyone you can see, even if it's a picture. You can also turn their minds 'off' to put them into a coma."

Yes, now everyone's mind is an open book to you. But alas, the man never said whether you'd be able to understand these books. The first time you attempt to use this power, on a photograph of the President, it felt like that time you had to read Immanuel Kant in college, except that now "A Critique of Pure Reason" was compressed into the space of about five seconds and broadcast at you on every sensory spectrum. And you don't even think the President is even that philosophical of a person!

Maybe it just takes some getting used to. And for a while you think it might. You try, really try, to comprehend a tiny detail. You search, just as the man promised. You isolate a small eddy in the midst of this cognitive torrent: a memory? You try to grasp what might be an image, or a sense-impression of some kind. Just now... but nothing. Nothing!

Perhaps the President was just too unfamiliar to you. That could be it. After all, Kant was from the 18th century, and German besides. So you call up your best friend. You've known her since kindergarten; your parents had been friends since before you two were even born; you were inseparable and basically sisters. If anyone was familiar to you, it would be her.

The next day, you and her are sitting in amateurish sazen position, staring at each other across a "Gypsy"-clothed table. The air is vaguely incense-scented. She thought you had lost that fascination with Tarot and palmistry sometime between sophomore year and graduation, but truth be told, you wouldn't have taken the Yellow pill otherwise. Besides, you're striving for familiarity here. Still faintly bemused, she waits patiently.

You open her mind and rifle through it. Almost immediately your friend wobbles and puts a hand to her head: woozy, she says. Her words are just faintly slurred.

You break away instantly. Panic floods your nerves, even as your friend blinks and asks what's wrong and reaches across the table to reassure you that it was probably just low blood sugar or something, after all she hasn't eaten since 2...

Another quick peek, another wobble and slurred surprise, and your fear is confirmed. You're causing this.

Then you realize: you tried to read the President yesterday. The panic doubles. Redoubles.

After your friend eases you down from an anxiety attack, you agree to take a photo of her on your phone and use that. The sensation of opening her mind is roughly the same (though truth be told you weren't paying much attention those other times) and she reports no ill effects. Cool relief on your nerves. You renew focus on her photo.

Still no comprehension. Oh, maybe it seems a bit clearer, but it could also be wishful thinking. In a rush of frustration you run to the bathroom and look at yourself in the mirror.
Comprehension eludes you yet again.

Your friend nearly breaks the door down when she hears your anguished cry. Grabs you, knuckles bleeding, tears falling on cold tile, away from the cracked silvered glass.

***
"We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." — H. P. Lovecraft

***

RED

"Gives you super speed, super strenth and rapid regeneration (not invincible)."

Was that guy for real? Just giving this pill away? And it worked, too! Not like those other pills, powders, diets, machines you spent all that money on—wasted, now that you took this. The world itself seems lighter now, all of it. After you sprinted back to your home gym in Burbank in what seemed like only a couple minutes (how many dozens of miles was that?) and maxed out all their machines without warming up, it took a while for that to really sink in.

He said it was all natural. That's really why you took it. Everything else, everything before that, had worked, or at least not failed: you got fit. You didn't really look it, though. Oh sure, you were lean, had a low BMI, and felt healthier, but you didn't feel great. Not like you really wanted to feel. And the one thing that promised that was the one thing you refused to submit to. The side-effects. The mood swings. The irreversible damage. It was a deal with the devil, and you stayed away. Then you found that weird shop in Venice Beach...

... and four hours later, you're deadlifting boulders the size of houses in the desert. Which you jogged to at a leisurely four hundred miles per hour, by a quick reckoning.

... and a month later, you've only won a few amateur strongman competitions. Something is very wrong with you. You haven't changed at all. At all. It takes another few days to realize that muscles only grow by resistance. But nothing resists your strength. Nothing.

You realize this because you find it written, in your handwriting, on your kitchen table. You don't remember writing it. You are suddenly afraid. What's happening to you?

It takes another five such fearful realizations, with the same note, in different places around your house, before you realize that you're forgetting things. Not just some things. Everything since that day at the shop; no, everything since you took the pill. You find the article for "anterograde amnesia" on Wikipedia, then the fifteen bookmarks you made for it. Then the half dozen notes you left explaining how the brain makes new memories by changing neurons around... but your Red-granted regeneration just resets them. Any thoughts you have, and memories, are destroyed soon after. You briefly thank God that the pill didn't grant instant regeneration, before realizing that it probably wasn't the first time you had so thanked a higher power...

... it's several hours of crying, interspersed with fearful confusion, before you finally fall asleep. Not for the first time, either.

***
"You dumb, stupid, weak, pathetic, white, white... uh-uhh... guilt... white-guilt, milquetoast... piece of human garbage." — Gazorpazorpfield

***

GREEN

"Gives you the ability to shapeshift into any animal."

Fuck that horrible old man. Fuck him and his weird little store in Brooklyn. The pill worked, of course. For some reason you had never doubted that. He hadn't said anything about the pain, though. Or the mess.

First, the mess. You should have realized that the extra mass has to come from somewhere. You should have realized that "whatever's close by" would be the most convenient source for that extra mass. You thank God that the your first attempt had been in the middle of Central Park at night. At least it was only a few square yards of grass and bushes that got... atomized. There's really no other way to describe it.

Now, the pain. You should have realized that all those changes to nerves, guts, sense organs would feel like something. This, though, this doesn't feel "like" anything. Nothing feels "like" this. You describe it as "pain" only because that's the closest possible approximation and even it undershoots by a million miles. If you had been religious, you might have called it Hell. You're still not religious, but suddenly God's admonitions to Adam and Eve in the Garden seem pretty relevant right now.

And the mess again. The process must be relatively quick, though you were hardly self-aware enough to track the time. You know this, not because it completed, but upon pulling out of the transformation you find yourself surrounded by what you can only estimate is one-third of an animal. More than everything, it's the way the flesh, the bone, the feathers seem almost melted together. There is no smell, but you, screaming, are already running home, and you fail to notice this.

You don't even try a second time. It takes a week and a half, and nearly a gallon of whiskey, to drown those memories.

Fuck that horrible old man.

***
"No other life forms know they are alive, and neither do they know they will die. This is our curse alone." — Thomas Ligotti

***

BLUE

"Gives you the ability to fly, swim, and teleport to any area while being impervious to any physical dangers."

Void.

Only void. Or not void. No way of knowing.

Your sanity is slipping.

If you could find the man, that horrible old man, you might demand a cure. Or try to. No way of knowing.

You think you haven't moved since taking the pill. Your equilibrium seems intact, if only because you have a gut-shredding case of vertigo right now.

No way of knowing.

After the tension of perhaps a few minutes or a few hours, you think you find a reason for these... side effects.

Too much light can blind. Too much pressure can break bones, rupture eardrums. Light, and pressure. Dangerous, in the right quantities. But no way of knowing.

So you hear nothing, but the erratic surge of blood from an anxious heart, and the whine of terrified nerves.

You see nothing, but the dancing motes of false color from the inside of your own eyes.

You feel nothing, but the rolling nausea of vertigo.

Perhaps you scream. If anyone finds you, there's no way of knowing. You could be teleporting, the old man did promise that. But there's no way of knowing.

***
“From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” — H. P. Lovecraft

***

GREY

"Gives you the ability to control any machine or electronic using only your mind. You also have the ability to generate powerful electrical discharges by touch."

That horrible website. You knew, you just knew it was sketchy. Oh, it wasn't a scam. You were actually suprised by that. The pill, it did something. Something incredible. But it was something terrible.

You didn't buy the pill to gain "magic hacker" powers. You were already something of a prodigy. The dream, of course, had been brain-computer interface. Yeah, you had followed the stories of what Google and others had been working on. You followed them almost as closely as you devoured every bit of transhumanist and cyberpunk science fiction you could find: "Neuromancer," "Ghost in the Shell," and on and on. You didn't care if they were pessimistic. You longed for the experience either way.

And it came. Almost immediately after ingesting the strange grey pill you realized you had another... "sense" wasn't the right word, but "power" seemed too arrogant, even for what you anticipated. You knew, instinctively, how to connect your thoughts to your computer. You reached out. It was almost too easy...

The fire was small but your security deposit is certainly voided. You're still numb with shock. Everything on your network: the home machine, the RAID array, the NAS, the router, all of it fried. Literally, you can small the acrid smoke on your clothes even still. You double checked what networked hard drives you could salvage, manually of course: the data was smeared all over with gibberish. Then you checked your cloud storage. Also corrupted, almost 97% of the files.

Cursing yourself for using your home machine to order from that horrible website, you buy a cheap used laptop. Sitting in the concrete plaza below your office building, you effortlessly open the connection...

You soak your legs in the bathtub, hoping the burns on your upper thighs are only first-degree. Hurt, angry, you furiously run through all the possible reasons, now that you know it couldn't have possibly been malware from that site. That horrible website.

In this moment of pain and introspection, you realize. You can open a mind-machine interface, but apparently that means your whole mind. And there are so many thoughts running through your mind at once. A river of thoughts, with only a few currents carrying the commands you actually want to pass to the computer. The rest go anyway. The result: meaningless electronic noise. Overload. Data corruption.

Then the light in your bathroom pops, and you suddenly have a very bad feeling.

***
"Does evil exist, and if so, can one detect and measure it? Rhetorical question Morty, the answer is yes." — Rick Sanchez

***

ORANGE

"Gives you the ability to instantly master any sport, job, activity, martial art, etc. that a human can do."

Long ago, someone received a pill. Just like the catalog promised. "Instantly master any sport, job, activity..." and it delivered. Someone thought Olympic decathlon sounded pretty good for a first start.

Long ago, someone had trained for the decathlon for their whole life. Every family member, every friend, every aspect of their experience (since when? high schoo? seemed like a lifetime ago) had bent towards that moment. The Olympics. Arriving home, gold medals around their neck, someone had idly wondered what it might have been like to become a lawyer, their second-choice dream job.

Long ago, someone was youngest senior partner in the country's premier law firm. Every family member, every friend, every school choice, every aspect of their experience (since when? middle school? seemed like a lifetime ago) had bent towards that moment. After the champagne and congratulations were exchanged, someone arrived home. They opened their sock drawer to find... a gold Olympic medal. Someone was confused. Where had that come from? They had never found sports all that interesting. Was it real? It was. And then someone remembered, or thought they remembered, standing on the podium. The cheering crowds. It seemed so real, frighteningly so. And yet it couldn't possibly have happened. Someone had been litigating that case in Denver during the last games, and they had been in Nairobi. Maybe it was the stress. Someone should see a therapist...

Long ago, someone was the hottest television psychiatrist in the world. Multiple New York Times best-seller, instant ratings boost for whatever daytime talk show had them as a guest. The influence was undeniable. Oh, someone had critics: academics, mostly, who nevertheless admitted that someone might be onto something. It's just that (or so they said) not all the evidence is in yet. Someone didn't care about evidence. This had been their dream since when? Elementary school, probably. Every family member, every friend, every school choice, every gut feeling, every aspect of their experience had bent towards this moment. The Daytime Emmys. Standing on the red carpet, someone was stricken with an anxiety attack when the reporter asked them if they were aware of a class action lawsuit being brought against them for false advertising of health supplements...

It was the mention of the law firm that did it. Someone didn't even know why, they hadn't even heard of the firm before... and then they realized that they had. Because someone had worked there. Been senior partner there. But that can't have been true. Someone had been a psychiatrist since forever. Yet the memories seemed so real; and now there were memories of participating in the Olympics; and now commanding a mission to space; and now swearing on the Bible in front of the White House; and now...

You don't even notice as the EMTs strap you into a guerney and haul you off to the psychiatric hospital. If there even is a "you" any more.

***
"The only value of this world lay in its power - at certain times - to suggest another world." — Thomas Ligotti

***

BLACK

"Gives you the ability to see up to one month into the future."

You should have studied physics sooner. The future comes in a cone. Oh yes, after long hours squinting and (it's laughable, now) using binoculars and bifocals, you finally figured it out. You are seeing the future, just the entire smear of it across a cone. Hooray.

It's not so bad when you're only looking a few dozen seconds ahead. Blurry, sure, but you can more or less make things out, even if you're seeing double, or triple. That's the most annoying part: since there's no single future timeline, you're seeing several at once. You still have to guess at which one actually comes to pass. You're getting better at it, sure, but you really don't know what's the power working (and it does work, make no mistake) and what's basic human extrapolation.

And it's not like you can just walk around with the power on—God, no!—everything's so blurry, even at 30-seconds-forward, that you're probably legally blind that way. Driving is out of the question.
Focusing on the present is abominably difficult, too. You thought seeing something on the tip of your nose was tough! Now it's a chore just to see fewer than five seconds ahead in time. The tip of your time nose...?

Either way, you got off easy. That horrible old man might have left out one or two details, but the pill worked, you can't say it didn't.

You suspect others might not have been so lucky. You nearly tripped over a man in the street the other day, whom you swore hadn't been there five seconds before. (You can still see where objects are, after all.) He was screaming, just the freakiest wordless scream like he had escaped Hell or something. You strained to focus on the present, and only managed to notice his bloodshot, unblinking eyes before he just vanished. They had been a very strange shade of blue...

Yeah, you got lucky. And one thing's for certain: there's no future where you'll ever buy pills from a creepy old man again.

***
"Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's gonna die. Come watch TV?" — Morty Smith

***

PINK

"Gives you the ability to make any person love you with a single touch. Can turn off the effect by retouching the person."

You hope the Internet was lying. Well, almost. It would be nice, in a perverse way, if you weren't alone in this. That other people bought some mysterious pills from a horrible old man. But the stories don't make sense: the other people are all over the country, far away from Chicago. And they never found the stores... well, that's not surprising, because you tried finding that terrible old man again and his shop was all boarded up like nobody had ever renovated it.

And if the Internet wasn't lying, well, you got off easy. The pill worked, of course. That was never in question for some reason. But you didn't consider the full implications of the old man's promise. "Make someone love you." Not make someone fall in love with you. Just "love." And now you can never know the touch of another person. You can't put anyone through that.

It was only a small miracle that made you test out your new power with an online date, and not your longtime crush. Even with the weird confidence bubbling inside you after taking the pill, it still took an effort to touch her.

You spent the next few minutes terrified, slack-jawed, as your date immediately began recounting years and years and years of dates and tender moments that had never happened. Wistfully imagining the apartment you two would buy together, and (coyly, of course; one can never rush these things) whether you would prefer a traditional wedding or if you just wanted to elope.

You couldn't touch her again fast enough. The date ended shortly after that, as you left some money on the table and stumbled away, citing stomach problems. It was a half-truth; you were holding back some serious dry-heaves.

A few hours' thought was enough to realize that love, not just lust, requires time. Not always years and years, but time all the same. More time than a second's touch. It had to come from somewhere. Even if that "somewhere" never existed.

Then you turned on the news just in time to see the day's tragic headline. Apparently your date had collapsed in the parking lot. From a stroke. No prior medical history. Apparently she had been a star athlete at the university.

It's since been a month since you've left your apartment. It's amazing how much stuff you can get delivered nowadays. Food and everything. You thank God your parents live across the country, and that you never made friends here. Nobody's getting worried at your extended absence. Oh sure, your job was worried, but your work can be done remotely and it was somewhat easy to forge a doctor's signature.

So all in all, things aren't too bad. It's not like you weren't used to loneliness before now. Most lonely people probably haven't accidentally killed anybody because of it, though.

And there's a bright side to all of this. With human contact off the table, you have lots of free time to spend tracking down that horrible old man. Because when you do find him, and you will, you plan on giving him a hearty handshake.

***
"This, then, is the ultimate, that is only, consolation: simply that someone shares some of your own feelings and has made of these a work of art which you have the insight, sensitivity, and — like it or not — peculiar set of experiences to appreciate." — Thomas Ligotti