Time Travel

This is a short story I wrote a while ago…and I was working today on powerpoint, and I couldn’t help but think someone went back in time and fucked it up.

——————————- Ketchup Packages ————————————————-

“I’m thinking of getting one of those time machines…You know those time machines they’re selling now? I’ve heard things about them. I can’t tell if they work.”

“Don’t get a time machine.”

“Why? I hear they work. It would be pretty cool to go back in time. I don’t know. How could they work? It just seems like a gimmick. It’s a lot of money for something that might not work.”

“They work. Just don’t bother with it. Don’t fuckin’ get one. It’s a waste of money.”

“They work? What about all those people saying it’s a scam? How do you know?”

The man sighed and shrugged, he had wanted to avoid the story.

“I had one. It takes you back alright. Just, it’s not what you think.”

“What do you mean?”

“All these people that say it doesn’t work are idiots. They thought you could like walk around and talk to people.”

“You can’t?”

“No, fuck, you can’t do shit unless you spend a lot of time there, in the past or whatever.”

“Well what’s it like? Why do you say it isn’t worth the money? I mean, holy shit, you’re in the past!”

“Listen, it’s not like that exactly. Who knows what the fuck is going on when you go in that thing. The science isn’t there yet. But I can say that you go into the past or something like it, because when you come out, things are different.”

“Like what? What is different?”

“Okay, look at this.”

He held up a packet of ketchup. They are at a diner, eating hamburgers.

“What about it?”

“See, you think this is the way it has always been.”

The other man chuckles.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

A sigh.

“This is exactly what I’m talking about.”

“What? You’re not making any sense.”

“This!” he shakes the ketchup in the air.

“What about it? It’s a fucking ketchup packet. So what?”

“Exactly, look how shitty it is.”

“It does the trick.”

“It’s shit. It’s shit, and I hate it.”

“Calm down man, it’s just ketchup. Who cares?”

“Look, they used to be better. They were always shitty, but this…This is fucking awful.”

“What, so you went back in time and made ketchup packages worse? Are you kidding me? Fuck,  you’re so full of shit.”

The man was serious, and drew a long breath ending in another sigh.

“I’m going to tell you what I did. I got one of those machines, and poked around. I tried to change something, but it doesn’t really make sense at first.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look, just listen. You get into that machine, and it takes you to the past. You don’t physically go, I don’t think. But you can move a…a like game screen, like playing a video game, it’s weird. I don’t know. That’s why everyone thinks they are fake. But listen. I played around with it for a while, and I figured out how to use it.”

“So you don’t go to the past?”

“No, well I think you can look at it, and you can change things once you figure it out. I bet they set it up like that on purpose, to keep people from fucking things up. But look, nobody would know, because the changes happen, and everybody thinks it’s just the way it has been, because it is, in a way, after you change something.”

“They set it up so that you can look but not touch, sort of thing?”

“Yeah…but I figured out that touching bit.”

“I bet you did.”

“Shut up. I’m serious. You don’t touch things, you fuck around with some code and you change the scope of influence on the machine. So like, just by observing, you change things.”

A pause. The other man is confused and thinks it is all bullshit.

“Look, I went in that machine, and looked. Usually that’s all you can do, but the picture is shit, so I played around with it to get a better picture. But when you do that, and you watch people, they act differently.”

“Wait, why do they need a machine then? Why not just a screen?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think it would work, I mean, you sense things too when you’re in the machine.  It’s like the matrix. Uh, but not really. I guess. That’s probably, too, why people don’t think it works. You don’t get to walk around and shit, you don’t use your body. It’s like you can’t go back with much, just some shit that already exists in the past. Like, that’s also why people can’t go back to the dinosaur times.”

“I don’t follow. What is it?”

“The machine connects to things that are man made, that have some sort of property that allows a connection. So, the more recent the history, the more places and stuff you can connect to, just because we know how to hook up to stuff that is man made, there is a signature or something. Also, there isn’t much of a database for you to look at different places and times and such that you can go to. You have to sort of figure out from the manual what works.”

“Weird.”

“Yeah, anyway, I tried to change it a bit. I found out where ketchup packages were made. Something about the first couple of factories made them pretty good places to connect with.”

“So what did you do exactly?”

“I just kind of tried to see better, and then…I like came back and all the ketchup packages were this shit.”

“So what did you actually do?”

“I don’t fucking know, but these piss me off so much that I stopped.”

The other man laughed.

“What the fuck? You’re full of shit.”

“I’m not lying to you. I just quit. I don’t think you can do much with that machine, and probably you can just make things worse. So fuck it.”

“So that’s it?”

“Yeah, fuck it.”

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Proselytizing cold-ass reason.

Key quote :

As indebted as she is, she can’t bear to part with the home that means so much to her elderly mother. She would do anything to keep the place her father built when her parents got married.

The author reveals the bias right there. It’s so emotional, heartbreaking, but it’s also so irrational. If you want to see entitlement, there you go, it’s not the prima donna, it’s messier than that. I know full well that most people would respond to this statement with a sense that there is something wrong with a system that “puts” people like Juanita into this horrible situation. But lets not forget, she is sitting on an asset that she refuses to sell, she has some financial means, but chooses not to utilize them. Maybe out of desperation, but people act like they have no choices. Which is certainly not true here.
People in Canada really do believe they have a ‘right’ to own a home, which, while they do have that freedom, it is not the same kind of capital-R Right that guarantees her personal safety, or ability to speak her mind.
I hate that this is happening. It is a tragedy. It is tragic that there are people so financially illiterate they use the services of the jewellery guy. And I  also hate the way that people will paint this guy as a sleaze-ball…I mean, he sorta is, but he is also 100% not wrong. He forces nobody, he doesn’t feel bad, doesn’t care, and it isn’t his place to care. People make choices, emotional choices, that get them into these financial straits. The Huff post author would like to frame it as No choice at all. But there is a clear choice, sell or don’t. There isn’t any victimization in this loan market. Not the way this story reads. But it feels like it. Right there in the prose.
Hey, remember Shylock? Merchant of Venice? People that charge interest are not morally fallible because they charge interest, sorry. They provide all of the information about what will happen if payments are not made. Whose job is it to make sure someone understands the risk they are taking or not? Grey area. Who is able to judge if someone understands? Not easy. How much would that cost? A lot. Buyer beware, no? Consumers have agency, and we really should keep it that way. 
All this to gloss over that the author identifies some troubling incentives in the loan market. There is a problem that occurs if everyone is out for themselves here.

Although alternative lenders are not insured by the CMHC, mortgages in Canada are considered “full recourse” loans, which means the borrower is responsible for repaying a loan even in the case of foreclosure, unlike in the United States.

That means lenders can take legal action to recover the money owed. It is also why many alternative lenders are often not the primary lender but will help finance second, third or even fourth mortgages. They are willing to provide loans to borrowers with just five per cent equity in their homes.

Unlike banks and credit unions, which rely on deposits from other customers for capital, shadow lenders finance loans with money from groups of investors. Some experts worry that such lenders, who earn their money in fees from investors but take on little risk themselves, could be more inclined to dole out bad loans that are likely to default. A growing contingent of market watchers is calling for better monitoring and regulation of shadow banking activities.

So the market maybe doesn’t have a good price mechanism on risk or ‘risk premium’, there is potential market failure there. Which is a public goods problem, and the government is probably the correct body to address that. No doubt. Good to report on that. But again, the author’s bias would likely be that the people that go for these loans are not responsible for the repercussions. Because this is a victim piece. “Full recourse” is scarty, it means that rich people can sue and bleed poor people. Power imbalance. Truth be told, the rich people can do that because the poor people agree to it, they agree to it so they can keep their stuff. When they agree to a loan, they transfer the Right to own their stuff to someone else…so it’s a case of ignorance. If they want to keep their house, no matter what, they shouldn’t leverage it.
For some reason, we have this narrative in the west, or whatever universe we wish to define, in which the ignorant are innocent because of their ignorance. Ignorance is tragic, and in some way excusable, because: “how to not be ignorant?”. But we shy away from assigning ignorance the blame it rightly holds. I can attempt to theorize why, but I assume it has to do with fear. We fear our own ignorance, and so we are careful to avoid addressing it in others as a mutual way of saving face. The reason we have to save face is that we are petty and judgemental to one another in the first place. Which is partly because we are so egotistical, narcissistic, and obsessed with advancing our own rank in society ( ironically we do this also by amassing wealth in material objects). So ignorance lives and thrives. So we have tragedy. So some wish to protect the ignorant from their own ignorance, disincentivising self education, perpetuating tragedy. It’s the tragedy of good intentions, or maybe it’s the tragedy of narcissism, or cowardice, or all of the above. Let’s not make this simple. Remember Shylock? These problems’ve been around a while. 
The Juanita story is there to say what? “Hey, it’s not fair that some people get to own homes and some people don’t.”
 
It’s not fair. Or, perhaps, it is exactly the most fair it is possible to be, because to do anything else would be to say that Juanita is entitled to somebody else’s property. Or at least to say Juanita is entitled to someone else’s precious effort and time and focus…scarce resources. And in a free society, you can’t really force anyone to give up scarce resources just because someone needs them. Yet someone should, right? So the government should fix it. But that’s taxation, and quite literally means someone is giving up their property for Juanita, so she can keep hers. In truth, she could sell her house, rent, and have money to help her in that situation…but the author doesn’t criticize her for being irrationally attached to some romanticised asset.
Her dad built it, I get it, it really would be a shame to have to give it up, but it’s still just a possession, a material possession. And what matters more in all of this is that she is making this sacrifice for her mother, to ease the burden of illness on her family. She is taking a shitty loan to manage her finances. 
 
What message is the author really getting at? That she should keep her home, and that the system is wrong if it ‘puts’ people in these desperate situation. And on that note, I think I agree. Aren’t we supposed to have universal health care in Canada? Isn’t Juanita’s story better to point out the inadequacies of that system? After all, as a country, we did decide that health is a capital R: Right. I totally find her story sympathetic.
And at the same time, if it isn’t the healthcare system that failed her, is she really blameless? Sometimes medicine is hard to swallow. She should sell her house. That is the rational way forward from a financial perspective given the information the reporter provided.
 
There is a reason people hate the Huffington post, but actually, it’s great. They report on things that everyone is else neglecting. You just have to see that they miss the point, they are lazy thinkers. They know something is wrong, they just don’t know what.

EconTalk podcast got me on a rant.

There is the most recent Econtalk podcast on the development goals:

Eric Hanushek is the guest. I don’t know who he is…probably an economist.
Thy get into education as a causal link in income. This is what they talk about at one point:
A korean immigrant raised in the korean education system does better ( has higher average income) than a korean immigrant raised in the american education system. Say both individuals enter the job market in america at the same time at the same age, the korean immigrant in the US education system simply immigrated at a younger age, to take part in the american education system. The Korean national test scores (whatever the test is) are higher in terms of mathematical ability (or whatever) than the American national test scores.
Data comes from the US census and the test score database, etc… the data is very noisy, but the finding holds for other countries with immigration to the US, not just Korea. Even English speaking countries. This is not a panel/longitudinal dataset…doesn’t sound like it.
I’m sceptical…I don’t think they control for the kind of people that are able to immigrate as adults vs. the types of people that are brought in as children….that is, the US would only take the high achievers. Which would skew the result, but they didn’t really address this in the talk. Selection could explain the finding.
Regardless…it does show that higher education correlates with higher incomes. Which is an old, redundant finding.
On a tangent here is my rant:
The US (Canada is the same) have got so caught up in trying to make childhood ‘special’ that they are too afraid / too sentimental to tell kids to sit down and concentrate. The belief here seems to be that ‘experiential learning’ where kids ‘get their hands dirty’ is a proper substitute to learning times tables…sometimes rote memorization of rules is the only way to get some tools, it’s boring (if bad teachers), its hard (ditto), and it is not natural–as in not the first or primary processing path–for the human brain (brain is a computer).
But that seems somehow…too rigid and old school, people want math to be intuitive (wishful thinking)…it is not (at least to the beginner). Especially not probability or calculus. The reasoning takes a lot of relearning how to think, and it takes a lot of concentration.
Anyway. I hate the education system. I feel gypped. Two/three years out of a graduate degree, and I don’t know how to do anything, because all I learned is how to learn stuff that will be on a test. None of the material was mastered, because that isn’t the goal of the system…the goal of the system is sorting workplace candidates…and to waste money…and to inflate egos. Now I have to sit down and try to reteach myself the stuff I should already know, which takes a lot of my time. Harumph. It’s especially hard when your ego is so inflated.

The Deepity

Defenition: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepity

A better writer slams The Alchemist: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/may/25/change-your-life-life-deepities-oliver-burkeman

I just really like this little deepity thing. It gives a nice word to call out fluff. People like to say ambiguous things that seem wise. But it doesn’t explain why I hate the lululemon bags…like I was hoping they would be deepities when I looked them up for this post.

Lululemon is pretentious

Ok those aren’t deepities, and some might be good advice. Shit. Maybe I don’t like the unsolicited advise from people, I suspect, don’t follow it themselves.

What more to say? It’s a simple enough idea. So I thought I would share.

Brain Pickings

Sorry about that last post, I think it was really bad. It will stay up as a record of failure.

I have been following this blog for a while, and it is a really good feeder for interesting books etc…

http://www.brainpickings.org/

I went to the about section and found a podcast of the author, and I learned she was 30 and has her blog in the Library of Congress. I could look it up, but I’m gonna go with what I think it is, which is this permanent recording on some sort of tape memory. Which means some people think her blog is so important for the cultural landscape of today that they want to have it preserved for future generations.

Anyway, it set me off thinking about a bunch of things…

1) Damn, she’s only 30. I’m not 30 yet, but close, and I haven’t accomplished all that much, I feel useless. But I’m gonna blame it on getting drunk too much, and that and a whiskey on ice will help me sleep at night.

2) They talk a lot about intellectual life in the podcast, and lament the sound-byte and listomania

So number 2 is more fodder for thought. Haha, number 2.

I been thinking bout memes a lot lately. And I wish I were better read on the subject. I might have to give old Dawkins’ Selfish Gene a read.

Basically, it is something that I am starting to notice everywhere (confirmation bias?). There are a lot of ideas out there, and they show up when you talk to people or when you look at license plates (Support the troops!), or worse, when you devolve to actual internet memes, and they are memes–Richard Dawkins’ memes….Or they aren’t, because I can’t prove it. Feels truthy though.

I’m also mostly finished this book. Where he goes into some theories, that people don’t use reason unless they are kicking their brains into gear. So since we use shortcuts all the time to save mental resources, if our entire daily environment were ‘easy’ enough, we need never have a critical thought. Creepy. 1984. Maybe already mostly true.

But these multiple sources are, unawares, talking about the same thing, I guess. There are thousands of these ways you can live your life. But if you aren’t deliberate, and considered in your day to day, you are probably decaying in the mind, because this life is bubble wrapped for the lowest common denominator of thinking, meaning that even very, very smart people will never be anything if they don’t work for it. They might be happy. But so are the 1984 people. Old Socrates wouldn’t be happy. I’m not happy about it.

I find it alarming how much lazy thinking I run into on the day to day. Support the troops! is a easy example.

Here are some words: Conservative, Family Values, No Abortions, Support the troops!, Pro Gay….

One of these things is not like the others.

Go with the flow.

And for a long time, I felt really ashamed at not being in sync with people, but now I count it as a blessing. Self aggrandizing is one of my favorite pass-times. But aside from that, I guess there is the other dimension of socializing. I think…with all the memes, all the time, there is a new(ish?) social phenomenon that really screws us. That is, people don’t like work. And if it is work to think, people don’t like thinking. ‘Like’ is the wrong word. More like, ‘people don’t naturally just think really hard about everything’. But, so, is there a social incentive to just conform and not think? It’s not a rhetorical question, I don’t know, I want to know. This is what I am trying to understand better.

It’s also easy to see that “thinking harder” is lame advice, if the world is bubble wrapped, cause nature abhors a butthole. It just is not the path of least Renaissance. So Idiocracy might be a prophetic movie, and Joe Rogan jokes about what happens if the smart people die might be a worth more than a laugh.

Also, I suppose this highlights to power of goals. Or setting a course, old chap. Positive thinking makes me barf, but I think living deliberately is really needed for the individual that loses sleep over fears of inadequacy. Joseph Heath (guy wrote that book) points out that we live in environments of institutional scaffolding, and that the way we act is dependent upon the ‘mental architecture’ of the roles we live. So if you chose for your role, something that requires work, you know you might get somewhere, and if you put it in a pot, baby you got a stew going. I’m probably just going to get drunk.

Funny quote I read today…

“Confidence is more important than gold,” the industry body said on Tuesday. “As long as we stick to the philosophy of rational investment … sunshine will follow rainy days.”

It’s an oxymoron. The only reason gold is important is because people have an irrational attachment to the stuff and speculate on what other people will do in times of “greater uncertainty” (quantified as?!).

So this reads sort of like this:

“As long as people are rational, it will be like when they, like, invest in that stuff that everyone invests in when they are being irrational.”

What?

Confidence is one of those memes in economic parlance that might mean something, but nobody knows what it is.

You could try to reason it as “expectations”…but expectations, as I recall, simplify in a lot of models to be either whatever something already is today OR something equivalent of patience, however much people discount the future. If they are being perfectly rational…which…never…happens.

So we can rewrite this quote to say:

“As long as people act the way that nobody acts in real life, it will be like when everyone acts the way they act, and…um”