Apr 212017
 

In order to get my regular antidepressant medication refilled while unemployed I got on Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. And my medical world has turned upside down. For the first time in my life I have decent medical coverage.

All my adult life I’ve been employed and insured through my workplace. The last several years I worked as an accountant making a decent fraction above the national median income (at the time of writing ~$55K/year). I was by all accounts a responsible, contributing member of society. My credit score rocks.

I paid a couple hundred dollars a month for insurance. I basically never went to the doctor, because it costs $30 and I don’t need to pay $30 to have someone tell me “Get plenty of bed rest for a week” or “Don’t do any squats or stress your back for the next month.” I only got medical care when it was really dire.

When I injured myself I went to physical therapy ONCE. I got their list of recommended stretches and exercises and then continue them at home for the month(s) advised. Because I can’t afford to go back regularly at $70 a session.

And everyone basically understands that savings only exist until such a time as you suffer from something really bad, in which case you get to go bankrupt, because that’s just how life works. Sucks, but it’s better than what our ancestors had, where you just died.

Then I got Medicaid, and I paid $2 to see a doctor to get my prescription renewed.

$2. Two. Dollars.

So you know what I did when I pulled something in my back (again) a couple weeks later? I went to the doctor!

Any time in my life before this I woulda said “Man, that sucks. Gonna take a lot of Tylenol and not stress my back at all and get through it.” Because that’s what the doctor would say anyway. But this time? For $2? Yeah, sure, I went to go see the doctor.

And yeah, that’s what he said. But then he also said “And go get physical therapy, here’s a place across the street that takes Medicaid.” So I went. You know how much it costs?

Free. Up to twelve sessions per year. Free.

So now I’m in physical therapy. And I’m finally actually addressing the lower back problems that I’ve been avoiding and struggling with for over a decade. It’s slow going, but I’m seeing progress, and I can’t believe this is really happening.

It’s a weird feeling knowing that I can actually go and get medical care whenever I need it, now. Life feels a bit less hostile. For the first time in my, I have real health care coverage.

What a bizarre country. I can either be gainfully employed OR I can get decent medical coverage. But not both at the same time. This is perverse. I am dreading the day I have to get a steady job again, simply for health reasons.

Apr 072017
 

Yesterday my dad came out to me as atheist.

Specifically, he said “Remember when you came out to me as an atheist? We were driving home from work? I thought to myself ‘Oh thank goodness, he’s not crazy’.” Background – I often went to work with him on the weekends to help out and make some spending cash. I don’t remember the exact day, but I was around 15 yrs old when this happened.

Apparently he’s been atheist-ish for over two decades. He did he whole “Going to church and putting on a religious facade” thing in order to provide me & my siblings with religious/moral grounding and for the community benefits of having a tight-knit high-trust in-group ready made when arriving in a new country full of strangers that spoke a different language. (From my observations, the first objective failed spectacularly, and the second one succeeded equally spectacularly. And since me & brothers developed a good moral grounding anyway, a definite net win)

This has thrown me for a MASSIVE loop, though, because it means everything I thought I knew is a lie. Slight hyperbole, but it’s hard to overstate just how big an influence my relationship to religion has been on my life. I still hold to this day that if the claims of religion are true, the Spanish Inquisition is not only morally good, but a moral requirement.

I took the religion thing seriously. The first time I committed a sin (masturbation) I was in shock for nearly two days. When god didn’t strike me dead I had a severe crisis of faith, and it was one of the cracks that helped to eventually bring down my belief. When my belief crumbled, so did everything I knew about the world, because if god wasn’t real, what was left that I could trust? I had to re-examine everything. It caused me to jettison everything my parents and society at large had ever told me and do my best to start over. It led to an overhaul of my moral system, my epistemology (rah empiricism!), and my ability to trust any sort of authority. It’s basically my Rationalist Origin Story. If it wasn’t for my rejection of religion, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

 

Not only that, it also helped to iron out some of my character. My religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is extremely insular. Any contact with the outside world is discouraged. Most of my life all my friends and my entire social circle consisted of other believers. And the Witnesses have a strong Shunning norm. Anyone who leaves the faith is to be cast out entirely. Often in church we heard great stories lauding people who cut off all ties with family members that strayed from the faith. In particular I recall the praise heaped upon a mother who would not speak with, look at, or in any way acknowledge her daughter after she left the religion. For years. Even when the daughter came crying and begging outside the mother’s window. Eventually the daughter returned to the faith, huge success!

I didn’t think my parents would really go that far. But I knew it was a risk. I didn’t come out to them until I (in my teenage hubris) figured I could survive being kicked out of the house and having my entire social net stripped away. I have a lot of mental issues that led me to have a very isolated and lonely childhood, but this preparation to be alone forever was certainly one of them.

And once I did come out, the courage of my conviction helped me to learn how to stand up for myself. To read deeply about the issue I cared about, and be ready to defend it. To accept being the weird one that didn’t fit because I was right goddammit, and you can’t take that away from me!

It led to me feeling like I don’t have a family. It led to me struggling all my adult life to find a surrogate family to fit in with.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t want children of my own. I look at my parents, and I ask “What did they get out of having children?” We have abandoned their religion, one of the most important things to them. We have abandoned their morality. We are memetic strangers. We drained their resources for 20+ years, and in return they got strangers who have left and don’t have anything in common with them. I’ve always felt like we’re intense disappointments to them. Why would I want that for myself? I can have far more memetic influence on the future by writing (both blogs and fiction, mehopes) than by having children. Not much influence, but maybe more than the zero I would get from kids. And I value memetic contribution to the future far more than genetic contribution.

Speaking of memetics… while everything I do is influenced by this past, a lot of my writing directly addresses my conflicted religious past. Both “Of All Possible Worlds” and “Host” are directly religious, and my bios for those stories include “He was raised in an apocalyptic sect of Christianity, which has heavily influenced his writings,” and “Eneasz was raised in a fundamentalist Christian sect dedicated to saving every soul possible. At the time, he couldn’t figure out why far more direct action wasn’t being taken,” respectively.

And now I find out all that time, I was rebelling against… nothing?

I could have had a parent that I could talk with about these things, and relate to about it, all this time?

Do I have a family now? Suddenly, magically, I feel like I can relate so much more with my father. Although in actual reality, nothing has changed. Only my perception. What the fuck does all this mean?

My entire life up to now has been a lie. If everything was different and nothing was the same, who would be sitting in this chair right now? Would it be someone happier and better adjusted? I’ve always been a bit envious of my secularly-raised friends, who had parents as allies in a crazy and hostile world, working as a unit rather than out there alone.

Why did my dad choose to be alone all these years?

Mar 282017
 

I.

The concept of “Death of the Author” in lit circles just means that once an author has put a work of fiction out into the public, the work speaks for itself, and the Author doesn’t get to speak for it. If a reader can make a case for the Star Wars prequels portraying Padme and Obi Wan carrying on an affair, and point to in-text support of this, then the author’s protests that “This is not what I intended” don’t really mean much. Whether or not they intended it, it’s in the text. As the old joke about the rabbi’s goes, his is just one opinion*.

(*for those unfamiliar, the joke being that five rabbis are arguing with one novice rabbi about scriptural interpreation, and all five disagree with him. They tell him “It’s five and against one, surely you can see you’re wrong!” and he says “Even so, I know I’m right! I call upon God himself to side with me!” The voice of God booms down from the heavens “The kid’s right, actually.” The five older rabbis confer with themselves for a while, then finally turn to the young rabbi and say “Ok, so now it’s five against two!”)

It’s not unlike highfalutin Fan Theories, come to think of it.

II.

Not too long ago I discovered my interpretation of an old Neil deGrasse Tyson quote was wrong. He’s famous for observing that the more educated some one is, the less likely they are to be religious, going through categories of increasing education and showing decreasing rate-of-belief, until he ends up at the elite scientists at the NAS having a belief rate of only 7%. He then went on about those 7% for a while. My interpretation of his point was “What is wrong with these 7%? Until we can find out what’s going on with those 7% of scientists, we can’t truly fault anyone else, cuz if those 7% can get bamboozled, so can anyone.”

Turns out what he actually meant was “Look, even 7% of the most elite scientists in the country have religion. So until you can convince even those 7%, you can’t say that religion is entirely wrong.”

Which, wow. Boy was I way off!

III.

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. They have a hymnal book and everyone is expected to sing a couple, as a congregation, at every major meeting (Of which there’s two per week). One of the songs contains the lyrics

Kiss the Son
Lest God be angry,
And you’ll perish in the way

There’s two ways to interpret this. The most obvious is as a threat. You should “Kiss the Son.” If you don’t God may be angry, and you’ll perish (be killed).

The less obvious is an injunction against hypocrisy. If someone “Kisses the Son” merely because they are afraid that God will be angry, then they’ll perish anyway. It is important to actually mean it and really love Jesus, rather than just going through the motions because you’re scared of a threat. Yes, it requires that one assume an implicit “If you” at the beginning of the verse, but people assume implicits all the time. (Like the assumption that #BlackLivesMatter ends with an implicit “Too”)

For as long as I was religious, I clung to this second interpretation. I knew, even then, that it was a bit of a stretch. It was my personal interpretation. I didn’t share it with anyone, because I was scared they would tell me that no, it really was supposed to be a threat. Even back then I couldn’t accept a hateful, wrath-filled god.

IV.

Nowadays, even though I realize my interpretations in both cases were factually incorrect, I stand by those interpretations. I take the principle of Death of the Author and extend it to further domains. Meaning is where you find it.

When NdGT laid out his progression of disbelief and drew attention to the final 7% he made a hell of an observation. He demonstrated was that there is something seriously wrong with humans, to the point that even 7% of the most elite scientists in the nation can be snookered by religion! And I do not care if that is not the point he intended to make. It is the most important point that this line of thinking leads to, regardless of his intention. Death of the Author.

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses used poetic language to threaten their listeners, someone coming from a background of “God is Love” and “Hypocrisy is Bad” can interpret those lines to say “Don’t be a hypocrite, it won’t help you anyway.” If one assumes that “God is Love,” it is the only consistent way to interpret those lines, regardless of what their intent was. Death of the Author.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. Interpretation of facts or statements in a light other than that which they were first presented in has lead to some pretty fascinating insights and advances by humanity. It’s what much of Copenhagen Interpretation vs Many Worlds comes down to, right? (Yes, I know, both sides are now furious at me.)

So long as no one tries to quote those people to misrepresent their true position, I think this practice should be embraced. Don’t attribute an intention to anyone unless they’ve publicly declared that intention themselves! But feel free to borrow and interpret things in a way that is beneficial as long as it is consistent with observable reality. (Or in the case of religion, any which way you want, since religion doesn’t have anything to do with observable reality anyway).

V – the caveat

Just be careful about this in your personal life. I found myself interpreting the actions and statements of someone close to me in the most positive way possible for a long time, for emotional reasons. This led to a distorted view of reality, and really bit me in the ass once that view was abruptly corrected. Someone’s intentions don’t particularly matter when you are in the abstract world of interpreting data. They matter a hell of a lot when you entangle your life with someone and much rides upon their disposition and intentions.

Mar 072017
 

My short story “Host” is in the March/April issue of Analog Magazine, available right now. I’m ridiculously happy this got published, I was worried that due to its structure it would be unpublishable. My attempt at portraying Very Alien minds probably could have been much more explicit.

This story is more autobiographical than any of the others I’ve written. That’s not necessarily saying a lot, as I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible for a writer to NOT write everything at least partially autobiographical. At least if it’s any good. Some part of you will always suffuse what your write. Your fears, your passions, your formative experiences. All fiction is a window into the writer’s mind.

But in this particular case, chunks of the story were lifted directly from my teenage years. The isolation, the dissociation, the loss of The One Friend. Obviously not the Space Zombies. :) It was a shitty period, despite the fact that by almost any objective measurement my life was peachy. Mental issues don’t give a fuck. In that time of my life I welcomed human annihilation, if it would have made things un-broken. Especially because this is what the religion I had been raised in promised as the desirable end-state for humanity anyway. The apocalypse was already ingrained as a good thing in my mind.

Which is where the real autobiographical stuff comes in. This pro-apocalypse position was one of the many things that drove me away from my religion. NOT the death-worship, mind you. Rather, the fact that no one seemed to take it as seriously as it should be taken. I’ve said this a few times before, and I still stick with it – The Spanish Inquisition was doing The Right Thing in a world where their beliefs are objectively true. It is everyone’s moral obligation to act as they did, and anyone who doesn’t is a monster. The paltry sufferings of human life are so utterly irrelevant in the face of eternal suffering/joy that absolutely any price is not only justified, but required. They were Doing The Most Good, by far. The only problem is that in the world they operate in (ie: the real world) there is no God, and they were torturing and murdering people for no reason. Objective facts fucking matter. And since we’re fallible, we should also temper our actions with some degree of uncertainty.

But my religion didn’t preach uncertainty. They knew, as did I, that God existed, and what fate awaited non-believers. And all they did was… knock on doors and try to pass out cheap pamphlets? Guys, that level of failure to actually save people is disgusting. It’s as if Singer’s Well-Dressed Man stood at the edge of the pond and shouted encouragement to The Drowning Child, rather than wading in and doing something. It’s unacceptable. And while I could understand that the Laws of the Corrupt, Fallen Government may be against us, hampering us in being really effective… we nonetheless were NOT talking about how to subvert them, or how to really SAVE people. No one gave any of this the urgency it required. It was like a casual hobby.

I’m a big fan of Ted Chiang, and his ability to take a premise and assume it’s true, and then write the world that would exist under that assumption. I tried to do the same here with my religion’s false premise (and, frankly, the premise of many fundamentalist evangelical religions). I don’t think I really worked out any of my issues, but I stand by Julian’s parting words to his father.

 

Unrelated but fun note — When I submitted “Host” for critique to my Writer’s Workshop (who made it a lot better, thanks guys!!!) they said that starting with the “In The Beginning” snippet was a mistake, and I should move it to later. So instead the first scene is Julian exiting his high school and describing the space station. Literally the week after I made those changes I came upon a satirical SF story that started out with the protagonist describing a giant piece of impressive human engineering in his daily life. The second paragraph began with (paraphrased) “Of course John Doe saw this every day on his way to work, so there was no particular reason for him to really ponder upon it today. But he knew that if he didn’t ponder right at the top, this would never get published in Analog Magazine.” I thought “Haha, maybe this’ll help me sell to Analog, lolz.” Lo and behold, I ended up getting published in Analog Magazine. :P

Feb 102017
 

The founder of my writer’s group (and 2x Nebula winner) Ed Bryant passed away in his sleep last night. I’d seen him for several hours every month for coming on three years now.

This is the first time anyone I’ve known personally in my life has died. I’m not sure what to make of it yet.

This picture is basically the Ed I knew, expect the shirt is wrong. He never wore anything but Hawaiian shirts. I don’t know how they got him into something this formal.

I owe Ed a lot. As I said, he started the Northern Colorado Writer’s Workshop. I learned more about my craft, in a shorter period of time, in that group than I could imagine was possible. It was a rocket burn of learning.

He attended every single meeting. We’re supposed to keep our comments to a reasonable length, to keep the meeting moving, but exceptions were made for our elder statesman. :) He would go on at length about all sorts of topics, sometimes not all that related to what we were doing, but generally interesting. He imparted insight into the world of professional writing, and kept us very much informed of his personal goings on. It was like having a grandpa, I imagine. I don’t know, I’ve never known my grandparents, they’re in Poland.

Sometimes he went on a bit too long, but no one ever complained, because come on… he’s Ed. He deserves to go on as long as he likes. And he’s just so damn accepting and caring. He smiled all the time. His laugh was a huff that came up from the belly, and sparkled from his eyes.

Almost every meeting he would doze off at some point. Just a thing that comes with age, right? It was endearing. He’d look up bleary-eyed when it would come his turn to offer a critique on a work, take a breath, and jump right in.

He has read almost everything I’ve ever written. And commented on all of it. He read every single word of the first draft of the novel I just finished. He called it “Bravara Writing.” :) I didn’t keep most of the manuscripts I got back, because who can keep 3000+ pages of printouts with notes scrawled over them? When I get home today I’m going to go digging. I hope I kept one or two with his handwriting. It just… didn’t occur to me that he’d be gone.

Even when his kidneys failed last year, and he had to start dialysis. Even when he had a bad turn last month, and missed an NCWW meeting for the first time in as long as I’d been coming. I just thought “Well, he’ll be better by next month. Ed is always there. Good ol’ Ed.” I sent him a get-well card. Maybe I should have gone to visit too.

People often say “I won’t ever see X again,” but that doesn’t seem to apply anymore. There’s photos, there’s video. And I’m not that visual. What weirds me out is I won’t hear his voice again. He had a very deep voice, like an old bear. A little scratchy and rumbly in his old age. He spoke slowly, deliberately, which was frustrating at times, but it was distinctive. It was him.

As far as I know, he wasn’t signed up for cryo. He’s just… gone.

Fuck. :(

Feb 072017
 

I know everyone says that, but it’s one of the nice things about human psychology that we can know it’s not true but still believe it on a gut level, because we like where we are so much. I live in the South Denver Metro area, in an area called “DTC” (the “Denver Tech Center”). It’s my favorite combination of density and nature.

As I’ve said many times before, I hate the suburbs. They sprawl and they’re ugly and inefficient. Dense living, such as multi-story apartments, are far more efficient both for energy- and land-use. And by not sprawling across miles and miles, we reserve that land for ACTUAL natural wilderness, rather than the aesthetic horror that is lawns.

And just on an aesthetic level, I love large, imposing buildings. Sided in glass and given a decent architect to make them structurally interesting, it feels like living among giant cut diamond artifacts, gleaming in the sun.

The problem is that in many cities, the space between these soaring buildings is ugly. It’s cracked concrete and sooty asphalt. It’s chainlink fences and deteriorating lampposts. This dirty sterility drives me away from many highly-dense urban settings.

Fortunately, there is DTC. It contains towering glass structures, surrounded by corporately-maintained strips of well-mimicked wilderness. It’s like someone took the best parts of our neon post-cyberpunk future, and blended them artfully with tolkeinesque elven forests. Here’s a few pictures taken between my apartment complex and the Starbucks I walk to most days.

As one can see, even the deer were fooled into thinking they were in a pretty nature place. :) This is not a common occurrence, but man was it cool. I’ve posted a video below that shows how close they let humans get to them, they’re mostly unconcerned with us. I could probably have touched one if I wanted to, but I think that’s probably a bad idea. Plus, the three bucks with very pointly antlers made me cautious of scaring them.

Jan 222017
 

In mid-November I was laid off from my accounting job, and decided to finish my novel by year’s end. Despite a huge shock to my personal life right about that time (of which there are still all sorts of aftershocks), I managed to do so. :) I wrote the final line on Dec 30th, 2016.

I’m in my revision pass now, which looks like it’ll take a couple months in itself. But a couple things I’ve learned so far:

1. Working for yourself is far more intense than working for The Man.

I thought working for myself would be relaxing. A nice change of pace from the demands of corporate life, since I could work when and where I liked, and no uniform is required. Oh how wrong I was.

I should perhaps put “working” in quotes, because there’s no guarantee I’ll ever see any money for this. But that being said – when I’m working The Man and I’m at the office, I get paid for every hour that I’m there, period. I don’t have to be at the top of my game. If I show up Monday after a big party weekend, and I’m hungover and working at half-efficiency? No big deal. If I surf Facebook or chat with my coworkers for an hour? Still getting paid.

My posts to this blog have dropped off quite a bit over the last few months. I’m behind with most of the blogs I read, as well as not following the news as much, and I’ve abandoned several podcasts I used to listen to religiously. Because I just don’t have the time anymore. Every single minute I’m NOT working is time that I’m not getting paid, so to speak. Every hour of my life is now divided into “productive” (meaning may support my continuing to be alive) or “non-productive” (which feels like it’s wasted entirely). It’s intense. There is no such thing as “time off” or “down time” or even “slack” when you work for yourself. There’s only Doing The Thing, or Not. And getting sick is a double-whammy. It makes me more jealous of my time, and I was already fairly jealous of it.

I used to work on the Methods of Rationality podcast at the office, during my lunch hour. It was a lot like getting paid to work on my podcast. Now I have to chisel out 6-8 hours of my life every two weeks, taking time away from my writing, or my friends/family, or just rest, to do so. I used to always be a full episode ahead, now I rarely get it finished more than 3 days before it goes live. I still love it, but before it was something I used to fill my “free” time, and now it is a more dearly-felt cost.

I can honestly say I have worked far harder during my last few months of unemployment than I ever worked when I was grinding away in the last decade at the 9-5 (with the exception of some very hairy Quarter-End months.)

2. Starbucks is awesome, cuz work environment matters.

I discovered pretty quickly that working at home just wasn’t working for me. It was too easy to get distracted. There was always something to read, or to do. More than anything else, my bed was right there, and the nap times called me.

“How can I write well when I’m this tired? I can’t. I must rest my brain, and I’ll write afterwards. Whoops, it’s two days later.”

It just felt like such a hollow pursuit. I was floating in a strange limbo and nothing I did mattered. So I went to Starbucks.

At Starbucks, there are other humans. Those humans are always looking at me and judging me. If I am typing away, being productive, they smile, and judge me worthy. If I am surfing the internet or chatting on Facebook, they see how I am wasting my life, and scowl.

I know this isn’t actually true. No one gives a shit what I’m doing, they don’t look at me or my screen. But now I’m no longer in some weird dreamtime, I’m among humans. I’m grounded in the real world. And I’m reminded why I write. It’s for these people around me. To some day be seen and validated and maybe maybe even admired. So I sit, and I write, and I feel good about it. I know this isn’t psychologically healthy, but fuck it – do what works. Cuz in the end that’s all that matters.

Also, no bed nearby, so naps are not an option. :)

 

Anyway, I still need to do a full revision pass, and find an agent, and find a publisher, so I’m only like halfway through the process. And I’ll have to get a day job pretty soon to pay the bills too. But I’m happy to have discovered that if I ever get the chance to do this sort of thing for a living for real, I have the self-discipline to actually sit down and write a novel, rather than sliding into sloth and hedonism. :)

Jan 082017
 

I despise what the Republican Congress is doing. These motherfuckers bring out hatred in me. For example – Republicans Confirm Planned Parenthood Will Lose Federal Funding As Soon As Next Month.

I.

Aaaaaaand then a friend of mine states that all Republicans are horrible people, and there are no decent people who are registered (R). I’m horrified that many of my friends are turning into the sort of sweeping-generalizations mob that I used to see from the Right. How is this any different from “All Muslims are horrible?”

II.

I’m told repeatedly that hating someone for taking away your rights and humanity is acceptable. And yeah, I also hate the Republican Establishment. Everyone has every right to feel as pissed off and angry at this bullshit that’s coming down the pike as they want. We’re going to NEED a lot of anger to fight it.

But there are good Republicans, just like there are good [any group you care to name]. The more the message “ALL X ARE EVIL” is repeated, the more it makes it acceptable for people to lash out in violence against anyone who is, or is perceived to be, X. It’s the constant repeating of the rhetoric that creates an environment that leads to violence. We were complaining about the Trump rallies doing this, but we’ve seen it happen many times before. Hundreds of times in history. Have we learned nothing?

There are a lot of people who hate Trump, and want diversity and coexistence, and who identify as Republican. It is immoral to say they’re all evil.

III.

So I’m told I’m an example of the Banality of Evil.  A poster-boy for “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

But that’s kinda the opposite of what’s happening, isn’t it? I’m standing up for my few republican friends precisely because I refuse to sit down and do nothing. It sucks being called evil by my own community, simply because I won’t throw a couple people I know under the bus.

IV.

They ask: What makes a Republican a “good one?” What steps are they taking to protect the weakest among us? Where are all these “good people”? What are they doing?

I provide links to the Republicans Who Have Renounced Trump, and the Log Cabin Republicans, but my reply is that this is the exact same question as “Where are are the Muslims decrying the terrorist violence? Why aren’t they policing their community? Why aren’t they telling us about the attacks the extremists are planning?” Are these fair questions to ask of the Muslim community? If not, do you know why not?

The Republican Party has some vile shit in its platform. The Koran has some vile shit in it as well. If you think the Republican Platform is bad, look at the founding documents of any of the three Abrahamic religions. And yet we all accept that people who claim that these are the most important books in their lives, and that their highest ideal is to live by them, can still be good people. If we can do that for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but we can’t do it for Republicans, why is that?

V.

I’m told plenty of religious people are great: they negotiate with their religion and try to live by it but also seek a separate peace from the nasty stuff that has no business being a part of a modern mindset. People phrase things all sorts of ways, and “Living by” means different things to different people. What would it mean to “live by” the ideals of the Republican Party at this point?

Which is exactly my point. This does mean different things to different people, and for someone from the outside to say “THIS is what it means to “live by” your ideals!” to a different group isn’t any different than someone saying socialists want to starve 50 million people to death. Or pick your choice of slander.

In practice altering an entire ideology is slow and difficult work. In the real world everyone has to worry about procedure, convincing the majority of their constituents, power grabs by people who are more conservative than you are, etc. The Democratic Party’s change on gay marriage, for example, was no quick whim. It took decades of struggle. DADT and DOMA (for non-US readers, these are anti-gay legislation from the 90s) were both signed in by a smiling Clinton. Just a few years before Obama “evolved” on the issue he was speaking about how marriage should be between a man and a woman, while Dick-freaking-Cheney, one of the most evil men in the US, was defending gay rights. I know, right?? The world is a weird place.

So what do people do? They stay with the ideology they were raised with, that of the community around them, that broadly looks more like it represents them than the alternatives, or at least enough to the point that it isn’t worth the loss of your community for switching, and just cherry-pick their beliefs! It’s damned infuriating. But it doesn’t make them bad, it just makes them human.

And by cherry-picking, and standing up for their gay/women/whatever friends, they are making a change. (incidentally, that’s why I’m standing up for my R friends. I want to see our group be less myopic and viscous.) Some of them even join groups that attempt to make direct change! Calling those progressive voices that are trying to bring it back to moderation horrible/despicable people hurts the reform movement.

Both political parties are evolving. Let’s not evolve away from what made us the right side in the first place.

Dec 132016
 

This is a tale of two blog posts. The first is a Tumblr post that made me FEEL STUFF, and did so fantastically.

There are a lot of arguments about why the FDA is bad. Scott Alexander has posted about it several times on his site, and he’s far from the only one. A person can read these articles and say “Why yes, this is a travesty! The FDA must be reigned in before it destroys us all!”

And then someone posts something like this (specifically the part by KungFuNurse) and the imagine of a snake-oil salesman killing innocent people with Patent Tonics and then skipping town with their money is simply so emotionally compelling and super-available that it’s hard to not be swayed by it. It requires a real effort to remain committed to what I can see is the case via calculating costs vs. benefits, rather than the image of my poor mom being swindled and killed. :(

So I am eternally grateful when someone comes forward and puts it in no-nonsense SUPER EMOTIVE terms why the FDA is fucking them and ruining their lives. Especially because these regulations are ones that I know happen to people I KNOW PERSONALLY, rather than the snake-oil song-and-dance that touches almost no one. Because I know click-through is awful, here’s the full text from the link:

your regulation is #problematic, statecucks

So, the shitlib FDA apologists etc. just love to peddle the bollocks that regulation protects the vulnerable, the marginalized, the badbrains, the executively dysfunctional, the people every PC cuck loves to pretend to give a shit about while actually cucking us over every single chance they get.

And it’s bullshit. Here’s what the nanny state actually looks like to its victims:

> you have a medication you’re going to be using every single fucking day for the rest of your goddamn life or at least until you get an artifical gland installed to produce it endogenously
> you cannot do the sane thing of simply placing a regular order for it online and having it delivered to your home,
> you need to walk how fucking many* kilometres (or take the goddamn bus) to one of the few pharmacies in town (because the state regulates their numbers) to buy your permitted refill (because it’s either completely illegal to buy more than 3 months supply at a time, or the pharmacies just never sell more because the public medical insurance limits its coverage to 3 months at a time)
> you need to keep renewing the prescription all the fucking time

> you have a very useful medication which requires a special permit
> and of fucking course you need to keep renewing the fucking prescription
> only a few doctors in the entire fucking county even know how to apply for the special permits
> your doctor, naturally, is not one of them
> you need to get the papers the previous doctor wrote about it from the county public healthcare shitstem office something department of fuck you
> you cannot go ask them in meatspace because there is no fucking person who could do it
> you cannot ask them on the phone because “””security implications”””, even if you ask for them to be delivered via mail to the exact home address the motherfuckers have on file so the only way for them to not end up to the only person who should have access to them is for some creep to intercept the mail, after lying in wait for something like a couple of weeks because they can’t be expected to deliver shit on time, so basically zero chance, but nonetheless ~*~in theory~*~ it might not work that way so fuck you
> you need to write a fucking letter to some fucking bureaucrats to pretty please ask them to give you your medical files uwu
> there is no ready-made template because fuck you
> you’ve been trying to do it for six months but unable to get it done because you have no fucking idea how to write a fucking information request for some fucking intentionally obtuse statecuck bureaucracy

> drug A basically cures your ADHD-related anxiety
> of course it has no sales permit so you cannot get it even though it has been used elsewhere for decades and has no demonstrated risks or addictive potential
> because fuck you

> drugs B and C seem promising for treating your ADHD-related anxiety and they have no abuse potential either
> they even have sales permits
> but not for ADHD-related anxiety so the doctor will not prescribe it because fuck you

> what you can get is legendary-sized massive overprescriptions of Valium and other benzodiazepines with a respectable street price because those are approved for sale
> because the State wants to protect people from potentially addictive and/or risky drugs, duh
> because fuck you

To every goddamn socdem shitlib FDA apologist statecuck:

#problematic, #problematic, #problematic!

NONE OF YOU ARE FREE FROM #PROBLEMATIC

(as an aside, I guess “cuck” is now basically a synomyn for “fuck?” That happened fast…)

I will keep this forever, because it drives home the frustration and real harm that is actually caused. I love this post!

OTOH, this isn’t really something that you can use to change minds. Is it? It’s not like it’s something that anyone would propose a counter-argument to, because it just plain isn’t amenable to that sort of engagement. And if something can’t be counter-argued, it shouldn’t be allowed to be an argument either. So this is purely to align emotional-motivation with intellectual-motivation. I’m already on record as saying this is a wonderful thing, so props for that! But it’s basically for the choir, right?

And then the OP went and translated the whole thing into Respectable-Speak, which can be counter-argued if one wanted to:

The Violence Inherent in the System of Rationing Access to Drugs

In popular imagination, especially in left-leaning memeplexes, it’s common to think of barriers like FDA approvals and prescription requirements as helping people by protecting them from being harmed by the medication they use. However, I would like to argue that this has great harms to many vulnerable populations, especially (but not limited to) people with insufficient material resources, executive functioning issues, many kinds of disabilities, etc.

One common failure mode is where people will be on a steady dose of the same drug for the rest of their foreseeable life. In that case it would definitely seem reasonable that people would be able to keep using that drug without any unnecessary hassles, as the typical objections of “can we know it works for them”, “do they know how to use it” etc. are utterly moot.

This is not usually the case. The exact details vary (it’s definitely different in the US than in Finland), but around here prescription-only drugs will require constant renewals and refills under “professional supervision”. I cannot simply go to the website of a pharmacy and order my estradiol like it’s vitamins from Amazon; I have to waste the time of us both by getting the purchase rubber-stamped by a real person, either physically in the pharmacy, on the phone, or in an online chat service.

While this may seem relatively convenient (and admittedly it has been made as easy as the rules allow), it doesn’t change the fact that one cannot observe any solid reason for such barriers to access, and it doesn’t take much to render that convenience substantially less consequential if one has eg. movement difficulties, social phobia, or any of the other weird brain things reality in its persistent insistence to be inconvenient tends to heap upon the unfortunate and underprivileged.

When ones needs move outside the ordinary, things get even worse. I’m a modafinil user lucky enough to have an actual prescription for it, or more accurately, I would be if I was able to deal with the bureaucracy around the special permits required. My current doctor doesn’t know how to apply for the special permit, so I need to get the permit application the previous doctor wrote.

I cannot get the documents by showing up physically at desk whatever of building N of the county healthcare department of something.

I cannot request the documents via phone because of alleged patient confidentiality issues; not even with the limitation that I would request them to the address the healthcare department has in their patient records, which would effectively eliminate any potential privacy issues as the mail could not be redirected without physically intercepting it, and any adversary capable of consistently intercepting my mail already has full access to my confidential info anyway. Common sense and realistic threat analysis don’t matter to bureaucracy.

There obviously is no convenient web interface where I could use my online banking credentials to order them mailed to me, let alone view them right there (Finland has a system where people can use their bank logins as official ID for many government functions; this has exactly the uncomfortable implications around privacy and government-corporate collusion one would expect, yet it fails at actually solving some of the problems it would naively seem inherently suitable for).

The only available way to request those documents is to write a physical paper letter to the county healthcare archive whatever offices. There naturally is no ready-made template for it, so I would have to whip up an Official Request in the language I’m less comfortable doing written communication in (long story) which happens to be even worse than phoning strangers without explicit invitation. Unsurprisingly I’m now over six months without modafinil because of this.

The harms created by regulating access to medication obviously get even worse when one moves outside the category of drugs that have actually managed to gain official approval for treating your issues; a distinction which uncomfortably often tends to be outright orthogonal to whether they do work for treating your issues.

Semax is an OTC drug in Russia, and has been in use there for decades. It also effectively cures my ADHD-related anxiety. It is not even manufactured and sold in the West except for some obscure companies which produce/procure it for not human consumption, and I have personal communications from the customs office that importing it would be considered a repeat offense. The fact that it has no demonstrated abuse potential nor has there been any evidence of significant harmful side effects doesn’t matter, as the law treats anything which could be used for treating illnesses, ailments etc. a regulated drug, unless it has been exempted as homeopathic or certain categories of herbal.

(It shouldn’t take much astuteness from the reader to notice that the law, while judging intent and purpose instead of eg. risks or abuse potential, specifically carves out an exception for homeopathy. This obviously undermines the common argument that regulations are keeping homeopaths and other quacks in check; in this case the regulation explicitly favors the homeopaths.)

Clonidine and guanfacine are approved as blood-pressure medications in Finland, and in the US they also have approval for treating ADHD-related issues. I haven’t tested them so I can’t conclusively say that they would help significantly (unlike semax which definitely does), but the fact that they are approved for sale doesn’t help as they are not approved for this particular purpose in this particular country. Despite once again lacking in addictiveness, abuse potential etc.

The US famously not approving thalidomide is often quoted by proponents of the notoriously strict FDA regulations (note how in this case the situation in Finland is even worse than under the yoke of the FDA), but empirical evidence shows that there is no meaningful difference between rich western countries in how often drugs get recalled for safety reasons: the number is consistently around 3-4%. This implies that a very unambitious and safe reform would be to categorically permit the use of any drug for any purpose (even if not officially approve) as long as it’s approved in one such country.

Now one would expect that at least such a strict system would do a reasonable job of protecting me from harm and addiction risk.

However, such reasonableness is nowhere to be found. In the past I have been prescribed the notoriously harmful atypical antipsychotic quetiapine for mere sleep issues, as that combination is approved. Currently my anxiety issues are kept in check by intermittent benzodiazepines (diazepam aka. Valium, and oxazepam) which not only do have substantial abuse potential as evident from their respectable street price, but they also are the substance I know I would get addicted to if I ever do (or specifically, the combination of benzodiazepines with stimulants; in perfectly prescription-conforming dosages even), and the prescriptions are (due to a quirk of the system how refill sizes are calculated; my “worst case dose” is multiplied under the assumption that I would take such amounts every day) sufficiently large to make not getting addicted a matter of individual choice as the rationing of amounts is incapable of having such an effect.

TL;DR: local bureaucracy valiantly protects trans person from harmless but unusual treatments, prescribes drugs that can cause severe long-term brain damage or actual abuse and addiction instead.

Now, while this is far more respectable, and something that’s more likely to get linked on my Facebook, it has no emotional resonance. I basically fell asleep reading it. It honestly felt like a long, exaggerated excuse that some FDA-hater came up with to propose all the most outlandish worst-case-scenario things that never actually happen to anyone. And even if by some coincidence they DID happen to someone, the otherside is grandma being killed by Dr Terminus, so I’m just gonna step back and figure the government’s got this one handled, K?

And so I’m greatly torn between things that have emotional relevance, and things that put forth reasoned arguments. I guess this is why we need both. We determine what is the best course by using dispassionate, reasoned thinking. Then we find a way to motivate ourselves to actually care by seeking out the emotive pleas that drive it.

I’d like to end this post by dropping IMMENSE gratitude on Scott Alexander, and Eliezer Yudkowsky. These are two writers who have consistently (and for long periods of time over many subjects) done the nearly-impossible. They’ve put forth reasoned arguments that have all the substance and grounding of the sober 2nd post, and infused them with much of the emotive persuasion and visceral appeal of the 1st post. They literally explained important and sobering things to me with tons of support, while making me care on a personal level, and being entertaining to boot. It’s an incredibly rare skill, and I am deeply grateful there are humans who can pull it off, and are willing to use their powers for Good.

<3

Nov 022016
 

470282394I dropped out of college after a year, for a number of reasons, not least among them that I was tired of schooling and I wanted to actually participate in the Real World. I got a job as a office clerk at 19.

Since then I managed to work, jump, and slide my way up the ranks. I’ve been working as a full-on accountant for 15 years, despite never having official Accounting Schooling. You can learn a lot on the job, especially if you like numbers.

But it always felt like I was getting away with something. Especially over the last five years, I’ve been getting promotions I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified for, and been given work that I simply didn’t understand when it first landed on my desk. It would take months of flying by the seat of my pants to get a grasp on what was going on, and in the meantime I still had to make the numbers balance and file the appropriate reports.

I would have nightmares about people asking me what I do in an account (in detail), cuz fuck if I know! Every quarter I was convinced THIS would be the quarter they figured out I had no clue. And every time I didn’t get laid off or fired, I was shocked that I had gotten away with it for one more quarter. A lot of my efforts were put into saving up for when this house of cards came crashing down.

Last month, they finally caught on to me.

Which is kinda ironic, because I had only recently finally gotten almost everything figured out. I feel like I know what I’m doing more than ever before. (And OK — it’s not entirely fair to say they “caught on to me” — as far as I can tell everyone still thinks I was doing a great job.)

Regardless, I no longer have to pretend I know what’s going on, and worry constantly that someone will notice I’m faking it. Today is my last day at my current job. :) Thank god my long personal nightmare of security and prosperity is finally over!

They gave me plenty of warning and a nice severance, so I can’t complain. I’m taking the rest of the year off to finish my novel, and then I’ll dive back into the Real World come January.