1/21/2014

Tickets

To park overnight on the street outside this apartment, one must have a permit receipt in their car, which they acquire at a clunky terminal outside the Pasadena fire station or police station and which costs $3 per night.

On Sunday night I forgot the thing and received a ticket for $46.00 which reminds me once again that this country has a completely awful relationship with government revenue.

Obviously the act of printing out a piece of paper and placing it on my car did not cost the city $46. I am essentially being charged for the fact that an employee exists to do this job at all, just like drivers who venture onto the road with expired car registrations and get tickets are in essence paying for the entire existence of a police force and DMV.

Tickets and fees are used to pay for basic public infrastructure. Because of this country's aversion toward personal taxes, especially as expressed in local voting, no city or state has the money they require to maintain that infrastructure through "honest," or more simply "direct beneficiary to provider" revenue. They make up for it in excessively feeing nuisance-cost-causers.

The most explicit implementation of this scam is the sheriff's offices on highways that target drivers passing between other towns, and ticket completely exorbitant amounts. Here the municipality which the sheriff serves is acquiring revenue from the citizens of other municipalities.

But more common is police unleashing these excessive fees on citizens of their own jurisdiction. The revenue transfer here is between "unethical," cost-causing offenders, who are disrupting efficient road operation for example by disregarding a check on excessive non-residential parking or car-storage on a residential street, to non-offenders who require available spots for their cars.

Maybe on balance drivers from other Los Angeles cities, staying overnight at friend's houses for parties or sex, are paying these Pasadena fines than Pasadena residents, but there's no doubt that Pasadena residents are off paying the same fines in other neighborhoods and cities in turn.

The money is not free just because it comes from a "bad" driver. And this distribution of cost burden is not ideal. Violations like car registration and inspection fall heavier on low-income drivers who have less time and money to keep their cars compliant with these types of laws, but ticketing only adds deprives them further of time and money, making it ever less likely that the car standards the fees are meant to enforce will be upheld. There's no reason not to simply pay for traffic infrastructure with taxes.

It's sensible to design fees to punish cost-causing behavior - tickets should be undesirable. But for most situations $20 would achieve this. What is not sensible is asking offenders to pay for the infrastructure that monitors them. That ignores the fact that the infrastructure provides a constant monetary value to the non-offending beneficiaries. Residents seeking parking for their vehicles outside their homes value that parking. The parking officer provides this value. The parking officer is not a cost inflicted on non-offenders by offenders.


1/02/2013

New Sport: Starball

Brilliant young twitter user @orangejuice_inc was assigning tasks to followers as one of his frequent impromptu social media collaborative enterprises. My assignment was the following:

come up with an imaginary sport. write down all the rules. draw the playing field.


Here is the completed description:

An Imaginary Sport

The game is called starball. It is played on a flat grassy field like American football, with the same number of teams and twice the number of players per team. The field is grassy not for any practical advantage but because it offers a correct aesthetic framing. Lower-leg injuries will just have to be accepted.

1.

Each round begins with the teams on opposite sides of the field with a "negative" to overcome.

The negative is a non-player human who must be convinced to do something by the team. For example, a very full man must be convinced to eat. Or a suicidal woman must be convinced to smile. Or a discouraged writer must be convinced to finish a sentence and have it read to the whole stadium.

The negatives will be located in non-playing cities, and will interact with the teams via a monitor placed on the field (ideal product placement; teleconference by Cisco Systems). The teams may elect to convince their subject with dance at this point but verbal encouragement or threats are allowed, as this preserves the creative dance energies of the players.

The team who overcomes their negative first is presented with the starball, in a compartment underneath the teleconference monitor. They must now rush down the field. The defending team leaves their negative to his or her problems and prepares to intercept.

2.

This is "Phase 2" of the round. The offensive team approaches in a compact diamond formation, with the ball-runner in the center, and may not deviate from the center of the field under true league rules. The defensive team spreads across their side of the field in whatever pattern suits their strategy.

The defensive players may not move after the diamond has crossed mid-field. They are locked into their defense.

No more than three defensive players may occupy the center line (the starball path) at a given moment.

When the diamond is confronted by a player on the starball path the offensive players must use their synchronized dancing skills to erupt into a fractal star that is aesthetically balanced with the surrounding defensive constellation.

If they are successful they must reform into the diamond and move on to the next blocker on the starball path, and face the same challenge.

Whether the star formations are aesthetically pleasing is determined by a panel of judges (but audience reaction is simultaneously recorded via ECG sensors—this is important!).

The offensive team (the diamond) is observing the appearance of the field by the huge screens overhead (product placement) and must determine and execute the ideal formation in response.

They must reach the end zone within two minutes of overcoming the negative. Hesitation is detrimental to success. If they reach the end zone in time they score full points (6).

If the diamond runs out of time, or makes a displeasing star formation, or repeats the same number of arms, the offense must surrender the starball to the confronter.

3.

This constitutes an interception and initiates "Phase 3" of the round.

Phase 3 is brutal and humiliating to underscore the continual failure of art to improve the human spirit.

The intercepting team must reform one at a time into a long train. Essentially the confronter, who has the ball, must run around to collect all his or her teammates, who cannot move until they are rejoined.

Meanwhile the other team, now on the defensive, spreads over the enemy portion of the field in an attempt to obstruct the opposition and hide stray members. The obstructing team may move around as much as they like and may even adorn themselves in their enemies' colors to sew confusion. Truly no tactic is too ignoble in the hot grasp of failure.

The intercepting team hands half-points (3) to the opposition if they depart for the end zone missing a player, or with an imposter player in tow, or do not make it to the end zone within 3 minutes. The frequency of these outcomes inspire feelings of excited helplessness, useless excitement, and shame, among their fans.

But if the intercepting team reaches the end zone in time they score double points (12).

4.

There are two halves of 6 rounds each in a game of starball. In the case of a tie, overtime segments are 2 rounds each until a winner is determined.

Phase 2 is the most important part of a given round. Although the "points" determine which team "wins," the representative cities are competing for a more important outcome on the basis of star-formation artistry alone. In quantifying artistry, judge input is irrelevant. This is where audience reaction is tallied and compared. In proportion to how excited fans became at the enemy team's formations, some will have to move to the other city.

If your team is bested in star-movements by their opponent, you and your household may be selected and relocated to the winning city. You will have to start life over as a fan of the enemy team (product placement; U-Haul).

Moving expenses would not be an issue. They would be paid by the starball league; just one more line-item in the bloated American professional sports industry.

This penalty addresses the main problem with existing professional sports.

The main problem with existing professional sports is that a city will still love its team regardless of failure.

Cities are to be denied this luxury from now on. For like all luxuries, unconditional love is corrupting of moral fiber. In starball, feeling the pain of failure will be mandatory. Engaging in fandom with your new home team after a move will also be mandatory.

Starball fans will be forced to acknowledge what is already true of all professional sports fandom—that they are a commodity belonging to corporate logos and corporate investors—to recognize their indentured status, by being traded between owners. The illusion of nobility in fandom will be revealed for what it is, even as fans are forced to uphold the very same fa├žade.

5.

Finally, starball is to replace all other sports, as they would be distracting to starball.

12/25/2012

Brief Notes on "Gods Can Eat Snow if You Tell Stories About It"


Brief Notes on "Gods Can Eat Snow if You Tell Stories About It"

Prison-Break Guard Games stolen from fairy war in Berserk. That is my favorite scene from that book so naturally I used it to mark the break into more intense absurdity in the Snow story

Ending with the death of the narrator was chosen for several reasons:

1 Normal hard sci-fi tropes (bleakness, death)

2 Normal magical realism tropes (not just death but reverse-doubtcasting on original existence)

3 The author's obscure "genetic narrative" theme. (God/human matings are traditionally fruitful, implies that the narrator lives on in offspring)

New Storify: Gods Can Eat Snow If You Tell Stories About It

12/04/2011

What mole rat sperm teaches us about sharing

Ed Yong at the Not Exactly Rocket Science Blog today brings us reporting of a study that found that naked mole rats have runty, misshapen sperm that can't swim.

Naked mole rats, as I am sure everybody knows, live underground in such inappropriate conditions for mammals that their skin has evolved not to feel pain and they sustain constant near-suffocation. Also they are blind. Basically they are just pouches of cells with legs and heads and no faces. They live underground in East Africa in tunnels, like ants. The naked mole rat's sperm it turns out is a raisin to most species's grapes, and doesn't even have its genetic material packaged correctly sometimes, and is borderline incapable of movement (only 15% of mole rat sperm cells in the study had a tail motor built well enough to enable swimming). Yong explains why this is unique among animals:
Van der Horst thinks that the rodent’s odd social structure is responsible for its malformed sperm. In many other animals, females mate with many males, or can store sperm inside their bodies. In these cases, the sperm do battle inside the female’s body for fertilisation rights. This “sperm competition” is the norm in the animal kingdom, and it has driven the evolution of longer and ever more elaborate sperm.

[...]But the naked mole rat has no sperm competition at all. In any single colony, with around 40 to 90 individuals, the only ones that can reproduce are the queen and her male consort (with a couple of possible affairs on the side). With such fixed fates, there is no reason for the other males to compete for mating rights, and no reason to have Olympic-level sperm.
--Which is the part that interested me the most. Life is inconceivably diverse, but within all that variation there is a general rule that competition rules. Cooperation is not widespread: even within colony-forming animals the runts are unlikely to mate and the elders are left for the some other species's meal; we know all this from Lion King. (The naked mole rat does employ competition among females of the species to replace the only birthing member of the colony, the queen, upon death; but as with ants losing the race to become a reproducing member of the colony probably does not exclude one's genes from regeneration: the sterile portion of the ant colony can influence the gene pool by allocating the best quality nuturing to closer-related offspring of the fertile caste; which is just a guess I am making.)

The mole rat, by staking territory in the most undesirable environment possible, has exempted itself from one of the most universal rules of biology. Thought of in human terms, the naked mole rat is the fictional dwarf society living underground: mining, getting dirty, bur minus the mustaches, and plus eating its own poop. Mole rat colonies will find a huge tuber and nibble on it over a period of years; but young mole rats diet on the feces of their caretakers until they can digest their own food (the naked mole rat's common lifespan is almost 30 years).

There is something of the mythological in the naked mole rat's non-competitive squalor. It is living proof of a communal utopian society that most animals can't stop squirming a shiv into their brother's lungs long enough to even dream of. It seems cut from the same ideas of sharing and equality that power all sorts of our Western tropes and stereotypes, from the slothly dream futures of the mid-20th century where robots would enable us to be sedentary and we could wrap virtual reality visors around our eyes; to the recurring Protestant work-ethic fantasy of the noble savage, whose life is both phyiscally harsh and emotionally untroubled. Normally these contradictory ideas only find their home in the anachronistic fantasy societies of fiction, short furry people who live in caves or treehouses, and forgo competitive systems like capitalism and democracy in favor of sharing and senioriarchy (but also have fantastic technology or riches). That the mole rat actually embodies these contradictory ideas in a workable way is proof of its not belonging to the same rules that govern most of life on Earth.

Funnily enough, the other species to occupy this same rare sphere of social organization, of hierarchical work-sharing replacing open reproductive competition, also live in tunnels: ants, termites, and some wasps and bees. So, it's something about tunnels. Perhaps tunnels are both in biology and in fiction a substitute for stable, authoritarian government: a structure that provides relative security from outside threats, that nourishes the favored and the worker caste alike, but limits freedom and pleasure.

10/27/2011

Bus vomiter

Yesterday a young man two feet away from me vomited and made me lose my iPod Touch.

He was at the seat in front of me (and I was in the sideways seat, so facing the direction he turned to go stomach-suprise in). He covered it with his hand like a cough, I think that was a bad decision.

This was on the bus, and it happened right as the bus was stopping. So without even wiping his hand he just ran off the bus. Then the bus driver just started driving! Here was the thing that made me lose my iPod Touch, because I had been reading it at the time, and set it down without realizing as I jumped to the front of the bus to tell the driver "Hey a dude vomited." Now that I was at the front of the bus, I wasn't going to walk back. That would have been pretty weird. I mean the rest of the people in the back were just sitting there but it was all sliding around, it wasn't a good place to be. The bus driver kept going for two more stops before leaving his seat. I left since I was with my bike and didn't need to wait. I did not perceive that I was missing my iPod Touch until just before going to bed.

(I realize that leaving my seat just to tell the bus driver about vomit was a questionable action. I could have instead yelled this information to the driver from where I was, and not lost my iPod Touch. But I don't believe in yelling in public. If a person starts yelling in public, whatever the reason, really they are just a doctor's note away from being an official crazy person. I don't want to become a crazy person. I stand by my choices.)

What I reflected on during the pleasant bike-ride home, was how un-upset the vomiting man made me. It was clear why: he was a handsome young dude. I really sympathized with him, and hoped he was well soon. Maybe he has super-tragic cancer! When a handsome person vomits, you just assume they have a really good reason, and that it isn't a product of poor life decisions. I bet if I were a girl and that guy vomited on me, I would have given him my phone number. Maybe he needs a sad wife to watch him die of tragic Young Man Cancer.

Whereas, if that had been some old dude with wrinkles and stuff, I imagine I would have been really more worried and upset about being 10% vomited on.

Wherever you are vomiting handsome dude, I hope you don't have cancer.

10/17/2011

Is America Like Libya or Egypt?

In my internet circles I have read complaints about the claims of some Occupy protesters that this movement is inspired or bears a relationship with the Arab Spring. The complaint is that it is absurd to compare the difficulties facing the American people with those faced by the citizens of Egypt or Libya.

For most Americans, such a comparison is definitely weird. Most Americans are not deprived of free speech, political organizing, and voting rights via a 30-year long state of emergency declaration, as Egypt's people were. Most Americans also don't have to worry about ending up in a secret prison without trial, as 5000 - 10000 of Egypt's people were in the year before the revolution.

But most Americans is not the same as all Americans! Invoking the injustices of Egypt and Libya, whatever its flaws as good messaging, can only be called a crazy idea if you forget that America contains lots of people, and not all of them are white twenty year-olds.

For some more comparisons,

The population of Libya is 6.5 million.

The prison population of the United States is 2.3 million, with an additional 4.9 million on parole or probation, and an additional 40 million out of the justice system but still holding criminal records that prevent employment for which they would otherwise be eligible, or limit their access to government assistance, or legally forbid them from voting in many states*. The United States has something like two Libyas-worth of disenfranchised citizens who will never break out of poverty.

Back to the original 2.3 million actually in jail:

905,000 are black.
475,000 are Hispanic.

500,000 are awaiting trial at any given moment. The United States has a rolling population of .5 million untried prisoners at all times.

Out of the 1.5 million in state and federal prison, 12ish percent, 180,000 people, are there for pot. The percentage within local jails and the parole/probation population is harder to find out.


Of course, this isn't largely what the white kids in the 99% are protesting. They're protesting inequality. Clearly America's inequality problem should never be compared to Egypt or Libya.

(One more tidbit: The population of Egypt, 80 million, is 43% urban. Of all Egyptians, 30% enroll in some amount of post-secondary education, 15% graduate. 2/3rds of the population of Egypt is under 30. The median age of Egypt is 24.)



*All states except Maine and Vermont take away voting rights upon felony conviction. 2,000,000 Americans who have completed applicable prison and parole sentences are ineligible to vote due to prior convictions. Millions more fail to re-register to vote after becoming eligible due to confusion over their state's re-registration laws.
-Source for prison population statistics: Wikipedia
-Source for post-prison and disenfranchisement statistics: ACLU: Voting With A Criminal Record - Executive Summary