Monthly Archives: March 2017

Shows I’ve been enjoying

Some of my favorite shows for 2016:

People vs OJ
Steven Universe
Young Pope
Regular Show
The OA
Mr. Robot
Game of Thrones
Bob’s Burgers

This is just off the top of my head. There are other shows I liked but forgot to list and other shows that I haven’t watched yet. There are also shows that I like but didn’t have strong seasons in 2016 so I didn’t list them.

I also watched a lot of Mary Tyler Moore, a lot of Friends, and all of Seinfeld, which continues my sitcom education. I’ve previously watched all of Cheers and Frasier.

I’m currently really enjoying Legion.

The Future Looks Like This

This is incredibly inspiring: How Progressive Cities Can Reshape the World — And Democracy

I think this is what the future should look like. Smaller units of governance, with the ability to collaborate on larger levels. Smart use of technology to get closer to direct democracy, seeing what the people really want. It’s also a very practical guide, insofar as it looks to occupy current institutions and combine that with work outside those institutions. It also acknowledges our very real problems, whereas neoliberalism denies them. In that way, it presents a true alternative to the autocratic, xenophobic right-wing that’s gaining steam worldwide.

Gonna do more research.

Brave New War

I devoured, over two days, Brave New War by John Robb. If you want to understand how modern day conflicts are fought, this is a must-read. It came out in 2007 and is still relevant (helps explains Trump) and will be relevant for a long time. I also recommend his blog.

Not Going to Make a Go Pun Here

Crepes-a-Go-Go is moving from downtown to closer to San Pablo, near the library on University. When I talked to the owner, he said that some big New York developer had bought that entire block and kicked everyone out. They had been in that location for something like 29 years. He added that Berkeley isn’t a place for mom and pop shops anymore. Later, Stevie told me that she thought maybe the University had owned the land and then sold it to the developers. I don’t want Berkeley to get San Francisco-ized. Is there anything that can be done?

Not a Utopia

I believe society should provide for everyone’s basic needs. Everyone should have food, shelter, education, and mental and physical health care.

Some would call this utopian. I disagree. I would call it the bare fucking minimum for a just society.

Providing for basic needs wouldn’t solve a lot of humanity’s problems. We’ll still fight. There will still be a lot of injustice.

But it’s a necessary start. I truly believe that providing for basic needs instead of forcing people into wage slavery would unleash a lot of human creativity. It’s not about problems magically being solved, but allowing people to use more of their time and energy to start working on those problems.

It speaks to how poor our imaginations are that this counts as utopian thinking. There’s enough for everyone. We have the technology to provide for everyone and the technology to make the distribution possible. It’s all within reach. It’s not pie in the sky thinking. We live in an age where this is doable.

Note that I didn’t say we’d all be perpetually full and jolly. I didn’t say we’d all live in mansions with everything we want. It’s only the basic needs that I’m talking about right now. That’s not utopian at all and fuck capitalism for making us think that it is.

Twitch Plays Pokemon and New Forms of Government

I could see myself looking at back at this and thinking I was really stupid to write this, but I’m going to write it anyway. I already cringe at a lot of what I previously wrote anyway. Blogging is for this, I guess. Putting out your proto-thoughts into the void so that you can laugh at them later. No, really, though, this is helping me reason through things. And more importantly, get them out of my brain so I can move on to reasoning about newer things. I’ve mostly been focusing on trashing liberals because it helps me collect my thoughts so that I can be nicer on Facebook and push the conversation leftward without people muting me right away. When people are rehabilitating Bush (and even saying they’d rather have Nixon), I feel like this is important work. I use the word important very loosely. Please don’t think I’m that full of myself. Anyway, I do want to spend some of my brainspace thinking of more positive views of the future. Even if those first attempts are awkward. So here we go.

Twitch Plays Pokemon was a massive success in decentralized decision-making. In case you don’t remember, TTP was when someone hooked up a hacked version of the original pokemon game to Twitch and let people enter commands to play. It was chaos. Anyone who could chat could play. You typed in A, B, start, select, up, down, left or right and your command was put in the queue. When I first saw it, I was like, “Oh, haha, that’s neat” and then peaced out. I was later drawn back in after a co-worker told me that it was amazing. And indeed it was.

What emerged was strategy and mythology. People posted strategies on a subreddit. (I imagine everyone is familiar with reddit, but people were talking on a forum that was just for people playing TPP.) They proposed where what we should try that day. There were competing ideas. They were upvoted and downvoted accordingly. But in the end, the vote that mattered was the hive mind. People voted by posting the moves they wanted in the TPP chat. You could see the struggles. The character would move up and then down again and then up and slowly (or quickly) one side would win the tug of war. The hive mind moved it and it obeyed. The strategies were actually being executed. All this just from a bunch of people typing commands.

I remember in particular an argument about whether we should put a pokemon in the day care or not. I disagreed. The character wobbled back and forth as the argument raged on. I kept trying to push it in the opposite direction. But I could see we were losing. We made it to the day care and deposited a pokemon. You could feel yourself as part of this collective.

As the game progressed, people posted tactics too. Ledges are one-way barriers. To progress through the game, sometimes you have to make it through a pathway with ledges. If you drop down the ledge, then you have to go all the way back around. As you can imagine, this is a much more difficult task when you have a bajillion people typing in commands, not all of whom agree with the direction you’re going. At the beginning, people were spamming up to keep from being pushed down. Eventually, the tactics changed to where people were not spamming up because it actually made going through ledges harder. (I won’t bore you with the full details because I’ve probably bored you enough.) So, the collective intelligence managed to not only move around strategically, but it managed to get smarter and more efficient.

There were also trolls. Most of the people wanted us to beat the game. That was the goal. Some people didn’t want that. They’d do things like push us towards the computer and try to release pokemon. The collective pushed back, though. What made this so inspiring is that we won. In so many other arenas, trolls win. They poison the discourse and get people to leave. They harass and destroy. They graduate to doxxing and swatting and even shooting. But if you structure the rules correctly, anarchy can produce great results. You can win even with the participation of bad agents. More importantly, most of us wanted this to happen. It truly followed the will of the people. I remember being emotionally moved when we finally won. I stayed up late to watch. At the time, we had no idea if it was possible to win or not. We won, and it was a triumph against trolls everywhere.

I used the word anarchy earlier. It might be misleading to say it was all “anarchy.” To progress through the game, you have to get some stuff in the Safari Zone. It costs money to enter and you only get a certain number of steps. With the rules in place, we would’ve run out of money and then could never complete the game. So, the game was changed. A new mode was created. Democracy mode. In this mode, there was a timer. Everyone inputed their commands. Instead of the character moving in every direction, it only moved in the direction that got the most votes in that time. Tick tick. Move move. It worked. Then, we were given a choice. You could put in the normal commands, or you could place a vote for anarchy or democracy. When it reached a certain threshold, the mode changed. The collective used this to our advantage. You see, we dynamically changed our mode of governance in order to best meet our challenges. It’s really amazing when you think about it. Usually, it’s very hard to enact such constitutional changes, but we flipped back and forth. New strategies arose in reddit and the collective mind moved.

Besides the strategy, reddit also became a compendium of mythology. The game screen showed one thing, but we narrativized it further and imbued the game with even more meaning. The collective mind would sometimes do silly things, like look at the helix fossil a bunch of times in a row. This became a meme where “consult the helix fossil” was a phrase and the helix fossil was deemed an oracle. Then, there arose counter-mythologies about how the helix fossil was a false prophet and the dome fossil was the truth. I even own a helix fossil t-shirt. When pokemon were released accidentally or due to trolling (or a little of both), we eulogized the lost. Some of our pokemon became heroes. A single venomoth took out a dragonite. ATV slew dragonite all by his lonesome. Fan art arose. And people also explained the mechanics of the game that allowed this unlikely event to happen. It’s part of what made the game so fun. Also, because the game was global, I’d sleep and then Asia and Australia would play. I couldn’t watch or rewatch what they’d done. (Besides, literally rewatching would be boring.) However, I did get narrativized recaps through reddit. It was fun participating and it was fun spectating.

The other half of this blog post’s title is “New Forms of Government.” Now this is where I get silly, but I think this social experiment proves that this type of anarchic decision making isn’t doomed to failure. Some think that the people can’t be trusted with power, but I think they can. People point to popular votes where the “wrong” outcome was given. People vote for the less talented, but more palatable individual in a reality singing competition. People pick “Boaty McBoatface” as a boat name. However, in a world more complex than pokemon, government by an elite few actually can cause more harm. Think of the very serious foreign policy types who always argue for military intervention. Decentralized decision making was right for pokemon and it is right for the world. And one thing that is often missing from these discussions is that pokemon was a much more enjoyable experience this way. If it was run by an elite few, it would’ve been rather boring to watch. Boaty McBoatface is a great name, by the way. It elicits joy.

Even beyond actual government, so much of our world is actually tiny dictatorships. Companies are run by CEOs. Employees often get very little say. Even open-source projects, which is thought of as collectivist (because anyone can contribute), are mostly governed very hierarchically. Pull requests are committed based on the decision of the person who owns the repository. Or they endow some people with the power to approve. But it would be interesting to make git repositories that were governed different. Maybe with some type of voting system? Forums and comments are governed by admins and moderators with the power to banish or edit. What if people could be voted in or out, and this could be done without mods? While content is created in a more decentralized manner on social media, its distribution is determined algorithmically but not neutrally. That is, Zuckerberg can decide that live video is important and boom, it’s privileged more in your feed. In a more decentralized world, the platform would be open and algorithms would compete.

I truly believe that technology can positively reshape the way we govern ourselves. With new software, we can come to collective decisions more instantly, more dynamically, in a more decentralized fashion, and that this will improve humanity. I know, it sounds techno-utopian. I’m often more curmudgeonly about technology. But think about what we have already collectively accomplished. As programmers, we have collectively contributed to Stack Overflow and created this hive mind so we don’t have to waste time solving the same problems over and over. It’s free and amazing. It has collectively made us so much more productive. Open-source projects are similarly a boon to us collectively. Projects like Ruby on Rails make humanity better. Instead of reinventing boilerplate code, we can collectively create abstractions and work on what truly matters. Beyond even using an open-source plug-in to add a feature to make our lives easier, we can create infrastructure. So much of this is done for free, for the collective betterment of society, not for profit.

And, oh, we also beat Pokemon.

Imagine a world more like this. And imagine instead of administrators of these open-source projects being bogged down by fatigue, the project was maintained collectively, not just collective contributions. How much more could we improve society? This is why I am sometimes optimistic. We are in an age of instantaneous communication across vast distances. We should be able to harness this power to turn our governments into decentralized, dynamic units.

Liberalism Can’t Answer Trumpism

So, Trump is saying that Obama wiretapped him. Liberals say Trump is a liar. I mean, he is generally prone to making shit up. I do doubt Obama literally had a wiretap in Trump Tower. At the same time, he presided over an expansion of mass surveillance over Americans. Liberals can nitpick but offer no substantive critique of surveillance.

People are shitting on Ben Carson for saying that slaves were immigrants. Yes, Ben Carson made crude, offensive, stupid, illogical remarks. But in response to the Muslim ban, these same people were unironically, proudly saying that “America is a nation of immigrants” and “Immigrants built America.” These phrases feed into American exceptionalism all the same. Here’s a good pieceon what’s wrong with those phrases.

These are just two examples based on recent news. Liberalism offers no real answer to Trumpism. All its critiques don’t go far enough. They actually uphold fascism (mass surveillance) and colonialism.

Goodbye Sushi Ko

Sushi Ko recently closed. I only started eating there because the Japanese place across the street had closed after a fire. (I miss that place. Decent sushi, good non-sushi, never too crowded.) Eventually, I started eating there every Wednesday with my business partner. They had a really good lunch special with gyoza and teriyaki chicken. The regular lunch bento where you got to pick and choose was already a great deal, and the lunch special was an extra dollar off. The special switched days, our work schedule changed, but we still kept coming back.

One day we were going to walk in. The door was open, but no one was sitting at the tables. It was just the owners packing things up. Are you closed? Is it just for the day? Forever? Why? They told us it was closing because the rent was going up by a lot. We thanked the owners.

It makes me sad to see a nice restaurant like that close, not because business was bad, but because rent was going up. In its place will be some dumb wings place, or so says the sign indicating someone in that spot is applying for a liquor license.

Nearby a Tender Greens has opened. I ate there and it was good. It’s much more expensive, though. (The portions are big enough that it’s not a rip-off.) A Blue Bottle recently opened in the WeWork building. They serve avocado toast, the current fad food used to rip off hipsters.

Games of Berkeley has moved. I was glad to see it wasn’t closed forever. They had a red tag sale, but I didn’t see anything interesting. It’s weird seeing the iconic building empty.

I recently ate at Long Life Veggie House. It has very generous portions for a good price, especially the lunch specials. It’s a trip being inside because it’s at the old SpoonRocket HQ. I look around and I can still see the tangle of wires in the closet, the router where I replaced the cable with one of my personal cables, the shelving stuffed with stickers and whatnot, the curtains, and of course, the wall of Cambros. Oh and I remember the people. Anyway, Long Life Veggie House used to be downtown. I suppose its rent went up a lot too.

Restaurants always come and go. It’s a high turnover business. But I hope we don’t see more Berkeley restaurants replaced by chains. Don’t you dare touch Top Dog.

The Other Side

I’ve seen liberals want to understand the other side. For them, this means trying to read more conservative/Republican sources.

I recently read a tweet (can’t find it, ugh, but I’ll try again later) about how from a global perspective, US Democrats are considered to be a party on the right side of the political spectrum.

So, if liberals really want to look at the other side, they’d be better served reading non-US leftists.

Perhaps this is what was bothering me when people were talking about bubbles after the election. That liberals need to look beyond capitalism and imperialism to truly get outside their bubble.

UPDATE: Found the tweet. I think someone else I follow quote tweeted it and added more, but I can’t find that.

Gacha Gotcha

I recently downloaded RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch. I have fond memories of the original RollerCoaster Tycoon game, managing a park’s finances and building cool coasters. The touch version is garbage. I mean, it’s slick for what it is. But I have what mobile games have become. Rides make money. Then, you have to come back every so often to tap them and collect the money. Rides have a maximum amount of money they can hold, so you have to come re-open the game. It’s very Farmville-esque, but hyper-powered as games chase engagement metrics. Then, there’s the stupid slot machine mechanic. In order to build things, you have to collect cards. Cards are random. So, it could be forever before you get the thing you need.

Building a roller coaster wasn’t even allowed until I reached Level 5. Once there, the game noticed that I didn’t have the cards I needed, took pity, and gave me more. (Meanwhile, people leave the park because I can’t get the cards to give them the types of food they like.) The actual process of building a roller coaster was a disaster. The controls are difficult and unintuitive.

The game is completely joyless. I’m so tired of free-to-play. All of these mechanics make for things that aren’t actually games. They’re optimized for extracting revenue.

Some of the first games I played on iOS brought me so much joy. When I first played World of Goo on iPad, I thought it was magical. It felt like it was the way the game should be played. Lost Winds was similarly amazing. It was a platformer where you drew lines of wind to move your character around. The characters and story, the background and the villains, were all charming.

Lost Winds will be unplayable when I update my iPad. I’ve been putting it off. I wish we could preserve this history better. iOS versions go up and up. The game doesn’t make more money. Eventually, the game is no longer compatible. It disappears. In fact, Apple recently purposely purged a lot of unworking games from the store. I can’t download the games anymore. They’re gone forever. A lot of games from my childhood are better preserved. I can still boot up a DOS VM and play old shareware games. But what will happen to these old games?

With Lost Winds, I can still download the game from Steam, but it loses its magic when not played on the touch screen.

There are still a lot of amazing mobile games. I recently downloaded Causality. I’ve also been playing Mini Metro and Hoplite. Amanita Design’s wordless adventure games remain among my favorites. Monument Valley is beautiful. None of them are free-to-play, though. Maybe I’ll try paying for RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic.

It makes me incredibly sad to see these joyless games and to see some of my favorite games disappear. Are there any projects to preserve them?

Trump Doesn’t Need a Fire

I saw an article or articles going around about how Trump could possibly use his own Reichstag Fire to consolidate power and enact emergency measures. I’m not sure why, but these articles troubled me — not because I thought they were true, but because something in the framework that creates these types of pieces is wrong. I guess I’d like to explore why I think this.

What’s interesting is we already had a moment like this with George W. Bush. Bush used a terrorist attack to compromise civil liberties. The Patriot Act expanded the government’s ability to surveil us. Beyond the Patriot Act, there was illegal spying. All of these were essentially approved of by the Democrats, including when telecoms were given immunity for helping the government with illegal surveillance. Clinton voted for the Patriot Act, in fact. The world we live in now, with the NSA able to listen in to anything, where Western countries help each other spy on their own citizens, is directly a result of what happened under Bush. Obama promised constitutionality, but did not dismantle any of this. Trump now has control of this. So why does he need to create some type of false flag operation to gain power? What additional surveillance powers would he gain? How, in this case, is Trump unique?

In addition to spying, the CIA engaged in torture. Obama promised to close Guantanamo, but never did. Trump has promised to start torturing again. Now, liberals are starting to rehabilitate Bush and Romney as “reasonable” Republicans. Bush already used a terror attack to start torturing people. Romney promised to “double Guantanamo” when he was running for office. People cheered for this shit. Trump doesn’t need an additional terrorist attack.

Our domestic police forces have become increasingly militarized since the war on terror. This includes not only the way they approach things, but equipment. Yeah, the police has military grade equipment. And they used it at Standing Rock, attacking water protectors. This happened under Obama, paused, and then resumed under Trump. Trump didn’t need to do anything special. We’re worried about hypothetical shit when what’s already happening is not that far off from worst case scenario.

This is just analyzing the Bush era. Let’s not forget that America has continuously attacked minorities. The way the police treat black people is already fascistic. This is a part of America’s past and it is part of our present, as witnessed through countless cell phone videos. This is propped up by the prison-industrial complex. The US already locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other country. Our so-called rule of law and systems of justice are Kafkaesque nightmares. Poor people are locked up for years before they even get a trial because they can’t make bail. The conditions inside our prisons are inhumane. Oh and remember when I mentioned torture, let’s not forget Chicago’s own “black site” for torturing its own citizens. In Ferguson, the city systematically targeted its own black citizens, using the police force to extort them with fines. All this, and Trump didn’t even have to lift a finger.

So I guess I wonder why we have to invent dystopias when we already live in one.

I do recognize that it can get “worse.” That me in my privileged bubble and my privileged friends could have our bubbles popped. I’m in the middle of reading a cartoonist’s account of the conditions in Serbia during the war and sanctions. We don’t have hyper-inflation going on here; we have running water and electricity. Lucky us, I guess. Oh and neo-Nazis don’t freely roam the streets yet. And myself, I haven’t taken up arms for a revolution. So, maybe my actions show that I don’t really believe it’s so bad as to be a dystopia. I am thinking and learning, though… and writing. But even with all that, I think if we truly want to be free, we need to look clearly at what has already happened. If don’t normalize Trump but normalize the pre-Trump status quo, then we have lost. If we worry about Trump using a terrorist attack to further erode civil liberties, but “miss Bush,” then we have lost.

The final thing that bothers me is the idea that Trump could perhaps use a protest as pretext to further grab power. That perhaps if it became a riot, then he could crack down. Beyond the fact that this ignores the already militarized response to protests (which I’ve already covered above), it seems to disempower those who would want to protest. That Trump and crew are omnipotent evil villains and everything we do somehow plays into their plans. It’s just a cleverer way of dressing up the normal liberal complaints. When it comes to radical demands, they’ll pretend to agree with the principles but disagree with the means or disagree with on’s tone. In the past, they thought actions of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s were all counterproductive. Oddly enough, though, none of the right’s moves are ever counterproductive. It’s an inconsistent framework.

I do understand that some actions are counterproductive. I recognize this in foreign policy where intervention can cause more problems. One of my favorite parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender is when King Bumi is attacked by the Fire Nation and decides to do nothing (and then waits for a better moment). Doing nothing is sometimes awesome. But not now. We need swarms of people trying different tactics.

Hm, so I think I have adequately figured out why I find those types of articles troubling. Time for sleep.