Foibles in Finding Fault

ABC-15, Phoenix, via Associated Press

A driverless car hit a woman who was walking her bicycle across a street at night. Numerous articles, some less useful than others, but also some more helpful to a better understanding, describe this incident. For example, in order of increasing technical detail,

Police In Arizona Release Dashcam Video Of Fatal Crash Involving Self-Driving Car

Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Pedestrian in Arizona, Where Robots Roam

How a Self-Driving Uber Killed a Pedestrian in Arizona

Uber Self-Driving Car Fatality Reveals the Technology’s Blind Spots

I have tried to find articles that do not center on or advance irresponsible histrionics, egregious ideological bias, or insulting, simplistic thinking. Critical thinking matters, especially when people’s lives are at stake.

Given the infancy of driverless vehicle technology, how significant is this incident? All knowledgeable observers have been expecting, and dreading, that something like this would happen. Now that it has, how do we put this in a context that makes sense? That is helpful? That is at least somewhat productive for society? Certainly, snap judgments and scapegoating are the opposite. So let’s first consider a few facts.

According to the CDC, in 2015 (latest official U.S. mortality data) the lower bound on the number of pedestrians killed by people-driven cars was 5,719. Another 17,008 were killed by ‘unspecified’ means involving motor vehicles, so the real number is probably higher than 5,719. Another 8313 vehicle occupants died in accidents, cars killed 4,431 motorcyclists, 675 bicyclists, and 15 ‘other’. Of necessity, those are all lower bounds as well. The total number of motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. in 2015 was therefore 36,161. Further, 94% of traffic accidents are due to human error (i.e., insufficiently sound judgment).

However, the number of driverless cars on the road is as yet statistically minuscule, and the miles driven under realistic circumstances even more statistically minuscule. So any direct comparison is invalid in the absence of substantially further data and more discriminating data measures (such as number of fatal accidents per mile driven) with which to compare. The significance of this incident, for now, lies elsewhere.

In the immediate aftermath of this unfortunate and terrible accident, many of us have several questions in common: what might have gone wrong? Where should we look for correctable fault? With whom should we lay blame? Is attempting to lay blame on someone even useful, to anybody? I would argue that the answer to that last question, at least, is easy and should be obvious: no. The situation is complicated in several arenas (technical, political, psychological, among probably others), with many confounding factors. So, based on experience if nothing else, we know it is likely there are no easy or quick answers. Certainly, simplistic thinking is neither productive nor beneficial.

With regard to the political context…. As so often has happened in the past couple of decades, we could again be looking at the sad, unnecessary consequences of conservative values enacted as irresponsible and reckless public policy: private profits tend to matter more than people’s lives. But that is an entirely separate, infuriating, and thoroughly expletive-laden subject. Here, let us choose not to go there.

With regard to sensors, the Wikipedia article on driverless cars sheds some light but, surprisingly, not much:

Typical sensors include lidar, stereo vision, GPS and IMU.[42] Visual object recognition uses machine vision including neural networks.

The last two journalistic articles linked above are more helpful. In this context, “vision” can mean optical or infrared or both (and/or even some other wavelength range, such as radar). I would have been utterly shocked if these systems did not use both IR and optical sensors. It’d surely be the height of both stupidity and irresponsibility if they did not. It is worth pointing out that engineers are not stupid, and rarely irresponsible, while corporate upper management sometimes is — and politicians almost certainly can be counted on being — both stupid and the epitome of irresponsibility. Given the current apparently poor regulation in this area, I suppose stupidity and irresponsibility are therefore potentially viable likelihoods, despite the no doubt multiple layers of safety protocols that smart people, down at the technical levels inside the companies, have nevertheless managed to put in place despite upper-level idiots (if any).

If this particular car was outfitted with both visible and IR sensors (lidar would necessarily be IR in this context), then the fault must be either 1) with the chosen sensor sensitivities, the chosen sensor ranges, or the chosen sensor fields of view, or some combination thereof; or 2) within the AI decision assessment of the filtered and cleaned input signals; or 3) some combination of both. That’s it; those are the options. Yes, it’s complicated.

(I’m assuming there was not a sensor failure, which would be both a manufacturing testing and reliability fault as well as a redundancy failure in the design. This is a different topic I won’t address here, but at this point it’s also a possibility.)

Indeed, as we learn from the articles above, this vehicle used optical, IR, and radar sensors, as one would reasonably and correctly think should be the case. Whether or not the production design had been recklessly limited to just optical wavelengths — I find it unthinkably unlikely that any significant U.S. company would be that self-destructively reckless, but suppose so anyway — then you must arguably add, and otherwise could reasonably add, a fourth potential likelihood: the fault lies foremost with a cost/safety trade-off decision or series of decisions that some fucking idiot in a position of overriding power might have made — undoubtedly (if this even happened) over the vehement objections of the design engineers and other technical experts. Trade off decisions are ultimately subjective assessments, whether wisely made or not, therefore a thick morass of difficulties and ambiguities. (As an aside, optical-only would be, and many other potential technical shortcomings could be, a direct consequence of allowing privatization in the absence of regulation of technological advances, in spite of all the obvious public risks. Ayn Rand was a fucktard and an awful human.)

But here’s the point I wish to make: either way, the woman who was struck and killed was NOT at fault, no matter how careless or distracted she may or may not have been in that terrible moment. Keep in mind that we can never really know her state of mind or level of distractedness anyway. The available data are insufficient for attempting any such assessment, even if it could have been useful (it is not). But even so that judgment, however tempting for some people when emotions run high, is not relevant. In addition, it is not relevant that she was not at a cross walk; those exist to primarily to counter (or, rather, partly contain) human driver error. Nor is it relevant that it was dark instead of broad daylight: a paucity of optical photons does not affect two of the three sensor wavelength ranges, while optical sensors that are extremely sensitive at low light levels are a well-established and inexpensive technology. It even is not relevant that the safety driver was provably distracted and then failed to react and take control. None of these are relevant if a fatal fault lies further up the precedence hierarchy.

I watched the video clip of the incident, compiled from on-board optical cameras, several times. It is crystal clear to me that this accident should never have happened, because first and foremost something either is or went wrong (or is at least insufficiently comprehensive, therefore still wrong) with the sensor design, or the sensor data analysis software (this is where noise filtering takes place), or the software decision module (the machine learning and AI part), or — and this I think is most likely — some combination of those. Even if every reasonable precaution had been allowed — and we all know that every precaution engineers deemed necessary and reasonable very likely was not allowed, for a variety of reasons (some good, some bad) — this still is where the fault lies that we should all care most about right now. It is a complex system operating in a complex, time-variable setting, and somewhere therein lies a problem, a bug, or an oversight that unambiguously takes precedence over whatever may or may not have been happening with that poor, tragically unlucky woman.

We don’t know yet what, exactly, happened. But we know where we should be looking. It behooves all of us — society — to allow unhindered gathering of all possibly relevant data around the event and give the experts the access, resources, and time that, according to them, they need to hunt down the real cause and find ways to fix it. The technical problem, wherever it lies, is the only valid first priority. Setting up red herrings (“it’s her fault!”, “no, it’s Uber’s fault!”, “no, it’s capitalism’s fault!”, “no, it’s the idiot Arizona legislators’ faults for once again valuing corporate profit over human lives!”, etc.) only uselessly distracts from — and maybe even will prevent — tracking down the technical problem.

Complex systems can behave in unexpected ways. Probably several things — perhaps even each one innocuous in isolation — had to combine for this accident to have happened. It is likely every single-fault failure mode was identified and mitigated by the design and test engineers. Those failure points are relatively straightforward to deal with, and, again, engineers are far from stupid. However, multiple chained events leading to unexpected, even unpredictable, behavior in a complex system can be extremely difficult and time-consuming to debug, both before and after the fact — especially in the presence of insufficient testing or design resources. This is every engineer’s absolute, hands down, most disturbing nightmare. It is THE thing that keeps engineers up at night.

Yet even if every conceivable precaution had been (allowed to be) taken, dependent multimode failures can and do still happen anyway. It is inherent in the very natures of technological advance and sophisticated systems.

Sometimes, nobody is to blame.

The best anybody can ever do — and therefore the most anybody can ever ask — is to implement every reasonably knowable precaution and perform every reasonably knowable relevant test, and iterate sufficiently many of these design-test-correct cycles to satisfy everyone’s most important misgivings, in order to ferret out all (you hope) of the important gotchas you undoubtedly didn’t or couldn’t, for whatever reasons, think of beforehand. Even then, surprising shit will happen. To further compound things, in the real world you very rarely (as in: never) can afford to fully implement these to everybody’s satisfaction, which just makes bad unexpected events all the more unavoidably likely.

Nobody wants it to happen, or even to be a possibility, but bad shit is very likely going to happen no matter what. You do your best — and, even in the real world, almost everybody in this line of work does — given the current context, available knowledge, and available resources, and you hope that you’ve managed to mitigate the severity of the consequences of the inevitable but unpredictable bad things to a sufficient extent that in the end you have navigated this unavoidable minefield without anybody getting hurt or killed.

That didn’t happen, this time. But nobody should be surprised. Nor should anybody be at all quick in pronouncing — nor is anybody entitled to pronounce — ill-informed judgments.

This is the way it is. You learn from the problems that, despite all your efforts, hit you, you fix them, you become wiser (if more saddened), and you move on. My dad was an aircraft flight test instrumentation engineer, so I grew up seeing him and his friends live this process, several times. Please believe me when I say nothing is more inexpressibly horrible, nor more dreaded, nor more devastating, for any engineer to have to live through — and continue to live with — than somebody getting killed. But it happens. Sometimes, nobody is to blame.

Facts Matter: We Know Why Only the U.S. Suffers Frequent Mass Shootings

An abandoned AR-15 assault weapon, congealed victim blood, and empty sandals. July 20, 2012, mass shooting, Aurora, Colorado. (photo credit: AP)

For the umpteen-gazillionth time, here is a known fact: America has more mass shootings — more gun murders — than any other country on Earth, because America has more guns per person than any other country on Earth[3,6,8,11,10,12,13,15]. Our mass shootings problem is not due to any other factor.

It really is this straightforward: more guns, more gun murders; fewer guns, fewer gun murders.

This uniquely American obscenity — frequent mass shootings — is not related to mental illness. The rates of mental illness in the U.S. do not differ from those of other nations[2,11]. It is not related to crime rate. The U.S. is not more prone to crime than other developed countries[6,11,13,17]. It is not related to racial diversity issues. Pointedly, in this era of blatant self-serving liars infesting our nation’s statehouses, Congress, and the White House, America’s gun problem is not related to immigration[4,7,14]. Every study that examines this has found that recent immigrants — documented or not — are less prone to violent crime. Our gun problem is also not related to video games[5]. It is none of these things, nor is it primarily due to anything else. America is suffering a disastrous public health problem[16], and we have long known how to substantially reduce it[1,11]. The largest causative factor for mass killings is simply this: the number of guns. More guns, more gun murders.

A corollary of this fact is inescapable: reducing the rate of gun ownership reduces the rate of gun murders. The relation is clean, and its interpretation is unambiguous[11].

Every other developed nation on Earth has already not just discovered this but has acted upon it to protect and to better their own societies — and it has, with no exceptions, worked. Further, every evidence-based, peer-reviewed study of this relation has verified that the relation is causal — that it is factually true.

More guns, more gun murders.

What about mass killing lethality — the body count per mass shooting? This is not directly related to the question we’re examining here of why we, alone among all nations, have so many mass killings. But any discussion of mass killings in America would be remiss if it did not point out that the death toll from our daily rate of mass shootings — 347 in calendar 2017, for example[9] — is as high as it is not just because of the frequency of mass shootings but also because of the nearly unrestricted lethality of our readily available weaponry:

In my large file of mass murders, if you look decade by decade, the numbers of victims are fairly small up until the 1960s. That’s when the deaths start going way up. When the AK-47s and the Kalashnikovs and the Uzis — all these semiautomatic weapons, when they became so easily accessible.
— Dr. Michael Stone, forensic psychiatrist, Columbia University[2]

(Emphasis mine.) Ready availability of guns is the American Problem. The unjustifiable, immoral lethality of automatic and semi-automatic weaponry that is so easily available to Americans greatly compounds this American Problem of mass shootings.

Another notable difference about the U.S. and guns is this: America, along with only two other countries in the world (Guatemala and Mexico), adopts a most peculiar stance — an attitude that has proven to have been horrifically corrosive to American society. Alone from all others, we think that gun ownership — a priori, with no justification — is an inalienable right that stands alongside such real inalienable rights as life, liberty, equality, freedom of thought, and the freedom to pursue one’s own happiness.

This “right” to unrestricted ownership and use of firearms, this uniquely American intellectual and cultural obscenity, is the polar opposite of the rest of the world’s view, which concludes that gun ownership is a privilege we must first earn by tested demonstration of knowledge and responsibly competent behavior. To compound our error, American gun advocates erroneously — dishonestly — base our “right” on the willful truncation and misinterpretation of an antiquated second amendment that is merely an anachronism, irrelevant to any modern society. Perhaps the worst error of all is that we as a society reliably fail to call out this immoral stance on its (absence of) merits, this corrosive posturing of willing simpletons.

The resulting difference and its consequence — an unfortunate but inescapable conclusion — between us and nearly everybody else in the world? Between our culture on guns and almost everybody else’s culture on guns? The result is this: America deems senseless slaughter and mass murder, even of children in their classrooms, acceptable — a worthwhile price, dead bodies as tokens of our “freedom”. The slaughter of innocents is of less consequence than being able to own a lethal firearm with few to no constraints and with no more legal, ethical, or moral justification than merest whim.

This is worth repeating, to give the horror of it more time to sink in: In America, we view as acceptable the routine, senseless slaughter and mass murder of innocentsIn America, mass-murder rampages, enormous numbers of shattered, blood-soaked bodies, are of less concern to us than being able to own lethal firearms under few to no constraints, and with no more justification for ownership than thoughtless fancy. Does this conclusion shock you? Does it strike you as shrieking hyperbole? Yet it is an inescapable logical result that directly follows from valid, evidence-based premises. Mass murder is an okay trade for idle gun ownership.

More guns, more gun murders; fewer guns, fewer gun murders. This relation is not just common sense, nor does its validity stop at correlation. It is established fact[10]. But many, especially among the ideological right, actively deny this fact, or they willfully ignore it (which is the same as denial), and they frequently throw an infantile fit whenever their proven wrong stance is called out on the facts (this is a particularly immature form of denial). Besides being fallacious logic, this behavior — denial — no matter how vociferous or “sincerely felt”, does not alter the facts, does not change the truth. Nor does denial alter what these facts tell us about the hideous visage that is modern American gun culture. Nor — tellingly — does it change what the facts imply about the moral character of those who willingly choose to bury their heads in the dirt of denial.

To deny verified truth is to be in the wrong — in both senses of that word. It is wrong not only on the facts themselves, but, according to traditional American values — above all, honesty — it is morally wrong. If you deny established truth, your values are incompatible with foundational American values that real Americans all hold dear — those very same values that once had made America the envy of the world, that once had made America a great nation. Due to our enduring, stubborn denial of evidence and truth, we have made of ourselves and our nation a fallen, sad laughing-stock.

It is often said that the root of all evil is the love of money[19]. But one of the hallmarks of the greedy and the avaricious is dishonesty; greedy people always utilize dishonesty to get more wealth. Another hallmark of greed is denial of reality. To be a greedy bastard is to dishonestly deny that societal needs, that the suffering of other people, matter if one is to count oneself a moral and ethical being. Greed and denial both are incompatible with morality and with ethics. Further, to exist, greed and denial both need dishonesty.

Since dishonesty is a prerequisite for greed, dishonesty is the more fundamental characteristic. More broadly, one cannot help but notice that a core requirement for every kind of evil — not just greed — is dishonesty. Dishonesty is the universal common element of evil — the seed from which all evil grows. It is little wonder that dishonesty plays so central a role in the mythologies of every culture. In the third chapter of Genesis, for example, the serpent’s lie — dishonesty — instigates the Fall of Man[18].

So I would point out that the root of all evil is not love of money, not greed and avarice, but dishonesty. As an aside, this is precisely why the very most abhorrent, most reviled character trait in all of science — ask any scientist — is dishonesty. We can conclude, then, that one of the most loathsome human characteristics to find within oneself is dishonesty.

Now that this horse has been sufficiently flogged, we can better appreciate the weight of the moral implication of this statement: if, upon learning that you are factually wrong, you still choose, for whatever reason, to continue to ignore and/or deny the established facts, then you are dishonest. This is a disconcerting result.

More guns, more gun murders.

If you know someone among the reality deniers — the dishonorable and unprincipled — regarding this uniquely American of problems, then you know that something is wrong with where their head is at. Assuming they are a normal human being capable of introspection, this wrongness, you would think, should cause them to fundamentally question why they feel such a need to deny reality. But it is a defining and quite stubborn characteristic of a person in denial to not question the sources of their denial. Therein lies the rub.

We should be clear that in this case complicating factors are not a valid excuse. Studies have repeatedly shown that one of the most consequential facts of the American Problem is a simple and robust relation, one that is also perfectly in line with the most basic of “common” sense. Nothing about it is unintuitive. As with anything in the real world, there are complications, confounding factors. But all known confounding factors have been proven minor with respect to this simple relation. More guns, more gun murders; fewer guns, fewer gun murders. No complicating factor changes this relation; the evidence shows that it is solid — what scientists call robust. So one does not get to hide behind diversions, red herrings — dishonest changes of subject. And we should not allow them to.

For the good of the country we all care about, and for the good of those close to us, as well as for ourselves — we all have to face this at some point, to ask ourselves this question: where does our denial come from? What is it based on? Somebody else’s dishonest information, perhaps? Ideological bias? What are we actually basing our stance on? Only we, within the quiet of our own selves, can answer this. And once we have discovered it, we must ask ourselves this: does our answer — our truth — sit well with our conscience?

[1] Beauchamp, Z. (2016), “A huge international study of gun control finds strong evidence that it actually works” , Vox, February 29, 2016.

[2] Carey, B. (2017), “Are Mass Murderers Insane? Usually Not, Researchers Say” , The New York Times, November 8, 2017.

[3] Chalabi, M. (2012), “Gun homicides and gun ownership listed by country” , The Guardian, July 22, 2012.

[4] Chattanooga, W.W. (2015), “Not here to cause trouble” , The Economist, July 10, 2015.

[5] Fisher, M. (2012), “Ten-country comparison suggests there’s little or no link between video games and gun murders” , The Washington Post, December 17, 2012.

[6] Fisher, M., and Keller, J. (2017), “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings?” , The New York Times, November 7, 2017.

[7] Florida, R. (2011), “The Geography of Gun Deaths” , The Atlantic, January 13, 2011.

[8] Gilson, D. (2013), “10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down” , Mother Jones, January 31, 2013.

[9] Gun Violence Archive.

[10] Lankford, A. (2015), “Are America’s public mass shooters unique? A comparative analysis of offenders in the United States and other countries” , International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 40, 171-183. PDF available here:

[11] Lopez, G. (2018), “I’ve covered gun violence for years. The solutions aren’t a big mystery.” , Vox, February 21, 2018.

[12] Lopez, G. (2017), “America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts” , Vox, October 2, 2017.

[13] Lopez, G. (2015), “America’s gun problem, explained” , Vox, October 3, 2015.

[14] Nowrasteh, A. (2015), “Immigration and Crime – What the Research Says” , Cato Institute, July 14, 2015.

[15] Willingham, A.J., and Ahmed, S. (2016), “Mass shootings in America are a serious problem” , CNN, June 13, 2016.

[16] Zhang, S. (2018), “Why Can’t the U.S. Treat Gun Violence as a Public-Health Problem?” , The Atlantic, February 15, 2018.

[17] Zimring, F.E., and Hawkins, G. (1997), Crime Is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America, Oxford University Press.

[18] Genesis 3:1-5 (KJV):

Now the serpent was more subtil [sic] than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

[19] 1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV):

For the love of money is the root of all evil…

cretins, fucktards(*), and liars

Benjamin Torode / Getty Images

Trigger warning: I am about to use facts. If you are a conservative, the following will be foreign to your way of thinking and therefore will induce apoplexy. You should probably stop reading NOW.

Looky there, my pay check has changes, as promised! Trump and the Republicans have been incessantly, obsessively, and noisily claiming that we, the 99 percent, will see real benefits, as a result of Republican changes to Obama-era public policy, in three major economic areas that loom large for us, the 99 percent: salary, federal taxes, and health insurance premiums. Let’s call them on their fakery and see just how these stack up when we consider the facts of a typical upper middle class case.

  • I got a pay raise! Due to a purported “cost of living” increase, my (civil servant) salary went up by 1.68%. But inflation in 2017 was 2.1%. Result: my new pay rate, in constant money (2017 dollars), is smaller by 0.41%, meaning I make $17.43 less per biweekly pay check than before.
  • My federal taxes changed! Oh, gee, it looks nothing like what Trash Trump and the Robber Republicans have trumpeted, since I am a member of the 99 percent. Result: as a proportion of my salary, my federal tax rate went up by 0.18%.
  • My health insurance rate changed! Surprise, surprise, it went up. In 2017, my biweekly premium was $240.77 (or 5.6 percent of my 2017 salary). The 2018 premium is $257.81 (or 5.9 percent of my 2018 salary). In 2017 dollars, that’s $252.51. So my health insurance rate went up by (252.51-240.77)/240.77 = 5.48 percent in constant dollars, which is par for what others like me have seen.

The upshot: the net change of my biweekly income due to these three factors — salary, federal taxes, health insurance — expressed in 2017 dollars, is a decrease of $35.01. This is a 2017 salary fractional decrease of 1.0 percent. So, where are my promised “real benefits” due to Republican policy changes from the Obama era?

Gee, thanks, Trash Trump and Robber Republicans, you cretins, fucktards(*), and liars. Every one of your claims and bragging points is FALSE. As is always the case with you. You are liars. You are never not liars. Did you really think we would somehow fail to notice your trademark fraud, mendacity, and trumpery?

As my (Republican) dad would have put it, you bet your sweet bippy I will remember this — and your uncountable(**) earlier and ongoing cretinous acts against the American people — come November.

(*) fucktard (noun): A person of unbelievable, inexcusable, and indescribable stupidity (stupidity being defined as “knowing better yet doing it wrong anyway”). Note: a character trait, not a physical or physiological defect or shortcoming.

(**) uncountable (adjective): said of a set which has more elements than the set of integers.

My Dear Moore Letter

Hey, Roy Moore,

Here are the numbers (WaPo, NYT, and all manner of Fake News):


You lost. It was not a fair contest, since you Republicans prevented thousands upon thousands of those people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Even so, you lost.

Not so fast, you say? Okay, sure. I can be all lawyery and numbery and elitist and argue totally for you and see where that gets us. This will prove you won, as is only right and fair and just, right? Well, no, but what the hey, I haven’t had my morning covfefe yet, so here we go.

Blanket Declaration*:

Now, let’s just declare, up front and all obvious-like, that ALL assumptions below are true and in your favor. You might have won after all! (Finally got your attention, didn’t I?)

* That means this is important for you to remember, Roy.

The military votes have yet to be counted. But, taking the tallied votes as reported by 100% of precincts, which is the overwhelming majority of possible legal votes, 49.92% voted for Jones, 48.38% voted for the asshole and child molester—for a difference of 1.54%—and 1.70% threw their vote away in justifiable disgust. A result that differs by 0.5% or less triggers a recount.

Guess what, Roy? You can’t guess? Here, I’ll make it easy: 1.54 is bigger than 0.5—in anybody’s version of reality, including even your magical Land of Nod.

Let’s try another way to view it, which I know is familiar to you and which even someone like you might grok: I believe in my heart of hearts—my heart of hearts, Roy!—that the simple, second-grade math above is true. So, therefore, it is true: you lost. There, does that convince you?

There’s wiggle room!, you say. Well, I’m pretty sure I heard something like that somewhere in your spittle-flinging ranting. Okay—we’re now going to start using the blanket declaration above—suppose ALL of the eligible military voters sent in ballots, and further suppose that ALL of those ballots are valid, and, even further, suppose ALL of those valid ballots were cast for you, the pedophile. Then we have 49.60% for Jones, 48.71% for the Alabamer prevert, and 1.69% for legitimate disgust. 49.60 minus 48.71 is 0.89, which in anybody’s version of reality is also bigger than 0.5. You still lost.

But wait, there could be more, Mr. Moore! (I figure you could never actually think, never mind think of this next possibility all by your widdle sewf, but hey, I’m a nice guy, capable of empathy (I know that word is alien to your kind, but bear with me here), and you’re pitifully pathetic even for a Republican, so here, this is me helping you out.) Suppose, after election officials—granted, election officials work for the evil gubment, so they’re pinko commie socialists committed to restoration of the Great Conspiracy—suppose all of them see the Light of your Righteous Cause and examine each write-in ballot and “discover” that, to everybody’s shock, the ballots are ALL valid, and that they are ALL for Moore the Misogynist. Let’s further suppose, as before, that ALL eligible military voted, ALL those ballots are also one hundred percent valid, and ALL are for precioussss little you.

The probability of this is not significantly different from zero, but let’s suppose all of it is true anyway, since you believe in miracles. Yes, I know, you don’t know what those big therefore bad and evil words mean, so you hatesss them, you do—trust me, that’s okay, I know you’d ignore the concept even if the words consisted of just monosyllabic grunts, your native language. Anyway, the tally then would be 49.60% for Jones and 50.40% for you Mr. Monster! That differs by 0.80%, which is again bigger than 0.5%, but this time it’s in your favor!

Yay! You win! You win!

Just kidding—you know every bit as well as the rest of us that you lost. As is true for everybody of your mental-midget ilk (that means people like you), you’re a shitty liar.

You’re welcome anyway to wait for the secret agent socialist election officials to examine the write-in ballots, and for that commie USPS to finish delivering the military ballots to the secret agents for tallying, and see if all those improbable things above come true. I have lots of popcorn, and I’m pretty sure everybody else does, too, so we’re all good with that.

Those impossible things won’t happen, though. Sorry-not-sorry, but miracles don’t exist. Reality does. So suck it up and be a Marlboro Man, asshole: you lost. As even Mike Huckabee—Mike Huckabee—said this morning,

“In elections everyone does NOT get a trophy.”

See those quotation marks? That means Huckabee really did write that.

Now, about that miracle recount for which you still insist on throwing a tantrum. Do you even grasp, yet, how dull-witted and infantile this makes you look? No, of course you don’t. Privation of even minimal cognition and mental agility is your problem. (Your therapist can explain this to you.) As mentioned, you don’t qualify for an automatic recount on the taxpayer’s dime. But you could still pay for a recount out of your own pocket, right? People have done that, and you can, too, right? Especially since you’ve been wronged—wronged, how dare they!

Well . . . WRONG, dude. You were seeking federal office. That matters in Alabama. You don’t get to demand a recount for a margin greater than 0.5%, even if you could convince some idiot to pay for it for you (assuming that’s even legal—but remember the blanket declaration at the top of this letter). Alabama state law says this, and it’s crystal clear on the matter. If you have any groveling flunkies left, get one to look it up for you.

You lost. Grow up.

Red, White, and Green, and the Children Scream, and it is Impossible to Breathe

Here is one man’s poem. His poetry is not easy to listen to. It is poetry, which means shining a light on uncomfortable things, dark things, things which are hard to look at. But we are human, most of us, and so we look, and listen — as we must.

In the words of Nick Laird at the Guardian, poetry . . . “lets you – it makes you – experience in words the feelings of others. And then it makes you do it again.”

In the words of JFK (who was assassinated three weeks later), “When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment.”

JFK’s speech at Amherst led Johnson to establish the NEA two years later. Which conservatives, being among other things profoundly uncomfortable with truth, have been trying to kill ever since.

Nothing ever changes, does it?

If you’re not squirming, or crying, or ashamed, or raging during this, this is how you can know that you are a dead thing.

Further Reading

JFK’s speech at Amherst College, October 26, 1963.

Listen to JFK’s speech.

Nick Laird: Why poetry is the perfect weapon to fight Donald Trump

National Endowment for the Arts


A Physicist Contemplates Training Wheels

Motion catches the corner of my eye. Look up. Over there, beyond Spike the cat on his high perch, out the front window, past the rough-barked pine trees. A little girl struggles to get her bicycle going again. It is an impossible bright pink, with incongruous black rims and stout black spokes. Pink helmet, blue-jeans shorts and sneakers, a pink shirt with a pattern I can’t quite make out, probably animals. She pushes and shoves, single-minded, her entire world encompassed by this instant, realigns with the center of her sidewalk highway, and is on her way again, oddly upright. She is gone before I figure out the oddness plucking tunelessly at the back of my mind: her winged Pegasus, pink bike with the black rims and thick spokes, has training wheels.

A minute or two later a couple strolls by, chatting and laughing quietly, comfortable with their daughter on the fluorescent bicycle roaming her sidewalk highway in search of adventures. He is tall—very tall, I realize—dark-haired and relaxed and fills an oversized baggy white shirt and oversized baggy blue gym shorts. She is short, dark-complexioned as well, with long Mesoamerican black hair flowing down a relaxed back over a shapeless baggy garment of muted earthen colors. Her being animates the facial features of a woman from a Central American country, a newborn swaddled to her chest. He laughs again. Whatever world they inhabit in this moment, it seems pleasant—fitting for a quiet mountain neighborhood on this sunny, breezy, unexpectedly warm and easygoing March day. Sharp contrast to the cold hardness and wantonly inflicted greed newly risen from a vat of putrescent bile left simmering in the underbelly of our country.

I can’t help but smile in response to a brief respite in this couple’s welcoming sunny bubble, even at a distance. Vicarious pleasure is still pleasure; escape is sometimes necessary. After perusing the news after telling myself that I would not peruse the news, which seems always horrific in this dank hegemony, seeing the chatting and laughing couple is a surprising if welcome balm, a salve for psychic ills and the hurt billowing across the world.

A study in contrasts, this, but a common theme emerges: disposition emanates and infects, whether one realizes it or not. I think of my leaden, lowering demeanor this morning, then of their easy laughter. I am glad that they can infect me, and not I them, in this chance one-way encounter. We humans are a spongy mirror, the physicist’s black body, absorbing and re-emitting packets of dark or light that happen to intersect our surface—venom or laughter, pain or comfort, bigotry or celebration.


But do we create? Can we create? To what extent do we have a choice? If all of us absorb and reflect, then what is the source of the light, what is the source of the dark, these quantized carriers of sadness and joy that scatter through our society, random-walking among neighbors, among couples, among children riding pink steeds along narrow weathered-cement roadways?

It dawns on me that this chatting and laughing couple, this reflection of what is, or can be, right in the realm, is the essence of resistance—resistance to the advancing wave of hard dark bone-seeping cold things, predatory denizens swimming a fouled and murky miasma, this newly-erupted, unwelcoming abyss. This couple and their fleet daughter, emitters of packets of wonder and humanity, whatever their origins, are what saves us. Hold on to this and do not let go, I say to myself, however violent and turbulent the buffetings to come.

I wonder if they are new to the neighborhood. Two world lines intersecting defines a point in space and time, a before and an after, that changes both in the instant, in the mystery, of interaction. Perhaps we will cross walking paths. I think I would like that. Perhaps, even, the training wheels will be off.

Further reading

“Black Body”, Wikipedia,

“Quantum”, Wikipedia,

“Sunlight Is Way Older Than You Think!”, Sten Odenwald, The Huffington Post (2014),

“World Line”, Wikipedia,

“Overview of the fundamental interactions”, Wikipedia,


On Conservative “Governance”


Maternal mortality rates in Texas, 2000-2014 (click to enlarge)

Maternal mortality rates in Texas. What happened in 2010-2012? One theory is that the coincidence of the nearly doubling of the death rate of women giving birth with the mass statewide closing of health clinics due to targeted budget annihilation by Republicans is more than mere coincidence. The range of effects is slightly more complicated than simple-minded black-and-white thinking will yield, but it is plausible, seems likely, in fact, that this single act of what can only be called hatred caused a predictable panoply of health-related domino effects that killed—and are still killing—women for no reason other than ideological bigotry, misogyny, and spite. This theory has not been conclusively proven.

There are no other theories.

This is your country. This is your country on Republicans. Any questions?


more info:

And They’re Fluffy: an Ode to Modern Air Travel

Other than the airports; the TSA ding-dongs, dipshits, and assorted knuckle-draggers, wannabe-thugs; the doltingly stupid “security”-theater rules invented by bitter assholes who’ve nothing better to do all day than find even more pointless, inane ways to make people miserable; the noisy, milling mass of yabber yabbers polluting gate areas with their meaningless babble at full volume always full volume; the humanity, oh, the humanity; the FUCKING TVs that nobody ever actually watches and that have metastasized to every gate area and whose volume controls are now shielded from both generations of my TV-B-Gone TV volume zappers; the people who stand still on the left, on the right, and in the center of every moving walkway; the goddamned “caution! the walkway is ending!” bullshit that repetitively exists only in America, Land of Idiots (as if we needed yet more evidence that lawyers are evil); the shitty-smelling air on more airplanes than not, especially Alaska Airlines for some reason even though in every other respect Alaska Airlines is AWESOME; the wretch-inducing smell emanating from my seatmate’s smushed oozing pale vomitous lump that she sheepishly calls a sandwich which I can’t get mad about because she’s a nice person, one of the few pleasant persons on-board, and it’s the punishing absence of actual food on planes that forces her and everybody else to smuggle foodstuffs that roil with microbes—always odoriferous microbes—due to the unanticipated lines, waits, and delays, mostly from TSA pointlessness; having to dislocate hips and knees in order to fold my body into “seats” (that’s what they call them) that are uniformly shaped to cut off circulation from mid-thighs down no matter your height or contortions or body proportions, that cruelly prevent any form of sleep or rest, and that cause at least three herniated disks PER FLIGHT; the invariable blaring glaring walking shouting banal advertisements for birth control that are wholly incapable of instilling the slightest modicum of civility or reasonable behavior in the greasy monstrous creatures they call their children; middle seats (although middle seats get a worse rap than deserved, but, still: middle seats); the ever-present very large (and, nowadays, any not-actually-petite) person who didn’t have time for a shower that day spilling over the boundaries into MY SPACE, and even though they are more than fully aware of the situation and are nervous and sweating which makes them smell worse in a recursive ouroboros of miasmatic misery and are thus helplessly far more uncomfortable than I can possibly know, so I feel guilty for even thinking about it, and even though I know neither they nor anybody else can help it because the airline wanted to fit ONE MORE fucking seat across the cabin, I still get irritated; the piercing evil-eye launched from at least four pinched faces attached to people that are pissed that I raise my window shade (on those occasions that I do manage to snag a window seat, whose window is invariably scratched, frosting, and coated with hair gel (at least I think it’s hair gel)) so I can blissfully escape and gawk at the stunning views outside, about which they seem incapable of ever being curious much less experiencing the yūgen that contemplating our universe instills; the fucking little hearing-damaged shits with their cheap crappy earbuds that fail to dampen the cacophony of their crappy nerve-scraping “music” the least little bit, at least two of which are offensively within earshot at all times; the vile urchin from hell behind you that kicks your seat for four hours solid and whose mother hurls javelins of epic mondo stink-eye (do they practice in front of mirrors?) for even the most polite, deferential, soft-spoken, and diplomatic of intimations that her little spawn of Satan might want to stop kicking my seat or else suffer sudden involuntary decapitation (flight attendants frown on avoidable messes, so, really, nobody wants that); and—the ultimate, ever-present pièce de résistance—SCREAMING BABIES, EVERYWHERE; why, other than that, I love flying. The clouds are pretty.


Metaphors for Our Times. #10

Metaphors for Our Times. #10
“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,  
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply  
“They are merely conventional signs!
“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!  
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best —  
A perfect and absolute blank!”
This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out  
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,  
And that was to tingle his bell.
—Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark (1876), Fit the Second: The Bellman’s Speech

Metaphors for Our Times. #9

Metaphors for Our Times. #8

Metaphors for Our Times. #8

“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”

—Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark (1876), Fit the First: The Landing


Metaphors for Our Times. #7

Metaphors for Our Times. #7

Mildred sat a moment and then, seeing that Montag was still in the doorway, clapped her hands. “Let’s talk politics, to please Guy!”

“Sounds fine,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it on the line for President Noble. I think he’s one of the nicest looking men ever became president.”

“Oh, but the man they ran against him!”

“He wasn’t much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn’t shave too close or comb his hair very well.”

“What possessed the ‘Outs’ to run him? You just don’t go running a little short man like that against a tall man. Besides—he mumbled. Half the time I couldn’t hear a word he said. And the words I did hear I didn’t understand!”

“Fat, too, and didn’t dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble. Even their names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds and you can almost figure the results.”

“Damn it!” cried Montag. “What do you know about Hoag and Noble!”

“Why, they were right in that parlor wall, not six months ago. One was always picking his nose; it drove me wild.”

“Well, Mr. Montag,” said Mrs. Phelps, “do you want us to vote for a man like that?”

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 93 (1951)


Metaphors for Our Times. #6

Metaphors for Our Times. #6

You could feel the war getting ready in the sky that night. The way the clouds moved aside and came back, and the way the stars looked, a million of them swimming between the clouds, like the enemy disks, and the feeling that the sky might fall upon the city and turn it to chalk dust, and the moon go up in red fire, that was how the night felt.

—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 88 (1951)