Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Borg could have stopped him

Captain's Log, Stardate 94459.6: There was no line at my polling place yesterday. I was in and out before the tire smell from the fire truck made me miserable. After I voted I vowed to avoid the news for the rest of the day rather than experience the roller coaster of election coverage emotions. I went to Tallahassee to upload another knitting video to YouTube. After I started the upload I checked the movie times and saw I could make the 4:30 showing of Doctor Strange at the Challenger Learning Center. I challenged my migraine to polarized 3D and full range sound and it was painful, but immersive. I got a lot of ideas for things to knit -- fingerless gloves, hooded capes. After that I watched my friend Steve play Skyrim while I knit a hat. We stopped each other from reaching for our phones out of habit. About 1 am I drove home with my phone powered down. I had a bath, got in bed and started up the episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, that I'd started watching earlier when I was eating lunch.

It went like this. (Season 7, Episode 1, Descent, Part 2 time stamp 18:50 to 21:17, if you have the DVD)

Riker: Hugh?!

Hugh: Why are you here Commander Riker? Hasn't the crew of the Enterprise caused enough damage already?

Worf: So, you blame us for what has happened to the Borg?

Hugh: YOU gave me a sense of individuality! Changed me then sent me back to the collective. You must have known that change would be passed on to others.

Riker: We considered it. We knew it was a possibility.

Hugh: Then you made it possible for Lore to dominate us.

Worf: I cannot accept that. Lore is only one. The Borg could have stopped him.

Hugh: You don't know the condition we were in when he found us. Before my experience on the Enterprise the Borg were a single-minded collective. The voices in our heads were smooth and flowing. But after I returned, those voices began to change. They became uneven, discordant. For the first time individual Borg had differing ideas about how to proceed. Couldn't function. Some Borg fought each other, others simply shut themselves down, many starved to death.

Riker: And then Lore came along.

Hugh: You probably cannot imagine what it is like to be so lost and frightened that you will listen to any voice that promises change.

Worf: Even if that voice insists on controlling you?

Hugh: That's what we wanted. Someone to show us a way out of confusion. Lore promised clarity and purpose.

In the beginning he seemed like a savior. The promise of becoming a superior race, of becoming fully artificial, was compelling. We gladly did everything he asked of us.

But after a while it became clear that Lore had no idea how to keep his promise. That's when he started talking about the need for us to make sacrifices. Before we realized it, this was the result.

Riker: What happened to them?

Hugh: Lore began to experiment. Trying to remake us in his image. This is the result of my encounter with the Enterprise, Commander. So you can see I don't particularly welcome your presence here.

I thought, "Foreshadowing? No, do not think of that possibility. Focus on the positive. Try to get some sleep. Find out tomorrow."

I didn't look at my phone until 6:30 this morning. I started with Patton Oswalt's Twitter feed. His last post was "Update: Driving to Barstow and paying a trucker to punch me unconscious." That sounds bad. I had an email from my step-sister sent at 3:30 am. She referenced the R.E.M. song It's the End of the World as we Know it. She pasted in a chart. But it's not to that line in the middle yet. It could still be ok, right?!

I googled NPR election results to see if something magical new occurred since the email. I still couldn't believe it. What does this mean? And a Republican House and Senate? WTF?! 

I went through several stages of grief. Thinking of what this means for me personally. No health coverage. No chance of ever working again. Even more motivation to avoid everybody who lives within 800 miles of here. It is very hostile in the Deep South for a childfree woman atheist scientist who likes gay people and has a lesbian haircut.

Then I imagined religious black men, white gay men, every single woman, and probably every person under 25 and my empathetic angst intensified and I began to weep. I decided to reach out to more people to see if they were ok. No, we're not ok. But we're going to get through the day. My step-sister says even her dog senses the intense anxiety and is behaving strangely. Her small children saw straight through her facade when she tried to reassure them with upbeat lies. I decided to start doing some work to try to be productive. I put a sweater I'm working on in the washer. By about 8:30 I was able to text my mother to see if she was ok. She said she was OK, "but very interested and scared." This is my mother who's been wearing a shirt with the NASA logo changed to say NASTY for the last two weeks.

I checked in with my brother. 

He went on to express disappointment in the news media and our education system and our rural people. He is appalled by how truth has lost all societal value. I pointed out that media answers to the shareholders, not society. As long as they are making money they are fulfilling their role, according to capitalism. He replied, "Society is supposed to exact a heavy price on those it catches lying or cheating. So honesty, reliability and good service should be more profitable."

By this time I had advanced through the stages of grief to bitter cynicism and I pointed out that if those traits had as much value as being a white man then I wouldn't be unemployed right now, I'd be in charge of stopping rich people building whatever the fuck they want on sandy beaches. He signed off.

I should have restricted my use of social media at that point. I was crabby and no getting around it. Any reference to women in science set me off, even one of my favorite Twitter people bragging about their young daughter doing well on a biology test, "STEM really needs young women" -- that got a loud "FUCK YOU!" And a more passively worded typed twitter reply about middle aged women in STEM being invisible.

The Oatmeal posted a link to his plane comic that made me come right out to the lab to write this journal entry.

It's about Gene Roddenberry and why he got into television. And it reminded me of that scene in Star Trek I watched last night. I tried to figure out how to rip it to embed the video in my blog. I couldn't get the audio to work. And it would have violated copyright laws anyway. So I typed it.

"Some Borg fought each other, others simply shut themselves down, many starved to death."

I shut myself down years ago. How long have I been doing small years? A lot. This year is so small. It's the smallest. I weigh exactly the same as when I got my drivers license at 16, so I guess I'm not starving yet. We'll see. I set a goal to go the whole year without having my car serviced. The odometer only works about 1 mile in 3. This enhances the smallness of the year artificially, but I believe that's the theme for 2016. I was hoping to ramp back up in 2017. 2016 was meant to be bottom. I was hoping I'd get health coverage and get to see a doctor, I was hoping to sell a lot of my knitting and sewing for Christmas so I'd have money for car repairs. All kinds of hope. These hopes are dashed. Now my goal is just to knit the yarn I've got, sew the fabric at hand. And then we'll see. Doctor Strange worked through issues of fear of failure. I have no issue with failure. I have ideas and I try them. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they work out great. I try not to get too caught up in any one goal. There's always another idea.

"You probably cannot imagine what it is like to be so lost and frightened that you will listen to any voice that promises change."

No, I really can't imagine that. I would rather be a liberal atheist hermit with a metaphasic force field in the corona of a conservative religious zealot sun than listen to that kind of change. I can only tolerate the incoherent word salad when it is interpreted through Peter Serafinowicz. (Rationalizing: Now Peter Serafinowicz won't have to stop making these videos. I hope.)

I read an article last week that scared the shit out of me. It's by Katy Waldman and it's called "Trump’s Tower of Babble: It may sound like gibberish, but there’s an accidental brilliance to Trump’s style of speech". It explained why some people like Trump. It made sense and it scared me. With reason apparently.
For some of us, Trump’s language is incendiary garbage. It’s not just that the ideas he wants to communicate are awful but that they come out as Saturnine gibberish or lewd smearing or racist gobbledygook. The man has never met a clause he couldn’t embellish forever and then promptly forget about. He uses adjectives as cudgels. You and I view his word casserole as not just incoherent but representative of the evil at his heart. 
But it works. Vast swaths of Americans find themselves in Trump’s verbal thrall, nodding along as his mind empties its baleful, inchoate contents out through his mouth and into the world. In a business in which what you say holds incredible sway with those who are going to decide whether to hire you, this rambling weirdo has overachieved to the point of being a Clinton scandal away from the presidency. 
She breaks it down:
  1. simple component parts
  2. weaponized unintelligibility
  3. dark innuendo
  4. power signifiers
About an hour ago I started writing this blog by transcribing the dialog from Star Trek. It took me under 8 minutes. I know because I sent an email to a friend right before I started it and replied to his reply with the transcript pasted in 8 minutes later. (I am the smart people. Email has time stamps) It was easy to remember whole phrases, the punctuation was obvious. If I had to transcribe anything Von Clownstick says it would take twice as long. It's not even sentences! That's #2, weaponized unintelligibility. 

Hear that Serafinowicz video. Smart people. Not intelligent people. One syllable words. That's #1.

It just gets worse and worse.
Ironically, because Trump relies so heavily on footnotes, false starts, and flights of association, and because his digressions rarely hook back up with the main thought, the emotional terms take on added power. They become rays of clarity in an incoherent verbal miasma. Think about that: If Trump were a more traditionally talented orator, if he just made more sense, the surface meaning of his phrases would likely overshadow the buried connotations of each individual word. As is, to listen to Trump fit language together is to swim in an eddy of confusion punctuated by sharp stabs of dread. Which happens to be exactly the sensation he wants to evoke in order to make us nervous enough to vote for him.
But what is missing from Katy's analysis is why do some of us see this speaking style as an anxiety trigger when other people love it? I'm going to cite myself here and refer to a blog post from 2010 about anosognosia, smart-blind, to use one-cent words. 

Since I'm a problem solver I suggested this 6 years ago:
Smart-blind blow-hards need to be dealt with. I don't have any idea how to do this. The best I can figure is that children should be exposed to smart people, namely scientists, as role models from an early age. Give Phil Plait a TV show, good idea. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on a sit-com, excellent.... Hopefully these smart people will have an influence on people who don't have any cultural exposure to brilliance.
Now I saw demographic data that shows young people overwhelmingly supported the candidate with actual knowledge, skills, and experience for the job. So maybe they did see smart people on TV in their formative years. Maybe they made them watch NASA TV at school. But the aging population has been watching Fox News, filling their heads with misinformation, as explained by John Green here.

I'm in a transcribing mood so here's the golden nugget:

"I spoke with hundreds of undecided voters in the days before the election and what struck me most was how different our information was.

In many cases we had the same concerns — the environment, or healthcare, or tax policy — but we were working with completely different data sets."

John makes the point that a baby born this year is better off than one born before the civil rights movement. But is a baby born now better off than me? When I went to undergraduate school in the '80s women earned 37% of the computer science degrees. Now only 18% of computer scientists are women. Women have been pushed out of a whole branch of science IN MY OWN LIFETIME. This is appalling. Programming with punch cards started out as women's work, then it started getting high pay and men decided they needed those jobs instead. That's some privileged bullshit right there.

So here we are, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, completely different data sets, weaponized unintelligibility, and people who hear discordant voices in their heads willing to become completely artificial for an entity who claims he can make it all better.

"But after a while it became clear that Lore had no idea how to keep his promise. That's when he started talking about the need for us to make sacrifices.... Trying to remake us in his image."