Why I put up fights on privacy, junk mail, and so on

My guess: most people do not first look at any website or information request and ask themselves what data the issuers/owners are gathering, and how they will use it. I do.

Another guess: most people just toss the junk mail, probably without opening it. I do that with nearly none of it.

This makes me the oddball, a lifetime position of comfort for me. In fact, it is a position of such comfort that it comes with intellectual risk. There is always the possibility that my crowd-averse nature will go so far that it may become as mindless as a crowd. If my view is that the larger the group, the dumber its collective decisions tend to get, then a natural bias against conformity is not unreasonable provided I do not take that too far. Put another way, it’s also dumb and mindless to refuse to consider doing what everyone else does. Maybe everyone else is, in at least a few cases, doing what makes sense. The idea is to think, not to find a new way to refuse to think. If one is going to refuse to think, we already have ample incentive and opportunity there: just make the choices everyone else makes, and enjoy the warm sussuration of conformist reassurance, of crowd membership. Blind nonconformity isn’t any brighter than blind conformity.

But I can’t really win. What I do is like throwing grains of sand in front of a semi, one grain at a time. And I realize it. I do it anyway.

I block as much data hydra stuff on websites as I can. I don’t even bother reading New York Times articles; requires a login, end of consideration. I enable scripts one at a time until a given page works enough for me to do what I want to do there, or I decide I don’t want it badly enough. I go through life without running Google’s scripts or taking Google cookies. I send back piles of junk mail. Other junk mail I rip up, stuff into a business reply envelope, and mail back. Whatever’s going in the trash goes into it stripped of my identifying information, even to the extent of peeling address labels off shipping boxes, including any label that contains the tracking number. I mute the TV during commercials, or watch almost exclusively DVRed shows. I refuse to connect my TV to the Internet. I refuse to connect my game console to the Internet. I go into my Facebook ad preferences and remove any that are relevant, leaving only those that make no sense. Metaphorically speaking, I kick, scream, bite, curse, imprecate, slash, and knee the whole way as the world tries to drag me into Alwaysconnectedland and Surveillistan.

Why on earth? How is this worth my energy? Don’t I have better things to do? What good could this possibly accomplish? Did I mistake Don Quixote for a self-help book? Do I need mental help?

The answer to that last question depends on perspective. If you believe that only actions that effect external change have value, then yeah, you probably reckon I should go on medication. But you probably assume there’s anger involved, and there isn’t.

On the contrary, this is how I defeat anger. I have learned that I take more harm from meek submission against what I find offensive than I do from (mostly, nearly) ineffective resistance. In my world view, a great many things should cause tremendous outrage and resistance, and the world does not share my view. In my world view, the center of the moral continuum does not move, and the world’s moral continuum moves every day. I think the world needs memory care. Let’s say there are a hundred unjust killings per day for one year. Next year, there are five hundred. Suddenly the world will think of only a hundred as Good Old Days, and if it drops to two hundred fifty, will call that excellent. To me, the hundred unjust killings are still awful, two-fifty is two and a half times as awful, etc. Fewer is better, certainly, but my ‘normal’ did not reset with the world’s. This does not bother me. The world is wrong most of the time anyway. I lack the need for community reinforcement of my perspective, and as mentioned, tend to distrust it.

Thus, I have not adjusted my ‘normal’ to the advance of the surveillance state, to intrusive marketing, to a postal service existing in the main to deliver garbage no one wants, and so on. I don’t want to. I was once told by a famous author that I lived in my own little world (and he meant that as a compliment). He was wrong. I live in the real world with realistic expectations. I just don’t move my moral compass to agree with the rest of the world’s. If I move it, I do so without consulting majority opinion.

Thus, in my view, when confronted by a wrong thing, I have no moral obligation to “let it go” or “just say it’s okay.” That’s how the world handles most wrongs, via rationalization, and I can see why. If it didn’t, it would go around angry all the time; the level of wrong is at overload, so most people just rationalize away a given portion of the wrong. If they did not, I guess they’d feel guilty. I understand that.

Unlike them, I do something. Might be something small and unbelievably petty, but I resist. I throw my grain of sand. I have found that I take more harm from bottled anger than from practical resistance within my system of values. This is a better way to live while refusing to conform my moral compass to society’s mobile, amnesiac version. Do I think it makes me better than anyone else? I don’t think about that at all. I think the collected mass of humanity is so dumb, as my very religious father used to say, that they ain’t sure if Christ was crucified or run over by a milk truck. As individuals, that’s different, because when outside of the suffocation of groupthink, individual intellects and morals can shine. Some are better and smarter than me in some ways. Some are in every way I can assess. Some aren’t. Some are saints. Some are contemptible. I don’t think about that because they have their talents and values, and I have mine, and a diverse humanity is much to be treasured.

Plus, without a diverse humanity, where would I get a massive number of people to disagree with?

So I answer telemarketing calls in foreign languages, or pretend to be inarticulate, or pretend that a microwave is my computer.

I open junk mail that might have a business reply envelope, and stuff all the garbage in and mail it back.

I shred everything with my name or address on it. The labels I can’t peel off plastic mailers, I cut off and burn in an old coffee can.

The only discards I don’t shred the ID info from are those I stamp REFUSED–OBJECTIONABLE MAIL–RETURN TO SENDER. Why should I have to dispose of their garbage? Ah, but the PO has to dispose of unwanted junk? Great, let the PO do it, since they enable this whole situation by giving junk mailers a lower price.

A provider asks if she can share some information with the insurance company. I say “if I have a choice, then no.” When told I do not, I tell her to tell them the minimum that will make them go away.

Someone calls and begins firing questions. No. No one gets to ask any questions until I finish asking all my own questions, and if they asked even one inappropriate question, my own questions could take a very long time. I do not desire to earn this person’s approval by “being nice.” Nosey people do not deserve “nice.”

A lawn service sticks a flyer onto my house. I call the deputies to find out what it will take to get them punished for that. A sergeant advises me to put up a NO TRESPASSING sign. I do it. I resent random businesses sticking crap to my house. In the newspaper box, that’s one thing; on my house, forget it.

A marketing company sends me an unwanted survey. I owe them no truth, especially if they ask a single question I consider nosey (the one about my income is an automatic). I have some fun. I create a fake name and comically dysfunctional household and fill out the survey accordingly. I’ll get junk for years based on their sale of that data, and I’ll know where it originated. I got sample adult diapers from one outfit for years.

Like many of you, I mute commercials unless I can fast-forward them, but if I have to mute them, I look away. I presume that companies are well aware that many people mute the commercials and that visuals must carry the load. If I look down at my book, even those do not get to stamp images into my mind.

“What are the last four of your social?” In the first place, I hate that it’s so commonplace they don’t even feel they need to say ‘social security number’ in full. In the second, I resent even more that it’s become a default password, so it sets my teeth on edge. I growl: “Decline to provide. We do not use that as a password.” Try it and you will find that nearly every business that has used that as your default password will have some other way of ascertaining your identity (I have no fundamental problem with that).

In general, I ask about the motivation of anything government or corporations shove at me. I begin by assuming that the motive is control (government) or control and profit (corporations). The burden of proof otherwise is on them, and if they do not bother to meet it, I will do my level best not to cooperate in some way I can get by with. For example, I never did get an Idaho driver’s license. Why not? Because fuck you, Butch Otter; my Washington license was still valid, and I didn’t really give a shit what your state law said unless you were prepared to push the issue, and I knew you were not. Of course, I am not confessing to anything of the kind in Oregon; I still live in Oregon. All I can say is that Oregon is many times more authoritarian than either Washington or Idaho, and therefore much more satisfying when (in theory) one finds a way to (in theory) disobey one of its laws. Oregon works very, very hard to avoid loopholes. If you found one, you did well.

Why direct that at Otter? Because I have learned, and I believe, that the top person is responsible for everything. He’s the governor of Idaho (that little DWI incident a few years back is kind of overlooked; pick one of his multiple excuses), and I reserve the right to hold him accountable. Can he control everything? Of course not. Is that my problem? No. Does he care about my problems? Ha! Am I obligated to care about his, in that case? If you’ve read this far, what do you suppose my answer is? So if I had a problem with Idaho’s state government, I had one with Butch. I reserve the right to lay it at his feet, and to curse him over it.

I do these things not because I harbor delusions that I will change the system–though if everyone did them, it certainly would. I’m not doing this as my contribution to humanity, though I sometimes let myself think that in weak moments. I’m doing it because I take more emotional and psychological harm from mindless compliance than I do from wasted time.

That simple.

New Release: Life is Short, by Shawn Inmon

This short story anthology is now available. I was substantive editor.

If I counted correctly, four of the stories have appeared in previous fiction anthologies, some of which were for charitable projects. Shawn would never tell you openly about this particular part, but nothing’s stopping me: for the charitable projects, he tried to pay me, but obviously I was having none of it. No big deal, right? Right…except that here’s the kind of honest guy he is. When he decided to republish them in a for-profit anthology, he turned around and tried to pay me for them after the fact. When I smiled and thanked him for the intent, but declined, he offered to take me to a Mariners game and host me at his and Dawn’s place. I figured I could accept that, so I said all right. We had a fantastic time at the game and on the drives there and back. Anyway, if you’ve noticed how much effort Shawn makes to put forth quality reading in an attractive presentation, do know that he treats his vendors with the same conscientious courtesy and fairness with which he treats his readership. No wonder his pre-publication people, like me, work extra hard to help his work to shine (not that it needs much help).

The good news is that at least 2/3 to 3/4 of the stories in this compilation are new material. The variety is appealing. Some of it is dark and even a bit paranormal. Some is autobiographical, telling stories from his youth. As you might expect, many touch upon familiar Inmonian themes: 1970s and 1960s nostalgia, music, etc. He experiments with the unreliable narrator, and in my opinion succeeds in this mode. The overall outcome is anything but predictable, with fresh styles and approaches as well as fresh plots and varying lengths. This might mean that few people will enjoy every one, but also makes it likely that no one will find it predictable from one story to the next.

So far it is only out in Kindle, but if you keep an eye on it, I suspect it will come out in dead tree.

Portland Snowpocalypse 2017

In December, Portland received its annual allowance of (what it considers Arctic) winter weather. Portland, the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Oregon, is a hilly city with a very wet climate. For seven months each year, it will rain more days than not. Eastern Oregon is much drier, owing to the Cascade Range’s tendency to absorb most of the eastward moving moisture much of the time.

As Portland reckons things, the annual allowance of (what Kansans would call ‘early December’ and Alaskans would call ‘breakup’) winter weather includes only one session. Once there has been a Winter Episode, no further allowances of (what southern Californians would call ‘the end of all things’) winter weather are tolerated.

Now and then, and in spite of this being one of the more prominent centers of divine feminine worship in various pagan forms, Ma Nature omits Portland’s wishes from Her plans. This year, She did not consult Portland at all. A second winter weather system (what Wyomingites would call ‘May’) moved into the area, dropping temperatures into the teens ºF. In our case, seven inches of snow fell and stuck. Portland limped along for over a week with freezing rain, roads icing up, appointments canceled, mass transit slowed and rerouted, icemelt and snow shovels unavailable, trash uncollected, mail undelivered (that old line about rain and snow is not true) and other expressions of urban chaos.

In short, they have acted about like Los Angeles when the temps drop into the fifties. I won’t justify it, because some of the problem is caused by people’s dumbness, but it’s not all Portland’s fault. Why do seven inches of snow and several days of freezing temperatures lay Portland out flat on its dime-thin-pizza-crust-with-artisanal-vegetables-eating ass?

Topography and geography. The Portland area has a lot of hills, slopes, curved roads, and so on. This is not Boise, laid out like a great big grid. This is not Wichita, where you can probably set a level on the ground and expect it to center its bubble. Even well-prepared locales with sloped terrain have a hard time in winter, and the laws of inertia do not change from, say, Edmonton to Portland. If the road curves, and its surface is slick, and you drive fast enough to overcome your traction, you will slide. Even if you are careful, Portland offers abundant opportunities to overcome your traction.

Trees. Portland has a lot of shade. Shade keeps sunlight (when we get any) from melting snow and ice. Shade is selective, though, and thus there will be stretches of clear, bare, wet or dry pavement interrupted by shady spots that do not thaw. This can sneak up on one.

Ambient moisture. In winter, the Portland area’s humidity tends to exceed 90%. I have lived in climates where that figure was often below 30% in winter. When the air is nearly saturated with water vapor, and surfaces (car exteriors, pavement, mailboxes, eave-troughs) drop below 32º Fahrenheit, water will begin to freeze from the air to those surfaces. In the middle of the cold snap, moisture inside our house was frosting up the metal frames on the insides of our windows. Southerners also experience this freezing-to-surfaces effect, which is one reason Atlanta (for example) comes as unglued as Portland when it gets cold.

Dumb drivers. In the Portland area, drivers are not so much bad as they are very abrupt in their maneuvers. We have a minority of drivers who simply refuse to get in their vehicles when it snows; probably wise. We have another minority who are well equipped for ice and snow, have experience driving in it, and who take to the roads with the respect developed from a life in cold climates. They do fine. A third minority, and rather a large and dangerous one, believes that owning a four-wheel-drive vehicle now makes them Masters of Motoring Space and Time. They are very dangerous, because 4WD is not a solution to most winter driving problems. They tailgate and bully sane drivers. They drive worse than their usual habits. They end up in a lot of ditches, fishtailing onto sidewalks and into medians, and make the work of the police much harder. They’re the worst. The rest are the second worst, because they do not understand the physics and aren’t planning to try. They are nervous, and nervous people tend to make mistakes. They get into situations they can’t get out of. They dig holes in packed snow or ice with their drive wheels, then wonder why the car doesn’t move. They pick the worst places to stop. They change lanes when a person familiar with physics would not do so. They panic. They get stuck and abandon their cars along thoroughfares, freeway shoulders, and so on. My wife and I oscillate between the first and second groups depending on our situation and need, but most of these people scare holy hell out of us.

Not designed for it. Put simply, very little in this area is designed or chosen to handle ice and snow. Roofs in Portland must be very well made to keep out rain, but are not designed expecting the weight of heavy snow. They are very prone to ice damming, which leads to homeowner damning (take my word on that). Heaters and condensate pumps get uncommon workouts in cold weather, and a number will fail the test. Ice accumulation downs power lines, transit cables, tree branches, and entire trees. Portland is designed to drain away a lot of water, but the sudden melting of several inches of snow and ice can overwhelm that drainage system–especially if part of it is still frozen. Urban flooding is a very real concern.

Salt-free diet. Oregon doesn’t like to salt roads. It will do so in certain situations, but one cannot expect the state’s transportation authorities to do so by reflex. Hardware stores in Portland don’t carry tons of snow removal supplies, and all the icemelt and snow shovels will vanish on the first day. If you don’t already have them, tough luck. Oregon will gravel roads, but the Portland area does not have enough equipment to handle them all, and it definitely lacks the snowplows to clear anything but the freeways and arterials. Everyplace else is on its own. Where I live, for example, we faced the possibility of chaining up to get out of our development; once out, we would either need to de-chain or limit our travel to roads where we could drive at chain speeds (definitely under 25 mph) without creating hazards. Had we de-chained, of course, we might have to chain up again in order to travel that last quarter mile. No one graveled our development, much less plowed snow or put down any sort of chemical, nor did any of us imagine that anyone would. No one is deliberately saying “Fuck you, deal with it.” No one is saying anything. That itself is the point. If they were to say anything, it would be “Good luck. We can’t help you.” For those from rougher climates and/or smaller towns, we tend to help ourselves rather than waiting to be saved. For those from foreign countries where it never snows, or for those purely urban persons who think food is materialized at grocery stores, it has to be frightening.

Why don’t they prepare? There is definitely more that Portland could do on a contingency basis. It would be cost-prohibitive to buy and maintain enough anti-winter infrastructure to prevent snowstorms from turning into shitstorms, but there could be more contingency planning. Since locals refuse to contemplate the physics of the matter on their own, a better job could be done with spot reduction in speed limits–and Portland/Beaverton really ought to adore that, because it would be the next great excuse to write a lot of speeding tickets. People could organize volunteer groups to shovel more driveways and sidewalks. Nah; they’d rather go on the news and bitch because the transit authority, or the city, or anyone but them did not drop all its other major concerns and shovel the snow at their light rail stop.

It’s not over when it’s over. When the roads begin to clear in earnest, Portland’s drivers unleash the chained demon within. For agonizing days they have had to restrain their desires to whip around like fighter pilots, tailgate (unless they owned 4X4s, in which case they had lots of fun tailgating smarter people than themselves), make left turns at breathtakingly selfish and stupid times, change their minds at the last minute, and tempt whatever guardian angels still bother with them. Physics have prohibited them, by fearful reason or by fender-crumpling force, from being themselves. Now it’s payback time: they have several days of Bad Driving saved up, and the universe that deprived them of this liberty is going to pay. I suppose the local municipalities, who base no small portion of their revenue streams off extractive law enforcement, rub their gnarled hands in fiduciary delight.

When it melts, it rains. Since it rains a lot here to begin with, Portland has had quite some time to devise means to deal with excess water. Topography helps and hurts: there are lots of downhills, but somewhere there’s a bottom to the hill. Ditches, storm drains, water catchment areas, and more. They do not have every problem solved, but it takes sustained heavy rain to overwhelm the drainage system. If sustained heavy rain happens when we also see five inches of snow melt off roofs and yards and places where it was plowed or shoveled into berms and heaps, the drainage system will become overwhelmed. There will be mudslides; parts of hillsides will give way. Hydroplaning becomes a greater concern than at most other times, which is bad news for the Liberated Fighter Pilots described above because they know only two settings: terrified and terrifying. No more snow and ice? That means it is now safe to do whatever.

What they see around them. You think the mail always gets through, through snow and rain and dead of night? Not here; that’s a myth. It can take a couple of weeks to catch up. They turn on the news and see hundreds of cars just abandoned on the freeways and arterials, some in spots where they will probably be wrecked in place (other people coming to that spot might fare no better even if the path were clear, which it is not). Every news anchor pleads with them to turtle up until it just goes away. At the onset, panicky people stampede to the grocery stores and go full Canadian: milk section wiped oat. It’s hooped eh, even the buttermilk and skim milk. Calm, confidence, and courage are as communicable as panic, uncertainty, and terror. Most human beings are fundamentally compliant and imitative, a dynamic which is the bedrock of civilization. Here, that means a majority will imitate freakout, as they have a bias toward obedience and imitation. It is the contagion of freakout.

Yeah, Portland could do it a lot better. Trouble is, it happens rarely enough that it becomes a bad dream. Amnesia sets in, and other problems come front and center. But if you wonder why a city can feel its knees buckle due to temps in the teens and seven inches of snow, well, there you go.

Interpreting ‘lancing ads, and introducing ABSS

If you’ve ever been a ‘lancer, you’ve looked at the ads. If you are curious, head to your local Craigslist. Look under Jobs: Writing & Editing and Gigs: Writing. That’ll give you a fair sample of the usual offerings.

Don’t get me wrong; it is quite possible to get good writing gigs off Craigslist. It just means kissing a lot of toads along the way, and translating from adbullshitspeak to common English. In adbullshitspeak (ABSS), all faddish business jargon is in play. The ‘Lancer is here to help you parse the ABSS:

Academic writing: Professional cheating.

Best practices: Whatever makes the company the most money without giving you any extra.

Branding: Shoving stuff in front of people who would rather not see it; thus, fancy word for advertising.

Creating positive content: Writing fake glowing reviews for businesses whose business practices get them blowing reviews, trying to drown out the truth in lies.

Exposure: No pay.

Friendly environment: Chaotic environment, typically with a couple of half-nutso co-workers who can’t be fired for whatever reason.

Ghost writer: Person expected to accept minimal pay and maximum intervention/micromanagement. Will be lied to by client.

Other duties as assigned: Expect to be shunted into something else. Your opinion of it will not really matter.

SEO: You’re writing to game Google. Expect to be required to stick irrelevant HTML tags into your stuff for this purpose. Put another way, your job is to make the Internet worse.

Serious writers only: Yeah, in a buyer’s market, we have to advertise on Craigslist to get anyone interested.

Social media experience: Welcome to the world of comment trolls!

SME: Person who knows everything you will be required to document, but is incapable of conveying it to an uninitiated Philistine like yourself.

Top earning potential: This is the number you will never approach no matter what you do.

(we are not providing our company name): We don’t want you researching us until we get our pitch in.

Happy New Year from the ‘Lancer

This is a good time to thank you all for your readership in the past, present and future. I hope every one of you has a fantastic 2017. For those of you who use other calendars, well, please save up this post and read it again when it applies.

Let’s talk about calendars. Cool facts: in the C.E. calendar, there is no Year Zero. We go from 1 B.C.E. to 1 C.E. Not sure why, but I think this is because zero as a counting concept had yet to be invented. I think Arab mathematicians came up with it centuries after the establishment of the C.E. calendar. Also, we get “calendar” from the Latin “calends,” which referred to the first day of the Roman month. EIDVS, the “ides,” were the 13th or the 15th; every month had an eidvs. Many days were nefastus, which meant “inauspicious for the conduct of public business.” Back when I was in college, I made a Roman monthly calendar for our staff office. I received some heckling and a few queries. My boss at the time also had a background in Roman history at least as good as mine. One of my colleagues asked him: “For example, what the hell does this mean?” Steve looked up, then answered: “That means it’s a good day to cut up a goat and examine its entrails.”

The Western world mostly uses what I call the Christian Era calendar, C.E. I get a lot of flak for calling it that. I am lectured that I should be calling it the Common Era. The lecturers find it baffling that of all people, a rather stridently non-Christian person with a degree in history should adopt what they consider a grossly westerncentric term, then dare to defend it even when the speech police show up with warrants (“conform, or we will call you naughty names, jump to conclusions about your politics, and not consider you a member in good standing”). Well:

“Common Era” says nothing of use. Not one thing. It sounds dopey. Common? how so? Was the era before it the “Uncommon Era?” Can eras be said to be common or uncommon? How often does one find this era laying around, relative to that one? Should we go looking for rare eras? The reality is that we’ve used the Gregorian calendar for centuries (in Russia’s case, just one century right about now), and it was always “Before Christ” then “anno Domini” (‘year of the Lord’). Then one day we woke up and decided that not everyone in the Western world was a Christian; reasonable enough on its face. So we renamed it; however, the reality stared us in the face. Whatever we renamed the dating system, it was still based on the nominal assumed timeframe of a key religious figure of legitimately disputed provenance. Starting a new calendar, which would get us a truly secular dating system, would be difficult and icky and hard to obtain the necessary related consensus. Thus, we tried doing it the half-assed way, renaming it without changing its basis. Everyone with a claim to secularism was advised to obey the new usage or be lectured and shamed, as the goal posts moved again.

I’ve never been good about taking orders from those I do not consider my just authorities. Not very many people fall into that category. I have been described as immune to peer pressure, and it’s something of an understatement, because I am proud of this and seek to become more so, not less, which fits well with aging.

But hey, if we are going to adopt a secularist calendar, then let us do so. I’m down. When will we begin it? Should be fun trying to get agreement on that. In the meantime, this particular calendar’s period happens to coincide with the rise of Christianity. Just because I do not share this religion does not mean its rise is not one of the great shaping events of the last two millennia in the Western world. In fact, it is the only shaping event coincidental with that particular timeframe. Those of us who live in the Western world are perfectly entitled to choose and use a Western-centric calendar. Other cultures use their own calendars and dating systems, and we seem to accept that without whining. But if we want to reject a religious calendar, let’s do so by devising a new one, as did the French. In the meantime, let’s stop lying to ourselves with a silly feelgood solution that radiates hypocrisy. Go lecture the Saudis on why their hijri calendar is theocratic, if you want, and see how they react to that. Unless, of course, you hold them to a lower standard. Do you? Or you could write to the King of Thailand about his country’s calendar. I doubt you’ll get any traction with His Majesty, though you can try. (Just be careful how you word it, because lese majesté is a felony in Thailand even if committed off Thai soil, and if you show up there one day and they perceive that you were disrespectful, you could be arrested.)

Happy New Year, January 1, 2017 C.E. (Christian Era).

Other people have done and do calendars differently.

During the French Revolution, they decided that the event was so monumental it deserved a new dating system. Imagine if we had begun a new calendar on July 2, 1776 C.E. (when the Continental Congress voted to secede, and which John Adams assumed would be celebrated each year; it was ratified on July 4). They wanted a secular non-royalist calendar, so they began the French Republican Calendar or French Revolutionary Calendar (the initials are the same in French as well; CRF). Implemented in 1793 and lasting into the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, this calendar had twelve new months. Ever hear of Lobster thermidor? The month of Thermidor was late July and the first 2/3 of August, which are hot. All eleven other months were named similarly for natural or social phenomena normal in France at the given times, such as the grape harvest or frost. French revolutionary coins read, for example, “L’an 5” (Year Five of the French Republic), which was 1796-97. During the Paris Commune of 1871, which lasted ten days, the communards brought this system back. No one should be surprised that it didn’t take this time either.

I’m not sure whether the Haitians got the idea from the French, against whom the Haitians revolted and won their own independence in a war dozens of times bloodier than the War of American Independence, but they did win it. They began a new dating system, though they did not use it exclusively. 1804 C.E. became “L’an 1” of Haitian independence. While Haiti has also long made reference to the C.E. calendar, government paperwork still makes reference to the year of independence (I think we are now in Year 213).

Many countries in the Islamic world use the Islamic calendar, called by them the Hijri, and by the West “anno Hegirae.” As a general rule, the more religious the country, the more exclusively it uses the AH calendar, which begins in C.E. 622 when Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. Ramadan (yes, the fasting month), for example, is the ninth month of this calendar. Interesting datum: for two non-consecutive months of this calendar, fighting in any form is not allowed. AH is a lunar calendar and we currently are in AH 1438.

Iran and Afghanistan use the SH (solar Hijri) or Jalali calendar, which has the same start point as AH but is solar rather than lunar. In 1976, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran made one of the many secularist decisions that generated the discontent that would depose him: he decided to move the calendar’s starting point back to the start of the reign of Cyrus. What had been SH 1355 was now SH 2535. Take a guess how quickly the mullahs reversed this change once the Shah was out. Today, we are in SH 1395.

Starting in 1840 CE, the Ottomans used a solar calendar that included elements of the SH calendar and the Julian, which they called the Rumi (Roman) calendar. If the Ottomans were around today, they would be very offended that today their name means a footstool in English. It’s very offensive in Turkey to show someone the soles of your feet. So don’t do it to the Jandarma, Turkey’s national military police, unless you’re in the market for a pretty bad day.

While Japan uses the Gregorian calendar, it denotes the year based upon the Imperial reign. Each emperor’s era has a name; emperors used to change the era name now and then, but since the Meiji era, Japanese emperors have stuck with the same name throughout. Nowadays they tend to live a very long time, long enough that there have been only four eras since 1867: Meiji, Taisho, Showa (Hirohito) and Heisei (Akihito). Today begins Heisei Year 29 (though as you know, it began yesterday in Japan relative to us).

Several Southeast Asian countries, notably Thailand, use the Buddhist Era (BE) dating. Monthly systems vary, but Thailand uses the Gregorian calendar with BE annual dating. The Buddhist Era begins when the Buddha achieved parinirvana (nirvana after death; in other words, died). The Thais date this from 543 B.C.E. as we would reckon it, making this 2560 BE.

In India, they use the Saka Era calendar for official purposes. Saka Year 0 was C.E. 78, making this Saka 1938. However, many ignore this, and use Vikram Samvat dating, as is done in Nepal. Right now it is still 2073 VS, as this calendar begins 56.7 years before the Gregorian C.E. calendar. I question the prevalency of either in government reference, considering that a trip to the Indian government website tells me today is January 1, 2017, and I didn’t click a button for English. Unsurprising, considering that there are more English speakers in India than there are in the United States.

Just about all the people living on the North American Pacific coast, and a lot of people inland of us, know that the Chinese New Year tends to happen in January C.E. or shortly after. They are told to say things like “gong hay fat choy.” Well, if I were you (and I base this on two years working for a Chinese-owned company where about a third of the employees spoke Mandarin or Cantonese in addition to English), I wouldn’t try to say anything in Cantonese or Mandarin or any other dialect of Chinese until I had memorized its pronunciation with the approval of a native speaker. This is because meaning is inflected in tones, thus the same word can mean multiple things depending on how you articulate it. I was taught to say, rough transliteration, “goon ji fa dthai,” but without the correct tonals, it would be wrong.

Of course, Chinese speakers living in the Western world understand the intent of even a butchered New Year’s wish, and in a spirit of goodwill and gratitude, are likely to restrain their hilarity until you are gone. The official Chinese (People’s Republic) calendar dates from Year 1 of Han Emperor Ping, which very conveniently corresponds to 1 C.E. If you have a favorite Chinese restaurant, go to an Asian grocery store and get some red ‘lucky money’ sleeves. Break up some $20 bills into tens, and stuff a few tens into these sleeves. Go to your favorite restaurant, and with both hands and a “Happy New Year” (in English, unless you know the tonals) give an envelope to each person you deal with. Odds are the manager will make up an envelope giving you back the same rough amount of money, which you must accept just as the employees accepted your gift. That way, everyone gets their ‘lucky money.’ If you are Caucasian (thus not expected to know about this), they will never forget you thereafter, as you will probably be the only Caucasian who ever did it.

I hope you all have a wonderful year of love and light. If this isn’t the start of your own new year, you are wished love and light anyway until that time comes.

Sears: an example of why our corporations are dumber than you think

I just finished reading an article about the downfall of the business I grew up knowing as Sears, Roebuck & Company. Management seems not to know how to right the ship. To me it looks like RMS Titanic‘s bridge crew ordering everyone to grab a bucket and start bailing.

As a child, Sears was relevant to me. Sears was one source of catalogs that offered toys and gift ideas I could not find in nearby stores. Later in life, Sears added importance as a source of catalogs that depicted women’s lingerie. Sometimes one could see shadowy areolae, stuff of dreams. The Montgomery, Ward catalog also hooked me in early because Ward’s also sold toys and stuff with football logos. I dismissed the J.C. Penney catalogs until my aging brought them relevance as another source of lingerie photography.

To hear the article’s author tell it (see for yourself if you’d like), Sears’s executives have no idea why no one comes to Sears anymore. If that’s so, they are stupid. The author identifies one reason, which is that every shopping area touched on by Sears is covered better by a specialized competitor. But that’s also true of Wal-Mart. People still find a reason to shop at Wal-Mart (cheapness, or perhaps desire to see the grotesque underside of human nature). Why don’t people find a reason to shop at Sears?

The execs don’t know?

God, this is stupid.

Young businesspeople: if you think your competition is smarter than you are, just remember that those who rise to great power end up running corporations like Sears. They aren’t that smart.

Part of the reason is that the jobs available to young adults have been so crappy, underpaid, and futureless that they don’t have much money to spend, especially if they are trying to pay student loans. Also, or perhaps therefore, those young people aren’t yet buying homes. Despite historically low interest rates, many still can’t and many more prefer not to. Since they have never known exorbitant interest rates, they do not have an experiential apprehension of the hideousness of double-digit interest. The irresistible opportunity to build relatively inexpensive equity toward non-payment of rent one day falls on deaf ears. So does the notion that, for so long as they rent, they will remain at the economic mercy of landowners. They accept this, even in reasonably priced markets. Not all, but more than pure economics explain.

Sears never did mean too much to apartment-dwellers.

Once I became clever enough, then old enough to obtain more interesting depictions of the feminine form than Sears and Ward could publish in a catalog, Sears fell off my radar. I survived high school, attended college, went to work, paid my student loans (the sum total of which were roughly 1/4 of one year’s pay), and lived in one-bedroom apartments. I also had frequent enough opportunities to view the feminine form, live and in person, that I no longer cared whether I received a catalog. I was past toys, at least the kind found in a catalog. I didn’t go “clothes shopping.” If I needed suits, I went to a store that focused on suits. If I needed socks, I sure as hell wasn’t going to battle mall parking and traffic just so I could have the Sears experience.

By itself, my marriage at 34 did not by itself change the equation at all, because we still lived in an apartment. What changed, at 37, was home ownership. I had never before needed a lawn mower, or a really good vacuum cleaner, or a nice tool chest, or to replace a washer and dryer. Sears was different. If you had a problem with your Sears purchase, they had a good return policy, or you could call them and get help figuring it out. This was fantastic. All of a sudden, for a few short years, Sears mattered to me. Before I bought a table saw anywhere else, I had to ask myself what I’d do if I couldn’t figure something out. A garage door opener? With all that fussing and aligning? No other realistic option but Sears. If it didn’t work, I’d be able to get help on the phone.

Because we went to Sears for those sorts of items, we were inside the store. That may seem like a Captain Obvious moment, but marketing professionals don’t seem to grasp it. Because there was a reason to be in a Sears, we shopped for other things. My wife would browse their clothes. We might notice an iced tea maker. While we were there, we might pick up some socks. Tools at Sears had an excellent reputation. Because there was one sovereign reason to shop at Sears, one key factor that brought us to the store, we were customers. Was Sears the cheapest? Probably almost never. Did we care? If we had, we’d have shopped at the human zoo that is Wal-Mart. Anyone focused purely on the lowest price, cheep cheep cheap, is as foolish as my parents were. I grew up with parents who would buy only the very cheapest option at the very cheapest place, which meant that everything we owned was crappy and fell apart. I admit that this is a bias of mine. I came to hate what cheapness meant. As an adult, I intended to own things that didn’t fall to pieces. To me, the price was and is less important than the ability to buy with confidence. As a homeowner, Sears was essential to my world.

Then my Sears vacuum cleaner stopped working.

It had been an expensive vac, we hadn’t used it that heavily, and I wasn’t planning to just chuck it. Over the past few years, I had noticed a general decline in the quality, attitudes, and quantities of Sears sales staff. Now I found out that the tree was not merely barked but girdled. “May I please speak with someone in vacuums?”

“We can tell you where to find the nearest repair center, sir.”

“That’s not what I want. I need help figuring out why this thing isn’t working any more.”

“We don’t offer that any more, sir.”

Oh.

Creative executive stupidity. In the erroneous opinion that the way to compete was cheap cheep cheep cheep megacheap lowest price just give me the best price cheap cheep cheep, they’d hunted down and eradicated the only thing that made their company unique. Instead of doubling down on that and making Sears an even better place to shop, they’d turned it into a Wal-Mart of sorts: one that didn’t sell groceries, but required one to go to a shopping mall. Brilliant.

I can’t even remember the last time I went to Sears to actually buy actual merchandise with actual money. Sears locations are mall anchor stores, complicating my path as I forge ahead for a commercial cattle raid. I pay little attention to the merchandise as I pass. I wouldn’t care if Sears collapsed, as I assume it must.

It was not me that broke up this relationship.

How could this have been avoided?

Sears stores are large enough to contain a Best Buy. Sears should have become Best Buy. It should have used its buying power to make itself the fount of retail technology, selling the TVs and computers inexpensively and offering helpful expertise. If that expertise went on site, it could charge for it. The area where the most people have the most need for someone to explain stuff to them, and the company whose wheelhouse was the ability to help people. Would it break even on the electronics? Probably a wash after paying all the people whose job it is to help Granny program her remote and be patient when she complains, “I can’t get my Explorer to download my browser email, and my hard disk thing keeps popping out, and the foot pedal doesn’t go down, and this keyboard isn’t like the ones we had when I taught typing; what do these F buttons do?” Would it have brought large numbers of new customers into Sears, walking past clothing and coffee makers? I think it would have. Of course, this did not occur. Sears typically had a decent TV selection, plus a computer selection that was an expensive afterthought.

Think on this next time you are tempted to assume that having corporate leaders run the government would be a good idea.

Deceiving Facebook advertising

Ever since the Ad Preferences thing became general knowledge, Facebook users have known a good way to feel creeped out. Yeah, we knew they would do this, and we can’t stop them.

However, I have figured out a way to ruin it, at least a little.

First off: why do that? “What part of ‘free service’ do you not understand? If you impair their ability to make money, you will no longer have a free service! You use this voluntarily! No one forces you!” Answer: because we aren’t getting paid enough. We, the users, are the product. Our compensation is not tied to the revenue we generate for a publicly traded company. Our views are the deliverable. If Facebook were to pay us, that would be one thing, but it never will. Because it never will, it’s moral to mess up their income stream.

How would one do that? At first, I though that deleting all the ad preference indicators would make sense. I then learned an odd thing: if you delete them all, they are soon repopulated with many more even if your FB usage is way down. I’ve been very busy the past couple of weeks and have spent far less time on the site. I checked last night and my “Ad Preferences” were as big a stew as I had previously accumulated (before the first Big Deletion) in years. If you delete them all, it seems, they are repopulated. Quickly. Like an ant colony.

All right. If you insist on keeping a dossier on me, I will ruin it. I will turn it into the hottest garbage I can.

Next time, don’t just delete all your ad preferences. Next time, go through them all and delete all those relevant to you: your leisure, your work, your beliefs, your hobbies, your passions. Leave only those that are complete whiffs. You like quilting? Delete any having to do with fabric. Oregon Ducks fan? There’s help for that condition, but in the meantime, keep any displayed ad preference that indicates you might like the Beavs or the Huskies. You voted for Jill Stein? Leave Mitt Romney on there and remove Jill. Make sure that all the remaining preferences represent lies.

There is nothing Facebook can do about this. It amounts to urinating in the data pool. It also takes less time than deleting them all, and is much more amusing. You’re a millennial? AARP is on there? That one gets to stay! You’re a stay-at-home mom? Facebook thinks you like diaper pails? Hell, no, you do not!

Have fun. We may not win the privacy war, but some of us will fight it just for enjoyment and pride.

 

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