Somehow, I still manage to be surprised when Cracked.com has an article that's got pretty good science and pretty good advice in it, like What is the Monkeyspehere?.
For all the glories and conveniences civilization brings people, there's one problem with it.

It's BORING. All of the little, necessary work to keep things running? Not exciting. It's papers and numbers and routine maintenance and zoning laws and public meetings and procedures and plenty of non-exciting minuate. It's all the little things that need to be done and done right and when they're all done, then you've got the giant pretty skyscraper. Now you just need people to clean it.

Excitement is what happens when things go wrong.
Aristocrats are my natural enemy. This is because the root of aristocrat's power is the idea they deserve their position, wealth, influence, and power, simply based on who their parents or grandparents happened to be and happened to have done. Which is, to put it bluntly, a steaming pile of crap. Outside of the genetic influence on your abilities and personality, who donated that genetic material doesn't justify your position in life. Being fortunate enough to grow up somewhere well off, with plenty of opportunities and education and food and the other necessities of life doesn't make you a better person. That's up to you.

Now it's true the modern world has gotten rid of a lot of the old style royalty, and many of those who're left are just figureheads, there's still plenty of aristocrats around. Not just ancient landed families, though there's plenty of those kicking around with wealth and castles and titles. There's plenty of rich families who either inherited their wealth or want to make sure they can pass their wealth and position on to their heirs, and make sure those heirs have a nice big chunk of the pie, even if that means the pie's smaller than it should be. Better off relative to everyone else, rather than being wealthier on an absolute sense, but the gap being smaller between them and everyone else. They are, by definition, short-sighted and self-interested. There are a fair number of wealthy people who don't buy into this garbage, often wealthy people who've made their money themselves. Well, them and luck (and occasionally criminal business practices, you know who you are).

Of course, because of the format of blogs and LJs, the followup post that will tie into this will be on top. But that's okay, since it should be able to stand on its own, anyway.
The other day I read the prequel comic for the Transformers movie. It was not so impressive, on several levels, since it didn't cover or explain much of the stuff you'd expect from a prequel. Nothing in it added anything that I'm sure won't be covered by the movie.

But that wasn't what really irked me. No, the part that really irritated me was an almost throwaway line. There's an Obligatory Secret Government Agency, and said Obligatory Secret Government Agency is studying an alien piece of tech they've found. So one of the new guys looks at the pictures on the wall and wonders "Is that Robert Oppenheimer?" And then they go through a couple of other names, and one of the old hands says "How did you think we won the space race?" And in the end they give credit to almost all modern tech, from microwave ovens to digital watches to breakthroughs from studying the alien tech.

Yeah, I bet if we did find alien tech, even broken alien tech, it'd probably lead to a number of breakthroughs. Even if the aliens aren't super-duper advanced, their tech would probably have advanced along slightly different paths and so on. But the writer gave credit for pretty much all of modern society to this alien tech, and that just pisses me off. It's totally devaluing the cleverness and genius of the human race. It implies everything we've done is just from taking things apart and making monkey copies of somebody else's stuff, instead of developing and discovering things for ourselves. Some great respect for the abilities of humanity there, guys.

Come on, we can discover stuff on our own. We're clever monkeys.
I just had a nice, helpful, civil conversation with a lady at the state tax bureau about some money they think I owe them that I don't. Everything was simple and easy enough to deal with and she was helpful and courteous. It's amazing how when you treat them civilly, people generally do their jobs competently.
Alberto Gonzales manages continuously to make hi predecessor look like a staunch defender of civil liberties and the rule of law. Considering John Ashcroft was arguably crazy, perfectly happy to spy on peace groups, and offended by a statue's tit, that's saying a LOT.

The latest bit? A story, which responsible journalists would have brought out years ago. At one point, John Ashcroft was sick and in the hospital, so his #2 guy was acting AG. He told the White House they couldn't re-authorize a program the Bush administration wanted because they couldn't justify it's legality. Bush's own hand-picked DOJ folks couldn't justify it. So then the #2 got word from Ashcroft's wife that two guys from the Bush administration were coming over to Ashcroft's hospital room, to try and get him to authorize it. Those two men were Mr. Card and Mr. Alberto Gonzales. For more detail, let me quote from the words of Mr. Comey, who was Ashcroft's #2 in the DOJ. A sick man, midnight rides, and manipulative thugs )

John Ashcroft said no, and was willing to resign because of it, along with half the high ranking people in the DoJ, and Bush's head of the FBI. That's astonishing. Not just that there was a line that no, these cronies wouldn't cross. Think about it. The Bush administration was willing to pressure a sick man in a hospital, to keep doing something even their own cronies couldn't justify by any tortured logic. We don't know specifically what the something is, but the indications seem to be it had to do with warrantless wiretapping. And one of the thugs sent to try and pressure the sick man in the hospital is now the Attorney General.

Doesn't that just make you feel safer already?

Impeach Alberto Gonzales. Impeach Dick Cheney. Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach them now.

(hilzoy has more and more.)
From Slacktivist, in a post about some Southern Baptists trying to pull their kids out of public schools in a big group, a quote that expresses things quite well.

"So instead of bureaucrats and politicians, parents will decide directly how these schools will be run. Well, maybe not directly -- having a town-meeting every time you need to hire staff or purchase textbooks could be cumbersome and inefficient. But short of that they could ensure that parents had a say in such decisions by, say, electing representatives to a board that could oversee the schools. They could call it a "school board." This "school board" -- accountable to the parents -- could hire professionals to manage the day-to-day affairs of the schools. All of which would be so much better than the current system of politicians and bureaucrats."

Heh. Good show, sir.
It's amazing how much really really really easy stuff gets neglected just because people don't do it. Like people who throw paper towels on the floor when the trash can is less than three steps away. Or people who work retail and can't bother to do the most basic freaking parts of their jobs. I work retail. I know it sucks. It really does. Most of retail work is utterly and completely pointless in the grand scheme of things, you're trying to sell people stuff they don't need, to make money for the company, and the money doesn't go to you hardly at all.

Man, put that way, I wonder why I even bother to do any work. Retail is thankless and mind-numbing and repetitive and lots of other things, but it's about a hundred times better than the kind of work most of humanity had to do to get by for most of history. So it irritates me when somebody doesn't bother to do something that takes all of like two minutes and is really easy. Especially when I have to do that thing, on top of all the other things I'm already doing.

Now to seemingly switch tangents.

One of the most marvelous creations of the Enlightenment is bureaucracy. The vast and rules-bound strata that, run properly, ensure that everybody has to fill out the same annoying forms to get things done. Lord or pauper, you still need to fill out these forms. The entire idea of a professional, neutral, staff of administrators and others is STAGGERING when you compare it to the way everything had been run before, which was based on nepotism and political infighting. Not that either of those are absent in a professional bureaucracy, but they're greatly reduced when run well.

Many of the greatest problems of bureaucracy come from the fact it's run by people, the same kind of people who are too lazy to put their paper towels in the trash or to clean up the section they're assigned to in the store. But in general, when people are hired to do a job, they do it, at least to some extent. Otherwise they get fired.

So when I get annoyed by people who don't manage to do the very easy tasks of their jobs that nothing much really depends on, imagine what I think when I see a headline like this: Most Katrina Aid From Overseas Went Unclaimed.

This isn't a matter of simple incompetence. This is, at best, STAGGERING incompetence. This wasn't just money they turned down. They turned down offers of search and rescue teams. Medical care, housing, all sorts of things. Yeah, there's lots of offers of aid that couldn't really help, like Greece's offer of cruise ships for hospitals that wouldn't get there for months. And y'know, this is the US, we're the richest damn country in the world, we should have had the resources to do this all. And we did. But due to the same staggering incompetence (being generous), a major US city was effectively destroyed and people were stranded without rescue or supplies for days.

But there's a very simple reason why this happened. Most of the people who were chosen to be in charge of emergency response, along with man of the other bureaucracies and other professional civil service agencies of the government, weren't picked for their competence. They were picked for personal loyalty, or for favors. And they weren't just given bullshit posts they couldn't screw up, like ambassador to San Marino. They were put in positions where people's lives were at stake. And guess what. They fucked it up.

The people in charge of our government don't believe in the idea of neutral and professional civil servants. That's why they try to turn "bureaucracy" into a dirty word. That's why they don't care if the people they appoint are even slightly competent for the post they're given. They are, at heart, aristocrats, as petty and venal as any seventeenth century lord. They don't want professionals giving unbiased opinions or evaluations, because those might disagree with what they want. And because it's something beyond their control. So they try to destroy it, first by saying it's useless, and then by trying to prove it's useless once they get power, by not even pretending to care how well things are done.

"Government can't do anything right! Elect us, and we'll prove it!"
Man. The AI is so frustrating in it. I mean, I love heroic doomed stands as much as the next guy, but dudes? Declaring war on the country whose mass of modern armor is forming a literal fence between you and a more powerful enemy who'd love to stomp you? Not too bright. And none of them will surrender even after their army's been smushed and legions of tanks are sitting outside their capitol and I send somebody in to ask "Okay, are we done now? Can we stop this?" Of course not.

Man. It's like playing against a bunch of clones of George W. Bush. "Stay the course! Bring it on!" "Uh, sir, that's not working." "Stay the course!"

Criminy. And since the diplomacy system sucks, and all the leaders are immortal and unkillable, the only way to get them to stop trying to fight me is to utterly conquer them. I don't want to play empire! I want to ditz around and build my spaceship and have my people love me. Is that too much to ask?

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