Audrey Podenco’s Civics Homework

The Podenco family elections were coming on Saturday, and all four members were running. Audrey, the daughter, had a class on democracy, and her homework was to do an at-home election lasting a whole week. She had it all planned on Friday night at supper when her mom, Frida, had joked, “What about Sally?”

Of course, Audrey was still worried about Joe Katz, who lived with his half-brother who was 30 and worked nights so they were more like roommates than parent and child. How the heck was he gonna have an election?

“I forgot Sally,” Audrey said. Sally was their Labrador-ish dog with an extra-long tail so they called her Salamander—Sally for short, which had made Audrey laugh when Roger, her step-dad, explained because—She had made up tables with a ruler and everything, wanting to document the whole election to earn an A on the assignment. There wasn’t room for Sally.

“I didn’t think she was eligible,” Audrey said. “If you really want to vote for her, you can as a write-in. See?” She showed off the ballots she had made, with all their names except for Sally and then a blank line where they could write-in anyone.

That night, as Roger let Sally lick the plates clean before he turned on the dishwasher (he wasn’t supposed to!), he told her that she had his vote. “You’re obviously the leader of the family, Sal. Without you, we’d be lost.”

The election began at lunch on Sunday, with everyone having Saturday to come up with their platforms. Everyone said what they would change if elected, and everyone acted magnanimous toward each other and to each other’s ideas.

Audrey said she would make it so every month you had a birthday, instead of once per year, but that your real birthday would still be the big one, but that you’d be celebrated once a month with a mini-birthday (but no, you wouldn’t get a birthday wish except on the real one; birthday wishes don’t grow on tress).

Frida said she would repeal the law of gravity and replace it with the law of gravy, so that everything would have to be held down by a dollop of gravy (this was a covert influence campaign—it was Roger’s turn to make dinner, and she was lobbying for biscuits and gravy).

Roger said he would adopt the Hague Television Convention, requiring the family to use a point system to determine what to watch on TV. He had a whole chart about it, but the gist was that he could let them pick most of the time, saving up his points so he could watch major sporting events without argument.

“You know, we can adopt these ideas regardless of who wins,” Frida said. “The law of gravity has kept us down for too long!”

Sally barked at a squirrel out the window. “She seconds!” Roger said.

Later that afternoon, Audrey was out walking Sally when they came across a discarded pizza box. As they stepped past it, Audrey gave it an idle kick, sending it a few feet onward. At this, Sally romped about and pounced atop the box, sledding briefly before the road’s friction stopped her.

“Right on, Sal,” Audrey said, and then she ran and jumped on the box, surfing it a little ways. “You always have good ideas. You get my vote,” she told her dog.

After they got home, Audrey said to Frida, “How can Sally vote? She can’t write or talk.”

“Some people can’t vote,” Frida said. “Like you, you’re too young. Those who can’t rely on the rest of us to get it right.”

Audrey nodded. “It’s a big responsibility, when you think about it.”

The next morning while Frida mowed the lawn, Sally was running ahead, picking up sticks and moving them to the heap off to the side. After she finished, Frida gave Sally a dog cookie for being a good lass. “You earned my vote for sure, Old Sally,” Frida told her.

Finally Saturday rolled around, and the Podencos assembled in the living room. “I set up the bathroom as the voting booth, because it’s private,” Audrey explained. “You just go on in, and I left a few different pens and markers so you can express your vote in whatever way you like. Put your ballot in the empty tissue box, and after everyone’s voted, we’ll count them.”

“Who goes first?” Roger asked.

“Oh! I didn’t think about—”

“I’ll go first,” Frida said. “I have to go, anyway.”

After Frida had gone and voted, Roger said Audrey could go next. After she left, Frida said how glad she was that they were teaching civics so young. “Democracy is important, and it makes me proud of our community,” she said to Roger.

“It’s a waste of paper, I say. That was a fresh box of tissues. What did she do with them?”

“Oh, Roger! She put them in bags so we can take them with us to school and work, so if we get the sniffles we’ll be able to blow our noses.”

“Smart!” Roger said, as Audrey finally came back from the voting bathroom.

Roger went last, and he brought the ballot tissue box back when he came out.

“Okay, now we’ll count the votes,” Audrey said, reaching into the box. “One for Sally!” She made a tally mark on the recording sheet. She pulled out the next ballot. “Two for Sally!” she cried, making another line. She pulled out the final ballot, which she didn’t technically need to, obviously, because the result was already determined at that point, but everyone’s vote counts, even the ones that technically don’t. “It’s a landslide! Sally got all the votes.”

Sally barked in triumph, while Frida said, “I can’t believe we all voted for Sally.”

“You’ll get ’em next time, dear,” Roger said in consolation.

But Sally kept barking. Her bark became a grunt, and her grunt became intelligible. She was ordering the Podencos around! She made Roger bring his shoes to be chewed on, and she made Frida put all the sticks back in the yard, and she made Audrey order her a pizza with bacon and bones, yuck!

And the Podencos were never heard from again.

The moral of the story is: democracy is great, but you still have to be fucking careful whom you elect.

Re: FW: [JOKE] Thoughts About Memes

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s there was a phenomenon of older relatives sending quackery to peoples’ email. These were wide in variety, including Neiman Marcus cookie recipe spam (Snopes: 3 November 1999: “Is the Neiman Marcus Cookie Story True?”), captioned images, and jokes, and they were almost always a transcript of forwards from across the internet, lasting for years and years.

And lots of them were political, and they were corny, and why did said relative have your email address, anyway?

But history likes to trick us. It likes to take a thing and twist it around and spit it back at us. So the same dreck that clogged our inboxes was inexplicably made cool once everyone left email in favor of Facebook and other social media platforms. The meme was born.

I don’t know what it means. Surely others have noted this FWD-to-meme evolution and how the former was as uncool as could be and the latter is seen as a form of net-cred. My best guess is that the elders impersonated youngsters on various zines and boards and whatevers, disguising their forward spam as coming from fellow youths. Now we have politicians memeing it up on their Twitter accounts, and nobody is running away from the damned things as last-year or overdone.

What, just because they’re funny?! Laughing gas is funny, too, but you don’t see people sending laughing gas over the internet!


Memes have always existed. Once upon a time folks would clip memes from the funny pages or newspapers or magazines. But they were always on the kitschy end of the thing, not some everyday, always-on device that would overrun real discussions.

These days, serious posts have the replies jammed full of videos of people making reactive faces. Use your words, people! I always ask myself, are there really people who go through and watch all those videos, anyway? God knows.

Some people had Monty Python and the Holy Grail memorized. I’m sure such people still exist, with different source material. On the other hand, the Christians and Jews and Muslims have been line-and-versing their memes out for centuries.

It strikes me as odd that we have this kind of short-circuit in our brains that says if you can encapsulate some idea in this trendy way, it suddenly takes on some special character. Like an advertising jingle that gets stuck in your head.


There are various possibilities for the rise of memes. One is that it’s platform metrics that drive them. Engagement, the mere reply or acknowledgment of a piece of content, is seen as key. Memes are a cheap way to engage, and the platforms like that.

There are others that say in our hyperconnected world nobody has time to think. Busy Twitch chats are full of stamp spam because nobody could usefully converse at 1000 lines/second. On the other hand, someone’s got time to make all those fancy plates of food showing up on Instagram (or are they just output from a generative adversarial network?).

One other possibility is they are a sign of the singularity. That as culture sublimates into the digital realm, human interactions become more and more patterned upon how consciousness directly relates the world to itself, with very id-based reactions to everything, and therefore the expressivity of a networked world naturally devolves into visceral-first communications.

Who knows?

The Old Carbon Deal

I’m here today to present my plan to change the climate. This is the Old Carbon Deal! I hope you’re excited. I know I am. I hope all the media outlets are ready to ask questions about feasibility. I hope lots of suit-and-tie folks are going to write long, important articles about the wisdom of my plan.

First off, the cost. By the year 2100, it will cost at least 10% of GDP per year (the equivalent of almost $200 billion in today’s dollars) directly. That’s economic output, and doesn’t count the damage costs to infrastructure, which will be more like a trillion dollars. That includes things like losses from crop failures, dealing with flooding, etc. It will cost even more indirectly, including from warfare and international economic disruption.

The best part of the cost is that someone else will pay for it! Who doesn’t like free stuff?! Gas prices will stay cheap, big corporations get a huge subsidy, and it’s the poor, like all those island nations you never learned in school, and future generations that pick up the tab!

Poor people who live in drought-stricken and famine-devastation will seek out places that support and sustain human life, disrupting borders and governments. They won’t have a choice—dying isn’t a solution to their problems. They won’t care about the law. Starvation doesn’t negotiate. That will create conflict. Their malnourishment will help spread disease. Their lack of educational opportunity will increase strife and lower their ability to integrate in new lands. More than 350 million people globally will be exposed to deadly heat stress by mid-century, including in parts of the United States.

Temperatures will rise more than 2°C on average, and the oceans’ waters will follow the temperature. Those nice beaches you visited as a child will be washed away. Some coastal cities will have to close up or try to move themselves or undertake expensive remediation. Those who try to stay will face repeated failures that run up the costs even further.

There will be freshwater shortages, further straining agriculture and industry. Livestock will be subject to heatwaves and feed shortages and droughts, too. Nobody will ban cows, but there’ll be a lot less red meat to go around all the same.

Okay, so that’s the costs of my plan. But what benefits does it have? It will shorten your lifespan, making every living moment that much more precious. It will increase disease, making universal healthcare more imperative. New York will feel like Arkansas. People will wear fewer clothes, saving on laundry costs (which will be higher due to water shortages). It will make the rabble believe in a wrathful God.

It may also lead to uncontrolled feedback that could result in even more warming and misery! As oceans rise, their surface area grows, and they absorb more heat! The melting of tundra and permafrost can release more CO₂! The death of ecosystems may result in even less natural carbon storage capacity!


Okay, you’re sold. You want in on this wonderful Old Carbon Deal. What do you have to do to make it happen? Nothing. If we do absolutely nothing, we will enact this climate change plan.

The media doesn’t like the Green New Deal. I don’t blame them. It’s a dud. Let’s do this here Old Carbon Deal. It sounds like a real winner to me.

To Fix College Admissions

I’m already sick of reading about the fraud-in-admissions scandal, but figure that solutions are useful. There are a few things to note about colleges.

Foremost, it’s ridiculous that something as basic as education gets turned into a brand and prestige commodity. It’s basically a celebration of ignorance to prefer someone who learned the same material at a pricey school over someone who learned it elsewhere. If the educational standards at Megabucks U are really that superior, they should be adopted by other institutions. If not, we should stop pretending that the Latin motto matters.

Second, qualifications only matter to a point. If you have two otherwise-identical students and you’re down to weighing the choice of their musical instrument (“E plays harmonica, but e plays the mandolin. Which of those is more of the Megabucks sound?”), fuck off. And the broader situation holds, as well. Qualifications should be about whether someone has the educational background necessary to succeed, and not about chest medals.

With those two things in mind, the way that college admissions (and other things like hiring choices) ought to work is simple:

  1. Select out the qualified candidates.
  2. Randomize that list.

Simple. Unbiased. No-nonsense.

That includes legacy, wing-donors, whatever. It includes minority-preference, scholarship, whatever. Pick them at random. Unless you have very small class sizes or very bad luck, you’ll get a diverse selection that includes the offspring of megadonors as well as underprivileged applicants.


One of the big problems for Megabucks U is that the big donors actually reduce school competition and the spread of education. Rather than franchising or otherwise spreading curricula to others, in hopes of raising more money for the institution, Megabucks will spend more effort protecting its stupid name-brand. The same problem exists in politics, where overreliance on megadonors limits the political oxygen available for a party or a politician to make reasonable choices.

If a Republican megadonor doesn’t like the idea of wind power because e thinks it will mess up eir hairdo, suddenly the Republicans have to oppose wind power, even if their constituents favor it. That sucks. It’s anti-democratic. It can go screw.

The Success of Novelty

A newcomer makes a new thing and people like the new thing. Then people copy the new thing. But they don’t generally get the same attention and acclaim.

There’s a tendency to ignore novelty, per se, in understanding successes. All these rambunctious Republican real estate criminals going out trying to have affairs with porn stars in preparation to run for the 2020 GOP nomination are evidence of that.

Other times, the copycats do succeed. They find a new angle or do the repeat with more skilled hands, and people enjoy it.

There are several factors at play. One is the tendency for novelty to be a good in itself. The first time you try a fizzy drink, and the carbon dioxide bubbles tickle your tongue.

Another is the opportunity that novelty has to fix attention. The brain works a little harder to understand the activity when it is novel, so the experience is heightened.

There are social factors at work, as well. Spreading novelty has social status. “Jones turned Smith on to these new-fangled talkies that everyone’s now talking about, so Jones is a cool cat.”

Part of that reaction is borne out of the fact that being the first people at a watering hole or hunting ground meant lots of the resource, where being late-comers meant crumbs at best. “Early bird gets the worm,” and the like.

Of course, the legal system has patents, which bestows special rights upon inventors, which can be lucrative. Firsts are celebrated. The first man on the moon, the first steps a baby takes, first spoken word, bronzed baby shoes, all that.


The success of novelty versus of immitators often comes down to the fertility of the ground in the public imagination. If the public sees the new thing as limited, it doesn’t want another. If it sees it as breaking new ground, it wants to see what else is around that area.