The Devil's in the Details

On election day, a little boy approached my wife in the park and informed her that he had voted for Governor Romney to be president because he had learned that President Obama wanted all the boys to marry boys and the girls to marry girls. He regretted his vote however, having subsequently learned that Governor Romney wants us all to be slaves and pick cotton 24 hours a day and never sleep ever.

Truly, it was a contentious election. Not quite the photo finish everyone was predicting though, huh?

Well, not quite everyone. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight had pegged the president's chances of winning at nearly 91% on election day, taking 313 electoral votes. That was up from 86% just a day before. He wasn't the only one to predict a big lead, but he's the lightning rod right now.

Turns out he was right again. As of this writing, the president has 303 electoral votes in the bag, and there's still counting to be done, but it's all over but the shoutin'.

The fawning and frothing surrounding Silver is worthy of more than an eyeroll, but then there's, the best belly laugh I had of the entire campaign.

As of this writing, he is up to "probably" from "maybe" last night, but it's the struck-out first paragraph on that site that bears being tattooed on the forehead of every fifth American:

His unusually accurate predictions are, thus far, explained by his use of validated statistical methods. His disregard of momentum, gut feelings, and the interpretations of people paid to promote certain viewpoints is not the result of supernatural assistance.

Oversimplified? Sure. His models and methods are a matter of debate, and he has in fact been wrong, as he'll tell you himself. But — and I'm talking to you, right now, America — read that paragraph again. And again. And again. Because the rest of us need to get on board with that idea.

It's time to give up our proud tradition of ignorance. Please, in the name of Christ, I beseech you.

Much is being made right now about how Republican electoral strategies are going to change. Nixon's Southern strategy, which built decades of success on the backs of racists, misogynists, and homophobes has been declared dead. America appears to be admitting that it's not entirely white, straight, male, and evangelical.

And, you know, thank God for that, because it's long past time, but that victory is just a touch tarnished for me. It's tarnished by the certainty that educated voters across the nation will still tune in to the bespectacled pro-wrestling shartstorm that is cable news for the post-mortem. They will care what Joe Scarborough thinks. They will listen to men who base their predictions on nothing more than what they think sounds right, and they will call these men "analysts".

Pundits will continue to sell books. Politicians will continue to disparage scientific research and strangle its funding. They will continue to cut funds for education as well, a quite literal investment in our country's future, every time there's a budget problem. They will appoint people who call their grandkids for tech support to craft laws affecting the Internet. They will use terms like "Ivy League" and "intellectual" as insults. They will value their guts over their brains.

Meanwhile, Nate Silver studies the numbers and ignores the know-nothings and continues to shame them with his record of success. The know-nothings respond with claims of "bias", which is crybaby for "he said a thing I didn't like" or "she asked a hard question".

Charlie Pierce offers greetings from Idiot America. Seven years ago, by the way, and he's no less right today. Here's a chunk:

The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents — for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

I said above that education is a literal investment in our country's future, but of course it's not the only one. So is research. Research leads to discovery leads to advances leads to New Useful Things leads to...wait for markets (and also helping people, but let's ignore that). That's how you continue to lead. That's how you embrace the future.

Considerable investments in CERN, for instance, have resulted in new technologies with a big return on investment. Why didn't that happen here, the alleged world leader? Why do we wait for China to invite us to join in an effort to ensure that our west coast isn't obliterated by an asteroid strike? Indeed, how is it a vice presidential candidate can call for more research of congenital diseases like Down's Syndrome and in the same speech disparage that research, with zippo effect on her credibility with her base?

At bottom, it's because we (including, ironically, those who claim to hew to an absolutist view of truth) have embraced consensus as fact and ignorance as plain sense. It's because we want reinforcement, not knowledge. Easy answers and clear enemies, not nuance or understanding. We want to participate in the drama.

We stopped dreaming, and we stopped exploring, and we started sneering at those who didn't stop. We replaced our thinkers with talkers and our rigor with rhetoric. If we don't turn that around soon, say hello to our decline.

Plato hated the concept of democracy. He said it was a terrible idea because you're putting people who don't value learning and wisdom in charge of choosing the wise ones who will lead. That, he said, will ultimately lead to a populace governed by lies and manipulation and engaged in a diarrhea sandwich of public discourse (I'm paraphrasing here) that caters to the lowest common denominator. Sound familiar?

Though I have my problems with the man, I'm glad we re-elected President Obama. If you care why, and I don't expect that you do, this essay by John Scalzi approximates my own view closely enough. But to me, who gets elected matters far less than how (and why) they are elected, just as what you think is far less important than how you think.

Yes, I'm grateful for last night's results. I'm happy for the 32 million people who get to see a doctor and the tens of millions of LGBT citizens being recognized as Americans. I'm certainly happy that I don't have to pick cotton and never sleep. But there is a worm at the heart of the tower, a deeply-rooted cultural rot, and until we address it, until we as a country venture out of the cuddly Slanket of willful ignorance, we prove the ancients right and make our neighbors nervous.

If nothing else, it'll prevent this from ever happening.

Rise, My Creation, Your Master Commands

You've probably figured out that tools are important to me. I spend a lot of time thinking about them, and I like to write about them too.

Problem is that most of the tools I rely on every day are, predictably enough, software, and there's already a big crowd of people who write about software and getting work done. There's Sven and there's Patrick and there's Sparky and there's Eddie and there's Drang and there's Brettsy von Terpington and there's Merlin and there's Merlin and there's Merlin and there's more besides. I don't feel like trying to duplicate their success.

I was ruminating on this the other day when I had made my third failed attempt at a post I still haven't given up on about how I use alerts and notifications to emulsify awesome sauce. I found myself slipping into doing some variation on the sort of thing I read in my RSS feeds every day, and let's face it, if I do that, there's really no point to this place.

That got me wondering what the point of this place is, and I was surprised at how difficult that question was to answer. I thought on that for days, and then a very scary career opportunity presented itself, and the answer tumbled out of my skull.

I was trying to get work done but had just finished one of those conversations that completely derails your brain with scary possibilities, and as a result, I was worse than useless. I was literally experiencing a mild fight-or-flight response thinking about it, swept up in a mix of exhilaration and the sort of terror one feels when confronted with the dead-eyed ghost of a six-year-old Japanese girl.

I had anti-focus. I knew I had to process it before I could get anything done, so I started typing, and eventually, the following came out.

A note before we dig in: Please pardon the grandiosity (and random perspective-shifting). I tend to tinge purple when I'm brain-dumping and I hadn't intended it for public consumption, but I don't think I should edit it too heavily, for honesty's sake.

This is what I wrote:

The thing is that you are meant to do something on this earth. You are meant to change things in some small way. That is why you were given hands and a mind and a heart and legs. You were meant to do things that make people's lives better. You certainly were meant to always be working to make yourself better. This [opportunity] is the devil you don't know, sure. But would you rather be impotent and underused?

This thing in me that wants to live, I want to let it, and I'm not sure of how. I worry about the costs. But I desperately want it to live. Sometimes it seems I can physically feel it burning in my chest, and I don't know if that's real or not, but I damn near don't care because it feels alive.

The job's not going to give me that. No job is, unless it's a very special one. I'm not sure that even necromancing my old dream of being a decently-paid writer would do it for me, not really. Once you're doing what you love, the trick is to keep loving what you're doing. And how many people get paid to write what they want?

That sense of being alive, I've found it in music and art and books and women and movies and funerals and Jennifer and the birth of my children and I'm hungry for more of it. I want to find it in me, in my life.

"Your life is coming to you," I hear that thing say, and I think, it's here. I'm living it. What else is there?

To build something, for starters. To feed and amplify wonder. To make others feel a hunger and longing for that feeling and to be lost in it.

You can write about OmniFocus. You can write about notifications. You can write about clutter and focus and tools and tricks, but it should always be connected to your heart and your fear and your life and your longing for something you're not sure exists. That is your blog. The intersection of tools and dreams, usefulness and impracticality, fear and longing and love and sex and giving and meaning and failure. A glorious Kurt Vonnegut butthole-shaped crossroads of life.

That is The Tool Shed. Looking for a way to build dreams and change out of the things of this earth. Talking about the stuff we all know but don't say. Finding a way to help that thing live. Not a whole lot of blogging about that.

Now look at notifications and OmniFocus and tools and your job in THAT light, fucker. Where are the angels and goblins in your contexts?

Woof. Is that Bill Shakespeare? I don't have my glasses on.

But I hope the gist is clear: that thing at the center of me lies mostly beyond my comprehension, but I'm pretty sure it is at least partly a call to do work. Not necessarily my job, not even necessarily an avocation like this place, but something that matters, something that changes things in some small way. I can't quite shake that loose.

I'm only now starting to get comfortable with the idea that all life is searching, that when you feel like you've arrived, it's pretty much all over. So if this site really does last and is to be anything, it is to be a chronicle of that searching, with a keen eye on keeping it bullshit-free.

I'm encouraged by the surprising level of reaction I've gotten from people who have read this site and the new friends I've made because of it, but the real reason I know this place is on the right track is that every time I write something like this, I'm choking down panic. That means it's worthwhile, because it means I'm selling my heart.

Now I think I'll call my shot: Spinning the Wheel of Topics, the next post will be about trying to spend more time acting and less time reacting.

Well right, naturally you should hate spirituality.

Every last one of them was the heart of the heart of the tv dinner demographic. But then they get shot into space, tossed from the gravity of this planet, across a quartermillion miles of nothing, to be snagged by the moon after three days. Eighteen guys did this and twelve descended further to find out that moon dust smells like gunsmoke. Every single one of them came back irrevocably changed. America had sent the squarest motherfuckers it could find to the moon and the moon sent back humans.

--Spirituality and the Apollo program

Found this via The internet needs a FUCK YES button.

On Losing Neil Armstrong

Whenever I look at the moon I am reminded of that precious moment, over four decades ago, when Neil and I stood on the desolate, barren, yet beautiful, Sea of Tranquility, looking back at our brilliant blue planet Earth suspended in the darkness of space, I realized that even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone.

Buzz Aldrin's statement about Neil Armstrong's passing

Just look at that picture. That is a ten-year-old boy with one thought looping in his head: This is the best thing ever.