The Debt Collection Industry

Do I still have any friends here who are not well-to-do? Perhaps with some consumer debt that is in default? Who might, once in awhile, hear from a debt collector? Well, this is a topic that interests me, partly because I had a go with this problem several years ago. I beat it because I had a lawyer friend who told me a couple of key things that are strongly confirmed by this article, which has a few things that were not pertinent to me back then.

1) Do not ghost the collector. The main way they get you is by waiting 30 days and then seeking a default judgement. This judgement will be legally binding and allow them to take your money against your will.

2) Do not talk to the person. Tell them to send you a letter, give them your address (I know, scary but the right thing to do). DO NOT TALK TO THEM. No discussion. No "I can't afford it right now." Get their details, name, mailing address, case number (make sure to confirm the hell out of the case number and that it is the correct reference; these people are liars).

3) Send a registered letter well with 30 days of hearing from one. Dispute the charges and ask for documentation in the form of a signed contract. (Other ideas are in the article.)

4) If you always show up on time and say, "Show me the contract", you will beat them.

This article is fascinating. It explains all about how it works.

Abortion Today

I read most of the Dobbs decision, enough to judge it. The Supreme Court is not entirely wrong. Abortion has long been considered a crime. Roe v Wade was, I think, judicial activism. Respect for precedent only goes so far. Eg, Plessy v. Ferguson was an insanely wrong decision that made racial segregation legal. Retaining it as controlling law would have continued a crime.

But it also has two flaws that make it unreasonable. First, privacy and personal autonomy are real, traditional human rights that deserve the utmost respect even if women have only recently been included in the list of humans who deserve it. Second, society has absolutely no legitimate interest in "preserving fetal life". Yet these are the foundation of the Dobbs decision.

The decision explains that everyone goes around claiming rights that are components of 'liberty' that are not mentioned in the constitution. It ridicules the ideas of privacy and "bodily integrity" yet, these are rights that men (in America, white ones) have had throughout history, so much so that nobody even thought to mention it. If someone had suggested to Willian Penn or Thomas Jefferson that anyone had authority over their personal bodies, they wouldn't have even argued. They would have laughed.

Of course, we all submit to infringements on our freedom in support of important goals. Your driving speed is restricted for my safety. Basically all laws restrict freedom. The operative phrase is "important goals". The Dobbs decision explains that many people consider the value of "potential life" to be an important moral point. It tells us that this fact gives legitimacy to the efforts to restrict womens' liberty. If most people value "potential life" over womens' freedom, that's enough to make it an "important goal".

But preserving potential life is no more legitimate an interest than, say, preserving racial purity. They both have arguments that favor them. They both have many adherents. But the values they propose are founded on completely personal, internal, emotion motivations. There is no consequence to society to justify either, no important goal that can be named.

Having spent my life arguing with anti-choice proponents, I can tell you that I have never, ever found an argument that didn't, at bottom, rely on God. Nobody has ever once said that "society needs more people", or "society's a better place if women have more babies", or "we need more Soylent Green". 

I have never heard, or read, a single explanation of why abortion should be illegal that did not come down to "God says so" and I have never heard of a single consequence of abortion that makes the rest of the people less safe, prosperous, secure or free.

Dobbs essentially says, "We see that many people hate abortion. That serves as a state interest. Some say a woman has a right to privacy. We don't think so. Let the rich people decide." Ok, I add "the rich people" but it's not as if the Supreme Court doesn't know that laws are made by rich people, after all they supported Citizens United.

Roe was a bad decision but only because it was afraid to simply say, "The right to privacy is obvious. The state has no possible interest in determining if a woman bears a child." Had they simply stood up for the right of a woman to determine the course of her life like every man in history, they would not have felt the need to say a lot of complicated crap that has made life worse.

And it would have put today's Supreme Court in the position of explaining exactly what interest the state has in regulating abortion. They would have had to explain why a woman doesn't have the right to control her body. 

Instead, they got to talk about a lot of extraneous bullshit to cover the fact that they don't think women are fully human.

On Stoicism and Why I Don't Prefer It

I want to note first, that I have no thought to contradict the current edition of 'Stoic' ideas that are giving people comfort these days. Maxims cherry-picked from Marcus Aurelius Meditations are mostly perfectly good ideas, if taken out of context. My interest is in understanding my opinion of Stoicism as a technical philosophy and why I have, on that level, a generally bad opinion of it.

Also worth note is that Marcus Aurelius was the last in a series of four or five important Stoics. Zeno and Epictetus are the two others who influence my thinking most. (Though Seneca, another important Stoic is interesting in that he was tutor to Nero.) They varied significantly in their interpretations of Stoicism.

I am correct in my recollection of the fundamental Stoic reliance on God as a motivating concept. Though the Stoics were (like me) materialists believing the opposite of Plato's notion that the real reality is the ideas that occur in you mind, somewhat inspired by the information of your senses. The materialists consider the world to be physical and our perceptions to be indicative of what is really happening. (Eg, the mishapen circle we draw is more real than the ideal, mathematical one we imagine and use for our geometry).

For Stoics, God is the soul of the physical world with most of the attributes of the rest of the Gods. For them, virtue is obeying the laws of that God/nature, whatever those are. Zeno and Epictetus took this to the extreme of considering anything that distracted from behaving virtuously to be anti-virtuous and thereby actually seeking discomfort. So, for them, and this is where I start to be annoyed, comfort and pleasure are to be avoided and love for others is no virtue.

It has the famous idea, inspiration to Aurelius and the modern maxims, that the good life of virtue is entirely internal to the person, ie, one's thoughts. The quip has been made that a Stoic could be happy on the rack, under torture, if he retains his virtue. They hold that Socrates cheerfully choosing death rather than recant his philosophy is the ultimate hero. A good Stoic is not troubled by the death of, say one of his children since that external event is no obstacle to this sort of virtue.

The way that the Stoics got to the idea that the only virtue is (put over simply) good thinking is that they believed in determinism. Fundamentally (which I mean literally to distinguish from the nicer ideas in pop culture today), the Stoics thought that God created the world for an inscrutable reason and that our actions were merely motions of the cogs. It is true that they also considered humans to be God's purpose but that didn't make our will any more free.

Every doctrine has stupid crap like that and I am happy to overlook it. My real beef with the Stoics is the passivity it suggests. It turns out that Aurelius was king in a bleak time (war, pestilence, earthquake, insurrection). Much of the point of the Meditations (written as a diary, not for publication, and which I have not read) seems to be the account of his ways of enduring life in a difficult time, ie, obeying the will of God (in a deterministic universe where free will is not a thing).

As Bertrand Russell characterizes it, "When the Stoic philosopher is thinking of himself, he holds that happiness and all other worldy so-called goods are worthless; he even says that to desire happiness is contrary to nature, meaning that it involves lack of resignation to the will of God." 

Stoicism, then, provides a way to live with adversity and offers no guidance about how to avoid it or to make it better. This is appealing, of course, when times are difficult. I like the idea of controlling one's internal state to feel more comfortable but, when choosing a philosophy, I prefer one that offers ideas for a life that is better.

Fani Does Not Disappoint

TURNS OUT THAT working with a bunch of people doing crimes in order to gain a benefit is a separate crime all on its own. 

"they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity"

The indictment lists 161 criminal acts, many by Trump himself, to support the claim. Fani documented phone calls and meetings and emails and actions and speeches where Trump and his gang worked together (as an enterprise) to convince officials to illegally change the outcome of the election.

I read the entire indictment, all 98 pages, and Fani didn't shrink from her duty. She dug out every single outrage, documented it in detail and charged Trump and company with racketeering. She also charged them with 41 of the crimes separate from the racketeering charge. We finally have an official accounting of Donald Trump's crimes.

IN FAIRNESS, THE 161 CRIMINAL ACTS are a little redundant. Many are sets of 'conspired to', 'attempted to' and 'did do' one thing. The bottom line is that they did a bunch of illegal things that resulted in these foundational crimes:

RACKETEER INFLUENCED AND CORRUPT ORGANIZATIONS (meeting after meeting in the Oval Office, speeches, phone calls and emails to plan crimes)

SOLICITATION OF VIOLATION OF OATH BY A PUBLIC OFFICER ("just find eleven thousand votes", "call a special session of the legislature", "just say it's a flawed election and let me and Congress do the rest")

FALSE STATEMENTS AND WRITINGS (so, so many; turns out it's illegal to lie to officials (baskets of ballots, evidence of fraud, and such) and that lies elsewhere constitute evidence)

NOT ONLY WERE THE FALSE ELECTORS an immoral attempt to prevent legitimate votes from being counted, they were committing crimes:

IMPERSONATING A PUBLIC OFFICER (the electors pretended they were valid electors and are being charged as part of the conspiracy)

FORGERY IN THE FIRST DEGREE (they fabricated official looking documents and filed them with the government, ie, Pence, et al)

AND SOME FACTS I DUG OUT of the Justia website regarding the legal history of Georgia's racketeering law:

- two crimes, included in the statute as designated predicate acts, which are part of the same scheme, without the added burden of showing that the defendant would continue the conduct or had been guilty of like conduct before the incidents charged as a RICO violation

- these offenses were not committed as an occasional practice but were part of a systematic and ongoing pattern over a number of years concealed by a scheme of subterfuge and intimidation

- the defendant was the perpetrator and direct beneficiary of a pattern of racketeering activity and not merely a victim or passive instrumentality, would subject defendant to RICO liability

- evidence that the operator through a pattern of racketeering activity, i.e., mail fraud, acquired an interest in or control of money was sufficient to find liability


A person who knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; makes a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or makes or uses any false writing or document, knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry

THE BOTTOM LINE ON THIS is that Fani has way, way more than enough to put Trump in jail. She will have to get past the blizzard of bullshit Trump is sure to provide. She will have to deal with the winnowing of charges as they claim federal precedence and executive privilege. But, if they manage to confuse, deny and eliminate 90% of the charges, she still has way, way more than enough to put Trump (and Rudy Giulani and Sidney Powell) in jail.

I mean, "fill a hole in his soul"? Who says that kind of thing?

A friend praised an article in The Atlantic magazine. He quotes...

Brooks is a simpering boob. Atlantic won't let me read the whole article, HERE, (and, since it's David Brooks, I should thank them; it's bad enough I have to see him in the NY Times) so I can only respond to your quotation. I do not share your admiration for it. I mean, "fill a hole in his soul"? Who says that kind of thing? In 2023, who writes articles about peoples' souls?

And I don't even agree with it if you imagine he meant something less floofy by soul. You guys might think that our descent into civil war is a consequence of having left behind greed, aka, the politics of distribution, but not me. That's the foundation of every culture war. It begat protestantism, France's revolution, our civil war, and on and on.

Today's problem doesn't result from some new psychic flaw. It comes from, in my humble opinion, the fact that shitheads can communicate with millions of other shitheads for free, allowing them to self-organize like bubos on a plague victim. Together, they convince themselves that there is no need to have a conscience or accept the validity of anyone outside of their own thousands of fellow shitheads. 

Eventually, a truly psychotic shithead, I'm looking at you Donald Trump, finds his way into the hearts of 74 million people who have morally bankrupted themselves with endless, solipsistic reinforcement of their hatred for immigrants and people of color, resentment of those who do better in society than them and, because 'incels' are part of their cohort, how much raping is a good idea for the bitches.

Brooks didn't have to go after Trump to make his point except for the fact that Trump is the point. Without Trump, 74 million morally bankrupt shithead supporters would have no leader. Without him, they would ebb and flow, like the Tea Party did.

I can trace the evil from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Dick Cheney (and his puppet W) to Donald Trump with endless, boring detail and it's true that there has been a process. But it has nothing to do with peoples' souls and plenty to do with the very factor he denies, the politics of redistribution. Greedy people want it all. Greedy people think brown people have too much. 

Greediness and Donald Trump are the reason we are so mean.

America Ferrara's Barbie Movie Rant

(Obviously, this is a guest editorial. I post it here so I can see it whenever I want.)

It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong. 

You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.

Duh!!! A Moment Where Barbie Makes Me Realize How Stuck I Am In My Male Perspective

So, I admit to being a dope. It's inescapable from the lack of insight I live with. But, this is a new low for me. 

In actual fact, my immediate reaction to the Ken Journey in Barbie was that I didn't like it. Without putting too fine a point on it, I thought he was treated unfairly. I actually wrote an essay about it where I convinced myself I was wrong.

BUT I DIDN'T NOTICE THIS. I didn't notice that Ken was a parody of the disrespectful female characterizations throughout history. Given that insight, the movie is instantly richer for me.

Did I say I am a dope? This is literally the most embarrassing realization I've had this year.

Titled, "The men ranting angrily about Barbie have got it all wrong", you can read the whole article HERE

Taylor Swift. Finally a Young Artist Enters the Fray.

I have had a Taylor Swift week. I watched her Reputation concert the other day, amazing. Tonight I watched documentary about her (Netflix, terrific). I have been a fan of hers forever but in a distant way. She’s not really talking to me but I enjoy her quality, perceptiveness and professionalism. I think she is this era's Madonna, a truly excellent artist.

This documentary told me about her journey. She had a huge turning point when she fought back at that guy who put his hand up her skirt at a photo shoot on Colorado. If you haven’t listened to her song, The Man, hurry up. She explains that she was galvanized by the experience, horrified at the realization that she only got justice because she had "seven witnesses and a photograph" and even then, she had to fight to be believed.

Now she is a modern female Neil Young writing intense, sophisticated political songs for the resistance aimed at young people, her incredibly devoted fans. She has a bunch of songs that are knife sharp but the one that strikes me most is this one, Only the Young, an urgent and, if her explanation in the documentary is to be believed, intentional call to arms. She makes clear that salvation is only going to happen if young people stand up for change with determination and resilience.

Dig the video. Listen to her songs. I think about the hundred thousand kids a week (or however often her current mega show, the Eras Tour, happens) hearing her exhortation. You see the concert footage and those kids recite her lyrics like religion. It gives me a small bit of hope.

Watch her HERE.

In Honor of the UFO Congressional Hearing

There is almost certainly intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Probably lots of it. Also, UFOs are bunk.

If there are, say, a million species that could build spaceships, that would average out to one every 1.3 x 10^4 light years if the universe was only one dimension. Since it's not, it comes out to, I guess, something like one every 1.44 x 10^8 cubic light years.

Now suppose they developed interstellar travel, and they could afford to send a hundred ships cruising to see what's what, knowing of course that it would be thousands of years before they found out what they learned (say everyone but us lives a really long time). If they sent them out at their equators, every three degrees, by the time they had traveled just one light year, they would be separated from each other by approximately 3.6 x 10^11 miles. That's a very, very large gap in the search pattern.

So, they aren't going to get here by accident and certainly not the several different kinds the conspiracy people envision. How about detecting us somehow and coming here specifically?

The strongest radio station I ever heard of was WGN. It was, I think, fifty thousand watts. Let's pretend that the entire earth is fifty thousand watts going in all directions, all the time.

Radio waves get weaker as they travel by something called the inverse square law (basically, the energy spreads out into a sphere, and the inverse square is the math that describes that).

At one light year distant, the inverse square equation looks like 5.0 x 10^4 / 3.6 x 10^26, ie 10^-22 or .00000000000000000000001 watts. I'm not even sure if that is one whole photon.

Suffice to say that you wouldn't notice it with the most sensitive detector ever made. And, that's only if the aliens happen to be only one light year away and if they happen to have their super-sensitive radio telescope pointed exactly at us.

How likely is that? Space is really big, and we are really small, so the precision of the aim required to see us is insane, and the numbers are too. Riffing off the example of spaceships, if they put one of their super-duper radio telescopes every one degree around their planet, that would take 65 thousand of them, and it would have the same problem as spaceships. 

Suppose the aliens are around Earth's closest neighbor, Proxima Centauri. Around 4 light years from here. That means there would be a gap of 4 x 10^11 miles between each telescope's sight lines (a tenth of a light year, give or take). But, it's worse because this is outer space. For each telescope, there would be a region of 16*10^22 square miles in which we could be missed. And, that is for the closest star.

Bottom line, even if interstellar travel weren't out of the question, it would take an insane stroke of luck on the order of winning the big lottery a thousand times in a row for them to find us.

More Research Showing That Success is Not Under Your Control

Have I mentioned this already? Apologies if I did but it tells of an important data point. It turns out that measuring both successful and unsuccessful cohorts, they find that there is no important difference in the quality of the decisions they make. The canard that poor people should just decide to do the right things and stop doing the wrong things is simply wrong. 

This research shows that making all the right decisions can leave you poor and miserable and that making all the wrong decisions can still get you rich and comfy. 

I've read before that researchers can find no 'virtues' that justify wealth. It largely comes down to luck (meeting the right mentor in college, being in the right place at the right time) and connections. 

The idea that rich people deserve all that money and poor people deserve to have none is wrong.