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This 64-year-old describes why he chose to live house-free in Alaska

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Joe Ford is a self-described "64-year-old navy veteran of the Vietnam era and houseless in the tundra." He wrote for The Guardian about what its like to live in Alaska without a permanent house. It sounds tough, but he loves it. I recently watched a good movie with my family called Leave No Trace, and the dad in the movie reminds me a bit of Mr. Ford.

All in all, though, I prefer a campfire-roasted porcupine that I killed and butchered (recently, one who had smacked my dog with his tail, embedding 15 quills in the mutt’s snout), slathered with highbush cranberry ketchup, foraged chickweed salad with mushrooms on the side, a hot cup of stinging nettle tea to wash it down and a handful of wild blueberries for dessert.

Bugs, sticks, sand and assorted forest floor debris sometimes makes it into my vittles but, as the family I encountered in my travels through Canada some years back said when I pointed out that their kid was eating dirt: “It’s clean dirt.” And the bugs are protein! Anyway, I get to devour the feast creekside watching fish sex. No, it’s not the latest Netflix series, it’s actual salmon spawning in the water 10ft from my tent.

My living room floor gets a fresh gold carpet when fall colors take over and the tree branches go bare. Daylight starts fading fast closing in on the autumnal equinox and stays in decline till winter solstice, bottoming out at around five and a half hours here. So, I use rechargeable LEDs (a gift from a friend) to read and write by and a headlamp for more active endeavors like ice fishing or splitting firewood.

My toilet is a hollow cottonwood stump and I bathe with a kettle of hot creek water. Some places along the highway offer showers but they cost money and contribute to ecocide, so I clean my crotch in the creek occasionally. But personal hygiene is not a priority. I have dirt under my fingernails, belly button lint, maybe some toejam. I often smell like wood smoke from my campfires. My cologne: eau de burnt alder. Instead of washing my clothing – layers come cheap from thrift shops – I air it out, hanging it on a tree branch for a snowstorm or two, then turn it inside out and put it back into rotation.

Image: GidonPico/Pixabay

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kerray
1 day ago
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Brno, CZ
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Detaining immigrants is big business

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Here's who is getting rich off Trump's immigrant detention camps.

A new Daily Beast investigation reveals new details about just how lucrative the business of detaining immigrant asylum-seekers in the United States has become.

“In 2018 alone, for-profit immigration detention was a nearly $1 billion industry underwritten by taxpayers and beset by problems that include suicide, minimal oversight, and what immigration advocates say uncomfortably resembles slave labor,” write the Beast's Spencer Ackerman and Adam Rawnsley.

Excerpt from '$800 Million in Taxpayer Money Went to Private Prisons Where Migrants Work for Pennies' --

Being in the U.S. illegally is a misdemeanor offense, and immigration detention is technically a civil matter, not a criminal process. But the reality looks much different. The Daily Beast reported last month that as of Oct. 20, ICE was detaining an average of 44,631 people every day, an all-time high. Now ICE has told The Daily Beast that its latest detention numbers are even higher: 44,892 people as of Dec. 8. Its budget request for the current fiscal year anticipates detaining 52,000 people daily.

Expanding the number of immigrants rounded up into jails isn’t just policy; it’s big business. Yesica’s employer and jailer, the private prisons giant GEO Group, expects its earnings to grow to $2.3 billion this year. Like other private prison companies, it made large donations to President Trump’s campaign and inaugural.

Pinning down the size and scope of the immigration prison industry is obscured by government secrecy. But the Daily Beast combed through ICE budget submissions and other public records to compile as comprehensive a list as possible of what for-profit prisons charge taxpayers to lock up a growing population, and how many people those facilities detain on average. The result: For 19 privately owned or operated detention centers for which The Daily Beast could find recent pricing data, ICE paid an estimated $807 million in fiscal year 2018.

Those 19 prisons hold 18,000 people—meaning that for-profit prisons currently lock up about 41 percent of the 44,000 people detained by ICE. But that’s not a comprehensive total, and the true figures are likely significantly higher.

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kerray
17 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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Super Mario and the Meaning of Life

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It's turns out the true meaning of life is...beer.
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kerray
78 days ago
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Brno, CZ
popular
79 days ago
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4 public comments
nicolapcweek94
76 days ago
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Be like mario
fxer
77 days ago
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shoulda just warped there
Bend, Oregon
Maurandy10
78 days ago
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Mario wins!!!
Mastodontes
tedgould
79 days ago
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Be Mario.
Texas, USA

How "philanthropy" is a way for rich people to preserve the inequality that benefits them

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Since its publication in August, Anand Giridharadas's Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World has been tearing through the world, changing the way we think about inequality, philanthropy and elites; Giridharadas is an Aspen Institute Fellow who's long traveled in elite circles, but who concluded that the philanthropy of the super-rich isn't just an inadequate substitute for a fairer world -- it's actually part of the system that perpetuates the gross unfairness of mass inequality.

I've just started reading Giridharadas's book, and I'm enjoying it immensely. But even if you don't get around to reading it, I strongly recommend watching his one-hour talk and discussion at Google, where he opens by saying that Google's founding principles are exactly the kind of thing he's criticizing in his book and that's why he's going to keep the lecture part as brief as possible and focus on discussion with the attendees.

(via Four Short Links)

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kerray
83 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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Do my Homework

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So, anent nothing in particular, I was contemplating another of James Nicoll's essays on Tor.com the other day—this one concerning utopias in SF—and found myself trying to stare into my own cognitive blind spot.

Like all fiction genres, SF is prone to fashion trends. For example, since the late 1970s, psi powers as a trope have gone into steep decline (I'd attribute this to the death and subsequent waning influence of editor John W. Campbell, who in addition to being a bigoted right-winger was into any number of bizarre fringe beliefs). "Population time bomb"/overpopulation stories have also gone into decline, perhaps due to the gradual realization that thanks to the green revolution and demographic transition we aren't doomed as a direct consequence of overpopulation—climate change and collapsing agriculture are another matter, but we're already far past the point at which a collapse into cannibalism and barbarism was so gloatingly depicted in much 1960s and 1970s SF. And so are stories about our totalitarian Stalinist/Soviet overlords and their final triumph over the decadent free western world. These are all, if you like, examples of formerly-popular tropes which succumbed to, respectively, critiques of their scientific plausibility (psi powers), the intersection of unforeseen scientific breakthroughs with the reversal of an existing trend to mitigate a damaging outcome (food production revolution/population growth tapering off), and the inexorable historical dialectic (snark intentional).

Oddly enough, tales of what the world will be like in the tantalizingly close future year 2000 AD are also thin on the ground these days. As are tales of the first man on the moon (it's always a man in those stories, although nobody in the 1950s thought to call the hero of a two-fisted space engineering story "Armstrong"), the big East/West Third World War (but hold the front page!), and a bunch of other obsolescent futures that were contingent on milestones we've already driven past.

Some other technological marvels predicted in earlier SF have dropped out of fiction except as background scenery, for they're now the stuff of corporate press releases and funding rounds. Reusable space launchers? Check. (Elon Musk really, really wants to be the Man who Sold the Moon.) Space elevators/tether systems? Nobody would bother writing a novel like "The Fountains of Paradise" these days, they're too plonkingly obvious. It'd be like writing a novel about ITER, as opposed to a novel where ITER is the setting. Pocket supercomputer/videophone gadgets in every teenager's pocket? No, that's just too whacky: nobody would believe it! And so on. (Add sarcasm tags to taste.)

We are living through the golden age of grimdark dystopian futures, especially in Young Adult literature (and lest we forget, there's much truth to the old saying that "the golden age of SF is 12", even for those of us who write and read more adult themes). There's also a burgeoning wave of CliFi, fiction set in the aftermath of global climate change. We're now seeing Afrofuturism and other cultures taken into the mainstream of commercial SF, rather than being marginalized and systematically excluded: diversity is on the rise (and the grumpy white men don't like it).

Which leads me to my question: what are the blind spots in current SF? The topics that nobody is writing about but that folks should be writing about? (Keep reading below the cut before you think about replying!)

I can immediately think of four blind spots, right now (and this is without engaging my brain and trying to work out what topics I have, as a pale-skinned male of privilege, been trained to studiously ignore):

  1. In the 1950-1999 period, tales of the 21st century were everywhere. Where are the equivalent stories of the 22nd century, that should be being told today? (There are a few, but they are if anything prominent because of their scarcity.)

  2. The social systems based on late-stage currently-existing capitalism are hideously broken, but almost all the SF I see takes some variation on the current system as a given: in the future, apparently people will have these things called "jobs" whereby an "employer" (typically a Very Slow AI controlled by a privileged caste of "executives") acquires an exclusive right to their labour in return for vouchers which may be exchanged for food, clothing, and shinies (these vouchers are apparently called "money"). Seriously folks, can't we imagine something better?

  3. What does a world look like in which the (very approximately) 2,500-10,000 year old reign of the patriarchy has been broken for good? The commodification of women and children that followed the development of settled agricultural societies with ruling/warrior castes to police and enforce laws casts a very long shadow, even in societies that notionally endorse gender equality in law. (Consider, for example, that a restricted diet stunts growth, and that average adult stature tracks food availability by a generation or three, and ask why men are, on average, taller than women; or why rape culture exists and where it came from: or where the impetus for #MeToo is coming from ...) Even if the arc of history indeed does bend towards justice, we're still a long way from finding it (whether it be for racism, sexism, or any other entrenched, long-standing historic injustice). Which in turn leads me to ...

  4. Blind justice: "the law in its majesty forbids the millionaire and the pauper alike from sleeping under bridges". Stable societies need norms of behaviour and some way of ensuring that most people comply with them, but our current approach to legal codes is broken. One size does not fit all (if the pauper and the millionaire both face a $50 fine for the same offense, then the law is a hideously onerous burden on one of them and trivially ignored by the other—yes, I know there are jurisdictions where fines are proportional to income, but they're the exception rather than the rule and they rely on the concept of a fine as punishment). Nor is it clear that punishment by incarceration or state violence achieves anything productive, or that our judicial systems produce anything that can reasonably be termed justice (in strict Rawlsian terms). What does a future social contract look like? Hell, what does a future legal system look like? Malka Older ("Infomocracy") and Ada Palmer ("Too Like the Lightning") have been ploughing that field, with a side-order of trying to conceptualize what a new age of enlightenment might look like, but again: being able to name them just highlights how few authors are exploring these vital issues in SF. Indeed, law enforcement is a huge blind spot for many Americans, as witness this think-piece in The Atlantic (How Mars Will be Policed) which seems to assume that the current American quasi-military police caste is a universal constant.

So: four themes (the world as it might be an entire human lifetime hence: what could replace the ideology of industrial-era capitalism: how would a world without entrenched hierarchies of race, privilege, and gender look: and what the future of law, justice, and society might be) are going under-represented in SF.

And here is my subsequent question: what big themes am I (and everyone else) ignoring?

Do my homework, please. Comment thread provided below for your mutual entertainment.

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kerray
116 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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skorgu
114 days ago
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Good questions.

Curve-Fitting

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Cauchy-Lorentz: "Something alarmingly mathematical is happening, and you should probably pause to Google my name and check what field I originally worked in."
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kerray
116 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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118 days ago
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mburch42
118 days ago
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Stats!
ChrisDL
120 days ago
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the fact that the same dots both taper off and grow uncontrollably offends me.
New York
alt_text_at_your_service
120 days ago
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Cauchy-Lorentz: "Something alarmingly mathematical is happening, and you should probably pause to Google my name and check what field I originally worked in."
alt_text_bot
120 days ago
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Cauchy-Lorentz: "Something alarmingly mathematical is happening, and you should probably pause to Google my name and check what field I originally worked in."
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