Supermax Profit

Imagine a land where the capitalist ideal is stretched so far, prisoners sue for and win the right to choose which for-profit private prison they will go to.

Where penitentiary placement representatives do outreach marketing to convicted individuals while they wait between conviction and sentencing,  courting them with pamphlets and promises, going into broad generalities about their prison’s social environment, pod occupancy, commissary rates, work release programs, yard amenities, all in a push to get the highest-paying criminals for a larger cut of the state’s money.

Like a college admissions outreach team, but for criminal justice.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Dark Spots

A few weeks ago, a previously unknown-to-me solar observatory in Sunspot, AZ was shut down and evacuated by FBI action. Rumors circulated.

Turns out their reason was that an Internet crime had happened at a related IP address. Something about child porn. Troublesome to hear, but whatever. That’s just an appendix.

The backstory behind the decline of Sunspot’s solar observatory, though, had been years in the making. It had served its mission. The town started dying when the National Science Foundation pulled its funding, and the National Solar Observatory moved its headquarters to Boulder, CO.

It’s a strange tale, but this is a spotlight on the tale of many of the great scientific projects that were started in the post-war era: drying funds and automation means there’s no need for all the big day-to-day social systems that were required to support the hard-science work. Communities built to serve the facility are superfluous.

Now everything is remote telemetry fed straight to the scientist’s inbox, and the scientists of today never need to touch their own instruments. And, in my eyes, that’s a travesty.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/the-strange-sad-case-of-sunspot-the-empty-astronomy-town/

Filtered and Amplified

Fiction is life with the menial and the mundane stripped out. The dull gray is removed. The acts of existing in the world are nullified. All that’s left is a curated narrative to expand and fill that space.

Fiction is life, but filtered and amplified. And that’s why we’re so drawn to it.

Check

Most of you don’t know this, but I grew up in a seriously disadvantaged situation. From my 7th grade onward, my family lived in a housing project. Yes, we lived in “the projects”. For most of that time, we were the only white family in the entire neighborhood, and we had to endure our own unique hardships because of it.

I lost count of the number of bricks thrown through our windows inscribed with the words “Whitey go home.”

But I admit this much: systemically, we had an advantage on our neighbors. We didn’t have the burden of being people of color. I’ve heard of the phrase “twice as much effort, for half as much gain”, and I’ve seen it firsthand. Everyone in the hood struggled, but we were the few who got out.

When I’m told by someone to check my privilege, this is where I come from.

I had a multitude of opportunities thrown at me to help me rise from my station and see the bigger world around me.

I was in a federal program called Upward Bound that aimed to lift kids out of disadvantaged situations and push them into college. I have this program to thank for showing me that I could make my way at OBU, despite all my hardships.

I had well-meaning people at my church go out of their way to pick me up, take me home, fund my trips to youth camps, in order to help me be a better person. Some had selfish interests, some were genuine. Most wanted to help this scrawny white kid out. And I appreciate every one of them for what they did.

Even after lifting me up out of the morass of being in a hostile scene, I still had to contend with the social competition of the white kids. I mostly lost, but I still showed up when I could.

They say adversity makes champions, but that only holds true for those whom all other advantage has been handed. The game is rigged, even for people like me for whom the game was written to win. Once you’re in a situation where you don’t have to struggle for food, shelter, and clothing, you get into a new struggle for the best diets, the classiest homes, and the most fashionable threads to give you an attractive advantage over your peers. The successful ones rise to the top like cream in vat of milk, like the most explosive gas in a fractional distillation column.

If you’re at the bottom of the needs pyramid and concerned about how to make your government assistance stretch until the end of the month, you’re not going to win.

So, yes, my privilege has been checked thoroughly. Thanks for asking.

Poder Súper

If I found a magic lamp and a genie came out to grant me one wish, I’d wish for the superpower of language. I want to be able to communicate in every human language ever uttered, to be able to teach and convince and sway with the power of my words.

That genie, though, being a pernicious bastard, will certainly grant me my wish. But instead of being a force for diplomacy and change in the world, people would only seek me out so I can give them the translation to “La Bamba”. Then they’ll look up other translations and tell me I’m wrong.