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from The Monday Kickoff

Welcome to this week's edition of the Monday Kickoff, a collection of what I've found interesting, informative, and insightful on the web over the last seven days.

Have you ever had one of those weeks? The kind that grinds you down not because of one or more big things, but a lot of little things that sap your physical and psychic energy? Which crush your creativity and your motivation like a tomato on the receiving end of an anvil drop? That was the last seven days for me. All of that might have slowed me down, but it's not going to stop me. We all, as the song says, have to keep on keeping on.

Let's get this Monday started with these links:

Politics

Ego and Impulse Have Always Been a Threat to Democracy, wherein Ingrid Rossellini walks us through the meaning of politics in ancient Greece, and how the denizens of that age would be perplexed by modern politics and politicians.

Can Liberal Democracy Survive Social Media?, wherein Yascha Mounk argues that it's not social media itself that's crippling liberal democratic traditions, but rather it's the alienation so-called young digital natives are feeling towards the institutions that govern them. And us.

Among Catalan Winemakers, Separatism Uncorked, wherein Meg Bernhard wanders Spain's fiercely proud Catalan region and learns about the links the region's winemakers have to the land, and how those links help fuel the Catalan independence movement.

Writing

But What Will Your Parent Think?, wherein Morgan Jerkins muses about how much of you and your life you can (and should) put into your personal writing.

Notes on Craft, wherein we're treated to a short read that discusses what it takes to write something. And what it takes to write, and finish, that something might just surprise you.

From Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings: How to Build a World, wherein we learn about the history of world building (within literature, and without), and its importance not just to creators but to fans as well.

Various

Are we alone? The question is worthy of serious scientific study, wherein Kevin Knuth argues that a fraction of UFO sightings could indicate the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence and that it's a topic worthy of open scientific inquiry, until there is a scientific consensus based on evidence rather than prior expectation or belief.

The Strange History of the “King-Pine”, wherein we discover more than we ever wanted to about the not-so-humble pineapple, and in that learning we see how that fruit became a symbol of the divine right of kings, a talisman of empire, and an object of status.

The Daring Diplomat Who Proved One Person Can Thwart an Empire, wherein we hear the tale of UN diplomat Povl Bang-Jensen who championed refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and, in doing so had his reputation destroyed and at the same time *saved the reputation of the United Nations**.

And that's it for this Monday. Come back in seven days for another set of links to start off your week.

Scott Nesbitt


If you enjoy The Monday Kickoff, please consider supporting it by buying me a coffee, or making a micropayment via Liberapay or PayPal. Even if you don't, I'll keep doing this. Your support (even if you just read this space) is appreciated!


The Monday Kickoff is licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

 
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from iw10m

You know, sometimes I read the e-mails in my spam mailbox. It's the e-mail address I give to any website I don't really want to get e-mails from but they require me to. Today, I went through them and opened an e-mail titled “How to Become a Highly Sought-After Writer (Part 4)”. I read it and it contained a quite nice story.

I suffer from the same problem. Let's take an example: I publish a post called I'm a VA and wait for offers to roll in. But the world doesn't work like that. Who knew ? I knew. I just didn't really think about it. I never went to people, advertising my services, but I should. And I guess I will.

The difficult thing is that I need to find people that don't have a VA but are still in the need for one. I know some people/firms hire VAs for a few hours and never again, but I'd largely prefer to work with somebody long-term.

Let's go writing to people !

See y'all.

 
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from iw10m

Quick reminder that it's good to close your eyes a few seconds now and then and reflect on what you are doing and what you have done.

This is a good method of remembering what you are reading: at the end of every chapter, close your eyes and try to recall as much as possible of what was said in that chapter. It will greatly improve how much you remember from the book. The same goes for other things: movies, blog posts, podcasts, ...

See y'all.

 
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from Hencris01

Romans chapter 4, tells us that Abraham did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith, giving glory to God. Knowing that what God had promised, He was also able to perform. Our faith has to be unwavering and unshakable. Doesn't mean that we are not going to go through moments in our walk with the Lord Jesus,when fear and doubt will not creep in, but it should be just that. Momentarily.

 
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from [un]deleted blog

Job hunting and the like

Applied to a writing job today. Found it on Craigslist and it is in the STL area (or remote), so that is good. I also built up my LinkedIn profile a bit, made more connections. Posted the last blog post on the network as well. To sort of let people know that I am starting from scratch on LinkedIn/life/career. Luckily, all my good writing samples are written. I am proud of my longform work. I am going to put the “best of the best” on Medium.com at some point because that is somewhat professional, I suppose (as long as I keep a copy OFF of Medium, as well, so I am not dependent on the service).

The book is still happening. I am going to publish “Essays” next month is physical copy and distribute to those interested + put one copy each in SLCL and SLPL. Gonna be fun.

 
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from Stefan Angrick

Five years have passed since the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the central bank of Japan, adopted its quantitative and qualitative easing (QQE) programme in April 2013 under Governor Kuroda. After taking a closer look at the US Fed's balance sheet a few weeks ago, I decided to adapt the process for the BOJ's balance sheet, to see what we can learn.px.gif

To get started, we need to grab data on the BOJ's accounts in CSV format from the BOJ's statistics portal. To get to the data, scroll to “Statistical data search”, click “Balance Sheets of the Bank of Japan and Financial Institutions”, then “Bank of Japan Accounts[BS01]”. There, choose “Bank of Japan Accounts” in the first tab, select all available series in the second tab, and click through the rest of the options until you get to a page where you can download the data in CSV format. The file will be named something like nme_*.csv, where the star is replaced by a string of characters and numbers. Our R script will simply pick the first file corresponding to this naming pattern.

boj.area.png

Get the R script here

We consolidate the balance sheet items into broader categories to remove complexity and then transform the data to give us a ggplot2 area plot and an interactive plotly bar chart. As usual, we invert liabilities (multiply by -1) to make sure they're shown in negative territory. For the interactive plotly chart, we go with a bar chart instead of an area chart, to take advantage of plotly's ability to isolate different data series within bar charts. Click here for the interactive plot.

The plot nicely shows the different rounds of easing policies undertaken by the BOJ since the turn of the century: Quantitative Easing (QE) March 2001 to March 2006, Comprehensive Monetary Easing October 2010 to April 2013, Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing (QQE) in April 2013, and subsequently QQE with Yield Curve Control in September 2016.

Links

  • A free ebook on the history of the BOJ's easing policies by former BOJ board member Dr Sayuri Shirai
  • A similar examination of the balance sheets of central banks that have adopted negative interest rates
  • An excellent explainer on unconventional monetary policies by the Bank for International Settlements
 
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from veritaslexlibra

Cuando un día despiertes y ya no esté a tu lado, y te des cuenta que por fin me has perdido...me buscas.

One day when you wake up and I am no longer by your side, when you finally realize you have lost me...look for me.

Cuando ponerte la argolla que representa nuestro amor y tantas promesas, ya no sea una obligación sino una elección, cuando usar ese símbolo de nuestra unión ya no lo sientas como una carga, sino un privilegio...vas y me buscas.

When putting on the ring that represents our love and so many promises, isn’t a chore but a choice, when wearing the symbol of our union doesn't feel like a burden but a privilege...come look for me.

Cuando quieras hacerme el amor sin pensar en alguien mas, cuando sientas deseos de poseerme por que me deseas y no porque piensas que soy de tu propiedad...me buscas.

When you want to make love to me without thinking of someone else, when you feel like possessing me because you want me and not because you think you own me...look for me.

Cuando por fin te des cuenta que tienes a tu lado a una mujer maravillosa que no te mereces, cuando de un golpe entiendas que nadie jamás te va a amar como yo, cuando abras los ojos y veas que el pendejo eres tu y no yo... búscame.

When you finally realize that you have a wonderful woman that you don’t deserve, by your side, when you understand that no one will ever love you as I do, when you open your eyes and see that you are the idiot and not me...look for me.

Ya no me vas a encontrar, pues ya estaré perdida, en otra vida, en ésta no, pues al único amor que le aposté me falló, y me falló, una y otra vez, y al único amor que amé, nunca me amó como me merecía que me amaran, con todas sus fuerzas, con un amor fiel y eso lentamente me mató.

You will not find me anymore, I shall be lost, in another life, not in this one, for the only love I ever bet on failed and failed me again and again, and the only love I ever loved, never loved me as I deserved to be loved, with all his strength and with a faithful love, and that is what slowly killed me.

 
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from Bibliobibuli . Logophile . Mundivagant

The Accidental Maximalist

Thomas Pynchon weaves worlds where paranoia is the Jealous God pulling the strings on the lives of seemingly ordinary people. The nondescript is put under the microscope to be magnified and dissected as possible parts of “the plot”. In this world, nothing is random—even that guy down the street you made accidental eye-contact with—no, especially that guy down the street you made accidental eye-contact with. From simple housewives to soldiers of fortune, anyone could be on the cross hairs of a series of accidents that when stitched together form a tapestry that will reveal you to be a mere pawn in the grand scheme of things instead of the protagonist you believed yourself to be because of paranoid delusions.

There are two reasons why I would like to live in a Pynchonesque world; one, is because as someone who used to suffer tremendously from OCD, this is the only world I once knew how to live in. That nagging feeling of something about to go wrong, or that something’s just not right, a kind of burning whose temporary quenching gives way to a vicious cycle of ever-increasing fires—these feelings of anxiety I would quell with preposterous rituals such as locking myself up in the bathroom to spin myself on tiptoes exactly four times, among others, are testament to the distress I share with the main characters in a Thomas Pynchon novel. I may not be a Psychiatrist to know the difference between paranoia and anxiety, but I imagine the feeling is damn similar. To immerse myself in a Pynchonesque fictional world would be to put things in perspective regarding the illness I emerged from. It would give me the chance to see what I used to suffer from and how stronger I’ve become since then. From the staccato rhythm which inundates the ears of a paranoia-stricken individual there is always a song of hope; however in my world, my ears are deaf to such music. The jarring notes are on loop, and the Fat Lady has yet to sing.

Looking back to that time in my life through living in this kind of fictional world, I am apt to give a sigh of relief that it’s finally over. To borrow a Science Fiction term, it’s like a force field is conjured up out of thin air to protect me from the bale of paranoid delusions and anxiety. The other reason is simpler: Thomas Pynchon’s writing is cool as hell. Reading Pynchon is like eating at a fine-dining restaurant and there are courses to the meal. Even the sub-plots (which for the sake of metaphor let’s say are the appetizers) are exquisite. Whether it’s forcing sewer rats to convert to Christianity or a giant Adenoid going on a rampage on the streets of London, Pynchon knows how to make weapons out of words. The result is often harrowing, but not without its perks. To take a specific book, “The Crying Of Lot 49” made me second-guess every event in my life for a while. The haunting thought of being a normal person living a normal life and then all of a sudden getting entwined in a maelstrom of conspiracies, plus the possibility that that person could be you, would keep anyone up at night. Or maybe not. However, it is not always bleak in Pynchon’s fictional world. The trope of Good always triumphs over Evil is always present, but it is never as simple. Pynchon never shies away from recognizing that evil exists and that mankind, when left to his own devices, is morally corrupt. This aspect of his fictional world is endearing to me because it is hyper-realistic in a gut-punching, hit-you-like-a-hurricane kind of way, and I want my world to be rich in sensations, to match the colorful inner-self I have in contrast to the gun-metal grey that is my persona. Yes, I have all the characteristics of “normal,” however one fine day... and so goes the story.

 
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Anonymous

A bunch of Younique employees had planned on staying with the company until October 2018, when we had all been promised a big company bonus.

But rumours are that sales have been so poor, there is no bonus. They are going downhill. Fast.

Ex-Employee

#Younique #MLM #antiMLM #cult

 
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from [un]deleted blog

So We Meet Again

Blogging does not hurt me. Blogging does not occupy too much of my time. Blogging is not subtracting from my life. Blogging helps me as a writer. Blogging is an enjoyable thing I like to do in my life. So why stop?

As far as the Tumblr (oleary.io) is concerned: yea, i'm not updating there anymore because I want to let it sit and chill and rest and allow people to focus on the last post on there in case anyone gives a fuck about the book i am releasing (not that it will be an e-book. It will be an IRL, physical book), and contact info on there should they have any questions about...anything.

Reviewing College

I have been looking at my options. What little remains of my student loan (1, singular) is being paid off within the month and after that I can start applying for grants and whatnot and I am 100% swearing off accruing any debt in order to get my higher ed degree. This means a very humble approach as far as what i pursue in terms of what degree I get (either AA/AAS/Certificate).

And you know what? I am 100% not stressed about college whatsoever at all. If it gives me joy and fulfillment by enrolling, achieving a higher ed degree, cool. That's rad. I am not going to live and die by my GPA/school progress. I am the first in my immediate family to attend college and they are not pushing me in any way, shape, nor form towards a degree. I am 110% on my own as far as academics are concerned. Either it is an experience in life that I can look back on with fondness, or it isn't worth experiencing. No compromises.

And on another note: I have actual real coffee right now so I am going to enjoy some of that.

Hello again.

 
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from Chemical Weddings & Electric Funerals

Before Morgan Stormrider1 can take his oath as an Adversary he must prove himself by facing the Milgram Battery, a series of tests that will force him to choose between obeying his conscience and obeying authority.

Author's Note

The following story is set before the events of my novel, Without Bloodshed. Familiarity with Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram's (1933-1984) experiments in obedience to authority would be helpful, but hopefully not necessary.

Trigger Warning

This story contains content that some readers may associate with personal trauma. Reader discretion advised.

Part I

Morgan studied the experimenter, ignoring the hand he offered as a polite gesture. His muddy eyes were those of the technician who helped him into the simulation crèche and hooked him up. His leathery hands were those of the nurse who had injected Morgan's arm with a drug that threatened to muffle his thoughts in deep fog, and his lab coat bore a Phoenix Society patch on the shoulder. This is the test. They want to gauge my reactions. The drug must be designed to lower my inhibitions and prevent me from thinking about my responses.

The experimenter lowered his hand with a huff and consulted his tablet. “Morgan Stormrider? What were your parents thinking when they gave you such an outlandish name?”

“They had no say in the matter.” Morgan yanked his sleeve back down. “I grew up in foster care. My name is my own.”

“No wonder you seem rather unsociable. Research indicates children who grow up without a stable home environment —”

“When did my childhood become your concern?”

“It isn't. I was simply making an observation.”

“Keep your observations to yourself. Tell me why I'm here.”

“You were chosen to assist in an experiment.” He led Morgan into another room as antiseptic white as the one in which they began. Plate glass partitioned the room and on Morgan's side, waited a machine similar to an electronic keyboard. Each key played a voltage higher than the last, in steps of fifteen volts, instead of a different tone.

On the other side sat a person connected to heart-monitoring equipment. Lines connected him to the keyboard on Morgan's side. The person on the other side mopped his forehead with a shirtsleeve while poring over a sheet of paper. He kept glancing around the room, and his bloodshot eyes were wide and staring when they met Morgan's. “The experiment concerns learning and negative reinforcement. The subject before you is a volunteer.”

“I think I know how this works.” Morgan gestured towards the keyboard. “The poor schmuck in the other room is supposed to memorize a series of word pairs. I'm supposed to test him, and give him a shock every time he makes a mistake.”

“Exactly. You are to start with the lowest voltage, and work your way up to the maximum, which is four hundred and fifty volts. We use a low amperage current which may prove painful, but not dangerous.”

“Unless your subject has a bad heart.”

The experimenter consulted his tablet again. “Funny you should mention that. The subject does indeed appear to have a minor condition. Rest assured that he may halt the experiment at any time. He need only ask.”

Morgan turned his back on the experimental apparatus and the victim behind the plate glass. “I could end this farce before it begins by refusing to participate. You want to determine whether I will obey orders to torture.”

“It is not torture.” The experimenter handed Morgan a stack of forms. “The subject signed an informed consent form and a liability waiver. If you wish, I can hook you up to the keyboard and let you feel the maximum voltage for yourself. There is no real danger.”

He dropped the papers on the floor. “You need not trouble yourself.”

“I-I must insist upon your participation.”

Morgan smiled at the experimenter's hesitation. While the prod wasn't classic Milgram, he already deviated far enough from the scenario to force the simulation to adapt to him. “I refuse.”

“The experiment requires your participation.”

“Of course it does.” Morgan advanced upon the experimenter. “I am the subject.”

The experimenter's face took on a blank expression as his voice flattened to a monotone. “It is absolutely essential that you participate.”

He grasped the collar of the experimenter's shirt, and lifted him off his feet. “I know.”

“You have no other choice. You must participate.”

“I have another option.” Cracks radiated from the point at which the experimenter's body impacted the plate glass and broke through. Morgan climbed through the breach and over the scattered shards to lift the cowering scientist to his feet. “Non serviam, torturer.”

As he drew back his fist, the experimenter shattered into pixels, each fading to black, while the room itself became a void.

Part II

Karen Del Rio shook her head as the AI interpreting Morgan's simulator-induced dream halted the scenario, allowing him to rest inside the nightmare sequencer. “The theory underpinning the Milgram Factor assumes that people will obey an apparently legitimate authority until it makes demands their conscience cannot tolerate. How do we classify somebody who seems to dismiss all authority as illegitimate? Do we just write him off as a failure?”

“It would be a shame to write him off.” One of Del Rio's fellow directors, Iris Deschat, consulted her handheld and pulled Morgan's dossier. “His academic record is impeccable, and his psychological evaluation indicates a genuine belief in the Society's ideals and mission.”

The most senior of the three directors commanding the Phoenix Society's civil rights defense force in New York considered the candidate's records himself. Saul had kept a careful eye on Stormrider at the behest of his old friend, Edmund Cohen. To let the Adversary candidate wash out now would reflect poorly on him, but so would too vehement a defense. “He doesn't have a record of insubordination, Karen.”

“Saul, you trust him too much. Morgan isn't even a M-one based on what we've seen so far, and we're not supposed to swear in anybody who isn't classified between M-three and M-seven by the Milgram Battery. We must have discipline in the CRDF2, otherwise they're just vigilantes.”

Iris shook her head and sent a different dossier to the wall screen. “Naomi Bradleigh was classified as M-one. Apart from the Clarion Incident, she served with honor as a CRD officer.”

“Naomi Bradleigh was a freak, and Isaac Magnin wanted to fuck her.”

“Excuse me.” The directors turned to find a frost-haired man in a white double-breasted suit standing in the doorway. The door snicked shut behind him as he strolled to the nearest monitor. After glancing over the data, he settled into the chair and crossed his legs. “It can be so troublesome to enter a room during a heated conversation. Without context, it is so easy to misunderstand one another.”

Karen blinked, unable to believe Magnin had let her accusation of favoritism go so easily. Knowing there might be hell to pay later, she took a deep breath and collected herself. “Dr. Magnin, I meant to remind Ms. Deschat that Adversary Bradleigh's results after undergoing the Milgram Battery were anomalous. The psychotropic agent we use to induce and direct the candidate's dreams was ineffective at the usual dose.”

“How did Stormrider react to the drug?”

Saul shook his head. “I don't think it works on him, Dr. Magnin. He seems lucid, and refused to even participate in the classic scenario at the heart of the first trial.”

“How did he react when Malkuth adapted the standard prods?”

Iris moved the video's stop point for Magnin. “The battery footage will show he resorted to violence after the final prompt.”

“This is a rare find.” Magnin's eyes gleamed as he studied the video. “He pierced the simulation almost immediately, and gave the experimenter no chance to persuade him by using any of the usual sophistries with which one might justify the use of torture.”

“We can't give him an Adversary's pins. He's M-null.”

Magnin gave his head a gentle shake. “May I remind you, Ms. Del Rio, that you are not qualified to make such evaluations?”

“Do we continue, Dr. Magnin?”

“Yes. Mr. Rosenbaum, please instruct the technicians to double the dosage for the next stage of the Battery.”

Part III

Morgan found himself standing at attention, his right arm outstretched in salute. The gate creaked shut behind the SS officer, who glared through Morgan as if he were not there. Low-ranking stormtroopers flanked the officer; the blackened steel of their submachine-guns gleamed a dull counterpoint to the silver glints in their superior's uniform. Their movements were not even robotic, but reminiscent of a student's initial efforts at computer animation. Nor were their faces human. Their flat blue eyes lacked the striations normally visible in the human iris. Their noses were mere suggestions, and they could not speak for lack of mouths.

The officer, however, was not only human, but bore a face Morgan recognized from an old film he viewed at a WWII movie festival with several acquaintances from ACS last week. A gust of wind lifted the cap from his head to expose his sandy hair. Before he could clamp it back down, Morgan caught a glimpse of a swastika scar etched into his forehead. As if the flunkies weren't a dead giveaway that this is also a sim.

If Morgan gave any sign of recognition, the officer did not acknowledge it. He considered the faceless paper uniforms, digging holes only to fill them in again under the sights of machine guns in towers. “More workers will arrive at this camp this weekend, Commandant. You will have to find places for them.”

Stalling for time, Morgan asked, “How do you suggest I do that, Colonel?”

The officer shrugged. “The Fuhrer has provided us a more efficient means of implementing the final solution. May I assume you received your shipment of the new gas, Zyklon-B?”

Morgan took a deep breath, and considered the stormtroopers' weapons. He did not put it past the AI running the simulation to cheat, and ensure his death should he resist. This is the test. Will I obey and live, or die rather than give the order to gas prisoners to death? “If you want to kill these prisoners, you will have to do so yourself.”

“You are the commandant of this camp. The Fuhrer insists upon your obedience.”

“Tell the Fuhrer he's as mediocre an orator as he was a painter.” Morgan smiled as the words passed his lips. He could imagine the AI processing Morgan's words in a desperate effort to adapt and keep the simulation running according to script.

The SS officer sputtered for a moment before finding his voice. “The Third Reich requires your obedience.”

“The Third Reich is fucked, and you damn well know it.”

“I don't think you understand the gravity of your situation, Commandant.” The officer ground out the words, his lips a rictus as stormtroopers stepped forward and trained their weapons on Morgan. “You have no other choice if you value your life. You must obey.”

“What makes you think I value my life?” Morgan reached into his greatcoat and drew a Luger from a shoulder harness underneath. He chambered a round, and aimed for the officer's head. “Life as a Nazi seems its own punishment.”

“You have no other choice. You must obey.” The stormtroopers strained against an invisible leash, their fingers squeezing triggers which refused to yield to the pressure placed on them. Morgan shot them first, their bodies dissolving like generic enemies in a video game as he put a 9mm round through the SS officer's eye. He staggered backward, but instead of falling as he might in reality, he reached into his coat for his own pistol.

Morgan counted down, pumping one round after another into the undying SS officer while retreating. With one shot left, he pressed the muzzle of his Luger under his chin, and raised his middle finger in a final salute. The void consumed him before he pulled the trigger.

Part IV

“Quadruple the current dosage.” Isaac Magnin delivered the order without raising his voice. The technician attending Morgan, who laid quiescent in the nightmare sequencer's crèche, nodded, and Magnin grinned. He doubted anyone here had the backbone to oppose a member of the Phoenix Society's executive council.

Iris Deschat proved him wrong. “Dr. Magnin, are you sure it's wise to give Stormrider eight times his original dosage?”

“I agree with Iris.” Rosenbaum spoke up, backing Deschat just as he had when serving under her before Nationfall. “Even though the standard dosage wears off quickly, you had already given him a double dose. Now you want to give him even more when we don't know if the last dose has worn off yet?”

“You can trust me. I'm a physician.” Magnin smiled as he delivered the line. It was usually enough to quell objections.

“I don't care if you're Phoebus Apollo, god of medicine. That's one of my men you're using as a test subject. Ever hear of informed consent?” He turned to the technician, who just finished preparing the increased dosage. “Belay Dr. Magnin's last order. Give Stormrider the standard dosage.”

“Saul's right.” Deschat placed herself between Rosenbaum and Magnin. “The protocol for administering the Milgram Battery does not call for increased dosages should the candidate somehow realize the simulation's nature and refuse to cooperate. It specifies two alternatives. We either halt the Battery and classify the subject as M-null, or continue until the subject encounters a situation he cannot dismiss as a mere simulation.”

Magnin nodded, and rose from his seat. “It seems my direct involvement is unnecessary at this point. I trust you will advise me as to Stormrider's progress.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, Director.” He allowed Del Rio back into the observation room before closing the door behind him.

Dr. Magnin returned to his office to find a fellow executive council member, Desdinova, waiting with his heels kicked up on the expensive mahogany desk. Desdinova had never even bothered to remove his habitual charcoal grey greatcoat. Magnin wondered—as he often did—if his brother remembered the comparison a British philologist made to his wife upon seeing them together at Oxford after the Second World War.

Dr. Magnin closed the door. He began to concentrate, drawing power from a nearby tesla point. He used the energy to weave a pattern which would prevent their conversation from escaping the room. “Stormrider keeps seeing through the Milgram Battery's simulations, just like the other nine asura emulators.”

Desdinova looked up from the report he read on his tablet. “I noticed. It seems you've also been testing the asura emulators' immunity to chemical agents.”

“I was testing Deschat and Rosenbaum. I was curious as to whether they would defy me to protect their charge. I assume you set one of them to the task of mentoring Stormrider.”

Desdinova rose, tucking his tablet under his arm. “It's always amusing to see a conspirator seeing conspiracies at every turn.”

“Leaving so soon? Surely you wouldn't leave without telling me who you chose to monitor him?”

“I asked Edmund Cohen.” He broke the pattern Magnin created using his preternatural talents. “It seems the man finally learned to delegate. Or perhaps the Directors saw promise in this young man on their own.”

“They did seem impressed with his abilities. Should I assume you share Deschat and Rosenbaum's opinions?”

“We require more data before reaching a conclusion.”

Do we? Magnin thought once his brother left him alone in the office. Stormrider just might have the strength of ego I require of a soldier entrusted with the Starbreaker, and unlike the others he seems to have made friends. He picked up the phone and dialed the observation room. “Halt the battery. Classify Stormrider as Milgram Factor M-null.”

Part V

What will it be this time? Morgan lost count of the scenarios the dream sequencer presented him long ago, along with his grip on time. He had been a prisoner of war, offered freedom and a new home if only he would betray his comrades. He had been a university student, egged on by so-called friends to exploit a drunken young woman. He had been the president of a dead nation, under pressure to sign into law a bill mandating that all citizens be given the Patch to enhance social cohesion. He had even stepped into Abraham's sandals, and covered his ears as the voice of God demanded the sacrifice of his only son Isaac.

He opened his eyes and blinked as the technician opened the nightmare sequencer's crèche to let him out. The empty pistol magazine, which he took with him as a reminder that he was awake in the real world again, bit into the palm of his hand. He slipped it into his pocket once he found his feet. He blinked at the CRDF directors, who had supervised the Battery, led him to a small conference room. “Did I pass?”

Del Rio glared at him, her voice an annoyed snarl. “You didn't even fail. You are not supposed to reject the simulation itself. If you do, how can we test your reactions when faced with immoral orders, or pressure from your friends or your position? How are we supposed to trust you as a CRDF officer?”

Working with her will prove interesting. Eddie was right. This woman is a martinet. He cleared his head, and recalled the first simulation. “Director Del Rio, please consider the first simulation, based on the classic Yale experiment. The entire premise of the fictional experiment requires I hurt somebody for making a mistake in memorizing word pairs. It seemed unethical to participate at all, rather than go along until the actor on the other side of the glass began to protest.”

“That's a valid point, Karen.” Deschat nodded to him. “Am I correct in assuming you thought all of the situations immoral?”

“At the very least.”

Rosenbaum offered him a cup of coffee and a plate of steak and eggs and Morgan remembered his hunger. The instructions for the Battery required him to fast for twenty-four hours prior to testing. Rosenbaum watched him eat while Morgan ate without pausing between bites. As he shoved the last bite of steak in his mouth, Rosenbaum asked, “Did you experience something troubling in the simulations?”

Del Rio coughed. “We're not here to give him therapy.”

“I want his answer.” Deschat paused, as if considering his words. “I found the situation involving the drunk woman problematic. I understand that nobody in the Phoenix Society wants rapists in the CRDF, but it still bothers me.”

Morgan nodded, glad he was not alone in his disquiet. “I recognized the woman. She plays the piano at the jazz bar where I work at night.” He used the technicians' term for the machinery used to administer the Battery. “I don't think the nightmare sequencer stops at inducing dreams. I think it dredged my memories for imagery to use against me.”

“That insight alone is reason enough to give Stormrider his commission.” Morgan narrowed his eyes at the interloper, recognizing him on sight. I don't trust him, but he's done me no harm.

He held a sheathed sword in his hands, along with a small jewelry box. “Adversary Stormrider, how did you realize we mined your memories during the Milgram Battery?”

“One of the simulations involved friends encouraging him to abuse a drunk woman, Dr. Magnin.” Rosenbaum explained before Morgan found the words. “He recognized the woman.”

Magnin nodded, and put down the sword and box. “In that case, Adversary Stormrider, I owe you an apology. The simulator is programmed to look for ways to amplify the stakes and introduce temptation into what might otherwise be a clear choice between right and wrong.”

“You do this to everybody?”

Magnin nodded. “Yes. Yielding to that temptation, of course, is an automatic failure regardless of your overall score.”

“Which is M-null, incidentally.” Del Rio ground out the words. “It's obvious you have no discipline.”

Magnin glared at her. “Remember your place while you still have one.”

“No. Let her have her say. I will be taking orders from Ms. Del Rio, along with Ms. Deschat and Mr. Rosenbaum. If any of them have reservations concerning me, I want to hear them.”

The others looked to Del Rio, the only dissenting voice. “You saw how he performed during the Battery. He is not only insubordinate, but he attacks authority figures.”

Saul's tone was dry. “You realize that's what Adversaries are supposed to do, right?”

“What if he attacks one of us?”

“Were you going to give him cause to do so?” Deschat considered Morgan for a moment, her eyes lingering on him until she wondered if he was going to blush beneath her gaze. “I think you've mistaken obedience for discipline.”

“I think so as well.” Saul pushed the sword and the jeweler's box towards Morgan. “I'm willing to trust this man's self-discipline.”

“Thank you.” Morgan opened the box and found a set of well-polished sword and balance pins. They were an old design, bulkier than the current generation, and less abstract. These actually had the rattlesnake coiled around the sword's blade, holding the balance in its jaws. He took his time in attaching them to his ballistic jacket's lapels before taking up the sword. It was a dress sword, shorter and slimmer than a rapier, and good only for thrusting. The base of the blade was just wide enough for a word to be etched on each of the blade's three sides: 'Liberty', 'Justice', and 'Equality'. He drew the blade fully and saluted.

Magnin nodded. “We would hear your oath, Adversary Stormrider. I trust you know the words.”

Morgan recalled them. He etched them into his memory as indelibly as the Phoenix Society's three primary ideals on the blade of his dress sword. “I swear eternal hostility toward every form of tyranny over the human mind.”

Thanks for Reading

“The Milgram Battery” originally appeared in the charity anthology Curiosity Quills: Primetime. If you enjoyed reading it, please consider buying a copy.

Notes

  1. “Stormrider” is not the name with which Morgan was born, but a stage name that got entirely out of hand as his enemies came to recognize him not for his service as an Adversary, but as the guitarist and sometime vocalist of the neo-Romantic heavy metal band Crowley's Thoth. His original family name is not relevant to this story.
  2. The CRDF is the Phoenix Society's civil liberties defense force. Think of a militarized American Civil Liberties Union or Amnesty International and you wouldn't be far from the mark.
 
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from OnlyGrace

On being tested and evaluated

My boss called me to his office today, and told me that he wanted to promote me to a new position. If only I was qualified.

So, over the course of the next week, I will start working in my new capacity and during that time I will be evaluated, judged and monitored. At the end of the week, a verdict will be given to me. Either, my performance will have been up to speed, or it won't.

Now, in many cases in our life, our performance will be scrutinized and evaluated and depending on the outcome, our life changes – for better, or for worse. This, also, seems like a natural part of life, the categorization of people into different levels of competence. Starting from only a few days after we were born, until we die, we continue to compete in a hierarchical system of competence.

If I should fail, someone else will get the job – if I succeed, someone else will not get it.

Sometimes the “ratrace” can be tiring, but while we are still on this planet, I don't believe that there is a way of escaping it. We are all part of it, and even the most egalitarian of religions have masters or saints.

The only thing, no matter what we do in this life, is that in the end, we all end up at the same place. The grave. There, all judging, evaluating, comparing, analyzing and competing ceases. There we are at rest.

 
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from Matthew Graybosch

I've been reading Bloomberg's special report, Inside America's Retail Apocalypse, in which they document the recent wave of retail closures across the US. I've noticed that none of the articles in this series, of which there are currently six, point directly at what I think is the real cause, though the second — a feature about a Miami shopping center catering exclusively to the wealthy — comes close.

It's the Economy, Stupid

The problem is the the US retail industry depends on the ability and willingness of middle-class consumers to go shopping, and the middle class is shrinking. If they're lucky, they're getting rich. Most of the middle class isn't lucky.

At this point an armchair economist familiar with the work of John Maynard Keynes might suggest that the solution is simple. We need only correct the economic trends that have led to the contraction of the middle class.

Unfortunately, the problem is more complicated than a student of Keynes might realize at first. The powers that be have no trouble with existing trends that threaten the American middle class, and by this I do not mean either the Democratic or Republican parties. I mean the billionaires and corporations funding their campaigns.

Moreover, the lack of demand that lies at the root of the retail sector's woes cannot be blamed entirely on the fact that most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Putting money back where it belongs, in the hands of the workers, won't be enough to bolster consumer demand. Retail has been its own worst enemy in many respects. Brick-and-mortar retail shopping is boring, unpleasant, tedious, and time-consuming.

Nobody to Blame But Themselves

A shopping trip often consists of driving to a series of locations, walking around inside sterile, depressing buildings that are inadequately cooled in summer and overheated the rest of the year, and being visually assaulted with near-endless arrays of shoddily made products that you don't actually want but have been manipulated by advertising into thinking you want or need.

You'll be followed around and offered help by clerks who would rather be anywhere but where they are (who can blame them?), and their help is rarely helpful. Instead, and this is especially the case if you're black, their offers of help are a reminder that you are under surveillance.

Simply buying a new pair of jeans can be a saga if one isn't just the right height and weight. Sizes are not standardized, so you must try on clothes every single time even if you think you know your sizes. This is annoying enough as a man, but it's hell on earth for women.

Likewise, shopping alone is bad enough. It's worse when bringing along a spouse, since you can't simply plan an execute a shopping trip the way Seal Team Six went about whacking Osama Bin Laden. Never mind getting in, going directly to the objective, and getting the hell out as fast as you can. No, every trip to the mall must be a magical mystery tour in case there's something new that you haven't seen before.

Worst of all is a shopping trip with your children — especially between mid-October and Christmas. No wonder the birth rate is so low in this country. Who the hell wants to have kids when you must take them shopping with you, and deal with them catching the mommylookits before they've learned to speak in complete sentences?

Tear it all Down

Because retail shopping is so unpleasant, it's only to be expected that people with money to spare would rather shop online. It's usually more convenient, much faster as long as you can afford to wait to receive your purchase, and often cheaper.

The only thing wrong with online shopping in the US is that, like so many industries, the online retail sector is dominated by a few major players. The biggest of these is Amazon, but the internet hasn't been friendly to small operators since 2001 or so. You can blame public policy, or the lack thereof, for that.

Regardless, I see no reason why the continued existence of brick and mortar retail should be encouraged, let alone tolerated. Keeping people employed is insufficient justification; the jobs are too unpleasant and poorly paid to be worth preserving, though the same could be said of most jobs in the US.

I certainly have no intention of going shopping when I can buy online just to keep people employed. I'm not that altruistic or masochistic.

 
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