“Cultural Appropriation” in Fiction

Let me start by saying that I find the concept of “cultural appropriation” itself to be wrongheaded, foolish, and kind of absurd. It assigns some kind of collective ownership of the nebulous basket of language, tradition, customs, food, clothing, fashion, and all kinds of other ill-defined elements that supposedly belong to a given people.

Nevermind the fact that peoples and nations interbreed and change and that cultures develop and assimilate and adapt.

And who is supposed to arbitrate these transgressions? If one single Chinese person indicts me for enjoying their dim sum, am I guilty of creating a problematic situation?

Does it matter that another Chinese person rules that it’s ok for me to eat dim sum, but that I may not make it myself? Or that a third, more rational native doesn’t give a crap?

Does it change the calculus when the majority of a country or culture like having their culture appropriated (the real term is “appreciated”)? I can tell you from my time living in Japan and consuming Japanese media that the people over there are flattered and pleased when foreigners try on kimono, or dress up as a popular anime character, or take an interest in  Japanese language, lore, history, whatever.

It’s ridiculous to think cultures should be treated like private (group) property.

And so I was disappointed when I was listening to an otherwise quite interesting discussion of an old weird tale yesterday, and the speakers posed the question of whether a white man writing about a black protagonist was cultural appropriation.

Really?

Thankfully they were gracious enough to rule that this was not the case – after all, the white (racist) narrator was really who the story was about.

I’ve gotta say, I find it quite troubling and a bit confusing, how such big fans of speculative fiction could conceivably buy into the idea of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to the fiction they read.

Scifi and Fantasy are full of stories about aliens and other non-human beings. But they’re not real, so I guess this is in-bounds. Well, women write male characters and men write female characters. Should this gender appropriation be pooh-poohed?

Is Captain Blood cultural appropriation, because it sees an Irish protagonist written by an Italian author? Or is this okay because they’re both white ethnicities? Do “White People” all get lumped together into one culture?

Is Othello problematic because its noble Moorish (often portrayed as African) hero was written by a white Christian?

Should books written by White People only feature white characters? If you think so, it sounds like you’re ready to nix an awful lot of cool SFF and other great literature. And why? Because a few emotionally unstable people have nothing worse in life to worry about than some white dude writing a story about a black guy?

51isW1RdvyL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_51oo82fc0kl-_aa300_Zorro

(Whoops – forget that last one – he’s one of those white hispanics!)

Are Japanese manga and anime highly problematic for featuring so many Caucasian characters?

And if you answer “yes” to all these questions, or even if your response is more nuanced or qualified, what’s the solution? Do we need a tribunal to determine which cases are acceptable and which are “problematic,” and then to rule on a remediation?

It’s such a silly piece of business. I’d be tempted to ignore it if I didn’t see the idea as such a threat to creativity and freedom of expression. Of course no one’s talking about outlawing cultural appropriation, but if it’s such a bad thing, I could imagine things moving in that direction in some quarters, someday. And really is there much practical difference between outlawing something and drubbing it out of polite society?

-Bushi

bushi

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Retro Arcade Gaming

  • by Gitabushi

This weekend, I took my kid back to college in Huntsville, Alabama.  While there, we stumbled across the Rocket City Arcade, where they offer a host of classic arcade games that you can play all day for just $10.

It had been a long day of driving, and so we only played for about an hour. But it felt like even that hour was well worth the money spent.

One precondition was they had to have Joust, and they did.

joust

It took me a little time to get the game skills back, but by the fourth game, I got 64k points and set the high score for the game. I’m really not sure why no one plays it, because 64k points wasn’t that tough to get.  I think in my heyday I must have broken 100k points, because 64k points included making it past just one survival wave and one egg wave, and I think i can remember making it to at least 3 egg waves previously.

The thing I love about Joust is there are no patterns to learn at all. No way to memorize a method or route that lets you beat the AI, or even puts you in a good position, like you can with games like Pac Man or Super Mario Brothers.  Your flapping works against gravity based on your rate of taps, and it is impossible to hold a perfectly rock-steady altitude.  Left and right are possible, but it often takes some finesse to zero out your lateral motion.

There are some places where you can hang out that make it more likely to kill the bad guys, but holding position there is tough, and if you camp there, they’ll get you.

Great game. Highly recommended.  Probably my favorite game of all time, although Karate Champ is also very good.

The arcade also had a great old Star Wars game, where you shot tie fighters before making a trench run. As the game got tougher and faster, with more defending fire directed at you, the trick was to use your blasters to hit the defending fire and stay alive; shooting the enemy was only a secondary goal.

I got to try Donkey Kong, and made it to the 3rd level pretty easily. Got to do a few driving games, which are always fun.  One game I loved, but only saw once, was a stunt driving game.  You did jumps, loops, etc., and the game had some feedback that helped you feel you were actually driving the car doing the stunts. I’d pay good money for an original game in good condition to have the chance to play that and get good at it, but that is apparently not my fate.  It might have been Atari’s “Hard Drivin'”, now that I’ve taken a moment to search.  I thought I remembered green vector graphics, rather than the CRT graphics of “Hard Drivin'”…but the description of showing a replay of your crash sounds familiar, and the gameplay sure seems familiar, too.  Memory is a funny thing.

But that wasn’t one of the games they had.  They did have, however, The Simpsons, and Crystal Castles (boring) and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Several shooting games, but those weren’t as fun.  I usually died in seconds, and only got anywhere by hitting “continue”.  My kid and I had some bonding/fun on one of those for about 10 minutes.

They had a modern update to Rampage, which sucked. Different versions of Street Fighter, which was always best in the original Street Fighter 2 edition, before all the special moves just got stupidly complex and powerful. They had some Galaga types. They had Commando, and I died too quickly to want to try to get back any of that game’s muscle memory skills.

All in all, it was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and a chance for my kid to understand what gaming used to be like.

Doing a quick search, I’m seeing that several places combine retro games with bars. I didn’t look deeply enough to see if you still have to pay for the games. If you pay bar/pub prices for drinks, plus a quarter per game, it doesn’t seem worth it to me.  There’s one in the DC area; I might try it.

But playing the game has convinced me that I will probably will purchase an Arcade1UP Rampage machine, as it includes Joust and Gauntlet. Rampage is okay. Gauntlet is actually kind of fun.  I’ve played a pretty good Gauntlet emulation with my kid on the PS2, and the ability to just hit “continue”, with the loss of limitation of needing to drop a quarter in, makes the game much less fun.  “Red Warrior Needs Food, Badly” is a sentence that sends chills down your spine if you have already given the machine your last quarter.

The system also has Defender, which is perhaps the most masochistic game Williams ever invented.  But that is a game that might be enhanced by eliminating the necessity of quarters: it might actually now be feasible to practice to the point of actually getting good at it.

What classic arcade game was your favorite? Which do you miss? If you missed out on the era, which do you wish you’d gotten to try?

Evaluating and Debating Presidencies

  • by Gitabushi

I was a little excited when I saw this article by NeoNeoCon. Finally! Someone would talk about the shenanigans that go on when arguing about Presidents, debating who is to blame and who gets credit for economic developments, etc.  When I read the article, I was disappointed.  She hit some good points, but her approach was vastly different from what I was thinking.  So I guess I have to do it myself.

seal sea dog animal
This is the typical image I got when I looked up “Presidential Seal” in the free photo library, so we’ll just have to struggle through together. Photo by karsten madsen on Pexels.com

First of all, I hate the phrase “on his watch.”  It’s lazy analysis.  “Bush is to blame because it happened on his watch.” “Russian occurred on Obama’s watch.” No.  I mean, yes, that’s a factual statement, but it implies a causation that is not necessarily there. Equally as bad is arguing that a President “inherited” some aspect, good or bad.  Yes, there are some lagging indicators, and a President’s actions do carry on beyond their term.  But most people use it to deny giving credit to someone they dislike, or avoid giving blame to someone they admire.

Furthermore, I dislike the trend of blaming or crediting a President for everything that happens.  Sure, it’s easy to just blame/credit the President, and I think that’s why people like doing it: it’s easy.  The reality is we are governed by a government split into three branches.  The President only heads one branch, and the bureaucracy is so large and unwieldy, the reality is a President’s control is tenuous at best, and we should treat it as a fourth branch of government. Even with the formal branches, a President has extremely limited input to the Judicial Branch, and is given an often passive role when it comes to interacting with Congress.

On the other hand, a President has a few advantages:

  • the single government office that the entire nation elects.  The President has a mandate that even a Senator from California doesn’t have.  This is balanced somewhat by the House of Representatives, which provides more fidelity on the Will of the People via smaller districts and elections every two years.  The balance of these two expressions of the Will of the People mean that a POTUS should have a huge mandate in their first two years, but following Congressional elections add nuance and chip away at the edges of a President’s mandate.
  • the Bully Pulpit.  Being a singular head of a Branch means that a President doesn’t have to compromise with anyone to promote his views or his policies, can criticize the other branches, or even social developments, from a single person’s perspective.  As the most visible, singular, and sole nationally-elected official, citizens care more about what a President says, promotes, discourages, etc., than any other single official…and the news media follows suit. There is an incredible potential to push an agenda without creating one word of policy vested in the Office of the President

However, that doesn’t mean a President is all-powerful.  We credit a President too much for many things that happen in the United States. A President doesn’t control the economy, and certainly cannot prevent normal economic cycles. The President doesn’t set spending levels, or taxation levels.  The President can *propose* his preferred policy, and can use his Bully Pulpit to put pressure on Congress to pass it, but he doesn’t control legislation.

So let’s take a look at how people poorly and/or deceptively evaluate Presidents.

George H. W. Bush was POTUS from 1988 to 1992. In the early 90s, the US economy contracted. This was blamed on Bush, which, in my opinion, was unfair.  Sure, it happened on his watch. Moreover, it was likely triggered by Bush agreeing to sign a bill into law that raised taxes.  So, yes, he did it. However, the recession itself was inevitable, sooner or later. If the tax hike hadn’t triggered it, something else would have. Moreover, raising taxes is a *Democrat* policy, and it was passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats.  Even worse, the economy had recovered before the end of Bush’s term, but because there is a great deal of fuzziness and arbitrariness about when a recession begins or ends, the news media was able to falsely claim we were still in a recession, and that it was fully Bush’s fault, right up until that dishonesty helped Bill Clinton defeat Bush.

Continuing on, Clinton is not only erroneously credited with fixing the Bush Recession, he is also somewhat inaccurately credited with reducing the number of people on welfare and with an extremely hot economy (sometimes called the dotcom economy or the dotcom bubble).  Yes, both those things happened on his watch. Yes, he even signed the welfare changes into law, and it was the result of his deliberate triangulation on the issue, to deal with the mandate the Congressional Republicans had earned by winning a majority.

But the obvious success and benefit to the US in these policies are used to credit Bill Clinton himself, and in his status as a Democrat President.  The argument is, Bill Clinton presided over the economic recovery, got people off of welfare, and led the nation into the internet age.  Since his term, every good economy and period of low unemployment is compared to Bill Clinton’s dotcom economy, and rightfully so: they were excellent numbers. The argument continues that Bill Clinton was/is a Democrat, so if you want a great economy, low unemployment, and people off of welfare, you must vote for Democrats.

Well, no.

There is nothing magical about Democrats or Republicans.  What matters is the *policy*, regardless of who enacted it.

Welfare Reform is, at heart, a Conservative policy, not a Progressive one.  Progressives throw money at problems, Conservatives set up consequences and demand individual effort to obtain benefits.  Forcing people to actually and earnestly seek work to continue to receive welfare ended up with more people in the workforce because the policy prevented the “discouraged job seeker” phenomenon, and prevented recipients from living comfortably on the dole.  The dotcom bubble was also a Conservative event: it took over our economy because there were no taxes for items purchased on the internet: a tax moratorium is now proven to stimulate economic growth and increase employment. But Conservatives want lower or eliminated taxes; Progressive policy is to raise taxes whenever/wherever you can get away with it.  If Democrats had free reign, they would have imposed taxes on the internet from the beginning.

The lesson from this is, if you want to grow Space Commerce, do you announce that you will fund exploration and development with a fairly high corporate tax rate on all space activities?  Or do you announce a moratorium regarding any/all taxes on revenue derived from space commerce?  Obviously, the latter.  And just as obviously, that is a conservative policy, and runs counter to Progressive policies.

So let’s look at President George W Bush. What does he get blamed for, and get credit for, in my view?

Well, 9/11 occurred before he had his security team fully in place.  Moreover, the US Govt was hampered in its ability to detect the terrorist plot due to “walls” preventing information flow between different federal government agencies, and those “walls” were put into place by President Clinton, on the advice of his prominent advisor Jamie Gorelick.  Maybe you can’t blame Clinton, but you clearly can’t blame W, either.  Reports that “he was warned” are silly: the “warnings” were vague, and no action could have been taken without severe violations of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. Sometimes bad things happen because of chance. Other times, bad things happen because an enemy has a successful plan that exploits weaknesses.  That’s what happened with 9/11.

Bush should be credited, however, for the improvement of the economy following 9/11. From 2003 to 2006, the US economy was pretty much the equivalent of Clinton’s dotcom economy.  And it came about due to Bush pushing for tax cuts back in 2002. But if you want to credit Congress instead, I won’t argue with you. The important thing is that the Conservative policy of tax cuts stimulated the economy.  As such, we shouldn’t elect a President because a Democrat or Republican President is better for the economy, we should vote for and elect a President who promises to cut taxes wherever possible, and finds ways to cut other stealth taxes (like federal govt regulation, and fees, etc.), because reducing the costs of doing business improves the economy.

But at the same time, Congress was spending like a drunken sailor.  Porkbusters emerged to try to fight back against GOP Congress-led pork barrel earmarks.  You can blame the GOP Congress for doing this, and you can blame W for signing the spending bills that included the pork barrel spending, but you can’t use that as an argument to vote for Democrats, because increased spending is, at worst, a *Progressive* policy…and at best, a bipartisan one.  Democrats who campaign on Republicans running up the deficit never cut spending…they find new things to spend on, arguing that fed govt spending improves the economy, and then they raise taxes to close the deficit, which kills the economy and makes things worse.  Republicans who campaign on Democrats running up the deficit will cut some spending, and make abortive attempts to cut other spending, but apparently will not cut spending, over the protests of the Freedom Caucus and Tea Partiers in the GOP, and with the RINOs gleefully joining with Democrat Congressional minorities who chortle about getting what they want with the GOP taking the blame.

This really needs to get fixed, but that’s an argument for another day. The point is that the spending doesn’t stay high because of the President, and sometimes it stays high due to GOP defections joining with Democrats to make a virtual Democrat majority.  And there are plenty of times the GOP just plain embraces spending.  But it is worth noting: the GOP has a vocal minority against the excessive spending, and that vocal minority has been growing over the last decade.  There is no minority among Democrats, vocal or otherwise, that is willing to consider spending cuts at all. In an even more stark disparity, GOP voters get fed up with spending to the point that someone like Dave Brat can surprisingly defeat a leading GOP Representative based purely on spending issues.  Not only does that never happen to Democrats, the opposite does: a prominent Democrat Representative gets defeated in the  primary by someone who advocates the nearly-unlimited spending of Socialism: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

So when it comes to the deficit, ignoring parties and personalities, the lesson is clear: tax cuts grow the economy, excessive spending causes deficits, and while you might struggle to force the GOP to cut spending, Democrats will always push to raise both spending and taxes.

Continuing on, W gets blamed for the 2006-2017 recession. But I think if you look closer, you see a few things: First, Democrats took over Congress in 2006. They won by pushing an end to the failed war in Iraq.  However, by the time they took office, W’s “Surge” had actually won that war, and Iraq was relatively peaceful. So Democrats began talking down the economy and increased spending and regulation. That primed things for a downturn.  The trigger for the crash, however, was clearly caused by encouraging banks to lend money to riskier borrowers. W was to blame for not vetoing the Democrats bills that weakened the economy.  But he actually pushed back against the devastating lending encouragement; in fact, Democrats called anyone racist who opposed that social justice policy.  Thus, the crash was caused by Progressive policy. If you think I’m being too vague, it’s to keep this shorter. I could write 4-5 pages just on how Democrats caused the crash.

W is also to blame for signing TARP.  But please be clear: it wasn’t Bush’s policy, and it *certainly* wasn’t a Fiscal Conservative’s policy.  It was, from start to finish, a Progressive policy.  It made things worse.

I agree that Obama can’t be blamed for the job losses that occurred “on his watch.”  However, I think he also cannot blame W for the economy he inherited, because he voted for the policies that crashed the economy as a Senator in 2006.

Moreover, Democrats blame W for the deficit because the deficit started to climb under W. Again, you have to look at who controlled Congress and the nature of the contributing policies.  The deficit reduced every year under W after 9/11.  The economic hit of 9/11 make those deficits understandable.  The deficit reduction continued even after Bush’s tax cuts (indeed, I think it was *because of*) and despite the spending in Iraq. The deficits didn’t start to grow again until Democrats took control of Congress and started passing policy that damages the economy.  So W can be blamed for not vetoing, but that should make it clear: the blame lies with *Progressive* policy, not the party of who was POTUS at the time.

Even worse, Democrats wanted lots of new spending, because their ideology, against all available evidence, still erroneously believes govt spending helps the economy.  So Congress refused to give Bush the 2009 budget to sign. This was because it was so stuffed with pork, even W might have vetoed it. Plus, they believed it was usher in an era of prosperity, and didn’t want W to get credit.  So they delayed delivering the bill until Obama was POTUS.  Once that huge spending increase was set as the baseline, Democrats dropped the regular budgeting order and just forced Continuing Resolutions so they would never again have to face voters with votes for their ruinous levels of spending. And after deliberately arranging for Obama to be the one to get credit, when it didn’t work out as they hoped, they churlishly give W the blame for the increased spending…I guess depending on ignorance of when the 2009 spending bill was actually passed, and who signed it.

Okay, that’s a bunch of paragraphs of narrative, but it is all to set up this explanation: I also think you have to credit/blame a POTUS for what they promise and predict.

For instance, Obama campaigned on the notion that he knew what was wrong with the economy, and would fix it immediately.

Okay, we can allow for campaign exaggeration.  But after being elected President, he predicted recovery the first summer.  When it didn’t happen, he blamed Bush for the economy he inherited.

No. If you claim to know what the problem is, predict you can fix it, and get the policy you want, you now get the blame.  He spent his entire two terms blaming Bush for anything that didn’t work out like he wanted.

This is wrong.

Likewise, Obama and his sycophants predicted all sorts of disaster under Trump. Some said the stock market would *never* recover.  Obama himself mocked Trump by asking Trump if he had a magic want to magically make the jobs come back.  When Obama’s anemic economy never broke 3% growth, Obama and his sycophants said this was the new normal, and the US would never see growth above 3% again.

As such, no one should be allowed to claim Obama gets the credit for the economy under Trump.  It is stupid.

If your predictions for the economy are completely wrong, then you lose all credibility to blame or credit at all.

Again: Trump enacted *Conservative* policy: he reduced all sorts of federal govt regulation, reducing the cost to doing business. He also clearly telegraphed that he wouldn’t add unexpected, onerous new regulation, so businesses could plan for growth without worrying about painting themselves into a corner.  This was one thing Obama clearly did wrong: Obamacare was a whole bundle of uncertainty.  Businesses had no idea how much costs would increase from year to year. And to keep the health system from catastrophic failure cause by Obamacare, Obama unilaterally (and probably in violation of the US Constitution) delayed implementation of many of its aspects.  But all that really did was increase the uncertainty of the business climate.  Then when Obama started pushing diversity/identity issues, it frightened companies about the possibility of arbitrary increased costs at any moment.

As a result, Obama didn’t just preside over the worst recovery in the history of the US, he arguably caused it.

The argument that W ruined the economy so badly that it caused the slow recovery is ridiculous.  In the history of the US and economics in general, the worse the economic downturn, the quicker the recovery.  Economic cycles are *always* long/slow/mild or quick/short/deep.  Obama’s economy was not. The decline was rapid and deep, and then stunningly anemic in recovery.  And it was due to uncertainty in the business climate from policy advocated and/or enacted by Obama.

The penultimate point I want to make is that Trump promised he would create an environment that would boost employment for blacks in specific and minorities in general. Okay, okay he claimed he would create jobs for blacks.  But as you hopefully realize by now, Presidents don’t create jobs. They merely help create an environment conducive or adverse to economic growth.  But with the reduction of taxes, reduction of fed govt regulation, and attempt to reduce spending, Trump has encouraged a business climate that has significantly increased manufacturing jobs, energy sector jobs, and pushed unemployment for blacks and Hispanics to record lows.  Since this is what he predicted he’d do, he gets full credit for it.

The final point is a word about gas prices.  Again, a POTUS doesn’t have direct control over gas prices. It’s a complex pricing system, with inputs coming from OPEC, US domestic production reacting to barrel prices, barrel prices reacting to expectations of future surplus or future shortage, summer driving demands on gas, refinery availability (impacted by flooding and hurricanes), and fuel mixes that change based on season and geography.

But, just like how a POTUS can impact the business climate to encourage or discourage expansion and hiring, a POTUS can impact whether the speculators think there will be surplus or shortage in the future.  One of the ways is by signalling a willingness to tap the strategic oil reserve. Another way is by pushing to lower the federal gas tax. Another is by signalling willingness to approve additional drilling locations.

In every case, Obama signalled that he didn’t care about low prices, and wanted so badly to reduce CO2 emissions and boost “green” energy, that he was unwilling to do anything that made fossil fuels more available.  This caused higher prices.  In contrast, W signalled willingness to allow drilling and tap the strategic oil reserve.  Prices remained high due to uncertainty worldwide about how terrorism and war in the middle east might impact oil availability.

Add to this, China’s economic growth has stimulated a sharp increase in their demand for petroleum, which increases global demand, which increases prices.

I’m not going to go so far as say we should blame Obama for high gas prices on his watch but give Bush a pass.  There is more that Bush could have done. There were many things that were out of Obama’s control.

But I do think the differing attitude, policy, and revealed intent should indicate whether each should get credit, blame, or tolerance.

And this is how I evaluate Presidents, and how I think everyone should evaluate Presidents. Some tribalism will always be a part of the evaluation, based on your preferred policies.  But rather than making arguments based on the party you like, you should analyze the policies that brought about the results you like, and then advocate for the candidate/POTUS you prefer based on your preferred outcomes.  This should result in a lower level of tribalism.

A Few Thoughts on Intelligence and Education

  • by Gitabushi
woman in black long sleeved shirt reading a yellow covered book
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Okay, setting aside false modesty for a moment, I’m a smart guy. I qualify for the Triple 9 Society. If there were a Quadruple 9 Society, I might qualify for that as well, but it’s a little more iffy.  I’ve never bothered to join, cuz I can’t think of a worse place to be than hanging out with a bunch of people who place such a high value just on being smart.

What *is* intelligence?  I saw a tweet where someone insisted that some events were occurring according to a person’s plan, and that person must therefore have stratospheric intelligence.  My response, in disregard as to whether things are actually proceeding according to someone’s plan or not, is that a well-laid and well-executed plan doesn’t require stratospheric intelligence, it just takes time and coordination.

Aside #1: One motivation, I think, for claiming that someone else must have stratospheric intelligence to come up with a plan is that the person telling you thins must also be exceedingly smart to be able to recognize the plan and tell you about it. No?

So after many years, I have decided that what intelligence is, is the ability to see connections between different information, and then successfully combine those different elements into valid conclusions…along with the ability to do it quickly.

There is nothing that someone brilliant can think of that someone “stupid” can’t also think of…eventually.

The reason smart people think of things regular people cannot, is that speed element.  Someone smart can notice the connection and draw the valid conclusion within, say, minutes, and then move on to the next problem.  The “stupid” person would need, say, three or four hours of pondering to see those same connections and then another hour or two to reason through to the conclusion.  And who has the kind of time and discipline to think through a problem for half the day?

Well, patent clerks, apparently.

See, I don’t think Albert Einstein was necessarily brilliant.  He clearly wasn’t anything close to stupid, and clearly was more intelligent than average.  But his concepts weren’t that difficult for moderately smart people to understand. The implications are obvious to anyone with scientific training, and many scientists have gone way beyond Einstein in thinking through those implications…to the point of conditionally negating some aspects of Einstein’s theories.

However, if Einstein hadn’t developed his theories, someone else would have.  Einstein was smart, and it is possible he was also truly brilliant.  But he is

famous because he did the *work* of thinking, and considering, and testing his thoughts, until he came up with a theory that answered all the issues he could connect.

Now, that’s just a broad definition of intelligence.

Aside #2: Back in High School, a girl that I liked and respected claimed she wasn’t smart enough to keep up with me.  At that time, I knew I was good in school and testing, but my struggles to understand people, and my subconscious sense that I lacked necessary knowledge for a successful life, led me to insist that I wasn’t too smart for her.  In a flash of insight, I pointed out that there are plenty of types of intelligence, and came up with seven off the top of my head.  Let’s see if I can recreate them:

  1. Deductive Intelligence: the ability to see all the facts, and come to the correct conclusion
  2. Inductive Intelligence: the ability to see the way things are, and be able to deduce the elements that led to it.
  3. Communicative Intelligence: the ability to explain and teach what you understand to others.  Some people are just brilliant orators, and I think you can’t be stupid to do that.
  4. Creative Intelligence: the ability to write music, draw beautiful art, etc.
  5. Physical Intelligence: the ability to do something physically without much thought. Some people can pick up a basketball and dribble and shoot fluidly almost immediately. I had to think my way through it, and took triple or more the time to just gain a modicum of fluidity.
  6. Humor: It’s really difficult for dumb people to be funny.  Aside #3: Humor is the ability to see an unexpected connection, and laughter is the surprise when you see that connection the first time.  That’s why jokes you’ve heard before aren’t funny. That’s why running gags can be funny: putting that old gag into a new situation can be an unexpected connection.
  7. Memory: Being able to recall the answer rapidly, to answer the teacher’s question or provide the correct answer on a test.

Okay, I almost forgot #7.  The point I made to the girl was that all I really had was #7, and it made everyone think I was smart.  I was good at tests, but feared I wasn’t good at anything else.  Except that even at the time, I was proud of my music ability (creative & communicative intelligence), and coming up with the list was an act of Inductive Intelligence. I probably would choose a different way to organize and explain different intelligences today.

But the key point of all these is just: being able to grasp connections and (where applicable) draw valid conclusions more quickly.

One other way to grasp connections and draw valid conclusions more quickly?  Crowdsource a problem with like-minded individuals that have a minimum of differing agendas.

That’s how we got the US Constitution.  It wasn’t brilliance, it was just normal smart people working together on a common problem: how to craft a government structure that works to prevent the assembly/collection of power in one person, or even one institution.  When followed, it works wonderfully.

How this fits with education: I’ve noticed that education in the US has been pushing more and more math and science into the curriculum.  Part of this is simply that I went to small-town schools, whereas my children attended big city schools. They took algebra in Junior High, and had the opportunity to take Calculus II in high school, if they went math heavy.  Both of them were able to take AP Physics, AP Chemistry, and AP Calculus, which culminates in a test that gives college credit.

Nothing like that was available to me. Of course, the small school issue.  30 years ago, my class was one of the first allowed to take pre-Algebra in Junior High.  Before that time, you had to wait until High School.  So if you wanted to reach Calculus, you had to double up on math two years.  Having pre-Algebra in Junior High meant that I could take Algebra my freshman year, Algebra II and Geometry my sophomore year, Trigonometry my junior year, and Calculus as a senior.  Unfortunately, I moved to a small Texas town before my senior year, and the highest class they had was Trigonometry, so I spent the year teaching my fellow students Trig, because the teacher wasn’t very good.

So we’ve pushed more education on our kids.  Are kids smarter than before?

Maybe not.  Some people point to studies showing that IQ is rising over the years (the Flynn effect).  I’m not sure that’s true.  Some possible explanations here. My own view is that IQ was never that scientific to begin with, and once people began valuing it, they began gaming the system.  It’s difficult to judge how quickly someone consistently sees less-obvious connections and draws valid conclusions, and do it consistently, and then compare it to others. IQ testing is inherently cultural in nature, and the test-makers will skew it towards what they think measures the ability to think well. And while they try to minimize the impact of education, the simple fact is that you must be exposed to specific cultural knowledge to score well on IQ tests.  Do not put much faith in people trying to make arguments based on IQ scores.

That we can push more math and science on kids by accelerating the pace is simply because we can make people work harder.  They might be covering more ground in the lesson text, but are they learning more?

“Scores flat” is an evergreen headline. In response to declining SAT scores, they “recentered” the scoring system.

And when I was a military instructor, I heard them discussing revamping a course to make it easier.  Nothing was changed in the course, but the testing changed. Here’s how it works:

The easiest test is T/F.  Yeah, you can make T/F tests incredibly difficult if you use gray-area questions, but that’s not how the military works.  There are rules to avoid ambiguity. Slightly harder is Multiple Choice. Harder still is fill in the blank, then short answer, then long answer. The hardest would be an essay test.

I’m convinced that in school, the testing has been watered down to easier testing processes.  Kids are covering more ground, but learning it to a less-rigorous testing level. A smart kid will still learn beyond what the test can evaluate, but humans being humans, most will study to the test, and not demand greater depth of learning of themselves.

The reason this is an issue is Competence is dying in the US.  But that’s a topic for another day.

And now, the Big Conclusion that Wraps Everything Up Neatly:

I don’t have one.  I just wanted to make some points about intelligence and education to provide some baseline knowledge.  Your kids are probably not smarter than you.  They may end up more credentialed than you, but if they achieve more, it is likely because the threshold for achievement was lowered.

I used to feel confident my kids would eat the typical millennial’s lunch in the employment world, but I’ve come to realize even my kids haven’t been challenged by school to a level of attention to detail or diligence in work that they will need to truly succeed.  And Lectures from Dad can only go so far.  Hopefully, the seeds are planted, so that when watered with adversity, the plants of experience grow rapidly and bear lush fruits of success.

I hope you found something useful in this for raising your own kids, or for helping them understand themselves better if they are already grown.

Good luck.

 

A Glut of Content

Last month I wrote about Netflix and how I’d like to drop it (maybe someday!). Recently I find that I’m not even watching Amazon Prime Video all that much, aside from an occasional episode of Baylon 5. Of course adding endlessly to my Watch List remains a great pleasure.

I touched upon this the other day, but the amount of content out there now is just amazing. Now that time has gone from valuable commodity to luxury item, I find myself mostly looking for two things in my video entertainment –

1. Value for cost

2. Chunkability

By value for cost, I mean that I am willing to pay for something if I really want to watch it (like Criterion Collection J movies on sale at Barnes and Noble this month!). But with so much free, decent-quality content available out there plus the two subscription video services I’m already paying for, I’m not going to shell out to watch Premium YouTube or Hulu AllStars or HBO Mega. It’s gotta really be worth it.

This can be taken even further when you consider the free trials available out there. After the baby was born, I did the Hulu one-month free trial so I could rewatch Last Man Standing and Adventure Time. When I get more time, I’d like to try out Film Struck, as well…

Chunkability is my way of saying I can watch it in short, easily digestible pieces and put it down constantly without losing too much. This is a huge benefit of video over video games right now, actually. Watch a 20-minute episode of something; chunk and chip 15 minute-increments out of a 45-minute episode. Movies are doable, but shows with shortish episodes are best.

If I had to enumerate to 3, I’d say I crave entertainment untainted by politics and the culture war. Unless I’m watching a Crowder video, I’d rather be enjoying art or movies or comics or scifi for itself and not struggling to look past its wokeness. I work in a DC liberal bubble – I don’t need to be reminded that conservatives are Nazis and that we are literally living in a Handmaiden’s Tale.

 

So what kind of stuff do I watch? Well here are a few flavors I like to lick:

PA TV

The Penny Arcade guys don’t just do comics. I used to watch an occasional First 15 (where the dudes just play the first 15 minutes of a random video game and comment as they go). Surprise – Jerry and Mike are funny and interesting guys.

Well, the gate is open now. I recently finished watching PA: The Series, and I am working my way through Strip Search now. I’m generally not a big fan of reality TV, but the PA flavor combined with the novel theme of “comic artistry” scratches an itch I didn’t know I had.

Cinemassacre

I’ve been watching The Angry Video Game Nerd for years. Yes, it’s gimmicky. But the guy’s love of video games and cinema is contagious, and the low budget special effects he peppers in have grown on me.

Red Letter Media

Come for Mr. Plinkett’s renowned Star Wars reviews, stay for Scientist Man.

I didn’t used to care much for Half in the Bag (the team’s regular movie review show), but I’ve come to appreciate these guys. I don’t always agree with them, but they’re good critics and just funny dudes.

Other

There’s plenty of great stuff out there – from Eric Rap Battles of History to Legolambs’ musicals to Jordan Schlansky videos, depending on your tastes. Go out and discover!

So I’ve got plenty to tide me over while I wait for my old samurai movies to arrive…

sanjuro2

-Bushi

bushi

The Problem With Progressivism…

  • By Gitabushi

Margarent Thatcher once noted, “The problem with Socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s mondy.”

In that same vein, yesterday I noted:

I wasn’t just trying to be clever.  Progressivism is based on the assumption that humans are pefectible, and are on a journey from old, backward thinking toward modern (and even futuristic), enlightened thinking.  The old way of thinking includes outmoded beliefs like the importance of family, nation, propety/wealth, etc.  If Progressivism can just get everyone to learn their new, modern viewpoints, humans will live in harmony,  peace, and happiness.

To do this, Progressivism identifies some law, norm, or tradition that is old and somehow holds humanity back.  Perhaps it is the outdated notion of national borders, or perhaps the backward assumption that work builds character.  They attack it, and hopefully destroy it, advancing humanity a little bit farther on its path to perfection.

Or, as David Burge (iowahawk) put it:

iowahawk_skin_suit_5-28-16-1-600x406

They don’t care that their efforts result in destroyed lives and unhappy people.  By any sane metric, the United States is one of the most successful, safe, and egalitarian societies in the history of mankind, but Progressives are unhappy. Feminists are unhappy. Democrats are unhappy.  They are unhappy any time they are thwarted in the realization of their goals.  They are unhappy they can’t get everyone to join in the consensus. They are unhappy that the United States doesn’t enthusiastically embrace their religious fervor.

Eventually, you run out of things you can destroy in the name of progress.

A Few of the Many Reasons Socialism Won’t/Can’t Work

  • by Gitabushi

It seems as if Socialism is becoming cool among the youth of the United States again.  This is sad, because capitalism-based (mostly) free markets have lifted more people out of poverty than socialist nations have killed and/or starved to death, and that’s a lot of people.  Moreover, if the DNC hadn’t rigged the primary for Hillary Clinton, an avowed Socialist would have won the Democrat Party nomination for POTUS.  Another avowed socialist just ousted one of the top Democrats in the House of Representatives.  As recently as 2013, Venezuela was praised by liberals for their socialism, and for being an economic miracle.

At the same time, I have a friend on twitter, a semi-famous speculative fiction author whom I won’t name because I don’t want to get him harassed, who fervently believes in Socialism. He argues well and fairly for it; he believes that once robots and AI usher in a post-scarcity society, socialism will become the only way to sustain humanity.  So there are intelligent, forward-looking individuals who stiill fervently believe in Socialism, despite all its spectacular failures.

So with Socialsm on the rise among the nation’s youth, and the continued refusal of the Left to admit the humanitarian crises in Venezuela, Cuba, and Socialist nations of the past were due to the inherent ruinous effects of Socialism, it might be time to review some of the reasons Socialism can’t work.

  1. After the Janus ruling by the SCOTUS recently, government unions are no longer permitted to take dues from non-Union members.  And even better, paying dues to a union is opt-in, not opt-out: the default is unions don’t get your money unless they convince you to contribute.  The main argument for unions to collect dues from non-members is that unions obtain all sorts of benefits for their workers that also benefit non-members.  Unions are credited with the 40-hour work week, work safety rules, etc.  The assertion is that non-Union members take these advantages for granted, and, absent the ability to take the dues without permission, too many workers will be free riders, taking the benefits without contributing their fair share.  If this is true, if too many will not contribute their fair share without force, then how can Socialism work?  After all, Socialism guarantees everyone has enoough.  It isn’t explicitly stated that you will be given enough whether or not you work for it, but who decides whether you have worked enough to earn your Socialist benefits?  The argument for Socialism is the compassion: everyone has enough.  Now take someone who doesn’t work at all: do they still get as much as they need? If they do, other people will loook at them and say, why should *I* work?  This is the free rider problem that Leftists see very clearly with union dues, but cannot seem to apply to Socialism itself.
  2. One of the problems with Capitalism, socialist advocates claim, is the greed.  In capitalism, there is incentive for people to gather capital to themselves, to exploit workers for their own material gain.  The assumption is that capitalists, business owners, landlords, etc., are greedy and evil.  They don’t need that much money, they just want it.  For proof, they point to the wealthy who continue to work to earn money: no one needs that much wealth, so continuing to seek profit after you have enough is proof of greed and exploitation.  Why not give up your multi-million-dollar CEO salary and/or owner payout to give all your workers a raise (even if it only works out to a few dollars a year for larger corporations)?  It must be just a mindless quest for status: to be the richest simply to be the richest; a competition among the wealthy to see who has more, with the lowly worker paying the price.  However, these people rise to the top due to ambition and ability.  At the very least, if you accept they are only motivated by greed, what happens if you achieve a Socialist system?  Will this greed go away?  If there truly is a human need for competition to see who is best, why won’t that urge shift to the true scarce resource in Socalism, i.e., power?  Socialists never explain what magic wand will suddenly change human nature so that the evil capitalists of our current system won’t use their drive and ability to gain power in a Socialist system and still exploit the less-ambitious for power and comfort.

The answer to both of these, then, is likely force.

I’ve seen it said that the Left is always just one more execution away from Utopia.  The answer is that when Socialism fails, it always looks for people to scapegoat.  There is always someone exploiting a rule loophole for power or comfort.  There are always Hoarders.  There are always Capitalist Roaders, who participate in an underground economy that inevitably develops to fill shortages and redistribute resources that Socialism’s Central Planning misallocated. There is always a free rider that can be made an example of, so others work harder.

In short, every problem that Socialists identify as a shortcoming of Capitalism-based (mostly) free market economies will still exist under Socialism.  Humans don’t change.  Only the ways the leaders use to reward or punish changes.  And because Socialism has no way to deal with these human foibles without force or execution, Socialism will always fail.