Monday, September 26, 2016

An accident of history

This is a strange, strange election. Its always risky to talk about politics, but we are witnessing a national derangement, so I might as well act deranged.

I’ve long hated political false equivalence, and I’ve essentially given up on the media as having any capability of providing objective information, performing deep and thorough analysis or acting with integrity.  I find pretty much any mainstream news outlet to be purveyors of gossip, shallow ‘facts’ and sensationalism.  I get my news primarily from those that mock that news (if I pay attention at all). 

We live in an era where every election is a 50/50 toss up.  For as long as I could vote, it hasn’t seemed to matter who the presidential candidates are. We either love our candidates straight down the middle or we hate each others candidates straight down the middle.  And you might have been able to make a compelling argument that that is because of party platform differences, the electoral college, the economy or some version of the marketplace of ideas.  But this election crystalizes and emphasizes an obvious dysfunction.  We are split right down the middle again when that simply should not be the case.  When one party has nominated there own worst nightmare, a joke candidacy, a publicity stunt that stumbled unwittingly into a legitimate nomination, and we end up in the same old horse race, something is amiss.

That joke candidate, who doesn’t have the experience, temperament, acumen or aptitude, and I’m still not convinced originally wanted or expected to be president, now has a 50/50 shot of being president.  A completely self-interested, narcissistic petulant child, is on the verge of becoming president and we still act as if we’re evaluating roughly equal evils. 

“You’re either voting for a dishonest criminal or a dangerous nut, there’s no good choice”. 

Except that Trump’s behavior is more dishonest and criminal by a mile. Those qualifications belong on his side of the ledger:

“You’re either voting for a dishonest criminal nut or an uncharismatic, boring politician, there’s no good choice.”

If you phrase it accurately, I think its pretty clear there is a good choice. Not an inspiring uplifting choice, but a morally responsible one.  No matter how much more entertaining a reality TV star is, putting the fate of the world in his hands isn’t funny, and it isn’t sticking it to the Clinton’s.  They’ll be fine. The rest of us need to worry. 

I once thought that it ultimately didn’t matter that much who won. And in the day to day politics as usual it still probably doesn’t.  If it were Romney vs Clinton, it probably wouldn’t matter much either.  But when Bush barely beat Gore, and then we invaded the wrong country after Sept. 11, it mattered.  And it will definitely matter in the next attack, or the next financial crisis, which one of these candidates is actually president.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Batman vs. Marvel

Batman vs Superman was a disappointment.  The best part of the movie was the trailer for Captain America: Civil War.  The movie was dull, retelling again the Batman origin story. It took forever to get anywhere.  The character motivations were unclear.  Why was Batman so angry, and Superman such a sad sack?  Even worse than that, was the fact that the entire movie took place in the dark and the action scenes were so close-up that you couldn’t even follow it.  I’m not even sure what the bat mobile looked like.

By contrast, I just rewatched Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  That movie was cool, fun, humorous, and took place in daylight.  The audience could actually see the action.  There’s definitely a huge difference in tone between the Marvel movies, that took seemingly dull characters like Cap and Thor and made good movies, and the joyless Dawn of Justice.  If they can’t make Batman and Superman interesting, I’m not sure there’s much hope for Aquaman.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What do Ragnar, King Alfred, and Sam Harris have in common

One point Sam Harris has made many times is to discredit the notion that religious adherents don’t really believe what they say they believe.  I’m definitely guilty of that misconception, I’ve always felt that nobody actually believes their religious doctrines, not really.  There may be elements and features of the belief system that are believed, and they might enjoy wishing some of it were real. But in their heart of hearts, everyone doubts.

Sam has repeatedly hammered home that that is simply wrong.  There are true believers and they can be dangerous.  A true belief in paradise is what allows for suicide bombers.

While watching Vikings and the Last Kingdom, I have noticed how much the clash of civilizations in those shows is about the clash of religions.  The characters are constantly tormented trying to discern the desire of their particular gods and how to conduct themselves so as not to upset them, or win their favor.  Each character interprets experiences in the context of their own religion, and their beliefs direct their actions.  I do realize that these are just TV shows, and the intent of the writers may or may not be to comment on the nature of religious belief.  Nevertheless, for me it did illustrate another example of peoples who actually believe, and how agonizing and all encompassing their belief systems can be.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Race to nowhere

I finally watched Race to nowhere now that its available on Netflix. I had been interested in it since it came out but for some reason it was hard to locate.  I’m always interested in criticisms of the American education system which I think puts the wrong emphasis on obedience and busy work. So I was sympathetic to the documentaries main thrust, homework is excessive and of limited educational value.  However, the movie was essentially anecdotal.  It tells the stories of few families, and blames school work on suicide and mental breakdowns of children. It also seems mostly localized to fairly uniform California communities. 

There was one reference to scientific evidence that suggests that after approximately an hour homework efficacy drops.  Other than that, there was virtually no scientific or statistical evidence to support their claims.  No evidence correlating homework and overscheduling and suicide or mental health issues.  No scientific studies comparing different educational approaches and their comparative results.

So yes, anecdotally, it seems like overscheduling children and burdening them with excessive homework is bad, especially for the kids in the movie.  And standardized testing and no child left behind seem to have played a role in a shift towards worse educational practices.  But if you’re looking for hard facts, or to be convinced, this ain’t gonna do it.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Texting is futuristic

Watching Aliens the other day reminded me of how futuristic video conferencing was at one point in science fiction.  It seemed reasonable that when the technology became available it would be the predominant means of communication.  Yet texting (and messaging, and tweeting) seem way more popular.

It says something about human nature that we prefer terse, disconnected, asynchronous communication over rich real-time interaction.  Maybe its one way that we’re holding on to our eroding privacy.  We’re only revealing the bare minimum information required in order to communicate.  When I send a text you don’t know where I am, how I’m dressed, who I’m with, my facial expression, my tone of voice, anything really.  Its also one way. I just get to say my part, without reaction or interruption.

But I guess the exchange of brief cryptic textual utterances lacked enough cinematographic impact to find their way into the imagination sci-fi movie makers.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The fight against complexity

Short TED talk, which identifies the root cause of lost productivity and employee disengagement, corporate complicatedness.

yves morieux as work gets more complex 6 rules to simplify

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Ragnar Lodbrok has to be Jax Teller’s brother

I recently watched the first three seasons of Vikings.  It was referred to me by a friend who also watched and loved Sons of Anarchy.  I have to give him credit in that he sold it to me based on the similiarity between Jax and Ragnar.  There is definitely something very similiar about the two shows and main characters.  Vikings is sort of like medieval SOA, though less silly than SOA. 

I’ve also watched part of The Last Kingdom, which is kind of the flipside of Vikings in roughly the same time period.  The Last Kingdom isn’t bad, but the characters are more compelling and story lines more interesting in Vikings.  I’m not a fan of shows where there are no likeable characters, and The Last Kingdom is shaping to be like Breaking Bad in that way. Nobody to root for.

I’ve also recently watched Marco Polo, another historically based show. 

The three of them are periods and cultures I knew little about going in, so they are at least as interesting because of the historical context as they are in entertainment value. Rome and Deadwood are similiar shows that I loved.  While Hell on Wheels, I struggle to get through.

Is it better for learn your history from TV shows or not at all? It has at least inspired me to poke around wikipedia a bit to find out more.