Some decades ago, during my college days (yes, I'm getting old), I accompanied a friend to his family gathering. I wound up engrossed in conversation with his stepsister J., age 15, whose knowledge and insight impressed me. At dinner, the three of us occupied a conversational niche at the middle of the table. The conversation at the table's end was the sort of speculation that often entertains dinner companions: The women of their parents' and grandparents' generations were taking turns sharing their explanations of some curious phenomenon. They took each other seriously, even though none of them had anything convincing to say on the subject. (My apologies: As much as these events have impressed themselves upon me, the intervening years have been more than sufficient to steal the subject itself from my memory.) A slightly heated debate ensued. At an appropriate gap in the adults' conversation, J., who was seated at their edge, made the usual gesture to draw attention. She began to submit a solution to the question under discussion, in the simple, explanatory tone of one who knows the answer. The adults avoided eye contact with J., and one of them immediately started talking over her (not to her; only to the others), so that they did not hear more than three words from her. It was smoothly done, as if J. had merely tried to interject during an insufficient pause. She politely waited for another pause, and was then interrupted in an identical manner. After the third time it happened, she gave up.

The rest is behind a cut for the sake of your feed, but you know you want to read it. )

All right, I'm getting sidetracked. tl;dr: I like to show respect.
blimix: Joe leaning way out at a waterfall (waterfall)
( Oct. 11th, 2016 03:54 pm)
There is a specific bad habit of thought that is partly to blame for things like Libertarianism and phys-splaining. It is one with which I used to be intimately familiar, and which took a long time to break.

If I may start with an example, in high school physics (including A.P. physics), there was almost no material that a smart student needed to learn. I found early on that I could goof off during class, never read the textbook, and still ace every test. I didn't need to learn the formulas to solve the mechanical problems, because they could all be derived from conservation of energy, F=ma, and E=mv2. Most of the electricity and magnetism unit involved learning jargon for concepts that were intuitive if you could construct metaphorical isomorphisms between things like voltage and water pressure.

A child or young adult who is very good at problem solving can get used to always being right, because the problems that they face do not require learning a wealth of background information. In their experience, someone who disagrees with them just hasn't figured it out yet.

Once this person starts dealing with real world problems, they run into disagreements with people who have far more experience in the subjects. Their old assumptions about their ability to discern truth become maladaptive. They don't realize that they're getting wrong answers by oversimplifying and failing to respect others' understanding. Sometimes, they read Atlas Shrugged, then idolize the captains of industry, decry government regulation, and live in a fantasy world in which wealth and power are meritocratic. But they fail to pay attention to the real world, in which the captains of industry achieve their status through a combination of inherited weath, large scale theft and murder, and corrupt control over regulators. Privilege in general has a particular hold over these habitually smart but ignorant folks, because they find laughable the idea that the world is so very different from what they were brought up to believe.

Yes, I went through that phase. Luckily, I lacked the second ingredient that keeps smart kids in blissful ignorance: A fragile ego. Discovering that I had been wrong was embarrassing as hell, but the desire to be a better person meant that I had to change my mind. (Eventually, I was mortified that I had previously identified as a Libertarian.) Those with fragile egos will instead ease their embarrassment by finding any excuse, logical fallacy, or echo chamber to support their old beliefs.

In a big way, I envy millenials' having grown up with social media. Access to real information, bypassing the editors of newspapers and social studies textbooks, would have greatly facilitated my personal growth during my formative years. And sure, even in the information age, people can still choose their own echo chambers, but that is now voluntary. Nobody with an Internet connection (outside of China) has to keep their eyes closed if they don't want to. And I see, as a result, a generation that is hugely more interested and engaged in world affairs, in politics, in the environment, and in the pressing issues of populations other than their own, than my generation was at their age.

There is no longer any excuse for staying smart, ignorant, and complacent. No matter how easy your school work is, the tough problems are a mouse click away.
blimix: Joe on mountain ridge with sunbeam (Huckleberry Mountain)
( Sep. 27th, 2016 03:20 pm)
Someone I know recently discovered that they had several food allergies. The allergist had informed them that their unusual appetite and thirst could be symptoms of a food allergy: Something that no other doctor had ever mentioned. This testing turned out to have been long overdue. Cutting out the problematic foods not only relieved their perpetual hunger and thirst; it also eased their chronic issues with pain, mobility, energy, and gas. This is a tremendous life change, after decades of unhelpful visits to other medical professionals.

I'd bet that, even if food allergies turned out to be the cause in only a small fraction of similar cases, getting this message out would still help somebody I know. (I know an awful lot of people suffering undiagnosed chronic crap. You probably do, too.) There is no down side to getting tested for allergies, other than having to sit through mild discomfort, so get out there and do it. (I've done it, just to diagnose a slight, persistent cough: Far less reason than many other people have.)

Remember that they don't test for all possible food allergies; just the common ones. But eliminating the common allergens will at least keep them from masking the uncommon ones, making you more likely to notice and identify them. Best of luck.
Our blood drive was today. I often see the same phlebotomist, and told her, "I just get to lie here and read, while you're doing all the work. But I have noticed that you're working very efficiently." She smiled as she affirmed that she has gotten the hang of it over the past several months. Upon my entry, she had given me the same pleased look of recognition that my regular dental hygienist does, ever since I let her know that I appreciate the skill and care that she brings to her job. They both let me know that they look forward to seeing me next time.

I guarantee you, 100%, that the happy-to-see-me response is not because I'm some sexy, confident, alpha-male beast (whose stylized silver ring on the wrong hand does not much resemble a wedding band, though it is). Honestly, I feel, at heart, like a shy, awkward person who has practiced being nice to people enough to form a habit strong enough to overcome my introversion.

A compliment can make someone's day, or week. Complimenting someone's work is particularly pleasing: People put a lot of time and effort into getting good at things; appreciation of the results is rewarding.

Complimenting someone's appearance can be nice, but it comes with a couple of caveats. The first is that a person's appearance is much less under their own control than their work is, and so pride in appearance is not nearly as meaningful. The second is that it can come off as creepy and even threatening if the context suggests a possibility that the complimenter is aiming to get something in return, or is objectifying the recipient.

Hint: This creepy context usually means a man complimenting the appearance of a woman who is engaged in any activity at all other than actively trying to meet men. ("If you think women are crazy, you’ve never had a dude go from hitting on you to literally threatening to kill you in the time it takes you to say, 'no thanks'." - Kendra Wells.) A man's peaceful intentions alone cannot change this: Assuming she's not a mind reader (she's not), a sufficiently experienced woman's perception of the context (in which men's desire for and objectification of women encourages subhuman treatment including violence) is the same either way. There are workarounds for this: A female acquaintance of mine was quite pleased when a man said, "Excuse me, I just wanted to let you know that you are very beautiful," and then crossed the road and walked away before she could respond. His behavior clarified that he wasn't seeking anything from her, which allowed her to receive the compliment without suspicion.

When my wife and I are out, she's the one who delivers the well received compliments on someone's stunning hair, eyes, or dress. I don't even try. Though if I had to, I'd probably start with, "We just wanted to let you know..." In public, and establishing our existing relationship with the word "we," I doubt anyone would read desirous intentions into it.

Getting farther into speculation: I don't attend fandom conventions, but I love the costume photos and videos. If I were there in person, and wanted to compliment a woman's costume, I suspect that (if the costume is not highly covering) "I love your outfit!" could be interpreted as, "I love how you're showing off your body with that outfit! Thank you for enabling me to objectify you!" So I might instead try, "Great work on that outfit! It must have taken countless hours!" See that? I switched it from complimenting their appearance to complimenting their work, and clarifying my focus on their costume rather than their body. People familiar with convention etiquette: Am I on track here? Is there a better way to do it? (Edited: The original "better version" was phrased as a question rather than a statement, which Beth caught. A question demands time and attention, neither of which you are entitled to, and a question will also be wearying when asked by every fifth passer-by.)

It's usually less tricky for people to compliment men, because the social context includes both a much lower chance of objectification, and a much lower chance that any objectification would result in violence. There has been a time or two that I was pretty sure a guy complimenting my appearance was hitting on me, but because I'm not an insecure, homophobic douchebag, I didn't mind. (Homophobia: The fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women.) Outside of the context of systemic violence (and tiresome repetition), the attention was merely flattering.

I'm down a pint of blood, so please forgive me and let me know if I have to clarify or correct anything here.
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Sep. 2nd, 2016 05:22 pm)
In my previous post, I mentioned keeping a rattan stick for defense in case of home invasion, rather than a knife, sword, or firearm.

Let's look at how firearms in the home are actually used:

"For every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides."

"This is not the first time in Central Florida where a relative has been mistaken as an intruder in a fatal shooting."

We're not talking about a rare "just some people who made the news" risk. While camping, my father once returned to his tent, waking his mother, who (still groggy) shouted, "Oh my god, a bear!" then grabbed a pistol, aimed at him, and pulled the trigger. The gun and bullets were old, and didn't fire. My father would be dead, and I wouldn't exist, if it weren't for the fact that a "self defense" weapon failed. On the day that I decide that getting shot by a relative constitutes a good time, I'll start keeping an accessible gun in the house.

Blades are a subtler matter. The practical difference between a gun and a knife or sword (other than range) isn't how physically difficult it is to kill someone with it (pretty damn easy either way), but how psychologically difficult it is. It takes only a whim to pull a trigger; you have to really intend harm to stab someone. This gives blades an edge (so to speak) in utility over guns, because killing people on a whim is bad. But they still have a lot of potential for unnecessary killing (and getting killed; you never know who's going to die in the struggle over a knife). At night, in the dark, having just woken up, is not the time to decide whether some mysterious figure in your living room or bedroom needs killing. That way lie dead relatives.

A nice rattan stick (or anything similar; I used to have a metal support bar from a folding chair) can cause enough pain and damage to be a deterrent, but won't kill someone unless you're trying really hard to kill them with it. There are all kinds of ways to use a stick to disarm someone that you'll learn if you train in kali/eskrima, but they're all icing. You know the easiest way to disarm an intruder? Get behind a corner. In a few minutes, the intruder will come sneaking around the bend. The moment their weapon hand comes into view, hit it with the stick! If it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, you'll probably have given your son a very nasty bruise and spilled his drink all over, rather than, you know, killing him.

(Once again, please keep the comments respectful.)
I have a backpack called the Bag of Useful Stuff. It is the closest thing to a D&D style magic item that I own. Often, when someone says, "I could really use [X]," I can pull [X] out of the bag for them. I've heard it compared to a "mommy bag" and a "bug out bag," but those are different (and quite worthy) concepts that are already explored elsewhere.

The idea of the Bag of Useful Stuff is to include items of maximal utility, where utility is roughly proportional to the product of "How likely am I to need this?" and "How bad would it be to need this and be without it?" and the inverse of "How much space does this take up?" (the opportunity cost of not being able to fit other useful things).

Cut for length. )
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Aug. 5th, 2016 10:20 pm)
I will believe you.

People (especially women, children, people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other underprivileged folks) often don't report the abuses they suffer, including harassment, threats, and violence. There are many reasons for this, including the expectation that their experiences will be dismissed with disbelief or victim blaming. I can do nothing about the other reasons, but I can and will address this one.

I suspect that disbelief stems from discomfort. The listener does not wish to believe that the world is one in which these awful things really happen to people they know. They find more palatable the idea that the victim is lying or exaggerating. They also prefer the illusion that the world is a just place where, as long as you don't do something terribly wrong or stupid, nothing really bad will happen to you. It makes them feel safe. Of course, believing things because they're comfortable, rather than because they're true, makes that listener an irrational ass. Worse, they are a toxic, irrational ass who has become part of the problem by discouraging victims from speaking up, and by enabling abusers to act with impunity.

I form beliefs based on evidence, rather than comfort, and the overwhelming evidence shows that the world is an unjust place that is full of systemic violence toward underprivileged people. So if you tell me about it, I will believe you. I will not ask what you were wearing, or suggest that you should have been more compliant, or imply that it's no big deal and you should just forget about it. Your experiences are real and valid. I am not asking you to share them: Doing so, or not, is entirely your decision. Just know that if you do confide in me, I will not dismiss you.

Everyone: If you'd rather be part of the solution than part of the problem, feel free to share this or make a similar promise.
blimix: Joe as a South Park character (South Park)
( Jul. 25th, 2016 05:00 pm)
Yesterday was the fifth time I've gotten the license plate of a hit-and-run driver, and the second time I've done so thanks to having a dashboard camera. The police and the other driver (she's okay) were very grateful.

Dash cams: They're not just for Russians anymore.
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Jul. 23rd, 2016 04:39 pm)
I am a Bernie Sanders fan because I value human lives.

This November, I will vote for Hillary Clinton, because I value human lives.

It would be nice to live in a world where a "protest vote" could mean something. You know: A world in which the U.S. Department of Conscience has workers assigned to pay attention to my vote, to magically know that it means I am dissatisfied with the government, and to then fix health care, corporate media, GLBA, prison slavery, the wage gap, and everything else because they totally care what I think.

We've just seen what a "protest vote" gets you in the real world. Plenty of Brits went to the polls and voted for Brexit, not to help the right-wing xenophobes, but just to voice their dissatisfaction, knowing that the right-wing xenophobes couldn't actually win. Plenty more stayed home from the polls, either too disaffected or lazy to care, or too secure in the knowledge that the right-wing xenophobes couldn't possibly win. And so the right-wing xenophobes won. Emboldened and validated by their victory, they have already begun their campaign of harassment and violence against anyone with an accent and/or the wrong color skin.

A lot of us in the U.S. are feeling disaffected and disenfranchised by losing the chance to have a good person as president. Instead, we'll have to choose between "business as usual" and "pogroms and concentration camps". Germans of a certain age range have wondered how and why in the nine Hells their grandparents ever allowed Nazi Germany to happen. As a modern American, I don't have to wonder. It's happening right here, right now. All it will take is a bunch of us disaffected folks registering third-party votes, or staying home from the polls, to let "pogroms and concentration camps" win.

You don't think it'll happen? Neither did most Germans in 1932. Neither did most Brits in 2016. We need to learn from their mistakes, not repeat history. I'll see you at the polls in November, and we can all exchange sad looks about having to vote to save millions of lives, rather than getting to vote for our favorite candidate. Because, after all, we value human lives.
[I wrote this just before the Dallas shootings hit the news. With what little we know, I cannot comment on that beyond the obvious: The shooters opened fire on police in the middle of a Black Lives Matter protest, jeopardizing everybody present and causing a potential setback to the movement. They could not possibly have been affiliated with the movement or the protest, which was described by the Dallas police as peaceful. I expect racists to use this tragedy, no matter how illogically, as ammunition in their continuing support of the oppressive and murderous status quo. Please don't let them get away with it. Now, back to your irregularly scheduled dose of perspective.]

It seems to me that there is a complication in the issues (hitting the spotlight once again) of police accountability, brutality, and racism. To turn back the clock to a telling example of the confusion: I was initially astonished at the gall of New York City's biggest police union when they vilified Mayor Bill de Blasio for speaking against police brutality, claiming that he had thereby attacked the police. In so doing, the union appeared to have equated the police with police brutality: A much stronger and more damning statement than anything that de Blasio himself had said. Where were the good cops in this? Or, hell, even the neutral ones? What sort of officers could possibly condone the statement that decrying police brutality is an attack on the police?

The horrifying, systemic violence by police in the U.S. is already established fact, and we know that something needs to be done about it. That's not what this essay is about. The mystifying issue here is how strongly police in general defend a system that continues to allow and encourage this. Police departments shun body cameras, despite their proven effectiveness in sharply reducing violence both by and against police. The officer who reported the torture of a suspect at the hands of two other officers was harassed out of his job, and had to move from Baltimore to a small town in Florida just to find a department willing to hire him.

It seems to me that the majority of police, who do not commit but still accept police brutality, are protecting the brutalizers and murderers in every way they can not because they like brutality, nor from a sense of brotherhood, but because accountability both makes them personally uncomfortable and clashes with the dominance that they enjoy over the public (especially oppressed minorities).

On comfort: Accountability is a trade-off. Most people enjoy a certain right to privacy most of the time. Officers interacting with the public have no such right: Regular recording of these interactions results in good behavior, where privacy results in abuse, torture, and killing. But this argument only appeals to people who are concerned with what brings the greatest good. An officer who is unconcerned with the greatest good will only be swayed by their personal convenience and comfort. Doing your job with someone looking over your shoulder (or a camera monitoring your behavior) the whole time is annoying, even if you're not planning on doing anything wrong. There's an extra cognitive load in every decision you make, considering whether the observer would approve. In this case, that's a wildly good thing, equivalent to "using your brain to be a good person". But to the 85% of officers who are otherwise unmotivated to be a good person (see the first link above), it's a pointless way to make their job more annoying.

On dominance: In Siderea's essay on the two moral modes, she explains that many people (such as Trump's supporters) enjoy and defend the privilege of people in their in-group to do whatever they want to people not in their in-group, with no fear of repurcussions. Just having that privilege, that status, is important to them, even if they never wind up exercising it: Just like 99% of white southerners didn't own slaves, but were still willing to fight and die for the right of white people to own black people. (Don't try to tell me it was about states' rights. The leaders of the Confederacy were explicitly clear that defending slavery was their motivation.)

U.S. police have, and enjoy, that privilege, to a degree not found elsewhere in the civilized world. Even if you're an old, white male, asking them to tone down their abuse of a black person will get you clubbed in the head. (This was a recent incident, so similar to hoards of other blatant uses of excessive force that I can no longer find a link.) They are the dominant party in every interaction with the public. They can and will enforce that dominance in whatever way they wish, regardless of legalities, because they are the only ones with enforcement capacity: Their victims typically have no legal recourse. Herein lies the fundamental misunderstanding committed by anyone who thinks that knowing the law will do them any good. When an officer pulls you over illegally, to ask, "Am I being detained?" is to challenge their dominance. It asserts, "I know you have no legal right to hold me here, so you have to let me go." They will not let that challenge stand. Any dog, or socially aware junior high school student, knows that you don't challenge the dominance of someone who can break you.

Police officers' dominance is enforced by their guns and by their lack of accountability. This is why violating the "blue wall" of silence is such a crime: Even if a good cop only does it in order to protect someone from a bad cop, all of the other officers are keenly aware that a bastion of their dominance has just been weakened.

The saving grace here is that police resistance to reform is not an insurmountable obstacle. Some juristictions have succeeded in introducing body cameras, so obviously it can be done. Once accountability measures are implemented, officers will gradually get used to them. A few rill resist and subvert these measures, but as soon as escaping scrutiny is not trivial, the vast majority will find it easier to just not wantonly abuse and kill people. A generation of enforced improved behavior will do a better job of changing police culture than any protest will.
blimix: Joe by a creek in the woods (Default)
( Jul. 3rd, 2016 10:51 pm)
Last post (2.5 months ago), I mentioned my new tabletop RPG. The changes I made after the first playtest worked out very well in the second playtest. The only adventure I've written for it is fun and thought-provoking: Both groups had interesting philosophical discussions during play. Unfortunately, it's so heavy on investigation and role-playing that it doesn't serve as much of a test of the game's conflict resolution mechanics, until the climactic battle at the end of the second session. (Up side: In the second playtest, the improved mechanics led to quite a dramatic final battle!) I think I need to write (or adapt) a typical hack-and-slash adventure for further playtesting.

I spent quite a while researching dashboard cameras, for my new one. This was made easy due to the large amounts of well organized first- and second-hand information, sample videos, etc. that I found here. Due to many people's difficulties (including mine) with their cameras, I have come to recognize how important "build quality" is. I finally selected the G90. (Having waited two months for my first dash cam to ship from China, I picked a distributor with a domestic warehouse this time.)

Yet another research project: Investigate protein consumption with regard to workouts (both for getting through them and for building muscles). It's easy to find the common wisdom on the subject (e.g., eat carbs and protein in roughly a 4-to-1 ratio shortly after working out), some mildly dissenting views (e.g., protein before a workout is more important than after, helping you build muscle without consuming it), and some contradictory views (e.g. whole foods are better for you; whey protein powder is more quickly digested and accessible). There's an awful lot of people echoing other people, or not listing sources at all, which reminds me that "common wisdom" about nutrition, at least in the U.S., lags decades behind the research. (People (including doctors) still think that spinach is very high in iron, based on bad science that was debunked in the late 19th century.) This article seems at least halfway decently researched, so I may just leave it at that, at least until I have more motivation (and time) to continue looking into the subject.

I will note that there's nothing like a huge sushi lunch to get me through a grueling evening workout. (Unfortunately, doing this consistently would cost quite a bit more than the class itself.)

My D&D group has started a 5th edition game, for the first time. I like it so far.

Karen and I saw "Clybourne Park," a great play that's sort of a sequel to "A Raisin in the Sun".

Our refrigerator is crapping out. I did some research, and we've ordered delivery of a new one. (Meanwhile, I think it may have been giving me mild food poisoning for the past three weeks.)

Gratuitous links:

Kevin Smith on Prince. (From 2013: A half-hour story of Kevin Smith's adventures trying to help Prince make a documentary. Pretty funny.)

Interview: Researchers Deconstruct Ghostwritten Industry Trial for Antidepressant (Thanks, lutraphile!)

Revulsion of Dead Animals (BAHFest) (For cat people.)

Jessica Valenti: my life as a "sex object" (Thanks, Brookes!)

Breathe Easy (Islamophobe satire)

The Indecisive Perfect Guy (Insightful explanation of guys backing out of great, budding relationships.)

Foxes adopt their rescuer

Mascot battle
The tabletop role-playing game that I'm developing is alpha testable. I scrambled all week to have a detailed module ready in time for the playtest. We got halfway through it that night. I was underslept and low on blood sugar. (I hadn't eaten enough, and I couldn't spare the time to snack while I concentrated on GMing a new system and remembering all the story elements (or finding them in the large document).) While I had a hard time with some of the storytelling, the system itself worked just fine. I got some feedback for a slight tweak (which was already included as an optional house rule, but should have been available in the main rule set). I'll run the second half of that adventure this week, then perform some rewrites before running it again with a different group.

Life has handed me several opportunities to help people lately.

I never thought I'd wear myself out dog walking, but when you spend several miles forcibly restraining a husky who nearly outweighs you, you get a hell of a workout.

Karen and I are joining a CSA for the first time. The farm is very nearby, so pickups will be easy.

A classmate of mine (in JKD) introduced me to the "J-shaped spine" concept championed by Esther Gokhale. The short version is that she spent a lot of time investigating cultures of people who have little or no back problems, and then fixed the common advice about posture. I would like to know whether this is legit, and have not yet found an independent source to say one way or the other. There's nothing in what I've read and watched so far that rings false, but I am a bit wary because, a notoriously disreputable site, supports it. (They also support anti-vaccination bull crap.) Of course, I can't just dismiss it on that basis. (Ad hominem fallacy: Would you disbelieve Hitler if he told you that the sky was blue?) In fact, a site for alternative medicine, much of which is bunk, is exactly where you'd expect to see support for an alternative medical theory that was correct but not yet established within the medical community. So, despite my suspicions, I am still intrigued. Any thoughts on verifying or debunking? My web searches are finding mostly praise for the "Gokhale Method" and exactly one critical piece (which criticizes but does not investigate the claims).

I'm at a disadvantage, I suppose, from unfamiliarity with the established literature on posture and back pain. It could be that Gokhale is charging people exorbitant amounts to hear what any physical therapist could tell them, with much better results due to the price. (Consistency pressure: Once you've made an effortful, public commitment to the training (spending your time and money), you're damn well going to value it and follow through on it.) If it isn't alternative medicine at all, that would explain why there have (apparently) been no attempts to either verify or debunk it.

In other news, I'm officially giving up on fixing my dash cam. It was, tantalizingly, almost kinda sorta working, so it took months before I was willing to let it go. Despite the cost, I'm going to replace it with a better one: In its short life, it did far more for me than my (now former) insurance company ever did. A new one seems like a great investment for my car.

My Jeet Kune Do class used to include grappling and Kali (Filipino stick and knife fighting) in the last week of each month. Last year, when the class moved and restructured, Kali was spun off to become its own class. Our teacher (Steve), who is not yet certified to teach Kali, got permission from his teacher (guro ("teacher") Raffi, trained under Kevin Seaman and Dan Inosanto) to teach it as an assistant instructor, with guro Raffi coming by occasionally to give seminars and to test students. We had our first such test last month, so I'm now a level 1 student of Kali. There were some hiccups due to recent changes in the curriculum, so that the requests made of us weren't always clear*, but we showed that we knew what we were doing. Word from on high (guro Dan Inosanto) is that students must have at least a year between tests. Having studied unofficially for several years, I already knew quite a bit more than was being required of our instructors, in their testing for level 3. (And they know loads more than I do!) I don't mind that the ranks don't currently reflect our knowledge of the curriculum; I'm still learning new material at a good pace, which is what matters. I have no current ambition to be certified, so testing at all is mostly a matter of showing respect to the tradition of my lineage in the art, and demonstrating Steve's competence at teaching me.

* Each time guro Raffi asked us to demonstrate something, using different jargon than we had traditionally used in class, I noticed a panicked look on one of the other students. So I made sure to demonstrate first, in order for him to see my best guess about what was being asked of us. I was right most of the time, and he was very grateful. (I wasn't worried about my training partner: She knew exactly as much as I, and could come to her own conclusions.) After the test, guro Raffi clarified some of his requests that we had gotten wrong, and we then demonstrated that we could in fact perform those techniques. It transpired that one technique was known by the level 1 students but not by the (level 3) instructors, which caused some understandable (and amusing) confusion. (We had been shown the technique by a substitute teacher while our instructors were away for a seminar.)

Karen and I joined some friends to see "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)". It's a hilarious show, and I was interested by the updates it had received in the two decades since I had first seen it. (And yes, I had loved it so much, the first time, that I jumped at the chance to see it again.)

Gratuitous links:

Magical land artworks (Thanks, Brookes!)

What Trump appeals to in his supporters, explained by the two moral modes. Another illuminating and thought provoking Siderea essay.

Overview of The Panama Papers. A more thorough explanation and discussion than other articles I've seen on it. (Thanks, Eirias!)

Causes of Students' Emotional Fragility: Five Perspectives. A synthesis of comments exploring issues in society and educational institutions that affect modern students, as explored by educators, employers, parents, and students. (Thanks, Cristyn!)
blimix: Joe leaning way out at a waterfall (waterfall)
( Feb. 19th, 2016 03:10 pm)
I have a theory. It involves two ideas:

1. Religious people are not as irrational as they give themselves credit for.
2. Going to church is a lot like going to Harry Potter Fan Club meetings (with a few key differences).

Before I explain the theory, I have to ask the question that the theory purports to explain.

Disclaimer and explanation for religious people. No offense intended. )

The question, and some inadequate answers. )

The theory. )
I believe that the confusion that some students experience with conditional statements in math and formal logic courses, over the idea that one cannot assume the inverse/converse of a conditional, stems from their intuitive understanding of Grice's maxim of Quantity. I think it would be most helpful, upon the introduction of this subject, for the teacher (or the course material) to explain roughly as follows:

Conditional statements take the form of "If something, then something else." Like, "If it's raining, then I wear a hat." Let's say I told you, "If anyone's around, I don't pick my nose." So what do you think I do when I'm alone? [Pause.] I pick my nose, right! Do you really know that? If I never picked my nose, my statement would still be true, right? [Longer pause, possibly repeating the original statement for consideration.] You're right: If I never picked my nose, I wouldn't have said it like that. I would have just said, "I don't pick my nose." What we just demonstrated is a linguistic rule called Grice's maxim of Quantity, which states that I don't tack on phrases like "If anyone's around," unless I actually have a reason to do so. I said it, so you figured I had a reason for saying it, and that's how you knew that I pick my nose when nobody's around. Incidentally, the statement "If nobody's around, I pick my nose" is the inverse of my original statement, "If anyone's around, I don't pick my nose." You get the inverse just by negating both parts of the statement.

The maxim of Quantity, the rule that you used to figure out the inverse, is not a rule in formal logic! It's just a rule of natural language. In formal logic, I could say, "If anyone's around, I don't pick my nose," and you would have no way of knowing what I do if nobody's around. Unlike with natural language, when you're given a conditional statement in formal logic, that's not enough information to know whether the inverse of that statement is true. That should be obvious with the statement, "If it's raining, then I wear a hat." Can you conclude the inverse, that if it's not raining, then I don't wear a hat? Of course not! Maybe I'll also wear a hat to keep the sun off my face, or just because it's stylish. So we can't assume the inverse.

Now let's look at the contrapositive, which is just a fancy name for a concept that you already understand, as illustrated by the famous quote by Dan Quayle, "If Al Gore invented the Internet, then I invented spell check..."
A long time ago, a friend told me that his young niece had just received an $800 fur coat (that's $1250 in today's dollars) as a gift from her parents, and that her reaction was to complain that it wasn't expensive enough. We both took this as a clear sign that she was absurdly spoiled: What child is so lavished upon, so showered with riches, that an $800 fur coat does not meet her expectations?

I now think that we were wrong. (Granted, the act of giving that coat was itself spoiling.) Her reaction was motivated not by her expectations, but by a desire to prop up her self-image. People who have no real concept of self-worth often try to raise themselves up by placing things beneath them. (I suspect that this relates to the insane popularity games that schoolchildren play: Picking on or ostracizing someone indicates that they are beneath you, and by some social version of Newton's third law of motion, putting them down raises you up.) The price of the fur coat enabled this child (so she thought) to show her worth by declaring it beneath her. The more expensive, the better it was for this purpose. She is an adult now, and likely, she has since learned to value people by their actions, by the happiness and well-being that they create and/or preserve, or by any measure at all other than what they don't like.

An even longer time ago, my oldest friend shared a quote with me: "My definition of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger." (If you're younger, substitute "'Hey Beautiful' without thinking of "The Big Bang Theory'" (and imagine that "Hey Beautiful" was written by Tchaikovsky).) We were kids, and took it as amusing and possibly accurate. More recently, I have come to regard the quote's sentiment as revealing the same pathos displayed by the niece: Without a schema for understanding one's own worth, even an adult may attempt to create it by placing him- or herself "above" popular culture. (Though I think that doesn't describe "intellectuals" so much as "hipsters" (and I'm not even sure about them).) A web search turned up the quote's author, comedian Billy Connolly. This reassured me, for I had feared that, despite its tongue-in-cheek nature, the quote had been meant in earnest. There are people like that, but at least its author was not one of them.

As an aside, I no longer know what an "intellectual" is. I think I had some idea of it when I was a child: An intellectual might study "pure" (as opposed to applied) math and science, or philosophy, and engage in acts of purely intellectual pleasure. But as I've grown up, I've had decreasing regard for the idea that what is nebulously termed "intelligence" correlates to anything at all other than the ability to learn quickly. My martial arts class challenges me intellectually more (and more engagingly) than any college course did. Applying science to the real world yields far more interesting puzzles (and revelations) than pushing numbers around with a pencil (while disregarding friction and air resistance) does. And for fuck's sake, playing chess just means that you haven't found something better to do with your time. (Yes, I was in my high school's chess club. Shut up.)

For me, all that's left of the idea of the "intellectual" is the presentation: Something like Brian from "Family Guy," whose affectations of culture and intellect mask the fact that he's no smarter than average. Given that, I can hardly imagine how the term "pseudointellectual" can mean anything at all. I mean, if you're claiming an image, whether it's "goth" or "steampunk" or "intellectual," who has the authority to call you a poser? Some pitiable schmuck who claims the same image, trying desperately to establish that you are beneath them?
blimix: Joe and his guitar. (guitar)
( Jan. 18th, 2016 05:11 pm)
Both of our cats have had health issues lately. Both are fine now. In the process, I've learned, and come to suspect, some unexpected knowledge that one of them possesses.

Midnight, if I haven't mentioned it before, is the smartest cat I've ever known. He has distinct vocabulary and body language to communicate things he wants: Outside, food, yogurt (a medium for Cosequin for his arthritis), scritches, lap time, TV (so he can sit with/on the humans on the couch). He has a listening vocabulary that he combines with contextual and body language clues to have a really good idea of what we want when we talk to him. (He also cares what we think, and so complies far more often than one would expect a cat to do.) One time, my dad was looking for the other cat. He said, "Midnight, where's Pretzel?" Midnight got up, walked over to the Fortress of Solitude (a low table with a tablecloth hanging to the floor), look at my dad, looked at the Fortress, and looked up at my dad again. Sure enough, Pretzel was in there.

Midnight displays model of mind: When he wants something, he will persistently ask for it, like any cat will. But where most cats will persist until they get what they want (or are shooed out of the room), he persists only until it is clear to him that the human understands him and still won't comply. Once that happens, he stops asking. He's so polite!

When we started him on Cosequin a few years ago, he used to ask for the yogurt a few times a day, but quickly learned that we only gave it to him once daily. Since then, he has only asked for it late at night, if we had forgotten his dose that day. Karen once wondered aloud whether Midnight knows that the Cosequin-laced yogurt is good for his joint pain. I said I doubted it: It's a dietary supplement, not a painkiller. It probably wouldn't work fast enough for him to make the connection.

About a month ago (IIRC), Midnight hurt himself: He started limping and favoring one paw. That day, he led us to his feeding area and said his word for "yogurt". (It sounds like "mow-WOW!") He had already had one dose that day. He knew! (We gave it to him, and increased his dosage. It helped a lot. There was also an inconclusive vet visit. He's mostly better now.)

Another of his habits: He'll sometimes tell me when he's done eating. Pretzel is on a diet, so we can't leave Midnight's food out. We bring it out whenever he asks for it, and put it away after he's done (when we remember; we don't just stand there watching him). I don't know why I think that that's what he's saying when he rejoins me and gives a perfunctory "Mow", but that's what gets communicated.

Last week, Pretzel ate a strand of Mylar tinsel that Midnight had stripped from a cat toy. The next morning, she went on a vomiting marathon. The x-ray showed that it was probably past the blockage danger zone (the small intestine), and an anti-nausea medication helped her eat. The strand took 5.5 days to pass through (5 days more than the vet expected), but she's fine now.

Meanwhile, to allow Pretzel to eat as much as she wanted, we've been leaving her food and Midnight's food out (along with giving her some chicken baby food). Last night, Midnight told me to come upstairs with him and replace the stale food in his dish. And I wondered: Does he know that leaving his food out makes it go stale? Is that why he tells me when he's done eating? I hadn't given him enough credit on abducing the therapeutic properties of Cosequin, and this connection is probably more obvious, especially to a cat's sense of taste and smell. He may well understand, and want it stowed for freshness. Smart cat.

Gratuitous links:

Doctor donates 70 acres to keep part of Latham forever wild. It's on River Road, across from the bikeway. The Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy will develop the trails, and open it to the public in 2017. (Thanks, Bill!)

6 Words That Are Guaranteed to End Picky Eating. (Thanks, Leora!)

At-risk students improve when they take a race and ethnicity class – study (Thanks, Akiko!)

The concept of different "learning styles" is one of the greatest neuroscience myths (Thanks, Eirias!)

Kylo Ren in Texts From Superheroes

Epic Twitter clash between Emo Kylo Ren and Very Lonely Luke

Star Wars / Calvin and Hobbes mashup fan art

Photography depth illusions

How to Teach Someone a Board Game in 6 Easy Steps
We finally saw "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" last night.

I'm going to discuss it, in ways that are moderately spoilery, behind a *SPOILERS* cut )

Gratuitous, irrelevant link: What if Harry Potter, the chosen one, had turned out to be a squib, how do you think history would have turned out differently? An alternate universe fanfic, in summary form. Still fairly long, but notably thoughtful and engaging. (Thanks, Sami and Tara!)
Happy holidays. I hope all of my Christian friends are enjoying today's vast and well preserved collection of pagan solstice rituals, in celebration of their savior's springtime birth. Reason for the season, and all that. *hugs*

The recent warm weather has let me get in a lot of hiking that I was too busy to do during the usual warm season. (Which is not to say that I didn't hike at all then, but it was not nearly as much as I would have liked.) I'm very glad for the chance to have made up for the lack.

Gratuitous links, some of which are seasonally appropriate:

"Can't You See The World Is Ending?" by The Doubleclicks

Old movie dance scenes mashup synced quite well to "Uptown Funk"

Bluegrass Star Wars medley

Holy Night sung by yelling goats

"Girl in a Country Song" by Maddie & Tae

Star Wars: A bad lip reading

"Flashback Wife" by Rob Paravonian (the same guy who did the Pachelbel rant)

Fan Friction (Not exactly safe for work. I have many fannish friends who need to see this.)

5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism

Elven Snowden, whistleblowing elf

"Fuck Christmas" by Eric Idle
blimix: Joe leaning way out at a waterfall (waterfall)
( Dec. 1st, 2015 03:27 pm)
Okay, I recently stayed up late because someone was wrong on the Internet. Samir Seif is a prolific creator of short instructional videos about martial arts techniques. He is an instructor with broad and deep experience, and I gladly subscribe to his YouTube channel. He recently started posting vlogs responding to comments on his videos, and I took issue with some things he said about Jeet Kune Do. He appreciated my comment, slightly misunderstood it, and posted his disagreeing response as a separate video. Whoa.

As I wrote my response to his unintentional straw man argument, I was actually nervous. Not because of what he might think of me (which might be an issue for me only in a conversation with "Weird Al" Yankovic), but because I was trying very hard to show complete respect for him and his point of view, while disagreeing. Also while a bit sleep deprived, which both makes that sort of thing harder, and brings emotions closer to the surface.

Reasons for the extra careful attention to respect:
1. He's a human being.
2. It's his channel; as a commenter, I'm a guest there.
3. He is tremendously more experienced in martial arts than I am.
4. The sad prevalence of "tough guy" martial arts commenters who cannot respect differing opinions engenders in me a certain revulsion, and a wish to be as much unlike them as possible.

On a barely related note, point 4 reminds me that I've noticed an unfortunate tendency in on-line martial arts communities to lean toward politics of ignorance, fear, and violence. It seems that people who get into martial arts because they want to feel tough in the face of unfounded fears outnumber people who get into it because they are passionate geeks who grew up loving kung fu movies. *cough* (Or maybe that's observation bias, and the former represent merely the loudest and most prolific commenters.) (And yes, I know that people have many other reasons.)
blimix: Joe on mountain ridge with sunbeam (Huckleberry Mountain)
( Nov. 15th, 2015 10:24 am)
There was an interesting moment of revelation the first time I read Robert Cialdini's Influence: Science and Practice. (Yes, I read it a second time just to take notes. It's that important.) He was explaining reciprocity pressure: When someone does something for you, you feel compelled to do something for them. An extreme example was the (now prohibited) practice of Hare Krishnas giving out flowers in airports. The flower was a gift; they would then ask for, and often receive, a donation. An awful lot of people threw out their flowers afterward. (The H.K.s knew this, and would retrieve them from the trash.) So, many people felt obligated to make a donation, just by receiving a flower that they didn't even want! Another example was an experiment that involved sending holiday cards to strangers. An awful lot sent holiday cards back.

As I was reading this, I was thinking, "Reciprocity pressure doesn't work very well on me. When someone does something for me, I express gratitude, but I don't feel like I have to respond in kind. And I do favors for other people all the time, without expecting anything in return. It's like I'm just immune to this ubiquitous social construct."

Cialdini went on to explain that within families, reciprocity pressure works differently. Rather than "keeping score" with favors and gifts so that nobody feels indebted to anyone else, family members exchange the ongoing willingness and readiness to just drop everything and help each other out whenever necessary.

I read this, and thought, "Wait, that's me! That is exactly how I treat everyone!"

I'm not different because I don't feel reciprocity pressure. I'm different (but surely not unique) because I feel and act as though everyone — all humans (plus a few other animals) — are my family.