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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

"It's what's known as the Gothic movement"

If you're old enough to remember the media coverage of the Columbine shooting, you might have seen the news media breathlessly reporting on the "Gothic movement" as an influence on the killers.

A goth rock band, the Cr├╝xshadows, incorporated clips from one of these reports (I assume it was 20/20 based on the remix name) on a version of their song Leave Me Alone:

"It's what's known as the Gothic movement, violent and black."
"A growing and troubling trend in suburban America."
"They're mixed up kids."
"A new kind of teenage gang, white suburbanites, built around a fascination with the grotesque and with death."
"Police say the boys may have been part of a dark underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic movement, and that some of these goths may have killed before."
"There have been a series of violent episodes around the country linked to teenagers who call themselves goths."
"Anybody who would get in their way, I think they would, they potentially would kill."

Now, if you're under 30, you've never heard the mainstream media ever mention the Gothic movement.  Why?  Because, as it became abundantly clear, the Gothic movement had nothing to do with people who murder.  But they were a convenient scapegoat on which to focus the blame for Columbine.

Keep this historical reference in mind whenever you hear the news media cite some community as being responsible for a recent murder.  This reporting tends to happen when the killer is marginalized, but not part of a protected group.  (When a Hollywood star kills, the culture of Hollywood will never be cited as an influence on the murderer.  But some creepy kid?  Go to town with whatever they can find on his computer!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

College admissions

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about college admissions now.  But I remember those days.

When you're one of hundreds of thousands of capable students without some extraordinary gift that lets you write your own admission ticket, you have to worry about distinguishing yourself.  You all have good grades, test scores, and class rank. So you focus on crafting a portfolio of desired traits.

Back when I was looking at schools, the conventional wisdom was that colleges were looking for students with diverse accomplishments.  In other words, for two students with identical grades and test scores, participating in the debate team and the baseball team was perceived as better than participating in the debate team and academic decathlon team, because athletic and academic pursuits was somehow better than academic pursuits alone, even for students who do not intend to pursue athletics in college.

But if you think about it, it's rather discriminatory.

Obviously, colleges wouldn't expect a disabled student to be a varsity athlete.  They'd be considered as individuals.  But everyone else?  Well, they should participate in sports.  The short kid?  The skinny kid?  The fat kid?  Doesn't matter.

It's also about the month in which you were born.  The kid born in September enters first grade, and the kid born in August has to wait a year, and is 11 months older throughout his schooling, and by virtue of his age, is naturally better at physical pursuits.  Freakonomics documented that one is significantly more likely to become a professional athlete if one's birth month means they're at the older edge of the age range, for example being 8 years and 11 months when entering that sports league for 8 year olds.

I suspect there are a significant minority of students who aren't disabled, but lack the talent to participate in sports at even the competitive high school level.  Think the stereotypical "picked last in gym class" cohort.  Even if this group dedicated several hours a day to practice, they couldn't make the team.  And that makes them a worse student in the eyes of these college admission officials.

That doesn't sound fair to me.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

One step against mass shooters

We live in a society that values fame above all.  People want to be known for something.  At least, they do, until they grow up, and accept the responsibilities of an adult.

Years ago, I wrote the following in a blog post about a series of young adult books that taught the wrong lesson:

Here's an important life lesson that should be communicated to children at all times. Your role in society will probably be something that no one will want to write a book about, or translate to film. Despite that, your life will be successful. You will have a job, good friends, a special someone, a home, a community, interests, and hobbies.

The essential point is that few people will become famous, and children need to learn that as part of growing up.  But this post was written years before YouTube, which allows a much larger number of people to become famous.

Now, what happens if you don't even have the talent to become YouTube famous?

Hopefully, you learned from watching your family, your friends, and the prominent members of your community that none of that is necessary to be successful.

But for those who don't learn that lesson, especially boys who come from broken homes with absent fathers and no strong male figures in their lives?

The mass media is still willing to make them famous, if they commit an act of suitable evil.

But they don't have to do this.

What if the latest mass shooter was referred to in all media coverage by the serial number 20180214-FL-A?  What if, instead of putting the shooter's picture on the broadcast, they instead used an image reduced to block pixels that make an Atari 2600 image look like a Rembrandt portrait?  What if, instead of making a person famous, they treated him like the non-person he was?

What would the next potential mass shooter think?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Geek Culture

Over on Twitter, Mark Kern (involved in the creation of computer games like World of Warcraft, Diablo 2, and Starcraft) had an interesting discussion about how things have changed for geek culture.  With comic book movies dominating the box office and the Internet presenting computer games as a pursuit on par with athletics (e-sports), there are people following these passions who have never seen these as other than mainstream.  And he related his own experiences with being a geek back in the day, when these pursuits were decidedly unpopular.

There were a lot of positive responses, of people sharing their own stories, but as is the case with social media, there were plenty of negative responses--people denying this was a problem, or saying this wasn't real bullying (compared to, say, racial discrimination).

Twitter isn't the right platform for sharing longer stories, so I thought I'd reminisce here.

Back in the day, I was into video games and role-playing games.  Video games were pretty widely played, but this was long before e-sports, and even before popular musicians and athletes talked about video games, so they weren't mainstream.  Other games, comic books, science fiction and fantasy, and the like were even more obscure.  So my interests didn't do anything to make me popular.

What was popular in culture during my junior high school days?  Skater and surfer culture.  Kids who did neither would wear Vans shoes and T-shirts with the logo of some surf company in Hawaii.

And I thought skater and surfer culture was stupid.

Now, to give you an example of what adults thought about my interests?  A junior high school guidance counselor suggested I could be more popular if I just dressed like the popular kids, faking an interest in the dominant culture.

The way I see it, bullying was tolerated.  I won't try comparing its seriousness to something like racial harassment.  However, I will note that if a minority student was being attacked because of his culture, I guarantee you no guidance counselor would suggest he try acting more white.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Analyzing Monsters, Inc.?

One of the things you can't avoid on the Internet is alternate takes about popular media.  One I saw recently was how the classic animated film Monsters, Inc. wasn't a goofy children's tale, but a scathing warning about an evil corporation profiting from forced scarcity!

Sure, you can read it that way, if it fits your politics.  But I can create even more hot takes!

It's a warning about government bureaucracy:  See, Monsters, Inc. is a power plant, so they're a public utility, either a government function or regulated by the government.  Their resistance to looking for energy sources other than children's screams?  It's because it's government work.  No monster will ever get in trouble for doing things the way they've always been done, and no monster is going to stick his neck (or necks) out to take a chance on something new.  Why risk the pension, the corner office, the executive secretary, the reserved parking space, the whole personal fiefdom?

It's a warning about forced societal roles:  Big monsters scare.  That's what they're supposed to do.  Little monsters act in support.  That's the way society is supposed to function.  And some monsters are more than happy to profit off of this arrangement.

See?  Isn't forcing everything to fit your preconceived notions fun?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Privilege redux

I saw someone complain about attractiveness now being described in the language of privilege.

I say, bring it on!  Because, to paraphrase The Incredibles, when everything is privilege, nothing is.

I am privileged to have good teeth.  My teeth came in straight, and I didn't need braces.  Now, having crooked teeth in the U.S. today is a marker of low socioeconomic status, and you might have people judge your intelligence negatively as a result.  And that's a real disadvantage.

But then ask yourself this question: when you're interviewing for a job, what's more important, straight teeth, or having a college degree?

Once every advantage and disadvantage is treated the same, people might just be able to make a reasonable analysis of their own advantages and disadvantages.  For example I would identify my own biggest advantages as intelligence (able to pass college and professional examinations without spending 16 hours a day on the task) and health (physically able to work, rarely getting sick).  My disadvantages are things like height, appearance, and athletic ability.

The subjects normally considered privilege, like skin color, are far less important.

One advantage of calling everything privilege is that someone might actually learn that privilege is bunk.  Imagine a classroom talking about privilege, and filling in the following sentence:

"In 2018, a person who is [    ] is effectively unable to work as [    ]."

In 2018, a person of average physical ability is effectively unable to work in athletics.
In 2018, a person of average height is effectively unable to work as a model.
In 2018, a person of average appearance is effectively unable to work as an actor or McKinsey consultant.
In 2018, a person with an introverted personality is effectively unable to work in sales.
In 2018, a person who is nonwhite is effectively unable to work as... what, now?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Dirtbags. Dirtbags everywhere!

Following the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein story, we've seen a lot more people coming forward to accuse men and women of abuse, in a variety of industries.  One thing I noticed is that a lot of these accusations are against people in industries where leaders and prominent figures are often younger: Hollywood, high tech, Internet journalism, tech journalism, television journalism, and the like.  And these tend to be people with liberal personas.

Here's my interpretation for why that is.  A person in their 30s or 40s experienced the impeachment of President Bill Clinton when younger.  During that time, they saw a man accused by many women for improper behavior, including rape, finally put on trial once incontrovertible evidence of his abuse came out.  And they saw how the media and activists responded.

The people who claimed to care for women supported Bill Clinton unconditionally.

People in their 40s also had the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as a comparison.  Unproven bad language?  Guilty!  Proven workplace harassment?  My hero!

So the worst people learned a valuable lesson.  Say the right things, support the right causes, contribute to the right politicians, and the left will not only excuse any behavior, they will offer to fellate you.  That's the lesson learned by men who view women as objects that exist only to please them: Just claim to be a feminist, and you can get away with any behavior.