Monthly Archives: August 2016

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures LI: Serpent Mother by Night!

In our last installment, our intrepid heroes had just finished preparing Mirror Blaze for an evening of fire excitement!

But first, they went to investigate a new friend, who had told them there would be a show that night:

Serpent Mother, slowly waking up...
Serpent Mother, slowly waking up…

She kindly let them peek inside her closely guarded egg:

What's inside her egg?
What’s inside her egg?

They peered at her feeding depot, lit for safety in the darkness:

Where her food is stored.
Where her food is stored.

And saw with their own eyes the valves which would be opened to feed her the fire:

The feeding valves.
The feeding valves.

The valves were thrown, one of her keepers came to light her breath:

Serpent Mother is fed by her keeper.
Serpent Mother is fed by her keeper.

The flames raced down her spine:

Serpent Mother ablaze and ready for her show!
Serpent Mother ablaze and ready for her show!

She let out a mighty roar!:

Her egg opens, and she lets out a might roar!
Her egg opens, and she lets out a might roar!

Then, it was time for the show to start, the keeper returned, bearing fire extinguisher and Prox Suit[1]:

The show! Serpent Mother finally shares with us what she’s been incubating in that egg so long:

[1]Fire Proximity Suit.

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures L: City Plan, K-9, and Washroom Tiki Bar?

When we last saw our heroes, they had just conquered the Thunderdome, and had gone to visit Serpent Mother as she rested. Our heroes decided to return to camp to regroup and rest for a while, before re-emerging to clean mirrors for the evening’s activities.

Our journey today starts with an interview, specifically the view from inside the interview[1]:

The Interview.
The Interview.

This seemed like a good moment to peruse the map that they had been given during the drive in. Note that the city is organized in concentric circles. The circles are the ‘cross streets’, labeled alphabetically from ‘Arcade’ to ‘Laffing Sal’ (with the innermost being ‘Esplanade’). The ‘spokes’ are numbered as if on a clock, from ‘2:00′ to ’10:00’, with the Man at the center of the clock, and the Temple at 12:00:

Black Rock City 2015, the ring map.
Black Rock City 2015, the ring map.

A recent addition is plazas interspersed amongst the rings, to make it easier to have groups of destination camps away from the Esplanade:

Black Rock City 2015: Note the plazas.
Black Rock City 2015: Note the plazas.

Some important things to know on playa:

Some important things to know on playa.
Some important things to know on playa.

The Hive! That’s us!:

The Hive!  That's us!
The Hive! That’s us!

Totenkitten. Right between 'ToneAge' and 'Toxic Disco Clam':

Totenkitten.  Right between 'ToneAge' and 'Toxic Disco Clam'.
Totenkitten. Right between ‘ToneAge’ and ‘Toxic Disco Clam’.

A mobile tiki bar by the portapotties, of course!

A mobile tiki bar by the portapotties, of course!
A mobile tiki bar by the portapotties, of course!

K-9!:

K-9!
K-9!

An expression of Coyote:

An expression of Coyote.
An expression of Coyote.

I’m not sure if S was commenting on clowns, clown moop, or the fact that the clown nose was blue. Irregardless[1], she was unamused:

"Clown nose?  I am not amused."
“Clown nose? I am not amused.”

Daily mirror cleanings make Mirror Blaze a bright(er) installation!:

Daily mirror cleanings make Mirror Blaze a bright(er) installation!
Daily mirror cleanings make Mirror Blaze a bright(er) installation!

Your challenge of the day! Scrute some of the inscrutable things people draw on fiery, dusty mirrors:

Some of the inscrutable things people draw on fiery, dusty mirrors.
Some of the inscrutable things people draw on fiery, dusty mirrors.

[1]’Irregardless’ will likely also unamuse her.

Burning Man 2015 in Pictures XLIX: Thunderdome and Serpent Mother by Day!

When we last saw our heroes, they had just glimpsed the Thunderdome in the distance:

Like a rain god, S spots the Thunderdome off in the distance!
Like a rain god, S spots the Thunderdome off in the distance!

M & S contemplate the Thunderdome:

M & S contemplate the Thunderdome.
M & S contemplate the Thunderdome.

Looking to the right, our intrepid heroes saw the Death Guild HQ. Luckily, by day, they are at rest[1]. By night, they are one of the most insane groups on playa. (The Thunderdome is not for the unprepared[2].)

To the right, by day, the Death Guild is at rest.
To the right, by day, the Death Guild is at rest.

Climbing things is fun!:

"Climbing things is fun!"
“Climbing things is fun!”

S conquers the THUNDERDOME!:

Having conquered the Thunderdome, S strikes a triumphant pose.
Having conquered the Thunderdome, S strikes a triumphant pose.

Looking further up, they saw the warning sign of NOPE. Not knowing whether it was because of downward falling danger, or equipment, they NOPED out of there.

NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE
NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE

Is it a beacon? Metaphorical trees growing together? Something even weirder?:

Is it a beacon?  Metaphorical trees growing together?  Something even weirder?
Is it a beacon? Metaphorical trees growing together? Something even weirder?

Serpent Mother (Flaming Lotus Girls) is at rest, waiting for nightfall, when she will come alive with fire…:

Serpent Mother is at rest, waiting for nightfall, when she will come alive with fire...
Serpent Mother is at rest, waiting for nightfall, when she will come alive with fire…

Serpent Mother is so long, she doesn't fit in one photo…:

Serpent Mother is so long, she doesn't fit in one photo...
Serpent Mother is so long, she doesn’t fit in one photo…

Serpent Mother's egg. What is she hiding/protecting in there?:

Serpent Mother's egg.  What is she hiding/protecting in there?
Serpent Mother’s egg. What is she hiding/protecting in there?

The fuel depot for Serpent Mother (Flaming Lotus Girls), with a no-nonsense sign:

The fuel depot and 'behind the scenes' for Serpent Mother (Flaming Lotus Girls).
The fuel depot and ‘behind the scenes’ for Serpent Mother (Flaming Lotus Girls).

Intersecting tetrahedral wind chimes!:

Intersecting tetrahedral wind chimes!
Intersecting tetrahedral wind chimes!

[1]For most of the people at Burning Man, the day is a time for sleeping, quiet exploring, or frantically building.

[2]Nor for the unprepare #snekboop.

Burning Man in Pictures 2015 XLVIII: ‘Edal Bump’

When we last saw our heroes, they were flying towards their fiery demise and keeping Curiosity company.

Today, we follow them on their random-walk journey through an eclectic assortment of things that Burning Man has to offer.

First, the (slightly creepy) dancing bears! They seemed just a little *too* happy…:

The (slightly creepy) dancing bears!
The (slightly creepy) dancing bears!

Found! A public service for all of those lost items. Remember, only MOOP[1] is truly lost (and all lost items are MOOP):

Found!  (Only MOOP is truly lost at Burning Man.)
Found! (Only MOOP is truly lost at Burning Man.)

As you may guess, Mad Max is a common decorative theme:

Another example of Mad Max-like architecture.
Another example of Mad Max-like architecture.

This structure seemed to serve as a warning. Our heroes shied away, after being burned by objects like this in the past[2]:

But what it trying to warn you about?
But what it trying to warn you about?

Needing a breather, they stopped at the Steampunk Saloon:

Steampunk Saloon!  (Tents like this are marvelous shade structures.)
Steampunk Saloon! (Tents like this are marvelous shade structures.)

On their way again, they biked along the Esplanade, marveling in the experience:

Riding along the Esplanade, trying to capture the feeling.  (Also, wide 'playa tires' in the foreground.)
Riding along the Esplanade, trying to capture the feeling. (Also, wide ‘playa tires’ in the foreground.)

Along the way, they passed a strangely-named structure, ‘Edal Bump’:

'Edal Bump'.  'What does "Edal Bump" mean?'
‘Edal Bump’. ‘What does “Edal Bump” mean?’

Going slightly further, it made much more sense[3]:

'Ah.  "P-Edal Bump".'
‘Ah. “P-Edal Bump”.’

“Bad Advice”, or “Really Bad Advice”? Which would you choose? Which one would you be more likely to follow? Which would be worse?

Stay clbutty, Burning Man.
Stay clbutty, Burning Man.

And then, in the distance, our heroes spot the destination they didn’t even know they were heading towards, The THUNDERDOME!:

Like a rain god, S spots the Thunderdome off in the distance!
Like a rain god, S spots the Thunderdome off in the distance!

Next time, THE THUNDERDOME! Also, up close and personal with Serpent Mother! Stay tuned!

[1]’Matter Out Of Place’, the reduction of which is central to the ethos of ‘Leave No Trace’, a fundamental ethos of Burning Man. Painstaking inch-by-inch MOOP search and removal is a part of every camp’s responsibility. (Another important part of the ethos is avoiding MOOP, and picking it up anywhere you see it during the festival.)

[2]It does bear an uncanny resemblance to the ‘nuclear waste spike field‘, a hypothetical structure to deal with the very real problem of warning future generations about the problems of nuclear waste.

"‘Spike field’: An early idea from the US Department of Energy in the 1990s. The spikes and their shadows would communicate danger, as would warning signs bearing Edward Munch’s 'The Scream' scattered across the site" - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/db87c16c-4947-11e6-b387-64ab0a67014c.html
“‘Spike field’: An early idea from the US Department of Energy in the 1990s. The spikes and their shadows would communicate danger, as would warning signs bearing Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’ scattered across the site” – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/db87c16c-4947-11e6-b387-64ab0a67014c.html

[3]Not to mention why there were so many bicycles in the area (although there could be many reasons for that at the Burn).

Burning Man in Pictures XLVII: Flying Towards Fiery Demise Through Planetary Golf

In our last post, our intrepid heroes had just visited the fearsome Medusa, and received a whispered quest, which led them to a phage display. This, however, was just the beginning…

The sign promised ‘FIERY DEMISE’. THERE ARE NO JOKES AT BURNING MAN. READ THE BACK OF YOUR TICKET[1]:

FIERY DEMISE.  WE ARE NOT JOKING.
FIERY DEMISE. WE ARE NOT JOKING.

Some important signage about safety considerations, and why it is best to be magnanimous (and possibly fleeing) in victory:

Important safety considerations when flying hydrogen-filled blimps.
Important safety considerations when flying hydrogen-filled blimps.

M surveys the NFPA symbol and ensures that all is in order[2]:

M surveys the NFPA symbol and ensures that all is in order.
M surveys the NFPA symbol and ensures that all is in order.

It not yet being time for a FIERY DEMISE, our intrepid heroes then proceeded to a miniature golfiture course, where they met two interesting capsule friends. It was unclear what they were trying to communicate, but it seemed to have something to do with the binomial theorem:

I'm not sure what these guys were trying to say, but they said it using the Binomial Theorem.
I’m not sure what these guys were trying to say, but they said it using the Binomial Theorem.

The heroes surveyed the course, seeing all of their planetary friends, and OH NO SPACE AMOEBA!:

"It's a nice round of mini-golf with all of our planetary friends, and OH NO SPACE AMOEBA!"
“It’s a nice round of mini-golf with all of our planetary friends, and OH NO SPACE AMOEBA!”

It was time to golf. S stepped up, and carefully aimed the catapult…:

S carefully aims the catapult.
S carefully aims the catapult.

…And carefully observed the progress:

S intently observes what she hath wrought.
S intently observes what she hath wrought.

The ball solved the binomial theorem, as only a non-Zeno-ite could…”

The ball solved the binomial theorem, as only a non-Zeno-ite could...
The ball solved the binomial theorem, as only a non-Zeno-ite could…

…traveling through the rotating planet of music…:

...traveling through the rotating planet of music...
…traveling through the rotating planet of music…

…and coming to a stop at Mars, to keep Curiosity company:

...and coming to a stop at Mars, to keep Curiosity company.
…and coming to a stop at Mars, to keep Curiosity company.

Stay tuned for next time, when we follow our intrepid heroes towards the Death Guild, and the THUNDERDOME!

[1]Read the back of your ticket. Includes such gems as (in bold all-caps) “You voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by attending this event…”

[2]I love NFPA symbols. By their nature, they cannot convey all information, but they convey very important information (and I would argue the most important information) at a glance, on a 0-4 scale. Health (blue), Fire (red), Instability/reactivity (yellow), and ‘Other things you should know’ (white). Note that this is 0-4-0, telling you that this is gaseous hydrogen.

When You Wish Upon a Star…

So, a good friend of mine recently posted the following meme:

Depressing thought...But is it true?
Depressing thought…But is it true?

“According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star….
You’re actually a few million years late.
That star is dead.
Just like your dreams.”

It’s a really depressing thought, perhaps even more depressing than the Nietzsche/Kubrick mashup: “God is dead, and you are alone in an uncaring universe.”[1]

At least with an uncaring universe, something with persist after you are gone. If all the stars are dead before you can even see them, would there even be anything left after we are gone?

But extraordinarily depressing statements require extraordinary evidence. So let’s take this sentence apart and define some things.

First: “According to astronomy” means that we get to (and have to) use astronomy in our proof or disproof. It also likely refers to modern astronomy, as it did not specify a time/technology period. (It may be interesting to see if any answers would be different under astronomy from a different time period, but that will be a secondary investigation.)

Second: “when you wish upon a star….” has a few different readings. The phrase seems to come (at least most recently) from the song written for Disney’s Pinnochio. In that movie, Gepetto says the following:


Look! A wishing star!

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight…

I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I make tonight.

This is an ‘English language nursery rhyme’ first published in the late 19thC (Wikipedia).

Interestingly, it seems to refer to ‘shooting or falling stars’, or meteors. These would certainly be ‘dead’ (as they are vaporizing in the atmosphere during the ‘wish’, but not for ‘millions of years'[2], as the distance from the viewer to the meteor can be measured in tens or hundreds of kilometers, an insignificant time light distance[3].

But going back to “When you wish upon a star, the meme-maker seems to be clearly referring to the 1940 Disney song and film. Looking at the occurrences of this song in the film:

At 0:34, you can see the image of Gepetto wishing upon the star:

The star is clearly stationary, as can also be seen in the reprise at the end of the film, where Jiminy Cricket is looking upon the same star, still unmoving:

So, this restricts us to the realm of non-moving (or slowly-moving) celestial objects[4]. From the film, the star also seems significantly brighter than the surrounding stars, but the exact extent to which this is true could be dramatic license.

The rhyme mentions ‘first star I see tonight’, which also suggests that the celestial object seen is unusually bright.

So, non-moving (or slowly moving) celestial objects which are bright. This leaves us with comets, planets, and bright stars[4][5].

Comets are objects orbiting through the solar system, and unless they fall into the sun, impact another body, or otherwise breakup, they tend to go on ‘living’ after we see them. (Halley’s comet has been known since at least 240BC.)

Planets could easily look like stars, often like unusually bright stars. Venus was called the ‘evening star‘[6] since antiquity, and it would be bright enough (up to apparent magnitude -4.9) to be significantly brighter than anything else in the sky. Venus could be considered ‘dead’ because it may have once supported life before a runaway greenhouse effect millions of years ago, but this seems an unlikely metaphorical interpretation. Mercury (up to apparent magnitude -2.45) would also be significantly brighter than anything but Venus (and the moon and sun), but has never been ‘alive’, being too close to the Sun[7]. Mars (up to apparent magnitude -2.91) could have been alive at some point, in the same vein as Venus. One or more of the moons of Jupiter (up to apparent magnitude -1.61) or Saturn[8] (up to apparent magnitude 1.47) could have been home to life, under this same metaphorical definition. (The other planets and other bodies in the solar system are too dim to ever be a ‘bright star’.)

So, a planet could be a metaphorical source for this quote, but this seems unlikely, as the quote seems to be referring to the fact that the celestial object is no longer emitting the light itself.

This leaves us with bright stars. Looking at the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (up to apparent magnitude -1.46), it[9] is only about 8.6 light years away, so we would know in less than a decade if something were to happen there.

The next 91[10] brightest stars are listed here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_brightest_stars

You will note that even the furthest among these, Deneb is still only 2600 light years away, much closer than the ‘few million years’ mentioned above.

Based on all this evidence, it would seem that the original meme:

“According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star….
You’re actually a few million years late.
That star is dead.
Just like your dreams.”

is false, which is good, because it would be super-depressing otherwise.

If you enjoyed this sojurn through astronomy, you may like the rest of my blog. Comment below with things you want me to talk about or investigate!

[1]If you have a better source for this, please let me know.

[2]If you want to be pedantic (and I know you do), you could say that meteors are the dead husks of possible (or tidally destroyed) planets, and their burning up in the atmosphere is hundreds of millions of years after they ‘died’.

[3]Much less than a second, even if you assume they impact the Earth’s atmosphere thousands of kilometers away.

[4]A close supernova might also qualify, as it could easily be brighter than anything else in the night sky, would last just long enough to be a ‘wishing star’, and would have been ‘dead’ for some time before it was seen by a human observer. This might indeed be source of this rhyme, where a ‘guest star‘ could inspire wishing and omens. However, looking at this list of supernovae, any supernova which would have been visible as a ‘bright star’ with the naked eye would be at most tens or hundreds of thousands of light years away, not qualifying for the ‘few million years’ mentioned above. I also personally see supernovae more as a seeding of the galaxy with heavier elements, and thus wishing upon one of these would be wishing that the spreading of heavier elements would inspire life to form elsewhere in the universe.

[5]I see no way that any reasonable person could confuse the Sun or Moon with a ‘wishing star’.

[6]Interestingly, the Babylonians had figured out that the ‘evening star’ and the ‘morning star’ were one and the same. It took the Greeks a significant amount of time to discover this themselves, calling them ‘Phosphorus’ and ‘Hesperus’. How many times have there been such dark ages, where knowledge needs to be rediscovered? Was there a Greek ‘renaissance’, or were the Babylonian star charts lost until modern archaeology? Did mere dregs survive to inspire subsequent scientific revolutions?

[7]…unless there was life along the terminator, at some point in the past…

[8]Or [spoiler alert]:

One of the planets themselves!

[9]They, really, as Sirius is a double star, but that is outside the scope of this post.

[10]93, including the Sun, Sirius and the next 91 of magnitude 2.5 or greater.

Trolley Problem Memes

Trigger warning: Conversation and possibly dark humour about fictional (and possibly not-so-fictional) people dying in car and train accidents.

How do you design a self-driving car to appropriately value human life? Can you use a Facebook group to speed the development of philosophical discourse?

The ‘Trolley Problem‘ is a problem in ethics, first known to be described in its modern form in the early 1950s. Basically, it boils down to the question:

If you have a choice between action and inaction, where both will cause harm, but your action will harm fewer people, is it moral to perform that action?

Interestingly, people answer this question differently, based on how active the action of harm is, the ratio of people hurt between the choices of action and inaction, and other reasons.

The astute will notice that this type of decision problem is a very common one, the most obvious being in military applications, but also vaccines (and invasive health procedures in general), firebreaks, and perhaps the canonical example, automobile design and manufacturing.

This type of decision making has become even more important with the advent of self-driving cars:

Would you drive a car that would choose to drive you into a brick wall rather than run over five pedestrians?

Overall, you would think that this would reduce your risk of fatality, but few people would choose that car, likely because it is a classic prisoner’s dilemma[1][2].

What is your self-driving car's ethical system?
What is your self-driving car’s ethical system?

Personally, I think that much of this conversation is sophistry[3]. If one is truly interested in preserving life, the solution is not to convince self-driving cars to kill different people, but perhaps to have more stringent driving training requirements, to invest in fixing known problem intersections, to invest in better public transit.

So, if these conversations are not useful for anything else, they must be useful in and of themselves, and therefore must be Philosophy[4]!

One of the places that these conversations are occurring is the ‘Trolley Problems Memes Facebook page‘[5].

Now, you can argue that this page is purely for entertainment, but I think there’s a lot more hidden there. There is a fomenting and interchange of ideas, much faster and more fluidly than at any time in history. The person who writes the next book[6] on the ethics of decision making could well be influenced by or be an avid user of a site such as this one.

They may have started with Rick-rolling, but image macros are helping the advancement of human knowledge. Stew on that one for a while.

And while you’re thinking about that, something which ties it all together[7]:

"The creator might argue that his robot is an 'individual', capable of his own decisions, while the opposition would say that he (the creator) is responsible for the algorithm that led to the action. Imagine this happening - it would give birth to one of the greatest on-court debates ever." From Patrice Leiteritz via Trolley Problem Memes
“The creator might argue that his robot is an ‘individual’, capable of his own decisions, while the opposition would say that he (the creator) is responsible for the algorithm that led to the action. Imagine this happening – it would give birth to one of the greatest on-court debates ever.” From Patrice Leiteritz via Trolley Problem Memes

[1]If everyone cooperates, overall they will receive a better result, but if any one of them betrays the others, they get an even better result, but everyone else’s result is much worse. This theoretically leads everyone to betray everyone else, leading to everyone having a worse overall outcome.

[2]People also like the feeling of control.

[3]Check out the article. Apparently, the Sophists were the first (recorded) right-wing think tanks.

[4]My undergrad Philosophy 101 prof. made the argument that because philosophy was not useful for anything else, it must be inherently be useful (and that that was better).

[5]Dark humour. You have been warned.

[6]And it might not even be a book! A blog post, even! 😀

[7]Not a deliberate pun.

The Hollowed-Out Middle America

This presidential election has been described as a new realignment[1] of American politics, where social pressures mount so high that demagogues[2] appear, and politicians abruptly shift to actually mirror their constituents for a time.

First Bernie Sanders appeared[3], giving voice to the frustrations and the hope for change felt by Millenials and others who had been left behind by globalization and the regulatory capture by the banks.

Later emerged Donald Trump, who gave voice to the anger felt by blue collar white workers, who felt betrayed by decades of free trade and globalization/outsourcing/immigration[4] policies, exacerbated by trends towards more and more automation.

But they are really railing against the same issues (and these are very real issues), which is some of the reasons[5] why so many Bernie supporters are moving to Trump, even though Hilary and the Democrats[6] have basically adopted Bernie’s platform.

Much of why Trump has found such fertile ground is that *both* parties have been ignoring Middle America for decades, as Michael Brendan Dougherty says:

“To simplify Francis’ theory: There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.”

To me, it seems that in general, anger comes from frustrated expectations, often expectations that are not conscious, where people are not encouraged to really look at the forces in play keeping their way of life the way it is. Then, when one or more of these forces change, life suddenly changes, and you get anger. (It could also be because people know exactly what is causing things, they’ve been electing politicians who say they will fix things, but never actually do, so eventually the people get angry.)

One thing I’d never really thought about (in such words) was that Middle America was really a class protected by political forces (Michael Brendan Dougherty quoting Francis):


Middle American forces, emerging from the ruins of the old independent middle and working classes, found conservative, libertarian, and pro-business Republican ideology and rhetoric irrelevant, distasteful, and even threatening to their own socio-economic interests. The post World War II middle class was in reality an affluent proletariat, economically dependent on the federal government through labor codes, housing loans, educational programs, defense contracts, and health and unemployment benefits. All variations of conservative doctrine rejected these…

and it was inevitable that this would wane, but it was in few politicians’ interest to actually confront and solve the problems.

So, here we are. Maybe, with Hillary adopting Bernie’s platform, things will get better, and we’ll work together to solve some of these problems. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the realignment works itself out.

(This other linked story talks about how the Democrats are becoming the party of globalization, as the Republicans become the party of isolationism, where):

“This difference in worldviews maps neatly into differences in policy. Nationalists support immigration and trade deals only if they improve the living standards of citizens of the nation. For the new, globally minded progressives, the mere well-being of American workers is not a good enough reason to oppose immigration or trade liberalization. It’s an argument that today’s progressive globalists have borrowed from libertarians: immigration or trade that depresses the wages of Americans is still justified if it makes immigrants or foreign workers better off.

[snip]

Likewise, the current opposition of many Democratic politicians to free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the residual influence of declining manufacturing unions within the party According to a March 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, Democratic voters believe that free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are almost reversed: by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, a majority of Republicans believe free-trade has been a bad thing. Among younger Americans, who tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, support for free trade is high: 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say trade agreements are good for the country. Even progressives who campaign against trade deals feel obliged by the logic of ethical cosmopolitanism to justify their opposition in the name of the labor rights of foreign workers or the good of the global environment.

[1]Or perhaps the end of a 50-year-long realignment.

[2]Trump for sure, but remember that Bernie Sanders appeared first, in his quiet(er) way, giving voice to the frustrations of many. In a way, both sides of the same coin, hope and fear.

[3]Yes, I know he’d been saying the same things for decades, but that was the first I’d ever heard of him.

[4]As Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in The Week:

“Chinese competition really did hammer the Rust Belt and parts of the great Appalachian ghetto. It made the life prospects for men — in marriage and in their careers — much dimmer than those of their fathers. Libertarian economists, standing giddily behind Republican politicians, celebrate this as creative destruction even as the collateral damage claims millions of formerly-secure livelihoods, and — almost as crucially — overall trust and respect in the nation’s governing class. Immigration really does change the calculus for native-born workers too. As David Frum points out last year:

[T]he Center for Immigration Studies released its latest jobs study. CIS, a research organization that tends to favor tight immigration policies, found that even now, almost seven years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans are working than in November 2007, the peak of the prior economic cycle. Balancing the 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans at work, there are two million more immigrants — legal and illegal — working in the United States today than in November 2007. All the net new jobs created since November 2007 have gone to immigrants. Meanwhile, millions of native-born Americans, especially men, have abandoned the job market altogether. [The Atlantic]


For decades, people have been warning that a set of policies that really has enriched Americans on the top, and likely has improved the overall quality of life (through cheap consumables) on the bottom, has hollowed out the middle.

[5]The other reasons are generally sexism.

[6]This would either be a terrific or terrible band.

This is What Privilege Feels Like…

This is what privilege feels like…

So, I was walking down the street at lunch today, and I had been walking behind someone for a while. We got to a point where I could pass them, and suddenly I was passing them like they were standing still.

Normally, I would think nothing of this, as it’s happened too many times to count. But thinking about it, I really hadn’t sped up that much. It *must[1]* have been that the other person, sensing that I wanted to pass, read my small signals, and slowed down so that I could pass more easily. Not thinking about it, or even noticing it, I took them up on it.

When you’re walking or driving, these little non-vocalized communications are essential for safe movement of traffic.

Outside of that, when someone defers to you and you don’t even notice?

That is what privilege feels like.

[1]It is entirely possible that the person became uncomfortable with someone following them[2], and let them pass for that reason. The privilege argument above still holds if the follower who is stood aside for does not notice, or bulls through anyway.

[2]The case above was around noon, outside on a busy street in an affluent neighbourhood. But I know that I don’t like it when people follow close behind me, and perceptions can vary.

The Oft-Hidden Fringe Benefit of a Liberal Arts Education

“In retrospect, it was so cheap. Only 30,000 a year for people to care about your opinion on art history!”

http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/final-exam-dram

How does it affect the world to have people in school be told that their (often wrong and terrible) opinions matter? That someone actually cares about their ideas? How does this affect issues of privilege?

Even before grade inflation and students’ expectation of full feedback, students would perform work, someone from the establishment (TA or prof.) would peruse the work, and assign some sort of grade, sometimes with suggestions on how to improve.

But this is not generally true outside of undergrad classes. Questions are not so well defined, answers are often illusory, and generally many fewer people immediately care about the quality of one’s work.

Learning to accept these, I feel, is an important part of growing up. Teaching classes where things are not so well defined is inherently more difficult, and is generally reserved for extremely small class sizes. Illusory answers, or avoiding the ‘easy answer’ can also be difficult for many, as it requires significant introspection. This introspection can also be directed more easily in extremely small class sizes. One also needs to internalize the importance of the quality of one’s work, which is more difficult when someone in power is watching every assignment/essay/exam that one writes.

“No, it was a fantasy. All of those people cared about the quality of my work. Everything mattered so much.”

Perhaps marking of exams and essays persuades people to focus on the minutiae[1], rather than striking out[2] and saying something truly novel and interesting in the ‘real world’ that people actually care about. But maybe it’s important to have small, provable ideas.

But back to the original question. Is it a good or a bad thing to pay money for someone to care about your opinions on art history?

Those with more money can effectively pay to be seen as more important, those with less are forced into other disciplines, or more precarious positions.

At the same time, those in positions of less privilege may find it beneficial to have anyone at all in a position of power care about their writings[3].

“Everything mattered so much.”

When everything matters so much, it can disguise what is actually important[4], but it can also help find new important new things not discoverable by normal methods[5].

Thoughts? Comment below!

[1]I’m not going to address how formal education enhances conformity, that’s a well-known first-order effect.

[2]In this context, ‘striking out’ is an amusing auto-antonym.

[3]Although it can probably be even more devastating if those people in positions of power say that their writings are bad or unimportant.

[4]Analogy: Human civilization changing which traits are passed down.

[5]Analogy: Simulated Annealing.