A GeoGuessr Country Mystery

When you play GeoGuessr in either Battle Royale: Countries mode or Country Streak mode, you never get Taiwan and Palestine, despite the fact that when you play in other modes, you can get locations in Taiwan and Palestine. To me, the fact that the precise set of countries you cannot get in specifically the modes of play that involve the word “Country” are these two makes it very clear GeoGuessr’s intention is to specifically avoid implying that certain entities are countries in ways that would anger certain governments, presumably because they want to avoid being shut down in some way for some reason or qualify for certain advertising.

To me, this conclusion seems obvious given the evidence, but it is a conclusion that runs counter to something else. In the two modes mentioned above, South Korea is given as “South Korea” and North Korea is given as “Korea”. If GeoGuessr was to avoid angering certain government, what government that GeoGuessr would care about wants North Korea listed as “Korea”?

I cannot resolve this mystery. There’s not really many other possible explanations for this. Suppose GeoGuessr imported its country list from a third party. Well, what third party lists North Korea as “Korea” while listing South Korea as “South Korea”? And if this was a mistake rather than intentional, why is this a mistake that takes years to fix?

Twitter Addendum

Since I published the post of iconic and historic tweets, several people have mentioned to me some important historic tweets that I overlooked and omitted, and I have added them to the post. One important tweet that was mentioned to me, though, was the following:

(direct link: https://twitter.com/thatfrood/status/1335689951640494080)

I decided to make this a separate post rather than edit the original post because this tweet is such an actually excellent thing to come out of Twitter that I do not feel right putting it along with so many tweets that are iconic for the ways in which they exemplify the caustic garbage emblematic of Twitter. (To be clear as to what I’m saying: I don’t claim all of the tweets in the original post are terrible, merely that a lot of them are examples of how much iconicity in Twitter is so often someone espousing such ridiculous, insane, or amazingly stupid ideas and means of discussion that it’s hilarious. Some of the tweets in the original post are just nicely humorous or notable moments in Twitter history. But the tweet I’m mentioning in this post, this is just such a wonderful thing to come from that awful, awful site.)

“Denazification”

Vladimir Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in part by claiming a campaign of “denazification”. This is transparently a made-up excuse.

Notable, though, is the American media response to this claim. From mainstream media outlets to political talk shows, it seems for most reporters, either the only retort or the main retort they claimed was “Ukraine’s president is Jewish”. The fact that this is the most prominent means of debunking is concerning, and it’s also concerning few people seem to see this as concerning.

Consider those for which “Ukraine’s president is Jewish” is their only point against Russia’s claim of “denazification”. Suppose Russia instead invaded an Ukraine with a non-Jewish president. What would these people be saying then? “I guess Russia’s claim is valid.”? In fact, suppose Israel initiated a military campaign against Palestinians under the justification of “denazification”. Would the American media just excuse everything Isr…oh wait a minute. Everything makes sense.

(It’s worth noting, by the way, that once Benjamin Netanyahu has in fact claimed that it was actually a Palestinian mufti that gave Hitler the idea to exterminate Jews.)

It’s also worth noting that certain sociopathic corners of the political discourse have claimed the presence of the Azov Battalion in Ukraine makes Russia’s claim hold water, strawmanning the position of the general Ukrainian populace to a marginal paramilitary group, as if the presence of fringe Neo-Nazi groups in a country justifies Russian invasion.

The past few years in political discourse have witnessed the dilution of Godwin’s Law, from all segments of the political spectrum. If Putin had made his claim 8 years ago, most Americans would have probably had the correct response: the “denazification” claim is so absurd and clearly bullshit it does not deserve the respect of being addressed. If someone is calling some people Nazis and those people aren’t these fuckers, that someone should be laughed off stage by default. If people want to claim others to be Nazis, the burden of proof is on them to prove such a level of odiousness. Make it clear: someone is that far off of reality, in a way that’s probably not in good faith. And particularly don’t bother to take the accusation seriously if the defense you were going to make implicitly cedes the possibility space of the invasion of a country if its president wasn’t Jewish.

The Cruelty of Empathy

Don’t you prefer an empathetic person to one that isn’t? Someone who remembers to consider the thoughts and feelings of other people? Someone who makes sure to craft policy with a kind heart? This concept has entered the discourse of nearly everyone these days. It seems everyone is pro-empathy. What’s not to love?

This past Feb. 24, Russia launched an unjustified, indefensible, and hyperbolic military invasion of Ukraine. According to most sources, thousands have already died in the violence and millions of Ukrainians, their lives abruptly uprooted, became refugees.

If you were in most American communities, you could feel the people around you, in one form or another, expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s brutal shattering of the peace. Pretty much every mainstream American news source broadcasted the suffering of the Ukrainians extensively. It’s good to know that American society is an empathetic one, that cares about people all around the world.

That’s why Americans have also likewise expressed their grave sympathies to the millions of Iraqi people devastated by the Iraq War, including hundreds of thousands of civilians that were killed, right?

…wait, they didn’t, at all? People didn’t wave the Iraqi flag in solidarity with the civilians getting killed? There was no recurring news coverage of the plight of the Iraqis?

Maybe that was back then and 20 years later, this is a kinder time. People have also expressed deep sympathies with the Yemeni victims of the Saudi indiscriminate war funded by the United States…oh, almost every American has been completely silent on this as well?

There’s a clear difference between these latter situations and the Russian invasion of Ukraine: in Iraq’s case, America was the aggressor. And in Yemen’s case, America funded the aggressor. The victims in the latter cases are them.

But we are people who value empathy, right? Surely, we are people who consider the plight of innocent, everyday civilians something of important emotional consideration regardless of the geopolitical placement of the governments that are outside of their reach.

We like to tell ourselves that. And this is where most people that are against militarily aggressive American geopolitics will accuse the media of manufacturing consent among the American people, causing them to pick favorites for who is deserving of their empathy, and where I disagree. My claim is that the mainstream American media indeed grossly disproportionately expresses sympathies for certain groups of people over others, but this display is, rather than a manipulation of the people, a reflection of the actual “empathy” of most of the people.

Sometimes, the media itself actually interviews a person who demonstrates the true inner workings of the empathy. This is, of course, just a few examples, of which several people involved are probably not Americans, but if you are American and pay close attention to the details of the discussion of disasters and tragedies by those around you, in most cases you should be able to notice that consistently there are parts of the world in which 1000 people dying does not get half the tears shed as 10 people dying in another part of the world. The average American has an empathy hierarchy that is more or less approximately as follows:

  1. the United States itself
  2. developed Anglophone countries
  3. non-Anglophone Western Europe and Israel
  4. Latin America
  5. Eastern Europe
  6. East Asia
  7. Everywhere Else

where the same level of tragedy happening to someone in a country higher up on this list consistently tugs at more heartstrings than someone in a country lower down on this list, and for which individual countries within these regions often move up or down this list depending on whether they are geopolitically aligned with the United States. Of course, people all over the world exhibit their own empathy hierarchies in different orders, and I actually expect the hierarchies in most countries to have wider gaps than in the United States, but, and here’s the point, here in America, we style ourselves the fair justice-bringers of the world, and tell ourselves we are the empathetic people. Our soldiers were in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring justice and liberty, so we told ourselves.

This seems like a good place to pause and make some disclaimers. I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider the kindness expressed to the Ukrainian people a good thing, and in no way am I trying to downplay the severe hardships Ukrainians have needed to suffer through. Disgusting publications like the Daily Beast will publish headlines like “It’s Good to Be a White Refugee”; no, it is not, it’s usually slightly better to be a White refugee than a non-White refugee, but good fucking grief, it still involves being a refugee. What I am wishing for is that the kindness towards victims of war is not so drastically conditional on where in the world a people are from, and what I am condemning is the current trend of embracing empathy, when this is what the American empathy is. Many Americans like to say they care deeply about all people, which they do…until the people are not the right people, which they don’t even notice they exclude. I in fact think one of the best indicators of whether someone is really marginalized is how much skepticism they display towards the value of empathy, because the truly marginalized are those that know that what most people mean by that word does not include them.

You might now be saying “my empathy is not like this though; I care about all the humans”. Okay, so side point, then main point. A lot of people like to think of themselves as empathetic and do not realize that there actually are people they barely care about. In the majority of cases, this isn’t what’s going on, and I’d like to make that assertion without making any accusations towards you specifically. I think it’s quite important to entertain the possibility that someone is, in fact, actually fair in their application of kindness and thoughts and to remember the benefit of the doubt, which can be done while pointing out population-wise tendencies. But main point: even if you are in fact “complete” in your application of empathy, you should realize that the people all around you aren’t, and you cannot make the assertion that empathy should be a central value of politics in a democracy when the “incompletely” empathetic people around you don’t view themselves as unempathetic; to them, what they apply is empathy. Regardless of your personal take, to the typical American, empathy includes a lack of political objection to supporting Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

This brings us to the most recent application of empathy to politics. Upon Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, much of the countries of “the West” chose to retaliate against Russia by levying numerous brutal sanctions. The sanctions came in many forms, some of which are a good response, and some of which are frankly despicable. In a particularly egregious case, Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from the Paralympics. Eric Swalwell, Democratic Party Representative of California’s 15th District and perennial demagogue, even proposed that American universities should expel its Russian students. Clearly, the banning of Paralympic athletes and Russian students in American universities hurt Russian people more than the Russian government, so how did these ideas come about, and the first one implemented? Those in power in “the West” rode the wave of empathy and felt the emotional need to apply the feelings or sorrow they had for the Ukrainian people into condemning Russia, in the form of hurting Russian people, who had no part in launching the invasion of Ukraine. The effect of geopolitical alignment I mentioned above is in full force here: due to an action by the Russian government, the American people have defenestrated the full Russian populace from empathy. (By the way, guess what isn’t sanctioned yet? Russian oil. That’s right, whatever values underlie the choice of what sanctions to levy on Russia prioritized numerous items before oil.)

If this is not convincing to you, imagine if in response to the American invasion of Iraq*, disabled American athletes got banned from the Paralympics and political leaders in other countries called for American students studying abroad to be booted. By the way, if you’re an American and it was completely unclear to you what was unjustifiable about certain sanctions against Russia until this analogy is mentioned, thanks for helping to demonstrate the reality of “empathy”, the supposed feeling for others’ points of view, by not being able to understand the injustice until presented with the hypothetical when it is about you.

*I am taking it for granted here for the validity of the comparison that you agree that the American invasion of Iraq was completely unjustified and indefensible, which most Americans now believe (but, importantly, most Americans back then did not believe). If you still don’t agree on this, I guess we have other problems to sort out.

In fact, I think the analogy I just presented is slightly unfair—against the Russian people. I would argue that punishing the people of a democracy for the actions of its leaders is more justified than punishing the people of an authoritarian regime, who do not have the means of input towards the content of its government. It’s still not justified, because subjects of a democracy still don’t have fine control on their government’s actions, but it sure is closer to reasonable than the latter. (And no, you don’t get to use the “America is not really a democracy” defense here: polling near the start of the Iraq War consistently showed a strong majority of the American public in support of the invasion.) There’s a small proportion of people that are pushing for a recognition of a difference between the Russian government and the Russian people, and I’m glad they’re emphasizing that, but I want to note a point they often bring up: “many of these Russian people are against the war and protesting it”. I’d propose the line should actually be drawn substantially further than there. Even an everyday Russian citizen that takes a neutral stance does not deserve the retaliation of brutal sanctions. Ordinary citizens simply should not even have to answer for the actions of their governments under the threat of economic devastation.

Feelings are not a substitute for fairness. If you guide politics with empathy, it should be unsurprising that your politics lead you to telling disabled athletes they’re not allowed to compete due to an action of their government, because even if your empathy tells you this is wrong, it should be clear to you the empathy of those around you supports this. Decisions should be guided with objectivity, a direct comparison of actual, measurable outcomes. Ordinary people should not suffer the wrath of ridiculous sanctions, regardless of your feelings towards those people’s government. Every civilian killed in war is a travesty anywhere on earth, regardless of where a people’s empathy extends. Of course, people who oppose objectivity will say “but people who claim objectivity often fail to meet it themselves”. And, yes, defenders of objectivity indeed sometimes fail to recognize the passing of their personal biases as objectivity, as opposed to the defenders of empathy constantly passing large differences in response and solidarity as empathy. The thing about objectivity is that you could ask for the receipts—which objective standards are being measured up against, and tell when people are in fact lacking objectivity, because the crucial distinction is in rejecting “this action is empathetic” and “this is what someone with the right heart would do” as an end-all. And if you see a leader of a democratic institution as lacking empathy, it is probably because that leader reflects the empathy of the people.

Pothole

There is a pothole in the road.

A conservative looks at the pothole. The conservative offers thoughts and prayers that the pothole will go away. If it doesn’t, the pothole must be intended by divinity and it’s probably best not to mess with it.

A liberal looks at the pothole. The liberal goes and buys a t-shirt with a catchy, trendy anti-pothole slogan and sticks an anti-pothole sign on the front lawn. Months later, the liberal votes against using a new, more pothole-resistant material in the construction of roads because the new material is aesthetically against the character of the neighborhood.

A socialist looks at the pothole. The socialist points out that while we could fill our potholes in, we ought to consider constructing our roads with different materials that end up with far fewer potholes. It turns out, though, that the different material produces just as many potholes, which could’ve been avoided by consulting an expert on road materials, but it’s too risky to heed so-called experts’ advice; you don’t know which experts are in the pockets of corporations.

A libertarian looks at the pothole. The libertarian sees the pothole as a sign of freedom. The taste of true freedom is the taste of paying so few taxes to the government that it is unable to pay for workers to fix potholes. If only the government would make it legal to drive on the other side of the road, no one would complain about potholes.

A communist looks at the pothole. The communist points out that there exist people who do not have the luxury of having roads, a bourgeois decadence. For the sake of equity, they ought to be redistributed so everyone has some fraction of a road, though on second thought, they carry the evil of potholes, so maybe it’s better if the institution of roads is dismantled entirely.

A fascist looks at the pothole. The fascist is happy the world comes with roadblocks to weed out the unworthy among the populace. In particular, the capability to dodge potholes is specifically the defining trait of a superior individual.

A minarchist looks at the pothole. The minarchist consults the local laws and notices there exist no laws against potholes. The minarchist wonders if potholes aren’t illegal why people have issues with them.

An anarchist looks at the pothole. The anarchist yells into the general crowd that someone ought to fix the pothole, but makes sure no one feels coerced by any institution to fix it. Months later, the anarchist is furious that no one has stepped up to fix the pothole.

YouTube Channel Updates

The last four videos on TwoLambdaPlusBlack were recorded using a substantially better microphone than the one that came with the Document Camera that I used previously. I have gotten some feedback that the audio is substantially better. Here’s some links to the new videos with better audio.

North American Coasts: A Latitude Illusion

The Loneliest Road in America

How to See the UK while Standing in the US

Solar Eclipses

These new videos also come with YouTube chapters.

Spoil Everything: a Media Boycott/Time Management Strategy

The following statements are true about me:

  • I feel like I spend too much time watching entertainment media, and want more time to do other things.
  • I am increasingly angry about the way American entertainment media portrays many groups, including groups that I’m in.
  • I find many of the companies in charge of a lot of media morally repugnant.

As for the last item, I particularly want to point out the Walt Disney Company, which now owns, among other things, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and 21st Century Fox, or in other words, a testament to how dysfunctional American anti-trust law enforcement is in the modern day. Just being as monopolistic of a corporation as Disney now itself is already deserves moral condemnation, but beyond that Disney is a perennial copyright abuser, treats its staff very poorly, and turns out to have contributed $10.5 million to Donald Trump’s 2nd presidential campaign, more than almost any other corporation. I have chosen to completely boycott Disney; I’ll not giving them a cent of my money, and I’d encourage you to do so as well. It could be quite tough—boycotting Disney involves consuming no Disney films, no Marvel films, no Star Wars films, etc. But I assure you, it’s doable; I’m doing so right now.

But what if a film, Disney or not, sounds really good to me and I’m going to be really tempted to watch it?

Here’s the solution: as soon as the film comes out, I go to Wikipedia and read the plot summary, fully spoiling the film for me, thus allowing me to comfortably not give any money to the film company, and saving me the time I would’ve spent watching the film.

What I expect to end up doing is to file film entertainment media into three bins:

Bin #1: Neverwatch
This is where everything I’m confident in my entire life I will never be interested goes. Because I’m not interested, I don’t even have to deal with the temptation to watch, I don’t even go to Wikipedia to read plot summaries, and I save even that time. For instance, the entirety of anime goes here, as does most of the DC cinematic universe. In fact, the vast majority of entertainment media should end up here.

Bin #2: Instaspoil
The vast majority of the rest of entertainment media ends up here. This will include films from the past I’ve never watched but feel like I might get the temptation to watch, like Avatar or the Toy Story films. Films from the future by default end up here.

Bin #3: Rarities
I will allow myself one film every two years to be added to this bin. These are films that seem interesting enough to me that I’m willing to wait for an opportunity to watch it unspoiled and potentially willing to spend money on. I will never watch these in a cinema, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Films from companies I boycott, like Disney, cannot end up in this bin: if I really, really want to watch it, it instead ends up in Instaspoil.

My US Political Candidate Rubric

I have decided that I will now judge US political candidates on a pre-set rubric of 34 specific items. The rubric is given in full, below, and is in total out of 200 points.

Scoring guide:
[ stance against / stance unclear or neutral / stance for ]
[ false / true ]
[ quantitatively evaluated or judged…scale ]

Climate Change and Science [ /48 ]
[ 0 / 1 / 6 ] I consider climate change a serious problem, that must be acted on immediately.
[ 0 / 3 / 11 ] I will work to end subsidization of fossil fuel companies.
[ 0 / 2 / 8 ] I support taxes or other disincentivizations of greenhouse gas emissions.
[ 0 / 3 / 11 ] I recognize and will work to promote nuclear energy as the best way to quickly shift our energy dependence to renewables.
[ 0 / 1 / 6 ] I support taxes or other disincentivizations on emissions-intensive livestock farming.
[ 0 / 6 ] I have experience in professional science or in science education.

Geopolitics [ /36 ]
[ 0 / 3…7 ] I will work to end as many relations with Saudi Arabia as possible.
[ 0 / 2…6 ] I will work to end as many relations with Japan as possible.
[ 0 / 2 / 4 ] As for political leaders who knowingly lied to bring the United States to war or knowingly failed to prevent the death of civilians, I will support trying them for war crimes.
[ 0 / 2 / 9 ] I will refuse to support initiating new wars.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I choose to refer to Taiwan as the “Republic of China” or “Taiwan”, not “Chinese Taipei” or “Taiwan, Province of China”.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I affirm the rights of both Israel and Palestine to be sovereign nations.
[ 0 / 1 / 4 ] I will oversee that the US is responsible for taking care of refugees caused by actions the United States took.

Fair Meritocracy [ /62 ]
[ 0 / 8 ] I refuse campaign contributions from billionaires.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I will work to cause capital gains to be not taxed less than income.
[ 0…6 ] I advocate a wealth tax of at least 6% on billionaires or an effectively equivalent tax.
[ 0…6 ] I advocate an estate tax of at least 60% on estates in excess of $10 million.
[ 0 / 1 / 9 ] I will work to eliminate the privilege of religions to tax breaks.
[ 0 / 1 / 9 ] I will work to eliminate public funding of sports teams whose owners are multimillionaires.
[ 0 / 2 / 6 ] I recognize the formation of a universal basic income, not the raising of the minimum wage, as the right solution to financial ills in an increasingly automated society.
[ 0 / 3 / 6 ] I will work towards replacing property taxes with land value taxes.
[ 0 / 1 / 6 ] I will work to block corporations from becoming mass landlords.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I will work to fund public transportation.

Implicit Values in Recognition [ /18 ]
[ 0 / 1 / 6 ] I will work to either eliminate Columbus Day as a federal holiday or to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day instead.
[ 0 / 1 / 6 ] I will work to eliminate Christmas as a federal holiday, and to prevent other religion-specific holidays from becoming federal holidays.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I will work towards removing “IN GOD WE TRUST” from all American currency.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I will work towards removing “under God” from the official Pledge of Allegiance.

Health, Family, and Society [ /18 ]
[ 0 / 2 / 8 ] I will work towards the implementation of an affordable universal healthcare system.
[ 0 / 1 / 4 ] I will work towards universal availability of birth control.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I support the right of same-sex couples to adopt children.
[ 0 / 1 / 3 ] I support tax credits towards people who take care of children.

Exclusivity and Accessibility of Politics [ /18 ]
[ 0 / 6 / 8 ] I will work to expand free speech to limit the restricting powers of not just the government but also of sufficiently large corporations.
[ 0 / 1 / 4 ] I recognize cancel culture as a real and serious problem.
[ 0 / 2 / 6 ] I reject the idea that appearing with or being casual friends with people of substantially different political views in non-political contexts or oppositional political contexts is socially irresponsible.

Twitter

Here’s an observation:

The most convincing experience against any ideology is a conversation with people espousing that ideology on Twitter.

The best part of this is that this even works with ideologies one oneself believes in. (As a personal note, I myself am well aware that I am much more invested in atheism than most atheists I know, and Twitter manages to throw me people that I think have over-consumed atheist kool-aid, which ought to be an oxymoron.) Which leads to a corollary:

To test whether you are too deeply committed to an ideology, check whether no one on Twitter espousing that ideology makes you uncomfortable.