Opinions without Names Attached: MIT Communities

In this post, I share my generalized thoughts towards 22 different living communities at MIT, from my experiences interacting with them, without explicitly labeling the descriptions with which community I’m sharing my thoughts on. (This, hopefully, helps dodge influence of judgment in people who aren’t themselves familiar with the described communities.)

1. Reckless and bold. In it to make things interesting by force. Usually consider their brazen attitude towards life positively, yet consistently feel too sketched out to get my personal self involved in their activities. Most of the time smile at the presence of their attitude, but occasionally feel it is too much and hard to stop.

2. Good with the rebellious and anti-establishment spirit, but that’s pretty much it. Mostly people yelling and circlejerking rather than actually doing anything. If more of them would actually bother to get themselves involved in processes rather than just complain about the incompetence of people actually doing the work, maybe they would get more of what they want and maybe people would have more sympathy for them.

3. A beautiful balance of wholesomeness and silliness. Community generally has a great collective sense of humor. Only sometimes gets too carried away with it.

4. Community constantly in search of ways to make there not be nice things. Makes fun of other communities all the time, yet when others make fun of them, complain about how the joke’s not funny and only they should get to make fun of themselves (and of course, others). Has several people that don enough levels of irony to irony-stack overflow. Loves to take a concept where there isn’t a clearly defined boundary of starting when things are not okay and pushing just a tad bit more into uncool territory than everyone else does. Has some members that are nice people to get to know as individuals.

5. Eccentric but cool community. Unfortunately many of its members are hard to get to know, let alone become friends with. Some of the things they do I still don’t really understand.

6. One of the greatest celebrations of nerdiness, a floor that goes far both with exhibiting the awesomeness of nerds and self-aware making fun of the derpiness of nerds. Has respectable dedication to what they bring to the overall community, and carries down ridiculously good running jokes. One of my favorite communities at MIT.

7. A community trying to jump onto the bandwagon of cool rebelliousness, and actually has done pretty well so far. Has slipped up from time to time, and also has had to deal with certain things, but quite has everything together now. Glad they exist.

8. Too small to be much of a community. Sometimes feel sorry for them due to other communities using their space and not taking care of it enough.

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Fairness

The word “fair” is problematic.

In discussions on fairness, particularly in discussions about social justice, the assertion that an evaluation of fairness is absolute is increasingly prevalent. In the modern landscape, it seems there is an ever-enlarging population of people unwilling to admit that what constitutes fairness could be rather unclear, many making stronger assertions that one has certainly considered all factors there really are to consider in evaluating the fairness of a decision.

I will attempt to make some points in the general, rather than across specific situations and threads of discussion, that are intended as thought experiments for the purpose of analogy. There are multiple questions to evaluate in these situations: What is actually fair? Can multiple solutions be considered fair? Is the fairest solution actually the best solution? What principles are our decisions based on such that this question is answered in this fashion but another otherwise?

Here’s the problem to consider.

There are n people, and nk units of food. What is a fair distribution of the food among these n people?

If your answer is “each person gets k units of food”, my next question is “in all situations?”

What if some of the n people are genetically predisposed to continue feeling hungry until they’ve eaten a noticeably greater amount of food than others?

In this event, distributing the food evenly does give everyone a fair exact quantity of food, but is not a fair distribution from the perspective of the degree to which each individual’s dietary needs are fulfilled.

What if some of the n people are genetically predisposed such that k units of food aren’t even enough to keep them alive, but a substantially larger quantity will?

What if one of the n people is genetically predisposed such that the amount of food necessary to keep them alive is so high that if their need was fulfilled someone else will not be able to stay alive?

What if, instead of genetic predisposition, a certain lifestyle choice, totally in an individual’s control, causes someone to need a greater amount of food? Do they deserve to not get their needs fulfilled because it is their fault?

What if both genetic predisposition and controllable lifestyle choice could cause someone to need a greater amount of food, and the current tools of science cannot reliably pinpoint the cause?

What if the probability ratios of the two were 99.9% and 0.1%, or 0.1% and 99.9%?

How likely is it that this is the case and science has not discovered the 0.1% yet?

What if both genetic predisposition and controllable lifestyle choice could cause someone to need a greater amount of food, and the current tools of science can actually reliably pinpoint the cause; should we now deploy these tools?

What if a lifestyle choice causes the need for a greater amount of food, but an individual who made such a lifestyle choice in the past did not have the education to understand the ramifications of the lifestyle choice?

And if this matters, how does one determine whether someone had the education to understand these ramifications?

What if a scientific study publishes that there exist no genetic predispositions that cause individuals to need greater amounts of food, but an individual claims that they have such a predisposition anyway?

What if the total amount of food that there is to distribute among n people is such that evenly distributed, everyone will not have enough to stay alive, but feeding only a smaller set of the n people, they could live?

How would you choose which people are in this smaller set, if you choose the latter option?

Suppose there were two types of food, but one type is substantially more expensive than the other type. One group of people prefers the cheaper type of food, whereas one group of people prefers the more expensive type of food. What is the right thing to when:

1) The society has just enough resources to satisfactorily feed the first group the cheap type of food, and to feed the second group the expensive type of food?

2) The society has enough resources to satisfactorily feed everyone the cheap type of food, but not enough to feed the second group the expensive type of food?

3) The society doesn’t even have enough resources to satisfactorily feed everyone the cheap type of food?

How does the right decision change if the second group of people were genetically intolerant to the first type of food (say, an allergy)?

How does the right decision change when the first group of people slightly prefers the second type of food?

In the case of an allergy, does this change depending on what sort of an allergy this is, that is, life-threatening, illness-inducing, just a few rashes?

I often hear conversations about fairness that seem oblivious even to the second question on this list. I do hope this does not become the norm of discourse.

State of the Liberal Media

Dear Liberal Media Outlets,

You can’t expect to be effective making half your output about how Trump was serious about his disturbing promises and the other half about how whimsically Trump threw away his promises. Pick a side of it and prove your point. As things are, you’re only helping fence-sitters get convinced that you really are more interested in cherry-picking opportunities to smear Donald Trump than in presenting a coherent honest journalistic corpus. This is your battle to lose; you have quite some territory of trust to win back.

Sincerely,

Someone Who Wishes You Realize You Deserve Better

Shcool

As I was in the shower today, I suddenly thought of a certain set of pictures that spread through the internet a few times: roads with “SHCOOL” painted on them, pointed out as a demonstration of the failure of our school systems (or of the individual that painted it).

But here’s a thought: what if the person painting “SHCOOL” just wanted to spread the idea that school can be cool (as opposed to a chore, which certainly most kids view it as, unless kids these days are that different)?

They’d of course be mistaken. School isn’t cool. Learning is cool. School deprives you of learning.

But we could start using the term “shcool” to refer to a learning institution or organization that helps its members and others to understand the actually important things in life, the term symbolically reflecting the fact that slightly misspelling a word like “school” to “shcool” is really not a major detriment to communication (maybe you’d have issues running a computer search (say, a `find` or a `grep`) on a file for instances of the term “school”, but if you were on a computer, why didn’t you run a spell checker?), nor does it actually mean the misspeller is incapable of understanding Things That Actually Matter. Maybe of shcool and school, we can make school be the mistake.

We the Corporations

I believe I am not yet senile enough to question my memory when it tells me the first three words of the United States constitution are “We the People”.

It may, thus, suggest something about how broken our democracy is that our lawmakers have decided to pass a resolution (S.J. Res. 34) allowing telecommunications companies to sell citizens’ browsing histories, location data, and app usage for profit, a resolution that is absolutely unimaginable as helping the American people, and that could only reflect how modern-day America is now a place where corporate profit gets overruling power over rudimentary privacy, individual rights, and common sense. If you can actually think of a way this resolution does something nice for the American public and is not just a bulldozing of societal decency to make way for corporate money powered by indescribable greed, please let us know; I’m sure most of us would rather be able to realize the world has not become as insane as it actually looks now.

In any case, it is now the situation that American privacy is but a big joke, thanks to the representatives of these districts, who voted in favor of the resolution.

corporate_bitches.png

Although it’s great to be civil, responding to indecency with decency only manages to go so far, and by now our nation has been drowned in sufficiently many layers of political sewage that it really is time to respond with the nasty. Go with something like this, although I should note that I only want to highlight the spirit of that proposal, not the proposal specifically; it appears several analysts do not find the proposal actually plausible, and besides, we must not punish the members of Congress who stood for the American citizen’s side and gave the “No” a voice, an immunity the gofundme does not promise. I’d like to personally thank the states of Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Hawaii for being the only seven states decent enough to be clear of lawmakers who subscribe to the notion that this resolution was a remotely good idea. (Montana’s not colored red above, but that’s because their sole district is currently undergoing a special election and thus did not have a representative participating in the vote, so I don’t think Montana deserves an inclusion in this honor roll despite technically fulfilling the condition.) I’d, of course, also like to lament that the Pacific Coast has failed to fully resist tainting, specifically along its southernmost reaches.

Remember the faces of the leaders of this resolution, people like Jeff Flake and Marsha Blackburn. Do not ever forget that they helped Comcast and friends sell your activity history for profit, and remember to return the favor however you can, and to aid karma in teaching them a lesson about privacy, whenever the opportunity might arise. Think of ways in life to stick the middle finger at Comcast whenever you can, find ways to help the people you know who work for Comcast and are proud of their job live in shame for doing so.

Privacy is not a joking business, and however much you may think it doesn’t matter to you and that you have nothing to hide, remember that it probably actually does.

A Season with LearnedLeague

I recently finished playing in my first (and probably only, the reason for which I’ll explain shortly later) season of LearnedLeague, an online trivia league. I’d say it was a fun experience, and that the ideas behind how competition in LearnedLeague works are generally good ideas.

Each round (of which there are 25 in a season, at least in the one I participated in) consists of a head-to-head match between two league players, that involves answering trivia questions (called “offense”), and assigning numbers of points each question is worth for your opponent (called “defense”), for which one is allowed to consult their history to know what one’s opponent tends to be good at.

And this gets to why I don’t think I’ll be back for another season. LearnedLeague has failed to deviate from a problem I find in most trivia competitions: an excessive favoring of generalists. Frankly, there are four categories of LearnedLeague trivia (Film, Lifestyle, Pop Music, and Television) than not only am I terrible at but also I honestly have less than zero interest in getting better at (really, four and half, given the Games/Sport category; it’s a really easy exercise for the reader to figure out which half of that I don’t care about). But there are categories of trivia I am definitely extremely interested in. Overall, my trivia knowledge is terribly category-polar, and this makes me ridiculously easy to defend against. As much as I like the assigning-points-for-opponent mechanic, the resulting effects of the such for highly non-generalist people like me make it something I’m not willing to give money for. A second factor lies in excessive references to alcoholic drinks, which many may know I find elevated discomfort in. There’s quite a few questions for which it looks like the writer specifically wanted to force an association with alcohol. Yes, it turns out unfortunately trivia is often associated with bars. *Sigh*.

Anyway, my category stats:

ll_categories

Below I’ll make some notes on specific items in some categories.

Some of these questions have images that are part of the item when you click ‘Click here’. I’m too lazy to copy those over, so I’ll leave it to your imagination what those items were.

Art

art

MD15Q3 was the least-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with only 5% answering correctly.

MD06Q2 was a guess. They all looked like portraits. Might as well guess that they were of the self variety.

Business/Economics

bus_econ

I only got MD13Q1 because of knowing where Qaanaaq is and knowing there’s a military base named Thule nearby, and thus just guessing “Thule” off of only this information, possibly the most distant answer derivation I’ve underwent this entire season. Does this count as love towards Sweden via proxy?

I entered “Hand of God” instead of “Invisible Hand” for MH08Q5. Oops.

Current Events

curr_events

I’m fairly ashamed of having not been able to name the new UN Secretary-General. Apparently, neither could most of LearnedLeague, so shame on everyone else too.

Games/Sport

games_sport

MD12Q5: Booo Othello. I can’t believe the world accepted the game of Reversi getting a second name.

What is sportsball.

Geography

geography

Apparently the most frequently incorrectly guessed answer to MD20Q2 was “Washington”. I guess that’s what “Bellevue” tipped people off to?

I was not actually sure of the answer to MD12Q6; I based my guess off of understanding the Central American isthmus as gradually less inhabitable as one moves south and east.

American History

amer_hist

I don’t really have many comments to make here.

World History

world_hist

I really should’ve gotten MD24Q5, but didn’t answer “Peloponnesian League” because of the inclusion of Corinth, which I recalled as not-all-that-Peloponnesian, although maybe I should’ve still considered the isthmus Pelopennesian. I guessed “Dorian League”.

For MD15Q4, I knew where relatively chronologically the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was; I just couldn’t exactly remember where it was delimited and wasn’t exactly sure which monarchs came between Victoria and Edward $LARGE_NUM. I ended up deciding I had the best chances with guessing Victoria, which it turns out was too early.

For MD12Q3, I made the rather hilarious-in-retrospect mistake of calling the Ostrogoths the “Orthogoths”. Herpity derp.

MD07Q5 was the most-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with 88% answering correctly. Fortunately, I was in the 88% for this case.

I was wondering whether MD01Q2 wanted the real (legal) name of Kim Il-Sung, since that is not it, but ended up deciding they probably just want “Kim Il-Sung” for the purposes of the question. It turns out that was a good assumption.

Language

language

I consider the FANBOYS question a bad question.

MD02Q4 was an item I really should’ve gotten, but I mind-blanked a bit much and put “al-“.

Literature

literature

Maybe if I thought a little harder on MD18Q4 I would’ve gotten it.

Math

math

*snicker*

MD08Q1 was the second-most-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with 87% answering correctly.

Classical Music

class_music

MD19Q4 was the second-least-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with only 14% answering correctly.

The Classical Music section consists of an excess of…I guess I’ll call it “applied” music and way not enough “pure” music, grump, grump. I’m saying “applied”, I guess because terms like “incidental” and “operatic” don’t actually capture the set I’m trying to describe.

Science

science

I was actually quite surprised with how long it took me to recall what Newton’s Second Law was. It turned out my physical knowledge had progressed to a state where I only know if I’m supposed to know things. Fortunately, I did eventually remember the Law. I wonder if I would’ve forgotten it if I hadn’t taken an olympiad qualification test whose name is the equation of the Law.

Anyway, that’s all; ’twas a fun season. I’m going to stay around for some MiniLeagues, but then vanish from LearnedLeague. I did refer a friend to LearnedLeague, though, so maybe he will stay.

The Phrase “Crimes Against Humanity” has the Vibe of the Term “Un-American”

This was originally going to be a post arguing that people who legislate climate change denial are committing crimes against humanity. While purposeful ignorance of the effects of climate change is rather genocidal to island nations, and I do think this is itself worthy of a post, I’m now instead discussing the term “crime against humanity” itself, as a consequence of flushing out thoughts on what I’d write in this blog post while in the shower.

The term “crime against humanity” is intended to label an act, typically a war crime, or systematic murder and ethnic cleansing, as atrocious and far beyond the reaches of what can be considered humane. Crimes against humanity are so appallingly disgusting that it they are a disrespect and disgrace to all of humanity for being able to happen.

But the term “crime against humanity” sounds an awful lot like the word “un-American” in notion. That is, it labels an act as centrally against what makes us us, for some level of “us”. The accusation against an alleged un-American act is that the act fails to meet the standards of American morality and values, and the threat conveyed to the accused is that they will land themselves outside the circle of identity of most of the community.

So how high is the bar of American values, this esteemed highland of morality? At that of a country that has…systematically persecuted and killed the native population of the land, relentlessly oscillated among ethnicities of immigrants to vilify, funded genocidal regimes in foreign countries in the name of anti-communism, exhibited a level of gun violence unimaginable in many other developed countries, and ironically tarnished its foundation of liberty by outlawing slavery later than nearly all other developed countries. This is the proud country whose moral standards the accused have failed to meet. It turns out not only is the label “un-American” a bringer of artificial enmity, it also is vividly hypocritical.

And on this note, I’d like to ask: where is the moral bar for the human species? The human is distinguished by actually having concepts of murder and war: a thirst for blood beyond that which just seeks nutrition. The human is a species that kills 10 million times as many sharks as are killed by them, yet consistently produces media claiming the sharks are the monsters. No species has demonstrated as blazing a contempt for nature as has the human. What is the “humanity” that “crimes against humanity” have failed to respect? What is humane, what moral quality is it the human supposedly naturally exhibits, if the history of the human is that of a species that could not wait to exhibit inhumanity again?

There is no humanity crimes against humanity are against. Crimes against humanity are really crimes of humanity, a systemic plague within the human species, a species too weak to avoid casting off each instance of inhumanity as not its problem, unable to accept its record far too tainted for “humane” to be a properly reflecting word.