Exciting Things May Soon Happen in the Indian Ocean

At the end of last month, I said that I would limit myself to four posts a month.

Yeah, that didn’t work. What ended up actually happening is that I just started writing drafts and not publishing them. And you know what? Something really, really exciting has just happened in the world (geography-wise) and I now need to write about it. So uh, screw it. I’m not going to be able to contain myself to four posts a month. That attempt lasted zero months. Yeah, I deserve to be laughed at a bit for that.

The exciting news is that the UN has voted to seek an opinion from the International Court of Justice regarding the Chagos Archipelago. Long ago, the British took the islands away from its natives and on top of this expelled all of the natives from the islands in order to build a military base to mutually benefit the UK and the US. Mauritius has asked for the islands back for a long time, but the UK has just felt that they didn’t want to take any sort of apologizing action for what they’ve done there yet. Now, though, we see this vote come through, and hopefully the International Court of Justice will demand that these islands return to the natives that have long deserved them back. Shame on the countries that voted in favor of the UK, in this day and age yet still promoting imperialism based on past injustice (though it is interesting to note that the Maldives voted against the resolution; it would be interesting to look into the reasoning behind that, because the Chagos archipelago definitely has historical ties to the Maldives and could have otherwise political significance now).

But that aside (and boy do I feel a tinge bad about feeding the geography geek in me when there’s this important sentimental significance to the event), here’s what’s very special about this from a geographical standpoint. Two things—both of these are due to the fact that the Chagos Archipelago is the only remaining portion of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT): the BIOT previously included three islands further southwest, but those islands were earlier ceded to the Seychelles.

1) The TLD .io is the ccTLD of the BIOT. If the UK loses the BIOT to Mauritius, we may see the IANA require .io to change hands. Given the development of sites using the .io TLD, this could get interesting. Might the BIOT be allowed to continue existing as a physically null entity, one that carries on as a concept but corresponds to no land on Earth, to legitimize .io’s link to a political entity?

2) The sun may finally set on the British Empire. There are more than 180 degrees of longitude between Dhekelia and Pitcairn Island. If the BIOT is no more, then sunrise in Dhekelia will come after sunset in Pitcairn, and for the first time in centuries, there will be a moment when it is nighttime over all the UK’s land on earth. The sun will continue to fail to set on the French Empire, though.

The “Forbidden Friendship” Scene from How to Train Your Dragon

There’s a lot of contenders for my favorite film. How to Train Your Dragon was the first of these that I’ve watched, but I’ve also had similarly apical opinions of V for Vendetta, Imaginaerum, and The Martian, of which I’ve generally ended up concluding the last is actually my favorite film, but definitely by a notably small margin.

The best single scene in film in my regards, though, is unquestionably the “Forbidden Friendship” scene from How to Train Your Dragon, depicting the process via which Hiccup and Toothless, as Viking and dragon universally thought to be preordained enemies, come to trust each other as good friends. (Here’s a link to the scene.) This post is dedicated to why.

It’s really weird and ironic that I am using extensive English to convey my fondness of this scene, because as I will amply elaborate later, the lack of verbal communication in this scene, and what the scene manages without, is a crucial factor in its beauty. Unfortunately I will need a substantially shared context only available in speech to elaborate my thoughts on the scene to the detail I desire, so this really much feels like a strange trade-off. As a slightly-related sidenote, I often get this feeling about music as well, that music would speak for itself so much better than the human language description of it, that I’d imagine a more beautiful world where the instructions for music were written in music, that musical works’ titles were in music rather than a spoken language, and that people talked with each other about music via music: direct, succinct, representative, and beautiful. Alas, prioritizing efficient communication requires the otherwise, and a strange feeling of overlaying another layer of dilution on the loss of magic upon explanation.

Speaking of music, one of the sparkling facets of “Forbidden Friendship” is its titularly reflective theme. It begins fading in around 0:50 in the video above, and builds up very gradually over the next three minutes. The theme itself is a wonder, and a heartwarming journey of evolution. It paves a harmony and an atmosphere for growth, making it, for instance, great background music for extensive thought or gadgets. But this also makes the theme the perfect complement for what happens on screen, for something wonderful is being built: a friendship.

As the theme progresses throughout the scene, new lines in the music subtly join in, slowly enriching the musical texture in reflection of the slow building of harmony among the characters. As the friendship grows, so grows the depth of the aural ambiance.

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Today I am deeply and profoundly ashamed to be an American

I said that I would try to make only four blog posts in June.

Then, I pretty much decided what four things I would talk about.

Then, I realized I felt I just needed to write this post after, let’s say, a certain piece of news.

(This really seems like the sort of thing I thought about all the time that led to my excessive posting the past few months, but maybe I’ll allow this to take up the slots of one of my four June posts. This one counts instead of slipping aside!)

The title of this post holds without the word ‘Today’, of course. I haven’t really been extensively not ashamed of being American for probably since I, let’s say…first read a history book. I have been especially ashamed of America recently for reasons I’m sure you have at least a hint for if you’re bothering to read this post. But I am now ashamed to an acute and staggering degree that I am a citizen of this country that decided to leave the Paris climate accord, an event that truly makes the selfish narcissism and pretense of exceptionalism of the land of the free and the home of the brave sparkle like a gem. Specifically a diamond, I’d even say, as there’s no better gemstone that symbolizes an insatiable pursuit of money at the cost of the world or even the advertised efficiencies of capitalism than the diamond.

This event rings a bell. What bell is it? Ah, yes, the Kyoto Protocol, volume 1 of America farting in the global elevator and then leaving to let everyone else smell it. We haven’t improved, have we?

Not actually. We improved. We did originally sign the Paris agreement after all. We, America, are historically a country of claiming a lot of grandiose and awesome-sounding principles, then hypocritically defeating them in entirety in implementation, and then eventually realizing that we kinda failed very badly at our principles, but yes, improving. We went through this phase with slavery, we went through this phase with discrimination against pretty much every new wave of immigration that happened, and we went through this phase with “gee, how okay is it to just kill all these people that originally lived on this land?” Then we slowly improved, realizing the egregiousness of the previous actions this country has taken and slowly building acknowledgment of our faults in the past, though there are always some stragglers to this.

Anyway, yeah, we improved and signed the Paris agreement under the Obama administration. Then, we started walking backwards again and backed out, because supposedly it’s better for America and it’s making America great again. Because, of course, America is a country of thermophilic entomophilic pollen-hypertolerant fish.

Of course, perhaps America hungers for the oceans to expand because the oceans gave us power. In World War II, we, America, were the country lucky enough to be separated from the bulk of action by the mighty waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and thus came out of the war fabulously undevastated and a world superpower. We interpreted our luck as a sign that we were the supremely righteous as the Good Guys that Won, and thus took it upon ourselves to apply our unquestionable justice all around the world, where everyone surely loves us, from Grenada to Iraq to Afghanistan to Vietnam. It was an amazing process of supporting anyone that vowed against communism regardless of what else they did; we helped all sorts of people from Yahya Khan to Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden to Muammar Gadhafi come to power, because they hated communists and that made them good guys. Fascinating, if they’re good guys, what does that make us?

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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.

Continue reading “Opinions without Names Attached: MIT Communities”

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.