It’s tempting when reading these two pieces
- Community fridges pop up in Toronto neighbourhoods during COVID-19 pandemic– …
- Councillor blasts group building shelters after altercation at Dartmouth park
to say, “at least they’re trying”. Or to ask “what’s the alternative”. Or even to think “you don’t support these ideas because you are “heartless, bourgeois, selfish,” etc.
First off, let me say the impulse of these initiatives are good. And the alternatives — lack of food and shelter — are terrible. So in that way these are good ideas. Some food and some shelter is better than none.
But in comparison to any other initiative involving food and shelter these ideas are poor ones. These shelters are good because they are shelters and nothing else. And the idea of having a community fridge is a disaster waiting to happen.
I’m glad that these initiatives provoke the comfortable to make a better effort to help the poor and homeless. But I will never think these are good works for any reason other than the basic ones.
Not every act of kindness is good, and sometimes a small act of kindness allows a bigger problem to fester.
Here are two pieces that deal with tackling racism and anti-semitism:
I’ll let you read and judge as to how effective they are.
Posted in thoughts
I was reading this analysis of a recent speech by George W. Bush (‘The Nation I Know,’ by George W. Bush – by James Fallows – Breaking the News) and it got me thinking about him again.
It’s easy to forget about Bush. Most Republicans act like they have. Many Democrats too. While reviled towards the end of his presidency — so much so that he was shunned by his party at their conventions — there are people who still think positively of him (For example, Michelle Obama Explains Her and George W. Bush’s Candy Exchange and Friendship).
But no one should forget about Bush and all the terrible things done during his presidency, from torture to war. To see what I mean, read this: The Legacy of America’s Post-9/11 Turn to Torture – The New York Times. While some in America would like to forget all that and think better of him, much of the world likely thinks like this: George W Bush should shut up and go away | US & Canada | Al Jazeera. Even there, the idea is to dismiss him and forget about him.
Perhaps Bush is a genial and charming man. But he will also be the man that brought the United States and the World to a worse place. That should not be forgotten.
(Image above: Official White House photo by Pete Souza – https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/4291602492/ (direct link))
You would think so, if you read this: Sneering at Ontario’s anti-racist math curriculum reveals a straight line to what people value in The Star
What has the columnist angry was the removal of several passages of progressive political text that went with the update to the recent changes of the math curriculum. I can see why that removal would anger some people with progressive political values.
I can also imagine how many conservatives would have been angry if there was text like this removed from a new curriculum: “recognize the ways in which mathematics can be used as a tool to uncover, explore, analyse, and promote actions to address greater productivity and growth within our economy and to lead Canada to a strong future of wealth and opportunity”, or if the government removed anything to do with teachers creating “pro-capitalist and pro-business teaching and learning opportunities.” Any group that tries to explicitly frame a curriculum and then have that framing removed will be upset.
Mathematics itself is not political, but it is always taught within a political and historical context. For example, I have math texts that make it seem that the only worthwhile math came from European men, while I have others that show mathematics has roots all over the world. I have math textbooks that mention 0 women, while other texts show the role women have played in mathematics and delve into why women had a hard time making more of a contribution.
Whatever context you want to frame a curriculum, I think that emphasizing politics and history with regards to teaching mathematics will not achieve some of the goals that progressive thinkers hope it will achieve. I think the new changes in the curriculum with regards to things such as streaming will help achieve those goals, as I wrote here.
Additionally, I think there are other things that can be done outside the curriculum that could help students that are disadvantaged when it comes to education in math. I am thinking of the work done by organizations like BlackGirlsCode. We could use more organizations like that who can provide specialized programs not just to help kids who are struggling with math, but to uplift kids that excel in math. Organizations that can support the next Maryam Mirzakhani, wherever she is. The kids who are struggling with math need more help than what the schools can provide: the same is true for kids that excel in math.
(Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash)
If you are in therapy or using some sort of mood log to assess how you feel, I highly recommend this tool: the emotional word wheel. It’s more than a fancy thesaurus. As the creator explains:
I work with people who have limited emotional vocabulary and as a result the intensity of their negative emotions and experiences is heightened because they can’t describe their feelings (especially their negative feelings). That’s why this list is heavily focused on negative emotions/ experiences. Being able to clearly identify how we are feeling has been shown to reduce this intensity of experience because it re-engages our rational mind.
I think it’s great, especially for men of a certain generation who have difficulty assessing how they feel and therefore have difficulty in dealing with it.
Speaking of mood logs, if you are interested in why you want to keep one, see this. Mood logs don’t have to be fancy: you can write your daily moods on post it notes for all it matters. And you don’t have to only write down bad moods: if you note the good moods, you can better understand what makes you feel good and look for ways to replicate that. That’s the goal for people like me.
You can find more on the emotional word wheel all over the Internet. The version I am referencing is here.
- I remember what a big deal it was that Apple was going to support third party software developers. That was by no means a given: Apple could have restricted the iPhone to only their apps and a handful of third party software vendors. By being much more open, they made the iPhone so much more than it could have been if they had not.
- I believe iTunes had a big influence on this. It was a model, in a sense, for what the App Store could be. And as iTunes helped make the iPod a success, so would the App Store help make the iPhone (and the iPod Touch) a success.
- One influence iTunes had on the App Store was software pricing. Before the App Store software was either free or pricey. Suddenly the App Store came along and software was the price of a song. The few vendors that wanted to charge more could not compete with those who were fine with the low cost. The App Store changed the way people thought about what they should pay for software.
- Another effect the App Store had on software was time to market. With mobile apps, people expected updates regularly and bugs to be fixed right away. Companies that used to ship annually now were shipping weekly or daily. This had a huge effect on how software teams developed software. Everyone had to have a mobile app, and every mobile app had to keep up with the new pace. This effect rippled through companies. Software developers adopted the pace for mobile apps to other software being created and released that frequently as well.
- The App Store also improved software quality. If you released bad software, you would hear from users immediately via the ratings. There was no hiding bad apps. As well, if your app sucked, other people would come out with better apps and steal whatever market share you had. Software development teams were on tighter leashes because of the App Store.
- The App Store allowed software developers to make money in ways they could not before. You had a direct channel to consumers of software via the App Store. And lots of developers made a good amount of money as a result.
- Apps became part of our culture. Games like Angry Birds found an audience because of the App Store.
- We downloaded so many apps we lost track of them. And some of them turned out not to be good for us. Speaking of that, if you want to do a bit of spring cleaning on your apps and make sure that the ones remain are good, I recommend you read this: On the 10th anniversary of the App store, it’s time to delete most of your apps (Popular Science)
There are times of discomfort when you expect that you should experience constant distress and misery. In such times you will find there will arise moments where you can actually find ease and comfort in spite of your situation. In such difficult times you will find places where you gain rest and solace and a break from the things that assail you. They may seem illusory but they are not. They may not last long but they are not false.
In times of discomfort, savour such moments of comfort. Use them to gain perspective. Use them to gain some rest. Use them to relax and to recover.
Such times will not last, but they last long enough. Take time to appreciate what you have in such moments. Such moments will carry you through the darkness.
Two pieces by Teju Cole related to Trump.
This first one he wrote about Trump was a Facebook post, captured here. It struck me at the time, for he seemed to want to pivot from Trump’s bigotry to attack something else. The attack against something else was understandable to me: the downplaying of Trump was not.
Now he has a new piece out, making parallels between Trump and Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”, here.
If you like Cole, you might like them.
I used to follow Cole on twitter, and much of what he wrote was interesting and thought provoking.
I do not care for these pieces. Downplaying Trump was a terrible idea in the first case. In the second case, I do not believe that Trump is going to lead to widespread fascism, though many bad leaders and followers are going to stampede out from the worst places and take center stage for awhile. Unlike Ionesco, I don’t believe everyone will turn into a rhinoceros: a small minority crashing about is enough to make it feel like everyone has transformed. They will be taken down, in due time or well past due time, but never made extinct.
A better symbol than rhinos may be snakes or reptiles. The political climate is such that these cold blooded animals feel they can come out and cause havoc. It seems like others are transforming into them, but there are just more of them and less warm blooded creatures in our midst in this time of transformation. When the climate changes, they will retreat. Until then, we have to wrangle with them as they appear.
Posted in thoughts
When you are very young, Christmas is a magical time. We all know that. But
it is magical when you have children, too, for .then you are the magician.
I realized that the hard age for Christmas is in your 20s. The magic
bypasses you then. No wonder people of that age cut up Christmas. The magic
they once held is lost.
Christmas is magic not because the day itself is magical, but because we
invest the magic that we have within us on that day. It would be better if
we brought forward that magic every day, but one day is better than no
days. We have such, well, .. Magic!..within us. We need to be reminded to
let it out.
(Originally posted on posterous, December 24 2011, 9:24 PM)
There are bad associations with winter. We talk of the dead of winter. Or the bleak midwinter. Plants and trees are barren. Animals hibernate, deathlike. Cold itself, winter’s prime attribute, we associate with the dead. As is the additional darkness that winter throws over us.
Yet these should not be the only associations we come to know of winter. For it is a time of joy and birth and beauty. And though light and heat are scarce, where they are concentrated, they are a treasure.
If spring is a season of rebirth and hope, summer a time of happiness and luxury, while autumn is a time of transition and abundance, then winter is a season of reflection and memory. Winter is a season of the mind. In winter we can look to the trees bare and the frozen earth and recall and imagine the fullness of leaves and grasses and flowers that will arrive in the months to come. Though they are not there yet, we can imagine them still. And in these acts of imagining, we can imagine further as we pass through the snow falling the times past and the times still to come. We can do this in other seasons too, but winter concentrates the mind.
(Originally posted on Posterous, January 18 2011, 10:25 PM)
This piece, The Selfish Side of Gratitude – The New York Times, is a scathing attack on gratitude by Ehrenreich. She makes some good points, but overall the writing is so dismissive, from the references to yoga mats to the numerous quotation marks around so many things, that I didn’t find it persuasive. No doubt some abuse the notion of being grateful, but I think there is more too it than a form of evasion. Read it and see if you agree.
My criticism of gratitude is smaller. My problem with the notion is that it isn’t as useful for me. I think there are better words for expressing how I feel, like glad or appreciative. Gratitude in the context of other people is subservient. I do not look down on the people who provide me a service, nor do I think they should think themselves somehow superior. Likewise if I do something for you, I don’t expect you to be grateful: if you are appreciative, that’s enough. And gratitude for certain aspects of nature or the universe make no sense if you are not religious.
There are people who I am grateful towards. Most of the time I can use other words to describe my feelings toward them and what they do. Grateful and gratitude are two words that should be used less often.
A year or so ago, a parking lot I use had a human in a booth to take tickets and provide other services. That human booth was replaced by the thing in the photo above.
It’s not a robot and it’s not A.I., but it is replacing humans.
Stories about A.I. or robots taking over work makes them interesting. It’s also secondary to the real story. What is really taking people’s jobs is a willingness of others to use technology, and a willingness of companies to replace people with technology. People are not afraid to use technology. If anything, sometimes they prefer to deal with technology. This makes it easier for companies to go with technology as compared to using people, and if companies can save money or make money, so much the better.
It is happening in all sorts of industries, from food to sportswriting. The technology isn’t the driver of this: it’s the willingness of people to prefer technology that is the driver.
The following is anuncritical and hyped-up analysis of robots, from Wired (On Cyber Monday, Friendly Robots Are Helping Smaller Stores Chase Amazon). A key quote from it is this (highlighting by me):
… (Amazon) is relying on more than 100,000 temp workers this holiday season to supplement its already massive warehouse workforce, the advantages of offloading more of that work onto machines are easy to see. Robots don’t slow. They don’t tire. They don’t get injured or distracted or sick. They don’t require paychecks or try to unionize.
Now check out this robot:
Once you get over the word “robot”, you can see it resembles alot of the other machines you see in workplaces. Machines like high speed printers, scanners and even vending machines. All of those things don’t slow, don’t tire and don’t unionize. They don’t get sick, but they break down alot, which is just the same. They don’t require a paycheck, but they do cost the organizations that use them. Sometimes they perform their function so poorly that people bypass them altogether. As well, robots need others to take care of them. An army of robots just doesn’t show up: there is an entire process of testing, deploying, fixing and replacing them that is costly and non-trivial. There is a process for deploying human resources, too, but to say that that is costly and the process of deploying robot resources is not costly is wrong.
Robots will take over some functionality in workplaces, be that function blue collar or white collar. But that is no different from alot of other machinery already in place. The difference with robots will be that they are mobile. That’s it. We should get over the notion of robot as some magical creature and just accept them as another machine.
This article, Will Body Cameras Work? – The Atlantic, is asking the wrong questions. The wrong questions are occurring because the initial answer to the question of “how do we deal with bad policing?” was often, “body cameras”. The better question to repeatedly ask: “how can we make police more accountable?” because if “body cameras” is the first answer to that question, the next question should be concerning the information captured by those body camera. How are police accountable for that? Which should then lead to another question: how are police accountable for information they capture generally? Because with new technology, police will soon be able to capture alot more information about you than just images. It will soon be possible for police to look at you or your vehicle and have that information feed back to centralized computer systems, essentially collecting information about you without you even knowing it. How will police be accountable for that?
Police accountability will come, likely through the courts. In the meantime, we will likely struggle with the fallout of police forces capturing more information.
I am supportive of people sharing things, both good and bad, on social media. Some people think sharing only positive things is best, but I think sharing bad things has benefits. When you share bad things you allow people to express empathy which can be good for them and you. Sharing negative experiences can also help people feel that they are not the only ones feeling that way. In either case, a small dose of negativity can lead to a larger response of positivity.
Lately, however, I have had so many bad things, big and small, happen to me that I no longer feel it is a net benefit to share them. I even wrote them down tonight and thought: yeah that is a lot of bad things at once. I think that sharing them all the time will just have a negative effect on other people. It will bring them down more than help them. It will also affect me as well, as people move away from me for various reasons, either because they don’t know how to respond or they don’t want to deal with it.(something I have experienced this year.)
As a result, I started logging much of the difficulties I have been having in Day One, which is a great app. Writing things there helps me vent and review it later without having it social. As I found, after I vented, I was able to gain some perspective and think better about the situation, which helped. Sharing things can be useful, but in some cases not sharing can be more beneficial.
If you share a lot of your life, I recommend this approach for people in a similar situation. I recommend the Day One app too. It is great.
Can be found here: Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 130, Italo Calvino.
Paris Review interviews are generally good, and this one of Calvino is no exception.
In reading on empowerment, the key assumption in many of them is the form a person’s power takes. I can see how this happens. If you believe that money is the ultimate source of power, then you would assume that empowerment has to do with controlling amounts of money. If you believe control and influence over others is a source of power, then how much control and influence you have indicates how much power you have. Or personal autonomy: you may assume that the more control you have over your life, the more power you have. There are other forms of power as well, but you can see just from these three how someone could be seen as both empowered and powerless. You could be wealthy, but a recluse struck with a terrible disease. You could be poor individual, but have all the freedom you want and great influence over others around you and beyond. The poor individual and the wealthy recluse both are empowered and powerless, depending upon the lens you use to examine their lives.
There are tradeoffs we all make in these areas of empowerment. I might work a certain job because it gives me greater power over some aspects of my life while restricting me in others. Same with being a parent.
Everyone makes tradeoffs to achieve the power they need. You may not respect their choices, you may find the sacrifices they make to be wrong, and you may not see the power they seek as one that is worthwhile. Despite that, they are trying to gain some form of power over someone or something to achieve a greater good. They are empowered or becoming empowered to achieve that. We can disagree that their goals are not good ones, but we cannot say they are not empowered. If they are on the way to achieving what they want, they are empowered.