Categories
society

The Sour Media at the Heart of Trump

For years the conservative media hated on Obama and all he stood for. Bad news was the only news for folks who drink from those waters. Relief was nowhere in sight.

And then along came Donald John Trump. Whatever he was, the feeling of the voices of the conservative media machine changed. Whatever he was, there was relief and different emotions. Whatever he was, they could pretend he was something good.

That’s where this all comes from. You eat lemons all day and all night, a grapefruit becomes a treat.

They don’t care what the reality is, because they have this fantasy. They can dance and laugh and play. They don’t need reality. They just need the excuse to be glad. Donald John Trump is an excuse for conservatives to be happy.


This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. People need excuses to do all sorts of things in this modern world. The excuse of Black Friday to run around a shopping center like a kid on a snipe hunt. The excuse of Christmas or other holidays to put the diet in a drawer for a few months. The excuse of New Years to resolve to make this the year you finally get in shape.

People love a good excuse, because it’s like being given permission. You can’t dress like a weirdo, but it’s Halloween! Excuse! Permission!

Getting shitfaced is usually uncool, but it’s Saint Patty’s Day. It’s practically required by law! Excuse! Permission!

So, yeah. Donald John Trump is an excuse. Conservative media for years and years has told people they had no right to be happy under Obama. That part of the preamble—pursuing happiness—did not apply when a black Democrat was leading the country. They had to cool it on happiness. All the news sucked.

It’s like being happy about a new Star Wars film when you were a kid, only to be told by your cousin that these new movies suck. And your cousin knows how to do a wheelie, so she’s wise in ways you can’t imagine. She’s practically Yoda. So the movie suddenly sucks and you have nothing to be happy about. That’s what conservative media is doing to them. It’s sad.


There are always bad things going on. Democrats have their own negativity media associated with Donald John Trump. Many are doing productive things to combat bad policies. But lots of folks are just swimming in the hate-stream of the same kind the conservatives were four years ago. Maybe it’s motivational. Maybe it gets people to vote because they want permission, they want their own excuse. But that doesn’t make it right.

Consume news and information to understand. To be aware. But not to make yourself feel bad. Not to wallow in misery. There’s plenty of great fiction if you want to have some feels. There’s a lot of awesome music for feels. News and informational content are supposed to be about learning, about how systems work, about where we are and where we’re going and where we might want to go instead.

Kill the news radio and news television and news site if it’s trying to tell you how to feel. Particularly, any news or opinion piece that couches a political or judicial outcome in terms of winning and losing, of keeping score. The long-term outcomes of politics and governance are not an accumulation of wins and losses. They are the choices we make as individuals and communities, which are based on our needs and hopes as a people, not on how our “team” did in an election or what some fictitious scoreboard read.

The other side winning a race or political fight doesn’t rob you of any special excuse or permission. You have permission to take comfort and happiness in the little and the big, regardless of who is president. You have the right to pursue happiness at all times!

You have art that will let you feel how you want. Use it.


The election is in 42 weeks.

Categories
math

Playing: The Devil’s Calculator

Cinq-Mars Media: The Devil’s Calculator

The Devil’s Calculator is a game with a simple concept. You have a calculator with unknown operators replacing the normal calculator options of plus, minus, x, and dot line dot or whatever those are. You have to play around to figure out what the mystery operators do, and then use them to get the calculator to output 666 in some way.

The game has 68 base levels (there are post-game ones, and you can create your own, too) in a few distinct phases:

  1. Unary operators (or single-argument functions)
  2. Binary operators (or two-argument functions)
  3. Unary and binary together
  4. Number sequences (or mapping functions)
  5. Number sequences and one unary or binary
  6. All three types together

Number sequences are patterns, such as the Fibonacci sequence, where inputting a number n refers to the nth number in that sequence.

Within each phase, the first levels are easier, and they get harder as you go, following a rollercoaster-type pattern. After each of the first segments there are short montages that show you what the new operator type is (unary, binary, and sequence).

The input of numbers and functions can be complex or simple, with recursion and order of operations coming into play.

For example, with a unary operator &, - (unary negation), and the number 3, you can do:

  • &3
  • &-3
  • -&3
  • -&-3
  • Multiple uses of & on top of those above.

So, if & is f(x) = -x + 1, the outputs would be:

  • -2
  • 4
  • 2
  • -4

Approaching the Game

Each level has two parts:

  1. Figuring out the operators and sequences involved.
  2. Figuring out how to use those to create the number 666.

I often found part two of the levels, getting that number out, to be harder than figuring out the level’s tools. Both parts are made harder at times by numbers and the decimal and plus/minus keys being possessed so that you cannot use them. On the other hand, that possession also gives a clue that having those keys might make things too easy.

Players should use all the tools at their disposal. The game itself includes references and links to Wolfram Alpha (Wolfram|Alpha) and the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS). I used the latter for several of the sequence levels, but instead of Wolfram Alpha I tended to use Python scripting when I needed a leg up on some of the calculating.

Players should also keep a list of their answers, including what they understood the operators and sequences to be, as some of them are reused, and even looking at what you’ve done before can help to inform your approach to the next levels.

Difficulty

I consider it moderately difficult (I’m on level 64 after about ten hours of play), but it’s harder to handicap as the difficulty will vary by how familiar and experienced the player is with math. For students without much mathematical background, it would be more difficult, and they would be best off by tackling the levels over a longer period of time. For more experienced math persons, it would probably be a crack.

There are hints available, and you can skip levels if stuck (though the next level may also be sticky).


As I work on the final levels of the game, I’ve enjoyed my time with it. With each level beaten, there is a feeling that you are outsmarting that devil that has taken over the calculator. If you have a decent math or programming background or want to improve your math, it’s definitely worth a look.

Categories
society

2020 Democratic Debate 6.0

I was all prepared to make a bunch of six jokes given it was the sixth debate and there were six candidates, but then Andrew Yang qualified and all those go out the window.

It’s been a busy week between the impeachment vote and this three-hour debate, so I’ll try to be brief.

Klobuchar had a good night. Her cut-in during the back-and-forth between Buttigieg and Warren over fundraising was well-timed and well-delivered: campaign finance reform or bust.

On the whole, infighting over wine caves aside, it was a fairly solid debate for all comers. There were a few slips, but nothing major by anyone.

The healthcare debate seemed to crystalize a bit more this time. It’s about pragmatists who think that they can drag the ACA far enough to get 90% of the way there versus the pragmatists who think that the other 10% is the whole ballgame as long as someone like Donald John Trump can come along, with the Republicans and the 5th Circuit egging him on, and sabotage the healthcare of millions.


The missing faces were missed at this debate. The balancing act that the DNC is trying to manage is not an easy one. This felt about the right upper size for a debate, but how to decide who gets to participate is a different question than how many should.

The other, related point there is that the Democrats should consider curtailing the length of the campaigns a bit. They start so early and that’s a lot of energy to put out there for so long, even from the candidates’ perspectives. If we had started only a month or two ago, and we had had three nights with seven candidates, then two nights with seven, and now arrived at one night with seven, it would have felt more reasonable.

I guess what I’m saying is that the longevity of the campaign process adds a bit to the feeling that candidates are being cut out too soon, where if it was a shorter, more abrupt cutting process, it wouldn’t feel as artificial.

It is 45 weeks until the election. Happy Christmas. Happy New Year. See you in 2020.

Categories
unAmerican

Where Be Wrath Upon the Liars?

Something that comes up repeatedly in the era of Donald John Trump is the lack of accountability and consequences for the brazen and nefarious lies that he and his minions have spewed and continue to spew. The cry goes out, “Will they not be punished?!”

Ah, but karma does not work that way. Karma works this way: the punishments will come, in the future. The liars may be among those punished. Or their children. Or their friends. Or complete strangers. But there is no definitive way to say who will receive the punishments of the karma they have created through their lies. That would be too easy.

We can hazard some guesses, though.

The Republican party will be punished. As we will keep hearing about this era for the rest of our lives, and as new and horrid details will continue to bubble up from this poisonous bog long after even the staunchest of the brainiacs who now support Donald John Trump have soured on hearing his very name, the heads will again and again turn to the Republicans and ask, “How could you do nothing?!”

The future will be punished by fallout from these years. Loss of trust, weakening of international institutions, strengthening of despotic regimes, and more will have lasting effects causing us to spend more time and money and effort to build and keep a useful world for humans to prosper in. The future will turn to the Republicans and ask them that same question. And those of them who have to fight to keep the peace in foreign lands squeezed in the vices of famine and drought, they too will pose similar questions to the nation and to the Republicans particularly.

And you and I. We will be punished. For we will have to hear about every last shitty thing done in the name of the United States by Donald John Trump and his ilk. We will be punished with the knowledge that we’re spending time cleaning up rather than making new strides. Knowing we live in a country less than it could be for the lamest of reasons. And we will have to hear the same question posed to the Republicans every single year from here to our ends. And we will have to listen to their sorry excuses or their new lies:

  • I did not support him.
  • We didn’t know it was so.
  • We were afraid of losing our seats.
  • We were confirming so many judges, it was like a drug.
  • We were blinded by his lies.
  • We were addled by our sleeping pills.
  • The liberals were so annoying that we thought it was good to make them angry.
  • It was a fad we all bought into at the time, like bellbottoms or hoola hoops.
  • We thought the whole universe was a simulation.
  • Donald who?

And so on.

Yes, there are consequences. There is karma. There will be punishments, irregularly distributed, to the innocent as well as the guilty. Such is life. It is self-correcting, on a long enough timeline, bending toward justice as the wicked are found out, as the ignorant are disabused, and as the rest of us stare on, baffled and disgusted but seemingly incapable of escape from these sick and sad mysteries.


“Karma’s a big dummy,” I hear you say. “It shouldn’t work that way at all.” But that’s like saying gravity is a dummy. Karma is. It’s a force, not a judge.

Categories
meantime

2020 Policy Preferences

As the 2020 Democratic Primary rolls on, I thought it might be useful to provide some policy preferences. But first, I don’t think policy is key to this election. As we know what problems there are, highlighting them and the need to address them seems more important. There isn’t any candidate who I think sits where I do on policy, so my preferences for candidates have leaned much more on how comfortable I am with that person in the White House—how well I think they can do the job.

Let’s start with healthcare. I do see both sides of this issue, but the primary problem I have with healthcare is that it is too expensive. So the headline for policy on healthcare is making it cheaper. That means looking at reverse auction systems and drug patent pools. Different payment models, basically. (The reverse auction system would say “A patient needs knee surgery. These are the six providers in a 100 mile radius, and we’ll take the cheapest bid accounting for quality measures.” Pharmacy patent pools would time-limit the lifetime of a patent based on how much was charged and what other drugs and patents are held by a company, to reduce price hikes.)

While moving to single payer is a good step, supplementing it with private insurance shouldn’t be off the table. Some people want their insurance to cover the sniffles, so those folks should be able to buy a sniffles policy if they want. But we should banish the days where people can pay a monthly premium that does not offer any real coverage, unlike what Trump has done by reopening the door to scam insurance.

On climate, put some kind of price pressure on carbon. Adjust as necessary. That’s the big ticket there. Other aspects of environment have their own policies, but the biggest and best thing we can do at the earliest possible time is to have carbon pollution reflect the costs it will burden us with down the road.

On higher education, policy is to reduce the cost of tuition. If demand-driven reforms were capable of doing that, the costs wouldn’t keep going up. So talking about paying for everyone to go to college misses the point. Same for housing. Subsidizing people buying at ever-inflated prices is the wrong move. Same for transportation. People need to learn, sleep, and move. Those should be made cheaper to allow for spending on other things to help grow the economy.

For basic education, we can do testing in smarter ways. Using computers, kids can take short tests on relevant lessons they should be learning, with real-time feedback. If you wait until the end of the year to find out a school isn’t teaching or a kid is having trouble learning, you’re waiting too long.

There may be some middle-ground here, where college students can get a reduction on tuition for tutoring grade-school kids a certain number of hours per semester, but I digress.

What else? Taxes. Taxes should be handled in a more automatic fashion. Raise them until the deficit drops. Lower them if there’s a recession. It shouldn’t be controversial, though the Republicans have made taxes a cornerstone of their otherwise-lack-of-a-platform.


On foreign policy, there’s an interesting dynamic where candidates get asked about things like leaving Afghanistan, but not on the general shape of foreign policy compared to Donald John Trump. It’s assumed by the press that nobody is stupid enough to adopt the president’s broken half-assed policies (I think that assumption is basically correct), and so the only policy concerns end up being very limited and politically hazardous areas that have nothing to do with the broken state of policy under this president.