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Friday WTFuckery, Oklahoma Edition

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.09.18

New lows in state success!

Teachers haven't gotten a raise in 10 years and the only way they can afford to accept the pay -- third-worst in the nation -- is by negotiating a four-day school week in 90 districts, freeing teachers up to take jobs at Walmart on Mondays to make ends meet.

There are 520 districts total in Oklahoma. Here's a local OK paper with a map of where the school districts with 4 day weeks are located.

This other article from the same source says that the legislature switched from measuring school years in terms of days to in terms of hours. (Heebieville made the same switch, recently.) So I think the idea is that these are four longer days, with the same number of contact hours as a normal five day week. Also, I don't think the point is to free up teachers - I think the point was that a four day week would save the district money. It's just a bonus that teachers get extra-squeezed.

Via Delagar, elsewhere


 

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Tumble

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.08.18

The mature thing is to be horrified at the prospect of the economy falling apart, because of the outsized impact and burden on non-wealthy people, and not to focus on the midterm implications. Are you mature?


 

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Health, Well-being, etc

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.08.18

I went to get a well-being check-up for my big 4-0, which may be the first time I've ever done such a thing, since I've been supervised by OBs and oncologists since right after graduate school.

1. Just from the quick eye-chart, it seems I no longer have perfect vision? What the fuck? I'm 20/25 in one eye, and 20/40 in the other eye! I don't get headaches or anything. I would enjoy picking out glasses frames, though.

2. I wondered if I'd have a low thyroid, since I feel like I know a dozen people with thyroid problems, and this article on thyroid cancer in cats scared the crap out of me. Basically, when they introduced flame-retardant chemicals into carpets and furniture, there was a spike in thyroid cancer in cats, and now we're all going to die.

3. I hadn't fasted, and the nurse told me not to worry too much about my triglycerides. But then my cholesterol and triglycerides and LDL all came back elevated, and I don't know if her disclaimer was limited to triglycerides or if it applied to all three, and also there was a blurb included about how I should start to monitor my food and intake, and I don't know if that was automated or from her. Either way, I am still used to thinking of myself as being invincible and this hints that I may be aging.

4. I almost never drink, in large part because of insomnia and hangovers, but I did partake on my birthday, and this stuff was fucking miraculous, at least for me, but not for Jammies. Will try again.

How's aging going for you?


 

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Guest Post - Culture! Culture! Culture!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.07.18

Mossy Character writes:

The Idirans are beaten by the Culture largely through their own qualitative failings - retrogressive regard for planets, and irrational aversion to full use of AIs. (Or at least this is stipulated to have happened; we disputed how well the text supports this in previous threads.) Similarly, some of the societies appearing in Use of Weapons are hobbled by their own follies: the sniper-friendly priesthood of the Hegemonarchy, for instance. By contrast it is, in Contact's own estimation, a matter of historical chance that the Culture is more advanced than Azad, rather than vice versa; Azad could in principle expand to galactic scale.

Admittedly, the book contradicts itself on this point: elsewhere the empire is described as having "been ripe to fall for decades"; both claims come from the highly unreliable Flere-Imsaho, making the question impossible to settle. I will accept the galactic-capable Azad claim, because it fits my argument better the game of Azad is shown to be, as initially claimed, an enormously powerful model of reality, so powerful that by Gurgeh's final game it takes the GCU Limiting Factor hours to grasp his strategy. We are also told that Gurgeh is just part of SC's intervention in Azad: at the least, the ambassador Za is organizing rebels on Eä; and it would be an interesting coincidence if Azad just happened, after millennia of expansion, to reach its culminating point just decades after Culture contact.

So, Azad works; in terms of its philosophical system, it may be the only peer competitor the Culture meets in all the books. I think it represents, far more clearly than does Idir, an anti-Culture, a human civilization that works very nearly as well as the Culture without sharing its morality. As such it represents also an alternative possible future for us (not that Banks was trying to make predictions, but he was certainly hopeful). What we see of Azadian society is much like ours: the court ceremonial is costume-drama European; Gurgeh's night excursions could, mutatis mutandis, be transferred to any number of developing-world megacities today; and the vices of their civilization are familiar from ours: poverty, exploitation, sexism, racism, genocide, television.

In reality, the developed world today arguably isn't that far from post-scarcity; Sma suggests as much in The State of the Art when she thinks, of Earth in the 1970s, "I felt like [...] telling them too what was possible, how close they were, what they could do if they just got their planetary act together..." Azad is far more advanced than we are today, with for instance FTL travel; it follows that Azad is technologically capable of being a post-scarcity society like the Culture, albeit less spectacular; they aren't because they choose not to be. They also choose to be spectacularly cruel, more so than any real-world civilization (as opposed to say, Nazi prison camp) I know of. Assuming Azad could in principle be post-scarcity, it could also in principle supply some basic standard of living for all, even while retaining dramatic inequality.

Banks assigns their rapacity to the nature of the game: they have chosen to describe social reality through a purely competitive model, leaving room only for an "insatiable desire for more victories, more power, more territory, more dominance." While logically this works well enough in-universe, I think it weakens the book aesthetically and politically. In reality, participation in a competitive hierarchy doesn't necessarily make one a sadist, nor does competitive capitalism necessarily result in absolute poverty; those outcomes are contingent on many other factors. The grotesqueness Banks gives to the empire strips out that spectrum of possibilities, and leaves readers no real choice in their sympathies.

So far, so boring; social democracy for the win. However, Banks draws out the differences between Culture and Azad in a very specific way, which casts light on an important part of the Culture, and by extension on ourselves. Technology aside, I believe the principle difference we are shown is the nature of social status, and the manner in which it is acquired.

Azad assigns status based on rank and possessions, acquired through success in the game (how the games relate to the private sector isn't clear). The Culture officially doesn't have status, at least among humans. Possessions are free, therefore meaningless; everyone is treated equally by default; status can be lost, for bad behavior, though the consequences are mild. Gurgeh is an outlier in dedicating himself to - even literally identifying himself with - competitive games. In winning those games he, almost uniquely in the Culture, gains for himself status, and by the same token makes himself vulnerable to Mawhrin-Skel's blackmail.

Put simply, Azad makes status scarce and difficult to acquire; the Culture makes it abundant and difficult to lose. How exactly the Culture made this so isn't drawn out, at least in these three books; in reality of course humans are notably status-conscious animals and are quite inventive in finding ways to create and signal status, even independently of material wealth. Banks says in the Notes that Culture education is lifelong, and that AIs are designed within certain parameters; the existence of those parameters was I believe introduced in this book with the Mawhrin-Skel cover story. In this connection, we have also Zakalwe's conversation with Tsoldrin Beychae at the observatory:

'I thought we'd won the ecological argument against terra-forming,' said Beychae.
'We did, but times change; people change, generations change. We won the battles for the acknowledgement of machine sentience, but by all accounts the issue was fudged after that.'
And in the Notes:
For the Culture to continue without terminal decadence, the point needs to be made, regularly, that its easy hedonism is not some ground-state of nature, but something desirable, assiduously worked for in the past, not necessarily easily attained, and requiring appreciation and maintenance both in the present and the future.

The point I want to emphasize is that Azad and the Culture have the societies and the ethics they do not by necessity but by choice, and those choices are embodied in the education they give their members; and in this critical respect they are not opposites, but points on a continuum. Flere-Imsaho:

every society imposes some of its values on those raised within it, but the point is that some societies try to maximise that effect, and some try to minimise it. You come from one of the latter and you're being asked to explain yourself to one of the former.

------------------------------------------

Banks evidently subscribes to some form of linguistic determinism, most clearly in this book, but also in fragments scattered elsewhere. While any strong form of determinism has been discredited - for instance, people are able to sort blue objects from green despite having only one word for both colors - Banks appears to hold something weaker. What exactly his position is isn't spelt out though, in this book or anything else I've read. In Player of Games, Marain is compared to the game of Azad; as far as I remember the most detailed description of the language is in The Hydrogen Sonata:

"The spoken version... and the... three-by-three grid used to form the written... displayed version is just... the base level of a fractal, infinitely... scalable multiple-dimension... descriptor. There are more complex... strata."
[...]
Really it's... binary, arranged in a... three-by-three grid. But yes. Three by four, four by four... three cubed, four cubed... so on. The Minds alone use... understand... the versions in... multiple extra dimensions. They can hold... the whole word those glyphs make in their... minds." He looked at her. "Ultimately anything... may be so described. The entire universe, down to... every last particle, ray and... event would be compressible into... a single glyph... single... word."
For comparison, here are some bits on the consolidation of the Chinese canon in the Han:
It read the Annals as a coded text in which the choice of title or the mention of a person's name indicated judgments equivalent to a ruler's rewards and punishments. In this interpretation, the text was the blueprint for an imaginary kingdom of Lu, which Confucius ruled as the "uncrowned king" through a legal system consisting entirely of the correct application of names.
[...]
In this new intellectual order, fashioned to express the unitary empire, the canon was identified with the monarch and a unified wisdom, of which all other texts were fragments. The older, Warring States hierarchy articulated by the philosophers survived in the ranking of the "literary" arts above the technical disciplines, but philosophers were now placed in a subordinate position within a larger order defined by the canon and its commentaries. Similarly, poetry and history, and indeed all forms of writing, were read within an intellectual universe established by the state canon that was understood as the textual form of the Han empire.
I haven't pulled the pieces together, and I think Thorn wants to write about this, so I'll leave things there; in any case I suspect Banks is drawing not from linguistics or anthropology, but from philosophy of language, which I've never studied.


 

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Cry, cry, redistrict, cry

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.06.18

This twitter thread describes how, in general, when courts strike down gerrymandering laws, Republicans try to get the judges impeached. As opposed to Pennsylvania being an isolated circumstance.

I also have lots of new thoughts about gerrymandering and redistricting in general, but I'll bury it in the comments.

Via one of you, at the other place


 

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Trade-offs

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 02.05.18

Challenger School is a polished chain of charter schools across western states, so you are right to feel distaste for it. Jammies' friend sent him this screen shot: (it's forcing me to make this a download but it's just a PDF.)

It's a screen shot from a parental survey on curriculum. This particular topic is a Likert strongly agree/disagree scale. "Challenger should focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) even if it means spending less time on..."

and the individual answers to evaluate are:
sympathy for victims
listening skills
critical thinking
empathy for others
character development
connecting ideas and concepts across subjects
communication


 

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