Isolationist Tendencies

While I probably enjoy a good party or hangout as much as the next guy, I am not a true extrovert, and I occasionally find myself seeking out solitude in order to relax or just be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes, you just need to get away from the excitement to really enjoy yourself. Of course, this sort of physical isolation is only temporary, and rather different from the sort of habitual environmental obliviousness (and conditioned social isolation) seen in people nowadays.

iPhones, computers, and web-based social networking are a major staple of the Twenty-first Century. They have really changed how people interact and connect with each other, and we’ve all grown used to it. Most communication is done via text-based messaging over distance, and it is not uncommon for pedestrians to walk about staring at their phones. Audio and video messaging are also not unheard of, and it can be quite disconcerting to hear someone wearing earbuds suddenly start speaking as if to thin air when in reality the other participant is just elsewhere.

Such electronic devices are very distracting, as every other PSA on texting while driving has probably mentioned. Contrary to what some might say, the human brain cannot multitask; it can only switch its focus one thing at a time, and rapidly switching focus between two different tasks means the amount of concentration on each task is reduced.

Therefore, it is stupid easy to sneak up on someone texting on their phone or listening to music, possibly more so than two people having a conversation (sneaking up on people is lots of fun).

However, there is more to digital communication than just obliviousness, some of which I find interesting, some of which I find scary. for example, in teenagers, a recent study showed that the number of likes an image got factored more into their own preference for the image that what it actually depicted. Apparently Twitter and Facebook make kids more susceptible to blindly conforming to the majority (not that their predecessors where much better). Also, personal self-esteem these days is often dependent on validation from peers, usually in the form of likes or responses to posted content.

And then there is social isolation. Social network technology is great for keeping up to date on who’s who and what’s where, but the attention given to it cuts us off from those around us. While what causes what is not exactly certain, studies show that there definitely is a link between use of social media and feelings of social isolation. Perhaps social media is the causes, perhaps it is just the retreat for those prone towards feeling loneliness. I suspect it is somewhat of the latter, but with the added addition of that it does nothing to effectively alleviate one’s loneliness.

With texting or online interaction, you have a great deal of control on what information you give about yourself, but the degree of separation needed for such also precludes the potential for intimacy. Of course, the amount of distraction and feelings of connection involved is enough to keep one from actively seeking to connect with somewhat in the physical world, especially when the internet can provide a safe retreat from in-person awkwardness, which otherwise would just be weathered and would allow for the strengthening of personal connection. This is probably a much more serious matter concerning parents and children; it is frustrating for a youngling to try to make eye contact with a parent who is too busy checking their email, or to feel like they are being dismissed when the parent is currently too busy online to interact with them.

Fun fact about loneliness; those who know how to handle being alone feel it less often. The problem with social media is that it helps promote a mindset where personal validation is directly tied to feedback from others, yet the degree of separation provided by the screen of pixels means that one is not getting the full-on experience of truly connecting to a person. At the same time, retreating into one’s phone is not going to foster any skills at handling conversation or social interaction.

Personally, I think most people could benefit from a decent walk in the woods, either alone or with a friend, just so they can easily detach themselves from their virtual lives. It is also a good idea to focus more on the other people around you when having a meal with family or just hanging out with friends. Chances are, if you are on your phone or computer, you are missing out at quite a bit of stuff happening around you (says the guy alone in his room, typing at a keyboard).

Granted, I do not find new media to be wholly evil or detrimental. I very much like social networking and the fast communication, resource sharing, and gossip gathering for which it allows. However, every seemingly good thing has a tradeoff, and the more you use it, the greater the tradeoff gets. Therefore, I would assume that it is best to use it in moderation, as well as to make sure it does not interfere too much with physical interactions.

 

Sources

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/09/489284038/researchers-study-effects-of-social-media-on-young-minds

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/06/social-networking.aspx

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/06/518362255/feeling-lonely-too-much-time-on-social-media-may-be-why

Border Crossing

I recently read about this claim floating around about how a significantly higher number of people had been deported under the Obama administration than any other. Statistically, it is true that the numbers are higher. However, according to Snopes.com, this is due to a change in the definition of the term “deportation” rather than an increase in the number of people being deported. Before the Bush administration, someone caught in the act of crossing the border would just be turned back without being put on record. As of the Bush administration, however, such people get fingerprinted and officially deported.

There are, of course, other variables that must be taken into account, such as the fact that the number of people apprehended by Border Patrol officers has apparently risen since 2008 (coinciding with a slump in the amount of illegal crossings of the Mexican border), as well as the fact that the ICE has a quota of detainees that it needs to have its custody daily (established in 2009 by lawmakers who thought that there was not enough being done to deport unlawful immigrants), which means that they have been reaching deep into the legal justice system to round up any criminals potential eligible for deportation. This can possibly be part of a trend started in 1986 by the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act that encouraged the deportation of any immigrant guilty of an applicable offense and had allowed following legislations to bias against the discretion of a judge to grant relief from deportation in certain cases.

The number of people entering the US from Mexico apparently had gone significantly down back in 2015. According to this article I read, the net flow of mexicans entering the US was currently negative, meaning that immigrants who had entered previously were now moving back to Mexico in greater numbers than the people entering. Tougher Border Patrol practices were cited as a reason for less people entering, while a desire for reuniting with families was mentioned as a main reason for returning. A factor that influences both is the fact that opportunities in both Mexico and the US are now viewed as about the same by the citizens of the latter, which means that less desperate people are motivated to seek out their fortunes in the strange land up north. In some cases, the reason to return was apparently because there was not much opportunity for work in the US.

As the number of people from Mexico declined, the number of people immigrating from elsewhere apparently rose a bit, so the rate has been more or less stable in the past few years. As usual, more information about the topic can be found in the links below.

As of the tail end of 2016, uncertainty about the current administration could also be considered a factor in the decrease in immigration from the south.

For undocumented children raised in the US, the current atmosphere is one of anxiety and uncertainty. The immigration policy known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” provides limited protection from deportation for illegal immigrants brought in as children, as well as allowing them to earn money and attend schools. The Trump campaign site had promised to end DACA as part of the overall plan to toughen down on illegal immigrants, although it currently still remains in place.

As far as the wall across the border we’ve all been hearing about is concerned, while designs have been made, physical construction cannot begin before congress approves of it, and the President Nieto of Mexico consistently has stated that his country will not be paying for it as the US President has claimed. If the US government has to fund the entire project, they are going to make up for it with increased tariffs, increased travel visa /border crossing fees, and just a general border adjustment taxes on us citizens.

On a personal note, it has been almost five years since my passport expired, and I am currently working on renewing it.

Sources:

Snopes.com

Migration Flows Between the US and Mexico have Slowed

5 Facts about Illegal Immigration

Undocumented Students in US Face Anxious Future

Donald Trump’s Mexico Wall: Who is Going to Pay for It?

Reading the Kama Sutra

So last Valentine’s Day, I received an interesting gift in the mail from an exe; it was a dog-eared copy of an old translation of the Kama Sutra, with a troll-face sticker on the inside of the cover. I have no idea why she thought doing this was funny, but it turned out that I found the book rather interesting (if a bit of a long read).

As you probably know, the Kama Sutra is an old series of texts written in ancient India by a philosopher known as Vātsyāyana. The book’s title apparently translates as “the binding thread of desire” and the contents is around Kama Sastra, which translates as “the science of desire”. Point is, it’s a manual that concerns maintaining good romantic relations and a healthy sexuality.

Kama is basically one of three goals in life that one should seek to attain during their existence in order to make the most of it. The other two are Dharma (following the commands of Hindu holy writ) and Artha (the acquisition of property, art, wealth, friends, and the like). These three areas are to be engaged in at separate points in life so that they harmonized rather than conflict with each other. Apparently it is recommended by some that one practices Artha and Kama during the youth and middle ages while following the path of Dharma later in life in order to achieve Moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth, which seems to me to be connected with Nirvana in Buddhism).

Incidentally, apparently one most also study arts such as dancing, singing, tattooing, painting, riddles and enigmatic conversation, cooking, acting, and other creative endeavors alongside the science of desire in order to enhance ones ability to woo and maintain the affections of another. A pity that I don’t know any good jokes about sapiophilia, but I can definitely buy into this. There is also an elaboration on the various categories of women that one should not

Of course, this is all from the introductory first part. Part II is about Sexual Union, and its first chapter is titled “Kinds of Sexual Unions According to Dimensions, Force of Desire or Passion, Time Kind of Union”. Obviously, this is where things get more into the nitty-gritty of Kama. For dimensions, we have the three categories of penis length and corresponding vagina depth and the ways in which they should or should not be paired together. Following that is a listing of the various kinds of passionate people that exist and the various heterosexual pairings they may form, as well as the pairings that should not form as they would not be happy unions. The next few chapters respectively concern the various aspects and types of embrace (touching, holding, etc.), the types of and places for kissing, marking and scratching, when and with who it is or is not appropriate to bite, the various positions for good congress, and more technical stuff that you can more-or-less find in any book that claims to be based off of this one.

With Part III, we leave behind the methods of physical pleasure and dive into the art of finding a wife. Due to cultural and temporal dissonance, I doubt that much of these is applicable to world societies at large, which is probably why modern publications that reference to Kama Sutra do not seem to include such a section (of course, it is more likely that they are just marketing it to people only interested for the sex tips). Still, I like the fact that there are bodies of text dedicated to the proper courtship of a women and of building trust and confidence in one’s spouse-to-be. It is for these purposes that all of those aforementioned (and some unmentioned) creative arts should be put to good use by the suitor. The second chapter of this section further elaborates on the practices necessary for a man to attract a woman, while also providing insight for woman on how they should go about attracting a man. Incidentally, for some of the man’s endeavors the aid of a female friend may be required. The endeavors of the girl, meanwhile, seem to have been a point of contention among the author and other scholars (something about there being no dignity for a girl who actively pursues or something). The perspective presented here deems it alright to show affection so long as it’s done in a seemingly demur fashion (by the way, I’m significantly oversimplifying most of the content here).

The following chapter concerns the forms of marriage, and the whos, whats, and hows of making them work. After that, we got the first chapter of the fourth section, a chapter which concerns the manners in which a woman behaves in order to be considered virtuous, and how a proper wife should behave when her husband is away. Besides the obvious, this includes avoiding the company of female beggars, “loose” women, and witches, as well as proper conduct when in public or private company. There’s also some stuff on when are for what to she should shop.

After this, we get elaborations on the conduct of widows, the divorced, and those who are getting remarried. This doesn’t seem to have to much to do with desire at first, but considering how the science of desire is what this book establishes as a fundamental part of married life, it is appropriate to include the methods of handling the end and restarting of such unions. Meanwhile, I would say that the inclusion of the conduct and manners of a king’s harem members is a no brainer.

Further into the book, we have elaboration on the ways to acquaint oneself with a desired woman, as well as the proper behavior to engage in for each of the different ways she might react to the man’s advances (the latter of which is written about in a chapter titled Examination’s of a Woman’s Mind”, which to my approval explains stuff like how one must not continue with pursuit if various signs of reciprocation are not observed). Apparently a go-between may be involved in the pursuit, possibly a female friend of the man who manages to gain the confidence of the woman in order to function in a manner similar to a shill (not so much a wingman). I suppose that help from a third party is an old tradition among the courting, especially when said courting involves those not too familiar with each other.

There’s also information on how royals of both sexes may maintain a harem, what sort of consequences there are for sneaking into one’s harem, and how a man should keep his wife from having one (some kings hire sentinels to keep the royal wives from taking lovers, a fact that I find kind of ironic). It is from here that the Kama Sutra moves on to the subject of courtesans and how they maintain sexual pleasure while also using it to further their goals and such. Apparently there are set standards one needs to meet—both physically and intellectually—in order to either be a courtesan or worthy of associating with one. There’s like six chapters in the part concerning the nature and proper conduct of a good courtesan; the next few chapters concerning making oneself more desirable to the opposite sex, plus “medicinal” methods of increasing pleasure during intercourse (not sure if they work or not).

There is much information in this collection of texts that concerns the natures and manners of the relations between men and woman as viewed by the old Hindus. The values are culture specific in multiple spots, but the practical information and basic concepts seem like they could be of almost universal usefulness. Really, how many other sources do you know that include in depth writings on how to form and maintain stable romantic relations as well as tips for better sex? As someone who has failed at romantic endeavors quite a few times over, I think there is much here that from which a considerate individual can learn.

At the very least, it provides a new way of looking at something that I feel is familiar to the point of being taken for granted in western culture these days.

By the way, anyone interested can purchase a similar translation to the one I own here

Concerning Alternative Facts

In the legal profession, the term “alternative facts” may refer to two or more competing sets of facts for the two sides of a case. It can also mean a set of inconsistent facts put forth by just the one side that show there’s sufficient evidence to support both alternatives. In the latter case, inconsistent facts may provide a basis for alternative pleading.

As of 2017, the term has become defined online and in political context to be another euphemism for falsehood, originating with US press secretary Sean Spicer and his statement about the turnout for last month’s presidential inauguration.

In his first official briefing as press secretary, Spicer delivered a statement accused the media of deliberately falsifying reports covering the size of the crowd attending the inauguration, using trick angles and framed shots to make it seem like few showed up (many other members of the new administration went on to make similar claims of the reports being “lies”). Spicer claimed that Trump’s inauguration had had the largest audience of any president in history, both in person and across the globe, period. He also claimed that the reports couldn’t be accurate because it wasn’t possible to count the crowd.

Spicer’s statement was rather inaccurate. While estimating crowd size is tricky business (ticket sales alone wouldn’t provide much insight), comparisons of aerial photographs and public transportation figures to at least Obama’s inauguration show that the numbers had gone down significantly this time around.

The fact that not that many people witnessed the inauguration should not be a major deal, as it is technically not a direct reflection of the candidate’s abilities as a leader. However, it appears that the now current president’s publicity team where banking on the ceremony being the greatest in american history.

Anyway, when White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway was question about Spicer’s falsehood-containing statement during an interview with Chuck Todd (moderator for NBC’s “Meet the Press), she defended Spicer by claiming that he had merely been stating “alternative facts”. Naturally, this resulted in the term, along with “spicerfacts”, becoming a trending hashtag on tweeter, always paired with a deliberately (and obviously) false statement. Incidentally, it was the trends on Facebook that got me curious about the term. 

Conway made another statement recently that quickly got tied in with alternative facts, when she referenced a nonexistent “Bowling Green Massacre” as one reason for Trump’s immigration ban. Said massacre was supposedly carried out by two Iraqi who came to America through the Iraqi refugee program, and it apparently resulted in Obama placing a six month ban on said program.

While two Iraqi men were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky on charges of federal terrorism, there had not been any massacre, nor evidence on a plan for one. Said men were indicted for attempting to provide Al-Qaeda in Iraq with weapons and money (a 2013 Justice Department release concerning them can be found in the links below).

After Conway’s statement was debunked, a clip of the interview went viral. Conway later apologized on twitter for gaffe, claiming she had meant to say “terrorists”. She also criticized the amount of media coverage she received, stating that “honest mistakes occur”, while pointing out mistakes the media had made concerning the Trump administration.

There are a couple different definitions of fact in the dictionary. The main one is basically information that has objective (provable) reality, and the others basically relate to provable existence as well. A reasonable explanation that cannot currently be proven is speculation or conjecture. Something that contradicts all available evidence can be called a falsehood or inaccuracy. Sometimes, the information provided in media is false, and even the accurate reports often have some bias to them. However, this can be fixed by providing  more coverage of actual events than just calling any and all reports wrong. To personally get a good idea on what the news is or isn’t saying, one can easily cross examine multiple reports from independent (as well as contradicting) sources of information.

As far as the current president is concerned, the information being provided is basically all falsehoods, and the various reports on the size of the audience for his inauguration were apparently particularly galling for him. Frankly, if he hadn’t made such a big deal over the news coverage, chances are less people would have noticed or cared about it.

When he went to give a speech at Langley back in January (to mend bridges with the CIA), quite a few minutes of it were devoted to attacking the media. According to him, any criticisms he had made about the intelligence agency made in previous weeks falsehoods made by the media (Spicer’s statement hours later probably derived from this, only his rhetoric obviously received more notice). The meandering speech makes no mention of his previous mockings of the CIA on Twitter, as well as the possibility of him not reading agency briefings. On the bright side, the appointment of Mike Pompeo was apparently well received.

In early February, President Trump basically declared the press to be the enemy of the people. Many presidents before have made some statement of their dislike for the news media, but declaring it an enemy of the people seems to be taking it a bit far, even in comparison to earlier comments by the president on the lack of credibility present in it. Considering that previous holders of the title “Enemy of the American People” included such entities as the USSR and Al-Qaeda, this statement has quite a lot of people worried.

Freedom of the press is a form of expressing the right to freedom of speech, which makes it a fundamental aspect of a democratic society. Censorship of the press by the government is a sign of a more fascist, authoritarian state, such as Nazi Germany or Italy under Mussolini’s rule. Of course, the presidency has not begun to literally go out and hunt down those that openly disagree with it’s version of reality, but there does appear to be a feud brewing.

According to Steve Bannon, the new administration is most certainly going to push against the “corporatist, globalist media” that has been working in opposition to the President’s agenda for political and social growth, and it is only going to get worse.

As of March, the President tweeted that he suspects Obama of having illegally wiretapped Trump tower before and during the 2016 election. He cited no evidence to back up his claim, but is urging Congress to investigate this along side their ongoing look into allegations of Russian hacking during the election.

Both the director of the FBI and and the national intelligence director of the time have denied that any such wiretapping took place. For such a thing to occur, the FBI would have had to have made a case to the Department of Justice, and a warrant would have to have been issued by a judge. In the case of surveillance on US citizens (which would apply to nearly everyone in Trump Tower), an order could not be made without first going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and being approved by the eleven sitting judges (incidentally, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant was issued to the FBI to monitor two Russian banks who’re suspected of facilitating donations to the Trump campaign; the current president’s accusations might have been based on a distorted second hand report). Without stepping way outside of his reach of authority, Obama would not have been able to establish covert surveillance on his eventual replacement.

Despite the lack of evidence or probability that the feds were running surveillance on Trump Tower during the election, the president’s people are standing by what their leader has said, and the vocal supporters are calling out Obama to be investigated. There might be some evidence of wiretapping found, but it could easily mean that some other agency was investigating something else unrelated to the candidacy (it’s a large business building with several different offices and departments; chances are at least one person there could have been suspected of something shady). For what it’s worth, Obama’s people have denied any such order from the man.

Reports can be–and often are–skewed in some way or another, especially when it comes to news sources in the US. However, it is not impossible to get an idea of what is actually going on if you cross-reference and fact check anything of substance that is included (speculation and opinion can just be ignored). As for when the people doing the reports get things wrong, you’re doing something right if you know right away that the information is not factual.

 

Resources:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/inauguration-crowd-size/514058/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/donald-trump-barack-obama-inauguration-crowd-size/index.html

http://www.usnews.com/news/entertainment/articles/2017-01-23/alternative-facts-quip-from-trump-adviser-sparks-mockery

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/03/kellyanne-conway-refugees-bowling-green-massacre-never-happened

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-iraqi-terrorists-living-kentucky-sentenced-terrorist-activities

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fact

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/21/us/politics/trump-white-house-briefing-inauguration-crowd-size.html?_r=0

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/business/trump-calls-the-news-media-the-enemy-of-the-people.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-bannon-media-cpac_us_58af38f3e4b0780bac2761e3

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/23/steve-bannons-not-so-subtle-threat-to-the-media/?utm_term=.c8455c6fd0a4

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39172635

Left, Right, Ambidexterious

So, I recently got into a short “discussion” on Facebook concerning politics in general. The other individual was someone who had voted for Trump and frequently writes post criticizing the opposition. One thing that I found interesting is that he distinguished between being a liberal and being part of the left. The former was generically defined as being a supporter of free speech and tolerance, while being a “lefty” meant to him being an anti american, anti free speech, pro islam, identity politics loving individual.

I have seen the term “rabid left” used in a few other media posts by this individual (and members of his family). To summarize what has popped up in my newsfeed, he and his immediate relations are of the opinion that news sources like CNN are propagators of false information, that Trump’s presidency is in the nation’s best interests, and the majority of those aligned with the democratic party are prone to violent outbursts, attacking free speech, overusing the victim card, and a couple of other things that remind me of what Milo Yiannopoulos used to write in the Brietbart (before that video came went viral and he upset near everyone across the political spectrum). Heck, considering that at least two of them are into creative writing (as well as charming and visually attractive), perhaps one of them could become the next Yiannopoulos.

Anyway, due to the current presidential administration being run by such a polarizing figure who was the center of many controversial topics in recent history, it is not surprising that quite a number of people are being very vocal in their opinions on the matter. Of course, what I would like to know is where they are getting the information they use to back up their opinions.

So, what is the current situation with the left and the right? What does it mean to be “left” or “right” for that matter?

There is a rather long and interesting history of the terms left-wing and right-wing that can be traced back to the French Revolution (apparently they originally referred to literal “wings” of the governing building), but let’s focus on the contemporary definitions in relation to politics and public perception in the US.

For the most part, the left-wing has generally characterized as being composed of those parties that support progressiveness, internationalism, equality in the form of a level playing field, limited governing, and similar values. The right can be generally be characterized by tradition, nationalism, equality in the form of everyone has opportunity to advance, authority, and other mostly conservative values. Whether or not this simplistic, dichotomous explanation can actually be applied to the current political sphere is something I don’t really know (although I think it is obvious that the real situation is much more complex and nuanced; after all, socialism is considered a left-wing value yet historical socialist states have apparently required authoritarian governments to function).

In the contemporary US, there are two main political parties that have the most influence, The Democratic Party and the Republican Party, with the former generally supporting liberal values and the right conservative ones (however, there are plenty of individuals in both parties who do support values that are associated more with the other side).

During the 2016 presidential election, it seemed to me we had a lesser of two evils type of deal. On the one hand, we had Clinton, who was apparently seen as a tool of the establishment and too flexible in her political stance (ironically, she was disliked during the 1990s for being too naive and ideologically rigid). On the other hand, we had Donald Trump, who is famously nationalistic, anti-immigrant, prone to making false statements while accusing the media of making false statements, and rather rude.

Apparently, a lot of people were genuinely shocked by his winning of the election. I know that quite a few friends of mine were in a bad emotional place that Wednesday. It has also apparently instigated violence and irrationality among those viewed as members of the left, if pro-Trump media sources are anything to go by (meanwhile, other media sources–quiet a few of them probably biased in the other direction–will go into great detail about what repercussions Trump’s decisions are generating and how they will screw up the country).

There definitely were quite a few protests after the election, and I expect there to be more in the days to come. There will also continue to be people who strongly condemn or support the actions/goals of those protesting, and there will be a lot of selectiveness in which facts get cited to support predefined opinions (assuming they aren’t skewed in the first place).

I do not think the left has gone rabid. A think that a few fringe groups are definitely engaging in irrational behavior, but for the most part I suspect that people actively critical the current administration are being played up by media more focused on entertainment and pundits who just want to sway your opinion. Also, it seems to me that those of american conservative mindset (and this is just speculation based on only a few observations and second hand accounts) are defined by maintaining some sort of “traditional” set of values, and they view the left as being to cozy with those that would threaten those values, such as members of the LGBT community and immigrants from very different cultures. They are also more likely to trust in an authoritarian government if said government seems like it will protect the nations “fundamental” values. Of course, this is a general observation that does not include liberals who voted for Trump and conservatives who didn’t.

With rural conservatives in particular (I’m from a rural area, as are most of my conservative peers), the main fear seems to be that the interests of the perceived focus of the “left agenda” is centered on the social and economic developments of cities and urban environments with emphasis on social justice for minorities, and that the white-middle class worker has no place in this. If memory serves correct, these people are definitely worried about losing their jobs to corporations and immigrants (although why a billionaire businessman would help with that is beyond me). There were also a few people I am aware of (there are probably much more) who voted for the current president basically because he would shake up things, bringing about any sort change and new developments (for good or ill) that could not be expected from the opposition.

I recently learned about something called Terror Management Theory, which I think kind of explains a lot about human behavior. Basically, humans have the same instincts and drives to survive and avoid that which could kill them, while also having the cognitive ability to recognize that death is inevitable and that there is nothing they can do to change that. Pretty much every belief system ever functions to prevent the sort of mental breakdown that would otherwise result from this contradiction, and is reinforced when faced with reminders of death. Studies were done that show that subliminal exposure to reminders of death cause one to more strongly support their beliefs, while the possibility of ones beliefs being proven wrong results in greater contemplation of mortality. More information has been included in the links below.

The reason that I mentioned this theory is that I think that Trump managed to win in part by feeding into the unconscious desire for immortality that characterizes most belief systems. Any rhetoric of those who seek to destroy our nation is going to eventually tie into the fear of death, while his promise of making the nation “great again” is directly connected to the main ideals of the nationalist’s belief system. Also, the majority of people who voted for Trump were apparently Baby Boomers, people who are either at or past the halfway point of their expected life spans, and the closer one gets to death the more likely it is that they will have strong belief systems to manage their terror (that certainly explains colonoscopies).

Frankly, I think any sort of political victory can be tied to propaganda that takes advantage of the TMT (and I am pretty that anyone else with a brain has already concluded that).

Before 2016, I did not have any particular political views, except that I sympathized more with liberal ideals than conservative (as well as slightly more libertarian than authoritarian). I did not have much more than a passive interest in what was going on with the governing bodies in my country, although I did try to make informed decisions whenever I had to vote for something. These days, I find it difficult to do any sort of research without getting pissed off or assuming that which makes sense to me is actually accurate. I also find it emotionally difficult to get into any sort of discussion without wanting to back out after five minutes. It is also frustrating how biased information can be, as well as how easily I can be swayed about something by that which plays into my own biases and prejudices.

It is natural for people to have differing views of the world, and to align with those that share similar views while classifying the less similar as opposition. Every irrational, emotional tendency can be explained easily as instincts that allowed our ancestors to survive. However, in a world where first impressions are generated based on skewed secondhand reports and sensationalist media, one must strive to keep calm and dig out the facts from the hyperbolic mud. Of course, what one must often differs greatly from what one actually does.

 

Links

http://digital.library.pitt.edu/a/americanleft/about.html

http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/left-vs-right-us/

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/07/the_people_who_hate_hillary_clinton_the_most.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/the-left-right-political-spectrum-is-bogus/373139/

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/02/are-conservatives-more-scared-of-stuff-than-liberals.html

https://www.uni-ulm.de/fileadmin/website_uni_ulm/iui.inst.160/Psychologie/Sozialpsychologie/19_Greenberg_Arndt_Terror_Management_Theory.pdf

Feathers

So I recently watched a pirated recording of the animated film Ice Age: Collision Course. Just like the other Ice Age sequels, it was for the most part silly, idiotic, and immature, and not in any of the ways that I would enjoy. The only reason I watched it in the first place is my nerdiness for all things prehistoric. I’d go on, but I suspect that there are plenty of other geeks on the internet reviewing low quality family entertainment, so why bother?

Though I do have one issue; is it just me, or is a lot of animation marketed towards families with children generally kind of low in both writing and production quality? Granted, what kind of writing one appreciates as a child differs from what one appreciates as an adult, and there are plenty of decent ways one can make use of limited animation, but that should NOT be an excuse to generate subpar content! Then again, I never watched a lot of cartoons when I was physically a child (not by choice), so what do I know? I guess some research will have to be done…

Anyway, Ice Age: Collision Course is a dumb movie with subpar jokes and a mediocre plot, as well as weird-ass interstellar events and anachronistic dinosaurs. However, the dinosaurs might be the one area where I might commend the creators, due to their decision to give those three antagonistic dromaeosaurid characters noticeable plumage.

Known to the general public as “raptors” thanks to Jurassic Park, dromaeosaurids were small to medium-sized predatory dinosaurs notable for their infamous sickle-clawed second toes and their close relationship with birds.

The most famous genus of dromaeosaurid is the genus Velociraptor, due to the usage of the name in the book and film Jurassic Park, which is applied to an animal that physically resembles the larger, geologically earlier, north american genus Deinonychus (Michael Crichton apparently used the name Velociraptor because he thought it was cooler. He might have also been influenced by the crazy cladistics of Gregory S. Paul, whose ideas on dinosaur classification aren’t exactly widely accepted by experts in the field).

When Jurassic Park was being produced, it incorporated all the latest technology and scientific knowledge of the time. When it was released, the audiences were amazed by how realistic the dinosaurs looked. Among other things, it resulted in Velociraptor skyrocketing from obscurity to common household term. However, the creature depicted in the film has little resemblance to the actual animal. For starters, the actual Velociraptor was about 0.5 meters high at the hip, had a very narrow skull, hands that could not pronate, a stiff tale, was probably no where near as intelligent as a primate, and (while this was not known at the time, not to mention too difficult to realistically animate at the time) it was covered in feathers. Not just down either, but full on pennaceous feathers that anchor to its arms like those on a bird’s wing.

Of course, most people associate the name “Velociraptor” with those “cool-looking” reptilian monsters they saw on the screen, and that has shaped portrayals of dromaeosaurs in fiction ever since. Naturally, palaeontologists and people who obsess over the prehistoric are a little miffed about all this, especially with how the rather successful 2015 sequel film Jurassic World did not bother to update the designs of its theropods from the first movie (they did include some new research for the other animals, but you can hardly notice it under the artistic license).

Another film that same year (Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur) generated a lot of hype among the paleophiliac community because it was supposed to feature feathered Velociraptors, only for the actual result to resemble the mohawked raptors from Jurassic Park III; they were just scaly animals with with hair-like structures down their necks and backs. I’m not going to dismiss this as it just being a cartoon; the animation and landscape rendering is so freaking gorgeous! If they could have spent that much effort on the imagery, they could have put more research into the character designs!

The closest real-life equivalent to the JP raptors that ever existed is arguably the recently discovered species Dakotaraptor steini (with genera like Utahraptor and Achillobator being close seconds). Roughly 5 meters long and with proportion similar to Deinonychus, Dakotaraptor was a late cretaceous predator from South Dakota that coexisted alongside (and competed for prey with) the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex. Studies of its forelimbs show that it had prominent wing feathers, which might have been used for display, sheltering eggs, balance when jumping on prey, and/or gliding during infancy.

The dromaeosaurids featured in the Ice Age film were probably based on Dakotaraptor, due to the time it was discovered and the hype it generated. Like the actual animal, they are bird-like animals covered with plumage and with functionable wing feathers on their forelimbs. However, they also have pronating hands and scaly stomachs, lack primaries, and are capable of flight, something no dromaeosaurid their size has any business doing. So, while I give the creators props for doing some research, I am not going to give them full marks due

A completely accurate depiction of Dakotaraptor (as accurate as current evidence allows, anyway) will be featured alongside other denizens of the Hell Creek formation of South Dakota in the up-coming video game Saurian, which aims to provide players with a truly authentic experience living as a dinosaur 65 million years ago. After watching some promotional material, I have to admit that these guys really did their homework when designing the dinosaurs.

Based on recent depictions, I’m kind of hoping that there will be a growing trend towards more realistic depictions of dromaeosaurs (and other prehistoric animals, of course) in popular media, a trend that I am expecting Saurian to initiate. For there not to be would seem to me like stagnation, and I abhor stagnation.

The website for Saurian can be found among the links below. More information about how dromaeosaurs actually looked vs how the media commonly portrays them can also be found below.

Dinosaurs As They Really Are

A Velociraptor Without Feathers isn’t a Velociraptor

Science Daily – Velociraptor had Feathers

Ice Age Wiki: Dino-Bird

Saurian Website

Talking About the Weather

According to NASA, 2016 was the warmest year on record (with the records stretching back to the late 1800), and the third year in a row to set a new record for global temperatures. The average global temperature was calculated to be about .99 degrees Celsius  above the mid-20th century mean, with the average global temperature being 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than it was during the late 19th century (coincidently, the industrial revolution happened during the middle of the 19th century).

This is a calculated global average based on data recorded across the planet; in a lot of places, weather dynamics meant that local temperatures did not get record-breaking high. The majority of the United States was not one of those places. Thanks to an El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific (meaning that the ocean was abnormally warm out there), Nearly all states experienced higher than average weather that was well above their 20th century means (Georgia was the only one to set a new record, though).

At the time of this post, I’m living in a relatively elevated area around western NY, and the last few weeks started out somewhat ridiculously mild (if I had wanted to, I could have gone outdoor sunbathing out on the mountain side during a weekend in early January), but are now properly cold and snowy. The dissipation of the El Niño means that this year should be cooler for North America than the last one; after the blizzard I trudged through to get back to my dorm, I am not too surprised.

NASA, NOAA Data Show 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally

2016 Was Second Warmest Year on Record in Us

What are El Niño and La Niña?