Friday, 30 May 2014

We Didn't Need That Anyway

Andrew Coyne often has pretty smart things to say about politics, and in his recent column entitled Tim Hudaks' bogus Million Jobs plan is no reason not to vote for him he makes two valid points. First of all, if you ever thought that they government could actually concoct a plan to create a million jobs over the next eight years, you were fooling yourself, so the fact that it can't do so shouldn't affect much. That's true if cynical. Second, if lowering taxes and cutting the public sector are good ideas, then you should vote for the party who is doing to do that even if the numbers for how good the ideas are don't add up.

Well, he states it with a little more conclusiveness. He definitely thinks that lowering taxes and cutting the public service right now is a good idea, so there's no "if" about it.

Overall, his point is that you have to look beyond a math error and look at what that math error actually means. Economists, he notes, make math errors all the time, that's no reason to ignore economics entirely.

What Coyne missed is that there is more going on here than a math error.  When confronted with the error, Tim Hudak defended himself:
"I stand behind our numbers," he said at a furnace-making facility in Niagara Falls, Ont. "I simply believe that permanent tax reductions on job creators, more affordable energy is going to create jobs."
So with one fell swoop we've gone from, "Look at this spreadsheet," to, "I simply believe..."

None of this ever had anything to do with numbers, it all had to do with what Tim Hudak "simply believes." The fact is that if the numbers are trusted, which they shouldn't be, Tim Hudak is promising to eliminate more jobs than he creates.  At what point do we go from a minor error to admitting that the entire premise of the exercise is wrong.

The point is that Tim Hudak won't change that plan if 100% of Canada's economists come out and say it will have the exactly opposite effect that it is intended to have.  The point for Hudak only evidence that supports his thesis counts.  Having read this column, one has to wonder if Coyne is the same.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Why Democracy, Capitalism, Communism, Government Bureaucracy, Big Business, Peer Reviewed Science and Cults Simply Don't Work

A lot of people like to say that communism is a proven failure. In a way, I think of it as a great success. Ccompare the growth in personal income - or some other measure of personal well-being - in the United States to that a western democracy with a decidedly less free-market approach, like the Netherlands. Then compare the same measure from the USSR to another murderous dictatorship, one that had a more free-market approach, like Zaire.

The problem wasn't so much organizing the economy in one fashion or another, it was more having a murderous dictatorship. A lot of things go wrong once "don't give the murderers a reason to murder me" becomes the driving goal of the citizenry. It's not a productive goal.

That's not to say that I think communism worked or will work, I don't really think that. Still, I think that a pretty big part of the failure of the USSR to create wealth for its people was that they were butchers rather than that they had a bad model for property ownership.

But being butchers itself isn't exactly the problem either. There was a small group of people that had so much power than they could kill thousands or millions of people and no one could do anything about it. If you have that kind of power you can do anything with it, like driving the economy into the ground.

Now, Zaire - maybe I should be calling it Congo, but at the time that Mobutu was in power he pretty much got to say what it was called - is a particularly egregious example of a kleptocracy, and the Netherlands has done quite well in recent years. I'm not going to say I didn't cherry pick comparators. Go find me the murderous dictatorship that had a really good run of things, and I'll happily look at the numbers there.

People with large amounts of power, unless they are extremely careful to do otherwise, quickly find themselves surrounded by other people who tell them that everything to do, say or think is right. They have a lot of opportunity to retreat into their own heads and make conclusions about the world based on their biases without ever checking them against reality. Following the "no reason to murder me" rule, central planners in the USSR would report inaccurate numbers to the leaders to say that things were going well and that their plans were working out perfectly.

What is so attractive about a market economy is that we all know no one is smart enough to set the price of shoes to the right amount or decide how many of which sizes of shoes are needed.  The market may not always answer these questions perfectly, but it does a better job than any person could do, even with sophisticated modeling equipment.  Democracy uses the same advantage - the wisdom of the crowd - to decide which laws should govern the country.  No one is smart enough to decide which laws should be our laws, but the citizenry as a whole can use collective decision making to do a better job.

But the tendency to accumulate power in the hands of a small number of people exists in pretty much every system.  In capitalism, money makes money, property lets you charge rent a person who can afford to hire others to do productive work for them can get paid for a lot more productive work than a person who has to scan the want ads.  In democracy political parties have substantially more power than individual candidates, and the parties themselves seem to inevitably fall under the control of small juntas or individual leaders.  In communism there is already a junta and it is only so long that they will be willing to let their power be checked by principle.

Government Bureaucracy has Deputy Ministers, "czars" and commissars.  Big Business has CEOs and presidents.  Peer reviewed science has journals of note and famous scientists who can pull more than their weight in a discussion.  The tendency to centralize power seems to exist in all systems.  Why would we fight each other when we can all get along?  Who benefits from that?

Well we need to fight each other a little.  We need to disagree to make sure the thing we are all agreeing on isn't stupid.  It is the diverse opinions of the crowd that make it wise.  In the classic bull weighing example from the book The Wisdom of Crowds, the average guess at the bull's weight was closer than any of the given guesses.  Keep in mind that the fools who guessed far too high and far too low are part of that average.  When a large group of people sing a song together it sounds like the collective voice is right in tune, even though many of the people are undoubtedly bad singers.

Crowds are smart, people are stupid.  Collective decision making - markets, democracy, science - works while individual decision making doesn't.  But we let collective decision making devolve into individual decision making, and that means that nothing works and that we have to shake things up sometimes just to get rid of the outsized influence of powerful, stupid, stupid individuals.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Minor Blunder

The Progressive Conservative party of Ontario had some robust economic analysis behind their political platform to create 1 million jobs over eight years.  Without any government action, the economy was expected to create 500,000 jobs, and their tax cuts and other measures would account for another 500,000.  Sounds pretty good.

Obviously this is very silly.  First of all, taking credit for things that will happen if no one did anything is a little deceptive, though to their credit all political parties take credit for the job gains that happen while they are in office even when they happen only due to population increases.  Secondly, I would hazard a guess that the models that were used to translate tax cuts into jobs created are about as reliable as and were utilized by people who, in the very best case scenario, were put in their current position due to luck and results based thinking.  Basically if you think you can make a model to successfully predict job growth from tax cuts you are a moron who should not be trusted with anything.

But lets leave all of that aside.  It turns out that the economic analysis they had done did not show that 500,000 permanent jobs would be created by their tax cuts, it showed that 500,000 person years of employment would be created over the eight years of their plan.  So they multiplied the number of jobs created by eight.  Instead of baseline times two, their plan, if we believe the completely spurious analysis of it that they endorse, would multiply the number of jobs created by one-and-one-eighth, which is well within the margin of error for an outrageous calculation like jobs-created-over-eight-years.  This is, of course, in addition to the fact that one-eighth of 500,000 is 62,500, which is less than the 100,000 public sector jobs he promised to eliminate.

So - once again trusting the math fed to us by the party - he has promised to eliminate more jobs than he has promised to create.  This is called the "Million Jobs Plan."

So the right-wing think tank masquerading as a legitimate scientific body that conducted research for a right-wing political party doesn't even remotely support the conclusion the political party made from the analysis.  A member of the party admitted the mistake was made, but Tim Hudak, the party leader, when asked, "Do you think a person-year of employment is a permanent job?" said, "I stand by my numbers."

Well the analysts who made the numbers for him don't stand by them.  A growing chorus of economists not only don't stand by them, but opening ridicule them.  Generally when you make a fundamental mistake that would disappoint me in a high school student and multiply your result by eight, you don't find a lot of people standing by you.

Okay, well, actually you might find that millions of people still stand by you.  It's not so much that his plan doesn't work out that is a problem for Tim Hudak here since obviously thinking his plan will work was always more of a matter of having faith in the man or the Progressive Conservative brand rather than understanding it.  It is more that the media is full of reports that he can't do very basic economic analysis, which goes to that "faith in the man" past.  And I don't think that this opponents are going to let that one down.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Opinions and Laws

I like Martha Hall Findlay. There probably isn't a great reason for me to like her, I don't know very much about her. I liked her speech a lot at the 2006 leadership convention, and I suppose that is reason enough.

But her piece in the Huffington Post about Justin Trudeau's stance on abortion and Liberal MPs is the kind of nonsense that makes me glad she didn't win.

Trudeau, not too long ago, mused that any new Liberal candidates should be prepared to vote pro-choice if any bills regarding abortion came up in the house. Here is what he said:

It’s not for any government to legislate what happens – what a woman chooses to do with her body, and that is the bottom line. I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.

What Hall Findlay recently wrote in the Huffington Post is that it is bad to try to force MPs to vote a certain way on matters of conscience.  I guess she advocates for a parliament where MPs actually decide how to vote based on what they think or based on representing their constituents instead of dutifully parroting their leaders.  I personally like that idea a lot.

But if I was going to pick a handful of issues that I would expect my MPs to vote with the party on, were I leader, abortion would definitely be one of them.  The idea that this should be excluded while voting on a budget should not is silly.

Whether or not you believe people should have abortions could be a matter of conscience.  Whether or not you like to hang around with people who have had or who actively support the choice to have abortions is your personal preference.  But whether you want to enact legislation regulating or criminalizing access to abortion is not just a matter of conscience.  It is a matter of law.

Bills are not whimsical, they have real world effect.  Trudeau's pronouncement was about bills, not about motions.  Honestly if some Liberals voted to support a motion condemning abortion that would certainly cost them my vote, but I can understand why someone would say it was a matter of conscience.  No one is asking any Liberal MP to vote against their firmly held moral believes, but rather they are asking them to vote for or against laws.

You may think that drugs are bad or even morally problematic, but if you support current criminal drug laws, you are supporting a very stupid thing.  You may think that cheating on tests in highschool is morally wrong, but if you were to support a bill that regulated cheating or set out penalties for it, I would call you a moron.  You may think that bigamy is morally wrong but within the next few years the Supreme Court is going to tell you how dumb it is for us to have a criminal law about that one.

If someone demonstrated that laws against theft actually led to more theft, didn't help victims of theft, and led to numerous spurious convictions against non-thieves, would you still support that law?  Because theft is wrong?

Laws are not our conscience, and MPs should not expect their parties to not care whether they vote in accordance with their party's policies.  If you are so right, then vote however you want and your constituents will vindicate you in the next election.  But if you join a party that is committed to maintaining women's rights over their bodies, don't expect the party to make that the one issue they are willing to look the other way on.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Strep Throat

Wow, strep throat sucks a lot I thought I was having a severe allergic reaction and my throat was swelling, but instead it went on for a few days. For some reason it also makes me feel wired and not really able to sleep. It certainly doesn't allow me to think about horrible, depressing things to write about in a blog.

Friday, 23 May 2014

It's a Mystery

Sorry for not posting this week.

In the meantime, I have created a new web-toy to play with.  I will not say anything more about it.  You can play with it here. Sorry, it probably won't work on out-of-date browsers and it might do horrible things to you if you have an old computer anyway. If there are compatibility issues I'd be happy to try to work them out, but compatibility isn't really my thing right now. It works on Chrome and Firefox, anyway.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Priest

I should have been a priest. I have pretty much all of the characteristics that a person needs to head a local religious organization. I am competent with administration, I am good at leading small groups, I have an excellent speaking voice, I can expound for a long time on a practical or moral issue, I'm inclined towards mysticism, I speak in metaphor, I like to help people, I am good at keeping far away overseers happy, I can justify anything, I enter occasional dissociative states, I and a fluid liar, and I am prone to fits of passionate temper.

Unfortunately priest is a bit of a difficult career for me to enter. I don't think anyone pays priests the big bucks, but if you want to take home a salary as a priest it seems like the monotheists are the ones who pay. A stumbling block towards that end is that I'm in on the fact that there is no God. One might even regard this as a fair fatal flaw.

I'm not really sure it's all that bad. I'm sure history is full of priests who were essentially conmen, and I don't think I would be anything more than that. Still, there would be hoops to jump through, and I think they two biggest paying religions would be right out for me. Judaism is actually pretty careful about who they allow to convert, and Catholicism would not only require me to hide being an atheist, but hide that I was married with children as well. The United church is probably my best bet since I'm kind of Christian already, and they are probably a better philosophical fit for me, but I still think the climb from totally non-religious to yeah-you-can-be-a-priest would be a long one.

There are options for being a priest as an avocational interest, but right now I don't have a lot of spare time, and frankly if I am going to have to con people to get there then I feel like I need to get paid.

So that leaves me with cult leader. Cult leader seems like a really attractive career option, but I think it's awfully hard to get established. I do have a lot of zany ideas that might make me sexually attractive to confused and vulnerable people, so I'm probably pretty qualified, but having spent my life trying to avoid manipulating vulnerable people instead of practicing it, I don't know if I will have the edge I need over other would-be cult leaders.

I guess I tried to be a priest once, but my religion kind of fell flat even with the most receptive audience I could have hoped for. Maybe the first thing to do is to make a website to try to spread the word about my crazy thoughts. Maybe a podcast. I guess if you actually are very successful at podcasting and writing crazy things on the web then you don't even have to form a cult.

It seems like it's at least as good a bet as becoming a professional author.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Oh Men!

Here's an article that is kind of interesting and would be more interesting if it didn't take an obviously complex situation and boil it down to "Oh men!"

In short, men play female avatars in video games largely because they, as the original study says, "prefer the aesthetics of the female form."  Or, as the writer of this article says, "it's all about butts."

Let's quickly do away with how stupid this is.  First of all, 77% of men in the study preferred to play a male character.  That doesn't reconcile well with the deciding axis being butts.  Secondly, are gay men who design clothes for women or do hair for women doing that because, despite being gay, they love the butts?  Also, look at men's faces when they see their toddler-daughters dressed in pretty dresses.  Do men find that adorable because they are all incestuous pedophiles?

But boiling men down to a single axis - and then placing all of them at the same end of that axis - is pretty much standard interpretation of maleness.  Men are forced into an extremely narrow social role.  So narrow in fact that there was a time of my life when I thought I was a "woman trapped in a man's body" because, apparently, being trans - a word I'd never even heard - was an easier thing for me to think than being a male who did not conform to what males were expected to be.

The analysis in this article can be as sloppy as it wants to be because we all know that men are nothing but sex machines that think about sex 100% of the time.  If any man tells you different he is a liar, it would seem.  I watched Fashion Television in high school for the "hot women" not because I've always loved fashion of course!

The cultural expectations of men are probably pretty okay for a few men, maybe even a majority, I don't know.  What I do know is that they are absolutely miserable for some of us.  Meanwhile "Men's Rights" organizations, rather than trying to talk about the real problems that men are having, are making fake rape complaints to discredit real rape complaints, presumably because they have extremely limited notions of what men can be.

And I hate men.  I mean, I basically only have male friends, but aside from these few exceptions who I have almost no contact with anyway I basically feel uncomfortable being the same room as men.  I'm extremely thankful for having daughters instead of sons because I can't imagine how I would raise or relate to a son.  I think I'd find a way to reinforce everything I hate about what he was "supposed to be" and then dislike him for parroting back what I modeled.

So I have horrible stereotypes of men and I'm mad at anyone else who thinks the same way.  That's super.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Playing Wedding with my Toys

I like romantic story lines.  I'd be embarrassed to give a full account of the TV shows that I otherwise find almost intolerable I've watched out of interest in a romantic plot line.

Romantic story lines in videogames are even better.  You often get to make choices that guide the characters through the badly written love-drama.  If you make the right choices then they'll be in love!

Of course, if you are gay, you might not have that option.  That's not an entirely fair assessment, I can enjoy a gay romance and I'm sure that gay people can enjoy a heterosexual one - the stereotype of gay men loving musicals may be a ridiculous generalization, but there really are gay men who love musicals.  Still, it makes sense for homosexual people to want to see relationships that reflect themselves, especially in video games where they are controlling the development of the relationship.

So when Nintendo defended not including option of gay marriage in Tomodachi Life it understandably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.  In that game you play as your Mii, a thing intended to be a virtual avatar of yourself.  The idea that your Mii has to have a different sexual orientation than you seems odd.  In their own defence, Nintendo said they hadn't intended the game to be political commentary.  It turns out that's not much of a defence.

In Skyrim you there are a large number of marriable characters.  You can ask anyone to marry you regardless of their sex and yours.  Let's think about how that came about.  They had to flag characters as marriable.  They had to write dialogue for them for marriage options, they had to record that dialogue with voice actors and put in a wedding scene that the protagonist and any NPC could be plopped into.  They even give you a special buff for sleeping at home when you are married that is slightly better than the regular sleeping buff.

Note what they didn't do: They didn't flag anyone as homosexual or heterosexual.  They didn't even write code to check what sexes the two people getting married were.  Allowing homosexual marriage in Skyrim required no more work than allowing heterosexual marriage.

But somewhere in Tomodachi Life, there is code that says something like this:

if ( == {stopTheWedding()}

Somebody had to type that in.  And that somebody had to decide to do that.  They were thinking something, and whatever that something was, for our purposes it boiled down to "Gay people shouldn't be able to get married in this game."  And other people checked their code and knew what that line meant.  And the whole thing got approved at several levels by people who knew what it meant.  People who aren't looking to make political statements can generally do so by simply not doing anything.  When you start having to code the non-political non-statement in, it starts looking like a statement, and one that seems pretty political to me.

When gay marriage is a contentious political issue, it's actually very hard to not make a political statement about it when you include choice about marriage in your video game.

I think Skyrim is much less political than Tomodachi Life.  Someone can say, "Hey, I don't even want to have the option of marrying another man in the game," but that's not so much politics as it is flat-out moronic.

In order to facilitate same-sex marriage in a videogame you merely have to not put in a check to prevent it, just like in real life.  And just like in real life, the justifications for putting that check in don't really fly.

Friday, 9 May 2014

GemCraft - Chasing Shadows

Okay, so I've been posting exclusively about being crazy lately, but while not doing so I have been playing a lot of GemCraft - Chasing Shadows.

This, to me, is a real nerd's paradise of a game.  Tower defence games are often very frustrating, and aren't often great games.  Gameplay goes like this:

  1. Well, I have 100 gold and a tower costs 100 gold so I guess I'll build one.
  2. Oh, there are 10 enemies, my tower killed them, they were worth 10 gold each, I guess I have 100 gold, so I'll buy another tower
  3. Repeat
But then devolves into:
  1. Well, I can buy the tower that kills fliers, or the one that kills big guys, or the one that kills swarms of little guys.  I guess I'll just pick one?
  2. Oh, the last wave was big guys, I lost, I guess I'll play the level again and pick big guys this time
  3. Repeat
These are puzzle games with limited numbers of moves where the "difficulty" is often derived from your inability to see the future.  To combat the build-and-wait gameplay there is a whole spin-off genre where you have both towers and a first- or third-person fighting game where your character does a lot of the killing themselves.

I actually didn't really like GemCraft or GemCraft chapter 0, but GemCraft Labyrinth really brought the pure tower defence game to a new level where I feel like I'm actually playing a game.  GemCraft - Chasing Shadows builds on that.

What makes it so much better than it's peers?  First of all, you don't just build towers that shoot enemies, you can build other structures, and you can even build them on the path enemies walk to make the path longer or divert their flow.  That is, you can alter the playing field.

You don't just have speed up and speed down buttons or the ability to call waves of enemies early, you can enrage the waves of enemies by building gems and bombing them, making those waves more powerful with more enemies.  That is, you can alter how many enemies you are facing and how strong they are.

At the beginning of each level you can choose modifiers that multiply the experience you receive and also change how the level plays.  They can make certain kinds of enemies more power and more common, make waves come faster, and do other, stranger things.  That is, you decided what challenges come with each level.

Tower defence games have a huge amount of passivity built into them.  GemCraft has become more and more active.  Not in a click-wildly sense, but in a make-choices sense.  And for all that customization, the game still manages to make the different fields interestingly different from one another, and put up unique challenges as you go.

The advancement system is very cool, and the addition of the talisman - a 15 socket equipment screen to fill with random drops - is great.  Amazingly enough, the minimalistic story line is great as well, and the grand villain is actually substantially menacing with the black static that appear on the screen before she sends her horrible creations after you.

Apparently this was greenlighted on Steam but you can play it for free on Armor Games right now.  There is a $4.99 option to buy the "Magician's Pouch" which unlocks a few extra traits and skills.  I made a point of playing it for quite a while before buying just to experience the unaugmented game, and not only is the free version very playable, but the paid version doesn't ruin things.  If you want to play this game a lot and rack up millions of xp and super high rarity talisman fragments then you probably want to buy it as it unlocks chain hit gems on every level, although there is a work-around that makes it not-very-necessary which I don't want to post here because it's big-time spoilery.

This game feels like it has a huge amount of play to it.  I'm only barely over level 200 right now, and I certainly plan on getting that to at least a thousand.  I'll probably get back to Diablo 3 with the next patch, but for now it's GemCraft all the time.

Thursday, 8 May 2014


A repost from the BoingBoing message boards:

Now my ire is raised! Let's look at that oatmeal comic, shall we? First of all, the first line of it says that "Literally means actually or without exaggeration." So according to the link you provided, the idea of correcting someone saying they should have use "actually" instead of "literally" is requesting a synonym.

But let's get a little deeper into the obsession that people have with the word "literally." Have you every thought about words that people use to amplify meaning?

Really - Let's see... "Real" as in, actual or factual, or in the real world
Very - Look like "verily" at all to you? Root Latin word verus meaning "true"
Truly - True

That's right, in the history of the English language, words that mean "truthfully" have morphed into words we use to mean "extremely."

This is a fairly obvious transition. We commonly conflate the ideas of true and extreme because we use them in ways like "Jem is truly outrageous". Obviously "Jem is outrageous" would also convey the idea that what you are saying it true. It is almost never necessary to indicate that a fact you are conveying through speech is meant to be regarded as true. So saying that Jem is "truly" outrageous serves only to highlight that you might have been prevaricating or exaggerating otherwise, that is, when other people merely say "outrageous" they might not mean it to the same degree you do. "I really love you," instead of "I love you." "I'm really hungry" instead of "I'm hungry", "I really want to punch that guy" instead of "I want to punch that guy." Explaining that you mean what you say is the same thing exaggerating the meaning even when you don't actually mean what you say.

So it makes the leap to being a word people use to exaggerate. "I'm really starving," would be interpreted by any sensible person as an exaggeration, not an statement of literal fact about low caloric intake leading to medical complications.

But there's more. Once on word has been firmly entrenched as a way of exaggerating it loses it's punch. Everything is "really" something, really is boring, so new words take up that role. "Literally" is just the one of many. If someone says, "That was so funny I literally pissed my pants!" they were most likely employing a metaphor.

To say that they can't be employing a metaphor because their sentence contained the word "literally" is the equivalent of saying that my sentence "I had to quickly go to the store," can't be true because I said the sentence slowly. The word "quickly" is not a metaword that applies to what I am saying, it's an adverb that applies to the verb "go", and "literally" works exactly the same way.

"Literally" is not a magical word handing to us from God on High to usurp the meaning of the surrounding text. It's just a word like any other - it can be used metaphorically and it's usage can shift over time.

When someone says, "I literally pissed my pants," they are not using any words in the sentence incorrectly, it's just that what they said is not true.

Complaints about "literally" being used in correctly are pure snobbery, with a healthy dose of "the kids these days" mixed in.

(Check out that last sentence - If the snobbery is "pure" then how can it have anything else mixed in?!? If that sounds stupid and pedantic, that is exactly how stupid and pedantic complaining about "literally" is)

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Borderline Personality Disorder

That is not a diagnosis, but I tend to think I have Borderline Personality Disorder.  If you don't know what that is, it's basically a disorder related to emotional instability that has held onto a terrible, misleading name.  You can go screen yourself here.

As I've talked about before, mental health problems are about interactions between people and their cultures.  There are facts about ourselves as organisms that take on different shapes in different cultural settings.  To use yet another example, we may think the same way about not having legs 500 years ago as not having legs now.  In one sense, the human organism in each case is without legs and that is the same.  But the way that having no legs affects the life of a person in those different time periods is quite dramatically different, as is the difference between living in Ontario where I live with no legs compared to living in a war-torn region with no health care or accessibility laws with no legs, as is the difference between having no legs but having come from a wealthy background versus having no legs but having come from an impoverished one.

So when I say I probably have borderline personality disorder, I don't really mean that.  I think I probably have BPD in the same sense that a person in a mobility device has "can't-go-up-the-stairs-ness".  It doesn't strike me as a thing itself that a person can have but as a way that a person can interact with society.  When I talk about having a difference that doesn't have a name, I am talking about not being able to put a name to the leg that I am without.

Still, giving a name to a mental illness seems like it can be a useful thing to do.  That person may not have "can't-up-up-the-stairs-ness" but it's worthwhile for them, and others around them, to know that they can't go up stairs.  It lets people plan accommodations, or if no one is accommodating, it gives people and starting point for an understanding.  Perhaps they could find an internet community of other people who also can't go up the stairs and discuss how that makes them feel.

Of course part of my trouble is that apparently people with Borderline Personality Disorder are generally insufferable.  One description of BPD that I read brought it down to people with BPD thinking that there is a fundamental badness inside themselves, and they tend to make other people see that badness, even if it was their own creation.  I have it on good authority that professional therapists commiserate with one another about their BPD clients, particularly because they tend to call very frequently and request emergency sessions all the time.

I'm annoying and socially inept.  I am impulsively over-familiar with people who don't really know me, but then at other times I find just being near other people - even people I like - is unbearable.  I switch into extreme emotional states like they were light switches.  People with BPD are people who have trouble with keeping relationships and jobs, and that is precisely because they are very hard to be around.

In a way this feels like vindication for me.  I spent my whole life hiding who I was from other people and thinking they wouldn't like me if they knew, and now when I understand myself better and have information about "people like me", I find out that this has often been precisely their experience.  When they try to be themselves they are rejected.  But this isn't because people with Borderline Personality Disorder are fundamentally bad, deep down inside.  It is because they are people that our culture really doesn't know what to do with.

Somehow that's still not a feel-good story.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Showing My Work

Louis CK made some tweets criticizing the Common Core in the United States - the federal learning outcomes for schools.  My understanding is that the Common Core emphasizes results rather than any particular methodology to get those results, but it is linked to standardized testing and so it is linked to teaching to the test and generally a lot of people find it stupid.  They also find it stupid because in math it uses techniques that don't look like the ones I used in school, so obviously those techniques are hogwash.

There was a lively back-and-forth on the BoingBoing forum about whether anyone should care about what a celebrity thinks and whether or not New Math is bad.

As people discussed how awful the school system is, someone brought up the compulsion to "show your work" that is built into math.  Then someone else asked whether "show your work" is actually a bad thing.  Sure, kids don't like it, but it's good for them, right?

My reaction to "show your work" is revulsion, but I have to admit that the "show your work" people have a pretty good point.  One mentioned that while she could do everything in her head in Grades 5 and 6, it was important to get in the habit of being careful then for later school.  Another said that teachers are there to evaluate whether students know what they are doing, not whether they happened to get the right answer to some questions - they can't do that without knowing what steps the students took.  Another person said that no matter what you are doing in any field it is worthwhile to be able to explain your methods.

So there you have it, really kids should show their work because there are lots of benefits and the only drawback seems to be that kids don't like being told to do things.

That's not easy for me to say, though, because "show your work" will always remind of me of a system that failed me as a child.  It's one thing among many that taught me that the point of school and of work and of pretty nearly everything else you do is to just do what you are told to make other people check off whatever box you want them to check off.

To be clear, I never needed to show my work for my own sake.  It's not a habit I learned in Grade 5 that suited me in Grade 12.  Grade 12 was just as much of a breeze as Grade 5 was.  My marks in highschool math courses are indicators of how much I liked the teachers of those courses.  This was confirmed when I went to first year university and my average went up 15 percent over highschool.  When my teachers told me I needed to learn to show my work because I'd need to later they had not idea who I was.  When they said I needed to do my homework and study for tests to develop the skills of doing homework and studying, they were just dead wrong.

And sometimes I feel I can't blame them for being wrong.  I was an outlier.  I don't know how many children like me passed through their classes over the years, but if I was in the upper echelon of the top math program in the country - one of the top math programs in the world - and walking out of exams after forty minutes because I was done and keeping an average in the high 90s then it's safe to say I might have been the only example that any of those teachers saw that was quite like me.  If not, they maybe saw one or two others.  How could they extrapolate that I was the exception to their rule?  What could they even have done with me if they had known?

A few teachers over the years tried to do things to keep my interest but their challenges were easy for me and in the end they left me alone.  In many cases I was probably better at math than my teachers were anyway.

"Show your work" meant "do busy work because I don't have any idea what to do with you."  That probably prepared me for the real world more than anything else I did at school.  Knowing how to force yourself to sit down and do whatever stupid thing someone with authority over you says you should do is pretty much the essence of getting by in the workplace.  There was a good dose of learning how to be liked but not well liked as well.  In a way, school did all that it could for me.

But really, if I had wanted to show the work I was actually doing, it probably would have looked like this:

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Reality Testing

Reality testing is the process of checking your internal thoughts against external reality.  It is taught to patients in psychotherapy as a way to escape from excessively negative thought patterns.  For example, someone is rude to you and you think, "People are always being rude to me."  Reality testing would be actually thinking about all of the interactions you have with people and estimating how often people are rude.  Always is likely not the answer.

Grenadline does something that hurts Cosma.  Cosma assumes the Grendaline did it with the purpose of hurting Cosma.  Cosma is encouraged to think about the events, consider possible motives other than malice, and, depending on the relationship, maybe even ask Grendaline why.

A couple of years ago I took Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  It was a group thing.  In one class the instructor talked about this idea of reality testing, and in one case used an example like that one: an example where the way to test reality was to ask someone what they thought.

Well, this didn't sound right to me at all.  Asking people how they feel or what they think is certainly a tool you can use to figure out how they feel or what they think, but it doesn't give certain results, it isn't superior to all other tools, and I don't even think it's a very potent tool.

We started to discuss that and after I'd wasted about ten minutes of the group's time someone asked if we could move on and we had a unanimous decision to do so.  Still, to me the idea that asking someone how they feel is the definitive or even the best way to know how they feel isn't very well reality tested itself.

I have a toddler.  I can certainly ask her how she feels, and sometimes I think she gets it right, but generally I'm as good or better at identifying her emotions.  Of course, that's a toddler, what about adults?  The question - and this is a really useful kind of question - is at what age a person might be presumed to stop being a deluded liar.  I've known people of nearly every age there is for human being to be and I feel like I can say confidently that there is no magical day when being wrong about your own state is replaced being right about your own state.  Instead, there is talent and practice, just like everything else.

But there is also talent and practice when it comes to judging the feelings of other people.  Maybe you are great at understanding your own emotions, but that doesn't mean someone else isn't better.  Maybe you are really bad at surmising other people's emotions and motivations but someone else might be even worse at figuring you out.

Not that much changes from when we are toddlers.  As often as not when someone is being a jerk they are tired or upset about something unrelated.  No one in this situation wants to admit that they are probably only upset because of a need for sleep, and no one wants to be told that they have to go to bed.  That thing they are thinking about and having feelings about is really real and really important.