Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Minority Person Claims To Come From Racist Country

I talk about a lot of different topic on this blog. A lot. Even allowing for my label-crazy tendencies. You might remember such classic blog posts as:
I could go on, right? I mean, I am going to go on, but I'm pausing briefly here to point out there's a theme to what I am doing with these posts. They're not so different in subject, the examples I am drawing. In fact, I think they present angles to talk about today's title.
When I started writing this post like this yesterday the above seemed rather clever. I suppose I thought the idea was to get you, the reader (if only a conceit), thinking about how I think about things. That's useful. As I once said, the point of political analysis is actually substantive political argument. If you know the shape of my thinking, you can strip me out and get to the TruthTM of the matter. But looking back at this now the idea doesn't seem quite as sensible. I mean, how well do these links do that job?

I suppose the general themes you get (or could get if you squint a bit) from the above are thus:

  • Context matters to me, a lot.
  • The way we express ourselves is an important thing to consider.
  • I am frequently disappointed in my fellow New Zealanders, including in areas/errors connected to racism.
  • It's not helpful to apply American/foreign discourses to New Zealand.
These are useful ways of approaching Taika Waititi's claims that New Zealand is a racist country. Here's what he said or some of it:
Taika Waititi: Nah, it’s racist as fuck. I mean, I think New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it’s a racist place. People just flat-out refuse to pronounce Maori names properly. There’s still profiling when it comes to Polynesians. It’s not even a colour thing – like, ‘Oh, there’s a black person.’ It’s, ‘If you’re Poly then you’re getting profiled.’
Ruban Nielson: I appreciate being Polynesian more than I did when I was there. When I go back now, I find myself being more aggressive when I’m pronouncing Maori names around people who refuse to do it. (laughs)
Taika Waititi: Yeah. Because because they don’t mispronounce French words, do they? They can say fucking ‘Camembert’ properly.
Interviews are like comedy gigs.

What happens in an interview happens only because of the specific circumstances of that interview. Here we've got a three person interview done via Skype. The only one I've ever heard of is Waititi so I'll quickly note he's a director, actor and writer. He's pretty famous. Oh, and he's Maori.

Let's discuss four issues that arise from this.

Number One: Maori Names

I'm not 100% sure what sort of Maori names Waititi's trying to talk about. He probably just means all of them. But the truth is there are three kinds:

  • peoples' names... there is no excuse for deliberately mispronouncing someone's name but it must also be said that sometimes you just can't do it (this shouldn't be an issue with Maori names except with rhoticism).
  • place names... there is a world of difference between how Paris is pronounced in English and French but that doesn't make the English version evil or even wrong... it's just the English pronunciation of a French word, or even a borrowing.
  • random place names... it is inappropriate to mispronounce (not try) place names for places which aren't part of your everyday life, e.g. the Seine or the Kapiti Coast.
When something is really part of English now can be a difficult question. The Kapiti Coast is reasonably well known but it's not like Taupo or Rotorua or Manukau... at least not where I live. But my general point is that the context matters. It's always dubious with peoples' names, but with place names (and Maori words more generally, e.g. kumara) things are a bit different. And which names can be said to be English? Well, now, that depends on where you live.

See? Context.

Part of the issue, it must be said, is that the level of awareness of what is and isn't correct differs. 

Personally, I pronounce Maori as something like Mow-ree. You often hear something not dissimilar to mouldy, Mole-ree. As far as I know that's actually hyper-correction and the real pronunciation is much closer to how I say it but not quite how I do. Yet, a The Mole-ree brigade imagine they have the correct pronunciation.

With things like Whakatane the munters who go around saying Wakatane are just wrong. Everyone knows how to say "Wh" in basically the right way, i.e. "f". So widespread is this is that it's given us the old Whanganui or Wanganui issue... te reo isn't really a written language and the local dialect is more similar to Wanganui, hence why it is spelt like that (except with the river, and why not just use f? clearly there's some complexities here I should have looked into). 

Now, this isn't really what Waititi's talking about. "Flat Out Refuse". It's very, very clear that he's talking about people who are offered a right pronunciation and choose to not take it up. Who knows why? Maybe because they're from Manukau and it's much more part of their life than Waititi the Wellingtonian's. Maybe they're a munter who also says Camembert properly. And if they are, it's probably fair to say, "Hey, you're a racist munter"... why else would they pronounce one foreign language properly but refuse to do the same for another?

Number Two: Profiling

The discussion about profiling doesn't really need much elaboration on. Or, well, it didn't except it's also in the news for a separate reason.

In statistics a lot of what you do as an undergraduate is called model building. Sometimes that's for predictive purposes and sometimes it isn't. The way to go about building models, as Thomas Lumley (quoted in the article) will tell you, differs between these two cases. When we're talking about profiling, I believe we're talking about prediction.

A classic example of profiling is the Arab looking dude getting chosen for a "random" bomb test. Their physical appearance (Arab-lookingness) is the only reason they're suspected to be someone to check out. The problem is that this reasoning is just really dodgy. Very few Arab (looking) people are terrorists or otherwise threats to society. A tiny, tiny minority. I reckon the odds of finding a terrorist are a lot higher if you're looking at Irish and Northern Irish males over the age of 40.

But that would be profiling too.

The line between profiling and not-profiling occurs when you start talking about absolutely high probabilities, not higher ones. When you start taking all the characteristics, feeding them to a model and then acting. Not when you're looking at a person, looking at your profile of a "bad guy" and then deciding they fit it. And let's be honest, normally it's only the one characteristic that makes the profiler go "Gotcha".

The issue is a bit more complex than this, of course. If you had a data set that said French government agents are 74% likely to commit a crime in NZ, would that be sufficient material to deport them? Would it be sufficient material to watch them? If something they're predicted to do happened, it would definitely validate (in my eyes) specifically trying to exclude them (although I'd want a separate team otherwise un-involved with the investigation to do this).

But the truth is that Waititi's often talking more about stuff like Overheard's "get ready to run" controversy... where some random person said if you see Polynesians walking behind you in a group at night (maybe not even at night), it's time to get ready to run. (I believe the post was deleted by the admins, but I assure you it happened.)

Firstly, harden up. New Zealand (and Auckland in particular) is safe. The paranoid among us are paranoid... they cannot find statistics to validate their fears.

Secondly, how is that not racist?

Don't try and answer. It's sort of explained by the harden up point. But you shouldn't even need that much explanation.

Number Three: What does it Mean for a Country to be Racist?

There are lots of different ways to talk about this but I'll quickly bullet point five of them:
  • when racism is an ordinary and everyday experience within the country
  • when the majority of people in the country are racist
  • when there's a non-trivial prior belief that any particular person you might encounter is racist
  • when you find unusual disparities in the lived experiences of people of different ethnicities
  • when you find unusual disparities in the institutional outcomes of people of different ethnicities
All of these are pretty valid except point two. I mean, why would you talk about that?

Number Four: I REALLY Don't Like Using Kiwi as an Identifier

From this article... and yes it is literally the only reason I wrote any of this blog post.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Vapid Side of Online Gender Discourse

There was a time where Craccum would regularly publish letters. In 2015, quite a lot of the ones they published were by me.

The editors and I didn't really get along. I think a lot of that was a misunderstanding on my part of what they tried to do with their responses. I'm a... seriously minded fellow and I really should have noticed by reference to Sophie whatsherface what 2015 Craccum did when they were serious about following up on letters. 

On the other hand, 2015's Craccum editorial staff really were dilettantes when it came to feminism. They knew a couple of talking points and just chucked them in wherever. So, there was some substantive room to not get along on.

The insights offered by Craccum weren't well informed. They weren't electrifying. But they were earnest and honest. In short they weren't vapid. At least in this limited case.

The following year's editorial staff were extremely disappointing. But they did make the interesting point that it's often seen as childish to define words. That's true but it shouldn't be. (I think this was, iirc on all counts, Abley's point also.) I think a large part of the issue is that after about 13 it suddenly seems dumb to be unsure of what a word means. And after about 16, it suddenly seems dumb to use small words. So, let's define these words. Dictionary of choice says:
  • Vapid: Offering nothing that is stimulating or challenging; bland.
  • Dilettante: A person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.
  • Earnest: Resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.
  • Honest: (of an action) done with good intentions even if unsuccessful or misguided.
  • Honest: Simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated.
  • Honest: Free of deceit; truthful and sincere.
In other words, Craccum '15 were honest and sincere dilettantes whilst I was overly earnest. So, what do I think is vapid?

You see a lot of cartoons that look like this on the internet. Some of them are quite good. This one is awful. A complete waste of space and effort... in production, hosting and reading. Let's dive in anyway... and obviously we're assuming this isn't satirising the webcomic genre it belongs to.

Masculinity is Under Attack

Okay, so we're going to talk about notions of being male?. We're going to dive in and engage specifically with the things that people who say this actually think?

Er, no, we're not.

I don't care if your final intent is to mock, abuse or denigrate... if you're going to talk about an observed class, talk about the observed class, not the talking points the observers have about them, If your intentions are more earnest than this, it's a travesty but even here it's still wrong.

You Want to Put Blinkers On and Look at the World in a Completely Self-Centred Way

Liberty is when you're free to do those things which don't restrict other peoples' freedoms.

It seems a completely natural thing to point out that people ought to consider others. Whether we're making an intensely traditional argument like the above one or saying something about, e.g. #MeToo, we come across this idea, right?

But, at the same time, anyone with the slightest awareness of a world where whataboutism is a term should know that the notion of talking about men's issues, masculinity and maleness from a male point of view is only allowed to happen in a completely self-centred way. In every other situation the idea is mocked, ridiculed and dismissed. In other words, this is the deeply ironic statement.

Also... I hate it when I am forced to sound like the lunatics who go on about the Matriarchy.

Can't a Man Just Be a Man?

Far be it from the cartoon to explain where its anguished villains come from.

No, wait, the entire point of satire is to use earnest representations of the satirised object.

Men Must Lead... Tough Guys are Back

I admit, since 2015 I've become completely disenchanted by this subject... it is now, like most things online, no longer stimulating. I find myself bored of the internet. But this doesn't have that truthy sound. It sounds exactly like the old talking points of critics of ideas like fathers' rights or male failure theses or male justice statistics explainers or MRAs or academic feminists etc. etc.

Unfair to Men if We Don't All Keep Playing Along With a System That's Rigged For Us

This is the moment where the cartoonist loses all credibility.

Seriously, read what the alt right think... their central and general thesis is the system is rigged against them. In the particular case of our subject today? They think the CURRENT system is unfair to men.

What makes the alt right an alternative right, rather than the extreme right... given we use the conceit they're different things... is that that the alternative right criticises Social Justice arguments whilst using their premises. You can switch between voting for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump because both times you're against the establishment, pro-gun, anti-globalist (co-operation in one country) and convinced the Man is Keeping You Down. The difference is the Alt Right believes the Man's policies are the key to defeating the Man. Except they call the Man the Deep State.

Why Are We So Threatened By a Level Playing Field?

Yes, it would help to establish that everyone agrees this is what is being created. Clearly, it isn't the case. Remember, we're not talking about people who see the current system being toned down... we're talking about people who see the current system being toned up. Maybe that matters.

Where Does This Assumption Come From That Any Gains For Women Are Losses For Men?

By analogy to child custody disputes and educational attainment statistics. Just a guess.

Maybe this isn't a great format for engaging with complex, if typically conspirational and intellectually fraudulent, arguments. (Analogies are really, really dumb.)

We're Drawn to Alpha Males

This is just nonsensical. The only people who believe alpha males exist are... the alt right.

People are drawn to charismatic people. A lot of the time charisma is not associated with moral goodness. In fact, it's possibly easier to cultivate when you're bad (ever seen Megamind?).

To think that the charismatic are alphas is ridiculous. Grow up. It's pathetic to imagine others are your superiors in life.
  • Pathetic: Arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness.
  • Pathetic: Miserably inadequate.
Actually, the most fascinating insights arise because of our failures to live up to normative standards... this is the chief lesson of Brave New World. (It's not. But it really is something you could call a lesson of said book.)

Strength, Bravery, Power

None of these are bad things.

Well, power gets a bit of a bad rap, but the truth is that it's an increasingly cliched criticism of a text to say it just repeats the cliche of ambition = evil.

Winning At Others' Expense

Can be a bad thing.

When your points rely on clearly false equivalences, you don't have points. You've got memes.
  • Meme: An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
This is a pretentious sense of meme, but when you're mindlessly sharing midnless talking points you be meming.

Comfortable in Themselves

Another very ironic section.

What we have here is a cartoon which oscillates between ridiculing and accepting the premises of its chosen bogeymen (i.e. the alt right) that has ultimately reached the point of arguing that strength is about being comfortable in one's own skin.

This is why it would be useful to not start off trying to ridicule the alt right but rather exploring what their end goal is. Does this guy know Jordan Peterson is a self help author? Does he know being comfortable in your own skin is the defining cliche of the genre?
His secret? After watching several hours of his lectures, I think I've figured it out. It can be summarised in a single word: responsibility.
Dr Peterson's message is a hard one to hear: "Life is suffering." Hardship is inevitable and life will always find some way to make you resentful. But don't complain about it, because that'll make it worse. Instead, find some reason to make life worth it, despite that suffering.
"Why should you feel good about who you are? You should feel good about who you could be," he said. And we actually like that message. It allows us to take responsibility for ourselves and it gives us a goal to strive toward. It gives us direction.
Dr Peterson isn't in the "self-help" business, he's in the "self-improvement" business. Rule number one in his book is: "Stand up straight with your shoulders back." Rule six: "Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the worldis."
Luke Kinsella's summary of Peterson's appeal appears at first glance to suggest comfort is the opposite of what Peterson is after. I disagree. How do you do that stuff in the last paragraph without being comfortable? To me this summary says: accept your reality and use that to move forwards. This is not about anything which wants one to feel diminished and lesser. This is a philosophy that asks one to be in a position to be responsible. That requires comfort with oneself.

We're Taught... I Dominate You or You Dominate Me

Actually, no.

I like sport. I'm the kind of person who people are sometimes surprised to learn this about. But I do. And anyone who went to school with me would know this immediately.

You ever hear of the ball hog? The sore loser? The gracious victor? No I in team? Sportsmanship? It's not about winning it's about having fun? It's about winning the right way? 

The lessons of the sportsfield, the team sportsfield of any sport, subsume the individual in necessity for the team. They allow recognition of individual success but the individuals all complement the whole, the greater part. The domination of one team might be the object, but it's not the point. The point is doing things right and doing it as a team.

We Can All Be Satisfied, Safe and Respected

Yes, this is exactly why you need to listen to these people. They don't feel respected. A lot to nearly all of them aren't responsible in the-Peterson-Kinsellian sense and blame women, feminists and the Man for this. But that doesn't mean they're wrong about not being respected. Look at the train strike. I literally wrote an entire blog post arguing that everyone, including the unions involved, misunderstands why Train Managers matter. You can have the right idea for completely wrong reasons. This is particularly true when we're dealing with society and all its confounding variables.

Men aren't valued as a class. That's a fact. No-one wants to hear about the male view or opinion. It's always assumed that the default societal view is male. But that's not the case. It's elite. And, yes, it's usually an elite male view. But you hear a hell of a lot more about what Emma Watson thinks about the world than you hear about Oliver Twist's view of things. And you get a lot more of Hilary Clinton's views than you do Emma Watson's. And this is true even if normally we're just hearing an endless parade of David Camerons.

I don't want to give the Alt Right "Freudian Excuses" because usually what that means is we valorise and accept the character as "not bad". I don't like the alt right. And I know it seems completely insincere to say this when I'v basically had to take their side and be them. I shouldn't be doing that. My whole point is that these kinds of cartoons shouldn't be squaring off and trying to dominate that which feels fake.
  • Valorise: Give or ascribe value or validity to.
  • Valour: Great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle. (Different Words! Blew my mind.)
More terminology may have been mangled here. I make no apologies. My pet frog died.

Tradition is Also Slavery 

Not here it's not. What kind of insane BS is this? Do you know when slavery was abolished?

It was traditional. But it's not any more.

Mass Land Theft

By which he presumably refers to the New Zealand/Land Wars.

If you fight a war, expect territorial change.

Don't get me wrong, the confiscations were way out of proportion and were sometimes levelled against non-combatants or even quasi-allies... the actual problem was unjust warring (e.g. the invasion of the Waikato).

Also, not really a tradition. Don't see anyone defending it now, do I?

Cultural Genocides

Yes, this literally didn't have a name until the 1940s. That's how long people have been aware of genocide. Until then people didn't perceive a unique thing, and as soon as they did see a unique thing they decided it was bad.

Also, it's just genocide you ninny. Look it up.

Just because lots of examples exist over a long period of time doesn't mean you've found a tradition:
  • Tradition: A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.
Powered Wigs and Believing in Mermaids

These are harmful how? Not the point? Absurd, then? I mean, maybe? Ever hear of historical empathy? Traditions? Not really.

Also, remember when I said analogies are stupid? They're stupid here too.

Traditions are Things We Used to Do

No, they're things we still do because they were done before.

These 'new rules'

In my experience, when people don't articulate exactly what they mean, there are three options:
  • they tried and failed, finding the articulations didn't line up with their expectations
  • they don't actually have any idea
  • they're waiting to see what's formulated in response to make sure the "official" version is something else
If you want to make an entire and very, very self-satisfied cartoon about something... put it at the front.

This was pathetic. I pity its author. I find it woefully inadequate.

If Masculinity is Under Attack, It's the Shit Parts

See why you need to do some legwork?

Fire Away

I'm tired so I'm just going to call you a loser. But you already seem to believe this.

Now, if I could only draw this up in cartoon form, make the loser thesis the point from the start and get it published on someone else's website (not that a blog should count as someone's website) we'd have put in exactly the same amount of effort.

Toby Morris... if you want to say something interesting and worthwhile, here's a starting formula:
  • there are people who believe X
  • what exactly is X?
  • why do those people believe X? why do they think they do? 
  • what is my response to X?
Or, in cartoon form:
If You Know the Original Source, help a brother out???
aka. it wasn't the medium

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Review: Captain America -- The First Avenger

It always amazes me when I watch the Fast and Furious movies how well they managed to avoid massive retcons. The only one that really stands out is why Dom is in Tokyo; I'm happy to accept the idea that it was a retro tech fad (it does explain why those phones can do some stuff they shouldn't be able to).

As most people are aware, the Fastchise wasn't intended to have the following chronology: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 3, 7, 8 and so on. But it does. And hence the retcon above. But the amazement is more that in every subsequent film the baddie is almost always revealed to be linked with something Bigger. And the way they do that is so smooth.

The Fastchise's chronological ordering and plot ratcheting make it very difficult to decide how to watch the films. You get a similar problem with the the Chronicles of Narnia , Redwall and, thanks to Fantastic Beasts, Harry Potter.

If you engage with the series in production order you recreate the audience's experience. After all, the original moviegoers and readers couldn't decide to watch Furious 6 before Tokyo Drift... that movie wasn't out yet. Likewise, the Magician's Nephew was published well after The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. This ordering also lets you get a feel for the meta-development of the series and characters.

Chronological order is what we might call the fan's order. I say this because it gives the greatest appreciation for the story that the creators eventually decided they wanted to tell. This is something that is most interesting to the fans. And it's the way I watch the Fastchise even though I really couldn't care less about cars or the characters' preferred music genre.

To be honest, chronological order only screws you up if you start off with Lord Brocktree and then move down through Martin the Warrior, Mossflower, The Legend of Luke (part of which predates Martin the Warrior), and so on until you get to Redwall... where suddenly there are horses? The Redwall series is an example of a where important meta-developments create what TV Tropes calls Early Instalment Weirdness. Discworld actually suffers(?) from it too.

In truth, when it comes to the movie-side of the MCU (regarded by fans as the poor brother), these issues arise more than you probably hear about. So let's take a spoiler filled look at...

Captain America's First Movie

It can be fun to essentialise movies in an irreverent manner. It's also a good way of cutting to the chase and revealing the true nature of the film as a piece of entertainment, hence:
James Bond. But American. So he has superstrength. And is a solider in WWII. And has no character flaws.
Captain America is not my favourite character. One of my least favourite scenes in the comics is when a pre-power Tempus is explaining her favourite superhero. It's Captain America. She's Australian. It is very dumb writing. It needs explaining.

The whole point of Steve Rogers is that he's a stand-up dude. Both in the moral sense and that he doesn't like bullies. It's just that this makes him a pretty boring character. It's in the later films when this trait can manifest more as obstinacy where Rogers becomes more interesting. In this film he's just a curio, embodying the traits of good soldiers... bravery, selflessness and intelligence.

What drives The First Avenger along is that we're able to be invested in the circumstances around our curio. It helps enormously that one of the major supporting characters is WWII, without that we'd just never buy into Rogers. But everyone else makes sense.

A lot is often made of Marvel's Villain Problem... the idea that they're not particularly interesting and are ultimately kind of generic. To read this in Red Skull is to miss the point.

As is made clear in Agent's of SHIELD and even in this movie or The Winter Solider, HYDRA is much more than Nazism if, indeed, it is Nazi. But Red Skull's Nazi background is everything in understanding his schemes.

Without WWII, neither Red Skull nor Captain America could exist. What they're motivated by and the things they believe in reflect their early 20th century contexts. Red Skull's a character, not some embodiment of whatever extra-textual message you're looking for.. if to make sense of a character or to invalidate a character you turn exclusively to extra-textual stuff you've missed the entire point. It makes sense for Red Skull to think about blowing up all the enemy capitals because he's from a world where that was a normal way of thinking. It makes sense to be some world conquering madman, because some people really do want to reshape the entire world.

The First Avenger is an entirely serviceable film. It's not bad, so out of ten you'd never rank it say 1-3. It's not "meh" so 4-6 doesn't make sense, which means it's a 7/10 because it's not "actually, that's really rather good" either. Most films are a 7/10. It's hard to convince one person to make a film that sounds bad, it's even harder to convince two people and so on. Anyone who tells you the average film is 5/10 has never really thought about it. Captain America has enough stuff in the background to push it from 6 to 7, but that's true of most films.

Also, Cap works best when you put our curio in fish out of water situations.