On Islam, Headlines, and Definitions

This post’s topic might be the most controversial thing I’ve posted here ever. I hope the points I want to make aren’t.

One of the excuses for not blogging I came up with and then deleted while rambling about not blogging was that I’m getting more feelings about real-world real-person issues, things that people take heated positions on — it’s not topics like what food I ate or what games I’m playing in fourth grade any more — and my identity is pretty public here, so who knows what’ll happen. Oh well. I’m probably just paranoid.

It’s also delayed, as the articles I’m talking about are old; the latest two news items are the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and then the police shooting at the Dallas rally. That was also really sad, but I don’t think I have anything insightful to say about it. Let me point you to the MIT Admissions post, “Black Lives Matter”, and then for something a bit more optimistic out of a huge range of possible choices, this Medium article.

Although after I started writing this post, the story about a Muslim man preventing an ISIS suicide bomber came out, so now this is mildly relevant again. Anyway, I guess the delay is no different from how I put up life posts weeks after the life event happens. So today, I bring you two old news articles about Islam that my friends shared and discussed:

The second one first, whose argument is, to be frank, weak. I think this piece from The Atlantic by Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants”, is a better-researched overview of ISIS while still being pretty readable. One caveat is that it’s somewhat old. But its central claim is quite the opposite:

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No Excuses

Wow, this has been the longest silence on this blog in a long time.

I can’t justify it with lack of time either. Interning at Dropbox takes up all of my weekdays, but my weekends are much freer than I’m used to. I carelessly let two weeks at home in Taiwan pass by without doing much about blogging, and once again a lot of my few blog drafts have drifted into the temporally awkward zone, being too far away from the events they are about.

Neither is it for lack of things happening. At MIT, there was the Senior House turnaround and freshman moratorium. I can’t even begin to sum up the discussion around this issue, but I think the best response I’ve read is this open letter. Then there’s the official Senior House response. But that’s enough links, since I imagine the chances that this issue is relevant to you and you’d need this blog to link you to them if you’re reading this are pretty low. (Then again, the chances that you’re reading this are already pretty low. Although the chances you‘re reading this right now is 100%.)

Then there was the Orlando shooting of Christina Grimmie and nightclub shooting, which I even more probably don’t need to link to. I will just say that Vi Hart made this video and I watched it a couple times.

And finally, Brexit happened, which affects the most people but which I understand the least. Well, I do want to note that it seems lots of people are reading unreasonably much into the Google Trend about UK searches for “What is the EU?”

People seized on this as evidence that British voters didn’t know what they were voting for, but I don’t think it shows that at all, for a lot of reasons…

  1. The query is a very simple question; its search count will be exaggerated relative to more complicated queries, which might be phrased in slightly different ways that won’t get aggregated.
  2. Googling that question doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t know what the EU is; it might just be how you interact with Google and get a list of information or different opinions about the EU.
  3. The searches could come from children or tourists or others who couldn’t vote and only decided to learn about the referendum after it passed and started mattering. Even a few of these people could make the question rank highly; the ranking doesn’t have any absolute numbers.
  4. Why am I making this list. This takedown, Stop Using Google Trends, has far more details and is more entertaining anyway.

This is your every-so-often dose of unnecessary current events recapping. You are now all caught up. If you are reading this blog as your primary news source… stop doing that.

(And finally finally on a personal note, I didn’t make Google Code Jam World Finals, so I can put that aside, and maybe at some point put out the blog draft about last year online rounds…)

The question remains in the air, though; why haven’t I blogged?

I spent a long time listing a bunch of excuses and then deleting them. (I kept the above non-excuses because this post needs to have something in it.) I don’t have a good reason; the closest I can come is to say, it’s like I’m living a new life in a new place to a new schedule, a life that I haven’t integrated blogging into the flow of yet, and this post is actually part of that integration process.

So the commitment device returneth! Expect one post every weekend until my internship ends.

Television

Let us talk about Taiwan’s media.

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t have anything to say about. There are health discussion programs and English-teaching programs and cooking programs and the toddler-education program where the guy dresses up as a grandmother and tells stories to puppets. Not enough satiric commentary on the news, but I guess our news stations are reliable enough (go ahead, guess which country I’m talking about; I’m pretty sure of this image despite it being mostly indirect inferences from Reddit. Zing!)

The regular news are quite acceptable, I suppose, if a bit deficient of international stuff. There’s a little political party bias in many of the news channels whenever anything involving election comes up, but it’s well within tolerance range (to me, but I’m only starting to grasp why we need so many people arguing over such meager stuff.) And there are the off-peak specials on absolutely whatever. Some have reasonable depth; some involve a bunch of people with sequences of letters after their name talking pseudoscience. There is Evidence for Bigfoot and the Big Mayan Prophecy of 2012 and Cool Japanese Inventions That Look Like Food But Are Totally Inedible. (Apparently they made a makeup bag that looks like a hamburger, because, I don’t know, it’s special?) Oh, and there was this time they were tooting about the toothbrushes with suction cups on their bottoms that could be put on a surface vertically, which I know can’t be a recent invention.

These few days, though, everything is about “Linsanity!” I’m not interested in spectating sports in general, and I’m not going to go out of my way to follow what’s happening too deeply in the NBA with Jeremy Lin, like everybody else seems to be intent on doing simply because everybody else is as well. (Facebook is overflowing with related posts. Tsk tsk.) In the news coverage, there are absolutely every sort of report on him possible. Reasonable bits on: Oh look the Knicks (I know that’s the team he’s on, but nothing else) beat this team and that team, watch Jeremy make three-pointers and assists, watch his after-game interviews, repeat about two hundred times. Then: Look at Jeremy’s family, they’re so excited for him. Watch his mom cheering and jumping! Again, in slow motion! (Why? Seriously? Is there something to be gleaned from her posture or motion? What is the meaning of this?) Then: Official Person X is excited and is going to watch him play, never mind that he’s supposed to be working in the government for our tax dollars. Then: Look at all the girls who made videos on YouTube proposing to him! (Can anybody actually think something like this has a chance of working?) Then: Jeremy Lin ate at this restaurant this evening to celebrate his dad’s birthday! They had a shrimp appetizer which costs Y dollars, and spaghetti which costs Z dollars, and for dessert, man, look at that chocolate cake, doesn’t it look delicious? By this point the news has crossed the so-bad-it’s-good threshold and the amount of enjoyment derived from watching is actually increasing. His name gets dragged into even the most unrelated topics: there was another debate on ractopamine-laced beef imports from the U.S. which is probably the single big international topic that everybody in Taiwan cares about now and a subtitle in the corner asked if Jeremy Lin ate this stuff.

This is the sort of inaccurate hype that gets me the most, and now I’m going to go on to the board-game anecdote. Some random day a while ago Dr. Sun called us and said that the news channels were looking for some stories (read: filler content) for the off-peak period. The reporter wanted to do a segment on board games, and we were invited to play them in front of the camera (and they need me to read/remember/explain the English rules). Everything went as planned. The reporter rehearsed her tag line a couple times and films me explaining that you get 10 points if your pen with six spaces is completely full at the end.

The interviewing got serious. Dr. Sun talked about board games requiring more brain power than all those online flashy kill-everything-around-you RPGs (despite no longer actively playing anything like that on the computer, I disagree; to me the thing that makes board games worthwhile is the high depth and complexity of player interaction. An even further aside: I remember the time in sixth grade I was writing about the game our classmates had started and describing it as “a MMORPG in real life with friends!” I remembered all six letters in the acronym but not what they stood for or what they meant. I did not have any idea what people did before computers.) Then a friend gave a boolean response to “Is it fun?”. I felt sad I wasn’t asked for anything, as I could have said much more; I guess I wasn’t very telegenic with my face mask.

The footage was used up, the reporter rushed away to her next appointment, and the same evening we were struggling through hours of irrelevant segments for our fifteen seconds of fame. We learned that the news stations actually replayed some segments three or four times in the space of an hour. Finally the dramatically-truncated episode came up, and we discovered that the guys at the studio decided to append a table with four examples of board games. We mentioned Carcassonne, which is a great choice to give for an example: so far so good. Then Ticket to Ride and Zooloretto, the two games we actually did play in front of the camera: I’m not sure if they’re classic/mainstream enough but okay. Then, without any justification or research or quotes, the fourth “European board game” was revealed to be… Sudoku.

The news was already segueing (badly, I should mention) to some guy who gave head massages or something before I could react. Wat. How did they get that? How was forming this kind of misconception even possible? These are supposed to be professionals. They’re running a news channel, for goodness’s sake. Sudoku doesn’t even sound European. Consonant vowel consonant vowel consonant vowel, no accents or silent Es… it’s hard to think that it’s not Japanese. Have these people never flipped open a newspaper before? I am amazed.

Then there are the game shows. I believe that 90% of our game shows are copied — brutally and shamelessly plagiarized from other countries’ programs. There was this particularly egregious instance when the Japanese show in question, composed of a sequence of brief episodes with different people playing or trying different challenges for a million dollars or some nearby large amount in yen, found out about this. There was this electric current avoiding thingamajig where you had to slide a metal pole through a path of wire without it actually touching either side and completing a circuit, you know? Our show had duplicated the entire layout of the path pretty exactly, and they gathered all the Japanese contestants who had won the million dollars through that game and came over to participate.

It was a long time ago, and I don’t remember/know the details, although I think there were four contestants and one got the prize. The thing is that I learned all this from a sub-episode in the original Japanese program, which was also showing on a channel in Taiwan. I had never seen the copied show run, though. Dude. If you’re going to plagiarize and show the results on television, at least pick something not all of your viewers can see. This makes me ashamed of my country. Or rather, species.

What is there to be gathered from all this? Do the media suck because the media suck? Or is the lowest common denominator around here really that shallow? Matilda (the psychic-levitation Roald Dahl character)’s parents thought books were a waste of time because they had the telly. The reality, in our terrible unattentive society, is clearly the opposite.

(Oh no, now that I’m on WordPress I must choose tags responsibly!)