Monthly Archives: February 2017

Defense Spending Overview

From a thread on Reddit:

“Yes, the US spends $600 billion dollars on defense. And yes, that’s more than the next 7-8 countries combined (assuming China’s budget is honest, which we believe is not). And yes, the US spends about 36% of the worlds total spending on military.

“But, as [the original author] also mentioned, as a function of GDP, the US is at 3.3% – lower than some nations (like Russia) and a far cry from the 5.6% the US spent in 1988 near the tail end of the Cold War. Source: World Bank.

“In the post WW2 world, this is at an all time low per the CFR with it having peaked at 16% around the time of the Korean War.

“Per the DOD budget request, this chart shows that:

  • $130 billion was requested just for military personnel wages for the 2.1 million active + reserve
  • A total of $177.9 billion was requested on just military personnel wages + benefits
  • Another $72.9 billion was requested for civilian pay and benefits for the 760,000 civilian FTEs in the DOD
  • A full $250.8 billion or 48% of the DOD base budget is allocated to JUST pay and benefits

“What does this mean? Consider that a Chinese soldier is paid roughly a tenth of the wages of a US soldier. So sure, if we went to a Chinese pay scale, we could save $120 billion overnight. But that’s neither feasible, wise, nor is it a good indicator of relative strength with China.

“This is further exacerbated by the fact that both China and Russia have huge domestic arms industries producing goods at domestic prices. Furthermore, the world arms industry isn’t an open market – the US doesn’t compete with China or Russia directly as nations only buy from other nations they trust. The US buys domestic or buys from close allies like Belgium and Germany, who have comparable costs of production. End result? The US often pays 2-4x as much for a fighter jet than the Russian equivalent because US wages, US suppliers, and US maintainers all cost US prices, not Russian prices.

“As a side note, this also irks me about the whole “arms trade” statistic and how the US is the number one exporter. Sure, by dollar amounts, we are – but our goods are magnitudes more expensive. The fact that Russia and China – producing goods at Russian and Chinese prices – are even close, should tell you who is exporting more physical quantity of goods, but I digress.

“In sum, using nominal spending gives you eye popping numbers, but it tells you little about relative strength between nations. If anything, it should tell you how little Europe actually spends on defense (especially in comparison to Russian strength), and that China is a lot closer to the US than most people realize.

Full thread.

Modernism, Post-Modernism, and Dada in a Nutshell

This is so much more compelling and easy to understand – yes a lot of loss of nuance but a good nutshell:

“There were two massive world changing events in the 20th century and they changed art forever: The World Wars. And what they did was break Modernism.

“[I]n Modernism there is the basic premise that: The more work you put into something the better it becomes and the more meaning it has. While with Post-Modernism the basic premise is that: Effort is redundant. Art is everywhere.

“[M]ost people are Modernists even if they do not know the meaning of the word. They like art that took effort. They like seeing someone’s passion and craftsmanship focussed into specific works: Painting, sculpture, literature, achitecture and little else. This was the aspiration of a civilisation that was rich on the success of industry. Everyone was getting richer. Starvation was nearly over. Electricity lit up the cities for pennies a day and mankind had straddled the Earth with automobiles, steam ships and locomotive. Industrial and scientific progress was headed towards perfection, and likewise, perfect art would one day be made by the correct application of human effort.

“Now, the first elements of Post-Modernism were sprung from Dada art. Dada has a slightly different premise: Effort is wasted. The dada movement wanted to create nonsense art, to point out how silly art is, and helpless in the face of the horror of WW1, the event that inspired Dada. Dada is art making fun of the effort artists put in.

“But Post-Modernism came after the Atomic bomb. Both Dada and Post-Modernism are born from fear of death, but compared to post-modernism Dada seems like a pointless teenage waste, because sure, artists are wasting their time on something pointless but so is everyone else in a world of nuclear war. We’re all going to die. Today, tomorrow, in 50 years time, we’re all going to die and we have very little time to embrace the beauty of this world.

“So, Post-Modernism embraces everything that the viewer thinks has artistic value. If any thought went into its design then it is worthy of artistic appraisal. That appraisal might decide it is uninteresting, but it deserved the attempt. … Wherever a human hand has shaped an aspect of the world: There sits art. Because in this tiny amount of time we have on Earth who wants to ignore something that is beautiful simply because its “not art”.

“A lot of people hate that. It’s fine, you’re allowed to hate it. A lot of terrible pieces of art have been made in the name of postmodernism, and its demand that everything be appraised. And it’s fine to point that out.

“But 99% of the time people don’t say ‘Oh, I believe in the modernist philosophy of art so I would really rather we went to the local portrait gallery than the pop art gallery. They just say they hate modern art.

“Which is ironic, because Modernism is actually what they want to come back.”

Full discussion in context.

Jurassic Park Is About Smart People, Jurassic World Just the Opposite

Comparing how Jurassic Park and Jurassic World treat smart people in the plot:

“The thing that made jurassic Park great was a reverence for intelligence. Everyone in that movie, literally everyone, is smart and capable. The kids, the snivelling Lawyer, Even the fat slob bad guy Dennis Nedry. The movie goes to great pains to show that he’s the best there is at his job.

“For an early 90’s action movie, this was a revelation. The 80’s was full of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ action heroes that were idolised for their can-do attitude and straight talkin’, ‘ folksy stupidity. Smart people filled exactly two roles: the bad guy (whose smartness was a weakness exploited by the hero) or the bumbling sidekick and bully victim. Smart people were a plot device, existing only to be protected by the strong-yet-stupid hero, or defeated by their overthinking and their evil commie ways. Nerds are to be mocked. Jocks are the heroes. As for smart women, forget about it. Nerd ladies don’t get to be married, let alone heroic.

“Then along comes Jurassic Park. Here was a film where the baddest motherfucker on the screen was a chaos-mathlete ladykiller with a black leather leather jacket and 400 dollar shoes. The idea of a rockstar mathematician blew my mind when I saw it as a kid. You can be cool AND smart? sign me up! It’s not limited to Ian Malcolm. A Teenage hacker girl and a shotgun weilding paleo-botanist to this day are some of my favourite female characters of all time. They’re both Feminist as fuck. Some of the exchanges between them and the men around them are just epic. That’s what makes this film so great. Sure the dinosaurs are awesomebut the film isn’t about them. We’ve seen dinosaurs before. The film is about a bunch of smart people being smart, and being celebrated for that smartness not shit all over for it. Can you imagine anything more inspiring to an insecure smart kid who had been fed a steady diet of movies where the only characters you can relate to are punchbags for the hero? I know I’m not the only one who feels like that.

“Then we get Jurassic World. Fuck. That. Movie.

“All of the progress that the first film had made was suddenly thrown out of the window. The 80’s tropes are right back in there; The hero is a fucking cowboy military man. One female character is literally choosing between work and life, as though being good at your job is unseemly for a lady. And she runs in high heels.

“There are exactly two smart people in this film. Number one is Henry Wu, mad scientist. He’s the bad guy. In case you couldn’t tell, he literally wears a bad guy black rollneck shirt from the moment you first see him on screen. Boo, mad scientist! Science is bad!

“Number two is the nerdy little brother. His entire character arc is essentially ‘man up, stop crying and thinking about things so much, and jump off this cliff.’ thats it. He is there literally to tell children to stop being such a fucking geek.

“This is why I hate this movie. I saw it in the cinema and I happened to be sat right by some young kids seeing the film with their parents. They were giggling and whooping at the spectacle, and it was spectacular, but did they leave the cinema feeling validated for who they are? Did they feel like the film gavr them permission to be a fucking mathematician bad ass or a riot grrl hacker? I doubt it.”

Full discussion in context.

The Party of Family Values

Some proposed new framing:

“So if Republicans are now the party of anger and hatred (and I think they are), what does that leave on the table for Democrats? I know we’ve tried the Unity and Togetherness and Love things, but frankly those are pretty cheesy and to a lot of people sound wimpy.

“I’d propose something else. The Party of Families. I would really like to see Dems start talking incessantly about families. It works so well on so many issues. Immigration? The GOP are trying to break up families. LGBTQ rights? The GOP are trying to invalidate our marriages and break up our families. Reproductive rights? The GOP want to legislate decisions that should be left to families about when and how often they should expand. Healthcare? The GOP wants to bankrupt your family if you get sick. Education? The GOP wants to defund public schools and put the burden back on working families to pay for education.

“I think the GOP have left ‘Family Values’ on the table and I think we need to pick it up. And make it deliberately an inclusive definition of family. Including all the complicated, modern ways that families form and grow. Including families of choice but not blood.

“I’d really like to see the GOP [get] hit on this. They are trying to destabilize our communities and our families and they need to be called on it.”

Discussion in context.

Texans Gonna Texan

A Texans responds to the redneck stereotype:

“Texas produced Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards and Wendy Davis’ filibuster and Molly Ivins and we have a whole lot of Texans who want to breathe life into that tradition! My partner and my family were at that Muslim Solidarity rally–are they not Texan? Because my roomie has left the state only a few times in her goddamn life!

“Why the fuck do assholes like that get to stand out as being Southern? Why the fuck do you people think of Bull Connor when you think ‘Alabama’, and not MLK? Why is ‘rural white racist’ the stereotype you smug bastards reach for, when you think of half of America, and not the people pushing back?

“I live here too, asshole. When I march my ass down to the capitol as soon as I finish this experiment, that will be a Texan Texaning. Christ on a motherfucking crutch! We’re here too! Why the fuck won’t out-of-staters ever acknowledge that the resistance is part of the fabric and the history and identity of these states, not just the overlords?”

Full discussion in context.

Image from the documentary Ann Richards’ Texas.

Batman vs Green Arrow

A Reddit compares the origin stories of Batman and Green Arrow:

“Batman, when his parents were killed, began his life-long quest for Justice and/or Vengeance, depending on iteration. He studied, fought, and beat his way back to the world he vowed to reform. Fundamentally, Bruce Wayne was broken and shattered, and pieced himself back from the fragments.

“Green Arrow, on the other hand, has a very different story. He was an actual playboy, what Bruce pretends to be, for most of his life. When he was stranded on Starfish Island (comics) or Lian Yu (TV show), his former life fell apart. Everyone thought he was dead, and he had no way off the island. In both, he was forced to survive, got his skills, etc. out of necessity. When he later encounters a group doing something he knows is wrong, he realizes he has the skills- And therefore the obligation- to do something about it.

“Bruce threw away his life and reforged himself into a weapon for Justice. His stories are about revenge, justice for past crimes, and balancing the line between Hero and violent Vigilante.

“Oliver had his life thrown away, and was reforged into a tool of heroism. His stories are about second chances, vindication, and defending the wall between the darker sides of the world and its innocent civilians.”

Discussion in context.

Child-Eating Monster on NPR

From a discussion on Metafilter:

Audie: You’re listening to NPR. I’m Audie Cornish. The monster that promises to eat us and our children continues to creep ever closer. Today I’ll be speaking with one of its lesser feeding-pods.

Audie: Toothy pod, many have expressed concern about some comments made earlier regarding your overall vision for America.

Pod: I will eat you and your children. I will taste their sufferings and viscera. My only purpose is to destroy you and everything you love.

Audie: So you believe these fears to be unfounded hysterics?

Pod: I am unburdened by mercy or sapience. Within me your spirit will scream eternal.

Audie: Great to have you on, pod. Thanks so much for joining us today. Up next, we’ll be hearing from the monster’s pyloric sphincter about criticisms that its digestive enzymes might sting. Please send us money.

Image is of Gryla, a child-eating Christmas monster from Icelandic folklore.

Why DeVos is a Disaster

“Not that this is unexpected, but as a teacher, I feel I must tell you all:

“The Federal role in education has not really ever been about curriculum or how local and state funding mechanisms are structured. It’s always been more about protecting the rights and needs of those who are not part of the center of the bell curve when it comes to their ability to access the education we are all guaranteed. The Federal role in education is mostly felt through the enforcement and funding behind things like IDEA (for children with disabilities), Title IX (for equal access), Title I (for students in poverty), and a handful of other programs.

“Betsy Devos is completely ignorant of these programs and has no interest in enforcing them. If your child is poor, female, or struggling with a disability (learning or otherwise), you can expect the Federal DOE to be most notable in its absence of support.

“What Betsy DeVos is most interested in are the elements of education which are actually the purview of the states and local municipalities — curriculum, instruction, and funding mechanisms. What we can expect to see is a massive federal over-reach into states’ abilities to legislate their own curriculum (including the adoption and implementation of common core), determine their own mechanisms for determining which institutions deserve funding (including efforts to legitimize religious education as a state sponsored activity), and teacher evaluations and responsibilities.

“If you are for quality education, she is your worst nightmare.

“If you are a fan of states’ rights, she is your worst nightmare.

“If you are a fan of competence, she is your worst nightmare.

“The only plus side: She’s a complete incompetent and she is running an agency that hates her, so her power will be mitigated by both her own stupidity and the fact that her agency will be working actively against her.”

Discussion in context.