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Religion and Community Building

I’ve been running this blog for a while now, so I might have already covered this topic, but it recently surfaced in my mind again, so I’m going to discuss it anyways:

I get the feeling that local communities have been slowly disintegrating over time in America. Not all communities in general – there are clearly a lot of communities being built online through social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Our overall potential to connect to people has increased greatly with the advent of the always online transition – it’s expected that your average American should have internet access and almost always at all times, through the magic of their smart phones. However, many of our inherent, location based communities have been suffering. Not necessarily as a result of the internet, but maybe.

Think of your standard American communities: family, school, church, maybe sports, work, the store, maybe? Do I meet friends at the store? Not really, now that I think about it. But I’d imagine in smaller towns it’s a more frequent occurrence. Especially if you live in one of those rural towns with only one local store. Anyways, school is still a mandatory one for most students, and work of course is still mostly localized – few jobs allow people to work remotely. Sports are still big, but apparently viewership of live sports has also been tanking recently. Though attendance in general still seems to be going good, I’d say the general feeling of attending sporting events in America seems to be plateauing or decreasing. Though I’m speaking out of my ass here. Church attendance, of course, has been declining precipitously. Evangelism doesn’t really hold the sway it once did in America. Anyways, this is all kind of beside my main point, which is this: Religion is among the strongest of communities in any area, and in my opinion it’s a bad sign that religion is declining in America in favor of atheism.

I’m not saying that I like Christian fundamentalism – I don’t – I think it sucks. However, I think the innate pull of religion is actually pretty important to societal connections. In America, we have a lot of freedom to discover or build our own communities – join a meetup of jugglers, attend a toastmasters group, whatever. However, a lot of people don’t partake in extracurricular activities – in fact, their lifestyles can be pretty isolating when you consider a lot of popular activities nowadays – after work, if you’re watching Netflix, unless you’re hanging out with friends or family, you’ll be watching it alone. It’s not conducive to meeting new people. Online social media websites have the potential to meet people, but because it’s over the internet, you’re not necessarily guaranteed to meet people that are local – meaning you might find friendships, but there’s a big difference between friends you visit regularly and ones you only communicate with online. Though this doesn’t necessarily preclude you from becoming more intimate – it’s that the online barrier does present more obstacles to intimacy than a physical face to face interaction, in my opinion. Online media in general isn’t particularly conducive to meeting people face to face – after all, the time you’re spending online literally takes away from time spent in face to face interactions.

Of course, you do have online communities specifically designed for local consumption: think of sites like Nextdoor or Meetup. With Meetup in particular, the point is to find new local communities to join, usually centered around some hobby or activity. This is good. It’s great to meet new communities. However, there’s a giant gulf between interest based communities and religious communities. Interest based communities doesn’t tell you anything about the values of a person – If you join a ping pong group, all you know is that this person theoretically likes ping pong, or is maybe curious about it. If you join a religious community, you have an idea of what values to expect from people in the community, and their overall mission. At least, in theory. This isn’t accounting for adversarial people or people who don’t follow the tenets of the religion. Of course, you’re always going to get people who don’t exactly fit the mold of the religion – you probably get like a normal distribution of people who follow the religion in terms of strictness. That’s true of any community, of course. But the religion provides a relative anchor at which to deviate from. Without even that anchor, there is no expectation of what kinds of values to expect from people, which is what you get in interest based communities. So what does this mean? I think this stronger bond will naturally create more intimate communities.

I had this cousin who’s Christian. He was visiting me from out of state to attend this Christian convention, but he only stayed with me for part of the trip – the other part he stayed at some guy’s house, who he met at this Christian convention. When he was asked why some guy would let him stay at his house even though they had just once before (At last year’s Christian convention), he said (and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s been a while) “We’re brothers in Christ – I guess our relationship just grows faster.” I do think there’s a lot of merit in that. If you follow the tenets of your religion, and you’re pretty strongly invested in your religion, and then meet someone who you judge to also be a pretty strong follower of your religion, then you guys have a pretty strong inherent bond – there’s a lot of commonality between the two of you. Likewise, if this were an interest based group, you could also build a strong bond through that connection to your interest, but as I said earlier, I think the religious bond is inherently stronger. Religion answers a lot of questions about our purpose in the world – if you’re aligned on those things with others, you’re naturally gonna be more tight.

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Optimizing My Language Learning Methodology

As mentioned in previous blog posts, most of my 2019 was spent grinding language classes. Looking back at 2019, I feel like I have a ton of room to improve my learning methodology. Right now I’m kind of following the BJJ class model – that is, the class encapsulates all aspect of learning – one section devoted to learning new material, one devoted to practicing the new material, and then one for general purpose practice in real life situations. My language classes consist of some review in which I kind of incorporate new vocabulary / grammar in real world settings, with the constant reinforcement serving to improve my learning outcomes over time. Having said that, this format is a bit suboptimal because it doesn’t emphasize enough practice – ideally, I should be practicing at least twice the amount I spend learning to truly internalize new concepts. This format is a holdover from BJJ where, by neccessity free sparring is incorporated into class, because for most students, they have no other opportunities outside of class to pick things up – there’s kind of a lack of padded areas and mats for them to spontaneously practice. They’re limited to basically sparring in their gyms when they happen to be open.

Since I’m cognizant of this fact that my current class structure is kind of arbitrary, I can mix things up – instead of having these three part lessons that incorporate everything and minimize practice, I can simply start scheduling more classes that are dedicated to solely practice. I’ve been looking for new tutors on Italki to use as language partners – I don’t plan on referring to them to learn new vocabulary and grammar. In essence, this becomes a form of self structured practice arena or a safe space where I can feel free to experiment with the concepts I learned in class. Trying to practice my language skills in the real world is a bit intimidating because it’s a trial by fire – I don’t know what to expect back from random strangers. However, by hiring cheaper tutors to just talk with, we both have the expectation that I’m here for edification purposes and they will back me in that role. This is something I’m going to try experimenting with in the near future, maybe by February or March. I’m hoping to incorporate this methodology in at least one of the languages I’m studying by the end of February. Ideally, I’ll check in on this strategy in ~six months to see how it’s progressing. If it works, keep at it. If not, I can discard it. Ultimately, the important thing is that I continue to learn languages – the structure of learning should be open to change if I think I can make things better.

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On High Level Competition

I’ve previously mentioned my love for Chihayafuru, but today I want to discuss another topic that’s recently come up in the series – as of the latest chapter, 222.

***Spoilers abound for those who don’t read the series***

So as of the latest chapter, Chihaya is on the 2nd out of 5 possible queen matches with the current reigning queen, Wakamiya, her long time rival. One development that’s come up is how Chihaya is moving around her card order in order to disrupt Wakamiya – she considers herself the only and foremost expert on Wakamiya’s playing style, and she’s using her knowledge of the queen’s playing style to disrupt her normal flow of play. In other words, she’s trying to take away her A game.

Jack Slack is a combat sports writer I follow who does in depth analyses of elite combat sports athletes, as well as technical breakdowns of their matches and styles. He has a long running series in particular called Killing the King, which is an analysis of a current UFC champ – what their strengths are, and their weaknesses. More importantly, how to exploit their weaknesses, and how to take away their strengths, or even turn them into weaknesses. He also calls this taking away a fighter’s A game – their A game being all the things they’re good at that enables them to stay champion. Presumably, previous challengers have either failed to take away their A game or are incapable of beating them even after taking away aspects of their A game. Which leads me to Chihayafuru: Chihaya decides to beat the queen by taking away her strengths.

Chihaya has always been focused on the queen Shinobu, for the entirety of the series. Before meeting Shinobu, she had been fixated on achieving the status of queen herself. But after meeting Shinobu, she finally had a target with which to place her goal. Reaching the level of Shinobu had become her focus for much of the series, as well as achieving some other tangential achievements in Karuta – having her high school team become national champions, as well as trying to evangelize the spread of karuta as much as possible. However, her main goal has always been to reach the top, and that’s always been embodied by surpassing Shinobu Wakamiya. What I find interesting about this is how so much of the series is about Chihaya developing her own sense for the game and her own strategies to win that are faciliated by her playing style – her superior sense of hearing. But unexpectedly, she downplays the strategy of focusing on polishing her own A game to chip at Shinobu’s A game.

For most of the series, Shinobu is undefeated – she may lose a match occasionally, but like tennis, she wins the overall set – until she faces Wataya Arata. Arata, Chihaya’s childhood friend, turns out to be a long term rival of the queen as well – apparently, he’d always beat her in tournaments when they were younger. Likewise, when matched up again, he beats her again, in a hard fought match. But he doesn’t do it by taking away her A game – he does it by having a stronger A game than she does. Which leads to my next point: the style matchup.

Every sport and everyone that plays a sport has different styles – there is no uniform way to play that will inevitably lead to success. Think of it as rock-paper-scissors: some styles are inherently better suited against others in the same way that rock always beat scissors, and some styles will nullify each other in the same way that rock cancels out rock. There’s no single style out there that will literally beat everyone. Even the best players in any sport has taken some L’s. If you’re playing against someone who’s style happens to match up well against you, you need to readjust – what can you do?

  1. Beat them through sheer athleticism. This won’t work if they’re more athletic than you.
  2. Just keep going as is and hope you get lucky.
  3. Make adjustments to their actions that should favor you more than it favors them over time.

For number 3, there are two forms of adjustment you can make: in game adjustments, and pre game adjustments. You can think of the difference between these two as tactics vs strategy. Tactics are the adjustments you make during the action – when you’re already engaged with your opponent. Strategy is higher level thinking – it’s the actions you make in preparation – the direction you plan on beforehand that should be specifically catered towards your opponent’s habits or weaknesses. It’s not the case that you should be doing one or the other – ideally, you should be executing on both fronts. You should examine your opponent and try to prepare strategies against them beforehand. However, you should also be on the lookout for things during the match that you can capitalize on, since you can’t always predict exactly what will happen in the real world – as Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” You can prepare all you want, but there’s no guarantee that things will line up as you expect. You need to be able to adjust on the fly as well.

Anyways, back to Chihayafuru. Arata beats the queen, without taking away her A game – this can only work if the style that you’re imposing is capable of beating the other player, obviously. If you can simply power through without ever considering the other player, well, you’re clearly far and away the best. But the odds are good that you’re going to hit a wall at some point. We see this from the two best players in the series – the king and the queen, Suo Hisashi and Wakamiya Shinobu, respectively. Their play styles don’t take into consideration the other player’s styles. They’re simply good enough that they can impose their A games on anyone and can beat them straight up. However, we’re starting to see that no longer to be the case – If your style stays static forever, eventually people will come up with strategies to nullify your strengths and impose their own strengths onto you. We’re now seeing this with Chihaya, and will probably see Arata do this to the Meijin. Otherwise, he’s gonna get smoked.

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Strong Links Vs Weak Links

I’ve been reading this book called The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. (Amazon link. I don’t get money if you buy through here, I’m just linking for convenience as my default method for viewing books is visiting their Amazon page.) One interesting thing that gets mentioned in the book is a model the author calls strong links and weak links.

Strong links are essentially people in your network that you’re super tight to. Imagine your daily routine – they’re people you see on a regular basis – your friend group, your coworkers, family members. etc. Weak link people are the people on the fringes of your network – imagine previous coworkers you don’t really see anymore, but you’re connected on linkedin or something. The book posits that much of drastic life changes in your average twenties~ adult – job change, new spouse, new hobby, new social group, etc are almost always made through your weak links, instead of people you’re tight with. Sounds weird, right? Events that have outsized impact that changes your routine are typically caused by fringe outsiders instead of people tight in network. Why is that? One way to model it is to think of it in terms of entropy, or randomness.

If we think of an average person, they have general routines they follow in their lives. Regardless of the person, they have some things they do on a regular basis – office workers go to work 9-5 on weekdays, students go to class during the semester, etc. The average person might have a lower entropy life – it’s relatively consistent. They work in certain patterns that they’ve become accustomed to. However, we can imagine that each person they interact with also contains this great magnitude of entropy – they have randomness in their lives, but they also their consistency within their lives. Ultimately, no matter how unpredictable our lives are, they are dictated by our needs to eat, sleep, and possibly interact with others. Because of our need to do simple human maintenance on a regular basis, we eventually develop consistent systems to meet these needs – after all, you don’t see people coming up with different ways to feed themselves every day – it’s not like I’m going to work in an office to make money for food on Monday, foraging for berries on Tuesday, then eating scrap from the garbage on Wednesday. There is some sort of consistency or pattern for everyone, even the most divergent of people. Now, if we extrapolate that system of high entropy (When we start doing something for the first time) to lower entropy as we become more accustomed to the activity, we can model that onto our relationships with others. As people become more integrated into our lives, we should expect that they will introduce less entropy over time, unless something external also affects them.

There’s another famous way of modeling known and unknown entities as Donald Rumsfeld put it – known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. I’ll let him describe it, since he did it best:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Ya Boi Donald Rumsfeld

So how does this concept relate to people’s lives? We can think of our daily routines like the known knowns – things we know about our daily lives, things we don’t expect to change and we know how to anticipate. known unknowns are the calculated risks: things we know about, but not 100% – they’re things we can kind of manage. Think of a product like term life insurance: I know I’m going to die one day. I don’t know when I’m going to die. But I’m 30 years old, with a wife and two kids. If I die, they’re not going to be able to survive. What do I do? Many people accept this risk – they operate under the assumption that they won’t be dying in the near or even medium term future, and that they will be able to continue providing for their family in that interim. Some people buy life insurance. Term life insurance in particular is life insurance that basically covers you for your working years. Term life insurance operates under the assumption that you will be a healthy, working individual who will continue to be paid at a consistent rate throughout your working life. That can be anywhere between 10, 20, 30, maybe even 40 years. In all that time spent working, that money, of course, will go to support your family. However, during this working period that you are covered by term life insurance, you will be paying fees to this term life insurance policy on a monthly or annual basis, whatever floats your boat. If you happen to die during this covered period (excluding things like suicide and so forth, read your policy carefully before signing) then a certain amount of money will be paid out to your family, as a substitute for your years of salaries that your family will be missing out on upon your death. The amount of money paid out and the amount of years the term life policy covers is set upon beforehand – you and the company haggle on these numbers, based on things like your general health, smoking disposition, diseases, etc. This long winded explanation is basically a way of mitigating a known unknown – your date of death. Could be soon, could be 50 years from now. If it’s 50 years from now, the assumption is your long and fruitful career helped provide for your family. If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, then the term life insurance policy will do it in your stead.

Last is the unknown unknown – these are events you weren’t expecting and had no idea to be expecting. Imagine if you were 50 years old, and your parent on your deathbed tells you that you were adopted. That could be something that totally came out of left field, that changes your frame of reference and your life in a completely different direction, forever. These are things you didn’t expect, and basically had no way of knowing to expect.

Now, to think of this in the strong/weak links model, strong links are like the known knowns and known unknowns – you’re generally pretty knowledgeable about your friends, family etc and their behavior – so you act in predictable routines to work around them in your life. What’d be a known unknown in this case? Imagine if you were a twelve year old with an alcoholic parent – generally, you don’t exactly know how your parent will react when they’re drunk, but you do have a general method of coping with them when they are drunk. They’re one way when sober, completely different when they’re not. You learn to deal with their behaviors through a set of rigid behaviors that probably mitigate some of the fallout from their inebriated behaviors. Basically, your daily routines are all molded around the known knowns in your life and your known unknowns. Almost by definition, the things that will totally upend your routine will be the unknown unknowns – the things you didn’t expect and had no idea were going to be affecting you. Because you’re unfamiliar with these new events, you don’t have learned behaviors for these things – you can either fall back on preexisting habits, or you build new ones instead. This can be things like moving to a totally new city for a new job, destroying many of your old routines, but maybe keeping some.

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On Local Maxima

There’s this manga series I follow religiously called Chihayafuru. One of the themes it covers is the realities of becoming elite in a field: the personal cost, the conditions necessary to become elite, and the cost to your support network. In the case of the story, the field is a niche card game called Karuta that basically only exists in Japan. As a result, there’s a lot of Japan specific trappings involved in how these things are depicted, but the concepts can be generalized.

One of the aspects I want to focus on today is the mindset that the characters develop in order to become elite. The story features a large ensemble cast in addition to its main character, and goes into each character’s mindset for why they play Karuta and why they strive to improve. In general, people have different mindsets for recreational games – some people play for the fun of interacting with others, whereas some people like the competitive aspect – they like beating other players. Or maybe they just hate losing. There’s many different reasons why people generally play games. However, for competition, there’s a crucial difference between normal recreational play – everyone who participates generally also try to improve constantly in order to keep up with or to surpass the rest of the field. In order to do so, they have to play the game with a mindset of constantly learning and/or constantly improving over time. The details in which this is implemented will differ from person to person.

Chihayafuru really focuses on the players’ psyches, as well as the makeup of their mindset – what drives them to be better? what drives them to be the best? Naturally, as there is only one person who stands at the top of their field (well, two in this case, as there is one champion per gender in the series), the series will also showcase the perspectives of the losers. When the main characters lose, it also delves into their mindset and why they lost. One important thing to note that we see in the main characters is how their mindsets change over time – after serious losses, they reevaluate their mindset – “Is this current method still working? Am I still improving, or have I gotten stuck in a rut?” We see it constantly – players stop changing their mindsets even after it no longer improves them, and as a result, they plateau. They stop growing, or improvements only help in terms of refining small pieces of their game – the broad strokes remain the same. They get trapped in their local maxima.

In the case of the main characters (There are three) we see how all of them change their mindsets over time to keep striving for growth. This is most evident in the main character, Chihaya. She’s a Karuta fanatic, and as a result she devotes all her focus to improving in the game. We see her stuck in periods of ruts, in periods of flux (which necessitate a lowering of overall skill in order to learn and improve) and in periods of growth. She constantly strives to adapt and improve, though many times she gets stuck banging her head against a wall (aka the plateau) until she has some insight that leads to a shift in mindset and ultimately growth.

Interesting to note, as well, is seeing things from the champion’s perspectives. They’ve largely stagnated in growth – they’ve largely become accustomed to a local maxima that seems to be sufficient – they can beat everyone else, after all. It’s hard to say their perspective is wrong – after all, if it isn’t broke, why fix it? One important thing to mention about changing your mindset is that change doesn’t necessarily lead to improvement. Sometimes, your change can just make things worse. Imagine if you drive a car, but you transition instead to using a horse and buggy. Obviously a step back, right? The changing costs of moving away from a successful formula can be a giant barrier to transition. You’re going from a known formula that works to something that is risky and unproven. Looking at it from a champion’s perspective, it becomes easy to see how they become less risk averse over time. Whereas from the challenger’s perspective, you can afford to still make big changes, because you haven’t reached the pinnacle yet. You don’t know if your current method is the best method for success, so you can keep experimenting to see if there’s something better. Ultimately, success, in a way, becomes a prison.

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Transactional Relationships

It recently occurred to me when taking my language classes that I probably spend more time with my tutors than any other person, on a given week. Excluding work, of course. Which leads me to my next point: I spend more time with my coworkers than anyone else in my life. I’d wager many average Americans’ lives work out in a similar fashion. It’s weird to consider, because we have a certain set of things we value or prioritize, like spending time with loved ones and friends, but most of our time is actually spent with people we wouldn’t ever bother to meet outside of a work context. Of course, that’s because we all need to make a living. If you’re a wage slave, then a large part of your life is dedicated to just sustaining your life. If you’re a 9-5er, you can say approximately half of your waking hours are dedicated to work. Other than that, you have precious little recreational time with which to spend with friends and family.

Assume you half about 8 hours time to spend outside of work and sleep. Maybe half of that gets eaten up by other obligations – commute, getting ready for work, hygiene, maintenance. So in a given day, at best, you have roughly 4 hours to freely spend. What does that mean? In an ideal scenario, you’d be spending that time in a manner that goes along with how you truly want to live your life. Meaning, those hours should theoretically reflect the goals/desires that you have in life. If you use this time to hang out with friends or family, then they’re probably a big priority in your life. If you spend this time picking up chicks, that probably reflects your desires in life in that general time frame. When I reflect on this past year, most of that free time has been soaked up by language lessons. I guess that’d indicate that language learning is a priority in my life. However, what I find weird is how much more time I spend with these tutors compared to my friends and family, but the bond between my tutors and the bond between my friends is incomparable, despite the time difference. Why is that?

Ultimately, I think it reflects on the shared goals between the two parties. The shared goal between me and my friends/loved ones is to strengthen the relationship between us, to grow the relationship, in a sense. However, with my language tutors, the explicit goal is to focus on me and my language improvement – this relationship is inherently one sided. Moreover, it’s a lot easier to compartmentalize this relationship from the rest of my life, because the relationship is also explicitly dictated by money. I pay money in exchange for goods and services. When I stop paying my tutors, our relationship comes to an end. This is not the case with my friend and family. So despite talking with my tutors approximately 10 times as much as I do with my friends and family, I’m still not super tight with them. Having said that, it’s not like we’re robots who act in a wooden manner for the sake of knowledge transfer – we get along like normal acquaintances. I guess the real difference here is the explicit boundaries in the relationship and how strongly they are delineated. We talk back and forth for an hour. After time is up, we cease all communications, besides general inquiries. I transfer money to their bank account. We explicitly carve out time in our schedules to talk. This time period will, of course, be compensated. The relationship is much more transactional in nature. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with that, since we both know upfront the purpose of these relationships. It’s just a bit jarring to think of in retrospect how my imagined priorities differ from my priorities as seen in my day to day actions.

Another interesting niggle: time ultimately is the biggest factor. Having said all the above about transactional relationships, it would be weird to expect these tutoring relationships to stay the same if I’d kept them for a period of, let’s say, 10 years. If I were talking about these tutors in the same manner after 10 years, even I’d think it’d be strange for us not to have become pretty close friends in that time frame. Time is ultimately the largest factor in relationships because that’s the magic of scale. Even if you’re inefficient in your processes, if your overall outcome is a net positive, doing it over a long enough span will still net you a large amount of gains.

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: A Cuckolding in Three Parts

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is currently available on Amazon prime. It’s a good show. You should watch it. Having said that, it’s a thoroughly cucked show. How so?

  • Mrs. Maisel is a cuck, in the classical sense. Her husband has an affair behind her back and follows up by leaving her.
  • Mr. Maisel is emotionally cucked by Mrs. Maisel stealing his dream from him. All this time, he has this trumped up idea that he’s a wonderful comedian who’s gonna make it big, but Midge is the one who turns out to have any real talent in comedy. Not to mention how she inadventently digs the knife in deeper by basically throwing away all her ambition to support his shitty comedian act, in which he blatantly steals jokes he heard from better comics.
  • The audience gets cucked. The previews give the impression the show is a power fantasy about the empowerment of women and how they pull themselves up by the bootstraps in a patriarchal society through their own merit. It turns out, in Mrs Maisel’s world, raw talent is nowhere near enough to succeed. Outside of being a woman, Mrs Maisel gets every possible break that can be afforded to her in this universe. 1) She already has a talent for standup – a spark of goodness that can be harnessed into something further. 2) She’s rich 3) She has a support network that can watch her kids for her, freeing her up to do shit 4)Her husband supports her (that is, even when they get divorced he doesn’t do anything to try to impede her career. In a patriarchal society, there’s no guarantee that her career isn’t subject to the whims of her husband. He could simply stop paying child support if he really wanted to be a dick.) This also frees her up so she’s not obligated to work – she can spend time honing her craft 5)She is a fox. That naturally pulls in some charisma. Look at Susie Myerson for the contrast – she’s supposed to be able to spot talent and also supposed to be funny or something? But because she looks like a troll she’s stuck in the Gaslight idling her hours away. 6) She’s White, lol.  At least she only has one type of prejudice working against her. Imagine if the forces of intersectional prejudice were arrayed against her – Midge would really be up shit creek.

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Theory vs Application

I feel like traditional schooling focuses too much on theory and not enough on application. What do I mean by that? Take a look at core curriculum: Math – what is math? In many ways, it’s the underlying theory behind how things work. I think it’s great to teach this stuff. But We’re missing the application – how does this topic relate to your day to day life? For example, simple arithmetic is reality easy to explain in concrete terms – you can explain property rights using arithmetic. Who owns what, and how much of something do they own? If you learn arithmetic, you can better figure out how to track ownership. Exchanging money provides an instant application for arithmetic options. But when you’re using Calculus to calculate the surface area of a given volume, well, it gets a little harder to explain how this knowledge is applicable to things you do in your everyday life.

Likewise with History – what is the purpose of history? I’m not going to give a definitive answer, but my own reason for learning history – it serves as the underlying context with which to understand modern society. The purpose of history isn’t to learn random trivia about things that happened in the past – it’s to understand current events by infusing them with the appropriate context – that is, cultural background, possibly long standing conflicts between existing nations, and so forth. But I feel like history classes rarely move into the realm of application – it remains in the space of explaining the theory – that is, the facts about events in the past.

English class was another one – what did we do in our English classes? Mostly write a fuck ton of essays. But what was the purpose in doing so? Well, to each their own, really- you need to find your own purpose in improving your English – what does improved English facilitate? Possibly writing better grant proposals if you need to petition the government for money. Or sending out better communicated messages to your team, if you work at a company. If your message is hard to understand or open to misinterpretation, you can lead people astray. I dunno. Maybe help you write articles? I think English classes should devote some time to helping students figure out the purpose of spending time on English. What kind of outcomes does better English facilitate in their own lives? Let’s find out, instead of spending all this bullshit time on fucking gerunds.

Back to language learning – I also feel like traditional language classes are geared too much towards theory instead of application. What does that mean? Traditional language classes devote a lot of time to learning about a language instead of how to use it. What do I mean? Think about learning grammar – Here’s a concrete example – conjugations of verbs in Spanish.

For Spanish verbs, the infinitive form, or the base form of the verb is the verb, ending in three forms: -ar, -er, or -ir. Here’s an example: trabajar, which means, to work. When you see a verb in spanish that ends in -ar, -er, or -ir, it generally means “To do x”, where x is the verb. Now for this verb trabajar, You change the ending of the verb depending on who is doing the action – this is otherwise known as conjugation. What does that mean? It means you can understand who is doing the action based on how the verb is conjugated. So what does this mean? To make it more concrete, think of verbs in english: eat, dance, smell, shot, etc. Looking at those verbs, you can’t tell who is doing the action. If I added the pronoun before the verb, you would know who did the action: I eat, he dances, she smells, you shot, etc. Now, in Spanish, instead of adding a pronoun before the verb to figure out who’s doing the action, you change the end of the verb itself to indicate who’s done the action. So for the word trabajar, it gets conjugated in the following way:

  • If I’m doing the action: trabajo – this is the Spanish equivalent “I work”
  • You’re doing the action: trabajas – Spanish equivalent “You work”
  • He/She is doing the action: trabaja – Spanish equivalent “She/He works”
  • We’re doing the action: trabajamos – Spanish equivalent of “We work”
  • They’re doing the action: trabajan – Spanish equivalent of “They work”

Now you possibly understand the general concept of conjugation based on the speaker, if you were unfamiliar with Spanish previously. Having said that, learning the grammar, AKA the theory, has given you no insight into application – that is, real world usage of the language. It hasn’t helped you figure out how to ask for the bathroom in Spanish, or ask for the bill, or order food at a restaurant. For most language learners, I posit the priority is reversed – we should be learning application – that is, how to say/write/speak/understand phrases(depending on what you plan on doing with the language) and once we have a decent understanding of how to say things, we can then spend time reverse engineering the underlying grammatical concepts.

What is application in the context of language learning – it’s learner specific, but there remains the four aspects of language we can learn: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Generally, language classes incorporate all four aspects, but is this really necessary for all students? I say not at all – it really depends on the priority of the student. For example, If you were learning Japanese so you could watch and understand Japanese anime, would you really need to spend much time on speaking, reading, and writing? I’d say, not really – unless you want to read subtitles – then you could also focus on reading. What is the purpose of devoting hundreds of hours to learning how to use Japanese in conversation if you never intend to speak it? Likewise, if your objective was to learn Japanese solely to read manga, why bother spending time practicing your speaking and listening? Ultimately it doesn’t advance your interests. These seem like somewhat edge cases, but I bring them up to highlight my main example: What if you just want to learn a language so you can carry out conversations in your target language? This is how I do feel about my target language. Do I ever plan on reading or writing in Cantonese? Hell no. So I devote all my learning time to listening and speaking. Why waste time learning thousands of characters if I don’t plan to translate them to Cantonese usage? In this context, traditional language classes contain a lot of excess – they try to balance learning all four aspects of the language, when it might be the case that some of these aspects are not a priority for you individually. Ultimately, I think the more you move away from large group classes and go to 1:1 tutoring or mentoring, the more you can facilitate this kind of theory:application learning model – instead of learning all theory, you can focus on learning applications then filling in the background with theory as necessary.

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Uncategorized

What I Learned From Grinding Language classes for 9 Months

Over this past year, I’d say my biggest accomplishment was building out my language learning habit and actually improving somewhat in my foreign language speaking skills. So what exactly did I do to learn new languages? I started taking tutoring classes online. Originally, I scheduled weekly classes to learn Chinese. Now, I’m learning Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish and Japanese. Now, am I learning them all equally as well? Not even close.

March Schedule

Here was my schedule back in March – pretty doable – I think anyone could probably incorporate this amount of classes into their life, possibly with little alteration of their normal schedule, or possibly a lot, to free up certain time schedules.

April Schedule

Here’s April and May – I feel like my schedule remained pretty consistent – about two or three classes a week on average. June and July are pretty similar. It’s not until August that I really ramp up the intensity:

At this point, I’ve moved to daily classes with an additional class thrown in every other day or so. What’s with the shift?

Regardless of your methods for learning a language, there are a couple of core concepts that you must abide by:

  • You need to have an opportunity to learn new material. (This can be vocabulary, grammar, or new language concepts.)
  • You need an area to practice it – For example, speaking in conversations that incorporate the new concepts you’ve learned. Watching videos that use the target vocab/grammar. Reading books. Listening to conversations or podcasts. So forth.
  • Time spent practicing the concepts. This is in line with the above, actually – your output is a function of usage over time – meaning you can practice and use the concept many times over a short period, or the same amount of times over a longer period. However, it’s not necessarily 1:1; there’s a bunch of articles hyping the use of spaced repetition in learning a language – meaning it might actually be worse if you practice a concept 1000 times in a week and then pick it up a year later, compared to practicing that concept 1000 times spaced throughout the course of a year and then picking it up again the following year. You want to practice these concepts over a time interval instead of doing things in bursts.

So, keeping these general concepts in mind, what did I learn about learning languages?

  • It’s a hell of a lot easier to learn the more you study. This sounds kind of self evident, but when I take the same class every day, I don’t even need to do outside homework in order to recall concepts I learned the day before. Just brute forcing learning through sheer volume of classes serves to learn things over time. Would it be better if I study outside of class as well? of course. Do I do it? Nope.
  • Trying to learn multiple languages may not be inherently worse than only focusing on one. Having said that, I do think it gives you a lot more rope to hang yourself with, so I wouldn’t recommend starting from scratch with multiple languages – I think it’s cool to pick up several languages if you’re relatively proficient with one and a beginner in the other. One benefit I found from learning multiple languages simultaneously was not needing to sustain my interest in only one language. It’s really natural to have interest in learning a language wax and wane over time, but whenever interest dropped in one language, interest would rise in the other. It was quite nice.
  • It’s crucial to build in time to explore the concepts you’re learning. On Italki, I would schedule weekly classes with some of my tutors. These tutors would focus solely on going over new concepts, vocabulary, and grammar with me, with the expectation that I would study these things in my own time and practice speaking/writing/reading etc. However, with some languages, it was very frequently the case that the class was the only time I was exposed to that language in a conversational setting, meaning I could talk to someone and they would respond back. Compare that to watching a TV show or listening to music/ reading news in the target language – you are still exposed to the language, but you get little opportunity to practice speaking in a real world setting, which, for most people, is the most practical use for a language. In order to ameliorate this, I had to reach out to my tutors and reset expectations – I needed to move slower and spend much more time practicing these concepts by verbally reviewing them in conversation with my tutor. While the rate at which we covered material dropped to a snail’s pace, my retention shot up through the roof.
  • For those who have taken a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, the structure of a typical BJJ class actually is quite useful to incorporate in a language learning context. A typical BJJ class usually follows this pattern: First 10 minutes of class spent warming up. About 20-30 minutes devoted to learning new material. Then about 30 minutes sparring, which is as close to real world usage as possible. The practitioners grapple under a restricted ruleset – no punching, kicking, or strikes of any kind. No fouling (gouging, manipulating people’s fingers, messing with ears, eyes, throat (except for chokes), etc) Every class is essentially self-contained: There’s room to learn new concepts, but also space to test out new material as you see fit. If you don’t have any exposure to your target language outside of class, I feel like incorporating the BJJ class model is really useful for retaining language knowledge. If you have plenty of opportunity to practice your target language outside of class, I’d recommend taking out the “practice” aspect from your classes, since there’s so little time in a class and you could devote more of it to learning instead.

(It’s important to note that this is simply one method to learn a language – I’m not saying it’s the only path, nor is it the best. But it is my path and it is one that works for me. You may find it useful for you if you need structured classes for guidance in the same way I do. If you think it might work for you, try it! As they say, take what works and discard what doesn’t. I wont be offended!)

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TV Reviews

Chicanery – on Crossing the Rubicon

I’m really into Better Call Saul . It’s my favorite current TV show, and my personal canon of Great TV Shows . My favorite episodes in particular are the ones that address the relationship between Jimmy and Chuck – the underlying resentment that’s simmering throughout the series. Whenever the series decides to confront the elephant in the room, things complode – it’s like dynamite. I’m thinking of two episodes in particular that really highlight this dynamic – Pimiento and Chicanery. I can address the conflict in Pimiento in another post, but long story short, it’s when Jimmy finally realizes how Chuck has been keeping him down the entire time. It’s an explicit reveal of something Jimmy’s felt all his like – his inferiority complex to his brother, and his brother’s contempt for him. He’s always known his brother thought he was better than him – but this episode is where Chuck comes right and and admits it. But enough about that – I want to focus on Chicanery – the episode when everything comes to a boil.

One interesting aspect of the bar hearing against Jimmy is it’s the culmination of the bubbling resentment finally being unleashed by both sides – Years of harbored resentment finally reaching a tipping point – the thought of having to bail Jimmy out of trouble for years while never seeing how Jimmy had improved over time – While the recording of Jimmy’s confession was when Chuck finally crossed the Rubicon, ultimately, the disbarment case was when Chuck finally brought all the scheming to fruition. Meanwhile, the moment that Jimmy’s resentments finally blow up is when he breaks into Chuck’s house to destroy the tape, but he doesn’t cross the rubicon until after he’s finally let out his resentment. His actions that cross the rubicon – bringing in Chuck’s Ex to inform her about his mental illness, and embarrassing Chuck in front of all his peers – foments from a dispassionate plan to ensure his survival. But ultimately, these machinations against his brother are all a product of that eruption of resentment.

I’m too lazy to synthesize the rest of my thoughts into a cogent post, so here’s the highlights of the episode summarized in a list:

  • Sibling resentment
  • Chuck flipping the addresses in his white lie to Rebecca mirrors when Jimmy plays transposes the addresses to trip up Chuck – gives some more context on why he can sniff it out, even when everyone else thinks he’s crazy. 512 San Cristobal Road to 215 San Cristobal Road -> 1261 Rosella Drive to 1216 Rosella Drive.
  • This episode is a microcosm of the brother’s relationship – the weird emotional codependency on each other, the lingering resentment, the contrast in portrayals -the justification of Jimmy’s work ethic via Howard’s compliments contrasted with Chuck always seeing the worst in Jimmy shown when he finally loses his temper – explains why he’s the only one who can figure out when Jimmy’s pulling a scam, when he only Jimmy’s actions through the lens of Slippin’ Jimmy.
  • Chuck’s explicit statement of what everyone has been tiptoeing about for 2 and half half seasons, which is – he is NOT CRAZY.
  • The whole episode is everyone dancing around Chuck’s mental illness, no one explicitly mentioning it, but talking around it – Howard with the FMLA leave, Jimmy with the TEG, until the State’s attorney finally mentioning Chuck’s mental illness
  • “He’s hoping this will break me down, split me apart at the seams like a murderer confessing on an episode of Perry Mason. Well… I’m sorry to disappoint you Jimmy.” *** Three Minutes Later, immediately confesses ***
  • Chuck and Jimmy’s weird codependent relationship – they both know how to push each other’s buttons. The climax is a result of both brothers finally unleashing a lifetime of unspoken resentment. They both know how their actions will devastate their opposing sibling – indeed, it seems like the point is the devastation.

One other thing I love about this episode – it’s vindication. We’ve been building up this same resentment towards Chuck, as a proxy for Jimmy’s resentment. We want to see him lash out and knock his brother down a peg. But when he finally pulls out all the stops, it’s absolutely devastating. It’s a total pyrrhic victory. Jimmy may have prevented his disbarment, but at the cost of destroying his brother emotionally and professionally. It’s not even a satisfying feeling to get revenge for all the things Chuck has been doing for him over the years. Likewise, he’s gotten Kim roped into his shenanigans as well, and she doesn’t feel any better about the situation. As she says in a later episode, “as far as I’m concerned, all we did was tear down a sick man.”