Is spinning poi cultural appropriation?

One way I can fool people in the real world into thinking I’m cool is by spinning fire.

The man in the above video – who is not me – is spinning props called poi, which is the Maori term for a traditional performance art that involves balls on strings.  Every once in a while, you’ll get someone who’ll tell you that white people shouldn’t spin poi, because it’s “cultural appropriation.” This is not a big deal, and it never goes anywhere because there is no substantial movement among the Maori themselves to stop white people from spinning poi.

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Conspiracies without theories, theories without conspiracies, and theories about conspiracies.

A post last month on /r/slatestarcodex asked whether professors who believe in conspiracy theories should get to keep their jobs. That question seems pretty easy to me – if their beliefs interfere with their teaching, then firing or some other kind of discipline is appropriate, otherwise not. What’s more interesting to me is one of the follow-up comments:

“MKUltra, the Gulf of Tonkin, Bohemian Grove, CIA involvement with the Dalai Lama, Cigarettes causing cancer, the testomony of ‘Nayirah’ before the Gulf War, Operation Mockingbird, CIA involvement in the importation of Cocaine, The Iran-Contra affair, even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster all started as conspiracy theories.”

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Extremely late-breaking thoughts on the Lewinsky scandal.

  1. Committing sexual harassment, under its legal definition, should be an impeachable offense. Conduct that falls just short of the legal definition by not being “severe” or “pervasive” enough should often be an impeachable offense, especially if there’s a pattern of it.
  2. Having an exploitative-but-consensual relationship with someone should definitely not be an impeachable offense, and I do not believe it’s possible to argue otherwise while taking consent seriously and without infantilizing forty-four-year-old Monica Lewinsky, who has been telling us a consistent story for twenty years. Sexual harassment is by definition “unwanted,” so anyone who says this was “textbook sexual harassment” is using the wrong textbook.
  3. Creating the appearance or risk of sexual harassment, by having a relationship that’s unethical and makes it difficult (at the time) for outsiders to know whether consent is genuine, should probably not be an impeachable offense; however this is a closer call, and I don’t think it’s illiberal or infantilizing to argue otherwise.
  4. The actual crime Bill Clinton was impeached for, and that no one seems to be talking about currently, was lying under oath in a sexual harassment case. That case was initially dismissed because the judge felt Clinton’s alleged behavior was not severe enough to count as sexual harassment, a decision that looks dubious in retrospect (at very least, there should have been no summary judgement.) That decision was appealed and the case was later settled. In retrospect, I think lying under oath in a sexual harassment case should be an impeachable offense, given that the behavior he was lying about – a pattern of having affairs with subordinates – was clearly relevant to the case.
  5. I don’t think most people should beat themselves too much over not realizing this at the time, because the credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault were mixed in with a deluge of blatantly false accusations and conspiracy theories about other things; it simply wasn’t possible, back then, for the average person to pull up a bunch of documents about the accusations on the newfangled interwebs and realize they credibly pointed to a pattern of abuse. I feel differently about journalists who covered the case, activists who made public statements, or politicians who voted on impeachment; they had a greater responsibility to weigh all the available evidence.

Against “The Toxoplasma of Rage.”

“The Toxoplasma of Rage” is regularly cited as one of Scott Alexander’s best essays, and I think it’s fundamentally mistaken, at least about the high-profile incidents it showcases.

He calls it “toxoplasma” because – like toxoplasmosis in rats and cats – there are supposedly two stages to how a story goes viral:

  1. Activists promote dubious stories because that demonstrates their zeal to their fellow activists.
  2. Counteractivists promote the same dubious story to demonstrate how dumb the original activists are.

 

I have a different theory: Continue reading

Research papers from policy school

Today I went digging through my hard drive for a research paper I wrote in policy school that used structural equations modeling to analyze the 2004 United States presidential election.  Sadly, it seems I lost the final version and only have a rough draft.  I did, however, find another research paper on population changes in Wayne and Oakland counties (roughly, Detroit and its wealthier suburbs.)

WayneAndOakland.doc

You might find it interesting if you like Detroit or pretty choropleths:choro

Some mixed, sort-of tooting my own horn: I independently discovered one of the most important urban trends in the United States – the dispersal of poor, urban blacks to inner ring suburbs, which in many ways laid the ground for the recent conflict in Ferguson.  Of course, by that time, the professionals had already discovered it.

I also found, in retrospect, absolutely no evidence for gentrification in Detroit from 1990-2000; at the time I worded my conclusion a bit more weakly, probably because no one I talked to wanted to hear this conclusion.  Fortunately, I’m coming to care less what others think in my old age.  Also in retrospect, the most likely cause of the changes I observed is the Third Great Migration.

I guess I’ll take a stab at explaining the lost structural equations modeling paper as well.

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Concentric circles of free speech, via Colin Kaepernick.

(copied from a months-old Facebook post)

1) If someone calls Colin Kaepernick unpatriotic for kneeling during the national anthem, there’s no free speech issue. It may be a violation of some other values – civil discourse, reasoned debate – but definitely not free speech. Of course, it’s a bit disingenuous of me to pick Kaepernick as an example, because this fallacy is currently far more common on the right – the Kaepernick incident is one of the few recent cases when I’ve seen columnists invoke it from the left.

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