2016 Week 40: «politricks» and «making education exciting»

Donald Trump had kinda a bad week. First, we learned that he lost nearly a billion dollars of other people's money, and that he almost certainly carried that loss forward to avoid paying taxes for the last ~18 years or so. Then we saw video mashups of Spence unabashedly lying about Trump's record at the vice-Presidential debate followed by Trump saying exactly what Spence said he hadn't. Finally, a tape from 2005 of him bragging about sexually assaulting a married women (and women, in general) came out.

That cost him some support including a handful of notable endorsement retractions, but, depressingly, we still have almost a month to go for people to forget, and he'll still almost certainly still get over 40% of the popular vote.

It's incredibly depressing how much people don't care about voting, and that the ones who do care and bother to vote are constitutively in the bag for one team or the other independent of who is running or how good or awful they may be. That also means that the people with the most power in elections are the ones who have somehow gotten to this point a month away from the election following more than a year of campaigning and decades of seeing both Hillary and Donald.

There are many contributing factors, but one of the significant ones was voiced friday night by Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull, on Real Time with Bill Maher.

He said he called politics «politricks», and that all politicians were full of shit.

Bill and the panel were quick to correct him, and, to his credit, he partially walked back that statement, but the underlying sentiment touches on what I wrote about last week and reflects an extremely dangerous and destructive misunderstanding of civics. This widespread belief that politicians are all alike and that politics doesn't matter is a self-fulfilling poison that encourages good people not to run, and selects for the worst of us, keeps us from paying attention to the mundane details and business of government that can have a huge impact on our lives, and it makes it possible to look at a selfish, and generally horrible con man like Donald Trump, and consider him to be on the same level as someone who is fundamentally honest and who has worked their whole life to help people, like Hillary Clinton.

It's the reason that incumbents continually get reelected independent of their performance. If you think they're all the same, and that their job doesn't matter, what's the difference ? It's the reason we aren't all better off, and why things that are obvious / no-brainers just don't happen. It's right up there with thinking «we're the best country in the world, so why even look to other countries who are better at educating and taking care of their sick and elderly ?» in terms of preventing progress.

There are a lot of reasons one might think they're all the same, but the most insidious is that the politicians who actually are despicable tricksters (like Trump and his ilk) actively sow the seeds of doubt, muddying the water and making it seem like they're on the same level as the ones who actually work hard and care.

A more mundane but equally dangerous issue relates to something else that Pitbull said — that people should use sports to make math exciting. It's not that, in particular, but the idea that everything has to be exciting and fun. With all due respect, this is a terrible idea. Lots of things that are worth doing are intrinsically hard, boring, and tedious. Arguably anything worth doing is.

I have no doubt that this is coming from a place of good intentions, but the lesson that everything we learn should be made fun, easy, and entertaining is the wrong one. One of Hillary's great strengths is that she is willing to do hard and ultimately boring work researching and understanding things.

At the first Presidential debate, Trump asked «Where did you find this?» and the answer is simple: hard work and discipline. His is a life of shortcuts, taking the easy path and cheating. Everything he says and does is thoughtless and unconsidered. It was actually inconceivable to someone like him that she might have paid attention and done a bit of research. That's kinda what makes her a great candidate — she cares, she tries, and she works hard.

Getting back to Pitbull — the lesson people should learn isn't that math can be fun and exciting, or that you can apply contortions to find applications of it in sports to «make it exciting» (incidentally, for someone like me, sports make it less interesting not more), but that like lifting weights and exercising, learning it can be boring or difficult, but it's a useful tool. Knowing more math (or history, civics, etc, for that matter) makes you stronger to the point of almost giving you super powers.

One of the most important things we can teach anyone isn't specifically math or science or any other subject, but the discipline it takes to master something. That willingness and ability to focus, push through, and do something hard that takes a lot of time and effort without any immediate reward is essential to really accomplish anything great.

That's not to say that we should go out of our way to make things boring — and especially not that we should give kids busy work for the sake of having them develop those muscles, but we absolutely should make sure that they're learning that focus, hard work, and discipline can and do pay off.

«Where did you find this?»

She studied.

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