Sunday, November 27, 2016

You're in Mexico. Speak English? Please tour responsibly.

This past week, my family and I went on vacation to Cabos San Lucas, Mexico. While I knew the city was a haven for tourists, I was hoping to be able to try out some of my four years of Spanish (before we left, Maria had told me and Chase that we'd better be speaking fluent Spanish when we got back). We made our way through customs and TSA for an early flight to Houston and, from there, Cabo.

Arriving at the airport, I immediately noticed the signs throughout the airport. Each one contained English first and in larger print with Spanish smaller below. I was surprised, but it made sense: Cabo's an incredibly popular spot for tourism. After we got our bags and I almost unknowingly drank a sample of tequila (which I assumed was some kind of juice) that a very nice woman gave to me in front of my parents, we were greeted by a swarm of taxi drivers eager to attract passengers. We approached one, loaded our bags, and made our way to hotel as beautiful mountains whirred by.



In between the airport and our hotel was a small town filled with shops and beset on either side of the road by buildings that sat in an uncanny state between appearing to be under construction or partially demolished. Beautiful candy-colored buildings paved the way to our hotel, and I noticed the property values seemed to increase as we grew closer to the hotel.

As I suspected, the area was heavily gentrified by the lavish hotels on the shore. I had heard about the poverty and lack of economic opportunity found in places with heavy tourism before, as Mr. Hawig had explained that during his time in Hawaii, many of the local folks had told him that many of the people there grew up and worked at the hotels on the island. This fact had made me somewhat uncomfortable throughout the trip and I decided that the literal least I could do was be as nice as possible to all of the staff there and try to speak Spanish to them when I could, as they had fluently learned English to accommodate me.

But speaking Spanish turned out to be much harder than I had been expecting. I'm at a point in my language acquisition where I have to flip a mental switch in order to speak and understand Spanish, or at least anything more complicated than what was learned in Spanish 1. Often times when we were at one of the resort's numerous restaurants, I would plan out how to say what I would like to eat and any little bits of casual conversation, but when the time came, I froze and reverted back to my native English. The only Spanish I spoke that same level one Spanish. My grammar had gotten better when it came to conjugation, but in essence, my Spanish was no better than my eighth-grade sister's.

In the age of Trump it is more important than ever to learn another language, especially Spanish. And yet, I knew that before this trip and still didn't show it. What good is learning a language when you never use it? Language is a way of knowing, but it is also a form of knowledge. To learn something without ever putting it to use is no different than never having learned it at all, and that's what I did this week.

Traveling is interesting. To be in a completely different country that speaks another language is a remarkable experience. It humbles you, lets you know that people and places outside of your country exist, and, in theory, lets me know what it's like to be a global student and citizen. However, tourism has changed this, especially when it comes to the relationship between the U.S./Europe and poorer countries. The world has become the West's theme park, where poorer countries learn English and dilute their cultures down into easily-identifying souvenirs. But who can blame them? A high demand to enjoy their beautiful locales and is economically beneficial.

So how can we tour responsibly? How can other cultures be respected, appreciated, and enjoyed without being turned into cheap imitations? Is this a condition we can reverse? I don't really know any of the answers, but these questions are often on my mind because of my desire to travel.

Pero ahora, voy a trataré de hablar español un poquito mas en mi vida.

You're in Mexico. Speak English? Please tour responsibly.

This past week, my family and I went on vacation to Cabos San Lucas, Mexico. While I knew the city was a haven for tourists, I was hoping to be able to try out some of my four years of Spanish (before we left, Maria had told me and Chase that we'd better be speaking fluent Spanish when we got back). We made our way through customs and TSA for an early flight to Houston and, from there, Cabo.

Arriving at the airport, I immediately noticed the signs throughout the airport. Each one contained English first and in larger print with Spanish smaller below. I was surprised, but it made sense: Cabo's an incredibly popular spot for tourism. After we got our bags and I almost unknowingly drank a sample of tequila (which I assumed was some kind of juice) that a very nice woman gave to me in front of my parents, we were greeted by a swarm of taxi drivers eager to attract passengers. We approached one, loaded our bags, and made our way to hotel as beautiful mountains whirred by.



In between the airport and our hotel was a small town filled with shops and beset on either side of the road by buildings that sat in an uncanny state between appearing to be under construction or partially demolished. Beautiful candy-colored buildings paved the way to our hotel, and I noticed the property values seemed to increase as we grew closer to the hotel.

As I suspected, the area was heavily gentrified by the lavish hotels on the shore. I had heard about the poverty and lack of economic opportunity found in places with heavy tourism before, as Mr. Hawig had explained that during his time in Hawaii, many of the local folks had told him that many of the people there grew up and worked at the hotels on the island. This fact had made me somewhat uncomfortable throughout the trip and I decided that the literal least I could do was be as nice as possible to all of the staff there and try to speak Spanish to them when I could, as they had fluently learned English to accommodate me.

But speaking Spanish turned out to be much harder than I had been expecting. I'm at a point in my language acquisition where I have to flip a mental switch in order to speak and understand Spanish, or at least anything more complicated than what was learned in Spanish 1. Often times when we were at one of the resort's numerous restaurants, I would plan out how to say what I would like to eat and any little bits of casual conversation, but when the time came, I froze and reverted back to my native English. The only Spanish I spoke that same level one Spanish. My grammar had gotten better when it came to conjugation, but in essence, my Spanish was no better than my eighth-grade sister's.

In the age of Trump it is more important than ever to learn another language, especially Spanish. And yet, I knew that before this trip and still didn't show it. What good is learning a language when you never use it? Language is a way of knowing, but it is also a form of knowledge. To learn something without ever putting it to use is no different than never having learned it at all, and that's what I did this week.

Traveling is interesting. To be in a completely different country that speaks another language is a remarkable experience. It humbles you, lets you know that people and places outside of your country exist, and, in theory, lets me know what it's like to be a global student and citizen. However, tourism has changed this, especially when it comes to the relationship between the U.S./Europe and poorer countries. The world has become the West's theme park, where poorer countries learn English and dilute their cultures down into easily-identifying souvenirs. But who can blame them? A high demand to enjoy their beautiful locales and is economically beneficial.

So how can we tour responsibly? How can other cultures be respected, appreciated, and enjoyed without being turned into cheap imitations? Is this a condition we can reverse? I don't really know any of the answers, but these questions are often on my mind because of my desire to travel.

Pero ahora, voy a trataré de hablar español un poquito mas en mi vida.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Polls Suck: I'm super done with this election and pollsters are stressing me out


"The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility.” Evaluate this claim.


It's the weekend before the election on November 8th. I'm behind on a lot of homework and I'm having an early Thanksgiving with some of the extended family on my mom's side when politics come up. My cousins, adamant Trump supporters whom I love and disagree with, were quite convinced that he will win, thanks to several polls they had seen. I however, knew that while the race is quite close, Clinton is currently projected slightly more favorably than Trump, thanks to what I had been seeing on FiveThirtyEight's projections. I've trusted this source for a while due to the fact that throughout their podcasts and on their website, they have acknowledged the limitations to their projections while also seeming to take everything they could into account. This, combined with the excerpt we read in TOK from Nate Silver's book (which I need to buy) The Signal and The Noise, lead me to believe that what I had read was fairly accurate and trustworthy.




Statistics, especially concerning voting and the election, are often times misleading, faulty in methodology, or wrong in the predictions they set up. Frequentists believe that you increase the accuracy of your data by increasing the amount of data you have to work with, while Bayesians believe that taking priors into account, and basing predictions off of that allows you to predict with a system where the outputs of the formula become the inputs of the subsequent formulas, which make predictions less objective but, at least in the case of political polling, more accurate. However, neither of these methods can account for everything. It is not possible to track every variable, and yet so few polls own up to that, even though they all face that same problem.

It is my belief that with statistics, there is an ethical responsibility to admit the limitations of the studies. One would think this is obvious, but especially with network political polls, any study, no matter how shoddily conducted, carries an authority behind it based solely on the name attached. I myself am far too trusting of the information I see from sources I trust. I don't check the fine print on the polls I see or the statistics I use when arguing my point because I trust the source, or I agree with the prediction made by the poll.

Thanks to my experience with speech and debate, I'm used to pulling specific discreet polls or pieces of data to support my arguments, but this has left me with a sort of compelling desire for accuracy in data. This is really stressing me out because I try very hard to base my decisions on the facts at hand, and when "facts" are tainted by bias and polls are more about supporting a preconceived notion than finding out the truth, sifting through data becomes a real hassle. Like the quest for any kind of absolute truth, we can approach, but never truly find the infallible knowledge we seek. Statistics we look at should consider this. I do not look deeply into the methodology of the polls I find, but I shouldn't have to. When speaking from a place of such authority, those who compile and publish data have an ethical responsibility to seek truth rather than claim to have it in order to push an agenda. Bias is found in anything someone creates, even in the more accurate Bayesian statistics, but that bias is something that should be acknowledged, rather than denied. We can attempt to reduce the biases we have, but the strict objectivity of frequentism often leaves us with erroneous predictions. As a result, the only choice we have left is to accept that our biases are an indelible part of ourselves and whatever we put out into the world, and as a result, become more skeptical of the information we are fed.

I'm just ready for this election to be over so maybe we can turn 2017 into a year of healing from this dumpster fire of a year. This year, we've seen candidates advocate for sexual assault and come under FBI investigation, it's 80 degrees in November, there are apparently two-headed sharks, and David Bowie died. If we were able to use more accurate polls, that might start us off on a better path for next year, but our priors aren't very optimistic for that.