31 January 2004

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English as she is spoke

The Brothers Judd was discussing an article about the superiority of iconic written language over alphabetic ones. Since no one will read the comments again, I’ll weigh in here.

The best known iconic language is Chinese, where there is an icon / pictoglyph for every word. In contrast, English is written alphabetically, with a small set of symbols used to represent sounds which in turn are composed in varying numbers to form words. There are numerous variations on this pattern (for instance, Japanese uses primarily icons, but has two syllabaries for writting some elements of the language phonetically, such as conjuctions and verb conjugations).

Originally I was just going to make some short comments, but the article is so confused that I have to rip it apart.

As 20th century philosophers, linguists and logicians have established, a great number of the errors and confusions of Western thought are due to the structure of Indo-European languages, including their adoption of phonetic writing.

What philosophers, linguists and logicians would these be? I’ve never heard of any with that point of view. The big mistake here (which is commonly made) is to treat the written form of the language as the “real” language. It’s not. Spoken language is the dominant form, writing is merely a means of encoding spoken language. One might also note that phonetic writing was adopted for Indo-European languages millenia after the languages first existed.

The world view inscribed in Chinese characters - as well as the peculiar features of their grammar - turns out to be far closer to the reality that modern science has disclosed.

There is no world view inscribed in Chinese characters as characters. The particular words associated with the characters structures the world view of its speakers, but that’s a property of the language, not the characters it’s written in.

Take the notions of identity, substance and essence. Western philosophy and science, beginning with the Greeks, wrestled with them obsessively. What is a thing? What is its substance or essence? Surely something cannot be simultaneously A and not A? So what is A?

Modern physics has revealed all these questions to be meaningless.

No, modern physics has shown that there are different answers to these questions. An electron is still an electron. It can’t have electrical charge and not have electrical charge at the same time. It’s this article that’s meaningless.

A specialised language, mathematics, was required to disclose this reality.

This, right here, disproves the entire thesis of the article! When the Westerns, cruelly limited by their alphabetic languages, couldn’t write about this reality, they simply invented a new language. Doesn’t that make the original linguistic limitation rather trivial?

Indo-European languages could not have done so, for they created a different universe. For speakers of these languages, a ‘thing’ must have an ‘essence’, distinguishable from every other thing, because language has a word peculiar to each thing.

Every language has this same property - words. It’s in fact a bit of a puzzle as to why languages have words. Some languages (such as Innuit) are rather flexible about what a word is, but the concept of a word is still there.

[…] in Chinese, good is represented by a character combining the sign for ‘woman’ with the sign for ‘child’. Woman + Child = Good.

Chinese philosophy, unless influenced by other philosophies, wouldn’t dream of asking what is good, for the simple reason that good is represented in Chinese as a relation, not an essence.

So you mean Sun Tzu didn’t write about what was good in warfare? I must have a bad translation. Moreover, unless the word “good” is pronounced as “Woman, Child” this is another example of confusing the written and spoken languages and is completely irrelevant.

Overall, however, one can make a strong case that cultures with alphabetic languages will almost always do better as a technological society. While icons have advantages among technical uses (which is why computer interfaces use icons instead of words), alphabetic systems are far better at supporting mass literacy. It is mass literacy that makes a technological society possible.

Several of the commentors (such as Jeff Guinn) point out that mechanical aids such as printing presses and typewriters work much better with alphabetic system. Further, there is the “bootstrap” issue, where for an alphabetic system, once one has become somewhat literate further reading improves literacy. This is once again because the spoken language is primary, so that an alphabetic system can be sounded out and through that one can (usually) connect a printed word one has not seen before with the sound of the word and thereby know it.

What I would find interesting is how well neologisms work in non-alphabetic languages. The ability to construct new words for new things is key to promulgating them. In an alphabetic system there are roots and affixes one can use to build up words, but most iconic systems also have “radicals” which are constitutent parts of larger icons. It’s possible that neologisms can be constructed using new patterns of radicals and icons.

Posted by aog at 11:06 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

It's not real politik if there's no profit

There’s some discussion of the increase in NEA over at the Brothers Judd.

I agree with Spoons that it’s more the implied disdain for the base that an action such as this implies more than the specifics that is the problem. It will not net Bush as single vote from the Left/Democratic Party yet serves to infuriate much of the Right/Republican side. (One could, of course, assume that President Bush is too stupid to know what he’s doing, but that doesn’t seem to have been a good heuristic in the past.)

It’s much like the steel tariffs, which were much more of a ideological issue than free trade. It seems … spiteful because there wasn’t any upside for either the conservatives or Bush himself, politically. This NEA funding increase is the same. Regardless of any short time benefits, it will in the long term simply provide additional sinecures for Lefties to abrade society. It’s not so much that Bush should do every little thing conservatives want, but that he should at least avoid spitting in their eyes.

Mr. Judd asks us to accept that we’re not going to get rid of the social safety net - can he accept that in modern society this sort of government program cannot long serve conservative principles?

30 January 2004

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Lost in the noise

My mailbox, as so many others, is filled these days with artifacts of the latest virus that’s making the computer rounds. While we wallow in our own misery, give a thought to the poor spammers. I hardly even notice them anymore because there are so many virus messages. I expect that we’ll be hearing calls for additional aid to Nigeria once the impact of this is fully felt.

Posted by aog at 08:44 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Oh, yeah, that cost overrun

It was announced on the news this morning that (surprise!) the recent extension of Medicare benefits will cost $540 billion, not $400 billion, over the next ten years. That’s only a 35% in a year, which is about what I’d expect for any government supplied health benefit. President Bush is really betting the farm on the Democratic Party being completely unable to be rational about foreign policy. As Damian Penny notes, if the Democrats nominate someone with foreign policy credibility, it’s over for Bush.

I suppose it’s reasonable to count on the Democratics Party nominating someone with a pernicious foreign policy (who doesn’t have one except Lieberman, and he’s not going to be the nominee). However, that could leave a big problem for 2008. Will Bush prove to be the Clinton of the Republican Party, boosting his own re-election at the long term cost of the Party? They are both famous for the same kind of triangulation. Bush supporters could point out one big difference, which is that the Republican Party is gaining elected positions across the board rather than losing them, so it’s not completely equivalent.

The longer term may be the fade out of the Democratic Party, some small slice going to the Green/Red coalition with the rest joining a Republican splinter group of coots (socially liberal, fiscally conservative). We won’t really know until about half way through Bush’s second term.

29 January 2004

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"Hey, Ron, how did you work that again?"

So BBC workers have walked out in protest over the resignation of Greg Dyke, who resigned because of the Hutton report. I’m not surprised that the BBC staffers are backing the management - all the reports I’ve read is that the bias problem is pervasive.

However, the first thing that occurred to me is that UK Prime Minister Blair could clean up the BBC the way former President Reagan broke the air traffic controller’s union. Just lock out the protestors and hire replacements. See how long they stay on the protest line if their jobs start disappearing. Or, since unlike the air traffic controllers these people aren’t doing anything critical to safety or economy, just eliminate the positions entirely. It’s a wonderful opportunity to weed out precisely those who are most committed to perpetuating the bias at the BBC. It worked for Thatcher, after all…

Posted by aog at 14:14 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Flushing the game

When you see stories like this about plans to conduct military operations in Pakistan in the fall, you have to wonder why it’s on the front page of a major newpaper. Bruce Cleaver has stolen my thunder by pointing out that this may be a deliberately leak to frighten various people and factions in the area. This is one of the big advantages of having initiative and credibility. It’s not even critical that we follow through on every proposed plan, as long as we do some of them. In fact, one could argue that it’s better to be a bit inconsistent to increase the uncertainty on the other side.

Overall, however, it’s a good sign that this kind of thing can be seriously discussed. That’s an enormous change from the situation a few years ago and is another side benefit of invading Iraq.

27 January 2004

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Interpretive politics

Over at Harry’s Place there is a discussion in the comments which contains references to statements by Sheik Yassin, a HAMAS leader, about driving the Jews in to the sea. The counter argument was that Yassin was just throwing some rhetorical red meat to the public. That raises one of two troubling issues.

The first, as mentioned by one of the commentors, is the soft bigotry of “re-interpreting” comments by non-Western leaders:

“Sheik Yassin has just said that he wishes to drive all the Jews into the sea. What he meant, of course, is that he would be happy to live in peace with the Jewish state within the 1967 borders.” Nobody takes it upon themselves to translate Chirac or Bush or Blair (or Sharon) into “what we think he should have said”.

Certainly President Bush has every statement parsed, no matter where he makes it. In fact, just his appearance at a place like Bob Jones University (regardless of what he actually said) is treated as a major transgression. Yet this same standard is hardly ever applied to people like Yassin.

The more troubling issue is, if we accept the re-interpretation viewpoint, why would Yassin make statements like that? Wouldn’t that mean that it’s not the leaders of Palestinians being intransigent, but in fact that a Judenrein Middle East is a popular goal among the Palestinian population? That would seem to destroy the whole “it’s just a few extremists” contention like a MOAB on Bedouin tent. Is that really the view supporters of the Palestinians want the rest of us to have?

26 January 2004

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Adequate still beats pernicious

Andrew Sullivan got a reality check from watching John Kerry on C-SPAN:

All of this [in Kerry’s speech] is a major reality check for those with disappointments with this president

Uh, yeah. I had already figured that out. It’s good to see Sullivan is coming around to my point of view.

Posted by aog at 11:16 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Taking vs. making

I made the mistake (again!) of listening to the local NPR station. One of their features is a segment where a law professor opines on society and the law. She’s not always a complete loon. Today she was only semi-loony in a paean to an associate of hers who was a crusader for the poor. What he did, according to her, was encourage the “oppressed” to become involved in politics. The view was that this was not only a good thing in itself, but enabled those involved to “take charge of their own lives”. But politics is primarily about taking charge of other people’s lives. It is precisely those in charge of themselves that have no need of politics. The commentator then listed the marvelous things that this involvement in politics had yielded - primarily recreational projects built at taxpayer expense. So it boiled down in the end to forming gangs and using the power of that gang to extract money from other people. I was hoping for “started businesses”, “got jobs”, “became educated” kind of things. But apparently that’s not the way the poor and oppressed should improve their lot, by improving themselves and their families. Instead they should get together to get their slice of pork. Not quite the uplifting saga of the American Dream one might hope for.

25 January 2004

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The next level of spam

I’ve been getting spam e-mail that’s gone to the next level of obsfucation to avoid spam filters (which indicates that such filters must be having some effect). These e-mails now have subjects that appear to be simply a random set of words picked from the dictionary. For instance, I just got one with the subject “handicraftsmen carbine contemptible ibm numeric”. Clearly if someone reads the subjects this will get deleted, so presumably the spammer is depending on the fact that most people have their e-mail set up to move to the next message automatically. In effect, the spammers are injecting commercials in to one’s e-mail reading. However, I generally preview the subjects and I’m also quick on the delete key. But I suspect that this will prove to be the impetus for better support for spam filters in commercial e-mail pacakges, in particular the ability for third parties to provide the filters while the e-mail package provides the buttons (such as “classify this as spam and delete”). Overall, it’s an excellent example of an evolving system.

23 January 2004

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Better to burn out than fade away

Over at Tim Blair’s weblog one of the commentors asks the question

It continually amazes me that so many people in the “West” want us to fail in Iraq and Afghanistan and anywhere else where we are trying to root out terror groups. Our success, so it seems to me, is critical to our survival as Western societies. Why do so many of our own people hope we fail?

I think this analysis is wrong. It’s not so much that these people want the West to fail, but that it’s an acceptable price. The problem is that these people are, to a great extent, logo-realists, who have come to the belief that language is the primary reality and the physical world merely a reflection of that. Success in the war against the Caliphascists undermines this point of view, as it says that actions are effective1. It means that pontificating intellectuals are not the directoring force of society. It means that deconstructing and negotiation isn’t the only path to success. In other words, success not only threatens their power but also their world view.

This leads to two points on their opposition to the success of the West as it fights against Caliphascism. The first is that the logo-realists don’t see it as in real danger. Secondarily, even if they realize that’s not the case, is the view that it’s better to be captain of a sinking ship than cabin boy on a sea-worthy one.

P.S. I realized as I was writing this that it’s really the same thing for the Caliphascists, only on a more direct level. The success of the West invalidates the Caliphascist point of view as well and so naturally they lash out. No wonder the post-modernists and Caliphascists have made common cause, despite the divergence of their immediate world views.

1 This is why the liberals hated Reagan, because he showed that accomodation of Communism was moral cowardice, not “real-politik”. It wasn’t just a policy difference but a threat to their world view.

22 January 2004

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Science lesson for the day

Orrin Judd asks

at the moment of the Big Bang who was the energy borrowed from?

in regard to my comments on “virtual particles and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”.

It’s an interesting question. According to some schools of cosmology, the net energy of the universe is zero. Therefore there’s no need to borrow energy for the universe as a whole, although one might need a little bit to get the process started. This is one of the attractions of a flat universe, which is the result of many models where the net energy of the universe is exactly zero. That would be in many ways the most elegant solution, but reality doesn’t always oblige us in that way.

21 January 2004

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Did Lewis and Clark build their own wagons?

I’ve been in a running argument with Orrin Judd about President Bush’s space initiative. I believe that the federal government and NASA in particular are the biggest part of the problem, not part of the solution. I view Bush’s initiative as a perpetuation of a dysfunctional situation.

Mr. Judd notes that the Apollo project took us to the Moon. That’s true, but it was a sprint, not a marathon and once that goal had been achieved we could see the lack of endurance of the project. On the other hand, Judd defends the project as a grand project and not necessarily as economically rational. I have a more jaundiced view of such things, which remind me mostly of Soviet Five Year Plans or other socialist vanity projects like the Three Gorges Dam. Nationalized industries don’t work and I fail to see why a nationalized space industry run by NASA is viewed as an exception. Moreover, there is a form of Gresham’s Law‘s_Law where the presence of a nationalized industry drives out private competitors. One can see this with the X-Prize where the competitors have had more problems with regulations designed to protect NASA’s monopoly than with their technology.

I frequently hear analogies to Lewis & Clark in this respect. But it’s instructive to note that they didn’t design and build their own wagons, or breed their own horses. They just explored. I have no problem with NASA exploring. It’s the transportation company aspect that’s a problem. For instance, to get to Mars, NASA could design, develop and operate the transportation. Or it could buy it from the private sector, by offering to purchase supplies that are already in orbit around Mars. It would be the contractor’s problem to get the supplies there. Precursor robotic probes would also be an excellent way to test a companies ability to move objects safely to Luna or Mars safely. NASA could pay to have the probes moved, hiring only companies that had already placed one of their own probes in position. That would sponsor competition and allow multiple technologies and methodologies to be tried, rather than following a strategy that has failed over and over.

As for the morale boost, have we fallen so far that only government employees can inspire? What of the race to go around the world in a balloon, or an airplane, or the conquest of the poles? I would think that the capturing of prizes offered by government by private individuals or groups would be just as inspiring and far more interesting because of the competitive nature. It would also instill far more of a self-reliant, “can-do” attitude.

For all of these reasons, I don’t like Bush’s space initiative, which he could easily make far better. If privatizing is good enough for social security, why not for space travel?

P.S. Via Hit & Run we have a report of the kind of things NASA is doing instead of actual science:

U.S. census information provided by millions of Americans was used in a government study to profile airline passengers as terrorist risks.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also obtained for its study the private information of hundreds of thousands of passengers flying Northwest Airlines, an action NASA denied to The Washington Times in September.

Illegally using confidential data while lying to the oversight committee, that’s the way to lead the nation in to space? Clearly I just don’t understand modern space technology development.

Posted by aog at 09:03 | Comments (3) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

A conspiracy so vast even the Laws of Physics are in on it!

Via Instantman we had Joe Conason implying that Halliburton was going to drill for oil on Mars as part of some oil cartel conspiracy. Conason now says “’I was joking’:http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2004/01/16/halliburton/” but Clarence Page didn’t get the memo.

I realize that this is the flip side of the Clinton conspiracy theories (such as smuggling cocaine through Mena, AK). But at least those theories where physically plausible. The “oil on Mars” concept doesn’t make sense even at that level. It doesn’t take rocket science to see that the energy costs of hauling oil from Mars to Earth vastly outweighs the energy in the oil. Stick with the “war for oil” theory, guys, if this is the alternative.

18 January 2004

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Feminism meets pensionism in Scotland

The Brothers Judd have noted a report on declining population in Scotland. It’s interesting that we’re starting to see Europeans say things like

We are coming dangerously close, dangerously fast, towards a situation where the whole of the Scottish economy may shudder to a halt because of depopulation.

I thought that was just American alarmism!

The problem is probably even worse than described here because other countries allow immigration. The worse the situation for the younger generation, the more impetus for the capable young to emigrate, leading to a nasty spiral. One notes that there’s no suggestion of modifying the government and pension structures to change the incentives for the next generation to stay and be productive, only how to use propaganda to get them to have more babies. It’s a perfect analogy to the standard response to a government budget crisis - more income, never less spending.

17 January 2004

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Drain the swamp

JYB has an analogy between the protagonists in horror movies and those who want to just attack Al Qaeda without addressing the social context which enables them. JYB asks, “why not drain the swamp if it’s already produced a deadly creature?”.

I’d like to say something politically insightful, but this just makes me think of how I tortured my high school english teacher. She was young one, out on her first assignment, and she had me in the class. Oh, the humanity! In any case, we were studying MacBeth and we got to the part where the witches say

Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.

Naturally I asked, “well, why didn’t MacBeth just burn the woods? That would have been rather effective”. This, apparently, was not a question for which her training had prepared her, although she gamely tried to continue, pointing out that I wasn’t trying to appreciate the literature on its own terms.

Later, she did get her revenge when she made me read The Brothers Karamazov after I snidely remarked that I had already read 1984 and Brave New World.

Posted by aog at 22:31 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Where can I buy one?

Via Instantman is a report on paraffin as a rocket fuel. It’s used in what is called “hybrid” motor where a solid fuel is burned in combination with a liquid or gaseous oxidizer.

One form of this has been in use in model rocketry for a while. In that form, the solid is cellulose and the fluid is nitrous oxide. As might be expected in these days, the primary motivator was coping with federal regulations.

The new work with paraffin may be very interesting, depending on what the net thrust (or specific impulse (aka Isp) is. But it’s important to remember that specific impulse isn’t the only consideration for rocket fuels. Transport and handling costs aren’t insignificant. There’s also the size of the space ship. Although the oxygen/hydrogen reaction has a very high Isp (which was why it was used for the Saturn rockets) it also has a high cost. The density of even liquid hydrogen is low so that one needs huge cyrogenic camps to hold it. The weight of those tanks has the effect of lowering the effective Isp of the system. This is where hybrid motors shine. The tank to hold paraffin needs no (heavy) cryogenic support and it can be far smaller because of the much higher density.

It is here we see the real failure of NASA. Because it’s the government, they will always go for the top end, highest performance choices despite their drawbacks in practice. This stems from the lack of business realities in a government agency. Unfortunately, at this point in time it is precisely that kind of concern that is the primary economic impediment to space flight.

P.S. As a side note one need only look at SpaceShip One project which has been designed, built, and made multiple test flights for about $2 million. Does any reader seriously think NASA could even put out just the RFP for something like this for less than $2 million?

15 January 2004

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Spacey proposal

President Bush has announced his “new” space policy (as Transterrestrial Musings points out, it’s basically a rehash of a Spiro Agnew plan). The fatal conceit is that a large government program is the right way to go about getting humans in to the cosmos. Some think that it’s a ploy to keep NASA from actively sabotaging any effort that isn’t 100% NASA controlled (a key sign of a failing burearocracy is its primal fear of openly acknowledged irrelevance - kind of like the UN) and that Bush will change that once NASA has publically bought in, because

The President has had a special place in his heart for the ISS and its management ever since he was stuck with a check that was some 48 billion more than he had been told.

And even at that price, doesn’t do anything useful (certainly not what was promised at the start of the project).

It all comes down to NASA failing to develop reliable and affordable ground to orbit capabilities for thirty years. Why would anyone expect the next thirty to be any different? At the same time, NASA will use all of its power to see that no private firm gets involved.

We’ll see. We can only hope that Bush is pulling another subtle move in his normal style. But that needs to be weighed against Bush’s high comfort level with massive government.

My overall rating - completely unimpressed, but not utterly opposed.

14 January 2004

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Steadfastnes finally pays off

Via Instapundit we have Roger Simon commenting about how the Internet will be the beginning and end of Howard Dean. This is because Dean has radically changed his views since starting to run for President without a plausible explanation of the change beyond political expedience.

What’s interesting is that this is another change that rewards President Bush in particular and conservatives in general. Steadfastness will become more of a virtue, with plausible (and presumably somewhat gradual) changes in point of view. Bush, whatever other failings one can try to attack him on, has been (for a politician) remarkably consistent between his rhetoric and policies. One notes that when the blogosphere goes digging for historical quotes, it finds contradictions and wild shifts for the Democratic candidates but _support for consistency for Bush_. That’s telling.

P.S. There is one big Bush flip flop, which was on nation building. But as noted, Bush will get a pass because of a “come to Jesus” moment after 11 Sep 2001. Bush can plausibly claim not that he thinks better of nation building, but that he now sees that the alternatives are worse. This is my view of the matter as well, and I suspect that it’s not an uncommon one.

13 January 2004

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First rule of problem solving - stop digging

Regular readers will know that I’m very strongly pro-Israel. Yet I understand those who say “it’s a hard nation to like”. In this case, I’ve been reading of the settlements in Gaza. In a legal sense, I am forced to agree with the Israeli view that Gaza is conquered terroritory and that therefore settlements are “legal” (as much as that has meaning with regard to international law). Yet just because something is legal doesn’t make it moral or smart and creating settlements in Gaza fails both tests. I hear of them and all I can say is “what were they thinking?”. I may not agree with Israeli settlements on the West Bank, but I can at least understand why someone would think those were a good idea. But Gaza? Even beyond the unnecessary conflict generated by such activity, there is the point that Eqypt wisely refused to take Gaza back. They knew just what a liability it was. Yet Israeli settlements in Gaze entangle Israel. That’s just dumb. If some region is so bad that even an aggressive dictatorship wants nothing to do with it, it seems entangling oneself with it is a bad idea.

There is the claim that pulling out would embolden the terrorists. But I think this is a bogus argument for two reasons.

  • As with the USA invading Iraq and other actions, it’s difficult to see just how much embolden the terrorists could actually get.
  • The security wall could change the psychological equation by making it clear that Israel is in charge and doing what’s best for Israel.

It’s bad enough to get stuck with a tar baby, it’s even worse to deliberately rub it all over you.

Posted by aog at 09:57 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (1)Ping URL

Marketing cynicism

The Chicago Tribune had a short feature on Despair, Inc.. This company sells “demotivators”, posters and knicknacks that are parodies of the motivational items used by type A personalities and corporate management.

The article attributed Despair’s success to the modern, cynical culture. I think that’s a strong contributor but what I like about them is they are humourists. Real humour is not just funny but true as well. Many of Despair’s offerings touch a real vein so it’s not just sarcastic.

For instance there’s the slogan

Consulting: if you’re not part of the solution, there’s a lot of money to be made in prolonging the problem

Has anyone who’s worked in high tech not seen that happen?

The one I want has a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa with the motto

Mediocrity: it takes a lot less time and most people won’t notice the difference until it’s too late

That rings so true. I spend quite a lot of time in my job fighting against people who really have that exact attitude and I suspect most of Despair’s customers are in the same situation. If the person who wrote the article isn’t, that’s a whole different world than I live in.

10 January 2004

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It's more fun when things are booming

This article has a chart that has poll results for “never heard of” various candidates. In every case, more Democrats have not heard of a Democratic Presidential candidate than Republicans. Best of the Web attributes this to Republicans being more politically aware, but it may just be for this cycle.

I suspect that it’s similar to the stock market watching phenomenon. The Republicans are in a bull market politically, so they’re paying attention. Democrats, on the other hand, are enduring a very bearish political market and so they’re tuning out. It looks to me that if the Republicans can get their base out, President Bush is going to have a lot of coattails.

Posted by aog at 10:35 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Sitcom politics

I read about the Howard Dean / Cliff Claven similarity over at Junkyard Blog and found it an interesting insight. I then realized it goes a bitter deeper than that.

One of the essential plot points of modern sitcoms is the “cascading problem”. This is where the character does something dumb and rather than taking the hit and moving on, does something even dumber to cover up the first mistake, and something dumber to cover up that, etc. Before I stopped watching TV altogether, I used to sometimes be driven to shout at the screen “Just fess up!”. I now find myself shouting the same thing at the Democratic candidates for basically the same reason. It’s probably not the best election strategy to make citizens equate you with sitcom idiots.

09 January 2004

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Separating speaker and action

I find the constant harping on the “Bush lied!” meme somewhat bizarre.

First off, it presumes that demonstrating that President Bush made up the WMD threat from Iraq from whole cloth would prove something about the invasion of Iraq. What this might be, I fail to see. I suppose I might care if I had used Bush’s speeches and statements to make up my mind on the issue. However, I didn’t really pay much attention in that respect. I did my own research, read sources across the political spectrum and used my own judgement. That makes it particularly bizarre that people who would never believe Bush about anything feel so outraged over his alledged lieing. Why do they care? I suppose it’s part and parcel of that world view that people are too stupid to figure this out themselves and so must have been mislead by Bush.

It’s also problematic because if Bush had in fact been just making it up, one would think it would have been easy to catch him at it. The problem that is faced is that there was the fact that Iraq had used chemical weapons in the past and a general concensus that Iraq had or was close to having biological or nuclear weapons. That may turn out to be like most conventional wisdom and completely wrong, but it does make it hard to sustain the “he just made it up” view.

All politicians lie, so blathering on about that gets tuned out, especially after the fact. What’s important is to point this out beforehand. However, if one’s predictions (like 500,000 civilian casualties or mass starvation) turn out to be even more fanciful that the other side’s lie, or what exactly the lie was keeps shifting, the case against the politician becomes a lot more difficult to make.

Finally, while Bush lieing might indict Bush, it’s really irrevelant to whether the invasion was justified. I take the harping about Bush to indicate that such critics have no good arguments about the invasion itself and so are reduced to ad hominem attacks. That’s a poor way to argue against the war, but a fine way to use the war to achieve other political ends.

Posted by aog at 07:56 | Comments (2) | Trackbacks: View (4)Ping URL

Disarming the internal voice

As you may know, I work in network security management. I’ve been off at a summit discussing the future of the product. While listening to our chief marketing guy talk about future requirements, he said something I found astounding. Paraphrasing, the gist was that our corporate customers cannot comply with their reporting and auditing requirements. There are so many and they are so detailed that compliance is apparently no longer possible. The point for us is that any auditing done by our software should be designed with this fact in mind and so, rather than verifying compliance should be able to document the level of failure to comply.

Further, it seems that this situation is known to the regulating agencies and the requirement is now not actual compliance, but “improvemnt” over time (which is where our reports can contribute). It’s the “no child left behind” theory of corporate regulation. One is left to wonder if we shouldn’t be trying for a set of regulations that is actually possible to obey. The answer, of course, is that it’s best for the regulators if everyone is guilty of something. Then when bad things happen, there is a nice selection of the usual suspects to pin the blame on, all of them disarmed because they are in violation of some regulation.

In another sense, it’s cargo cult regulation. Some good company is observed to perform some action. Therefore if every company is required to do that, they will be good companies. In fact, this kind of regulatory environment, with endless obscure rules and universal compliance failure, is perfect for the sophisticated con men. Not only does it provide a thicket of procedures to hide in, but it distracts everyone into watching the forms without time to worry about the results. All that good corporate governance in Europe let Parmalat get by with shady accounting longer than any American company. It seems like there’s a lesson there somewhere.

Posted by aog at 07:55 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Politically correct conspiracy theories

Isn’t it just a bit odd that people who have no problem believing in a world wide Zionist conspiracy run by a cabal of neo-conservatives find the concept of just operational connections between Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations or rogue states implausible? This despite the fact that there’s far more evidence for the latter than the former?

I was reminded of this from recent editorials about the invasion of Iraq and whether it was helping in the fight against Al Qaeda. Well, probably not. But the idea that if we smashed just Al Qaeda, then we’d be safe, requires a belief in the lack of connections that’s quite astounding.

P.S. It might also be a bit of logo-realism in action. Since it was an organziation named “Al Qaeda” that attacked us, if we eliminate the organzation named “Al Qaeda”, then we won’t be attacked. The people, the infrastructure, the mindset - these don’t matter. Only the organization with that name. That’s what we should focus on. A classic example of mistaking the name for the thing.

P.P.S. Does anyone else remember complaints from the Left about the demonization of Saddam Hussein as the source of all evil in the world? Quite a legitimate complaint, which I shared at the time. Yet now we have the demonization of Osama Bin Laden, as if he were the source of all evil in the world. Sadly, as those of us who pay attention know, there’s no shortage of those who do evil.

08 January 2004

Posted by aog at 09:25 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Similarity failure

I found this post at Winds of Change interesting. The basic issue is some webloggers disputing the liberalism of other webloggers based on their level of criticism. I.e., weblogger A is not a liberal because A criticizes liberal positions much more often than conservative ones.

That’s a interesting argument. It’s very similar to the argument used to criticize the same “pure liberal” crew who complain about the USA and not other countries that do much worse. Apparently concentrating criticism on one’s own side is OK when it’s the USA but not OK when it’s liberalism in the USA.

07 January 2004

Posted by aog at 13:14 | Comments (1) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Interesting times

Posting will be very spotty for the next couple of weeks. Multiple real life events are all converging on me.

  • I’m out in California on business. There’s just been a re-org and unlike previous ones, this one looks like it will actually impact our group. This means I have to pay attention and participate at the meetings.
  • I have to go to my father’s funeral in Texas next weekend.
  • She Who Is Perfect In All Ways will be producing a Perfect Child on Friday.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll be back in production by the end of the month.

04 January 2004

Posted by aog at 11:59 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Little late to worry about that

Instapundit writes

Is proceation the only reason for marriage? If so, I guess I might as well file for divorce, because it’s not terribly likely that we’ll see any more Insta-Kids.

This, of course, misses the point entirely, because Reynolds has, in fact, procreated. However, the general meaning in this context is not just popping out babies but raising them to be adults. I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, but I do know that it’s not helpful to be deliberately obtuse about the arguments that are being made.

03 January 2004

Posted by aog at 10:26 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Adam Smith already covered this topic

Over at Slate, Money Box has missed the forest for the trees.

Money Box is apparently upset about American Express using fund raising for restoring the Statue of Liberty as a marketing ploy. My first thought was “is this guy simply unaware that we have a basically capitalistic economy in this country?”. I think Money Box should go back and read some Adam Smith to get a handle on what is going on here.

It is the essence of capitalism that it (in general) aligns private greed with social good. If AmEx were a public institution, instead of a private one, it wouldn’t need to do anything like this at all. It is only because AmEx’s customers can go elsewhere that AmEx has to please them. One way it can do this is by sponsoring things such as the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.

Note further that this cuts both ways - AmEx is strongly motivated to find things that the public actually cares about, rather than things some elite thinks the public does (or should) care about.

Finally, in questioning the effeciency of this style of fund raising, Money Box is overlooking two factors.

The first is transaction costs. It’s a lot easier to hear that AmEx is doing this and then chose to use an AmEx card as one has been doing or instead of another when making a purchase vs. doing something one would not otherwise have done. Many people will see this as being a good corporation and providing convenience.

The second is what, exactly, is “effecient”? Other mechanisms may well be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Capitalism certainly doesn’t produce the best of all outcomes in all situations. It is just the system most likely to have things work out well in the long term. In a contingent world, this is the best one can do. It’s just not feasible to plan for everything — one has to accept some local ineffeciencies to avoid larger ones. As they say, pay now or pay later.

02 January 2004

Posted by aog at 09:29 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Jumping to the top of the stairs

It’s always a challenge to respond to complaints that are based on the perfect being the enemy of the good. It’s frequently hard to tell whether it’s a result of being naive or a clever rhetorical trick. The latter is because to argue for the good is easily made to seem like arguing against the perfect (because, in a real sense, one is).

The first example is yet another negative report on the situation in Iraq. The basic thesis was that the Iraqi judicial system wasn’t perfect, or even up to the same standards as that in the USA. Any context, such as that people were no longer being arbitrarily sentenced to arrest, torture or death, was dropped. The system wasn’t perfect, therefore the USA was at moral fault1. Here we see the problem with requiring perfection. It was simply impossible for the Coalition to topple the Ba’ath and replace it with a full fledged working liberal democracy. The NPR view seems to be that because of that, we should have left the Iraqis to suffer and die rather than leaving them with a much better yet still heavily flawed government.

The other example is from a discussion at Harry’s Place about trade agreements. The basic issue was attaching labor and environmental sidebars to trade agreements. I disagree with that policy, because it has the primary purpose of pricing foreign labor out of the market and is therefore a form of protectionism. For a better explanation of this than I could do, see the comment by Oliver Kamm on the post.

But what struck me was the comment by Aaron, who notes the continued misery of those employed by foreign multinationals. Certainly if one compares the standard of living of, say, the maliquadora workers in Mexico to the average citizen of the USA there’s quite a stark difference. But that’s effective the “perfect” comparison and not very meaningful. What one should compare with is what their lives would be like without the maliquadora. One should also note that unless the workers are being held there by force, they have judged themselves better off with such jobs than without. Yet people like Aaron, secure in their high standard life, feel free to impose their judgement on what’s best2.

The root problem with this view is that it denies any possibility of incremental improvement, because any step along the way seems bad when compared with the (hoped for) final step. Yet the alternative to walking that hard path is not taking it at all. That’s not a price I’m willing to impose on others to satisfy my own moral rectitude.

1 I won’t get in to the issue of why the NPR thinks the Iraqis have no responsibility in this area. I’ve been there before on that kind of soft bigotry. I suspect the Iraqis don’t think much of the view that they’re instrinsically the equivalent of children to be taken care of by the “grown up” Americans.

2 This is why I tend to minarchism, so as to avoid as much as possible the presumption that I know better than others what is good for those others.

Posted by aog at 08:22 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Wildlife in the suburbs

There was a short segmet on NPR about the increasing overlap in the living areas of humans and wildlife. I had been thinking about that myself, after a trip to Lowe’s over the weekend. For at least a year, there have been a set of birds living inside the store. It’s one of those big warehouse style stores and there are always a few birds up in the trusses under the ceiling. I’m pretty sure I saw at least once nest as well.

It must be mostly heaven for the birds - wonderful climate, lots of space to fly in and probably enough spillage of seeds and whatnot to be a feast. I do wonder, however, what happens to the poor birds who go out the doors right before closing and then can’t get back in. It’s a bit strange to worry about bird droppings while shopping.

I also wonder if the management has deliberately left the birds there, although it could be difficult to suppress them (you can’t shoot them inside the building, and poisoned seeds might well leave little decaying bird bodies around for customers to find). People in general like birds. Maybe the management considers having birds (for free!) a feature and the negative PR from exterminating them might be a deterrent as well. It’s a sign of the times, however, that the birds weren’t immediately disposed of. It’s quite a shift in attitude from even fifty years ago.

01 January 2004

Posted by aog at 12:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

The real advantage of weblogs

My office mates frequently warn me about this kind of thing:

A New York man is in stable condition Tuesday after spending two days trapped under newspapers, magazines and books in his apartment. […]

Emergency workers, neighbors and about 20 firefighters dug through the debris to reach Moore, filling 50 garbage bags with paper. He was freed at about 2:15 p.m.

I’m actually in a cube that’s physically separate from any other cube, on the (completely specious!) claim that otherwise my “ooze” would eventually overwhelm adjacent cubes.

[via Hit&Run]

Posted by aog at 00:02 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks: View (0)Ping URL

Happy New Year!

It should be quite a year.

But my main thought as the clock ticked over was, “Jeebus, I’ve got to set up the 2004 Yearly Archive on all of my weblogs”.