Quick Roundup 130

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ten Five Things

Being introverted, my usual tendency with meme tags is to ignore them. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Craig Ceeley's approach to the meme, "Ten Things I Love about America". He writes, "I thought I'd go with some items that I don't see mentioned every day, or are somewhat offbeat or otherwise uniquely appealing to me."

So here's my wrinkle on Craig Ceeley's twist: I can get very peevish about things that waste my time, don't measure up, or, worst of all, distract me from what I am thinking about. (That drawing up there on my masthead has its origins (scroll down to #3) in this -- erm, quality -- of my personality.)

Without further ado, here is my list, shortened because I am long on wind, but short on time -- and I am "doing" each item twice anyway!

Five Things I Love about America that Also Annoy Me

1. the telephone -- I hate being interrupted by the ring of a telephone when I am trying to think and yet feel the need to check on whether the call might be important. Most calls that are not deliberate intrusions, like telemarketing calls, are for things that could be more effectively handled through email anyway. Knowing this adds further annoyance to the distraction and to the inconvenience I feel because I cannot really accomplish anything else important at the same time as a call. I especially loathe telemarketers. (The worst are from firms such as Bank of America that abuse their business relationships in order to do an end run around the National Do Not Call Registry.)

But properly used, this marvelous American invention allows me to keep in touch with my loved ones, handle emergencies with sometimes ridiculous ease, or save enormous amounts of time and money getting valuable information.

2. Microsoft Windows -- No. I am not a Mac Addict. I cut my computing teeth in a Unix environment, meaning that I got used to such conveniences as an extremely customizable windowing environment, strict controls on who can access my data, not having to reboot twelve times when I could be doing actual work, not having to be physically present at the console of a machine I want to work on, not having to worry about viruses, etc., etc.

But, as Neal Stephenson once argued, the overwhelming market dominance of Windows led to widespread standardization (or at least interoperability) of the components of computer hardware, which was crucial for the eventual emergence of the open source software movement and therefore, of that successful Unix offshoot, Linux. I love Linux! Thank you, Mr. Gates, and congratulations on your enormous success!

3. "Milweiser" (i.e., nearly flavorless lager beer) -- I am a beer snob. In fact, I refused to drink beer at all until I went to college in Europe for a semester and tasted the real thing. I don't know why anyone drinks Miller or Budweiser or any of their countless imitators. Six ounces of the stuff will send you to the head without the slightest buzz. It is cheap and thus, I suppose you could use it as water for home brewing in a pinch. But, dear God! You can't taste anything!

Be that as it may, at one time, these brands were it. They were the American beer industry after (and thanks to) Prohibition. The presence of this beer industry, such as it was (with its pool of brewing expertise, its cultivation of a pool of beer drinkers, and its supporting supply infrastructure), made it easier for many of the home brewers who went on to become commercial craft brewers to get their start. American "Macrobrew" is thus even better in the enjoyment and the procreation departments than sex! Sex in a canoe, anyway!

4. SUV's -- For whatever reason, about 95% of the people who drive SUV's seem oblivious to the fact that they are driving trucks. In failing to take into account what they are driving, they are reckless on the road. They are also quite often very rude, for example, becoming obstacles in parking lots. Many will think nothing of blocking everyone else behind them for five minutes as they wait on someone to pull out of a place near the store so they can "save time" on walking -- only to spend five more minutes moving their damned boat back and forth in order to get into the place.

Meanwhile, I am a captive audience to a display of gross incompetence that takes longer than my entire errand would have taken even if I had parked on the outermost rim of the lot and negotiated the whole thing blindfolded. Many drivers will talk about how "safe" their vehicles are -- because when their incompetence causes a crash, the other driver suffers. And yet these same drivers will whine about the idea that they ought to pay higher collision insurance rates.

But SUV's do have their uses. They are good for the occasional need to haul large objects or groups of people. Many can perform well off the road, though the most any ever see is the edge of a flower bed or a highway median. And, during times of high gasoline prices, they can multitask: They annoy the hell out of the greens and they do cost their owners wads of cash at the pump!

5. Blogger -- I needn't elaborate for fellow Blogger users the many travails of this platform and I haven't the time to do so anyway.

But it is free. The servers are rarely down. The huge number of customers assures that the company won't suddenly go out of business, forcing me to move my blog quickly to another location. Blogger is also improving all the time. When big problems happen, the support team is very responsive. In fact, I count myself quite satisfied overall. (Incidentally, although I look forward to it, I haven't yet moved to the "new Blogger" because I am concerned that the migration might goof up my self-customized template and I want to have time to fix it.)
America abounds with wonders. Many things lots of us take for granted or even strongly dislike are, in fact, good things, made possible by a free, inventive, and productive people. This great country seems a victim of its own success sometimes. We have it so good that we often lose sight of just how great it really is.

A little perspective is always a good thing.

Windows Vista

Having just bashed Windows, I see that David Veksler has given the next generation of that operating system a test drive. It wasn't smooth, but he seems satisfied overall.

On the other hand, there is a list of 25 shortcomings of Vista over at All about Linux (HT: Linux Today).

Three hundred dollars, eh? And a new computer? Why?

Pattern Recognition

Lisa VanDamme has written a very interesting post on why her school doesn't give multiple choice tests:
The vast majority of the students' work at VDA is written -- in complete sentences, paragraphs, or essays. There is no surer way for the student to master the material, and for the teacher to determine whether he has mastered it.

For the student to write explanations, in complete sentences, about every subject, requires that he have a true understanding of the concepts at hand.

But he can often do well on multiple choice, matching, or other rote exercises with no real understanding.

Children have incredible, sponge-like brains, that give them an almost unlimited capacity for memorization and pattern recognition. The teacher's job is to ensure that this amazing talent does not become a substitute for understanding.
My wife and I are thinking about having kids soon. Reading Lisa VanDamme almost makes me wish we were going to raise them in California so they could attend her school!

Robert Tracinski, ARI Part Ways

Nick Provenzo -- because a reader sent him a tip -- learned that Robert Tracinski is no longer associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. I fully agree with him -- and with Diana Hsieh -- on the following point:
Objectivists are often criticized for their public break-ups, but I think being forthright when a relationship ends is the more honest approach. Reality demands an unflinching dedication to the truth, including the fact that some relationships deserve to end.

In my opinion, Tracinski has publicly embraced a theory of history that rejects the importance of Objectivism and principled consistency in defining and defending the long term good. As such, it would be dishonest to claim that he continues to be a public advocate for Ayn Rand's philosophy. If the end of Tracinski's association with ARI was brought on by his recent thinking, I am glad for it, for it would be an honest end to recent events.
As I pointed out some time ago:
If Robert Tracinski, upon finally stating his theory, believes (or even suspects) that it is at variance with Objectivism, I would hope that he would publicly announce that, although he is strongly influenced by her ideas, he is not an adherent to her philosophy.
He has not, to my knowledge, done this. (And his "What Went Right?" series remains incomplete.)

If Robert Tracinski himself realizes that he is in disagreement with Objectivism on how ideas affect history, but that his thoughts on the subject are, as he put it, "most important, [more consistent than Ayn Rand's philosophy] with the facts of reality", then he should, because ideas are important, do everything he can to correct our misunderstanding. Unless, of course, he also disagrees that ideas are important.

Good Review of The Virtuous Egoist

Diana Hsieh also points to an academic book review of Tara Smith's latest book. I loved the way it ended.
It should be stressed in conclusion that whether one is a fan or a detractor of Ayn Rand, the issues raised by this book are manifold and provocative. This book should force a debate of renewed vigor about what we mean by egoism, whether and how the egoism / altruism dichotomy should be applied within eudaimonistic ethical theories, and what our ethical theories imply about our political outlook. Smith provides us with a version of egoism that will need to be argued against by those who find it distasteful or misguided, rather than simply dismissed. [bold added]
Twenty years ago, such a paragraph -- let alone such a respectful review -- would have been unimaginable in academia.

Death for "Trespassing"

As excerpted by Isaac Schrodinger.
Mr Joseph, who was based in Jeddah, where he was an employee of an electronics company, traveled towards where he thought his wife was based, and lost his way. He found himself on the road to Medina.

Unbeknownst to Mr Joseph, during the pilgrimage season, this road was forbidden to non-Muslims. He was arrested by police at Al-Azeez, and was hauled before a religious court on Monday. Full of that Islamic tolerance which the Saudis like to promote in the West, the religious court ordered that Mr Joseph should have his head sliced off on Tuesday, merely for "trespassing into a Muslim-only area".
Here's the full post.

-- CAV

No comments: