February 18th, 2012

Semiformalishmaybe

Reading Between the Barricades

Mark Mardell (a BBC commentator on American politics who I've always found interesting because he knows his history and approaches our politics from the outside) recently had some commentary I found provocative; it's on MSNBC's dismissal of Pat Buchanan over some statements in a recent book. (Note: these are musings. I have intuitions but not a firm conclusion)Collapse )

And note that I think "standards of politeness" are only a little bit looser than things like speech codes. Social shaping of some sort is going to take place, and people are (reasonably) going to want to have a say in what is considered polite if they're going to be judged on it. There's no getting around the idea that social standards have force and bring about consequences. If person A believes it to be rude to say Y, and person B believes saying Y is fine and that grumbling about saying Y is rude, we have a conflict, with both standards of rudeness amounting to social shaping.

Semiformalishmaybe

How Grey, How Fast

As I mentioned a few posts ago, my hair is beginning to visibly grey on the front. I'm wondering how fast it's going to do this. It'd take a really good photo to capture it as right now it's just a few hairs, but I'm wondering if it'll all go grey quickly or not.

This has been a month of waiting and applying for part-time jobs; starting next month there'll be no reason to hold back and I'll be applying to the (far, far more plentiful) fulltime ones, so hopefully I'll be in NYC in short order. This whole process has been frustratingly slow, but it always was my choice to wait. Either that pays off or it doesn't.

Recently have been watching a lot of clips from 「Mock the Week」 and am finding that Frankie Boyle's (Scottish) accent really sticks in my head.

My cats have learned the best snuggle techniques recently, which has led to a number of unscheduled naps.

Currently going through the bookshelves figuring out books I can toss rather than lug with me every time I move. Every book that I have a digital copy of (apart from a few boks that I want physical copies of) is a celebration of lightened load.

Semiformalishmaybe

Openness in Computing

While sorting my shelves, I came across a book my dad had around when I was growing up that I eventually grew into understanding (but it took awhile); IBM's 「Technical Reference for the Personal Computer」, published 1983. It's a marker of the cultural-technical shift we've seen since. IBM combined the openness of the days of hobbyist computing with the professionalism and attention to detail that a large tech company would use for its internal manuals. It's shockingly open. You get pinouts. You get circuit diagrams for large parts of the IBM PC motherboard. You get wiring specs. You get a dump of the system BIOS.

If you wanted to write a new operating system for the 8088, maybe another CP/M clone or PC-DOS, you would not need a lot more than this (it documents the 8088 processor too).

How many pieces of computer hardware do you see nowadays that do that? Maybe Apple ruined that when Steve Jobs ruined the Woz's vision, or maybe IBM did it themselves when they realised how much money the personal computer market was going to be (although they presumably thought it was at least worth betting on or they would not have bothered making the PC). I hope we don't lose too much more of this openness in the years to come.

Semiformalishmaybe

Commitment and Fact

I read a provocative review of a new book by Steven Pinker called "The Better Angels of our Nature", provocative in that it claimed that differences between how women and men think combined with the move towards women's rights are responsible for a decrease in violence over the world. The claim seems historically plausible, and I would not generally want to gainsay Pinker on gender topics. This difference, like all nonessential differences between women and men, would just be another inconvenient fact for gender abolitionists. We live in a world that's full of inconvenient facts for our commitments (whether they be liberal or conservative or not recognisably either), and the most long-thinking thing to do with them is to acknowledge them and note that our values are what drive our political conclusions rather moreso than facts. We have sciences that strongly suggest that men and women have different tendencies, abilities, and the like; these are not hard facts that apply to every man or woman so much as statistical facts that provide various means of human ability. Our general understanding of gender as well as race is easily summed up with Venn diagrams with very significant overlap for every permutation of race/gender/whatever, not entirely equal diagrams. It may feel dangerous to let go of any possible line of defense in an argument, so we might be inclined to pretend that all populations are the same, regardless of the genetic differences, but this in the long run is in fact a weaker position; as the science on these things advances, if we've knowingly and dishonestly always claimed all the facts support us to the greatest extent, we'll face embarassment when we must backtrack as the science comes in. Instead, we hold that racial and sexual equality is a political and social norm worth striving for regardless of whatever the facts might be on differences in the means of the populations, and defend that they're close enough that the overlap in abilities are very substantial. (Of course, if specific sexists or racists make statements that are unfounded, we'll challenge them too)

I was going to write that in considerably more detail, particularly given that Pinker has generated some controversy before when tackling issues of gender (see the Larry Summers controversy for more detail, on which I don't feel qualified to take an opinion). However, as far as I can tell from other reviews of the book, gender issues are only one part of the book, so the review I read first was a bit misleading.

Thinking a bit more personally:Collapse )

Pinker's book touches heavily on a number of topics I've been thinking about for my whole life; I'm likely to pick it up at some point. I believe that the task of making a betetr society requires just as much focus on improving ourselves (as personal self-improvement and as learning how to better pass values along to future generations; synthesis: raising children that seek self-betterment) as learning how to build the larger societal structures that produce good results.