So Justice Stevens is about to retire. Already there are calls for the President to make sure that the judge nominated to replace him is not an “activist judge”. I imagine a discussion about the meaning of “activist judge” going like this:
Alice: “The president must not nominate an activist judge!”
Bob: “What do you mean by activist judge?”
Alice: “Well, an activist judge is one who is imposing his values on me by means of judicial decisions.”
Bob: “What if the judge shares your values? Is he then imposing his values on you?”
Alice: “No, because our values coincide.”
Bob: “So only a judge who does not share your values could be an activist judge. In effect, your real position is that the President must not nominate a judge who does not share your values.”
All the blah blah about activist judges amounts to “let the President nominate a judge who shares my values.” Using the word “activist” instead of spelling out the real intent (“shares my values”) is just a way to disguise a selfish desire under a cover of pseudo-fairness.
(Oh, and don’t assume that in this discussion one side is inherently Democrat and the other Republican. No matter which roles the parties are playing in the current context, the roles are quite reversible and have in fact been reversed again and again.)
There is a certain type of person often encountered in public forums on the Internet but also in “real life.” I call this kind of person, the “drive-by Yoda”.
He is a “Yoda” because like Yoda, he likes to speak words of wisdom. However, his method is to spout wisdom while driving by his target. In a drive-by shooting, a criminal tries to kill a target by shooting bullets out of a moving car. In a similar way, the drive-by Yoda tries to make a point (i.e. hit a target) by spouting wisdom while “driving by” a discussion. I’m talking here about discussions in which all the parameters of a problem have been explained. The drive-by Yoda, because he is driving by at a fast pace, is unable to seize the whole picture. It may be that he is lazy, that he can’t be bothered to really think about the problem, or that he thinks the problem is not worthy of his attention. At any rate, he whizzes by but rather than apply a healthy dose of self-awareness to realize that maybe he does not have the full picture and therefore should remain quiet, he still offers pearls of wisdom. Yet because the drive-by Yoda has not seized the problem, his contribution is faulty. He fills the gaps in his understanding of the problem with wild guesses and offers an answer which is patently inadequate to anybody who paid attention to the parameters of the problem.
It is a bit like in the American Idol auditions at the start of a season. Very many contestants who could not sing a tune to save their lives consider themselves to be great singers. The drive-by Yoda thinks his contribution is worthy of a prize when in fact it ignores the problem being discussed.
As I was riding on the bus recently, another passenger a few rows behind me was listening to music. He or she had headphones on but the music was loud enough to leak out of the headphones. When there is leakage, it does not matter whether the music is actually Mozart or Britney Spears: it always sounds like someone rhythmically shaking the utensils drawer in the kitchen while a buddy remodels the bathroom with a jackhammer. And then whatever singing there may be sounds like someone screaming in a pillow.
While listening to the other passenger’s utensil music, it occurred to me that I was experiencing the auditory equivalent of having to smell someone’s stink. That is, someone oozing jackhammer music all over the place is not unlike someone smelling like rotten garbage.
It is remarkable that the same people who would not dream of going out of the house smelling like garbage would think nothing of stinking up the air with sound. Well, I guess the answer here is that body odor is commonly associated with bad hygiene. This is where social pressure comes in. It does not really matter what the real story is: if someone smells bad, then the automatic presumption is that that person has bad hygiene. If we were to ask, then maybe the story would be that a baby just pooped on that poor individual and that they are rushing home to change their clothes because they do know that everybody in the world will assume they can’t be bothered to wipe their own asses, etc. When it comes to auditory stink, no presumption of bad hygiene exists. So there is no potential for embarrassment here.
Maybe through social engineering there would be a way to make “auditory stink” socially unacceptable. I don’t know where I would start though…
Recently, I’ve stumbled upon this little piece of wisdom: “stop pretending that you are going to keep in touch with someone if you don’t really mean it.” The context of this advice was when you run into old schoolmates or workmates, chat for 2 minutes and then exclaim: “let’s keep in touch.”
I find myself in agreement with this advice. When someone tells me “let’s keep in touch”, I take the statement at face value: that person really intends to keep in touch. Now, I realize that people often say things they do not mean. They say things like “Wow! I love your new hairdo.” while thinking “Who’s your hairdresser? A ferret?” So it is quite likely that “let’s keep in touch” is a socially appropriate thing to say but that there is no real intent behind it. As likely as it may be, that’s not the way I take it. I take it as an expression of real intent.
I’m not the kind of guy who readily keeps in touch with people. So I’d find it dishonest on my part to let the person who says “let’s keep in touch” believe that there’s any substantial probability that we will, in fact, keep in touch. So my reply to “let’s keep in touch” is usually to point out how in actuality it is unlikely to happen. And then the reaction I get is similar to the one I’d get if I had just said “away from me, you leper!”
When it comes to securing the data I have on my computers, I take the task seriously. I use Ubuntu and Windows on my laptop. The Ubuntu installation is fully encrypted. There’s a performance hit but I feel pretty sure that if my laptop is ever stolen or lost or needs service by a third party, I won’t be at risk of getting sensitive information stolen. The Windows side is not (yet) encrypted but I do not use Windows intensively or for sensitive tasks so I’m not very worried about that.
Now, when I talk to other people about this, I’m told that I’m paranoid. If I’m not keeping porn on my laptop, I have nothing to worry about. If my laptop is stolen, no one will take time to look for banking information. The techs who perform service are interested searching for porn, not financial details. Basically, I’m told I’m worrying for nothing. (Now, logically-minded readers will have figured out that the flip side of this bad reasoning is that if I do worry about people snooping through my hard disk, then it means I must have porn on there.)
Well, well, it turns out that a Sky News undercover investigation that technicians do indeed look for financial information on the laptop they service and they try to use it to break into banking accounts. OMG! Who would have thunk?
The solution against unscrupulous technicians is to give them a clean drive: a drive which contains no sensitive information. My point here is not that encryption is the solution but that unscrupulous people are indeed after your financial information. Encryption is part of the arsenal of tools to protect against that.
I do feel angry about things, happy about things, annoyed about things, sad about things. Pride, however, is not natural for me. It is not that there is nothing I could point at and express pride about. I can conceive that someone might feel pride if their hard work is fruitful. I can also conceive that someone could feel pride in someone else’s accomplishment to some extent. I mean insofar as one can be instrumental in someone else’s success. I can conceive of these kinds of pride even if I don’t usually feel pride. But some kinds of pride just plain seem silly.
“I am the proud owner of [brand name gizmo].”
Say what now? You walked into a store and bought your gizmo. Is this some sort of achievement to feel proud of? Are you also proud of being able to walk without drooling all over yourself? How about “I am the proud owner of a banana.”
“I am proud to be [ethnic group or nationality].”
Bravo! Luck made it so that you were born with that ethnicity and nationality. Now, if you want to feel even more pride, grab a coin, flip it, and scream to everybody nearby that you are proud that you got head or tail. For more variety, grab a die instead of a coin and wear some sexy lace.
Sometimes national pride is expressed as:
“I am proud to be [nationality] because [my nation] did [something awesome].”
Now the funny thing is that the same person who asserts the above won’t usually want to admit “I feel ashamed to be [nationality] because [my nation] did [something terrible].” In this case, pride is axiomatic. It has been drilled into the individual from a young age. No amount of disconfirming evidence is able to overturn this pride. It is especially bizarre when the “something awesome” part of the formula consists of some event which happened before the prideful person was even born. Pride for something you contributed to? Ok. Pride for something you cannot possibly have been contributing to? Say what? You might as well feel pride for your neighbor’s doings then. Or you might as well feel pride for the imaginary achievements of imaginary persons: “I’m proud that Luke Skywalker was able to blow up the Death Star.”
A little bat was clinging to the space shuttle during lift off. NASA thinks it must have died. Rest in peace, buddy!
I’m happy and relieved because I learned about an hour ago that my step-granddaughter, Olivia, was born without complications. Due to the fact that I’m on the opposite end of the globe doing research, my wife has been using her Blackberry to keep me informed of the developments by email. I was quite worried after I received word that my step-daughter would have to undergo a c-section. I have serious reserves about how doctors in the West currently manage births and I was not happy to learn that a c-section was in my step-daughter’s future. At any rate, it has gone well. I’m glad that ordeal is over.
Salshdot is reporting on an article in Scientific American about how people grieving the death of loved ones tend to hallucinate.
When I first saw the post on Slashdot, it reminded me of when Ice, our cat, passed away nearly three years ago. For several days after his passing, I hallucinated his presence. I have never thought it was anything else than my perceptual apparatus interpreting various stimuli as “Ice”. (Newsflash: I do not believe in actual ghosts.) Coincidentally, the Scientific American article begins by recounting how Carlos Sluzki’s has hallucinated the presence of his deceased cat.
Charlie, my wife’s stepfather, passed away last Friday, US time, Saturday morning, Taiwan time. Unfortunately, it is hard to say much about him in this post. He was not interested in my world and I was not interested in his. I saw him only a few times and during those episodes our exchanges were polite but extremely brief and banal. Maybe we could call this a tragedy of polite estrangement.
What would have been a difficult time for my wife under any circumstance has been made even more difficult by the fact that I am away on the other side of the globe. Skype is a poor medium to bridge the distance in times when comfort is most needed. When a couple vows to spend their life together, their intent is a seed which grows into a symbiotic relationship. This symbiosis begins superficially but as the years pass, it reaches the most intimate corners of the heart. Together with depth comes strength. So a deep symbiosis can bear the strain of distance. Still, distance brings an unavoidable feeling of helplessness and pain.
However, there is nothing special about this pain. Nothing of it which in any ultimate sense is personal. The drama of death and separation plays out everywhere and at all times. Whose drama is it then?