Thursday, October 13, 2016
  Jumping the shark

So Bob Dylan gets a Nobel. For what? He's a song and dance man, he said it himself.

Well, they gave one to Obama for Peace, too. Having done nothing much at the time, whatever you might think of what he did subsequently. (Cough. Drones. Cough.)

Yeah, and they gave Best New Artist to the Starland Vocal Band in 1977.

I love Bob, as a (sometimes controversial) song and dance man. And as a sometimes philosopher: "He who is not busy being born is busy dying." As prodigious, inventive, peculiarly talented. I am a big fan of his... music. And lyrics. But he doesn't deserve a Nobel in Literature any more than the Beatles.

I read the comments of the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary and find them not only unconvincing, but near meaningless.

What we have here is some old Europeans trying to be (or seem to be) hip. Sad!

Bob really shouldn't indulge them. It isn't seemly.

Or are they just making fun of us?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016
  Clinton v. Trump

Humans are thoroughly irrational creatures. All our supposed rationality is a rickety structure, built as it is on foundations of illogic. (See Sociological Insight by Collins.) Mostly we decide first, and then engage in motivated reasoning to find rationalizations for our decisions. (Not you, of course, or me...)

Humans do hero worship. (That there should even be such a thing as a celebrity-- someone who's famous for being famous-- is telling.) It's natural, even if it's irrational. It is a modern equivalent of "Who's popular at court?"

And we define ourselves by our heroes, we identify with them, they are our avatars. "Leave Brittainy alone" is "Leave me alone, stopping picking on me."

People at political rallies are a lot like people at sporting events, or people at a concert: identification with a hero, solidarity with the crowd based on shared identification with the hero.

A certain type of person is interested in politics and policy. Let's call them Politisports Fans. Politisports Fans like to talk and argue with each other about politisports. There are relatively few of them, but they don't realize how rare they are because they mostly only talk to each other.

The vast majority of people, unlike Politisports Fans, know little and understand less of government and politics, though many of them vote. Let's call this group Regular People. Regular People don't talk to each other about politics much. They talk about sports, the weather, food and celebrities. That kind of stuff.

What's funny is that Politisports Fans try to make sense of regular people through measurements appropriate to measuring Politisports Fans: What policy is important to them? What do they think of tax reform? Pollsters poll them and people answer, but it's so much fluff. They pick their heroes and then learn to repeat some slogans: Taxes are too high! There's too much regulation! Yes, we can!

The election, for Regular People, boils down to: Who is your favorite gladiator, Clinton or Trump?

Thursday, August 04, 2016
  To: Our Governing Elite

To: Our Governing Elite

From: The Unwashed Masses

Re: Boaty McBoatface and Trump

The Boaty vote doesn't prove that we the unwashed masses can't be trusted with democracy, it proves we can't be trusted with mock democracy, like American presidential elections.

Let's get this out in the open: You merely pretend to represent us.

You do not represent the uninsured or even the insured; you represent the insurance companies. That is why we have Obamacare instead of universal health care like they have in civilized countries.

You do not represent workers; you represent the corporations. That's why we have free-for-all trade agreements and the outsourcing and offshoring of jobs.

You do not represent victims of the Great Financial Breakdown of 2008; you represent the bankers who brought it to us. That's why banks were bailed out instead of the people screwed over by them.

You do not represent the rural population; you represent WalMart. That's why so many small towns in America have turned into ghost towns.

In short, you represent the 1%. We know that, you know that.

So once in a while we act up and elect pro wrestlers, movie stars, or nutballs. We're just having fun at your expense and refusing to take the thing seriously.

Granted, sometimes it really does have bad consequences. We know you're wetting your pants at the thought of a Trump presidency.

We're enjoying that.

But don't worry. We'll end up voting for Hilary.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016
  The Good War
The greatest thing about the Internet, besides pictures of cats with funny captions, is that you can find intelligent discussions and learn things.

To wit: I learned a couple things from a discussion today at Crooked Timber.

*We say Axis powers; they said Anti-Comintern International Pact.

*We say "Third Reich" and don't translate "Reich" as Empire.

This is astounding to me:

*That I could be so uninformed as to not know the former.

*That the import of the latter never occured to me.

I am ignorant and stupid. (Now, I may very well have learned the former, maybe even more than once. But if so, it happened years before "Comintern" meant much of anything to me, and so didn't stick.)

In any event, "Axis powers" has a different ring to it than "Anti-Comintern International Pact". "Axis powers" has an "X" in it, has "Ax" in it, sounds brutal, and justifies nothing. "Anti-Comintern International Pact", on the other hand, means "we are protecting ourselves from Communism", something pretty popular in America at the time. Those who would take America to war had to come up with another name for use in their propaganda.

Reich sounds and reads scary in English, I think. Maybe it's mostly after-the-fact associations. Maybe it's partly the sound and spelling, being a foriegn word.

But Empire has other, meatier associations. Empires are what the French and English did and were still doing in 1939. The problem was that the German Empire was dominating our friends. The French and British Empires were dominating people we didn't care about.

This is not very inspiring: "The German Empire has invaded and taken over the very center of the French Empire, and now is bombing the British Empire! The U.S. must mobilize and go to war! We must save with our blood and treasure the French and British Empires from the German Empire!"

Now that's an unfair characterization to be sure. But perhaps no more so than the standard framing.

I've always felt pretty smug in my peacenick attitudes. I'm a "never met a war I liked" kind of guy. I've been sympathetic to Tolstoy's portrayal of war as a wave of murder and plunder moving one way, and often back the other way.

But I couldn't quite condemn the morality of going to war against fascism. WW II was an exception-- the Good War.

I've had my doubts. I've wondered how things would have turned out had we not militarily intervened. Would as many millions have died if we hadn't opposed Hitler militarily but did so with money and covert ops? Surely he would have overextended himelf eventually-- that's what Empires do, and then they collapse. But that's all I had: doubts.

Now I have more of them.

Thursday, July 07, 2016
  Peak Computing

I commented on "Peak Computing" at the Archdruid Report.

I would put it around 2000 or the early aughts.

In the 90s a colleague here at Prestigious University (PU) advised me that I'd never rise above bare subsistence if I didn't change job categories. She gave me a copy of the dBase programming language.

So I wrote a program that replaced 20 hours a week of typing (on a typewriter) with maybe an hour of computing. I gave the program to other (bigger) units. This got me promoted to Programmer.

In the aughts PU decided we should scrap that program, and spend a million dollars to get the same commercial software that our sister universities were all buying.

Long story short: it was inferior. Two colleagues went on disability rather than switch back to tons of repetitive typing (albeit now on a computer).

To be fair-- management was by then becoming scared of coders, because when one got hired away, they could be left with code that nobody else could maintain. This fear swept over all industries and burocracies, as near as I can tell.

(But there must have been a better solution-- training and cross training more programmers, and paying them well, for instance.)

Anyway, I could tell story after story of good homegrown programs that did exactly what we wanted being replaced with expensive bloated monstrosities marketed as miracles that they assured us would do exactly what we wanted, but never actually did, while making some suits rich.

Our IT department is filled mostly with people called Programmers who can install software and maintain machines, but who can't write a bit of code.

JIRA, Peoplesoft, Kronos: "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
  The Trump movement
The Trump movement is a religious movement, and Trump is their Messiah.

The religion is Progress, but for this group the definintion of progress is that things would remain good and continue to get better for the working class.

Which it hasn't. It's gotten worse.

And the way to understand that, short of complex political or economic theorizing, is that "we was robbed," that bullshitting pompous venal political types have rigged the game. (And they are actually right about that.)

Trumpists have the idea that somebody who wins, somebody who is demonstrably a winner because he's rich, well, he can fix things. He'll get a better deal for them. (But, sadly, they are probably wrong about that.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My first Sociology class was a revelation. I still have the notes I took, though they're in a cabinet in the back of the overstuffed garage.

The Professor was soft spoken, Iranian, brilliant, refined, and visting from somewhere. (Hence my realization that Prestigious University (PU) got heavy hitters from around the world who wanted a term or a year at PU. So I sought them out during the rest of my college years.)

There are different methods of explaining why things are the way they are, he explained:

*Who benifits?

*Who rules?

*The "Great Men" theory.

*Historical Materialism.

*Psychological or Social Psychological theories.

*And so on.

They are obvious, with regular people using them willy-nilly, switching back and forth haphazardly, not really noticing. (Social scientists presumably are more rigorous.)

All of them have their strengths and weaknesses. (None of them can actually contain reality, no explanation can. The map is not the territory.)

I don't really have a larger point. I was just remembering the class, and hadn't posted to this powerful blog in a while.

When life gives you dilemmas, make dilemmanade.

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