dilemmanade
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."

 
When life gives you dilemmas, make dilemmanade.

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