Commentary

Powerpoint is one of the cornerstones of modern life. For many people it is the primary means by which information is formally conveyed. Nonetheless, it has its warts. The relationship between how many of the fancy features of Powerpoint are used and the value or utility of the information being conveyed is given in this figure:

Decline and Fall

One of the purported causes of the disintegration of the Roman empire was the practice of drinking wine out of lead tumblers or goblets. The small amounts of lead leeched out of the vessels by the wine sweetened the wine, giving the drink somewhat the properties of a rum and coke, long on the coke. Also long on numerous deleterious effects on the human body, including the reproductive system and the brain. Saying that the Roman empire was dumbed into oblivion would be both an exaggeration and a misuse of the English language.

Yet another candidate for the American equivalent of the lead goblet with wine is emerging. What is it about the cellular phone that sucks intelligence out of the skulls of users? Or are our telephone calls so glacially inane and outre?

I read in the New Yawk Times – which once more displays that the chief benefit of newspapers in this day of Web 2.0 is their facts, their opinions and pronouncements may be discarded as directive, missionary, and irrelevant – that the former mayor of New Yawk and candidate for the (modern) republican nomination for chief executive, Rudy Giuliani interrupted a speech to the National Rifle Association to take a cell phone call, ostensibly from his wife. [Link]

As a good Southron I could make some righteous comment about whether one could expect good behavior from a Yankee, but I shall rise above this. Rather I might comment that this is typical behavior of a fuzzy minded liberal, in this case made more deranged by the intelligence sucking properties of the cellular phone and the apologia of the New Yawk Times is nothing more that one liberal defending another trying to cozen gullible and evil gun proponents into thinking the first liberal is a conservative?

Certainly the matter, if accurate, is sufficient reason to cast one’s vote for someone else. Presidents are not supposed to be unfailingly and insentiently well mannered, but they are supposed to display good sense and this was not such. It was at best bad manners and at worse stupidity, which at least may be blamed on the device and not years of living in New Yawk, although slavish use of such may be so blamed?

There is so grr brr in the article about how the use of cell phones is being curbed, and well they should, since the most egregious misusers show no signs of killing themselves off prior to reproducing. One suspects however that these local incidents are destined to be as ineffective as the Roman authorities railing against the use of lead goblets.

Amazing! Awesome! Accurate!

The media seems transfixed by the recently captured two-headed red-eared slider turtle. [Link] During my sixty plus minutes of exercise at the gym yesterday – sixty minutes of aerobic exertion plus a few minutes of therapist mandated exercises for strength plus change of state time – I counted no less than four exposures on the morning news/gossip/misinformation television programs.

While taken by the cuteness of the beast – and yes, I realize that is a misuse of the term since the poor wee beastie goes far beyond being bow legged – I cannot help but think of how this poor wee beastie is an analog, if not an iconic model, of modern society. There is an old saying, or at least my father and members of his generation told me it was old when they told it to me, that a turtle is noteworthy because it makes no progress with sicking out its head (or neck, depending on the person telling the parable.)

The point of that parable being that a turtle may reside safely, for the instant, hidden inside his shell (and yes, I know this too is a simplification,) but may only go anywhere (and gather food for survival!) by taking the risk of compromising that safety.

The point of the model of society here is that this particular two-headed turtle can make no progress even if it does stick its neck out. As soon as its belabored motion in one direction is not acceptable to the opposite head, it may and will oppose the motion, thus compromising both progress and safety. What a wonderful representation of our modern society here in the Yankee republic!

One is also drawn to note that the survival of this poor creature is likely enhanced by captivity. In a natural environment, food gathering would be impeded and likely unbalanced by its two-headedness. Hence in captivity it loses its freedom but obtains greater survivability. The question is how can we warp this situation to exalt modern society?

Extension

I note [Link] that Megahard has extended the period when computer manufacturers may sell XP by five months. They have also instituted a program where people may start out with VISTA on their new boxes and then after the disillusionment mounts safely back up to XP.

One has to wonder if this is prompted by a fear of becoming irrelevant? Lately Megahard has been beset by both the open source and the other closed source communities on two fronts. Megahard’s Office Suite may still be the big guy in town, but the population is on the upswing, especially since Open Office has opened the door to extensions, opening a campaign against the only thing that distances Office from Open Office and the other competitors.

Also, the other OS thing is similarly mounting. Now that APPLE has embraced INTELism, the only thing preventing the proliferation of APPLE’s OS on any Intel box is a paradigm shift of social nature away from the dependence on a closed architecture and elitist users. A more serious competitor seems to be in the LINUX world as more and more college students are embracing LINUX over Windows. For those who remember when CPM had more available software but was a clunkier OS, this doesn’t look completely improbable.

So maybe Megahard is running scared. Maybe Bill Gates saw this coming and has distanced himself from the collapse? Maybe Megahard is worried that when they quit selling XP they’ll be as busy as Ford showrooms were six months after they introduced the Edsel?

Night Crawlers

While we’re picking on Vanderbilt U, I note some of their research that indicates that cockroaches are evening “people”. [Link]

Those of us who have lived in apartments are already aware of this and understand why one never goes down the hall at night without slippers.

It also argues that humans and cockroaches have to have a common heritage, so this is another datum for the intelligent design folks to malign or misuse. Another example of trying to make humans out to not be what they are and to be what they aren’t.

In my case, this morning-evening behavior is the basis of success in marriage. FD SCP is an evening person and I am a morning person. Thus we both get quiet thinking time while the other is mentally torpid.

Not Taught Well?

The Live Science feed has an article on a study by researchers at Vanderbilt U where they polled teachers on skills students need that aren’t taught well. [Link] There is some implied association with the Every Child Left Behind program but it isn’t clear from the reportage whether this is a substantive criticism or just a partisan savaging.

Anyway, since its a list and such things are usually so arbitrary and subjective, dissecting them is an attractor of considerable strength. So without further ado, here is the survey list of their assessment of what 8K primary and secondary shul teachers say students should have in the way of social skills:

  • Listen to others
  • Follow the steps
  • Follow the rules
  • Ignore distractions
  • Ask for help
  • Take turns when you talk
  • Get along with others
  • Stay calm with others
  • Be responsible for your behavior
  • Do nice things for others.

Note that these skills are associated with manners somehow, although this isn’t completely obvious to me.

Listen to others
: Its hard for the shuls to teach this when society isn’t practicing it any more. I tend to think of our present state as an antithesis of the Dine (Navajo) practice of retaining complete silence until the speaker indicates he/she is finished. So teaching this is bucking a social current.

My personal theory is that this is actually an example of false authority on the micro scale. People today are constantly being reminded of how what they have to say is totally unimportant. Self determination has been banned by both society and the legal system. Government has largely degenerated into a bipartisan version of the old Russian Communist system except that voting is not compulsory. Certainly the methods of selecting candidates is unsatisfactory and unsatisfying.

Follow the steps
: If anything this is misplaced. There is entirely too much of this in modern society in everything from buying groceries to dieing. Our lives are entirely too regimented and this is nothing more than the primitive hunter-gatherer behavior exerting itself. But I can see why teachers think it is important and list it. Part of this is a helpful desire to prepare students for the realities of our increasingly drab and demeaning existence, but a greater part is the fact that the shul environment has become the archetype and extreme of this algorithmic nightmare of existence.

Follow the rules: This one goes in the same toilet. Modern society has too many rules, to the point where no one can remember or learn all of them. and thus ensuring that the organizations can, at their whim, destroy or extinguish anyone. So how is this indistinguishable from slavery?

Ignore distractions
: This one is easy since it runs contrary to human nature. And I understand why the public shuls are concerned about it since after the evangelicals they are the most disturbed by the idea that humans are animals. Reacting to distraction is a survival trait from the days when we didn’t have the instrumentality to be the top predator. When you’re snatching trail kill for sustenance, worrying about whether that noise is the predator that provided the trail kill may save you from becoming same. So one more example of false authority, trying to make us out to me something different than what we are.

Ask for help: OK, this one is so loaded with connections that there is no way I can cover all of them. The cartoon version is the differences between men and women, but it goes beyond that. Asking for help is an admission of failure, of submission, and given the enormous interconnectivity of society today and the inconsequential nature of the individual, I can readily see why no one asks for help.

Take turns when you talk: This is one of the things I like about lists. They get redundant. This is nothing more than a variant on the first item, and it has the same assessment. If nothing that anyone says has any value or worth, then letting them proceed in an orderly manner is just a waste of all the listeners’ time and attention span. More seriously, this impacts on typical human mechanism like consensus building, which is pure hunter-gatherer behavior and eminently important in the survival of small groups. If the interaction of modern society and natural individualism is devaluing discussion then our descent into human cogdom is accelerating.

Get along with others: Why? If we are entirely ruled by rules and procedures why do we need to get along with others? If cooperation is mandated then why make any extra effort to strengthen or expand it? Simply put, if you deny people the means to make a difference as individuals then cooperative effort is also devalued.

Stay calm with others: Again, why? If our behavior is regulate by procedures and rules then our emotions are the only azimuth left to us. The popularity of modern emotion ridden self-debasement entertainment is ample evidence of this. And since what others think and say is totally inconsequential, why should we not confront them with their wastage of our precious freedom and time in the only ways open to us?

Be responsible for your behavior: Sadly, the social system has moved on beyond responsibility. No one is trusted to do what is proper and right. Morality is a byblow of religious fervor or a topic for shul study, not a matter of personal integrity. When the only meaningful responsibility is to obey rules and procedures then the only way responsibility is permitted is by obeying those rules and procedures. And yes, I realize that is circular but for once it is necessary and accurate. The point remains that responsibility is only meaningful when there is freedom and individual determination.

Do nice things for others: Strangely, this one doesn’t need to be taught since it is a natural part of humans. Its the counterpoint to asking for help. The problem is that it is now irrelevant. Doing nice things for other people has to be more beneficial to the whole than it harms the individual and in modern society this is not the situation. Helping other harms the doer and benefits the group not at all, so the mechanism for altruism is obviated. And I’m not even going to note that teaching-to-the-test ala Every Child Left Behind disinclines this type of behavior among students. That’s minor compared to the overall social problem which is probably so pronounced that it is no longer a problem since there is no possible solution.

But isn’t it a nice list?

Space is Evil

Research from Arizona State U indicates that some bacteria taken into orbit were more effective on their return. [Link] More effective means the probability of infection per exposure was increased.

This brings new validity to all those folks who were worried about outer space germs destroying Tellus, a thing we though was little more than a bit of the mass hysteria over nuclear warfare that manifested itself in so many horrible ’50’s and ’60’s science fiction movies. (We are still searching for rationalizations for all the bad science fiction movies since then. The leading candidate is crass greed.)

Aside from the obvious question of what were the not-horrible science fiction movies of the last half century – something I may blog on when things are REALLY slow, there is the matter of dealing with these enhanced space germs.

From a species survival standpoint, the obvious thing is to expose everyone immediately to these super germs so that those humans who are not resistant can be removed from the gene pool as rapidly as possible. This solution may not be very attractive to the vast majority of humanity that is not resistant.

A second strategy would be to shield the natural spawning ground of these germs from extra-Tellurian radiation on the theory that it is exposure to high energy particles partly or totally stopped by the planet’s atmosphere that causes the enhancement. Since most particles are stopped by aluminum foil – at least according to the wisdom of those who have been preaching this menace since the ’50’s, one should immediately put aluminum foil helmets over all of one’s food, especially the refrigerator and stove.

I don’t have to worry about this since I have a metal rook on my house. It holds down the cellular phone traffic and saves me having to get the house reroofed every time there’s a heavy hail storm.

One may ask why the atmosphere is suddenly not as effective at stopping these particles? The obvious answer is that the increased quantities of carbon dioxide have reduced the stopping power of the atmosphere. Accordingly to protect oneself from these super bugs, one should immediately plant trees on one’s property and cease cutting the grass. The more carbon dioxide sucked out of the air and replaced by oxygen, the less we have to worry about super germs.

The deleterious effects of this additional oxygen have yet to be determined.