30 July 2007

The digital lauging problem: Part II

Part I identifies the disconnect between written laughter and oral laughter during instant messaging conversation. My distinguished colleague, Alexandra Vu, in true Second Glance fashion, identifies an unexpected (and pitiful) reality that results from this disparity:
It has become a habit to write 'haha' all over the place, no wonder people who aren't really funny think they're hilarious. We are the reason why they assume they're funny, and yet we complain that they're not.
Ms. Vu goes on to refer to these pleasantly deluded individuals as "poor souls." So the next time you're rolling your eyes at that guy who just told a horrible "soooo a guy walked into a bar..." joke, remember he can't help it, he is getting rave reviews on-line (and hopefully not from you)!

22 July 2007

Bill of Non-Rights: A quasi-hoax

I recently read a facebook friend's posted note extolling the "Bill of Non-Rights," falsely attributed to Georgia State Rep, Mitchell Kaye. According to snopes.com, it was actually written by an amateur philosopher from Mississippi.

Since the note was prefaced with, "This was too good not to share with others...To my liberal friends...don't be offended by the truth," I feel I must respond. Not because I consider myself a liberal (or liberaltarian), but because I am skeptical of any statement claiming to be "the truth" with respect to political matters. Here it goes:
"We the sensible people of the United States, in an attempt to help everyone get along, restore some semblance of justice, avoid more riots, keep our nation safe, promote positive behavior, and secure the blessings of debt-free liberty to ourselves and our great-great-great-grandchildren, hereby try one more time to ordain and establish some common sense guidelines for the terminally whiny, guilt ridden, delusional, and other liberal bed-wetters. We hold these truths to be self evident: that a whole lot of people are confused by the Bill of Rights and are so dim they require a Bill of NON-Rights."
It starts off well enough. I take some offense to the term "liberal bed-wetter" in a paragraph that claims to want "to help everyone get along." But let's get into the substance:
ARTICLE I: You do not have the right to a new car, big screen TV, or any other form of wealth. More power to you if you can legally acquire them, but no one is
guaranteeing anything.
Does anyone claim the right to "a new car, big screen TV"? No. People claim the right to welfare checks and farm subsidies and the such, so why not say that rather than things people don't claim a right to? Oh, and by the way, it is the law that is providing the welfare and subsidies, so I think we could come up with a higher standard than, "if you can legally acquire them."
ARTICLE II: You do not have the right to never be offended. This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone -- not just you! You may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc.; but the world is full of idiots, and probably always will be.
ARTICLE III: You do not have the right to be free from harm. If you stick a screwdriver in your eye, learn to be more careful, do not expect the tool manufacturer to make you and all your relatives independently wealthy.
There are plenty of frivolous lawsuits with plantiffs of dubious character. Then there are those who have been duped by manufacturers of dubious character. The problem is it is hard to defend against one without allowing the other free reign. I opt for the market solution in most cases (e.g., screwdriver to eye).
ARTICLE IV: You do not have the right to free food and housing. Americans are the most charitable people to be found, and will gladly help anyone in need, but we are quickly growing weary of subsidizing generation after generation of professional couch potatoes who achieve nothing more than the creation of another generation of professional couch potatoes.
As a general rule people should not have government supplied food or housing. There are people who are unable to obtain work due to disability. We live in a society that believes in a safety net for these people. Let's provide that, but be vigilant against breeding a generation of "disabled" people by keeping the definition of disabled suitably narrow.
ARTICLE V: You do not have the right to free health care. That would be nice, but from the looks of public housing, we're just not interested in public health care.
As above, as a general rule people should pay for the services they consume and not for services they don't.
ARTICLE VI: You do not have the right to physically harm other people. If you kidnap, rape, intentionally maim, or kill someone, don't be surprised if the rest
of us want to see you fry in the electric chair.
Is this alluding to capital punishment? The problem is "the rest of us want to see you fry" claims to much; there is not unanimity among non-criminals for the death penalty. We want to see just punishment to be sure, but that is a far cry from saying you have the right to harm others. Again, another non-right that should be more direct to avoid misinterpretation.
ARTICLE VII: You do not have the right to the possessions of others. If you rob, cheat, or coerce away the goods or services of other citizens, don't be surprised if the rest of us get together and lock you away in a place where you still won't have the right to a big screen color TV or a life of leisure.
Um, obviously. Is this a cry for no TVs in prison? Really is that a big enough deal to have its own article?
ARTICLE VIII: You do not have the right to a job. All of us sure want you to have a job, and will gladly help you along in hard times, but we expect you to
take advantage of the opportunities of education and vocational training laid before you to make yourself useful.
I think the Bush administration combed through this before forwarding it along. The original Article VIII refers to the absurdity of foreign wars, with which I largely agree. This replacement is basically a rehash of Article I and IV. I generally agree, you don't have a right to a job. One the other hand, if you have a service someone else is willing to pay for, you should have the right to make the transaction. So you have a right not to be kept from doing a job.
ARTICLE IX: You do not have the right to happiness. Being an American means that you have the right to PURSUE happiness, which by the way, is a lot easier if you are unencumbered by an over abundance of idiotic laws created by those of you who were confused by the Bill of Rights.
Agreed. We have too many laws. This is a direct result of the large number of lawyers and polly sci majors. Hahah, just kidding. But not about the laws. Too many.
ARTICLE X: This is an English speaking country. We don't care where you are from, English is our language. Learn it or go back to wherever you came from! (lastly....)
I'm glad they didn't say this to me when I was in Brazil. I would have considered them a bunch of snobby, uncharitable, isolationist bigots. If you can get by without English here, be my guest. I don't think the government should go way out of the way to provide multilingual services.
ARTICLE XI: You do not have the right to change our country's history or heritage. This country was founded on the belief in one true God. And yet, you are given the freedom to believe in any religion, any faith, or no faith at all; with no fear of persecution. The phrase IN GOD WE TRUST is part of our heritage and history, and if you are uncomfortable with it, TOUGH!!!!
This one is hard to argue with. It isn't really saying anything other than, you don't have the right to re-write history or take IN GOD WE TRUST off the money. I can live with that. If it is claiming more, be more specific.

20 July 2007

Potter Mania

Question: Does the world need another Harry Potter blog post?
Answer: No.

19 July 2007

China in the year 2020: A sausage fest

The human mind has an unlimited capacity for rationalizing convienent behavior. In many situations this prevents us from going bezerk in reaction to mundane annoyances...

You're sitting in traffic for an hour trying to get home after a mind-numbingly exhausting day at work when some bozo pins you in a thru lane so you can't get to your exit ramp. Do you (a) run him off the road then pull him out of his car and beat him until his face resembles raw meatloaf 0r (b) curse under your breath and suck it up; besides karma says the jerk will get what's coming to him someday?

If we always picked (a) one could imagine there'd be a lot less of us living on this planet. On the other hand, the very fact that we pick (b) so frequently has meant that there are a lot less of us living on this planet. China's one child policy is the epitome of this phenomena. Women in China are being taxed, forced to have abortions, or are even sterilized for having more than one child. The first glance result; fewer kids. The second glance result; by 2020 there will be 40 million more Chinese men than women. They'll have to come up with some killer pick-up lines.

We should be outraged enough that women and families are having their right to procreate stolen. But this policy also engenders a perverse culture of gender discrimination leading to the infaticide of millions of unborn females. Where is the outrage?

If you're like me, I can tell you where it is. It's in the same place it is when you get cut off on the highway; under your breath, in the privacy of your car. It's in any of a thousand places, but none that will make a difference.

04 July 2007

4th of July heads up!

I just got back from a fairly traumatic experience. While some are worried about terrorism on this 4th of July, those attending the fireworks display in the town of Vienna need have worried more about errant, if colorful, explosives. My dad and I parked our little camping seats about as close to the fireworks as you could get; literally just yards from the yellow police tape that kept the viewers at a "safe" distance.

As the show began, Dad remarked that they would probably tell us to move back farther as debris from the exploding rockets rained down from above, some still on fire. These proved ominous words indeed. During the finale, several of the fireworks shot off into the crowd about 50 yards to our left and 30 yards to our right. At this point we knew something was wrong but we too shocked to move. Looking back I probably would have ducked for cover.

After the last of the finale, there did not seem to be any panic, even near the sites of the explosions. As my Dad and I walked by the closer of the two explosion sites, on our way home, a few men, including police were clearing people away from the site. We stuck around for a bit as ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles, and a helicopter swarmed the area.

Again, there was no panic and it did not appear that there were widespread injuries. Hope everyone is okay!

Addendum: According to ABC 7 news, 9 people where hospitalized in the event, two apparently quite seriously.

Addendum II: Video of the explosive finale here.

03 July 2007

No less than 4 fewer dying traditions

According to Barry Leiba, of "Staring At Empty Pages," there are "exactly four" situations where it is proper to correct someone's grammar:
(1) when you're an English teacher correcting a student
(2) when you're coaching a nonnative speaker who's asked for help
(3) when someone else has asked for coaching
(4) when someone puts the equivalent of a "kick me" sign on her back.
My latest favorite is the distinction between less and fewer. From the Dictionary.com entry for fewer:
Usage Note: The traditional rule holds that fewer should be used for things that can be counted (fewer than four players), while less should be used with mass terms for things of measurable extent (less paper; less than a gallon of paint). However, less is used in some constructions where fewer would occur if the traditional rule were being followed. Less than can be used before a plural noun that denotes a measure of time, amount, or distance: less than three weeks; less than $400; less than 50 miles. Less is sometimes used with plural nouns in the expressions no less than (as in No less than 30 of his colleagues signed the letter) and or less (as in Give your reasons in 25 words or less).