February 23, 2010 Leave a comment
February 20, 2010 1 Comment
Neil Gaimon slightly misquoted the opening line of Douglas Adams’s The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul in twitter this afternoon. Yes, the 140-character limit imposes itself in all sorts of ways, which is why blogs aren’t yet obsolete.
Because the line is one of the best opening lines of any book I’ve read, and because the book itself is one of my favorites, I thought I’d give a longer quotation of the opening of the book, hopefully accurate:
It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression "as pretty as an airport."
Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only known exception to this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.
They have sought to highlight the tiredness and crossness motif with brutal shapes and nerve jangling colours, to make effortless the business of separating the traveller for ever from his or her luggage or loved ones, to confuse the traveller with arrows that appear to point at the windows, distant tie racks, or the current position of Ursa Minor in the night sky, and wherever possible to expose the plumbing on the grounds that it is functional, and conceal the location of the departure gates, presumably on the grounds that they are not.
Caught in the middle of a sea of hazy light and a sea of hazy noise, Kate Schechter stood and doubted.
All the way out of London to Heathrow she had suffered from doubt. She was not a superstitious person, or even a religious person. She was simply someone who was not at all sure she should be flying to Norway. But she was finding it increasingly easy to believe that God, if there was a God, and if it was remotely possible that any godlike being who could order the disposition of particles at the creation of the Universe would also be interested in directing traffic on the M4, did not want her to fly to Norway either. All the trouble with the tickets, finding a next-door neighbour to look after the cat, then finding the cat so it could be looked after by the next-door neighbour, the sudden leak in the roof, the missing wallet, the weather, the unexpected death of the next-door neighbour, the pregnancy of the cat — it all had the semblance of an orchestrated campaign of obstruction which had begun to assume godlike proportions.
Even the taxi-driver — when she had eventually found a taxi — had said, "Norway? What you want to go there for?" And when she hadn’t instantly said, "’The aurora borealis!" or "Fjords!" but had looked doubtful for a moment and bitten her lip, he had said, "I know, I bet it’s some bloke dragging you out there. Tell you what, tell him to stuff it. Go to Tenerife."
There was an idea.
Or even, she dared to think for a fleeting second, home.
She had stared dumbly out of the taxi window at the angry tangles of traffic and thought that however cold and miserable the weather was here, that was nothing to what it would be like in Norway.
Or, indeed, at home. Home would be about as icebound as Norway right now. Icebound, and punctuated with geysers of steam bursting out of the ground, catching in the frigid air and dissipating between the glacial cliff faces of Sixth Avenue.
A quick glance at the itinerary Kate had pursued in the course of her thirty years would reveal her without any doubt to be a New Yorker. For though she had lived in the city very little, most of her life had been spent at a constant distance from it. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Europe, and a period of distracted wandering around South America five years ago following the loss of her newly maimed husband, Luke, in a New York taxi-hailing accident.
February 13, 2010 Leave a comment
From “Faith, Snow & Government” by Skip Oliva:
It’s often said that libertarians have “faith” in free markets. I don’t think that’s the case. What we have is an understanding of the division of labor and the law of comparative advantage. Some people mistakenly confuse that with religious fanaticism. …
Government, in contrast, is an attempt to violate the natural laws of economics. The division of labor is irrelevant, claim the faithful, because we have elections to install leaders who will provide all manner of services, regardless of the leaders’ actual knowledge of experience. If we just elect the “right” people and have faith in them, the political system will outperform individual action and voluntary exchange.
February 8, 2010 Leave a comment
If I were still an active programmer, I’d try to automate this:
Amazon.com has thousands of public-domain books for the Kindle. They are garbage. They are poorly formatted and riddled with typos. They were all computer generated, never proofed by human beings.
Project Gutenberg has most of those same titles, formatted better (though not perfectly) and proofread by human eyes.
But Amazon has user reviews and ratings, and I can list their public-domain books by popularity.
So I’m using Amazon to assemble my reading list, which I then download from Gutenberg.
I’m sure the program to automate this is straightforward.
February 6, 2010 Leave a comment
I lived half a year on a kibbutz back in the late 1980s, just as the intifada was starting.
For most of that time, I was the “shotef sirim” — the pot scrubber. For me, it was a proud title. It was the one kitchen job they wouldn’t let women do (something about the weight of the pots or the height of the top shelves), so I spent the work days surrounded by women — but with my own little domain behind the oversized sinks and the power spray of hot and cold water.
Now I learn from the Financial Times (“The rise of the capitalist kibbutz”) that “Tasks that used to be performed by kibbutzniks regardless of their education and background — such as washing the dishes — are today largely the preserve of hired workers from outside the community.”
As the article’s title implies, that’s not the only change confronting the kibbutzim, the once-upon-a-time bastion of voluntary socialism — the “proof,” as some of us once claimed, that “it worked.”
As kibbutznik-turned-economics-professor Omer Moav argues,
the kibbutz movement was always destined to fail. It worked, he says, only as long as kibbutzniks enjoyed a standard of living broadly comparable to, if not better than, the Israeli average. “People respond to incentives. We are happy to work hard for our own quality of life, we like our independence,” he says. “It is all about human nature — and a socialist system like the kibbutz does not fit human nature.”