Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bookworming: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, ****
Eminently readable. Tales of gods and monsters from ancient times often come off stilted due to language or cultural context translations, and this one suffers from none of that. Those expecting serious literature may be surprised how silly many of the tales are. Much like the Greek myths, the gods here are flawed, and the stories are often nonsensical. And yet, the imagery within persists. This is an easy choice for anyone with interest in mythology, especially if you have not read these tales before.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The iPhone Healthcare Comparison

Congressman Jason Chaffetz recently stepped in a hornets' nest by implying the people should maybe not buy luxury smartphones and invest in their own healthcare instead. His statement was remarkably out of touch, and has been dismantled by the media (and social media), but there is something that I think has been missed. Here's my question: should a poor person buy a smartphone?

The view of the smartphone as a luxury add-on, convenient but not necessary, reminds me of The Innovator's Dilemma in business. It's old-way thinking. A different perspective, where the smartphone replaces instead of supplementing, may change the economics considerably. A mid-range smartphone and a reasonable data plan means you don't have to buy a computer, landline service, and internet service. (Also sat nav, still and video cameras, alarm clocks, etc.) It seems to me like a poor person should at least run the numbers, because they might just be better off with the smartphone.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Quote of the Moment

“The worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” –“The End of History?”, Fukuyama (1989)

Hat tip to PBS Idea Channel episode "Has The World already Ended? Or Just History?".

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Words They Use

In the recent political climate, with the impelling force of the internet behind it, has seen the rise of a common vocabulary on social media. Certain words are used over and over again to refer to people with opposing viewpoints. I can't help but be intrigued by the particular words in use right now. One side is pulling from a classic well: Nazi, fascist, white supremacist. The other side... isn't. They align against cupcakes, snowflakes, unicorns, flowers, and social justice warriors. I'm not entirely sure where that is coming from (though the influence of internet trolling is strong, as is a strain of older insults), and I don't know what it says about the current state of discourse. In any case, as someone who spends too much time in symbols, I find the uses of language interesting.

Quote of the Moment

"The hardest thing about human experience is that every human has one. And so it makes it hard to appreciate someone else's, but it also makes it a great and awesome challenge." –Mike Rugnetta, Idea Channel “Comment Responses: What Was the Hoodie?”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bookworming: The Laughing Corpse

The Laughing Corpse, Laurell K. Hamilton, ***
The second book in the Anita Blake series, The Laughing Corpse stands as my favorite of the ones I read from that series. I bailed out circa Blue Moon due to the change of tone away from grindhouse horror into supernatural romance territory. At this point in the series that turn had not been made, and Corpse is purely a horror book in the splatter mode which, like the first in the series, contains no actual sex. Folks that do not mind the conventions (and violence) that come along with the genre will find a good set of extremely one-dimensional baddies, a fair amount of action, and a plot that comes together nicely. Those that don't like violence should stay away. Most of the thoughts from my previous review of Guilty Pleasures still apply, and if you liked that one, you will probably like this one.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Letter of the Law

[Warning, this post contains both political and religious satire. You have been warned.]

Advisor: I would like to bring up some concerns over our branding efforts. Our stance on strong Christian values helped us achieve our current success, but some of the details seem out of alignment.
Leader: Oh? What is it that has you worried?
Advisor: Several of these values seem to run contrary to our actions. For instance, have you seen this bit about the rich and the well fed having already received their reward.
Leader: Of course, it's rather key. Very popular among the demographic.
Advisor: Do you not find the themes of sacrifice and universal caring somewhat contrary to our mission?
Leader: No, not at all. You see here, it says blessed are the poor.
Advisor: I do not understand, we are not poor.
Leader: Of course not! For as the values say, we must serve our fellow man! We want as many blessed people as possible. Thus we gather the riches to ourselves that we might aid the majority to be blessed. It is a sacrifice on our part, but it is our calling.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Watching the Watchers: Wherein I Agree and Disagree With Bannon

Quartz recently published an article about the beliefs for Steve Bannon, President Trump's close adviser seen as the driving force behind his policies. (As an aside, sites that look into such things rate Quartz's editorial bias as slightly left of center.) It's a very long piece, but an interesting skim. As a thought exercise, here are some unordered points where I agree with Bannon and some where I do not, as his views are presented in the article.

Agree:

  • Capitalism without morality can be more damaging than beneficial.
  • Focusing the economy on speculation rather than capital and production damages capitalism.
  • Both the Republicans and Democrats are to blame for the current state of America.
  • America's and American society's accumulated debit is a danger.
  • Capitalism is facing a crisis.
  • The media do not understand why Donald Trump won.


Disagree:

  • I believe abstract concepts such as egalitarianism can be laudable goals and are completely compatible with existing values.
  • I do not believe nationalism is a positive force, rather that it causes artificial divides and has historically been a driver of conflicts. Bannon appears to be conflating nationalism and shared values, and I just don't think they should be combined in such a manner.
  • I'm not sure how one can tout Judeo-Christian values while dismissing all forms of socialism. Jesus has some things to say about feeding the poor and treating foreigners...
  • I believe global warming is an economic danger.
  • I believe the health care system in the U.S. is horribly broken, from an economic/capitalist standpoint.
  • I believe the crisis capitalism is facing is of its own making, not due to magical liberals or radical religions.
  • I do not believe the media is the enemy, they are suffering from a disrupted business model and the loss of their long-lived monopoly on information spread. But we need them as fact checkers, investigators, and to be a check on government.