02 November 2009

Bumper Bambi

Still on the road, so these are probably roadkill sausage links.

  • Language learning, language diversity, and the difficult determination of whether the Tower of Babel is a good thing.
  • Walter Laqueur argues that Russia's fate is struggle with imaginary demons, like Islam. It is perhaps easier to accuse a different culture of this problem; just think about the American "imaginary demon" of the vociferous, nonassimilated Other (whether immigrants, women, gays, whatever).
  • Sorry, Herr Scalzi, but the problem isn't "winning" by the exceptional; by this logic, the near-canonization of Roberto Clemente ended all problems of acceptance for both the melaninically enhanced and Hispanic immigrants. The point that in purely commercial terms there seems to be less "prejudice" toward speculative fiction is, indeed valid; the problem is that ignoring the disdain of what Scalzi refers to as "acceptance... from other literature geeks, whom they feel have excluded them from their sekkrit lit geek clubs" leads not to "winning" and "losing", but to isolated populations... which, in the long run, is not "winning" by any rational measure.

    And then there's the problem that the other literature geeks are largely responsible to teaching all literature geeks. Perhaps taking it out of literature and putting it into engineering will be illuminating. Speaking from personal experience, it's as if chemical engineers and chemists studied chemical equilibrium and thermodynamics using completely different, largely incompatible paradigms — not just the idiosyncratic emphases of the instructors, but even the notation and coverage of foundational courses.* Now mix in the increasing recognition by biologists that this chemical equilibrium stuff might have some important implications for cell biology, and ask if we'd have had different results in the study of the cell if the leading biologists had consulted chemical engineers in the mid-1980s than chemists...

  • And, I suppose, it's time for a more substantive — and procedural! — note "inspired" by a semiheckler at the Google Book Search panel at WFC on Thursday. After a panelist (not me) stated that Google's intent in establishing the GBS/GLP scan-index-retrieve system was improper, an audience member — proclaiming himself to be a former Google employee — objected that the panelist could not possibly ascribe intent to the corporation. And there is the problem. As I pointed out in reply, the panelist was not accusing each employee at Google of ill intent; he was, instead, relying upon corporate statements entered in the record (and other public corporate statements) concerning the corporation's intent. Basically, the problem is this: Corporate intent is a one-way street. That is, statements of ill intent from a corporate officer can be imputed to the corporation; however, statements of ill intent by the corporation cannot — without more specific ratification — be imputed to individual employees, or often individual officers and directors.

    What I'm really saying here is this: Accusing "Google" of ill intent is not an accusation that each and every employee of Google (all the way down to the janitor) shares that intent. So my fellow geeks and nerds need to get over it; most of the ire of the creative community is aimed at the businesscreatures in control of the corporation, not at the infotechies. Most; there's some spillover, and some of that spillover is even deserved. But that's for another time.

* As anyone with a degree in either chemistry or chemical engineering knows, this is — unfortunately — not a hypothetical.