14 November 2011

There Is No ConteNt Without ConteXt

... even for link sausages. Yes, sausages have context, too: They're ways to keep animal products (relatively) safe to eat for longer after slaughter, and to increase the proportion of a given dead animal that is consumed as a protein source in the first place by using otherwise difficult-to-prepare bits and pieces. McZorgle's "all meat patties" have nothing on the ingenuity of sausage-makers who use even the facial and tail muscles. And my deeply disturbed looks across the net are probably better left undescribed!

  • Sometimes even libertarians and economists admit that "context matters" — especially when, as in this instance, the "context" is created by badly-written, response-directive survey questions designed to highlight purported lack of economic knowledge in ideologically pure liberal social positions. This is an excellent example of the nonideological bias of the scientific method: Test your hypotheses against the evidence... and if more evidence comes along that contradicts the hypothesis, change the hypothesis to match the evidence instead of denying that the evidence has anything to do with the hypothesis. After enough testing, the hypothesis can become a theory — but every theory, such as high-school-chemistry favorite Boyle's Law (pV={constant}), has boundary conditions outside of which it does not hold. Further evidence may not contradict the theory, but instead define those boundary conditions. Boyle's Law is a subset of the Ideal Gas Law, which adds in considerations of temperature and quantity... and implies that real gasses are not ideal.
  • And then, sometimes, even the new theories run up against boundary conditions and have unintended consequences and unanticipated mechanisms (and interactions). This is, ironically enough, related directly to the analogy that I used in the preceding item — just as real gases are not ideal, real people (and populations) aren't, either.
  • Let's hear one more great big raspberry for further consolidation in the media industry, as EMI will probably get bought by somebody or other. And I say "somebody or other" because, under any rational view of antitrust law either here or in Europe, this is an anticompetitive purchase that will harm both competitors and the public... not to mention the suppliers, who seldom get much attention from anyone considering the antitrust implications of a given proposed transaction. All of that without considering the context of original position as it relates to freedom of expression and artistic integrity (note, carefully, the identity of the conglomerate).
  • If we understand cooking (and food preparation) in space, maybe we will remember when to corral the meatballs. And not to hire the Swedish Chef for an interplanetary voyage.
  • Last, a rather distressing link sausage. This is an explanation, not an excuse, about why a 2m-tall former football player did not stop a rape. There's a one-word answer: Panic.

    One of the reasons that the military spends so much time training soldiers on responding to combat situations is to prevent panic from inhibiting their reactions under fire. And still, a disturbingly high proportion of soldiers do not fire their weapons in a firefight — even in all-volunteer armies — or, worse, fire indiscriminately, against their training. Similarly, highly trained rescue workers sometimes neglect their training and run back into collapsing buildings against orders only to become casualties themselves, or conversely do nothing. Consider that Mr McQueary probably had nowhere near the training for how to deal with a (hopefully) incomprehensibly unlikely situation that would have required him to assert force against an authority figure. Anybody who claims that "of course you should stop it in progress!" has failed to distinguish between should, must, and does.

    This is not to say that I think McQueary is or should be off the hook for his failure to respond; sometimes, after all, a panic reaction can be (and is) properly construed as "cowardice under fire." But it happens... and I'm not sure that high-minded rhetoric about "moral responsibility" is appropriate from any elected official in this country, given the dubious "morals" of electoral politics. Neither am I sure that the university is off the hook for failing to teach its responsible employees how to either (a) effectively speak truth to power or (b) effectively and properly intervene in an authority figure's misconduct without making matters worse. My point is that I can understand what might have happened (and, based on what we "know" at this time, most probably — but not certainly — did). My secondary point is that the governor's rhetoric is not only unlikely to be helpful, but is implicitly a disclaimer of all responsibility... and that is definitely not morally defensible, because leaders — even those who come to leadership after an event — have some moral and actual responsiblity for everything.