17 March 2014

No Green Beer Here

Beer shall contain water, barley (malted or otherwise), and hops — not green food coloring of dubious origin. Five centuries of German law says so, and to hell with you postmodern whippersnappers!

  • Here's a cranky author I can support (even if his books aren't particularly to my taste): Down With (Urban) Genrefication in Bookstores! Keep in mind that genre selection is almost always done by people who haven't read the book(s) in question: sales-and-marketing dorks, corporate-chain buyers, etc. Those stores where the staff has read all of the stuff — or even a significant portion of the stuff — tend to be specialist stores with a wide selection inside one or two accepted categories, a smattering of several other allied categories, and almost nothing else... and it's to everyone's disadvantage. Is The Sparrow "science fiction," "religious fiction," or "literary fiction"? Does the Pern series belong with "high fantasy" or "postapocalyptic science fiction"? And the less said about Don Quixote and the problems created by authors who don't confine themselves to specific categories the better.

    Alphabetical by author name, with hypertext-like tags to multiauthor series, is a far better option; that will shelve (as Ursula K. Le Guin put it several decades ago) Philip K. Dick where he belongs — right near Charles Dickens. And, frankly, the plot twists in a Dick novel are often more believable than those in Dickens...

  • Over at The Economist, "Prospero" offers a profoundly wrongheaded defense of studying foreign languages that fails to acknowledge the single most-important reason to do so: Temporal compression. The languages that are hot now are not those that will be hot in a decade (when current college graduates are in their early 30s), let alone in three (when current college graduates are senior management and most need to understand the cultures they're actually dealing with). In the 1970s, everyone was predicting Japanese (and maybe "Chinese") as the most-important language of future commerce; nobody cared about Spanish, and nobody had even bloody heard of Farsi or Arabic, as commercial powerhouses. Then, too, it's just a lot easier to pick up a language above the newspaper level if one starts studying it earlier.

    This is a classic example of economic GIGO. The data in the various studies all assume not just predictability of use and trainability in the future, but that the present market accurately discounts future value... when nobody can know what future value looks like. Better, instead, to concern oneself with the divide between "learn for now" and "learn for the future" — a division that also goes a long way toward explaining why those pesky, unproductive literature, history, and art history degrees (and classes) continue to matter as much as the latest web-wizardry in a variant that will be obsolete in three years. The model of "college as extended job training so Company X doesn't have to do that training" works only if Company X has a three-year-or-shorter horizon... and all of its obsolete workers can be easily fired and sent back for more training elsewhere, at someone else's expense.

  • A couple of millenia ago, Sun Tzu wrote (broadly paraphrased) that the best, and indeed probably the only, way to win a conflict is to destroy not the opponent's population or resources or military, but his will to fight. Maybe — just maybe — that has something to do with the preceding link sausage on this platter... or with YouTube. It's a lot easier to influence behavior if one is speaking the same language... or has the genius of Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton and uses no words at all.
  • I was entirely unsurprised by this California driver moment — not because I've ever seen the charming Ms Brennan drive, but because the fifteen-klick span between us is filled with dragons drivers who are not paying attention...
  • From the law-and-justice-nerd point of view, the problem of disagreement on constitutional limits is one of the more fascinating — and frustrating — problems raised by separation of powers. Then, the very existence of this problem points out, none too subtly, the problem with unified powers (and particularly as implied by the "executive supremacy" theory): That opposing views will not get aired, except by nongovernmental parties. Had that been the case, there would not have been a civil rights movement in this nation... among other things.
  • The IPKat notes strange goings-on regarding photography — in France. What a surprise: The nation that imposed life-plus-70 on everyone, through a multistep manipulation of the Treaty of Rome's cross-border-within-Europe enforceability clause, is also overextending itself otherwise. Soon the French Dictionary Police will get cross-border enforcement powers in Luxembourg, and then in Quebec... Just kidding. I hope.