Quote for the Day

(More useful than the last one.)

The man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down.

Frederick Douglass

Interesting Quote of the Day

From Sarah Palin, at her farewell party (thanks to Politico):

"By the way, Hollywood needs to know: We eat therefore we hunt.”

Really? She eats wolves?

Apollo 11

Thoughts on the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing...

I am so glad this happened.

I like the Moon. I like spaceships--but the Apollo program means something more philosophical to me. When Kennedy set the goal of sending a man to the moon and back within ten years, we (the Americans) were trying--and failing--to send a man merely to the edge of space. Now that's boldness.

The proper way to think about the moon landing was summed up by James Lovell (as quoted in the move Apollo 13) :

"It's not a miracle. We just decided to go and we did it."

The lesson of Apollo is this: Set a dream, an ambitious dream, and pursue it: with boldness and tenasciousness and with intelligence--think about what you're doing, what's working, what isn't. what you could be doing differently. You'll be amazed at what you can achieve.

What came after Apollo? The Seventies--the decade of our national malaise? I frequently reach back to memories of Apollo for inspiration. What has happened since then as inspiring?

Suggested viewing/reading

(Note 1: Then again this new Obama guy seems to have a bit of the spirit about him. Perhaps the next few years will yield something exciting and inspiring.)

(Note 2: On the other hand, history also provides examples of what happens when you set an ambitious dream and pursue it blindly. I'm thinking Great Leap Forward, Iraq War....)

Biker Season

Photo by Stuck in Customs

In summer the bikers frequently turn up downtown en masse. I'm not one of them (so far) but I enjoy their presence. I'm always struck by a contrast--I'm tempted to call it a paradox, but perhaps that says more about my own prejudices than about reality.

If you look at the bikers themselves, many of them exhibit what could charitably be called an easygoing attitude towards their personal appearance. I can't imagine they invest much time nor effort into it. And yet the bikes--they're spotless, meticulously polished--really beautiful. There's nothing in my own life that I put so much effort into maintaining in peak condition. I'm tempted to say it proves everyone has a sense of beauty.

(A second observation: I'm grateful to motorcycles for preserving a gleaming, chrome-heavy esthetic that went out of style with cars 40 years ago. )

Thoughts on "Affirmative Action"

(Stimulated by a discussion of Sonia Sotomayor...)

I suggest that we retire the term "affirmative action" due to its extreme amorphousness. Does "affirmative action" mean a strict quota system for Supreme Court justices, or hiring preferences for members of historically disadvantaged groups, or aggressive recruiting by law schools at historically black colleges? I guarantee that each of these (among others) is the meaning of "affirmative action" to at least some. A favorite tactic of dishonest argument is to let the meaning slide back and forth in the course of a single discussion.

The test scores and certificates that proponents of strict meritocracy would have us base decisions on give an illusion of precise measurement. Does anyone seriously think we should choose Supreme Court justices based on the highest SAT score? SAT scores are a crude predictor for some things but an exact predictor of nothing, not even an individual's performance on the next SAT.

My personal view on the issue: All the measurements and data in the world provide only a rough estimate of an individual's likely performance in any job or academic program. In reality there is no "best candidate", only a pool of candidates who are all the "best qualified" given the imperfect state of our knowledge. History shows that predictions of future performance for Supreme Court justices are especially imprecise. Acknowledging the level of our ignorance in such matters yields freedom. Given that there is no uniquely determined "best candidate" why should we not choose from among the best with some secondary goal (such as diversity) in mind? This does not unfairly disadvantage anyone, and I think an honest assessment of our level of ignorance leaves lots of room for encouraging diversity and remedying past injustice. If this is what is meant by "affirmative action", then I'm all in favor.

Movie Review: "Pinocchio in Outer Space"

I couldn't resist. I like quirky things. Besides I remembered watching this when I was a kid (funny how the memory and the reality can be so different).

Forthwith the review I posted to Amazon:

If you have always had the urge to see Pinocchio incinerated by an atomic mushroom cloud, then this is the movie for you. It starts out as a rather lame remake of the Disney story, complete with second-rate songs (Geppetto in particular looks suspiciously similar to the Disney version) except that Pinocchio is for some reason now living in contemporary New Jersey. Once Pinocchio makes it to outer space, though, they junk the musical stuff and the story turns into a fairly decent kid-level space opera. The underground scenes seem inspired by Forbidden Planet with some overtones of The Jetsons. Although the story is a fantasy, various serious science facts are scattered throughout. It's the kind of movie with dialog such as, "They've been feeding the animals radioactive food to stimulate mutations!" followed by an explanation of what mutations are. According to the producer's commentary it seems the outer-space part came first, and it was later decided to make Pinocchio the main character because he is the one fairy-tale character who ponders moral issues. You have to admire the audacity of the concept. The ending seems to promise a sequel, but so far as I know this was never made. What would have come next? Pinocchio versus Frankenstein? Beverly Hills Pinocchio?

Practical Joke #5

Photo by digitaura.

This is fun when you are interviewing job candidates, preferably for something in the coporate universe:

Greet the candidate warmly and guide him or her to a small office. The office door should have a small peephole suitable for observation--the more obvious the better. Invite the candidate to have a seat while you make some preparations. Close the door of the room, leaving the candidate to sit by himself/herself.

Slide a ceiling tile to the side and lower a banana on a string--just out of reach. Then go to the peephole and watch the candidate's reaction.

Here's a deep thought

Isn't it interesting that a lot of the same politicians who find it impossible to believe order can arise from chaos in the context of evolution have an unshakable faith in the ability of uncontrolled markets to solve any economic problem?