Monday, June 29, 2009

Treason or Murder

Paul Krugman, in one of his more inflamatory statements, claimed that congressmen who voted against cap and trade were guilty of "planetary treason."

The bill contains substantial support for biofuels, including a five year moratorium on letting the EPA decide whether, on net, producing ethanol actually reduces carbon dioxide. Converting food crops into fuel drives up the price of food. Driving up the world price of food results in more people in poor countries dying. Krugman is, no doubt, opposed to world hunger in theory. But he has come out passionately in favor of it in practice.

Treason or murder, take your choice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Best Form of Foreplay

Is an empty dishwasher."

I'm not sure where I came across the phrase, but I think it embodies an important point. Most talk about sex in our society assumes the context of seduction, one night stands, affairs, short term relationships of one sort or another. Much, I suspect most, sex actually occurs in long term relationships, marriage or the near equivalent.

I gather that a lot of writing about how to make a flagging marriage work takes it for granted that the objective is to get back to the intense feelings of courtship, to "rekindle the passion." I doubt it works. A long married couple that wants to recapture the intense emotions of their courtship would be better advised to have children; they will discover that the parental focus on a child has the same intensity, the same insane illusion that the object of love, this time parental rather than erotic, is the most important being in the universe.

In a long term relationship, success has more to do with love, less to do with lust—which is not to say that the two do not correlate. Doing something for your spouse that she (or he) would otherwise have to do for her (or him) self is one way of encouraging it.

(Thoughts in part provoked by a silly and self-indulgent article in the Atlantic whose author, having had an affair and ended a long-term marriage, was moved not to apologize to husband and children but to pontificate in satirical mode on the problems of modern marriage.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Parenting, Peer Groups and Keeping Kosher

Judith Harris, in her very interesting The Nurture Assumption, argues that children's personalities are formed primarily by their peer group, not their parents, hence that parental child rearing has a surprisingly small effect on how the children turn out. By her account, the contrary opinion comes in large part from confusing genetic influence with environmental influence. She mentions, however, an interesting special case—where the family is the peer group.

I was reminded of this reading comments to several posts on my adult son's blog, in which he and commenters argue about whether and why one ought to have children, a discussion set off by his discovery that his views had over time become more nearly "socially conservative." I was struck by the number of people who seem to take for granted serious conflict between parents and children, both in their own background and in their concerns with what might happen if they had children.

That doesn't fit my experience. I cannot remember any point in my childhood at which my parents did not seem more nearly my sort of people than my age peers. The closest I came to rebellion, at some point in my teens, was informing my father that I had been feeling put upon, had considered the division of duties within the family, had concluded that I was getting off very lightly considering how much more my parents had to do, and had concluded that my feelings were due to adolescence not unfair treatment. I felt he should be warned, in case any of those unjustified feelings showed up in our interaction. Nor has there been any point so far in my interaction with my children—in particular the two I and my wife brought up (Patri's mother and I separated when he was an infant)—when they didn't feel like "us" not "them." Since the older is now in college, I think it's reasonable to conclude that that situation is not going to change.

My guess is that both as a child and as a parent, I was in a family that fit Judith Harris' special case—and I can see that parenting might be a lot less pleasant if I were not.

Which gets me to another book, one I have recently been rereading—Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish. While organized as a list of words with detailed commentary, what it actually is is a picture of Ashkenazi-American culture in the first half of the Twentieth century, the world within which the author, and my parents, grew up. Features of that world included not only linguistic differences from the surrounding society but a lot of ritual, things done at particular times for particular reasons.

My friend and ex-colleague Larry Iannacone long ago raised the question of how, in a society like the U.S. with open entry to the religion industry, a religion can survive that imposes costly requirements on its adherents, requirements that do not produce any matching benefit. Why isn't such a religion always outcompeted by a new version that keeps everything else but dumps the costly restrictions—Judaism without koshruth rules, LDS with beer and coffee? His answer was that such restrictions do produce a "benefit"—they make it more difficult for adherents to interact outside of the religious community, and thus give them an incentive to spend time and effort producing community public goods, doing things that make being part of that community attractive.

It occurs to me that what I am seeing in Leo Rosten's affectionate description of the world he grew up in may be a special version of that relevant to the first half of this post. If you are brought up in an environment which is sufficiently special to make your age peers at school feel like "them" rather than "us" and your parents and siblings and relatives like "us" rather than "them," that may result in your identifying with the latter group. If their norms are better than those of the surrounding society, at least by their standards, they will see that as a good thing. Keeping their children is a benefit that may more than balance the costs of rules and rituals.

It doesn't have to be done through religion, of course, and in both of my cases it wasn't. My parents once raised the question, long after I was an adult, of whether they should have tried to bring me up in that same world, despite the fact that neither of them believed in their parents' religion. My response was that I preferred to have been brought up in the religion they did believe in—roughly speaking, 18th century rationalism, the ideology of Hume and Smith.

Which, of course, might be just as effective a way of making most of the outside world, including my age peers as I was growing up, feel like "them."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cell Phone Bands—A Question

The frequencies used for both ordinary phone calls and 3G connections are different in different countries—one set in the U.S. and some other countries, a different set in Europe and much of Asia. A phone that can use four frequencies for phone calls and three for 3G can work just about anywhere. With three for phone calls, it works well in some parts of the world, less well in others--because there will be some areas where the missing frequency is the only one supported. With two frequencies for phone calls, a phone works in either Europe or the U.S., depending on what the frequencies are, but not both.

This raises an obvious question: Why don't all phones have four and three? One possible answer is that additional frequencies are in some way costly, require more expensive hardware or use more power. That does not strike me as very likely, but it isn't a subject I know much about.

A second possible answer is that phones are being deliberately designed to work well in only one area, in order to enable some form of price discrimination.

Do any of my readers know the answer? From the standpoint of this consumer, the consequence of the limitation is that, not uncommonly, the phone I am most interested in is out in a European version but not an American version.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cell phone gadget frustrations

As long term readers of this blog know, I have for years been searching for a cell phone equivalent of my beloved Psion PDA's, a pocket computer with a useable keyboard. The closest I have managed so far is the G-1, which at this point it has most of what I want, including a word processor that can read and edit Word documents. But the keyboard is too small for real typing, the screen small for web browsing, and it does not support an external keyboard. Also it is from T-mobile, a carrier about which I have some reservations—although I have now learned that I could switch back to AT&T, which does not sell the G-1 but does support it.

I recently came across online references to the new HTC Touch Pro 2, which has a considerably larger screen and keyboard than my G-1 and seems to meet most of my other requirements. But ... .

The model currently out supports only the European 3G frequencies, and I live in the U.S. AT&T is supposed to be bringing out a U.S. model, but according to leaked pictures it will have a shrunken QWERTY keyboard in order to fit in an entirely unnecessary numeric keypad.

There are times when it would be nice to be dictator of the world. At least for a minute or two.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Harald Podcasts are Now All Up

I have now recorded all of my novel Harald (not counting the glossary). If you notice any problems, let me know by email.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Arctic Sea Ice Briefly Continued

I had a couple of recent posts, pointing out what appeared to be an inconsistency between the claim on a JPL page that the latest data showed arctic sea ice continuing to shrink and the publicly available data, which appears to show that a ten year decline reversed a bit over a year and a half ago. None of the commenters on the posts managed to explain away the discrepency, so I emailed someone at NASA. He was a pleasant and courteous correspondent, but seemed unable to distinguish between the question "do we have reason to expect arctic sea ice to continue to shrink" and the question "is what JPL said on this page about the evidence true?" Eventually he conceded that he was a media person, not a scientist, sent my question off to a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, and sent me the response.

That response again ignored the question of whether what JPL said was actually true, to focus on whether the conclusion they were arguing for was true. I emailed him, pointing out that what I was asking was not whether there was good reason to expect further shrinking but whether the JPL assertion about the current data was true or false.

I got back an evasive answer that came down to (not a quote) "the long term trend is down, so objecting that JPL says the current data shows that trend continuing when it doesn't is merely a technical semantic objection."

I concluded that he, unlike the gentleman at NASA, understood my question, and that his real answer was that it was all right to lie to people about the evidence as long as you were telling them what you thought was the truth about the conclusion. I sent him off a reference to the Orwell piece that discusses the dangers of suppressing the truth for fear that it would "play into the hands of" the opposition.

And I now know that nothing said by NASA/JPL ought to be trusted. Readers of this blog may want to check the JPL claim against the data for themselves before deciding whether or not they agree with that conclusion. I have provided the links above.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

G-1 Root and Tether: Help

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my online exchanges with T-Mobile support imply that T-Mobile does not object to my tethering my G-1, although they don't support it. I'm not sure if that's really the corporate view of the matter, but having been told so by two levels of their tech support I think I am entitled to try it.

So I did. The first step is to get root access, taking advantage of a bug in the original version of the OS. I successfully downgraded my OS to the original version (CR29), and I believe I got root access--at least, the attention symbol in the Terminal window is # rather than $.

I have been unable, however, either to make Android-WiFi-Tether work under CR29 or to install the upgrade that is supposed to take the OS back up to a more recent version while preserving root access.

Is there any kind soul among my readers with suitable expertise who would like to advise?