Reading Between the Lines

All the things Dubya meant but didn’t have the integrity to come out and say…

Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens – you need to renew the PATRIOT Act.

“You know when we said that was only temporary, and you bought it? BWAHAHAHAHA!”

my Administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.

“…while your tours are extended indefinitely, your families and children left without your income and with darn little help from us, and when you finally do come home you can forget about those benefits we promised.”

let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We are seeking all the facts

“…which we claimed to know absolutely and in great detail one year ago. Oops.”

Exports are growing.

“…because the dollar, which represents public confidence in our currency, is falling.”

jobs are on the rise.

“…in India. Not here, though. Here, the rate of job growth still isn’t keeping up with the rate of new entrants to the job market, even when we refuse to count the people who’ve been unemployed so long they’ve lost their benefits, or who had to take part-time work at half the pay just to survive.”

My Administration is promoting free and fair trade, to open up new markets for America’s entrepreneurs, and manufacturers, and farmers,

“…but darned if we’ll let those furriners sell anything within our borders, unless they’re employed by US companies of course.”

In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than four percent.

“I’ll also prove that two plus two equals ten, just like my Professor Friedman taught me.”

our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage

“…or take their chances without coverage if they can’t pay enough to keep my donors happy. Their choice.”

The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God’s sight.

“…but not in the eyes of the law, if John Ashcroft and I have anything to say about it.”

By Executive Order, I have opened billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes faith-based charities.

“It’s just coincidence that 99.7% of that money has already been allocated to evangelical protestant churches like the one I attend.”


I’ve been unusually busy at work, and the few other thoughts that I might normally post here (e.g. on a more general approach to automatic stack ripping, for the ultra-geeky) are still only half-baked. I’ll probably post about the Misstate of the Union tonight, but for now all I have is a few new annotated chess games.

Fast Servers

I just happened to find a good PowerPoint presentation (no, it’s not an oxymoron) about ye olde threads vs. events server-design issue. Might as well share.

Fair Use

If someone posts a copyrighted article in its entirety on a discussion site, without any commentary of their own but (one might assume) with the purpose of inviting comment from others, should that be considered fair use? Is it? I see people do this a lot and it kind of bugs me, but I think that’s mostly because it seems lazy and I can’t quite make up my mind on the fair use question. Would anyone like to offer some guidance?


While it is at least somewhat amusing, I expected this article to be much more interesting than it actually turned out to be.

Debate Site Report Card

Just some quick thoughts about the various political-debate sites I frequent.

Still the largest, still the least interesting. The software really holds them back a lot. It’s too hard to find good threads, and too hard to navigate within them. The self-moderation simply isn’t working either. I check this one every day but it’s two months since I posted there.
America’s Debate (no link, both by their request and my inclination)
Falling behind. The drive-by moderation – too heavy-handed in some cases, totally missing in others – is taking its toll. As with ETP I check every day, but now it’s a week since I’ve posted. Every time I check out a thread, I find that the same topic is already being done better somewhere else.
Struggling to reach critical mass. Again, the software is holding them back, though not as severely and the proprietor is trying to do something about it. The continued dominant presence of some uncouth nutjobs doesn’t help either.
U.S. Politics Online
Thriving, and becoming quite lively. There’s a good core group of posters, and the tone is generally mature. If current trends continue USPO could overtake AD some day. On some days they’re already there, by number of threads that I actually click to. I confess that I don’t post there very often, but that’s no reflection on them.
Whistle Stopper
The new king, IMO, and I don’t just say that because I’m on the staff now. WS has already overtaken both AD and ETP in activity level, and is on a path to overtake AD in number of users by mid-year. The reason is simple: everything I just said about USPO applies to WS as well, and they’ve done a better job of attracting users (via ads plus mass migration from Pravda). This is really where it’s happening, and where I do the vast majority of my own posting.

That’s really all there is to say. Natural selection and “market” forces are doing their thing. People are voting with their feet, or perhaps their keyboards.

Not All

A couple of nights ago Cindy asked about the phrase inscribed on The Ring (“one ring to rule them all” and so on). That got me to thinking about another favorite Tolkien rhyme:

All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.

It struck me that the phrase “not all” in the second line is a strange one. You could parse the line as “not (all those who wander are lost)” and it’s all very logical, but I don’t think that’s really the way we process such a sentence…it’s not the way I do, anyway. It doesn’t work in other contexts. You don’t say “not I like the Beatles” or “not my brother went to the store” do you? The proper decomposition is more like “(not all) who wander are lost” with “not all” being a special subject that means to parse the rest of the sentence normally as though “all” had been the subject before reversing the meaning. It’s a strange construct, really, which I’m sure requires a special case in any natural-language-processing computer program, and I wonder whether any other languages do this the same way.

On a slightly less weird note, I think “not all those who wander are lost” would make an excellent family motto…translated into Latin, of course. If anyone could provide such a translation I’d be much obliged.

The Salami Fallacy

As much fun as it is to distill Den Beste’s mountains of drivel into a single sentence with exactly the same meaning, as I did in my previous entry, I think I might give his latest mega-rant a slightly fuller treatment this time. I actually agree with a lot of the article’s second half, dealing with the general worthlessness of deconstructionist lit-crit nonsense and its practitioners, but who really didn’t know those folks were idiots? Hardly any even on the so-called left think any better of such obvious mental masturbation than SDB does. The only interesting thing about SDB’s analysis is that by focusing so much on their abuse of words and looking down his nose across the entire techie/fuzzy divide he does exactly what they do. It’s pretty amusing to go back and read his stuff, once you realize that what he is indulging in is itself a form of lit-crit. My interest in the article, however, has more to do with the first half, specifically this section:

quoting Robert Nozick:

Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution “to each according to his merit or value.” Apart from the gifts, inheritances, and gambling winnings that occur in a free society, the market distributes to those who satisfy the perceived market-expressed demands of others, and how much it so distributes depends on how much is demanded and how great the alternative supply is.

back to SDB:

As the section I’ve highlighted above shows, they hate capitalism because it’s inherently utilitarian, and inherently populist.

Ummm, no. Utiliarianism is “the greatest good for the greatest number” as the basis for individual decisions, and capitalism is based on a very different basis for those decisions. The real problem is with the paragraph from Nozick, which SDB tacitly accepts but which also nicely illustrates one of the essential fallacies of laissez-faire capitalism: that any quantity too small to be measurable can be treated as zero, and that any sum of such quantities is likewise zero. Now, we all know that’s false. There’s a whole field of mathematics (calculus) to deal with the fact that it’s false. Nonetheless, that’s the way laissez-faire capitalists think. If you help one person make a million dollars at the expense of a million people, you can charge that one person tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees. If you help a million people make (or save) a dollar apiece, you can’t charge any of them anything. You’ll be lucky if even a tenth of them recognize that you helped them. Similarly, if you dump a ton of garbage on one person’s lawn they can sue you. Spread that ton across every lawn in the country, though, and no single one of them will become motivated enough to do anything about it. If you slice something thin enough nobody thinks it matters, but when you add all the slices together it might be a pretty big hunk of salami.

How does this get us to the resentment of liberal intellectuals? It’s not envy. It’s that same perfectionism, that same insistence on intellectual rigor, that SDB claims is the exclusive domain of techies. The intellectuals know the Salami Fallacy. What bothers them is that people are buying into such an obvious lie, basing an entire moral and economic system on it. Their situation is made even worse by the fact that their contributions are not intended to be direct. They’re trying to improve the whole system, not tweak some part of it. As an engineer SDB should know that sometimes the problem is in the system rather than its components, but he’s apparently been away from real work so long that he’s forgotten. If you build in dependencies between components so that they all topple together like dominoes, you can’t always solve the problem by building a better domino. Sometimes the solution is to arrange the components into a properly redundant system so that system failure is the logical AND of component failure instead of the logical OR. (I’ll be writing an article about these two types of systems some time soon.) Their role is that of supporting cast. A good supporting cast can make the lead actor look good, but capitalism based on the Salami Fallacy only rewards the actor. It’s a form of altruism that rat-eat-rat capitalism doesn’t even recognize. There are other forms of capitalism where these small costs do get accounted for and added up correctly, but that’s only in the real world and not the one SDB inhabits. In SDB’s world it’s not merit but hunger for the limelight that must be rewarded – a predictable attitude for one whose insecurity far exceeds their merit and who takes credit for former coworkers’ contributions. In that other light of truth, though, it’s just another rationalization for selfishness.

Den Beste Digest, part 6

6,148-word version

“Anyone who tries to make others more effective instead of standing in the limelight getting all the credit (such as the 90% of the military that is not the ‘tip of the spear’) deserves no reward in a capitalist system.”

The Bug

I just finished reading Ellen Ullman’s The Bug, a book about a computer bug (catastrophic, tends to appear during demos, but hard to reproduce and almost impossible to find) that drives a programmer crazy. It’s a really scary book for a programmer to read, because anybody who has been in this business for a while has at least looked down that road. Many parts of the book are almost too familiar, such as the discussions of programmers’ tendencies toward punning and ego conflicts or the portrayal of faux bonhomie in meetings. Other parts, mostly having to do with the protagonists’ struggles with sex and relationships, seem forced and artificial. Nonetheless, it was a good read. It’s cool to see a novel that contains whole pages of code, if nothing else.

I need a change of pace now, though. The book I read before this was Iain Banks’s Consider Phlebas which also ends rather badly, so now I need to read something with a bit less doom and gloom. It’s not quite as bad as when I read The Coming Plague and Making Monsters back to back – at least the current pair are fiction – but it’s close.