Too Little Cuddling, Too Much Coddling

 Posted by on 12 August 2003 at 2:50 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 122003

Katie Allison Granju has an interesting article on the upsidedown-ness too little parental attachment to babies and too much parental attachment to older children.

I’ve been wondering about this issue a bit lately, as I’ve noticed that, in talking to parents about Camp Indecon, they are often quite hesitant about sending their 9-12 year old kids to a single-week-long sleepover camp. (The older-than-12 kids don’t seem to be so much of an issue.) This surprises me, given my own childhood of semi-dangerous activities often unsupervised by adults, as well as routine sleepovers at the houses of friends. When I was twelve, I flew as an unaccompanied minor from Baltimore to Ft. Lauderdale to spend a month with a close friend and her family. So at 9, a week of sleepover camp would have been a cinch.

Some parents say that their kids “aren’t ready,” but, well, I wonder why not. They certainly should be at that age. Then again… based upon what I saw at camp, the kids are very much ready… it’s the parents who aren’t.

Oh no!

 Posted by on 10 August 2003 at 8:13 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 102003

In the Which Jane Austen Character Are You? Quiz, I got:

Colonel Brandon: Sensible...  yet Sexy
You are the true hero(ine)! Sensible, steady and mature, you are the lynchpin of your circle of friends and family.

Male: At your best, you are a dynamo combination of Mr. Knightley from Emma and Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility. At your worst, you may be briefly beguiled by silly women (cf. Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility and Captain Wentworth’s behavior toward Lousia Musgrove in Persuasion), but in the end, you’ll win through and end up with the proper heroine.

Female: You are Elinor from Sense and Sensibility! Wise beyond your years, you are all too aware of the folly of those around you. You are “sense” personified, and without you, things would certainly fall apart.

Ah well, at least I’m not Mary Bennet… I was worried after all those questions about parties. (And I must admit to having been beguiled by silly women in my youth… Nevertheless, “sense personified” is a tad strong. Paul, after all, has “daily proof” of my delight in ridiculous, silly, and very bad behavior.)

Philosophers on the Moon

 Posted by on 10 August 2003 at 3:47 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 102003

This was a mailing list post forwarded from goodness knows where. Whether true or not, it is good for a laugh and a head shake.

About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching assistant was explaining Descartes. He was trying to show how things don’t always happen the way we think they will and explained that, while a pen always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just float away if you let go of it on the Moon.

My jaw dropped a little. I blurted, “What?!” Looking around the room, I saw that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by the TA’s statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like “What’s your problem?”

“But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more slowly.” I protested.

“No it wouldn’t,” the TA explained calmly, “because you’re too far away from the Earth’s gravity.”

Think. Think. Aha! “You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, didn’t you?” I countered, “why didn’t they float away?” “Because they were wearing heavy boots,” he responded, as if this made perfect sense. (Remember, this is a Philosophy TA who’s had plenty of logic classes.)

By then I realized that we were each living in totally different worlds, and did not speak each others’ language, so I gave up. As we left the room, my friend Mark was raging. “My God! How can all those people be so stupid?”

I tried to be understanding. “Mark, they knew this stuff at one time, but it’s not part of their basic view of the world, so they’ve forgotten it. Most people could probably make the same mistake.” To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question:

1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it a) float away, b) float where it is, or c) fall to the ground?

About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:

2. You’ve seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall off?

About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing heavy boots.”

The Scary Moment When Robots Take Our Jobs

 Posted by on 10 August 2003 at 3:29 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 102003

Frank Foreman posted this comment to the psychology list on

There’s a subject I’d love to discuss, and I promised Joshua to bring it up, and that is Ayn Rand’s theory of virtue. She lists them in the Galt speech as being “rationality, independence, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.” (The three values are reason, purpose, and self-esteem, in case you need verification.) Galt gives brief definitions of each virtue.

What I am wondering is what will happen to the virtue of productiveness when half the population will be unable to do productive work, that work being taken over by machines. That this will happen is convincingly argued by Marshall Brain in “Robotic Nation.”

He sent the text of that essay to the list, along with the convenient link to the web version. Basically, the argument is that robots are going to become so capable, cheap, and ubiquitous that by 2050, they will occupy half of all jobs in the US. With half of all people unemployed (note that big logical leap), “a significant portion of the normal American population [will be] permanently living in government welfare dormitories.” The implication of Brain’s closing comments seems to be that we need to structure society so that people don’t have to have jobs in order to live. Ah, socialist heaven, as repackaged by robots!

Anyway, I was surprised, to say that least, that anyone with any knowledge of economics or history would take this argument seriously. So here was my response, admittedly dismissive:

Marshall Brain’s argument is nothing more than the broken window fallacy all dressed up in Sunday best for The Scary Moment When Robots Take Our Jobs. (BTW, that’s supposed to be after The Scary Moment When Those Damn Hardworking Immigrants Take Our Jobs.) It focuses only upon jobs lost and ignores the vast new opportunities created by technology.

These sorts of arguments are not just absurd on a theoretical level, but also on the basis of everyday experience. Are we currently facing massive unemployment due to ATMs, self-service gas pumps, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and automobiles? Those technologies put many hundreds of thousands of people out of work. But, duh, the economy hasn’t collapsed into a third world welfare state yet. The reason is not mysterious.

And as for the possibility of computers replacing human brain power, well, that’s idle (and philosophically suspect) speculation. When computers become something more than very big crows for massive data processing, I might show a vague glimmer of interest in such issues. Maybe.

This argument is just another apocalyptic vision dressed up in the garb of science. And, to paraphrase Julian Simon, I’m not dressed for church.

Y2K was my one and only foray into apocalyptic visions; it was quite enough for a lifetime. Others can feel free to scare themselves into a perverse sort of comfort by thinking of the myriad of ways the world as we know it might end. The worry is that too often their proposed (statist) solutions are far worse than the problem would likely ever be… and they want to impose those “solutions” upon the rest of us. Now that’s something to worry about.

North Korea Blinks

 Posted by on 5 August 2003 at 10:23 am  Uncategorized
Aug 052003

I wish I had been taught history by Stephen Den Beste. He is undoubtedly the most astonishingly insightful “lumper” of political history, able to spot trends, underlying logic, and commonalities to which most of us are hopelessly blind. His recent analysis of the course of recent events in our standoff with North Korea is a case in point. Read it and ye shall understand all.

The Strange Mr Woo

 Posted by on 4 August 2003 at 1:55 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 042003

My husband sends me the strangest stuff, like this article on the “down low” culture. Their motto: “Sure, I’m a man having sex with other men, but I’m not gay! That’s for sissy white boys!” Really, I swear. Oh, and they’re contracting HIV like crazy — and spreading it to their wives and girlfriends. Lovely.

On the more normal side, Paul also recently pointed me to the blog of political cartoonists Cox and Forkum. (I particularly enjoy the commentaries about the cartoons on the blog.)

And while I’m compiling links, I should mention that The Speculist opens today. Phil claimed that there would be a celebration, but it just seems like funny and smart blog to me.

Okay, back to work for me!

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