Archive for the ‘Casual’ Category

Highly Trained Individuals

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

When I came to the US thirty years ago, coffee was this brown muck that cost about a dollar per gallon. In the generation that has passed since then, coffee has become a spiritual experience, a political statement and a way to save the planet. Sleek new devices that hiss and purr when stroked have replaced the old coffee machines. The people who make the coffee have never looked better. Many of them have college degrees, even if they are unaware that Venti is simply the Italian word for twenty .

Starbucks just took out a full page ad in the NYTimes touting its exceptionalism.

They Want You To Think Coffee is Coffee. Well, It’s Not Just Coffee. It’s Starbucks.

It’s lotsa bucks actually. Until a year ago, $4.50 was considered a reasonable price for a cup of coffee. Starbucks is, like the Hummer, Enron and the AIG, an emblem of turn of the century excess. Now McDonalds is eating their lunch. The baristas at Starbucks still look upon with you with condescension if you ask for a “small cup of coffee” instead of a “Tall Americano”. But you can see the fear in their eyes. The Ad says that these are highly trained individuals, who can make 87000 different kinds of coffee. If so, aren’t they a bit over-trained? Punching a few buttons on a coffee machine is not exactly rocket science.

The Inauguration Will Be Televised

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

I come home from a business trip to see a large envelope from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Inside is a handsome card embossed with a Golden Seal.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee requests the honor of your presence to attend and participate in the Inauguration of

My heart beats faster. Finally, all those blogs I wrote on Daily Kos are paying off. Impassioned arguments with Hillary Clinton supporters back in the Spring of 2008. Alegre, eat your heart out in your little corner. We are the ones going to the Inauguration.

Barack H. Obama as President of the United States of America


The Trolley Problem

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008


Whenever a nation has done something deeply embarrassing, which shames its decent citizens, moral philosophy thrives. As though the obvious atrocity can somehow be hidden behind sophisticated reasonings about abstract thought experiments. Psychologists must have some fancy name for this phenomenon.

We live in such a time now. You cannot open the New Yorker or the New York Times Magazine without running into a conundrum designed by the best and the brightest to teach us lessons on moral values. The difference between us and the ancients is that we look to science, not religion, as the source of our values. Thus, neuro-scientists emerge as the Deep Thinkers of our time. Supposedly their knowledge of how our brain is wired allows them to deduce ab initio what is right and wrong.

One the most fundamental of these puzzles is the Trolley problem. It goes something like this.

On your morning walk, you see a trolley car carrying five passengers. It is hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. The passengers are oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five people. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says “yes.”

But wait a minute. Here is the twist. The single worker is Mr. Average Joe, who is working an extra shift so he can pay off his mother’s hospital bill. You just received a text message identifying the five conscious occupants of the Trolley car as Steven Pinker, Niall Ferguson, Philippa Foot, Judith Jarvis Thomson and Joshua Greene. (You are carrying an iPhone. Duh.) And you have just enough time to Google these names before making the decision.

Now, which way would you throw the switch?

Who is more valuable? Five moral philosophers or an honest working man?

Those with the correct answer will be entered into a raffle for the complete works of Ayn Rand.

How to Deal with Office Spam

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Everyone gets office spam in their email. I don’t mean the ads for Viagra or requests to help a worthy gentleman smuggle millions of dollars out of Nigeria. I mean the email where some colleague (say Tom) is replying to a note about some one else (Dick) by a third person (Harry) and you have been unnecessarily added to an ever growing list in the cc.

I say fight spam with spam. Adapt a technique used by some robots on blogs, called `comment spam’. The kind that Akismet deals with so well.

First, create an innocuous little article, or parable (such as the post below). The content is not important, but it must hint at hidden Deep Meaning. The sort of thing you would read with a knowing smile. A reference to Kierkegaard or other Deep Thinker would be great, but only if you can pull it off. Confucius or the Buddha are almost as good if you are not up to the German level of sophistry. Even Steven Pinker will do. Make sure to capitalize some randomly chosen words.

Then you reply to the latest message (not to the whole list, they are innocent bystanders just like you)

Tom, this reminds me of a little parable…

Cut and paste afore mentioned Deep Story here

Tom,most likely, has a sense of humor and will remove you from the thread after a chuckle. Or, after concluding that you are a clueless idiot. If neither, at least you will make him wonder what the deeper implications of the story are, slowing down the spam chain.

Try it. And don’t comment on the results here.


Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Our publisher has described the origin of his name elsewhere. Interesting names are all around us.

The Roman Catholic Church had a Cardinal named Sin. He was the Archbishop of Manila, (more…)