November 20, 2012

A basic tenet of (male) human psychology seems to be misunderstood here…

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:39

Emily Esfahani Smith on “hook-up culture”:

The good news is that Sex Week is only around every two years. In 2008, the Harvard Crimson quipped: “Sex at Harvard is a year-round activity. At Yale, it lasts a week.” It’s a funny line, but not exactly true, which brings up the bad news: There is another part of the social-sexual landscape of Yale and other schools that is more lasting and endemic: the hook-up culture. In the hook-up culture, which is primarily driven by women, college students prefer to have sex with “no strings attached” — that is, they seek to have meaningless, casual sex outside of the context of a relationship. Some women consider this “empowering,” as Harden finds out by eavesdropping on a conversation between two female students, one of whom has this to say about her hook-up conquests, who are football players on campus: “If you go up to them at a party and just get them drinking, and start dancing with them, and kissing them, they will totally end up sleeping with you. They don’t even know they’re being played. They have no clue.”

Cue reality: “Could it be possible,” Harden writes, “That these girls don’t understand a fundamental fact about the human male? You normally don’t have to trick a man into having sex.” Young women today, influenced by Sex Week-style programming, have lost track of how the sexual marketplace really works.

50 years later: Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Russia — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:04

It’s being called “one of the most significant books of the 20th Century”, and it was published 50 years ago this month:

The character was fictional. But there were millions like him — innocent citizens who, like Solzhenitsyn himself, had been sent to the Gulag in Joseph Stalin’s wave of terror.

Censorship and fear had prevented the truth about the camps from being published, but this story made it into print. The USSR would never be the same again.

“We were absolutely isolated from information, and he started to open our eyes,” remembers writer and journalist Vitaly Korotich.

[. . .]

It was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who had sanctioned publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel nearly a decade after Stalin’s death. Allowing a book on the Gulag, he thought, would help debunk Stalin’s personality cult. However, one story sparked many more.

“After it was published, it was impossible to stop it,” Korotich recalls. “Immediately we received a lot of illegal publications. A lot of people who were in prison started to remember how it was.

Undervaluing, denigrating the role of the family in a child’s life

Filed under: Britain, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:11

In sp!ked, Tim Black takes issue with the blithe paternalistic comment by a British government minister that children should be more frequently removed from their homes and put into “care”:

Still, it is a dubious testament to Gove’s eloquence that he gave a striking expression to the state’s usurpation of the role traditionally played by adult family members. As he put it, ‘the rights of biological parents’ have for too long been treated as precious. It is time, Gove is saying, for these filial bonds, which have been central to society for centuries, to be demystified, disenchanted. After all, what is a mother or a father, or a daughter or a son, other than an arbitrary accident of nature? The words signify nothing more valuable than a set of random ‘biological’ outcomes. To privilege certain adult-child relationships on the basis of biology is to succumb to the allure of tradition, and to condemn many children to a lifetime of misery. ‘In all too many cases when we decide to leave children in need with their biological parents’, Gove concluded, ‘we are leaving them to endure a life of soiled nappies and scummy baths, chaos and hunger, hopelessness and despair’.

With the family blithely dismantled, and the roles of father and mother treated as little more than semiotic jetsam, Gove was able to propose his alternative to biology: the artifice of the state. ‘I firmly believe more children should be taken into care more quickly and that too many children are allowed to stay too long with parents whose behaviour is unacceptable. I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents, courts to be less indulgent of poor parents, and the care system to expand to deal with the consequences.’

Gove’s is a frightening vision. As the meaning and value of being mum or dad is actively reduced by politicians to mere biological facts — in short, as tradition is wilfully disenchanted — so it becomes easier for the state, through its various agents, to assume the role of guardian. The result, complete with empowered or ‘more assertive’ social workers, and their correlative, impotent and less assertive parents, is a society with ever increasing numbers of children placed into Britain’s far from distinguished care system.

Quite why this scenario is considered progressive is not entirely clear. Living with a mum or a dad deemed ‘bad’ or ‘poor’ by a social worker would surely, in many cases, be far better for a child than surviving, parentless, even in a vastly improved care system. Besides, while Gove might not care to acknowledge it, the bond between parents and their children is not merely biological; it is possessed of considerable human and social value, too. Parents do not simply love their children; they help to socialise them, and act as a source of authority. To seek to erode this bond even further than it has been is deeply reckless.

Microsoft’s essential problem

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:43

ESR explains why Microsoft has been languishing in the doldrums for the past several years:

This is why Microsoft looks so doomed and desperate. Yes, Steve Ballmer is a colossal fool who has never met a strategic decision he couldn’t bungle, but in an important way that is symptom rather than cause. Dysfunctional leaders arise from dysfunctional cultures; the problem behind Ballmer is that Microsoft’s culture is broken, and the problem behind that is that the monopolistic/authoritarian goals around which Microsoft’s culture was constructed are incompatible with any other kind of excellence.

A more poetic way to put this is Tolkien’s “Oft evil will shall evil mar.” Google’s “Don’t be evil” isn’t mere idealism or posturing, it’s an attempt to sustain the kind of culture in which excellence is possible. (Whether and how long this will be a successful attempt is a different question.)

Apple’s turn is next.

Hamas rockets versus Iron Dome

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:02

Strategy Page looks at the anti-missile system Israel has been using to combat Hamas rocket attacks:

Israel has bought seven batteries of Iron Dome anti-rocket missiles. Four are in action and a fifth one entered service several weeks early (on November 17) because of the major rocket assault Hamas and other Islamic terror groups in Gaza launched on November 14th. Over 500 rockets were launched during the first two days, but then the number began to decline. On Saturday (the 17th) 230 rockets were fired, with only 156 on Saturday and 121 on Monday. While the Palestinians have fired over a thousand rockets into Israel so far, and killed three Israelis, their effort is faltering and the Israeli response is not. Few of the rockets landed in occupied areas. That’s because Iron Dome has been able to detect and destroy 90 percent of the rockets that were going to land in an area containing people. The Israelis military says they have shot down over 300 rockets so far.

Iron Dome uses two radars to quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket and do nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, guided missiles are fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That’s because Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets in 2006, and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over six thousand rockets in the past eight years and the Israelis know where each of them landed. Over 90 percent of these rockets landed in uninhabited areas and few of those that did hit inhabited areas caused casualties. Israel already has a radar system in place that gives some warning of approaching rockets. Iron Dome uses that system, in addition to another, more specialized, radar in southern Israel.

[. . .]

Since Hamas is a big believer in using civilians as human shields (often against their will), a ground campaign would get a lot more Palestinians killed. So the attacks against specific terrorist leaders are seen as the better option. Even this risks civilian casualties, because Hamas puts its government and military facilities in residential neighborhoods. It has also, on the advice of its Hezbollah advisors, built rocket launchers near mosques, schools, hospitals and residences. The Israelis have distributed lots of videos of Palestinian rockets being fired in this way. Still most Arab and some Western media keep maintaining that Israel is at fault for defending itself, or simply existing.

This latest war with the Palestinians has been a major test for the Iron Dome system. Each battery has radar and control equipment and four missile launchers. Each battery costs about $37 million, which includes over fifty Tamir missiles (costing $40,000 each). In the two years before this month Iron Dome had intercepted over 100 rockets headed for populated areas. In the last week Iron Dome has intercepted at least another 300 rockets.

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