Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:Bernie Madoff (Score 2) 173

Madoff is a crook. It doesn't matter what his motivation was, he didn't have a moral compass pointing north. You're wasting your time trying to explain his crimes.

It seems to me that invocation of the "moral compass" rather tends to extinguish debate than to cast any light. The phrase carries with it a whole mass of assumptions, some of them very questionable. To name just one, a normal compass always points North (more or less). So the term "moral compass" strongly suggests that people have an inbuilt moral sense that always, unvaryingly, points in the same direction - regardless of time, place, culture, circumstances, etc. That is simply not the case.

Moreover, to say that "Madoff is a crook... he didn't have a moral compass pointing north" actually DOES beg the question. It doesn't really explain anything, as we are simply left wondering WHY "he didn't have a moral compass pointing north".

Comment Re:Surprised? (Score 1) 576

"I'm afraid you need a citation for this".

I don't think so - anyone who has studied the topic is all too familiar with the pattern. Von Runstedt was very old and ready to go, but the classic example are von Manstein and Guderian. Given ten minutes and a look at some of the literature I could easily cite at least two dozen others. Rommel, too, was a great loss.

Comment Re:Surprised? (Score 5, Insightful) 576

There's a strange type of inertia that applies to large companies. Even when they completely screw the pooch, they tend to hang on for years and years after the fact.

The bigger and more hierarchical the company, the greater the power of groupthink. It gets so that nobody who tells the truth and talks about the real facts and figures can survive within about five levels of management of the executive suite. Anyone who does immediately gets the bum's rush: incompetence, insubordination, bad judgement, blamed for someone else's incompetence or malfeasance, face doesn't fit, socially inept, politically incorrect... the list goes one for ever.

Hence the top management never gets to hear the truth; everything they do is praised to the skies. And they start to think they are wonderful, too, until they hit the wall at 90 mph. Sorry to Godwin, but Hitler was one of the all-time classic examples. For years he kept firing the best generals until he was surrounded by mediocre yes-men; then he probably wondered why nobody could get anything done.

If the truth were known, our corporations are infested by thousands of would-be Hitlers who lack what it takes even to be a petty tyrant.

Comment Re:If so, how can you be so sure? (Score 1) 668

"Even the word "Satan" originates from the idea of "questioner", someone who does not blindly swallow the creed".

Thanks - I did not know that. (Although my own first name, Thomas, has similar connotations).

I have got used to it, but I also believe there is scope for progress and improvement. That way I may not have to find myself another planet - instead, I would like to share it with a gradually evolving and improving human species.

Comment Re:This guy gets it (Score 4, Insightful) 668

"The very attitudes you are trying to squash out can become even more focused and harmful".

Maybe that's because "trying to squash out... attitudes" is a thoroughly bad idea - and probably impossible. Remember those little toys that babies are given to help them master spatial ideas? There might be a triangular piece, a circular piece, and a hexagonal piece, and a base with holes of the same shapes. A smart kid (whoops, off I go to PC jail) quickly sees that the circular piece will only fit into the circular hole, and so on.

It seems to me that trying to squash out attitudes is a lot like trying to pound the triangular piece into the circular hole. It might be very annoying and frustrating that it is so uncooperative, but no matter how much force you apply it really won't go in. Unless you use so much force you smash the whole thing to pieces.

If you are absolutely certain that different races or sexes do not have different abilities (in any way at all), what should you do when you come across someone who disagrees? Perhaps a bit of listening might come in handy; after all, can you really be sure that you are absolutely right? If so, how can you be so sure? Maybe your interlocutor will tell you something you hadn't known, or hadn't fully understood, that might change your mind - or at least open it a crack.

'In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion'.
- Carl Sagan, Keynote address at CSICOP conference (1987), as quoted in Do Science and the Bible Conflict? (2003) by Judson Poling, p. 30

Comment Re: Money is the way. (Score 1) 244

Yes, it's a vicious and persistent problem. Aldous Huxley nailed it over 50 years ago:

"One of the many reasons for the bewildering and tragic character of human existence is the fact that social organization is at once necessary and fatal. Men are forever creating such organizations for their own convenience and forever finding themselves the victims of their home-made monsters".

Here is the thing. You can only have limited government if the citizens are well educated, well-informed, and above all disposed to play their part in political decisions. But there has hardly ever been a state whose citizens were in that happy condition. The worse the government, the more it neglects education (perhaps deliberately) and the less the citizens are able to bear that part of the responsibility for government.

So the vicious circle arises: bad government, as it becomes tyrannical, prevents proper education; bad education leads to a poorly-educated, badly-informed, neglectful citizenry which in turn permits the growth of tyranny.

Comment Re:Money is the way. (Score 3, Informative) 244

I think you will find that "The Red Queen" by Matt Ridley explains it pretty well, in terms of game theory. Of course the game theory stuff is just analogical and suggestive, but I find it convincing.

Basically the default condition (just because it's mathematically the simplest) is where everyone is looking out for himself. That's the imaginary "state of nature" that Thomas Hobbes depicted in "Leviathan":

"In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".

Writing in the 17th century, of course, Hobbes knew little about evolution and nothing of ethology. His knowledge of pre-agricultural societies was drawn exclusively from the travellers' tales of those who had been to the Americas, Africa, or the East Indies. Thus he assumed, reasonably enough, that without formal states and societies people would have no communities at all. That turns out not to be the case, as hunter-gatherers normally live in groups ranging from family size to a few hundred - and they cooperate intensively.

Models of Hobbes' extreme case show that, as he expected, it's not good. People do vastly better if they cooperate, so we almost always find society developing naturally. People develop morals, and come to expect honesty and straight dealing - even altruism, which is often repaid.

Now here is the interesting part: in a society where 19 out of 20 are honest, a tempting niche opens up for those who aren't. By pretending to be honest, these criminals (or banksters, politicians, marketing executives, lawyers or whatever you want to call them) leech off the work of others to live comfortably with little effort. It seems that mathematics and nature are against efforts to make everyone good, because in a society where most people are good it is just too tempting to be bad.

Comment Familiar ground (Score 1) 425

All this should be very familiar by now to anyone who is interested in nutrition. Gary Taubes, in particular, has explained the facts fully and clearly in his books, starting with "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (published, for some strange reason, under the title "The Diet Delusion" in the UK).

It should be obvious that the total chemical energy in a substance is by no means the same as the energy that the human digestive system extracts from it. Otherwise we could consume, and thrive on, hydrocarbons such as coal and oil. Incidentally, there is strong evidence that the potential calories in alcohol are not used by the normal human body for energy. (See Tony Edwards' book "The Good News About Booze" for many convincing citations). The confusing exceptions are beer and sweetened drinks, in which the energy is provided by carbohydrates not alcohol. If we did use alcohol for energy, I would certainly not have lost weight in the past year while eating a good balanced diet and drinking several bottles of wine a week. (Dry wine, of course).

Another ancient metric that is completely discredited is the Body Mass Index (BMI). Adolphe Quetelet proposed the standard formula "weight(kg)/height(m)^2" as a stopgap approximation in 1830! It is a marvellous example of how people will accept a standard, once it is exists, without ever asking how valid or accurate it is. A single glance should be enough to recognize that, as human beings are three-dimensional and not two-dimensional, there is something seriously wrong with Quetelet's BMI. He himself seems to have understood that an exponent of more like 2.5 would be more appropriate. Yet everyone, from doctors to actuaries, has simply gone on using it ever since. See for a better approximation, with a brief explanation and an "improved BMI calculator".

Comment Re:If AdBlocking is freedom-hating... (Score 1) 539

"You know, these people seem to forget that the internet was NOT primarily created for revenue generation, but for free exchange of ideas on a network where every computer connected could be a peer with any other one connected".

Exactly so! A very convincing case could be made that the worst thing wrong with modern American (and hence Western) society is the belief that EVERYTHING must always be about money. I have seen quite honest and serious people discussing the need for vital measures that everyone needs, and bewailing that, "nothing can be done because it wouldn't be profitable". Money should be a tool to get what we want done - not the only aim in life.

Comment Clear priorities... (Score 1) 127

"All of these security flaws have been left unpatched by Microsoft, with the explanation that by patching them, the company would effectively break compatibility between the different versions of their operating system".

Because that is far more important than security.

"Windows, The Compatible Family: All Members Are Equally Vulnerable - And In The Same Way!!!"

Slashdot Top Deals

"Little prigs and three-quarter madmen may have the conceit that the laws of nature are constantly broken for their sakes." -- Friedrich Nietzsche