Sick Sad World

Eve Garrard dilutes her Internet presence and writes about evil at Norman Geras’ blog.

Evil is a concept which is very widely used, but it is also very widely criticized as illegitimate in some way, and it’s these criticisms which I want to examine. But we might reasonably start by looking at what’s right with the idea of evil, at why we might find it useful to deploy such a concept. The world is full of terrible things, but some acts strike us as peculiarly dreadful, strangely chilling, horrifying, alien in some way (which is not of course to say alien in all ways, or necessarily incomprehensible to us, or even very unusual.) Forcing live human beings into industrial shredders, feet first so as to increase the suffering, is a current example which can stand in for all such nightmare actions. These are the kind of acts which we’re inclined to call evil.

The primary question is: Should we use this concept? Why and why not?

Scott Douglas asks, “Is Illiteracy So Bad?”

Literacy’s flaws are many and obvious: Reading can be boring, suggest ideas about how to destroy things, and give voice to people who shouldn’t have one, in addition to a platform to voice that voice. But these are only surface issues — there are whole other arenas that are rarely discussed. For instance, literacy causes colds; case in point, I developed a horrible cold just hours after an entire night reading Infinite Jest. I also discovered a strange raging sexual lust when I read All the Best, George Bush: My Life and Other Writings, and though I’m actually a little embarrassed to say what happened after finishing The Power and the Glory, the itchy rashes in sensitive spots still have not gone away. If we simply give into the will of our hearts and stop reading, we will finally be able to establish the utopian world that great thinkers have been planning for centuries.


One of man’s most sacred items, the computer, will have to be equipped for the illiterate mind. A computer keyboard with letters, for example, holds no value to an illiterate. Our new, more perfect world will need a Windings keyboard. The Wingdings keyboard, modeled after and inspired by the Wingdings font, will replace the letter on each key with a cute illustration. A formal greeting might therefore look like: :-). And a formal farewell might look like: :-|. Not only do these new communications save space, and, further, ink, but they will also be easier to remember. Many years ago, the mightiest, smartest men of them all — the cavemen — used signs and got along pretty well in life; we should not be so quick to mock this sort of communication as primitive.

Michael Feldman links to William Pfaff on how he doesn’t understand David Ricardo. Yesterday I blogged an article by Paul Krugman on people who don’t understand Comparative Advantage (Ricardo’s idea.)

The iron law of wages is also simple and logical. It says that wages will tend to stabilize at or about subsistence level. That seemed inevitable to Ricardo, since while workers are necessary, and so have to be kept alive, they have no hope of any better treatment since they are infinitely available, replaceable, and generally interchangeable.

Ricardo’s wage theory has seemed untrue. The supply of competent workers in a given place is not unlimited; neither workers nor industry are perfectly mobile, and labor demonstrated in the 19th and 20th centuries that it could mobilize and defend itself. The iron law of wages would seem to function only if the supply of labor is infinite and totally mobile.

Richard on entry titles.

Nobody asked, but my method of entry titles of late has been to highlight a phrase from either the principal quote in each entry or a turn of phrase of my own that I felt was particularly clever (at the time, at least). It used to be that the title of the item being blogged was the entry title, but that got old fast. It makes my weblog look a lot more interesting when the title of the weblog entries are interesting (this month is turning out well in that respect). Entry titles are micro-teasers, especially when that’s all one sees initially in aggregators, and, well, the more interesting-sounding they are, the more likely I’m going to read the entries behind them.

Charles Miller writes about the computer environment. It’s great.

All these ideas fight in the bizarre landscape of the computing market. It’s like watching evolution at work: being forced to realise that Darwinism is a statistical process that doesn’t apply to individual species. You have to have faith the general trend is for the better despite the fact that the most efficient carnivore can have a bad run of luck and die out, while some completely unremarkable scavenger can find itself in a lucky niche and plod along forever.

Except this is evolution played at maximum fast-forward, with an ice-age every couple of years and meteorites hitting the planet constantly from every angle.

James Robertson writes about XML validation and that crap.

I’m already off the reservation with BottomFeeder. It doesn’t handle anything thrown at it, but it does ignore as many problems as it can. I use the standard VisualWorks XML Parser, but I do intercept and ignore a bunch of the error conditions. Why? Because it’s an end user tool, and many of the end users are never going to report the problem as malformed xml – not to me, and not to the author of the bad feed. What they’ll actually do is hunt around for a replacement aggregator that will handle the bad feed. That’s the reality of it, and all the hand waving in the world isn’t going to change it.