The Temperate Zone

Celebrating liberality, moderation, and conservation since 2003.
Sunday, September 21, 2003

This blog has moved.

I've changed my blog to Movable Type and moved it to my own website:

Come visit!

Saturday, September 13, 2003

I have given up on Ed Regis' book, The Info Mesa (Norton, 2003), because of the shallowness of the writing. The final straw:

Unfortunately, all this business activity had taken its toll, and in 1972 he and his first wife divorced. He remarried two years later, however, and he and his new spouse, [...], both of them being good Catholics, would wind up raising six kids. [page 50]

"Catholics have a lot of kids" is cliché, and calling a man a "good Catholic" right after mentioning his divorce and re-marriage is careless (and, judging from the tone of the book, not meant as irony or sarcasm).

It's a shame that The Info Mesa is such a weak popularization — its subject, the Silicon Valley-like grouping of information science companies around Santa Fe, is worthy of and could provide the material for a good general-interest book.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A middle school teacher in Nebraska, on mandatory standardized testing:

Politicians (and business people/capitalists) are competitive. They have a challenge, they try harder, and succeed. They see this as the solution to education: raise the bar, tougher standards, more competition. They don't see the reality, that not everyone is as competitive as they are.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, but what about those who aren't tough?
Students are the ones in charge of their education. They decide if they will learn or not. If they see or predict or experience failure, they don't try.
The last decade or so of assessments have seen slight increases in achievement, but increased dropout rates and lower graduation rates.
Assessment needs to be a tool to help students succeed, not a means to compare schools/districts/states and punish those which do not measure up.
Students and their families are the ones who are/should be accountable for their education, not schools, districts, states.

"Public education system" is a misnomer: Public schools can provide only an opportunity to learn, not a guarantee to educate. If students won't (or can't) do, then teachers can't teach.

To hold schools accountable for what is almost completely beyond their control will not increase learning. As we have seen in Houston, it will instead increase lying.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
"The choice of Athens as capital [of newly independent Greece], a town dominated by the imposing ruins of the Parthenon and with its associations with the glories of the Periclean age but in the early 1830s little more than a dusty village, symbolised the cultural orientation of the new state towards the classical past."
-- Richard Clogg, A Concise History of Greece, pg. 49

In 1834, Athens and Sparta were roughly the same size. Today, Athens is the center of a metropolis of three million people, while Sparta is a provincial town of 16,000.

Athens should be a larger and more important city today than Sparta: It is more centrally located, and is connected to an excellent port.

But Athens is a metropolis not because of its location or its port, but because a group of 19th-century Greeks and Western Philhellenes believed passionately that the Athenians of 2300 years before had been right, and the Spartans wrong.

The power of history.

Monday, August 18, 2003
"People have got into their heads the extraordinary idea that English public schoolboys and English youth generally are taught to tell the truth. They are taught absolutely nothing of the kind. At no English public school is it even suggested, except by accident, that it is a man's duty to tell the truth. What is suggested is something entirely different: that it is a man's duty not to tell lies. [...] [T]he thing we never teach at all is the general duty of telling the truth, of giving a complete and fair picture of anything we are talking about, of not misrepresenting, not evading, not suppressing, not using plausible arguments that we know to be unfair, not selecting unscrupulously to prove an ex parte case, [...] not pretending to be disinterested when you are really angry, not pretending to be angry when you are really only avaricious. The one thing that is never taught by any chance in the atmosphere of public schools is exactly that—that there is a whole truth of things, and that in knowing it and speaking it we are happy."
-- G. K. Chesterton, 1906

Sunday, August 17, 2003

A book review in the New Statesman pinpoints two valid parts of Michel Foucault's work:

"[...] [I]t is easy to forget that Foucault's influence stems from a simple but penetrating insight, developed early in his career: that the history of western civilisation is also the history of what that civilisation despises and excludes. Foucault was far from being the first historian to realise this, or to construct a version of the past upon it. But he was a leading figure in the generation that, in the wake of the convulsions of May 1968, sought to change contemporary society by interrogating it as 'a construction'."

Society is a construction, but a society, like a building, can be built so improperly that it collapses upon itself. You cannot construct it in any way you please; and an ugly building can stand for centuries, while a beautiful and theoretically correct building can crumble in months.

"[I]n the wake of the convulsions of May 1968", many people started communes. They discovered that constructing even the simplest society was harder than it looked.

[Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily.]

Thursday, August 14, 2003

I presume that Samuel Beckett did not intend to write an 18-word secularized summary of the Book of Ecclesiastes, but:

"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

An e-mail to Fox News:

Date: Tue, 12 Aug 2003 22:46:31 -0500 (CDT)
From: Steve Casburn
Subject: Al Franken lawsuit
Dear Sirs,
I had not planned to buy Al Franken's upcoming book, but the lawsuit that Fox News has filed against its release amused me so much that I now intend to buy the book on the day it hits the stores.
I'm amazed that a news network seems so unaware of the concept of "free publicity".
/s/ Steve Casburn

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
"[I]n prose the economical is the classical."
-- Clive James, praising Mark Twain's "homespun demotic" style

Sunday, August 03, 2003
"The only reliable lesson the past teaches us is how locked we are in the present. People ask, Where are the great Hollywood movies, the great pop songs, the great television newsmen, the great Democratic presidents, the great public intellectuals, the Great Books?, as though these were all eternally available types. They are not. [...]
"[...] The world just rolls over, without anyone noticing exactly when, and a new set of circumstances is put in place. But the impulse to hold on to the past is very strong, and it is often hard to understand why things that worked once can't continue to work. [...]
"[...] We look backward for clues because, the future being the other side of a closed door, we have no place else to look. [...] We want to play with yesterday's cards, but yesterday has already unraveled past reconstructing. Today is the only day we have."
-- Louis Menand, from the Preface to American Studies

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Josh Marshall points out one of the many Bush administration acts which belie the Bush-Cheney campaign rhetoric.

(The linked text might be slow to load.)

Sunday, June 22, 2003

In his recent book, Fooled by Randomness, hedge-fund operator Nassim Taleb twists a familiar saying to provide an analogy for people (such as, say, some mutual fund investors) who make investments based solely on past performance:

If one puts an infinite number of monkeys in front of (strongly built) typewriters, and lets them clap away, there is a certainty that one of them would come out with an exact version of the Iliad. [...] Now that we have found that hero among monkeys, would any reader invest his life's savings on a bet that the monkey would write the Odyssey next?
[...] Think about the monkey showing up at your door with his impressive past performance. Hey, he wrote the Iliad. Quickly, sign him up for the sequel.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

An odd quirk of history: A Churchill led England in 1704 at the beginning of her days of glory, and a Churchill led her in 1945 at their end.

(G. K. Chesterton once made a similar remark, though he meant it disparagingly, about the Cecil family.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

With its new C230, Mercedes has found a market that I didn't know existed: Wealthy people nostalgic for the mid-'80s Isuzu Impulse.

(This post is dedicated to Mark Hasty.)

Saturday, May 31, 2003

The idea of the military using playing cards for identification turns out to be older than we'd heard.

In a 1990 letter from a friend, I found an ace of spades that depicts the front, top, and side views of a Soviet MI-24 Hind D helicopter. The Pentagon called these cards "Aircraft Recognition Playing Cards".



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