Category Archives: Social Commentary

The Romance

of typewriters?

I don’t find them romantic. I wouldn’t be able to write anywhere near as much (or as well) as I do without a computer. When I hear about Dick Cheney writing his memoirs in long hand, I cringe. I could never do it — I find the act of dragging a writing implement across paper (and not writing, but actually, printing — I gave up on cursive about the eighth grade) sheer physical drudgery. It’s kind of amazing that I managed to get through college in the pre-word-processing days. I was so desperate for a keyboard with an editor that I actually used a DECWriter and text processor as one. I learned to type on my step-mother’s Selectric, but when I went to college all I could afford was a cheap Remington (manual) portable. I banged out some papers on it, some all nighters, but they would all have been better if I could have edited them. Give me the computer age.

Through The Looking Glass

Samoans are in revolt over switching from right to left driving:

The main reason for Samoa’s switch is that two of its biggest neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, drive on the left-hand side, whereas Samoa currently drives on the right, as in the U.S. By aligning with Australia and New Zealand, the prime minister says, it will be easier for poor Samoans to get cheap hand-me-down cars from the 170,000 or so Samoans who live in those two countries. It could also help more people escape tsunamis, says Mr. Tuilaepa.

It all “makes common sense,” says Mr. Tuilaepa in an interview in his office overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the capital city of Apia. Mr. Tuilaepa, who sports a wave of fluffy whitening hair and wears flip-flops, has run the country for more than a decade.

Opponents and some outside experts fear the switch will turn many of Samoa’s already-dangerous roads into disaster zones. Roads wind through mountainous jungle terrain with sharp turns, few traffic lights and pedestrians and dogs sharing the lanes. Critics say the switch will add further confusion with drivers likely to forget which side they’re supposed to be on.

I’m assuming that this means that the cars are traditionally mostly left-hand drive (i.e., American or continental European), and that they’re concerned that if they start to import a lot more from ANZ that it will result in accidents because people won’t be able to see to make left-hand turns, not to mention the confusion by long-time drivers on the other side and the fact that most existing cars are set up for right-side driving.

This is one of those cases (like chirality) that it doesn’t matter which way you do it, but you have to be consistent. I don’t have that much trouble going to the UK or Ireland or Australia and driving, because I’m sitting on the wrong side of the car, which gives me a constant clue that things are different (and it’s interesting how the Anglosphere has split on this issue). While I don’t have that much trouble driving, I could easily get myself killed as a pedestrian, because I forget which way to look for traffic when stepping into a road. The most dangerous situation I’ve ever encountered driving is in the Virgin Islands (including the American ones, not just Tortola) in which the cars are left-hand drive, but you drive on the left, which makes it very dangerous to make right turns if you don’t have a passenger spotting for you (and it also makes it very confusing and hard to remember which side of the road to drive on).

If they go through with this, given how many legacy cars will remain on the island, I predict a huge increase in traffic accidents and casualties. It’s another misplaced leftist (in this case literally) program to help “the poor” that will end up killing a lot of them. And some rich people as well.

[Update a few minutes later]

It’s also interesting to note that Canada remains an oddball — using British spellings and measurement systems (first Imperial and now metric) but follow their southern cousins in their driving habits. But when you share a continent and an open border (though not so much as it used to be) it makes sense that this much more important standard is consistent across borders.

A Grand Bargain?

over evolution?

There are atheists who go beyond declaring personal disbelief in God and insist that any form of god-talk, any notion of higher purpose, is incompatible with a scientific worldview. And there are religious believers who insist that evolution can’t fully account for the creation of human beings.

I bring good news! These two warring groups have more in common than they realize. And, no, it isn’t just that they’re both wrong. It’s that they’re wrong for the same reason. Oddly, an underestimation of natural selection’s creative power clouds the vision not just of the intensely religious but also of the militantly atheistic.

If both groups were to truly accept that power, the landscape might look different. Believers could scale back their conception of God’s role in creation, and atheists could accept that some notions of “higher purpose” are compatible with scientific materialism. And the two might learn to get along.

The believers who need to hear this sermon aren’t just adherents of “intelligent design,” who deny that natural selection can explain biological complexity in general. There are also believers with smaller reservations about the Darwinian story. They accept that God used evolution to do his creative work (“theistic evolution”), but think that, even so, he had to step in and provide special ingredients at some point.

Perhaps the most commonly cited ingredient is the human moral sense — the sense that there is such a thing as right and wrong, along with some intuitions about which is which. Even some believers who claim to be Darwinians say that the moral sense will forever defy the explanatory power of natural selection and so leave a special place for God in human creation.

I’m not as sanguine as Bob Wright about the prospects for a truce between fundamentalist atheists and theists. I do believe in a teleology of the universe, and if he can make a scientific case for it, more power to him, but unlike creationists, I have sufficient confidence in my faith that I don’t demand that science validate it.

Facebook Etiquette Question

OK, I’m an antique. I’ve got a Facebook account, but I still haven’t figured out why, other than as another phone book for contacts with people that I want to contact. I was told by Burton Lee that I had to have an account to be in the 21st century but (again) he never quite explained why.

I can understand that it’s sort of a way to blog and have your own on-line community if you don’t have a real…you know…blog. And because I do have a real blog, and one fairly highly rated on Technorati, among other places, I don’t have time to build Facebook pages.

Anyway. What is the protocol for having Facebook Friends? What is a Facebook “Friend”? Because I get a lot of requests from people I haven’t met, and have never heard of, and don’t even have friends in common with, to become their Facebook Friends. I have several pending “friends” both with and without mutual Facebook Friends, and I just don’t know what to do with them.

I may be old fashioned, but in my day, the word “friend” meant something. Has it lost that meaning?

[Update a few minutes later]

You know, if someone of whom I had no previous knowledge requested to be my Facebook “Friend” with an explanation of who they were, and why, I’d be more inclined to at least consider it, but when it’s just a response from a click on a button that says, “Become a friend,” I’m not very inclined to say, “Great!” “More Facebook Friends.”

Is collecting FFs some kind of weird status symbol?