The Sliding False Dichotomy of Idealism and Cynicism

The Television Tropes & Idioms wiki has a page on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Of course I understand why such a page exists, but part of me can't help but protest that it's not really a sliding scale. One of the most charming things about my native subculture is that we have heaps of both: cynicism in the style of "Humans are selfish, weak-willed hypocrites; the reasons people say they do things aren't always or even usually the real reasons, and even introspection itself is untrustworthy," and idealism in the style of "But knowing what we do now, we shall use the power of Reason to remake the world in accordance with our Values!"

Book Notes I

Did you know that putting adorable foxes on the cover of your book will make it sell more copies??

Speaking of books with animals on the cover, is it wrong to mentally associate specific programming languages with specific colors based on the O'Reilly books?

Toni Morrison has a book titled What Moves at the Margin, and based on the title I keep hoping that it's a treatise on microeconomic theory, but that's probably not actually true.

Idiot or Alien? Incompetence or Evil?

When you encounter someone who expresses a political or social opinion that you find absolutely abhorrent, it is instructive to consider the extent to which this person is making a mistake, and the extent to which they simply have different values from you. Is this opinion something that they would immediately relinquish, if only they knew they knew the true facts of which they are now ignorant?—or is it reflective of some quality essential to their agency, a basic motive far too sacred to be destroyed by the truth?

(Of course, it is also instructive to consider whether you're making a mistake. But that is not the subject of this post.)

Some would say that it is useless to consider such questions, that human cognition doesn't separate cleanly into beliefs and values, and that even if such a thing could be done, it is futile for any present-day human to consider the matter, given our ignorance of our own psychology. And yet, the question still seems to make sense to me. If I can't know, I can guess. And I don't guess the same thing every time.

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Facial Hair Is Gross

I often go a couple days without bothering to shave, but never much longer, because the stubble quickly becomes intolerable: I end up compulsively touching my face out of what I want to describe as a mildly horrified perverse fascination, perhaps of the same kind that would motivate picking at a scab, or poking a tumor.

Supermarket Notes II

I bought cookie dough, on the thought that maybe I should bake cookies and offer them to people at the University; if they were to ask what the occasion was, I could say, "It seemed like a whimsical thing to do, and I'm a whimsical person." But I'm not sure I'll actually do it.

I used to work for a different store in this chain, the one on Ygnacio Valley. The stores are numbered (internally; the numbers aren't secret, but it's the sort of thing you don't notice unless you work for the company), and the store on Ygnacio Valley is number 1701, which I remember thinking was a very significant number, but I don't remember anyone else agreeing with me, probably because if I told anyone, then they hadn't been a Star Trek fan.

It's Not Whether You Win or Lose

It's how close you come to doing the Right Thing at each and every one of the uncounted millions of decision points that make up your life, with how you play in any particular game only constituting a tiny fraction of these, and it being not at all clear that choosing to play a game just then is closer to the Right Thing than any number of non-game-playing actions you might have chosen instead, but didn't.

Periphery Demographic

Judging by the comment moderation queue, this blog is wildly popular among a certain niche audience.

Namely, spambots. Although I can't help but wonder why spammers are so incompetent. Of course spammers have no reason to put any effort into the marginal comment or email. The reason spam exists is precisely because in a magical land of near-zero marginal cost (like the internet), the unscrupulous can afford to send sales pitches to a million people even if only fifteen bite. But that doesn't mean spammers couldn't put a little fixed-cost effort into improving their algorithm for generating those millions of spams. At least conventional advertising is occasionally entertaining; in contrast, most of the spam I see is just noise, to the extent that it once gave me an idea (which I would not implement; it's not my style) for a Reddit novelty account: "CompetentSpammer" would write eloquent, insightful comments that ever-so-subtly worked in references to charm bracelets and sketchy pharmaceuticals.

I know, it sounds as if I'm complaining, but I'm not: we are all grateful that spam is so easily distinguished from actual content; I was only wondering.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, some commentary on spam comments submitted to this blog is below the break—

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Cached Reply Upon Being Told That I'm an Idiot

Not specific enough.

"What?"

You claim that I'm an idiot. Well, sure; I already knew that. If you could point to some specific way in which my thinking is confused and explain how I might do better, then I would be quite grateful. But to just say that I'm stupid, without elaborating, doesn't seem helpful.

(Words are useful insofar as they summarize information about the world. If everyone involved already has a detailed predictive model of someone's various cognitive abilities, then it doesn't matter whether you describe them as an "idiot" or a "genius". As compared to what?)

Supermarket Notes I

I think I like the store-brand "sparkling water beverages"; they fill a similar niche as soda (which I never buy at the store, but have been known to occasionally consume at parties or restaurants), but seem like they ought to be less deadly.

I think the "More grains. Less you!" slogan on this box of cereal sounds sinister. I mean, they're probably just talking about weight loss, but still ...

I'm suspicious of processed food products shaped like cartoon characters, as if there are highly-placed cannibals at General Mills plotting to train children that it's okay to eat creatures that can talk. On the other hoof, these fruit-flavored snacks are delicious.

On Arc Length

Zeno knew, but did not know enough; a minute is divided
Into fragments, and each fragment sees, for points it o'er presided:
A small change, of which I take the distance
Along each fragment's lost existence:
The root of the sum of the squares
Of the length and the width and the height
Of the change in the range as the fragment is spanned
As the fragment is stricken from sight!

Contemporary

I've been taking a summer course at a university which I won't name, because whenever I do, I'm always tempted to replace one of the words with an obscenity that starts with the same letter, which is probably a bad habit. The topic is contemporary sexuality, which seemed like a fine choice for knocking out one of my remaining so-called "general education" requirements, and maybe even learning something relevant to my interests.

The class ends on Thursday the ninth, and I had intended to make a lot of progress today (the sixth) filling out the workbook (worth half a letter grade) due then. I didn't get very far. The task shouldn't be difficult; my goal is only to reduce the probability of my receiving a C in the class by means of circling the appropriate letters for the multiple-choice prompts (for which the answers are conveniently provided) and scribbling responses to the short-answer questions, glancing at the reading as necessary. There was once a time when I would have regarded this behavior as sinful: of course what you're supposed to do is carefully do the corresponding reading by the assigned date before thoughtfully filling out each workbook section, only using the multiple-choice answers to check your work. But if I've abandoned my moral scruples sometime in the past five years, then I also throw far fewer crying fits, and I don't think these changes are unrelated.

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