Monday, November 27, 2006

Five (minus two) More Thoughts - Social Justice Ed.

  1. Killing people, that is, looking them in the eye and murdering them (ignoring for the sake of discussion the usual realpolitikal weaseling of the biblical shalt nots) is bad. Most of us grade the badness on a curve based on the level of malice committed, as probably we should. For example, if you commit murder in a spontaneous rage, it's less bad than if you spend a month contemplating it, and less bad than if you torture somebody over the course of days (again ignoring...). You can consider the cumulative evil as, roughly, the area under the violence-time curve.

    (Parenthetically, the resistance to this evil is a good definition of toughness. In materials science, toughness is the area under the stress-strain curve. It measures how much ill treatment can be absorbed before failure, how much overall. Although it's cumulative, it also varies with the rate of abuse.)

    Here's the thing though, we happily let people fall off the bottom edge of the evil scale. The bullying boss, the browbeating wife, the inconsiderate smoker, each of these people is likely to commit more stress over a longer period of time than someone who puts a knife through someone's heart. And even if the end result is the same--death through a broken spirit or through lung cancer--only the murder that peaks high in violence is a serious crime. Although it's no doubt unworkable from a criminal justice standpoint, it would be interesting (and better?) if our notions of social acceptance were wired differently. The victims of these long-simmering traumas are also tougher, of course, than people usually give them credit for. Our animal selves are not wired to love the people who willingly take shit every day of their lives. Paradoxically, they only attain social status when they resist their slow oppression with sudden violence.

    It's the rate we respect.

  2. Many of you know that I keep a blog apart from here. For reasons I myself don't fully grasp, I try to keep that content full of my more "writerly" stuff (though I'm considering dumping it all in there). One thing I do that seems appropriate in that motif are book reviews. If you have a Stat CounterTM, one thing it can do is keep track of what search queries caused people to land on your blog. For a low-traffic site like mine, book reviews are a magnet for new arrivals, and it gives me a warm fuzzy in those rare instance when they go on to look at pages other than the one they landed on.

    On the other hand, I'm pretty sure it's been a source of ill-researched book reports. (There are the .edu domains for one thing, and when someone googles "book report of XXX," it's sort of a hint.) I don't know what to make of this, really. I'm probably less sanctimonious about plagiarism than you are, but on the other hand, even I can see how wrongness accrues as an area-under-the-curve thing. It's not as though any of these hapless schmucks is going to pass for me (in the unlikely event they'd want to) but I'm enough of a prick that I'd be happy if I knew a way to encode some bombs to alert a wary teacher that some kid is skating by on my material. Any ideas?

    Popular book report queries, if you were wondering, are Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, and Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. I kind of wish I tried harder on those reviews. Maybe brilliant writing would have been enough to out the sneaky little bastards.

  3. I hate spammers more than plagiarists, and if they are not as bad as murderers, they still deserve a special place in hell. Just the same, they are quirky enough to provide me with amusement from time to time. It's tough to imagine that any sane email reader would answer an intimate letter from Melinda, especially when he's sitting on a boxful of identical ones from Raul, Julio, Ingrid, Courtney, Alice, Davey, Mustafa, Clementine, Axl, Stimpy, and Masumi and all of these old friends are just so suspiciously eager to sell their stores of Viagra and Ambien at discount rates. Penny stocks aren't much better--you'd have to be stunningly naïve to conclude that the avalanche of insider information from people you've never heard of constitutes some kind of clever tip.

    Sure, you'll land some suckers with those techniques--stunning naivete being all too abundant--but smart spammers, should they exist, need to capitalize on subjects to which people spend lifetimes conditioning themselves in gullibility (the stock market is not a bad stab at this, I admit). I'm talking religion. If J. Random Idiot got 114 emails telling them that Jesus (or Mohammed or Krishna) asked--no commanded--them to donate a dollar or to buy into Avalanche Pharmaceuticals (AVP, now trading at $1.98/share--last chance!), then that would really strike to the heart of their unreason. You just know that otherwise functioning members of society would be squirming themselves into knots about donating. Because what if God really does want me to do it?
So send $1.25 to Keifus at the address below or risk eternal damnation. Ganesh commands you!


JohnMcG said...

Hmmmm -- it would be nice if there were some way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

You could put in a statement that would be obviously false to anyone who read the book or even had a passiing familiarity with it -- something like, "The uplifiting ending, with Romeo and Juliet uniting the families and living happily ever after ends the story on a positive note." You'd have to trust that the discriminating reader would know what you were doing.