31 December 2009

I Remain Firm In My Position

that the decade doesn't end until next December 31.

27 December 2009

In Real Life, Pocahontas Died Of Smallpox

It's a rainy day in Orlando, so we went to see Avatar today in IMAX 3D. It is excellent; well worth seeing. In fact, I'll wait while you go see it now.

That was fast.

A lot of the reviews (Roger Ebert's is a good example) claim that the movie is anti-American, or at least anti-war (and who am I to deny that the two amount to the same thing). But of course it's not possible to make an anti-war war movie. At the end of Avatar we're thrilled to see the Na'vi and their tree god demolish the mining company's mercenaries. When the leader of the mercenaries asks Jake (our hero) how it feels to be a traitor to your "race," we know he's the bad guy and cheer to see him shot twice with the giant poisoned arrows of our favorite Na'vi princess. We're not against the war, we're just against the humans.

As for anti-Americanism, there is some of that. It's just hard to tease apart from the anti-capitalism. The National Guard, slyly, answers this concern by running a full-throated ad for soldier/citizens before the movie. They understand that Jake does nothing that we don't wish our ex-Marines to do. Or, as Jake says, once a Marine, always a Marine, even if that requires that you side with the Indians against the Cowboys.

And that's the real transgression of Avatar. Cameron tells a story in which the Indians win, turning our founding myth upside down. That might be disturbing, if it were possible to take seriously. Avatar is a retelling of Disney's Pocahontas in which Pocahontas gets John Smith (excuse me, Jake Sully) and her people keep "their" land. It shares with Disney's Pocahontas the conceit -- perhaps better suited to science fiction -- that the Indians are fundamentally different from you and me -- when they talk to trees, the trees talk back. We have machines; they have a mystic bond with the land.

Cameron spends no time on the question of what else the Na'vi don't have, besides mechanized killing machines of all types and sorts. We don't see many Na'vi older than what, for the humans, amounts to the late 20s. We don't see healthcare or education that isn't exceedingly practical. We don't see the arts or even much in the way of crafts. Na'vi fashions are, to put it mildly, minimalist. The Na'vi have no interest in anything the humans have. Indeed, both the Na'vi and the humans seem weirdly uninterested in what makes their mountains fly, and how much that would be worth on Earth. It seems fair to say that no Na'vi Adam Smith is pushing for free trade. How many Na'vi children die of dysentery or malaria or malnutrition? The Na'vi are at one with nature, but it's made clear that the bond doesn't make nature any nicer.

In Avatar, the Indians were able to use their mystic bond with all life to use nature as a weapon and send the white man (literally and figuratively) packing. In real life, Pocahontas died of smallpox in Gravesend, England.

25 December 2009

Merry Christmas To All

May non-dominational authority figure of your choice bless us every one.

21 December 2009

What Is Performance?

One of the hardest questions in Strategic Management -- the study of why some organizations outperform other organizations -- is how to measure performance? Is there one universal measure? Does it depend on industry or structure? How do we make sure that our comparisons are apples-to-apples?

So what measurement do you use to say this organization outperforms that organization?

18 December 2009

I Put The Over/Under At Two Days

Dear Prudence,

My partner and I are adopting twins! We plan to raise them without diapers. There's a method for this, and most of the world goes without diapers. We will also use only organic clothes and linens, and only natural wooden toys. I'm wondering how we can politely express this to the people attending our baby shower. It would seem a bit brash to simply tack a list of what we don't want to the bottom of the invitation. I'm afraid that giving no indication about our organic preferences would lead to us throwing out or giving away almost all of the gifts we receive, and that doesn't seem right, either.

—Two Dads, Two Kids, One Problem

Identify All Legal Issues And Briefly State The Controlling Law

Sam Scientist from Springfield was hired by Big Pharma Inc. to research new drugs. On his first day, Sam, who was the company’s first African-American employee, was given an employee handbook that said that employees would be treated fairly, that he would only be fired for good cause and that Sam was here to work so no unproductive doodling was allowed on the job. While doodling one morning while on a corporate jet on its way to a conference in Boston, Sam invented an ink that would make someone forget anything they had read printed in that ink after two weeks.

Sam’s manager punished him for doodling by putting a memo in his file that Sam now had one strike. Big Pharma Inc. filed a patent for the ink invented by Sam. Sam was not given any of the profits from his ink, even though other scientists, all of whom were white, were given bonuses for inventing new drugs.

Big Pharma Inc. started a subsidiary, Fair Use LLC, to publish books using Sam’s ink. Fair Use LLC was owned 50% by Big Pharma Inc. and 50% by Big Pharma’s CEO and his secretary/mistress. Fair Use’s business model was simply to republish all best sellers without paying royalties to the authors. When Sam complained that he should be given 25% of Fair Use LLC, he was fired.

13 December 2009

An Inquiry

Does anyone know the point of the really odd comment spam I've been getting for the last week or so?

The Hardest Choice Since Sophie's

Orrin raises the possibility that we can defeat health care reform, or defeat President Obama, but not both. This is similar to the idea that attempting health care reform saved Clinton's presidency by electing a Republican House and making him into a caretaker President. Of course, with Clinton we defeated healthcare reform but were stuck with the President for two terms.

With Obama, it's a harder choice. Clinton, at least, was relatively innocuous on foreign affairs and even, with NAFTA, the ICC and Kyoto, good for the country. I really don't want healthcare reform, which if passed will torture us for generations, but Obama (Nobel speech excepted) can't be trusted with foreign affairs. What do we do?

10 December 2009

Cognitive Dissonance Explains It All

In the course of making fun of Ann Althouse for voting for Obama on the assumption that he was lying about his belief in God, I had a minor epiphany.

When our intentions, attitudes and behaviors don't match, we suffer from cognitive dissonance, which turns out to be a pretty powerful force. It is not, though, generally powerful enough to change our behaviors, so most often we avoid dissonance by changing our attitudes and/or intentions. So even if Obama joined the church as a cynical move to find a political power base in Chicago, years of attendance combined with his intention to live an authentic black life in America, would cause cognitive dissonance most easily eased by changing his attitude and believing in God.

To Think That Epistomology Must Be A Subset Of Ontology

Is wrong. But I can't decide if it is a mistake born of optimism or pessimism.