A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Friday, June 06, 2003 :::
What Do You Call The World's Ugliest Road...The Double-edged Sword of Technology Meets your Hepa Filter...Exit Tests and Disadvantaged High School Students...Learning to Love Martha Stuart

The El Camino Dilemma. El Camino Real, the "Royal Road" that Junipero Serra laid while founding missions up the coast of California, has for many years been a dismal, traffic-choked, colorless chain of strip malls and ratty stores, as anyone who has been on it remembers. As far as I know, that is true up the entire, enormous Golden State. No one who lives near it calls it anything other than El Camino, but for those who have not been there, El Camino evokes nothing whatsoever. El Camino Real, which might ring a bell with Easterners, sounds grand, which it most emphatically isn't. There's a writer's dilemma for you. On my previous posts, El Camion Real sounded stupid, so I went back and changed them.

Technology does not change things, which is the problem. This month's Wired has a brief update on the progress in developing "smart dust," essentially very tiny computers. Their applications are probably endless--from medicine, where they could painlessly survey most of the body, to fighting chemical attacks or accidents. People who find technology uninteresting or intrinsically stupid--and there are a lot of them--will think such a thing is impossible, but it is rapidly becoming a reality, in several different forms. People who find technology scary will find this one scary, and they will have reason to. People who think any questioning of technology reveals luddite tendencies will scoff.

Nothing is going to stop the rapid advance of technology, however, so smart dust is coming. There is no question that it will benefit us a lot, or that someone will find a way to use it for twisted pruposes.

An official of Sri Lanka, in a fit of outrage over meddling from a famous do-gooder Northern Euopean country, coined the phrase "salmon-eating busibodies," and I say way to go, Mr. Sri Lankan official. But what we have to fear here is computer-wielding busibodies. There are people who think that their own safety, or their skill in judging others, makes any concern for other people's privacy to be stupid at best. It has now been many months since it was revealed that DC's Finest have created networks of cameras that people have installed outside their own homes. Remember when Romania's Nicolai Ceaucescu was overthrown, and how shocked everyone was that he maintainted control thought cameras on every street? The difference between the old People's Democratic Republic of Romania and the current United States of America is that the Romanian communists had to pay for installing the cameras. If you think your nosy next door neighbor is not going to come up with a way to use smart dust, you underestimate how creepy some people can be.

And remember those Sony camcorders that could see through clothing? They have been brought back to life at security checkpoints, as an alternative to strip searching. There is nothing to prevent airports and government agencies from installing them in other areas, of course, at least in other countries. And you can believe that when Sony recalled the camcorders, quite a few people kept theirs.

Clashing Visions, and suffering poor people. Florida is the state with the harshest "exit test" for its public schools, and an excellent article in this morning's Journal details how cruel the test can be. Certain changes obviously need to be adopted. Making it a requirement for graduation is hard on some students, such as the recent immigrant who scored straight A's in math his entire high school career, but still has not mastered English. Jeb Bush, demonstrating that, like his brother, he does not suffer from their father's problem with decisiveness, will not recognize the human cost of such rigidity, but you can imagine others will put pressure on him, and one hopes that some modification can be found that will secure the benefits of the tests but .

Even some opponents of the tests admit that, finally, this has led to more seriousness in high schools in low-income areas, which means they should not be abandoned. The real problem, however, is far more serious. Poor areas attract reformers who believe that strict standards harm the poor. The implicit racism of this should be obvious, but isn't. Most such "reofrmers" also place a heavy emphasis on the relationship between the teacher and the students, in the tradition of Rousseau, and on the importance of the classroom as a "community," in the tradition of John Dewey. And these days, the biggest emphasis is on "self-esteem," in the tradition of Oprah. But the teachers will not accompany the students through their lives, to protect them. In fact, feel good education enslaves poor people, by robbing them of the skills they need to protect themselves. If these tests finally blasts these autocrats out of the classroom, let's hear it for the tests.

Free Martha Stuart. Although I have not followed the details, it appears from reports that Martha Stuart may well have done what I thought she did when the SEC first announced they were investigating her, and that is panic when in fact she had done nothing wrong. I have seen control freaks do this before, and Martha is nothing if not a merciless control freak. However, that stuff she sells though K-mart is really beautiful, and brings a lot of inexpensive joy to people who can never even dream of owning a billion-dollar coporation. The SEC was searching for a carefully coiffed scalp, and the charges, even if true, are trivial. They are making me like the old harpy.

Besides, the SEC really has bigger fish to fry. The telecom bubble was caused by government, specifically, the EU, whose members pumped upwards of $300 BILLION chasing dreams when the whole thing should have been left to private enterprise. The Clinton administration ponied up something like 10% as much, but bears some responsibility. Have any of the responsible officials been investigated as relentlessly as the Queen of Painfully Faked Smiles? Some of them are getting re-elected by bashing "greedy" corporations, but that's about it.

Have a good one.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 10:25 AM



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