Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Culture (page 1 / 3)

The man who challenged Beethoven to a musical duel →

What a great story.

The contest between Beethoven and Steibelt

As the challenger, Steibelt was to play first. He walked to the piano, tossing a piece of his own music on the side, and played. Steibelt was renowned for conjuring up a "storm" on the piano, and this he did to great effect, the "thunder" growling in the bass.

He rose to great applause, and all eyes turned to Beethoven, who took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and reluctantly - to the collective relief of everyone present - trudged to the piano.

Beethoven's turn to play

When he got there he picked up the piece of music Steibelt had tossed on the side, looked at it, showed it the audience ..... and turned it upside down!

He sat at the piano and played the four notes in the opening bar of Steibelt's music. He began to vary them, embellish them ..... improvise on them.

He played on, imitated a Steibelt "storm", unpicked Steibelt's playing and put it together again, parodied it and mocked it.

Steibelt makes a dramatic exit…

Steibelt, realising he was not only being comprehensively outplayed but humiliated, strode out of the room. Prince Lobkowitz hurried after him, returning a few moments later to say Steibelt had said he would never again set foot in Vienna as long as Beethoven lived there.

Beethoven lived in Vienna for the rest of his life, and Steibelt kept his promise - he never returned.

This entry was tagged. History

A Brief Defense of Man Caves

Carrie Lukas, writing at Acculturated, presents her argument against man caves. She thinks they're a symptom of men who are self-focused children in men's bodies, using their isolation to avoid their responsibilities.

At the basest level, she argues that man caves represent a withdrawal from the shared spaces of the family into an exclusive space for self.

the man cave by its very name announces that it is for me. Whatever happens in the room is merely an artifact of my desires and my personality.

The implication is that the rest of the house—the joint bedroom and the nice kitchen and the kids’ messy quarters and the other TV room—cannot adequately serve me and my precious individuality. (Women, apparently, are not such fragile snowflakes that they need their own room to express themselves. After all, she has the kitchen, right?)

She implies that the entire house is a shared space, reflecting the entire family, and that men aren't satisfied with that. I disagree.

I argue that the entire house is an expression of the woman's aesthetic and interests. The woman puts her mark on the entire house, leaving the man no space to express his own aesthetic and interests. Far from the woman having just the kitchen as her space, you can see her influence throughout the house, including the other TV room, the kids' rooms, and the shared bedroom.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself a few questions. Who chose the color scheme in each of the rooms? Who chose the furniture? Who chose the fittings for the bathrooms and kitchen? Who selected the artwork for the walls? Who decided what is—and isn't—appropriate for each room?

More importantly, who holds the veto over design decisions? Does a man's "I don't think like that" carry the day or is it just an ignorant opinion to be ignored? Conversely, does a man get his choices in spite of the woman's "I don't like that" or does her dislike carry the day?

In my experience, each room of a house expresses the woman's personality and sense of style. Men retreat to man caves because that's the only way they can express their own personalities and see a tangible sign of their own presence in the family.

This entry was tagged. Women

Do Millennials Prefer Single Family Home? →

Asks the Wall Street Journal. But it seems like they may have buried the most important part about the supposedly surprising survey.

“The preference for the suburbs suggests that future demand will be in the form of single-family homes rather than condominiums more prevalent in cities,” said David Berson, chief economist with Nationwide Insurance Co. “That’s also good news for future suburban single-family sellers, many of whom are baby boomers.”

The survey results, though, could be skewed because they included only millennials who first answered that they bought a home within the past three years or intended to do so in the next three years. That excluded young people who intend to rent for many more years, which is a large and growing group, in part because of hefty student debt and the tight mortgage-lending standards of recent years.

This entry was tagged. Housing Market

Ceasefire on Christmas Card Guilt →

I endorse Brett Trepstra's suggestion.

I would like to take this opportunity to call for a cease-fire on the card guilt thing. You’re totally allowed to use that space in the closet that will be left open when you finally throw out that box of cardboard pieces bought at stores and hastily “personalized” by someone who doesn’t remember giving you the card at this point.

This entry was tagged. Christmas

Women: Hardy Equals or Fainting Flowers?

When I was young, before junior high, I strongly believed that women were the weaker sex and that it was up to men to protect them. I believed that women shouldn't fight in the military, that they probably shouldn't engage in the hurly-burly of the working world, and that men should take on all of the physically demanding work leaving women the easier, less physically demanding work.

Through the loving, persistent efforts of a Sunday School teacher and many female friends, I became accustomed to the idea that women were just as hardy as men, just as able to take on any task, just as able to bear any burden, and just as able to engage the world. For the past 15–20 years, I've heard that women are equal to men in any area that they care to be involved in and that men shouldn't treat them any differently from how men treat other men. I thought that being a feminist meant believing that there were few, if any, differences between the genders.

Over the past 2 years, I've run into a different brand of feminists. They tell me that women are horribly discriminated against. They tell me that men are predatory beasts who prey upon women and that it's up to men to protect women from these predators. They tell me that women want to be computer engineers, software designers, scientists, and mathematicians but that the culture in these fields is too toxic for women to endure. They tell me that these fields need to be cleaned up and sanitized before women can feel safe enough to work there.

Now I don't know what to think. Are women strong and resilient like men? Are they hardy, able to live in unpleasant conditions, to clear a space for themselves, and to blaze a trail? Or are they hothouse flowers who need a carefully controlled environment before they can live and thrive? Are women as I was taught: strong, confident, able to defend themselves? Or are women as I first believed: a weaker sex that needs to be protected by the strong sex?

Here's a perfect example of my dilemma. An anonymous women provided this advice on software development: Engaging With Hateful People in Your Community Lends Legitimacy to Their Presence. She's writing in the context of a software development project that takes feedback and contributions from the general public. The words are hers. Any extra emphasis comes from me.

What’s the right way to deal with male supremacists and similar hate groups showing up?

I don’t have a clear answer. What I care most about is that community members are protected.

Here’s my suggestion #1: Don’t engage. It’s better to instantly block that person from the repo and delete their comments.

GitHub’s weaknesses make it not very safe for women and minorities, so if you want those voices heard, avoid the GitHub issue tracker.

By the way: Similar things apply when male supremacists send you reasonable-looking pull requests.

I noticed that this gr.amergr.ate person had sent a small PR to a [my-project] plugin, and the plugin maintainer merged it.

This made me super uncomfortable, and I hope I don’t have to interact with that maintainer, because I really don’t trust their judgment.

When you get a PR from an author whose very name spells hate, then even if the diff looks reasonable, don’t merge it.

This women is arguing that the best way to get women involved in software development is for other people to carefully police the software project, instantly banning commenters and contributors just on the basis of their usernames.

She's not arguing that these contributors have demonstrated harmful behavior and need to be banned on that basis. She's not arguing that these individuals have personally done anything that's even threatening. She's arguing that usernames that represent a community that she doesn't like are themselves a threat and that anyone with such a username should be immediately banned from the software project. Without this, she won't feel safe enough to contribute to the project.

To my ears, this represents a view of women as hothouse flowers that need protection. This isn't something that a strong, confident, assertive, girl power, "hear me roar" woman would write. This is something written by a woman who always needs a fainting couch nearby, a shrinking violet who can't survive in the harsh, uncontrolled environment of the real world.

I'm willing and ready to treat women however they want to be treated. Just, please, make up your minds. Should I censor your mail, only passing along what's safe for you to read? Should I carefully pre-screen your online communities before letting you engage? Should I create special woman-safe zones, carefully monitoring language and behavior for anything indelicate or offensive? Or should I stand back and let you engage the world as equals, trusting that you're strong enough to face whatever comes your way, that you're up to the challenge of engaging the world without a male chaperone?

This entry was tagged. Women

How We Got "Please" and "Thank You" →

Maria Popova, at brain pickings, has this fascinating look at the history of why we say "please" and "thank you".

In English, “thank you” derives from “think,” it originally meant, “I will remember what you did for me” — which is usually not true either — but in other languages (the Portuguese obrigado is a good example) the standard term follows the form of the English “much obliged” — it actually does means “I am in your debt.” The French merci is even more graphic: it derives from “mercy,” as in begging for mercy; by saying it you are symbolically placing yourself in your benefactor”s power — since a debtor is, after all, a criminal. Saying “you’re welcome,” or “it’s nothing” (French de rien, Spanish de nada) — the latter has at least the advantage of often being literally true — is a way of reassuring the one to whom one has passed the salt that you are not actually inscribing a debit in your imaginary moral account book. So is saying “my pleasure” — you are saying, “No, actually, it’s a credit, not a debit — you did me a favor because in asking me to pass the salt, you gave me the opportunity to do something I found rewarding in itself!” …

Marriage: Starting a new business or going IPO? →

Arnold Kling, at his askblog.

What these young people say is top-of-mind is that they really, really, don’t want to go through divorce. Compared to my generation, they seem to regard marriage as belonging to a later stage in life. My line is that for our generation, getting married was like starting a new business–a moment of promise and hope. Today, it’s like going IPO–a moment of affirmation and triumph.

I love this line. I'd classify myself and my wife as belonging to Kling's generation. But I've known friends that I'd classify as belonging to the current generation. This line nails the differences in attitudes that I've seen.

You Should Get Married As Early as Possible, But No Earlier →

Megan McArdle, at The Daily Beast:

But as a general rule, you should err on the side of marrying early. By which I mean not that you should marry whoever happens to be around when you turn 22, but that you should be willing to recognize, at the age of 22, that you've found someone you want to marry. Right now, most Princeton students don't think that way. They think there's something weird about committing at 22. And if they try to commit, their friends and parents will warn them off.

I got married at age 22 and it changed my life forever, for the better. As a bonus, we'll have all four of our kids by the time I'm 30 and I'll be able to raise them while I'm still young and relatively energetic. I think getting married at a young age is a wonderful idea.

For Kids, the Ultimate Play Room … at Grandma's House →

The Harringtons' three preteen granddaughters will have their own room with custom bunks that have built-in cubbies to hold electronics, plus a modern-style bathroom fully stocked with a rainbow of nail polish. The two grandsons will sleep in a separate room with ladders that lead to lofted beds and a large table for building model airplanes or playing with blocks. Downstairs, they'll have five swivel bar stools behind their own breakfast counter. "We thought of whatever we could to draw them there," says Ms. Harrington, 70, a retired elementary schoolteacher.

Unreal. Growing up, I was super excited just by the fact that Grandma and Grandpa could visit us for a week. They lived 12 hours away and we only saw them once a year. Having them visit was more exciting than any custom room could have been.

This entry was tagged. Children

Why Times Square Needs a McWorld →

A brilliant idea for a giant McDonalds restaurant that incorporates all of McDonalds international menus. I would visit this.

The central attraction of the ground floor level is a huge mega-menu that lists every item from every McDonald's in the world, because this McDonald's serves ALL of them. There would probably have to be touch screen gadgets to help you navigate the menu. There would have to be whole screens just dedicated to the soda possibilities. A concierge would offer suggestions. Celebrities on the iPad menus would have their own "meals" combining favorites from home ("Manu Ginóbili says 'Try the medialunas!'") with different stuff for a unique combination ONLY available at McWorld. You could get the India-specific Chicken Mexican Wrap (“A traditional Mexican soft flat bread that envelops crispy golden brown chicken encrusted with a Mexican Cajun coating, and a salad mix of iceberg lettuce, carrot, red cabbage and celery, served with eggless mayonnaise, tangy Mexican Salsa sauce and cheddar cheese.” Wherever possible, the menu items' descriptions should reflect local English style). Maybe a bowl of Malaysian McDonald's Chicken Porridge or The McArabia Grilled Kofta, available in Pakistan and parts of the Middle East.

This entry was tagged. Food

Why the Gun is Civilization →

It's been nearly six years since I first read this brief essay, by Marko Kloos. It had a powerful impact on me and the central point has stuck with me ever since. Carrying a gun is not an uncivilized act. It is the ultimate civilizing act.

Human beings only have two ways to deal with one another: reason and force. If you want me to do something for you, you have a choice of either convincing me via argument, or force me to do your bidding under threat of force. Every human interaction falls into one of those two categories, without exception. Reason or force, that’s it.

In a truly moral and civilized society, people exclusively interact through persuasion. Force has no place as a valid method of social interaction, and the only thing that removes force from the menu is the personal firearm, as paradoxical as it may sound to some.

When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force. The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year old gangbanger, and a single gay guy on equal footing with a carload of drunk guys with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size, or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender.

This entry was tagged. Civil Liberties Guns

Arab Spring and the Israeli enemy →

Abdulateef AL-Mulhim writes in the ArabNews (of Saudi Arabia), about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people.

These dictators’ atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.

This certainly matches up with what Michael Totten sees (and reports) every time he visits the Middle East. If the Arabs stopped blaming Israel for everything, they might be able to make a start on making a better life.

This entry was tagged. Israel Mideast

Route 66 still holds allure for travelers, industry →

Interesting. Especially since I've been considering a Route 66 road trip, for sometime in the next 3 years.

The last section of the fabled U.S. route from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, was dropped as a federal highway in 1984. But its hold on travelers' imaginations has revived motels, diners, souvenir shops, gas stations and other buildings along the old route.

The enduring fascination, along with some federal grants, has helped Route 66 thrive, even as people old enough to remember its heyday die off.

"People are looking to see the real America, not Walt Disney's version," said Ron Hart, director and founder of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce in Carthage, Missouri.

A Rutgers University study released in March estimated that people spend $132 million annually along old Route 66, which crosses eight states and is marked in some places by ceremonial signs.

This entry was tagged.

Too Poor to Marry? →

Heather Mac Donald takes on the ridiculous idea that you can be "too poor to marry". I'm pretty sure that this take also works for the equally ridiculous idea that "we can't get married until older and more established".

The most idiotic reason that single mothers give for not marrying is: “I’m too poor to get married!” Evidently these women believe they’re not too poor to educate, house, feed, clothe, and provide a stable home and an enriching moral and cultural environment for a child on their own. The “I’m too poor” defense, documented by researchers such as Kathryn Edin, refers not simply to the cost of a wedding (which of course is avoidable through a City Hall ceremony), but to the day-to-day institution of marriage itself.

...Well, yes, “well-educated Americans” can offer “more” financial support to their spouses than less affluent Americans. But a married spouse at whatever income level is almost always going to improve the economy of a household over a lifetime, whether that spouse is adding the proceeds of a minimum-wage job or the inestimable value of being a stay-at-home parent while the other one works. But the notion that being a married parent requires more financial resources than being a single one is wrong not just as a matter of economic arithmetic but, more importantly, in terms of what married biological parents bring to their child — not money, but a 24/7 partnership in the extraordinarily difficult task of child-rearing. Household wealth is the least important reason to form a two-parent family; the idea that raising children as a single mother is on average in any sense easier than doing so as a couple, even in the stormiest of marital relationships, is absurd, and ignores the enormous strains of being both the sole bread-winner (or even welfare-collector) and the sole source of authority for your child. A second parent in the home provides back-up support in discipline when the other is at the breaking point, and a doubling of the emotional, intellectual, and moral resources that a child can draw on. You don’t need to be wealthy to offer that complementarity; poor married parents have raised stable, successful children for millennia.

Streets without name – A geek in Japan →

In Japan, street are simply an empty space in between blocks, they don’t have an identity. However you can identify buildings following a 3 digit system: the first one indicates the district, the second one the block and the third one the building or house inside the block. It is a completely different, but perfectly valid, system of structuring and organizing cities. You have to change your whole mindset.

This difference from American street addresses has some big impacts. Japan now has more geolocalized information than any other country in the world. As a result, Japanese smartphones can offer you more information about where you are, what's around you, and how to get there.

This entry was tagged.

Stuff →

I just discovered this 2007 article from Paul Graham. He said something that I've vaguely thought of before but I've never even come close to articulating it this well.

We all have lots and lots of stuff. We like to think that it's valuable because we'll use it one day. It's not. It's worthless.

What I didn't understand was that the value of some new acquisition wasn't the difference between its retail price and what I paid for it. It was the value I derived from it. Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset. Unless you have some plan for selling that valuable thing you got so cheaply, what difference does it make what it's "worth?" The only way you're ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don't have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.

Companies that sell stuff have spent huge sums training us to think stuff is still valuable. But it would be closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.

After reading this, I'm ready to go through the house and to start tossing "stuff".

This entry was tagged. Wealth

The Ghosts of World War II's Past →

Taking old World War II photos, Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov carefully photoshops them over more recent shots to make the past come alive. Not only do we get to experience places like Berlin, Prague, and Vienna in ways we could have never imagined, more importantly, we are able to appreciate our shared history in a whole new and unbelievably meaningful way.

Really, really cool.

This entry was tagged. History

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy →

Sure, under parenting your children is dangerous. But so is over parenting. It seems that the trick with parenting is to back off, beyond what your first instinct might be. Just don't get so far back that you can't see your kids anymore.

Which might be how people like my patient Lizzie end up in therapy. “You can have the best parenting in the world and you’ll still go through periods where you’re not happy,” Jeff Blume, a family psychologist with a busy practice in Los Angeles, told me when I spoke to him recently. “A kid needs to feel normal anxiety to be resilient. If we want our kids to grow up and be more independent, then we should prepare our kids to leave us every day.”

But that’s a big if. Blume believes that many of us today don’t really want our kids to leave, because we rely on them in various ways to fill the emotional holes in our own lives. Kindlon and Mogel both told me the same thing. Yes, we devote inordinate amounts of time, energy, and resources to our children, but for whose benefit?

John Lasseter →

"He's Lots-o-Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3, without the abandonment issues."

Esquire profiles Pixar's (and Disney's) chief creative genius.

This entry was tagged. Children Disney

My Solution to the Driving Problem: Vandalism →

"I’ll never forget the expression on the face of our car mechanic when I asked him to draw me a picture of what engine part to break so my mother’s car wouldn’t start"

This entry was tagged. Family Policy