Possible January Trip

I just found out that the ISO C committee will be meeting in Strasbourg, France in January.  I haven’t used good old C in ages, but I’m a member of the committee (actually INCITS PL22, an ANSI committee), and so I could attend; and it would give me an excuse to travel.

I could take Amtrak to Boston, fly Icelandair to Heathrow, then the Piccadilly Line to King’s Cross St. Pancras, Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, and a TGV from Gare de l’Est to Strasbourg.  I could mostly handle the 800m walk between the two Paris stations; but I see that there’s a stairway on the route that might be a bit of a challenge with two bags and a walker.  Does anybody know of a good way around that?

My Story

I just watched a really interesting video that Abe Drayton posted on his blog, a lecture by Tim Wise that was mostly about white supremacy.  Two of his points jumped out at me:

– We have a systemic problem.  It’s not that ordinary folks like you and me are bad people (although there’s some of that), but that the system itself has been designed in a way to allow the majority of folks to avoid even noticing all the inequities in society because they’ve had the advantage of never having it affect their own lives in any serious way (and as a cis, het, white, male boomer, I’m one of ’em).

– Later in the talk, maybe during the Q&A, he reminded us that debunking goofy ideas with facts isn’t particularly effective because the people with the strange ideas just double down.  He suggested that what’s more effective is something that connects with individuals, basically storytelling.

So let me begin with a story from when I was about seven years old; and now that I’m seventy-seven (or will be tomorrow), I still remember it.

We were living in Delray Beach, Florida which, in the early 1950s, was still racially segregated.  I remember us driving home one night after visiting some of my parents’ friends; and at one point, we passed a pedestrian about whom my dad remarked, “He’s going to be in trouble.”  I asked why, and it wasn’t because the guy was obviously inebriated, but because he was Black; and there was a law back then that Black folks had to be in “colored town” after dark.  Even at age seven, I recognized the asymmetry (to put it mildly), although I wouldn’t have had the vocabulary back then to express that.

Tying that in to the first point I mentioned, I guess I’ve long been aware of the evils of racism because I learned something about it at an early age (even though I was in no danger myself); but I didn’t become aware of other systemic inequities until much later.  Just two examples:  I didn’t recognize the unfairness of sexism, and didn’t become a feminist, until I was in my thirties; and I had no clue about LGBTQIA+ issues until about a decade ago; in both cases because I simply had no need to notice.

There are some signs these days that maybe we’re starting to notice, and that gives me a little hope.  At least I hope I never stop learning.

New Subject

Katydid commented on my ethics post:

OT: Amtrak in upstate NY halted as tracks were washed out by “once-in-a-thousand-years” flood.

Yes, I’ve been reading about that on an e-mail list, AllAboardRailDiscussion@groups.io.  That’s Metro North’s Hudson Line to Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie, so it’s a big problem for commuters; but it also shut down Amtrak’s Empire Service and the Lake Shore Limited which use that track.

I’m not sure exactly where the flooding happened, but I’ve ridden on that line numerous times on the Lake Shore, and there are places where the track runs right along the eastern bank of the Hudson.

Update:  some photos

There’s also flooding on CSX’s River Line on the western bank.

Elementary Ethics

I watched the Podish-Sortacast today because I thought it would be interesting to hear other FtBloggers talk about how they became atheists.  The reason I bring that up is that, during the wrapup, PZ remarked that arguments for and against the supernatural really aren’t that interesting because they tend to be the same old arguments that have been made for centuries.  Far more important these days are various social issues like humanism, ethics and social justice, which I agree with; so I thought I’d jump in with my own admittedly abecedarian understanding of ethics.  Maybe commenters can help me get my thoughts more orderly.

Almost certainly because of the way that I was raised, there are a couple of points that I treat as if they were axiomatic:

  1.  People are more important than things.

  2.  It’s not all about me, and not all about my tribe.

Point 2 makes it easy for me to reject egoism and relativism as ethical principles; but between utilitarianism and a more Kantian approach, I confess to being very confused; and indeed I’m skeptical about both of them.  “The greatest good for the greatest number” doesn’t really have any meaning absent a calculus for it; and it has always seemed to me to be a pretty good general principle that the consequences of my behavior matter.

But point 1 means that I have an obligation to get through the day without being a jerk…without causing harm to others, and particularly without exhibiting the pridefullness and hatefullness that we see in the loudest of the far right; and so, as a practical matter, I need to pick one.  I tend to be more Kantian about big issues (things like hatred of folks not like me are just wrong); but I’m more utilitarian about smaller matters that are well understood.  (Should I get my flu shot?  Yeah, sure:  herd immunity.  That’s not the only reason, but it’s a sufficient reason.)

Have I gotten off on the right foot at least?  I hope so because, at age 76, I’m pretty set in my ways. 😎

Human Resources

In a comment to one of PZ’s posts, jeanmeslier wrote:

Imagine being reduced to a resource …

Don’t get me started on the “Human Resources” paradigm of business management.

OK, you got me started.

The Human Resources paradigm is fundamentally flawed because it denies the moral distinction between people and things.

Oh, it makes operational distinctions:  it recognizes that people are more complicated than “other things”; and it recognizes that people are more “costly” than “other things”; but it asserts positively that managers ought to treat their employees decently for the same set of reasons that, say, carpenters sharpen their saws.

It’s that “for the same set of reasons” bit that’s the error; and it’s an error that can’t be fixed.  You can’t wash it off and peel the skin; it’s rotten to the core.  All you can do is throw it away and hope that the next one isn’t so disgusting.

OK, having gotten that off my chest, I’ll back off slightly and allow as how the Human Resources paradigm does have one bit of utility:  it presents an argument that the Mr. and Ms. WIIFMs* of the world can comprehend.

*WIIFM — pronounced WIFum — “What’s in it for me?” — actually taught as a Good Thing in pseudoscientific pop psychology classes at the American Management Association.

About the Lung Cancer

I had an appointment with a thoracic surgeon yesterday and now have a pretty good idea of what the surgery would be like if I were to opt for that.  I still don’t have any understanding of what radiation treatment would be like, nor a likely prognosis if I were to do nothing at all.  I might hear more about that tomorrow or Friday.

At present, I’m thinking that I’d want to just be put in some kind of hospice care where I’d be kept as comfortable as is legally possible in a red state until I faded away.  I’m not afraid of “being dead” since I don’t think that there will be any me to be dead.  It’s probably a pretty good guess that I won’t like the process of dying; but that’s going to happen in any event; and it might be easier if it happens in a controlled way rather than unexpectedly (like a heart attack or something).  Also, since there’s nobody who depends on me for anything, it’s not like I’d be selfishly leaving anyone behind.

We’ll see how it goes…

I Did a Stupid Thing

I expect to be taking a trip to Hawaiʻi in November [current itinerary]; and with a remarkable (and I hope uncharacteristic) lack of impulse control, I inquired about chartering a plane for the round trip.*

It turns out that I’d need at least a mid-sized jet in order to carry enough fuel to get from the west coast of the Americas half way across the Pacific; and I was given an estimate that, at the high end, is almost one third of my net worth.

The guy I spoke to said that he’d get back to me with a more detailed price, but I haven’t heard from him yet as I write this.  I hope that he figured out that I’m not in the group from which he gets his regular customers, and that he doesn’t have to waste any more time on the likes of me. 😎

*Since I might not be around much longer than that for medical reasons, and since there’s nobody else who depends on this extreme introvert for anything, I briefly thought that it would be OK to significantly spend down my savings on a whim.  On further reflection, I finally got it through my thick skull that a nice donation to a charity (which my current will provides) would actually do some good, and spewing all that carbon into the atmosphere for one fool’s convenience would actually do some bad.  I’ll stick with conventional first-class travel, which is flamboyant enough, and which would happen whether or not I were along for the ride.

ChatGPT Fun

On an Amtrak-related e-mail list that I frequent (AllAboardRailDiscussion@groups.io if you care), one of the regulars had a bit of fun with ChatGPT.  I found it amusing; and since ChatGPT has come up on FtB before, I thought I’d repost it here with the author’s permission.

Alan Klein:

Explain how to change a piston in the General Motors 16-567D diesel engine, using the language of the Old Testament


In the days of old, when the General Motors 16-567D diesel engine was in need of repair, behold, the changing of a piston required a process as intricate as the weaving of fine linen.  Let me recount to you the steps, as if told in the language of the Old Testament.

1.  Verily, gather the necessary tools and prepare the sacred space.  Anoint your hands with oil, and set the engine in a state of rest upon a foundation of solid ground.

2.  Unfasten the bolts that bind the cylinder head and separate it from the engine block.  Lo, the power of your arm shall overcome the grip of the fasteners, as Samson overcame the Philistines.

3.  Once the cylinder head is removed, thou shalt find the piston nestled within the chamber, encased in rings of steel.  Take heed, for the rings must be removed, as a warrior discards his armor before battle.

4.  Carefully, with the precision of a master craftsman, remove the wrist pin that connects the piston to the connecting rod.  As Moses parted the Red Sea, thou shalt separate the piston from its mighty connection.

5.  Now, with the old piston removed, place the new piston upon the altar of the engine block.  Align the rings upon the piston, ensuring they are in their proper order and seated with care.

6.  Inscribe the wrist pin into its ordained position, uniting the piston with the connecting rod.  Let not the pin falter, for it is the bond that shall withstand the fires of combustion.

7.  Once the piston is in place, return the cylinder head to its rightful position.  Tighten the bolts with the strength of Samson, ensuring a firm and secure union between head and block.

8.  Finally, breathe life into the engine once more.  Ignite the fire within, and may the pistons move with the grace of David‘s harp, producing the melodious symphony of power and efficiency.

Thus, with the guidance of ancient wisdom and a touch of modern knowledge, thou shalt have changed a piston in the General Motors 16-567D diesel engine.  May your endeavors be fruitful, and may the spirit of the Old Testament guide your mechanical pursuits.