The Pursuit of Ignorance

This was one of the few good excerpts from “The Pursuit of Loneliness.”

…they (people) are seldom able to resist putting crucial power into the hands of administrators.

This is a violation of democracy’s first rule: never delegate authority upward. It’s a rule violated by liberals more than anyone else, since liberals are most uncomfortable with the demands of communal existence. Cooperation is so irksome to individualistic natures that they spend half of their political lives giving power to centralized governments and the other half fearing for their personal liberties, without ever considering the contradiction.

–Philip Slater

My recommendation is, don’t bother reading this book. I have just relayed the only redeemable paragraph of the entire work.

Freedom

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
–H. L. Mencken

Speech Recognition on Linux

Five links related to speech recognition (SR) software on Linux.  Non of them seem very impressive (especially considering IBM no longer supports Via Voice on Linux) but hopefully they will improve.

  • CVoiceControl -Formerly known as KVoiceControl.  Includes a basic voice SR engine and command line trainer.  Compile works but sound card support is prehistoric.
  • Xvoice – Interface for Via Voice SDK software.  Requires an old Licensed IBM Linux version of Via Voice.
  • FreeSpeech -Has its own SR engine but unable to compile because of old gcc requirements.
  • Spinx4 -Currently most active Open Source SR software available.  Has a couple corporations working on it (although not necessarily actively.)  Entirely Java based. No front end available yet.
  • NICO Toolkit -A general purpose toolkit for constructing neural networks and training through back-propagating learning algorithms.  Has some SR capabilities.  Usable for more than just SR.

Wednesday Humor

A chicken and an egg are sitting in bed together.  The chicken is smoking a cigarette and has a very content look on his face.  They egg is laying there all tense with a huge scowl.  The egg leans over to the chicken and says…

“Well, I guess we know the answer to that question!”

We are the young

This article by The Christian Science Monitor talks about the growing trend of young adults to be more conservative than the previous generation.  This is not an unknown trend (as most social and political observers have been commenting on the steady advancement of conservative ideology for almost the last decade) but what is surprising is the numbers of students.  The article cites a UC Berkeley study that found 60-70 percent of college students and teenagers support conservative social initiatives (like prayer in schools and limits on abortion.)  Some of the reasons cited for this conservative “groundswell” are rejection of baby boomer generation social excesses and reaction from excessive campus liberalism.

I can certainly empathize with the students interviewed in the article.  I strongly believe that the liberal political excesses of the 60’s and 70’s are responsible (in large part) to negative social stresses in our culture.  Currently, I am of the opinion that progressive social change is a good thing, but it must be done is relation to the current state of a given society.  I also firmly believe that social progressiveness is (in the long run) a good thing; but political progressiveness it ultimately the single most corrosive element to a free society. 

In an semi-related story a study by UCLA analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and Democrats.  What they found was the (in general) democrats had a more active amygdala gland compared to their Republican counterparts.  Amygdala gland activity is a indicator for our brains gut response mechanism, generally operating below conscious control.  This would seem to reflect some commonly held stereotypes about liberal vs. conservatives, i.e liberals have a tendency to be more “feeling” and less “thinking” than conservatives.  What the study really does is show that feeling is as much a mental facility as thinking.  The study also points out that amygdala gland development is influenced equally by environment and as well as by genes.

Free Will and Suffering

I just got finished reading ”Brave New World” and am starting to formulate some thoughts about Aldous Huxley’s world. In addition to the book, last night was my Renew group meeting were we discussed the scripture for next weeks Roman Catholic Mass. It a great example of the cosmic order of things; both the book and the Bible readings covered much of the same material, only from a couple different directions.

Fundamentally I don’t believe that the dichotomy that “Brave New World” sets up is the one that Aldous Huxley believed he set up. The author (in his intro and the comments from the re-release) talk about the trade-off between what he calls “real emotion” and social stability. The dichotomy that I saw was one of free will and social stability. While I agree to some extent that things like tragedy, bravery, and passion are not possible in a world without strife; without difficulty. Huxley goes on to promote the idea that the cause of social strife is from desire (an extension of popular eastern religious philosophies) and that by removing desire by providing absolute fulfillment of all of our desires; we can “short out” that loop. I call it a loop because desire (at least desire beyond our animal instinct level) is an emotion; thus emotion producing desire, producing strife, producing emotion etc. ad infinitum. I believe that Huxley is partially wrong. I believe the cause of social strife if free will. Ultimately the civilized people of “Brave New World” were not lacking in emotions, or even desires. Through social engineering they effectively had their free will taken from them. In part this conclusion is reached by Huxley himself when (at the end of chapter 17) the Controller says to the savage, “…you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

This discussion ties into the scripture reading in that they discuss the place of God in human suffering. The point that was made in Renew is that God does not cause evil in the world, he allows evil to be done in the world. It is humans (and their ability to choose freely) that cause evil and suffering. If God was to remove all suffering from the world, he would (in effect) have to remove free will. Without free will, life has lost the intensity that makes it worth living. The passion with witch I pursued my wife gave me a greater love for her. The ability to choose which people I dated eventually gave me an intense respect for how wonderful my wife is but it also meant that I suffered though some really awful woman. Free will means the possibility of greater value in life, but it guarantees nothing. Experience, good and bad, is value. What would Shakespeare be without tragedy?

Ultimately, I guess my point is that free will is a gift. A great gift. Probably the greatest gift that has ever been given to mankind. But a gift of such value also has great consequences. For even if I choose to live a good and respectful life; free will means other people have the ability to NOT live such a life. Actions have consequences to more than just the person who makes a given decision. Its not fair, but the alternative is to live in a “Brave New World.

Tuesday Morning Dump

Pork Tornado is  running a list of the 10 worst album covers of all time.  They range from sad and pathetic to downright disturbing.  My favorite is “Devastatin’ Dave (The Turntable Slave)” and his epic work “Zip Zap Rap.”

If you have a spare computer laying around here is are step-by-step instructions on getting Looking Glass working on a Linux box.  Project Looking Glass is an open source 3D interface being developed by Sun. The project looks promising but has a long way to go.