‘Tis the Season

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from televisions everywhere, that all the world should be fed until bloated. And all went to be fed, everyone to his own city. And Tim also went up from Spencerport, out of the city called Ogden, into Webster, unto the city of Rochester to be fed with Kim his virtual wife, being great with children. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that they should be delivered unto Colleen’s house. And Colleen brought forth her feast of several meals, and wrapped Tim in lasagna potatoes, pork, and corn, and laid him on a couch; because there was no room for him in the dining room.

And there were in the same home relatives abiding in the family room, keeping watch over their hours dourves by night. And, lo, the angel of the Dessert Course came upon them, and the glory of the Cheesecake shone about them; and they were so afraid. And the angel said to them,

Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born today in the city of Rochester a delicacy, which is Apple Pie. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the confection wrapped in foil, lying in an oven.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly cookies praising Gluttony and saying

Glory to Cholesterol in the highest, and on earth piece (of pie), good leftovers towards men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into the neighbors, the family said to one another,

Let us go even unto Webster, and see this thing that has come to represent our expansive bellies, which the dinner has made grown to us.

And they came with haste, and found, Kim, Tim and the girls in a food coma. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this joyous travesty. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the family. But Tim kept all these things, and pondered them in his swollen gullet. And the family returned, glorifying and praising Gluttony for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

The Gospel according to St. Puke Chapter 2 verses 1-20.

News Feed Enabled

For any of you who would like to pick this blog up on your news readers, we are now Atom 1.0 enabled. IE7 and Firefox 2.0 both support this natively, and there are lots of third party readers out there as well. Most readers will handle Atom or RSS. If you really need an RSS 2.0 feed, just change “atom.xml” to “rss.xml” in the link. That should work. The tool generates both feeds, but Blogger only auto-generates the Atom tags/links on the page. Yes, yes… I know I could put the RSS links in manually, but I was kind of waiting to see if anyone couldn’t cope with Atom. So feel free to complain. I’m bound to get bored sometime next week.

To subscribe to blog entries, just click the “Atom” link at the top of the right-hand column next to “Posts”. Then do whatever you usually do to subscribe to feeds in whatever tool you use.

Enjoy! Let me know if anyone experiences a problem.

A New Twist on Machiavelli

Back in 1515, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in his infamous pamphlet, The Prince, that the end justifies the means. Ironically, the pamphlet did not really reflect Machiavelli’s views, but was written to curry favor with the political administration, who found the message so offensive it fired him. It is maybe history’s worst attempt to suck up. Pity poor Niccolo who’s name is now inexorably bonded to corrupt totalitarian governments.

But history lesson aside, there is some merit to Machiavelli’s legacy. Not that an end goal orientation and means be damned philosophy is any way to treat your family, friends, neighbors, or electorate. But there are times where it is a prudent way to deal with outside parties with whom there is no common cultural or values based reference point. Let me explain.

In anthropological terms, altruism is usually explained as an evolved cultural “pay it forward” strategy. I’ll be nice to you now, and you’ll do something for me or my kids at some point in the future. It is this behavioral root which gives us The Golden Rule. And where there is a shared set of values or culture, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is good advice. Those others will value your actions and reciprocate in a way that you will value.

However, when dealing with those with whom you do not share that common set of values, The Golden Rule is folly. They will not value what you do, and may even find it offensive. And you will likely have a similar reaction to their actions. There are two possible ways of dealing with these situations. If there is ultimately a goal of establishing a relationship, then, in the truest spirit of diversity, you need to become fluent enough in the other’s culture so that you can behave in a way that they value. This obviously works best when they have a similar goal and are willing to become acclimated to your values as well. But there are cases where there is no desire or cooperation toward creating any sort of relationship. You may still need to do business of some sort with the others, but this arrangement is limited to pay-as-you-go interactions. And this is where Machiavelli comes into play. In these situations, you are focused on a specific end result. And while the means to that end may take some uncomfortable paths, paths that may offend your own sense of justice and fair play, it’s important to stay focused on the reality that justice and fair play are culturally dependent, and therefore not really the point. You just need a result. Yet the means should not violate your own sense of morality. There still need to be limits that allow you to view yourself as a good person.

I learned this lesson through a painful personal experience, but I think it applies beyond the interpersonal arena and even into foreign policy. I think one of the reasons we find ourselves in the Iraqi quagmire is a catastrophic failure on the part of Bush, Cheney, Bremer, Wolfowitz, and others to recognize that that we do not share a common set of values with Middle Eastern cultures. Bush’s central tenet was that we would go into Iraq, liberate them, and bring them democracy. He couldn’t see that they would not value that. This culturally myopic view plagues Bush still.

At present, I think Bush cannot stomach the idea of discussions with Iran and Syria because it offends his sense of justice and fair play. They don’t deserve to have us talk to them. Similarly, “victory” (a word he seems maniacally focused on) constitutes a stable and peaceful democracy in Iraq. In essence, we’ll be done once the Iraqis have adopted American values. This is folly. We need Iraq in specific and the Middle East in general to be peaceful enough that the oil we depend on continues to flow. That is the end state. (Arguably, it was also the beginning state, circa 2002, but we screwed that up.) We should be open to nearly any means to reachieve that stability. As I said above, there have to be limits based on our morality. For example, it would be immoral to reinstate Saddam. But opening talks with Iran and Syria merely require us to forgo our overly developed sense of justice. Similarly, incenting/threatening the fledgling Iraqi government to take the steps necessary to allow our exit are not immoral. Uncomfortable maybe, but we need to stay focused on the end state, and explore any morally justifiable ways to get there.

Niccolo might like that his legacy could be used to achieve peace.

Life Is A Bed of Ro… Wait, Wait… What?

The National Academy of Sciences, in an attempt to prove the Bush Administration’s assertion that science is a pointless waste of tax dollars, released a report indicating that people in a happy mood are more creative. I’m pretty sure a quick survey around any local faculty room could have arrived at that same conclusion, but have only cost a box of donuts.

However, the report also notes that being in a good mood tends to make us more distracted. Which obviously means I have the happiest kids on Earth. Hmmm… maybe there’s merit in the study after all.