Archive for December, 2013

I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

What a novel concept.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

This quote from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass is–unfortunately for all pedantic autodidacts such as yours truly–how language works in the real world. In an ideal world, which I shall mandate as soon as I am appointed God-King-Emperor of the known universe, language would be a tool for communication: words would be used with their generally accepted definition in mind, in order to convey thoughts from one mind to another.

Case in point: coma. Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, ever so helpfully gives us a description: “a coma (from the Greek κῶμα koma, meaning “deep sleep”) is a state of unconsciousness (…) in which a person: cannot be awakened; fails to respond normally to painful stimuli, light, or sound; lacks a normal sleep-wake cycle; and, does not initiate voluntary actions.”

Let’s reflect on that last bit for a second. A person in a coma does not initiate voluntary actions. This means that a person who is comatose does not and can not “fight for his life.” If anyone is fighting for the patient’s life, it would be medical personnel – not the unfortunate patient who is literally unable to do anything, let alone fight.

Now, I understand this is a phrase that should not be taken literally. Even so, it needs to die. I implore you, tabloid journalists of the world: please stop using this cliché. That goes for everyone else as well. While we’re at it, let’s all stop saying stuff like “he’s gone to a better world” (Newspeak for dying) or worse, “Grandpa’s in Heaven now” (Kurt Vonnegut’s favourite joke notwithstanding). If our hearts are pure, we can stamp out these phrases in our lifetime.

Transportation and Taxes in a Brave New World

Would you buy a used car from this man? How about a brand new vehicle surveillance system?

Would you buy a used car from this man? How about a brand new vehicle surveillance system?

A task group led by former Nokia and current Shell chairman Jorma Ollila has proposed a new paradigm for transportation tax in Finland. Currently, the racket is based on two cornerstones: first, tax the living s&!t out of new cars, second, slap a hefty (most of the retail price) tax on fuel. With the advent of low fuel consumption engines and worse, electric vehicles, old Jore has come up with a bright new idea:

Let’s track each and every vehicle by satellite for taxation purposes.

Finally, the wet dream of every tax collector will be realized. Finland will indeed tax everything that moves. This is, of course, in addition to taxing things that don’t move, such as real estate.

The cost of this scheme, Ollila assures us, will be negligible, and besides, it will create jobs and therefore new wealth. What’s not to love?

Well, the loss of privacy, for starters. For a chilling look at what will (not may, will) happen down the road with this data that will of course not leak anywhere, will not be kept for all eternity, and will most certainly only be used for the originally intended purpose, see what Jay Stanley of ACLU thinks about a very similar scheme: Meet Jack. Or, What The Government Could Do With All That Location Data

Of course, only a criminal who has something to hide would care, right? After all, we have always been at war with Eastasia.