January 2008 Archives

2007 was a good year, and I wrote a number of interesting product reviews.

A recent article I wrote was a list of lens bargains for the Sony Alpha (formerly Minolta Maxxum) lens mount. The article was titled Sony Alpha (Minolta Maxxum mount) lens bargains.

I also wrote a review of my main wide-angle lens, the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM. And predictably review was titled Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Review.

A couple years ago I wrote an article called How Ebay profits from software piracy, based on my experiences with one transaction. Those are the most recent articles on my photography blog.

Several years ago I wrote a review of the CompactDrive PSD PD7X. This is a portable hard drive casing that ran off of AAA batteries and allowed you to dump the contents of CompactFlash drive cards on to your portable hard drive in the field. In the days of 16 gig CF cards, it is not terribly useful anymore. It back when he spent $200 for a one gig card, it made a lot more sense.

I also written a review of Genuine Fractals 3.5, were I compared it to Photoshop CS bicubic interpolation, and found Photoshop to upsize better than genuine fractals. The article is titled Genuine Fractals 3.5 Review.

Before that I wrote a review of the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D. I am still very pleased with the camera, and think that the 7D still takes better pictures than my Sony Alpha 100. Read my review at Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D Review.

My latest article is titled Flatbed scanner comparison: The Canon CanoScan 4400F vs the CanoScan 8600F. in this article I attempt to answer the question, "What is the difference between the Canon CanoScan 4400F and the CanoScan 8600F?


Should the state preserver minority languages? This is a question that ethical philosophers have been discussing a lot over the last twenty years. Those who are for government involvement focus on the communal aspects of identity and the role language plays in maintaining it. They argue that each sub-group’s language should be preserved, and even promoted. The argument from the other side focuses on the inhibitions to integration that a separate language presents. The issue is often raised among Latino parents upset that they sent their children to an American school and yet their children did not achieve full fluency in English. Such sentiments were some of several divergent opinions behind California Proposition 227 which banned bilingual education in the state, and was passed by a majority of voters in California in 1998 with strong support from several segments of the Latino population. Those who supported proposition 227 did so for various reasons, but the reasons mentioned by supporters in the Latino community were that the educational bureaucracy had so entrenched bilingualism that a student could graduate from high school having been instructed in Spanish all the way from kindergarten. Supporters of bilingual education felt this to be a good thing, detractors – both Hispanic and pro-English whites – thought it terrible. Those opposing bilingual education pointed out that a non-English speaker in 21st-century America was automatically disqualified from a large number of jobs, and especially the better paying ones. So with proposition 227 we have a concrete example of a state government becoming directly involved with the language. Clearly there are pros and cons on both sides.

It is questionable whether the government can somehow avoid any influence on the issue of language. It seems any policy, especially in education, will have will have an effect one way or the other. Research has shown that bilingual children achieve the best long-term educational outcomes when they have their initial reading instruction in the language in which they have the largest speaking vocabulary. Once they have mastered basic literacy in their primary language, it is then far easier for them to transfer the skill into a different language. Concretely then, a Spanish-speaking child should be instructed in reading first in Spanish, and once having mastered the basics of literacy can then be taught English as a second language. Outcomes are better than for children who struggle to master reading in a language which they can barely speak. So in that sense California Proposition 227 was actually detrimental to the education of non-native speakers, although in practice bilingual teachers in many classrooms have been allowed by school district policies to impart the basics of literacy in the student’s native language first. Other practical problems include the fact that if a non-English speaker studies in a classroom full of native English speakers, they will pick up English fairly quickly. But if a non-English speaker finds herself in a classroom full of other non-English speakers, she will all pick up English far more slowly. And if the class teacher is bilingual but a non-native English speaker and not a very good one, you can see how students could go from kindergarten through 12th grade and never managed to master English even though they were studying in California. [In case anybody is wondering how I know all of us, my wife is a bilingual teacher and reading specialist in California.]

Hispanics are not the only non-native English speaking minority with ESL problems in California. Similar issues exist in Armenian neighborhoods, as well as in neighborhoods with concentrations of people from various Asian countries, such as those with Chinese speakers, Cambodian and Thai speakers, and Vietnamese.

Beyond full languages is the question of dialects. Certain forms of English are not generally accepted among mainstream whites as “normal”. The city of Oakland in California became the subject of much ridicule when it attempted in 1996 to institutionalize a dialect of English (though they called it a full West African language) common among African-Americans, which is termed Ebonics. (You can read the school board’s resolution here: http://www.jaedworks.com/shoebox/oakland-ebonics.html ). The Oakland school district wanted to treat Ebonics as a foreign language, and black students as non-English speakers. The only thing more interesting than the backlash was the fact that research, both in the United States and Europe, solidly supports treating dialects as foreign languages for the purposes of literacy instruction. Both England and Germany have strong traditions of regional dialects so distinctive that they are unintelligible between regions, as well as official versions – Queens English in England and “High German” in Germany – that were taught in schools and became the common language across regions. (I believe France also has a tradition of strong regional dialects; in Slavic countries the dialects became independent languages – Serbian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, etc. so that Russian does not have a tradition of dialects in the same way. I’m sure there are examples from other parts of the world as well.) What research supports then is treating Standard English as a non-native-language when instructing speakers of a dialect such as Ebonics.

But treating a dialect as a foreign language for the purposes of teaching Standard English is one thing. Instructing students in the dialect with no intention of introducing Standard English is another. And it was not Oakland’s recognition of Ebonics as a dialect that was controversial (that fact was already well established among linguists) it was Oakland’s intention not to even try to teach Standard English that attracted so much attention. Which gets back to the issue of public policy and minority languages. Should the state encourage or even imposed standard English on students in the public school system? The ideal behind such a proposal would be a mainstreaming of what are currently distinctive cultures so that over two or three generations the culture gradually disappears, much the way Irish, Sicilian, and Polish cultural heritages are today largely insignificant among those whose parents emigrated to the United States between the 1880s and the 1920s. Others see a terrible loss in cultural heritage that starts with language, and hope to preserve the uniqueness, and also the separateness, that comes with a strong non-mainstream language and cultural identity. Which option is preferable? I suppose it depends on the outcome you are seeking. If you want people to be equal culturally and socioeconomically then it helps to emphasize and reinforce similarities, including language. But if you want people to be free and distinctive, then you would find it important to preserve language as the basis of identity.

Mandating instruction in Standard English inevitably results in a gradual diminution of distinctive cultural identity, though the process usually takes a few generations. Whether this amounts to a suppression depends on the intention behind it, and whether it is desired or resisted by those subjected to it.

In "Justice as a Larger Loyalty" Richard Rorty argues that Justice is simply a sub-category of loyalty. Skipping his main argument, I started thinking about his examples and how he went about discussing the issue.

The problem with hypothetical examples for moral dilemmas is that they invariably oversimplify the situation. It trying to highlight the dilemma, they posit a few facts, and then ask the reader to consider what they would do. But what any of us would do is ultimately dependent on a far greater range of data than the hypothetical example can provide. And, of course, it also tends to assume that our actions are largely the result of our moral reasoning, something that should not be taken for granted.

Two examples in Rorty's essay include that dilemma of a family after a nuclear holocaust who now shoot their neighbors to preserver their own dwindling food supplies, and the classic lifeboat dilemma. As to the example of the family after a nuclear holocaust, the problem is can be considered from several angles. For one, everyone is going to die anyway, so why worry about whether you can feed your family for two extra days. This is the real problem with hypotheticals: as models they are always incomplete. There are always factors that the model excludes. For example, someone once asked me (knowing I am married), “If you could sleep with another woman and no one would ever find out, would you do it?” The expected answer is, “… well, if no one would ever know…” However, there is another dimension to the issue. I would know, even if no one else ever did. And this is not insignificant. So back to the nuclear holocaust example: food is limited and family and neighbors all want to eat. The choices are: fight off the neighbors in the name of family, or share with all and run out sooner. Given the bleak situation, I question whether the moral course is to put a black spot on your soul by killing your neighbors for the sake of your kids, or to go out with a clean conscience, knowing you did best for everyone. The radiation will probably get you before the hunger.

Move the scenario to a life boat on the open ocean, and the problem of hypoteticals again shows up. There are simply too many unknowns. You don’t know how long until you will be rescued, if you will be rescued, whether you will be able to catch fish, and where ocean currents will take you. And anyway, dehydration is a bigger problem than malnutrition. To kill off the strangers so as not to have to share food and thus provide better for your family sets a terrible moral example for them, and they will have to witness the deed. Then if you all survive, you will never know if you could have done things differently and brought everyone through.

Finally, as a principle, looking out for those closes to you does not create a society I or anyone else would want to live in. So if it doesn’t serve well under normal circumstances, how is it any better in extraordinary ones? Once you accept the expediency excuse (desperate circumstances call for desperate measures) then you have the slippery slope problem: when are circumstances desperate? Nuclear holocaust is remote, but what about unemployment? Is that desperate enough to justify stealing food (my family needs it more than the store proprietor)? Where is the line?

Rorty, Richard. "Justice as a Larger Loyalty."  Justice and Democracy: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Ed. Ron Bontekoe. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawaii P, 1997. 9-22.

The marriage of Justice and Care seems to be a lot older than the 1980’s. In Chapter 11 of Book 8 of his “Nicomachean Ethics” Aristotle examined the relationship between Justice and Friendship and found that where one is absent, the other is usually also absent. “But in the deviation-forms [of government], as justice hardly exists, so too does friendship. It exists least in the worst form; in tyranny there is little or no friendship. For where there is nothing common to ruler and ruled, there is not friendship either, since there is not justice…” (Aristotle). Earlier Aristotle had defined Friendship as mutual caring between people, and distinguished it from one-sided forms of love and other one-sided relationships. “Of the love of lifeless objects we do not use the word 'friendship'; for it is not mutual love, nor is there a wishing of good to the other… but to a friend we say we ought to wish what is good for his sake.” (Aristotle “Ethics” Bk 8 Ch 2). So to Aristotle both Justice and Friendship/Care are essential for a good society. You can’t have one without the other. So it seems that the ideas developed by feminist ethicists in the 1980's (adding the care perspective to justice) have much older antecedents.

Aristotle. “The Internet Classics Archive | Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle”. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. William David Ross. 1908. The Internet Classics Archive. Daniel C. Stevenson. 2000. MIT. 6 Aug 2007 .

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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