TMS: Of Sympathy

Adam Smith in Part 1, Section 1, Ch 1, Of Sympathy (Theory of Moral Sentiments 1790) argues that sympathy (interest in the fortune of others or fellow-feeling) is a part of human nature unavoidably experienced by all people whether they want to or not. He develops this argument through several examples that induce sympathy of some kind: seeing someone about to get hit, a mob watching a hanging, seeing itching sores of beggars, looking upon sore eyes, hearing the cries of an infant, loss of reason in another, and death of another. His purpose is to develop a conception of the process by which the experience of sympathy takes place--one person imagines being in the place of another and projects his feelings onto the situation--in order to further develop this idea in the next chapter: "Of the Pleasure of mutual Sympathy".


Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality

Clay Shirky’s article “Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality”, presents an explanation for the inequality in traffic to weblogs: distributions in social systems with freedom of choice and diversity of choices follow a power law function that boils down to 1/N. He develops this explanation by showing graphs of blogs ranked by number of inbound links, yahoo groups ranked by number of subscribers, and LiveJournal users ranked by number of friends. He also makes a deductive argument for this effect through a hypothetical example of a thousand people each picking their 10 favorite blogs, and considering how the outcome would look if there were no shared tastes or recommendations among friends versus how it looks when the choices of the first people surveyed affect choices of subsequent people. His purpose is to show that inequality is a ubiquitous feature of social systems in order to dispel the notion that the inequality is a moral failing of the people participating. He is writing to an audience of people familiar with Internet social media and interested in the social aspects of web blogging.


Adventures in International Freedom

Tom G. Palmer in his talk “Adventures in International Freedom” at Boston University 26 Oct 2011, argued that the ideas of the liberty movement are global ideas misclassified as western ideas, that the implementation of these ideas is responsible for exponential growth in global per capita wealth over approximately the last 200 years, and that recent ills in the U.S. should be attributed to crony capitalism. He developed these points by presenting photos of himself reaching out to liberty groups around the world, by outlining the relationship between wealth creation and the ideas surrounding property rights, and by citing recent examples of how the rule of law has been violated in the U.S. by the Bush and Obama administrations. His purpose was to give an overview of some of the important ideas in the liberty movement in order to highlight their importance in bringing prosperity to a great number of people around the world. He was speaking to an audience of college students and professionals local to Boston and Cambridge.


The Balance of Roles

Steven Covey’s “Chapter 6: The Balance of Roles” in the “First Things First” argues that viewing roles as part of an interrelated whole and developing that interrelatedness leads to a more meaningful and productive life.  He develops this argument by giving examples of how skills and activities transfer across roles, and by giving examples of how relating roles to one’s big-picture mission and sense of accountability to someone or something higher than oneself creates passion and energy. His purpose is to replace a compartmentalized view of roles with a more holistic view in order to give the reader better perspective when deciding how to balance time between them. He is writing to a general audience with an interest in time management.


Eric S. Raymond's Chapter 5. Textuality from "The Art of Unix Programming" 2003, argues that text formats should be favored for file-format and protocol design and that complex binary format or application protocols should only be created for large datasets where bit density and/or instruction economy are crucial. He develops this argument by presenting a summary and analysis of the trade-offs of several text and binary formats and protocols. His purpose is to convince developers to shy away from binary formats in order to promote the spread of designs that favor transparency, interoperability and extensibility. He is writing to an audience of computer programmers interested in learning about programming the Unix operating system.


So You Say You Want to Kill XML…

Ted Neward's blog article "So You Say You Want to Kill XML…" (July 11, 2008) asserts that situations where performance is critical and endpoints are well-known and controlled are suited for binary protocols like protocol buffers and that situations where endpoints are loosely coupled and in need of maximum flexibility and interoperability are suited for XML wrapped in a SOAP or RESTful envelope. He develops this assertion by pointing out how the protocol buffer consumer is not so language neutral and is tightly coupled against the .proto file while XML documents are self-descriptive and situated to be easily manipulated by ancillary tools like XSLT and streaming parsers. Neward's purpose is to point out pros and cons of the two approaches to data interchange in order to offset the religious tendencies of some developers to always promote one over the other. He is writing to an audience of software developers familiar with ongoing heated debate over the use of these two formats.

Done, and Gets Things Smart

Steve Yegge's blog post "Done, and Gets Things Smart" (June 16, 2008) argues that looking for people who fit his "Done, and Gets Things Smart" description will help overcome the Dunning-Kruger Effect (unskilled people overrate their competence and fail to recognize genuine skill in others), when trying to recognize and hire highly competent people. He develops the notion of "Done, and Gets Things Smart" by describing seed engineers from Geoworks, Google, and Amazon who are routinely done with projects before anyone expects and who make existing software and systems smarter/better at the same time. Yegge's purpose is to understand and overcome the Dunning-Kruger Effect in order to better recognize his own limits, to avoid hiring carbon-copies of himself, and to hire people who are smarter. He is writing for an audience of hiring decision makers who want to build a successful tech company (and for tech workers who want to realize how un-smart they actually are).


Steve Jobs, World's Greatest Philanthropist

Dan Pallotta in "Steve Jobs, World’s Greatest Philanthropist" argues that Steve Jobs has contributed much more to humanity by not having started any public foundations with his wealth and instead spending all of his time at what he did best--creating great products. Pallotta develops his argument by listing innovative products Jobs brought to market, describing how each has made a large number of people better off, and pointing out that all of Jobs' efforts went into these endeavors as opposed to luxury spending on himself. Pallotta's purpose is to establish the admirability of helping humanity through building wealth in the market in order to make this option know to students who are in the process of making career choices. Pallotta is writing to an audience that wants to make a difference in the world but that discounts Jobs for not having given away more of his money.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23: Introduction

Phillip Keller in the introduction to "A Shepard looks at Psalm 23" 1970, asserts that he has a unique background that helps him interpret and appreciate the psalm. He supports his assertion by pointing out that natural phenomena were used to teach spiritual truths and that his eight years as a sheep rancher gave him insight into the teachings. His purpose in the introduction is to establish his credibility in order to motivate the audience to read on and find out what he has to say.The essay is written for a Christian audience familiar with psalm 23.

Some Experts Question Iran’s Role in Bungled Plot

Robert Mackey’s article, “Some Experts Question Iran’s Role in Bungled Plot”, Oct 12, 2011, argues that it is implausible that any high-level official of the Iranian government approved the failed plot to assassinate Mohammad Khazaee, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. Mackey develops this claim by quoting two scholars and two analysts who find it unlikely that Iran would trust an amateur and a Mexican drug gang riddled with undercover US agents to carry out a plot like this. Mackey's purpose is to show there are other plausible explanations of the plot in order to raise awareness of how lack of diplomatic relations between the US and Iran results in a situation where it only takes a few people and only $100,000 to set off rhetoric that could lead to war. Mackey's article addresses an American audience interested in expert opinion.

The Lost Tools of Learning

Dorothy Leigh Sayers’s essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” (1947) argues that the medieval scheme of education can be revived and applied in a modern context to achieve what she sees as education’s true end: to teach people to learn for themselves. She develops her argument by sketching a syllabus of grammar, logic, and rhetoric and giving examples of how these three subjects constitute the tools used for the study of all subjects.  Sayer’s purpose is to raise the level of intellectual discourse and reduce compartmentalization in order to help people to become less susceptible to mass persuasion and more intellectually free. Sayers emphasizes that she is not an expert in education, but establishes herself as an intellectual, uncomfortable with the current state of education and discourse, who is reaching out to other intellectuals with an idea for improving it.