Fćrslur mánudaginn 26. janúar 2004

At 23:50: Deconstruction - The Pomo Pick-Axe 

Chip Morningstar: How to Deconstruct Almost Anything - My Postmodern Adventure should proof informative to those not familiar to the Zen and Art of Postmodern Deconstruction - especially for people with a background in the "hard" sciences.

The fact that this essay is written by a scientist/engineer type reminds me of physicist Alan Sokal's famous parody/prank on the French pomo-intelligentsia.

Like Sokal, Morningstar is highly critical of the pomo intelligentsia. Unlike Sokal, Morningstar seems completely disillusioned about his ability (or the general need) to shake/topple the intelligentsia's ivory tower. (I have my doubts that Sokal's somewhat aggressive attack on the humanities was as well informed as he seemed to think himself.) Near the end of his essay, Morningstar offers a relatively balanced conclusion to the reader (given his obvious hard-science bias):

"The quality of the actual analysis [(i.e. deconstruction)] of various literary works [done by academics] varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity."

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At 23:06: On right-wing politics 

Jason Kottke on the movie The Corporation which recently won awards at the Sundance Film Festival:

"Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation a "person" in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary employees a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV, the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis. [...] The institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath."

Jason continues...

"In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins asserts that the larger organism exists in order to propagate the genes and not the other way around as we, the organism, had always assumed. In the same way, corporations have traditionally thought of themselves as the most important entities in the economic ecosystem..."

Heh! :-)

I then stumbled across Seth Finkelstein's excellent essay Libertarianism Makes You Stupid. It contains loads of good arguments against the almost religious zealotry of many right-wing libertarians, and some of the lapses commonly found in their reasoning.

My own favourite arguments against right-wing libertarian views have always been that...

  • they assume that all markets are perfect.
  • they assume that most people behave rationally (in the economic sense).
  • they base their whole moral reasoning on a very narrow (and thus flawed) definition of what constitutes "freedom".

Political science people commonly aknowledge three different types/flavours of freedom...

  1. Negative freedom - freedom from direct external oppression (by governments, fellow humans, etc.)
  2. Positive freedom - the economic/physical/etc. ability to act as one chooses.
  3. Psychological freedom - the mental/cognative ability to choose. (Think ignoramuses and/or drug addicts.)

...but right-wing libertarians tend to focus only on the first type - negative freedom. That makes them look kind of stupid IMO.

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At 21:51: Tackling the IE factor 

CSS über-guru Douglas Bowman rants about about "the IE factor" that tends to skew all CSS programming estimates. I feel his pain - every single day at my work. Following is a comment I wrote at his place:

I've compiled a nice set of simple CSS hacks that target different OS/versions of IE:

To target IE5/Mac I make sure some element in the DOM of the page has two or more class names (i.e. the class attribute contains a space). This triggers the horrendous IE/Mac Whitespace Parsing Bug which can be used to your advantage to target IE5/mac specifically. Say we have an element set to class="wrapper foo", then the rule .wrapper-ie5mac { color : red; } will color that element red only in IE5/Mac. (The "-ie5mac" bit is just random crud that I add to the actual class-name).

To target all Windows versions of IE, I use the old "underscore hack". The invalid declaration _height : 1em; will only be applied by IE/Win. This particular declaration happens to solve most - almost all - cases of dissappearing borders and backgrounds in IE. Another common fix seems to be _position : relative;

The third and final trick I use targets only Windows IE versions 5.0 and 5.5. This tricks combines the “underscore hack” and the "/**/ comment hack". The underscore includes only IE/Win and the empty comment before the colon excludes IE6.0, leaving only the 5.x browsers to apply the declaration. Example of use: _width /**/: 200px; which seems to be the smallest/simplest "box-model hack" available.

BTW, I’ve not 100% verified yet that the above hacks don’t have unintended consequenses in some of the older versions of Opera or - say - old versions of OmniWeb, or the 4.x line of IE. Frankly, I don’t really care if they do. Getting the job done on time (factoring in the damned "IE factor") is difficult enough, without taking all the extreme minority browsers into account too. Sure, I’m as anal retentive about cross-browser compliance as the next guy - but only up to a point. Hey, sue me! :-)

A rewrite of an actual example from a recent project of mine:

.menu {
  padding : 10px 5px;
  min-height : 180px;
  _height : 180;
  _height /**/: 200px;
  overflow : auto;
}
.bodywrap-ie5mac .menu { overflow : normal; }

Note: Deciphering the actual result is left as an exercise to the reader. :-) Also note that inside the the <body> element there happens to be a single element <div class="bodywrap xxx"> ...

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