August 06, 2004

Tolerance and Diversity

One of the most influential books I ever read was The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist, published in 1960. The book, and then further Amatuer Scientist columns thruout the '60s, shaped my understanding of how things happen, work, and are made. I especially recall one of the last I read, about a homebuilt ruling engine for optical gratings. The machine was controlled by a laser interferometor, kept in a bell jar in an air conditioned room and run for days to let its temperature restabilize, but still produced two ten millionths of an inch of random error. With this as my evidence that nothing is perfect, I had little difficulty understanding fits and tolerances when I became involved in machining metal during my decades in manufacturing, where measurement is done in thousandths rather than ten millionths. They may speak of one thumb and two thumb fits in old time British handwork practice, but zero tolerance is unattainable.

Now that I am working in the radio end of cellular communications, diversity has replaced tolerance as the relevant term of art. It crossed my mind to make a t-shirt which proclaimed "Celebrate Diversity" and depicted a cellular antenna array, but the hassle of explaining multipath distortion outweighed the amusement of my friends. When first I saw the similar t-shirt which inspired all the hooraw, I saw it mostly as a tweak at gun enthusiasts who favor one style and knock another. If it had included a CZ52 and an SAA I'd have gotten one myself. I realized that it would offend the perpetually offended who blame guns for what some people use them for and believe that diversity should be imposed, but it never crossed my mind that there was anything inherently racist in the message of the shirt itself.

Uniformity is being enforced in the name of diversity, which is as oxymoronic as quotas for tolerance. Someone, possibly an actual racist, circulated an offensive racist manifesto around Milwaukee's gentrifying Brewer's Hill neighborhood. The community responded with meetings and yard signs. I wondered what the reaction would have been to a yard sign which proclaimed individuality, rather than diversity, is our strength, and on which the stick figures standing in solidarity were not all the same size, shape, and shade of purple. Because I live in the more integrated yet less liberal West End, I didn't bother to create one.

Posted by triticale at August 6, 2004 07:52 AM

Yeah, I find all this hoo-hum about the picture of the shirt pretty lame. Diversity. Guns. Different guns. Pretty colors. It's a shirt folks, not a poem, let's not over-analyze.

Posted by: Jimmy at August 7, 2004 09:29 PM
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