Wednesday, May 31, 2006

is everything bad really good for you?

I've just finished reading "Everything bad is good for you". Its central claim is that popular culture is making us smarter, with particular focus on TV (especially dramas like 24 and the sopranos) and video games. I thought it was interesting and entertaining but ultimately I was a little disappointed. I guess it a little like preaching to the choir with me, so I felt that he got a little repetitive as he rammed his point home. Not that I think his point is wrong but I think his argument could be significantly expanded. There is nothing wrong with this really but I think it means that his aim is more to convert the many -extremely hostile- people who probably can barley believe he's serious. Right at the end he briefly talks about issues of morality, he downplays the perceived negative influence of popular culture. I can forgive those sceptics who are not all that convinced and I think that he could have done a much better if he had devoted more time to it. Now I'll have to think of some sort of argument to back up this ridiculous assertion.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

the perfect blog post

Minimum wage and immigration over at samizdata, almost enough to bring tears to my eyes. I can't really comment, but it is interesting. In America there are between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants; I can't believe that the state really were unable to prevent that from happening.

Vilas: 'I'm very happy for Rafael!'

Yeah right. He is less than gracious in this interview.
I held a number of records - there was the one on clay, which has now been beaten, and there was also the record of 46 consecutive victories on any surface. Nadal has beaten the first one, but no-one has got near the other one for the moment. These two records I held came to an end when I lost to Ilie Nastase, who was using the 'spaghetti racquet' (which was double strung to put more spin in the ball and was very soon banned). So you could say that it wasn't a fair result when my series of wins finally came to an end. And afterwards, I went on to win six or seven tournaments in a row
The main difference comes from the fact that it was a lot tougher on the circuit in my day
Much more interested in his own greatness than Nadal's piddling little achievement.

I think this is hilarious
I even called him the other day in Barcelona to have a bit of fun with him. I started off calling him all the names under the sun, and all he could say was "Who is this? Who is this?" He seemed pretty worried, so I told him "It's me, it's Vilas!" I congratulated him of course.


You may have noticed the Dilbert link on the side bar of my blog. I visit the site everyday. I think the comic is funny but not Far Side funny (I think his blog is funnier). Twice in the last week it made me laugh though. These are them.

Monday, May 29, 2006

ethics and immigration

A few days ago I hastily posted this link. I really recommend that you read it if you have the chance. It is really worth noting that economists who are normally at each others throats agree that immigration is a good thing. Most economists agree
In a survey, economists and the general public were asked whether "too many immigrants" was a reason for bad economic conditions with 2 being a major reason and 0 not a reason at all. The public rated immigration a 1.23, economists just immigration just a 0.22.
I find it especially interesting since I get the impression that many lefties don't just think that free market type economists are wrong, but that they are bad. They don't care about the poor, or global inequalities, but as Tabarrok says
Immigration makes immigrants much better off. In the normal debate this fact is not considered to be of great importance -- who cares about them? But economists tend not to count some people as worth more than others, especially not if the difference is something so random as where a person was born.
Polly Toynbee, who leads the Guardians charge against the injustices of globalisation, the evil of the wealthy etc gives her take on immigration here. Here's a sample of what she has to say
But the implication is that these Londoners are so thick or lazy that we need cheap foreigners for catering,
Cheap foreigners? Like cheap petrol right? Surely Londoner's are not that thick and lazy?! Along with this total lack of concern for the 'cheap foreigners' there is plenty of other nonsense
They keep down the cost of flying for people wealthy enough to fly
making tickets cheap is the very thing that will allow the least well off to buy them.
Try this thought experiment: 43.5% of nurses recruited by the NHS since 1999 come from outside the UK. What if that were banned? The NHS in London would find clever ways to recruit from the city's mass of underqualified boys and girls, single mothers and other non-workers.
Brilliant! Such an imaginative thought experiment! Why had nobody thought of that before? And finally
Class-blind economics conveniently celebrates growth even when it enriches the well-off at the expense if the low-paid
Assuming of course that dirty foreigners are not actually people, even then it's debatable.

I've put in loads of links to articles on immigration. If you are interested at all I really recommend these two articles. They are easy to read and won't take much time. Which one shows more compassion for the poor?

whimsical robots

Patri Friedman has a couple of interesting posts that deal with the only thing that really bothers me about unlimited immigration. What if we know that those immigrants have profoundly undemocratic ideas? What if they don't think much of women's rights? Should we let them in? My initial response is no. But not so fast; what if we have good reasons to believe that the offspring of current citizens will have the same nasty views, should we take steps to reduce the birth rate? The answer this time is a much more emphatic no. So if it's wrong stop people moving in (as I believe), then we shouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions about preventing consequences that we think are undesirable. That said though, the immigrants could easily vote to lock the door to immigrants who would follow behind them. That is essentially the situation at the moment. American immigrants locking the rest of the world out.

This of course neglects the attitudes of would be immigrants. I've pointed out before that immigrants in America tend to assimilate quickly and work pretty hard. The key point is to make demands on them to assimilate, which is a very un-PC thing to say these days. I've also mentioned Gary Becker's point that it's possible to vastly increase the amount of immigration and at the same time encourage a particular type of person to move at the same time by charging an entrance fee.

Another point though comes from an article I linked to the other day. The crucial factor when trying to immigrate at the moment is if you have relatives in America. In other words, it's pretty random. Mexicans who risk their lives to work in pretty crap jobs show that they are much more keen on the traditional American dream. You would think American's would sympathise.


Been blogging over at Tracy's blog, take a look.

quote for the day

But if you think the government is not a huge whimsical robot overlord, well, we live in very different worlds.

Patri Friedman on immigration (!)

weird experiences

Jeremy Strangroom guest blog's over at butterflies and wheels and he talk's about this weird experience he had. There are loads of comments and I didn't read them all. The weirdness seems rest on how he felt at the time. I have no particular problem with that but in the comments he says:
2. My suspcion is that if one did the probability calculation correctly in this instance (which I suspect is not possible) it would turn out to be vanishingly unlikely (i.e., not merely a matter of billions to one against)
Considering that all he did was guess the correct name I don't know how he can possibly make that assertion. I doub't that many more than 100 billion people have ever existed and it's not like he guessed was some chinese kid from 600 years ago (which would have been more impressive). Why should the odds of him guessing the correct name be less than the odds of picking the correct name out a hat containing the name of every person ever to have existed?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

i should not be blogging...

but I just have to post this article. Guess what it's about.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

this is better

I prefer this attitude.

capitalism is great!

Good article in the telegraph today. Not so long ago I was discussing with a friend the merits (or otherwise) of a minimum wage. He said that in his heart he supported a minimum wage, but since he was unconvinced it actually helped the poor he didn't really support it in practice. If it doesn't help the poor why support it in your heart? A minimum wage only exist to try to help the poor, it is a symbol of that, which is why I think people like it. But if we are interested in actually helping, we should champion the most effective method. In this case a basic income, or negative income tax, or earned income tax credit. But somehow a minimum wage retains its luster over these other schemes. Proponents of these alternatives shouldn't mumble apologetically into their feet when they make their case, if it's the best way then that's good! The same goes for capitalism, it's not a tragedy that it works so well and other systems don't. We should be excited that there is way out grinding poverty and set to work on implementing it correctly.

andrew sullivan

I used to really like Andrew Sullivan, but I've been going off him recently. I'm sure his blogging is of the same standard of a few months ago, but he has been taking an increasingly hard line on immigration.
I'm not impressed with these arguments. If Mexico wants to cooperate with the U.S., why does it not share the costs of constructing a wall?
What? Mexico should pay for the wall? Why? Mexicans vote with their feet in the most literal way about how they feel about a wall. They like being able to walk into the US.
But let them immigrate legally,
I don't think it's easy for poor Mexicans who can't speak english to immigrate legally.
let's expand legal immigration to accommodate them
Great! The best place to start would be to make the 11 to 12 million illegals, legal! Easy!
Expense? Of course. So let's abolish agricultural subsidies, import more food-stuffs - and ethanol! - from Latin and South America, and use the money we save to help build the wall. Deal?
Huh? How does pointing out that America wastes loads of money change the fact that the wall would cost a lot? America could 'afford' the wall subsidy's or no subsidy's, the wall still has to be debated on its own merits.

the onion

... weighs in on the immigration debat.

Update: They weigh in on the debate as well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

anything to avoid work

I think this pretty funny.

more relativism

One response I got to my long post on relativism was "well, so what?" It?s true that it does not contain any stunning insight. I see the post more as an intuition pump (Dan Dennett's term) to help with things we already know. Take learning physics for example. At school kids are often just taught a list of facts, definitions and simple rules for working out simple problems. In the hands of a motivated student that might be enough, but for most kids you can no more learn physics like that than you can Learn Zulu by looking up a list of Zulu words and some simple grammatical rules. Just like a new language to learn maths or physics you need to immerse yourself in that new domain and learn the design grammar. What certain words or symbols mean in that context and how to create meaning yourself. Entering each new domain involves the same sort of learning process.

It also clarifies the intuitive idea that while there is good and bad post-modern philosophy, that doesn't mean that the good stuff needs to be taken that seriously outside the domain as the design grammar could be arbitrarily constructed. It is important to remember what we are trying to do when entering a new domain. The rules of some domains directly contradict the rules of others, believing both is inconsistent but looked at in this way I can see how it happens. I don?t think accepting rules of both is honest at all and there is no fixed rule for determining with domain should 'win' and which should be disregarded but I would suggest that we have stronger attachments to some than to others, sometimes without being consciously aware of it. For example going about our everyday lives we expect things (floors water cars etc) to behave more or less like they always have done, if they didn't life would be terrifying. But that predictability is the principle underpinning of science. Rejecting science is in serious tension with the relaxed attitude we take when going about our everyday lives.

Another thing to consider is the relationship between the different domains. Many domains have much of their design grammars in common, some have very little in common. This affects the ease with which we can move between different domains and become involved or fluent in new ones. The main thrust of the video gaming paper was that the design grammar of games has much in common with the grammar of science and encourages many of the same values and habits. It is important to know if this is true, if it is there could be a valuable educational opportunity.

It seems to me that fundamentalism stems from people living in only one domain. The rules of the domain are the only rules that count, integrating in other domains, learning other ways of making meaning and valuing things is taboo. Entering other domains is valuable in itself, comparing the new values with values from other domains, discarding them or adopting them, learning new ways of thinking.

Finally (for now), the boundaries of the domain are fluid and changing according to peoples tastes and circumstances (depending on technology, physical environment, wealth etc). By favoring one domain with subsidy's or protecting it in other ways fixes the boundaries. Then as circumstances change the boundaries don't and the domain will become increasingly detached from real people and the function it was supposed to serve. We must not forget the purpose that these domains serve in the first place.

I know what I prefer

The key is to remember the good things when thinking about the 'bad' things.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Check it out!

Pietermaritzburg is having it's 15 minutes of bloggosphere fame!

(Who in Pietermaritzburg reads Andrew Sullivan's blog?)

hitchens on ayaan hirsi ali

The lack of support depresses me, but there are worse friends to have than Christopher Hitchens. I think this is the key point,
as was said several times in heated debate in the Dutch parliament, the discovery of a false statement on an immigration form (even when the proof is not provided by the person concerned, as in this case) is not automatic grounds for the removal of citizenship. The minister has discretion in the matter.
One of the things se lied about was her name,
This was partly to prevent her family -her father being a well-known Somali politician- from discovering her whereabouts after she had fled an arranged marriage to a distant relative.
Seems like a good reason.

Of course my response to her lying to get in is, "so what!?" It's pretty tough to get asylum, some people have been sent back to Zimbabwe and Iraq. If some beurocrat decides that things may be bad but they are just not quite bad enough I know whose side I'm on. It's a stupid, immoral rule, people who break it should not be judged harshly. At the very least people should acknowledge that there is an enormous incentive to lie when the chances of being turned down are very good.

In Dan Dennett's book 'Freedom Evolves', he devotes a section to what counts as a just law. I'll have to dig it up now, but the basic idea is that the law should minimise the number of people that could reasonably feel hard done by it. There are 12 million illegal immigrants in America and I'm sure a few of them could reasonably feel hard done by if the law were enforced and they were deported. Some important people want to change the law so they can lock up the illegal immigrants; I wonder how they would feel then?

Any lawyers out there? Feel free to tear this last paragraph to shreds.

the simpsons

Yip, that's the Simpsons, pure genius.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Got into a debate over at samizdata.


Tragically, this blog does not have many readers. I've come to terms with this fact and I'll soldier on.

But being polite is what we all do everyday, one of the pleasures of blogging is to say what you think without worrying about all stuff that goes with normal conversations. It also encourages you to find reasons for why you think that in the first place. Worrying about causing offence will rob this blog of any value.

Friday, May 19, 2006


I trust you have all been following the debate on Stephen Pollards blog right? I'm still recovering from the devastating responses.
...there are so many poor people that trying to help them through open immigration is ultimately futile.
they [other countries] are not yours to offer
Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution fame have been blogging on immigration a lot recently. Since they have their head in the real world, they are focusing more on the effects of immigration on the recipient country rather than overall welfare or philosophical principles (which I normally do along with the nuts at places like catallarcy and samizdata). They think the evidence shows that it is a net benefit, despite costs.

The articles are here, here, here and here. This one suggests that the closer people live to immigrants the more pro-immigration they are. But I especially like this one. It's an open letter to George Bush arguing in favour of immigration and has been signed by some relatively big names like Brad DeLong. Though the focus is on the benefits to Americans Tabarrok can hardly be accused of understating the benefits to the immigrants and their families (and the 'donor' countries):
Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries?a form of truly effective foreign aid..


I'd say there's a good chance that it will cause a stir in the blogosphere and up the level of debate which doesn't show any signs of dying down.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

She has been stripped of her citizenship. I assume this means that government will be clamping down on all recent immigrants and immediately deporting all illegal immigrants.

poor thing

I don't understand why it didn't do it earlier. It endured so much pointless suffering.
This fearless little machine saved me from unspoken hours of exasperated head-scratching and eyestrain, as well as years of agonizing self-doubt over my decision to devote my life to teaching

Monday, May 15, 2006

stuart torr - relativist

Warning! I wrote this very quickly. I reserve the right to change anything written here and claim later that I never really believed it at all.

I recently wrote an essay on the wonders of video games. It was based on a very interesting article I was given in one of my classes. I'll post it when I get round to making less boring and delete the big words that I thought sounded cool but don't understand.

The article explains that life is comprised of more or less distinct domains and actions, words etc are uniquely meaningful within those domains. Cricket is famous for making absolutely no sense to people who don't know much about it. When people talk cricket, they use words other people understand but to many people, they may as well be speaking greek. Cricket has a set of rules, standards and values that newcomers must learn before they can understand much and before they 'create meaning' (make an intelligent remark that other cricket lovers appreciate).

Of course this applies to just about every serious pursuit (or domain), from quantum mechanics to global terrorism. Each domain has its own rules (or design grammar. Can?t resist) that underpins it and it takes a lot of effort to master them and do things within the constraints they impose. So, while a cricket fanatic may seem like a lunatic to an American he may actually be making perfect sense, but it takes someone who knows the rules domain to know whether he's just making stuff up that sounds right to him or if he actually knows what he's talking about.

Each religion clearly has its own unique design grammar of which I am woefully ignorant. A Muslim can say something to me in English that I think I understand but it is likely that I won't make meaning of the words in the same way at all as they are intended. So, in a very way I am not competent to judge religious statements, only other people within that religion (they don't need to actually believe in it) can properly judge them.

So aren't we left in a position where each culture makes its own truth? Obviously I don't think so, mainly because the design grammar can be completely arbitrary. Cricket is pretty weird; many rules could be changed without changing how sensible, or even how fun the game is. So long as there is enough coherence for people to act within the constraints and still make sense of what other people do it doesn't really matter what the design grammar looks like. Nazis and other unpleasant sorts have created their own domains that keep them busy for years. Also, a word like truth is an hooray word that people in different domains love to use, they tend to have very different ideas about what it means. So when people make their truth claims, they may very well be 'true', just keep a definition of what they mean by truth handy.

Of course another problem is that some domains try to encroach on others. It's one thing to let them have their ideas if they keep them to themselves; it's another when those ideas are being rammed down your throat.

This line of reasoning has changed my views on various things. I no longer think that things like modern art are inherently crap. I fully believe that many works are inspired, creative and worthy of admiration. Of course the same goes for loads of things, Hollywood movies, video games etc. I am however also much more comfortable not paying to much attention to claims that I should enjoy certain books or plays or art that is apparently very good. There are other things worthy of my attention too; maybe I'll appreciate them eventually, maybe not. It also reinforces my view that certain art should not be subsidized by the government. To me that smacks of on domain trying to impose itself on others using the coercive power of the state.

stephen pollard

I've finally taken my fight out into the wider world. I was drawn in by a rasist troll, whose comment has been deleted but a small debate has ensued. stephen and johnatan pearce of samizdata have commented (not on my posts, but they've read them!). Take a look!

Sunday, May 14, 2006


It was the best game I've ever seen. Not that I'll have very fond memories of it.

update: I have recovered somewhat from yesterday's horror. It really was mesmerising stuff and it lasted over 5 hours! A few times during the match I thought it was unreasonable that anybody could be expected play Nadal. Seriously, I felt that it was unfair. I thought Federer played amazingly, definitly the top of his game.

Here's a better write up.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

more intimidation

Whenever I rant on about immigration I'm aware that Europe has had its fair share of troubles with recent immigrants. In my previous post on Zuma I suggested part of the reason for this is the states indulgent approach to the fanatics. Anybody who's watched many American movies knows that you just don't negotiate with terrorists. The reason is that if terrorists get what they want, other terrorists will have good reason to think that they can benefit from similar tactics. The same applies to things like trashing theaters in Birmingham or violence over cartoons. The 'multi-cultural' policies of much of Europe give undue consideration to unpleasant, unelected individuals because they are religious leaders.

This article sums up the whole sad spectacle rather well. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a brave woman fighting (at great personal risk) for the rights that should be a given in Europe and shes a living example of the governments error. By acting ashamed of her they are giving support to the thugs who trying to kill her and they shouldn't be surprised when it happens again.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Certainly guilty of being a moron... This saga has got me to thinking.

The whole time women's rights activists have been demonizing Zuma and Zuma's followers have been demonizing the complainant. My attitude to Zuma and the complainant (other considerations aside) rather depends on whether he raped her or not and I still have no idea if he did.

However if I was the complainant I would have felt pretty menaced by Zuma's supporters. It's pretty clear that there are many people out there who wish her harm. I don't think that sends a good signal to rape victims. How safe can they really feel if they wish to press charges? Is it really worth the trauma when there is a reasonable chance that the accused with get off? That in turn sends a signal to rapists that intimidation may be effective in stopping victims from pressing charges and reinforces the idea that rape isn't all that serious. In a country where rape is so common that's a real problem. The signal needs to be loud and clear, rapist will be punished if found guilty, but more relevant to this post steps should be taken to convince victims that they will be safe if they look for justice. I'm not saying it's easy and I didn't follow the case very closely so I don't know the details of how the complainant was protected but I wasn't convinced. I doubt that all the rape victims out there were either.

This is the reason why I found the motoons saga distressing. People can't feel safe causing offence, they have to look over their shoulder (sometimes literally; I was in a UCT lab looking at one of the cartoons when I suddenly realised that somebody might see! I hastily looked round to see who was there). Governments need to make an effort to make people feel safe from fanatics. They don't do that if all they do is grovel and apologise to the fanatics while admonishing newspapers for their unacceptable behaviour. I am starting to see why all the hard-core free speechers call this type of behaviour dangerous.

I also remembered a bit of Freakonomics about the Ku Klux Klan lynching blacks. While that sort of thing should never happen, there were never that many lynching's, but the they served to create an enormous amount of fear. The same sort of thing applies when people like Theo van Gough are murdered. It sends a powerful message. I think this helps explain why I find people who stand up and say, "We don't condone the violence but..." so sinister.

free lunch

This has been lying around for a while now. This adds some quantitative punch to my vague assertion that immigrants have a lot more to gain by moving to countries like the US than a bigger pay check. You get about $500,000 worth of intangibles living in the US, it costs them nothing to let immigrants in (actually you save money as you don't need to build huge fences etc.), you can make a mountain of money out of them in the process (if you feel so inclined), you can solve the problem of having 12 million (!) illegal immigrants in your country and you can sooth your guilt for not giving large amounts of aid. That sounds like a pretty good deal. The costs must be really, really high to justify not doing it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

the veil

I recently posted about the consequences of taking John Rawls seriously. I have discussed them with a few people and I think it's worth noting that, just as with Rawls original theory, it does not matter if significant costs are incurred by the adoption of the policy (a massive welfare state for Rawls, free immigration for me).

I don't know what reasons Rawls gives for applying the veil domestically. Free immigration is in tension with a welfare state (because people will start moving just for the handouts), I wonder if that had anything to do with it?

david friedman

Is illegal immigration wrong? Is it wrong because it's illegal? Seem's like many people think exactly that. Here's a good response.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

brad delong

DeLong want's to increase the minimum wage by $2 so he aint perfect, but I really wish lefties were more like him. This is long but interesting.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

income inequality

Gary Becker has an interesting post on income inequality. A commenter makes a good point (!):
...if income is defined in terms of the services that are yielded by the products (and services) that we buy, it is much more equal than if it is defined in money terms. The comment compares a Camry to a Lexus. The Lexus is a better car, but it costs three times as much and is it three times better? No. The 18-year-old Macallan (a single-malt Scotch) costs about twice as much as the 12-year-old, but the difference in taste is very slight.

minimum wage

... and on minimum wage.

tim worstall

As I've said before, Tim Worstall is cool. As we all knew, maths teachers are horribly underpaid. Not the point of the post though but you'll have to read it to find that point out.

the veil

here it is.

get away from that idea! it's mine!

Sigh... I was going to use this to solve world poverty (and much else besides!) but the idea is already out there. But just for the record. I think the benefits to potential immigrants are understated here (just economic, while there are many others, general health, safety and security are all way better as well), but it's the right idea.

Sadly the comments are predictable, here's my favorite:
Oh, by all means, let's overthrow the rule of law, screw the poor, and relieve the pressure on Mexican society to reform.

Besides, immigration is great for real estate values; rents in L.A. slums are higher per square foot than they are in Beverly Hills!
Screw the poor!? But take a look at the others too.

It's worth noting that these people are reading a very respectable, economically literate left-wing blog (see more on Brad DeLong here). I can barely think of a demographic that should be more sympathetic to open immigration.

I'd be interested to know why Rawls thinks the 'veil of ignorance' should only apply locally. 'veil of partial and arbitrary ignorance' would be better, less catchy though.

Damn damn damn. I'll still claim it though (the idea that is).