Friday, September 29, 2006

what's your vice?

A while back Tyler Cowen wrote about the libertarian, (US) liberal and conservative vices. He has this to say about the lefty vice:
The modern liberal vice is to think that everyone can be taken care of, and/or to rule out foreigners from the relevant moral universe.
This is why my posts on immigration are normally directed at leftist types (of course those on the right are evil and cannot be reasoned with). Leftists enjoy being on the side of the poor and oppressed, they are keen on giving truck loads of their tax money to poor countries yet they scream bloody murder if you suggest loosening immigration restrictions because it depresses the wages of local unskilled workers. A leftist will often not be able to understand that a $2 an hour job could be a desirable step for some people. They think keeping them out is much better than allowing them to be "exploited".

Anyway... what was my point? Oh yes, the vegetarian vice.

Vegetarians can be pretty confrontational and self righteous, but so can just about every religion or cause you can think of. Vegetarians often apply their ethical standards inconsistently; I am more concerned about consistency than exactly where I draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. Vegetarianism is also almost indistinguishable from environmentalism. I think the connection between animal rights and carbon emissions is pretty loose, but some people are surely put off vegetarianism because of its association with activism.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

more marxism

A complaint that I've heard before is that schools are in the business of putting kids in their place in the name of the market, "Joe, you will be a manager because that is what you deserve and Billy, you will be a worker." I have no idea how much influence business leaders have over education policy but I doubt that they are in favour of dumbing down the curriculum in the way some of our lecturers claim. The complaint is part of a broader claim that the state is indoctrinating kids to its chosen ideology (which I kind of agree with, but not for the same reasons).

I don't think business leaders should decide education policy, that would be very un-free markety. The thing is that it is that education is one the most socialist parts of our society. The state controls the curriculum and most of what goes on. In a free market there would be different types of schools emphasising different kinds of things. It would be an excellent way of avoiding the awful indoctrination that is currently taking place on such a large scale. When the Marxists finally gain control of education I don't get the impression that there will be a huge diversity of ideas taught and I somehow doubt that capitalism will get much time in the classroom. Of course that would be because capitalism is wrong and bad, Marxists will teach the true and good stuff, to all the kids. Lucky them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

'The Scream' Returns From Two-Year Vacation Relaxed

Report: Iranian Science Teachers May Be Enriching Students

WASHINGTON, DC- A recently released Pentagon report is raising new worries that Iran has been operating several large facilities designed solely for the purpose of enriching mass quantities of high-grade students...

Leading analysts believe that the teachers are using a widely applied enrichment process in which students are isolated from such elements as family, play, and cartoons, and are rotated through seven separative work units over the course of each day. This cycle is repeated for months, until the students are made highly reactive to reading matter, which enables them to absorb large amounts of information in short periods of time.

The students are then continually exposed to heavy material, taught to achieve critical thought, and finally graduate to a state of explosive productivity...

"While we believe that a majority of these students were developed within Iran's borders anywhere from 13 to 17 years ago, there is also evidence that they are importing older students from former Soviet republics and Pakistan in what officials have dubbed an 'exchange program,'" CIA Director Michael Hayden said...

In a nationally televised Oval Office address Tuesday, President Bush expressed the concern that if Iran is allowed to enrich its students unchecked, many of them could end up anywhere, with some potentially landing in major university centers in New York and Los Angeles.

"The U.S. stopped enriching its students decades ago, and we call upon Iran to do the same," Bush said. "If the Iranians do not put an end to this program by the middle of December, and impose final examinations, they could face further isolation from the international community."

Monday, September 25, 2006

gun run

I ran the Gun Run for the fourth time yesterday. My time was 1 hour 51 minutes which is very much in line with my other half marathon times. The difference this time is that I wasn't hung-over, injured, detained by the other runners or otherwise impeded.

So, it looks like improving my time is going to be a lot harder than I thought. More interesting is how little impact those other 'disasters' seem to have had. I had guessed that they added 5-10 minutes to my time, but that is way overstated. I find that pretty surprising.

federer worship

One of the hazards of worshiping your sporting hero's is that they might not be attractive personalities off the court (or field or whatever). This can lead to ridiculous mental gymnastics trying to rationalize vicious head butts or deliberately crashing into opponents. Sometimes your hero might just be boring and spout stupid slogans after a match. Roger Federer makes me cringe a little when he explains how great he is after his latest triumph (though it normally comes off better when you actually watch the interview).

I think this shows honesty as much as arrogance, nobody would deny that he has dominated tennis over the last three or so years, it just doesn't sound right coming from him. I've watched two matches where I thought he was going to lose but ended up winning. In both cases he said he was lucky.

I just found this quote after the US Open:
After winning Wimbledon, I sort of said: 'OK, whoever wins the US Open is really better'.
You see? Not arrogance, honesty!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

made me laugh

Occasionally I?ll read that atheists have turned their back on God, or rejected Him or something. That seems to be the moral of this picture. But atheists are not rejecting God like they would reject a helping of asparagus or a potential boyfriend.

If you think this picture is in slightly bad taste, don't follow
this link. Browse through the archives if you have time. I'm surprised I haven't read about this site on the news.

jane galt

Jane Galt has had a lot of good posts recently. Here's one of them:
I think one of the biggest problems facing economists, and to some degree other social scientists, is the feeling that if you're just a little bit willing to fudge facts, you could do a great deal of good. If you'd torture the numbers just a little--not even torture, really, just waterboarding and a few stress positions--you could convince people to do what you know, deep in your heart, is the right thing. If you produce numbers showing that tax cuts increase tax revenue, or the minimum wage increases jobs, or GDP doubles for every 10% increase in the salaries of economists--why, you ccould do a whole world of good.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

the pope and islam

I think the Pope is a moron for saying the things he did and to prove I mean it here's an article by Christopher Hitchens saying just that. I find it a bit sureal reading sophisticated (I'll take the Economist's word on that) Catholic stuff. There is so much waffling about reason, but it's different to anything I've ever read before. Obviously all those other book just are not reasonable.

However stupid he was though I find this type of response way worse. My heart sinks even though it's so predictable:
"You're saying that the language itself is an act of violence?" "Of course it is," Nasr replied. Discussing the violent reaction to the Pope?s quotation, he declared, "He who uses the sword shall perish by the sword."


I just sat through a lecture on the wonders of marxism. Of course, every last word that flowed from Marx's pen was true (even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff as Ned Flanders would say) and towards the end of the lecture he said without irony, "We insist on following an economic model (capitalism) that has been thoroughly discredited".

Other highlights included his delight that there was at least one "leftist" in the class, you know, cos we are drowning in a sea of capitalist pigs and his disgust at the sale of the Waterfront. The nationalism that appears in the sports pages is awful, but not as awful as South Africans being allowed to sell their property to anyone they like. I don't know the details of the sale but it was clear (to me) that he found the idea of foreigners owning South African land was just outrageous.

Update: Apparently the US is suffering through the worst recession in its history.


Here's an interesting post about torture. The liberal in me says that torture is never ok but the utilitarian in me says that under some circumstances torture is the best way to go.

I squirm out of this with rule utilitarianism. We don't always know what the consequences of our actions will be so we follow certain rules most of the time. The more information we have the more justifiable deviations from the rule generally becomes: knowing the rules is not a way out of moral reflection. Torture should always be illegal, but the next time Jack Bauer gets a little physical with the terrorist and saves the day we shouldn't judge him harshly. I still think he should be prosecuted etc, maybe even go to jail for forms sake but I don't think it is morally wrong.

Maybe that would be a good time for a presidential pardon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

immigration # 437

After slyly smuggling immigration into the last post I will be bolder here. While I?m keen on focusing on the benefits to potential immigrants I am getting less keen on talking about the rights of wannabe immigrants. Not because these are not significant but because people focus on their own citizens and don?t care much about foreigners. Restrictions on immigration involves coercing citizens of recipient countries by preventing them from hiring or housing (or whatever) people that they choose.

Rich people are the ones who would normally make use of this freedom, but, however appealing; simply thwarting the rich is not a noble goal.

are you keen on self actualization?

"money can't buy you happiness" is a bit of a cliché. Philosophers have been saying it for thousands of years and it is embodied in the message of half of the movies I have ever seen. Recently happiness studies have been reaching the same conclusion. Money does buy happiness but only untill your income reaches a relatively modest level (about $10 000 per person per year I think, of course this all my blogging takes place in America) but then levels off dramatically. The message is clear, "tax the rich! They won't miss the money". Of course you could respond in a different way, "Most Americans are at that level already, top up the incomes of the poor to that level then leave the rich alone" which is not the same thing.

But I digress; the message of all those books and movies is that you should try to do the things you love, friends, family and love are super important and that achieving something can be very satisfying. To put the last point a little differently: Earning $50 000 is better than being given $50 000 and it's even better if you earned it doing something you like doing. This is not controversial, but underpins the attitudes of many on "the right", that making your own life is a good way to live a happy/fulfilling life and should be encouraged. It isn't surprising that happiness research finds that the unemployed are particularly miserable (even after adjusting for levels of consumption).

This is one reason why high employment rates are good, but it would also be good (and you knew this is where I was going) if we had opportunities to do things we (more or less) like. A really good way to do this is to have open immigration. America is a good place for academics; Italy is probably a good place for aspiring opera singers and Brazil is a good place for plastic surgeons (as far as I know).

If we are keen on self actualization (and who isn't?) then we should take these benefits of immigration seriously.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Libertarian Reluctantly Calls Fire Department

After attempting to contain a living-room blaze started by a cigarette, card-carrying Libertarian Trent Jacobs reluctantly called the Cheyenne Fire Department Monday. "Although the community would do better to rely on an efficient, free-market fire-fighting service, the fact is that expensive, unnecessary public fire departments do exist," Jacobs said. "Also, my house was burning down." Jacobs did not offer to pay firefighters for their service.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

where did all the great art go?

Dear reader(s). I realize that you may not make it through this boring post, but I would love to hear your views on what makes great art and whether or not it is still being produced. Stick em in the comments.

I've been thinking about great art recently. Yesterday I was browsing a book on philosophy where the author makes the same point as Charles Murray: no great art has been produced recently. I think that this is ridiculous but at the same time I am reluctant to point to anything recent that I would insist is great, apart from some Beatles stuff. I like lots of stuff but I can't call everything I like great. I'm willing to suggest that Elvis is great, Bob Dylan and a few others who I don't really like myself, but I?m just guessing really.

When I think about this I normally get stuck on what exactly great art is. It seems to me that the cultural backdrop is important in establishing greatness. For example, I don?t think another rock band will ever be greater than the Beatles but I am confident that there have been better rock musicians; I think it is extremely unlikely that another band will be as popular, as innovative and as prolific at the same time while still being a rock band. It must also be more difficult to invent a new genre without appearing totally crazy. Just about any idea you have has likely been had by someone else, there are so many of us.

I recently read about the Flynn effect. Basically, the average IQ of the population has been increasing by about 3 points every ten years and this rate seems to be increasing. The IQ of the top 0.1% isn't increasing though; our actual mental capacity is staying put. Maybe great achievements don't seem as great because the average mind is more capable of absorbing it.

Since there are so many of us around now and we have so much money, free time, education and huge resources, maybe there is simply so much MORE great art. Like the kid in the Incredibles said, "If everybody is special, no-one is". Great stuff is less scarce and so less valuable compared to other things.

Something that I think may have an effect on the amount of greatness is the worship of characters like Beethoven, Bach et al. Time spent playing other people?s music is time not making your own. Also, if that stuff is simply defined as perfect or great then no wonder there isn?t new great or perfect stuff.

Since there are so many different genres, someone who dominates a genre may be likely to be a cult hero rather than great.

Today, we are rich, educated, free and many. I've met plenty of people way more talented than me and way more committed to what they do. They will probably say the same thing about their own experience. This means that there are a lot of supremely bright determined people out there. To suggest that none of them, over the last fifty years has done anything that should be considered great is to believe in some magic power thwarting our best efforts.

Charles Murray thinks that we are an impoverished society (despite our material riches). I think Charles Murray is really weird.

Video-Game Character Feeling Healthier After Eating Turkey Leg Off Ground

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

envy or spite?

Are the poor jealous of the rich or are the rich spiteful (or both)? Brad DeLong goes as far as to say that the rich ?transfer? utility from the rich to the poor by buying fancy stuff. This sounds like magik to me but what do I know. Here is what DeLong has to say, and here. My Hero's pileon so follow the links. Will Wilkinson is the most thorough.

I think that a lot of people will buy the spite theory. I don't doubt that it's sometimes true but think about the way things are in South Africa. DeLong must think that my lifestyle is designed to make the poor feel bad but I refuse to accept that. I would be happy if all the poor were as well off as I am; it upsets me that so many people live in poverty. To claim I enjoy their poverty (or my relative affluence) is stupid and insulting.

This debate also reminded me of Simon Blackburn's ethics book. People are keen to distinguish themselves from those just below themselves in status, they don't bother so much with those way below because they won't be mistaken for one of them. Like Tyler Cowen says, any spite is likely directed at other rich people.