Tuesday, October 31, 2006

comment is free

Comment is free is pretty cool. It's hosted by the Guardian but David Boaz (libertarian) and Bill Emmott (last editor of The Economist) are regular posters, Bill Emmott even responds to some of the comments! Real bloggy like!

Here's a good post by Boaz and here's the best bit:
Take a rapidly growing part of a county or a school district -- the newspapers will be full of stories about how difficult it's going to be to build enough schools there, and how it takes five years to plan a new school, and how the county should limit growth and encourage people to live in areas that already have schools. But you don't see any stories about how difficult it will be to create grocery stores or video stores: businesses just go build them.

Touchy feely immigration

A while back I wrote about immigration aiding self actualization. I think it's true, but many unsentimental people living nice countries don't much care about the dreams of foreigners, so it's useless for my quest to change people's minds.

There is a corollary to the self actualization point that should be more convincing; innovation. We all benefit every day from the cleverness of other individuals. Individuals save our lives by finding cures for things, save us time by making microwaves and keep us safe by helping to prevent bloody land grabs (thinking of Mandela). I'm not sure exactly what comfort would be missing from my life if Einstein had died as a baby, but I'm glad he did the things he did and I think the world is a better place for them. The thing about good ideas and innovations is that we don't know what they are till they happen. We didn?t miss the internet before it existed and there are plenty of other things were not missing now but could be making our lives better if they had been made.

How many potential Einstein?s have died before their 18th birthday or spent their lives just trying to get enough food to eat?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Struggling Blockbuster Eliminates Rental Fees

"Why rent from anywhere else?" Waters added. "Seriously, let us know of any reasons you may still have for not renting from us, and we?ll remedy them immediately. Immediately."

While two pieces of identification, a valid credit card, and proof of residence were previously required to open an account at the store, customers will now only need to walk through the door of any franchise location, whether by accident or not, and make brief eye contact with an employee to qualify for membership.
Under the Gold Rewards Membership, customers can rent up to 50 movies at once as well as be driven home by Blockbuster chauffeurs, who will also install a brand-new 32-inch flat-screen TV upon the first rental.
They also plan to unveil new promotions, including a company pledge to go out and purchase, on the spot, any movie customers cannot find on their shelves, as well as a new policy allowing customers to keep rented material for seven years, and up to 12 if it is not a new release.
"And if that's not enough?which many of us fear may be the case?as a special introductory offer, cancel your membership with Netflix anytime in the next three months and we?ll do literally anything you ask of us," Antiano added. "We mean it."

Barron's financial reporter Steven Hirsch said that though the new plan is risky, even getting curious potential renters in the door could double the company's 2005 profits "just from the loose change that may drop out of customers' pockets."

Miami resident Scott Patterson, however, was only one of many consumers who said they were unimpressed with Blockbuster?s new offers, including "Two-Dollar Tuesdays," in which customers are handed $2 cash for every new release they rent.

"I don't know," Patterson said. "Something about that place just rubs me the wrong way."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

careful now

A careful reading of the Koran shows that just about everything that Western feminists fought for in the 1970s was available to Muslim women 1,400 years ago.
Maybe, but what is that carefully placed careful doing there? What about careless readings? Is everybody who disagrees with her being careless?

Maybe she's right, but I'm sceptical.

I carefully read her comment like this, "it is possible to interpret the Koran as describing a feminist utopia without obvious logical error"

against equality of opportunity

hmm...

Monday, October 23, 2006

what's wrong with polygamy?

I don't know. It depends on how common it would be. The more common, the more single male losers out there. This has an impact on their happiness of course, but also social stability; I'd bet that rape would increase for example.

Polygamy is the topic of the week on the Becker-Posner blog. Here's Becker. Here's Posner.

Posner should be a hero of mine and I take what he says seriously, but I can't help it, I just don't like him.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

tiger killing

Short post over at Tracy's blog.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Should seatbelts be compulsory?

Assume they should be. Other things being equal, it's safer to crash while buckled up and many people wouldn't wear a seatbelt if they didn't have to, so an enforced seatbelt law should reduce the number of road deaths right? Not necessarily, people may choose to drive faster or more recklessly instead. So other things are not equal; people change their behavior. When America made seatbelts compulsory motorists had more accidents, killed more pedestrians but got killed at about the same rate.

Does this affect your opinion about seat belt laws? One response is that the law is fine, but people should drive as carefully as they did before (or more carefully!); then there would be fewer deaths. That's true, but if scolding motorists into new attitudes is a viable strategy, why do you need the seatbelt law in the first place? Surely you can just scold drivers into buckling up? When making new laws you can't simply will people to change their behavior in ways you find desirable.

Should seat belts still be compulsory?

who, whom?

Since I started blogging I've become more aware of the crapness of my writing. I read a book about punctuation (!) and I take more of an interest in grammar (Tracy seems to have learned a lot that I somehow missed out on).

So, anyway here's what Harry Hutton has to say about the who/whom controversy:
Simon writes:
"Harry I think you'll find there's a push to stop using "whom" at all... if I find the link I'll let you know."

Harry replies:
"Get stuffed. Who?s the fucking English teacher around here, me or you? Most Australians couldn't distinguish a subject pronoun, an object pronoun and a poke in the eye with a fucking lump of wood.
Made me laugh.

abortion

Suppose you woke up to discover someone else was "plugged" into you. You didn't agree to this, it just happened. He's a stranger, but otherwise just a regular guy. The trouble is that he is completely dependent on you to survive, if you unplug him, he'll die. If he doesn't bother you at all then it's just weird, you can't unplug him. If his presence is demanding but you can cope if you try then it still seems harsh to unplug him. But surely there is comes a point, before his presence threatens your life where you can justifiably pull the plug, he can't expect you to devote your entire existence and all your resources to keeping him alive can he? I don't know what the answer is but I wouldn't consider it murder.

This thought experiment is for people who think abortion is either murder, or not, ever. It's how I normally think of it but even if you incline to the murder side, things might not be so clear, especially in the case of rape victims.

"He is the worst rubbish there is."

Jesus. Over the last couple of years I've been impressed by how little sniping there is between the top tennis players. Everybody except for Leyton Hewitt is normally pretty graceful in defeat and makes sane comments about the other players. This is in start contrast to just about every other sport, including snooker and chess.

I guess David Nalbandian can be scratched off the list of nice guys:
All this selling himself as a gentleman is not true. He is the worst rubbish there is.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

teachers are not underpaid

Well, some are, but my guess is that most teachers (in South Africa at least) are overpaid. But that's just a guess, I could be wrong, any suggestions on how to find out?

If there were a free market in education I think most teachers would be paid more, but they would also teach differently, and probably different stuff.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Again!

Am I unlucky? Do other people dodge? Do other people get hit and then keep quiet? Do other people get hit but don't notice? What?!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

veils and burkas

There's been a ruckus over veils in England recently. Jack Straw says he doesn't like them. So what? I donno, strange days.

Anyway...

People should be able to wear whatever they want, including swastikas and Che Guevara T-shirts.

That doesn't mean that organizations (including government ones) can't have dress codes. A private company should be able to ban veils if it wants, but I don't have any views about what government policy should be generally. I have reservations about teachers wearing veils though. It makes a statement about gender relations, it says, "As a man you are incapable of seeing me as a person if you see my face". Maybe that's true for some men (a lot of things are true of some men), but I think it's a dubious message to send kids. Of course veils are fine in private schools.

Steven Pinker claims that one of the reasons we have such big brains is because we got into an arms race with other humans trying to deceive each other and trying to detect deceit. Much of this involves facial expressions. We have a special bit of our brain just for recognizing human faces, nothing else. It makes sense for people feel uneasy talking to someone behind a veil, part of it is just biological.

Women who like wearing veils often say that they want to be treated by the content of their ideas not the prettiness of their face. They don't want to be objectified; fair enough, but by wearing a veil or burka you take away what makes you look human. Instead of being a sexual object, you become much more like an inanimate object, talk about objectification! But anyway, I think it's pretty weird to think that men are so sexually affected by seeing a woman's face. If this is true, maybe women really are to blame for their rape if they were wearing a short skirt or tight top.

All that said, what the hell is wrong with people not liking veils? Nobody minds if people dislike Americans.
I'm wearing a balaclava on campus today. I'm getting a lot of looks. People are so prejudiced.

Monday, October 16, 2006

marxism

They forced me to read about Marxism recently. It's actually quite funny how similar they are to libertarians in some ways. Marxists are concerned that the state uses education to indoctrinate children. Yes! They also believe that those in control use the media to regulate what we know. Again there is something in this many countries.

Liberal democracies still often have centrally controlled, state run schools. England has the BBC and we have the SABC. I also want to stop those in power deciding what children are taught and what the masses see on the news. Of course part of the reason I want to stop them is because education and the media have pervasive left wing bias.

Libertarian and communist utopias are pretty similar in some ways. Take a look at this site. It provides details about anarcho-capitalist Patri Friedman pet project. It's kinda crazy, but Marxists should be able to see where he's coming from.

Update: Oh, and marxists note that government has a monopoly on the use of force. Some libertarians also think that's a bad thing.

liberalisms

If you find some Far Side character crawling through the desert about to die of thirst and you can save him without endangering yourself clearly you should do so. Not to save him would be terribly immoral, but should it be illegal? Free societies allow their citizens to do immoral things all the time without tossing them jail.

Unflinching libertarians will argue that a government shouldn't force you to help the dying stranger but I'm sure just about everybody else would disagree (including me). This isn't a post about how evil libertarians are; they'll cheerfully point out that they'd help the poor chap and argue that under their system more people might get saved because the average person has no incentive to avoid the edges of stranger infested deserts. Libertarians don't hate the idea of helping, but they worry about some dork forcing them to do stuff when the case is less clear.

I think this silly example helps distinguish between different types of liberals. In the real world there are millions of cases that resemble the desert example; people die deaths that rich people could stop, the only difference is that we don't see it in front of our eyes. The trouble is that saving people can be very expensive; feeding a starving man is one thing, the latest cancer treatment is something else entirely. What about somebody who has food but of such a poor quality that he is vulnerable to diseases which could hasten death? What about an elderly person who would die in a few weeks no matter how much is spent on medical care?

Once you start forcing the rich to save people it is difficult to find any principled place to stop and any country that has welfare programs less generous than Sweden looks heartless. I think its one reason left liberals differ so much from libertarians. It's also a challenge to people like me who fall somewhere between the two. I'm in favor of a basic minimum income for everybody so I can't offer a principled and opposition to taxation, but I also know that people will continue to die preventable deaths (of course this happens anyway, the important thing is principle!)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

NOTHING FISHY ABOUT MONSTER CARP, SAYS KRUGMAN

I'm going to stuff it and put it down my trousers

Some have expressed doubt about the catch, noting that no one was around to witness it. Professor Von Schnarchen of the Guinness Book of Records told them to quit carping. "It is bigger than average, certainly, but fish this size are increasingly common. There is certainly no reason for suspicion."

Fishing cheat Brad Delong was left red-faced last year when he won a bet by catching a haddock that he bought from pet shop three days earlier.

Friday, October 13, 2006

You must be joking

Last Saturday Greg and I were discussing Tyler Cowen?s webpage. The bread of his knowledge and interests is barley credible. Within hours of the Noble Prize for literature being awarded to Orhan Pamuk (have you even heard of him?) Cowen had posted thoughtful comments on every book he has written, recommending particular books for different types of readers and pointing out where he differs from the literary critics.

Yes, I said shit

Here's a post offering advice on swearing. Swearing can be effective and funny but quickly becomes crude and stupid if overused. As one of Harry's commenter's points out:
thats right its more afective if u wait real qiuet an then yell 'fuck' in someons ear by suprise than if u walk arond muterin 'fuck fuck fuck' all th time.

What is it with these bloody birds?

I have just been shit on by a bird for the 50th time. Does this happen to anybody else? If not, why me?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

what does bin laden think of 24?

I wonder what Osama Bin Laden thinks when he watches 24. Does he feel smug? Does he ridicule the unrealistic plot and the personal attachments of the characters?

I bet he wonders how the evil mastermind is able to employ 600 committed villains, all highly skilled in computer programming, martial arts and English, in America, for years as they plan their attacks, without anybody getting even a sniff that anything is happening. This is especially weird considering how sensitive Jack Bauer and his CTU agent friends are to "chatter".

You are a British fox. How would you most like to be killed?

a) I would like to be shot by a farmer.

b) I would like to be chased cross country by posh people, then bitten by dogs.

c) I would like to be dug out by terriers, then bashed on the head with a shovel.

d) I would like to be mown down by traffic.

e) I would like to be caught in a wire snare.

f) I would like to be trapped in a cage, then stoned to death with champagne bottles in an Oxbridge college.

Answers in the comments

(This is a joke, I like option c)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Young Communist League protests Israeli wall

The Young communist league was involved in protesting the famous Israeli wall at UCT last week. A cardboard replica wall was erected to divide the campus and students wrote graffiti protest comments on it. There were two major complaints; the wall is a land grab and the wall violates human rights by limiting movement.

Communists hate walls; they imprison workers in capitalist societies, preventing them from fleeing to communist utopias like North Korea.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Philosophers are a useless bunch. They don't know if other minds exist, they don't know if the external world exists (we could be minds in vats or something) and they don't know if the sky will still be blue tomorrow. So what should we do? We toddle along believing in other minds, the world and tomorrow's blue sky unperturbed. Not to do so would literally be insane.

Many philosophers agree that we have free will but when they explain exactly what they mean by that you will (if you are anything like me) be left feeling confused and unsatisfied. Some people worry about free will because, if we don't have it then how can we punish criminals for their actions? It's not fair! Some worry, but most don't. Not believing in free will might not be insane, but it's still a little weird.

But these philosophers are serious, clever people and should be taken seriously. In the same way that you can start to question the existence of free, you can start questioning whether anybody can ever deserve more income than anybody else.

A person's income is determined by a host of factors; how hard they work, how talented they are and luck. People don't deserve the luck they get and they have nothing to do with how talented they happen to be, so at first glance people only really deserve the part of income they get from hard work. But, someone's willingness to work depends on a combination of innate inclination and upbringing, neither of which she controls. So maybe we don't deserve that bit of income either. It will always be unfair for one person to earn more than another, so the only just way to organize society is to enforce strict material equality.

This is a serious argument in political philosophy and I can see its appeal, but why is it so different from the other examples I gave? It all looks like the same philosophical weirdness to me, but we dismiss the other examples without a second thought.

While I can?t really comment on the substance of any of these issues I can offer a though on free will and responsibility. Even in a world without free will, the threat of punishment is one of the factors that influence a decision to commit a crime. More crimes would be committed without the punishment. So the punishment may not be ?deserved? but it still serves the valid function of deterrence. Thinking like this takes the emphasis away from retribution and views punishment as a necessary evil rather than an end in itself. Also, some people do not respond to the threat of punishment no matter how great it would be. These people are considered insane and are treated differently. Their actions are not considered freely chosen in the same way that a normal person?s would be (even in a world without free will). One way to think of free will is the way that we respond to incentives.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

instant executions

Many bloggers have their signature posts. Marginal Revolution have their "markets in everything", Jane Galt has her "department of awful statistics" and Tim Worstall has his Brit Blog Roundup. I've toyed with the idea of "instant death penalty offences", but my list of offences has grown slowly for fear of offending people and ending on death row myself. The idea comes from my dad who wants to shoot anybody found in possession of a gun (he was trying to be funny). Pointing out that pro wrestling (the WWF type) is fake and that getting a job in London helps you cope with the high prices are the offences on the top of my list.

I've finally got a new one. Any tennis player who describes Roger Federer?s play as "scary" should be summarily executed. Tim Henman is the most recent offender:
It's difficult to hurt him as he's got so many strengths and so few weaknesses and, the scary thing is, he's still improving.
This is about the tenth time this year that one of his opponents has said something like this. The first player who describes playing Federer as depressing; or something like that, should get a prize.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

quick questions

Do economists prefer quotas or tariffs? If there is a consensus that something is a negative externality, would they suggest you tax it or ban it?

Flustered Bush Misses Air Force One Flight

The president was left "high and dry" at Andrews AFB today
The 12-person crew was not able to accommodate the president due to strict federal guidelines requiring all passengers to arrive at their departure gate 15 minutes prior to takeoff?guidelines flight officials say are especially important considering heightened security around the president. When Bush inquired into the possibility of being placed on standby for Air Force Two, the exasperated commander in chief was informed that the flight was full and Vice President Dick Cheney was unwilling to give up his seat.
Morganson was able to offer the president a standby seat on an affiliate airline's 3 p.m. flight to Reno, though Bush said he failed to see "how that helps [him] in the slightest." After concluding a "pointless talk" with desk personnel at Gate 14, Bush took questions in the air-base food court, where he denounced the airline's actions.

"This is so typical," said Bush while eating a $9 chicken-Caesar-salad wrap. "Of course, they had all the time in the world to check my bags and they told me I'd be all set, but all of a sudden, I'm not allowed on the plane. Now my biggest suitcase is halfway to who-knows-where and I'm stuck in this stupid airport. Don't these people ever communicate with each other?" said Bush, who refused an offer to put him up at a nearby Radisson Hotel for the evening.
Bush, who describes himself as a "perpetual traveler" who had exclusively used Air Force One for both work and his frequent vacations, said he will begin looking into other carriers.

"They just lost their best customer," said Bush after purchasing a Robin Cook novel and settling in at Runway Café. "I remember when Air Force One used to care about customer service. Now it's all about their bottom line."

Muslims To Boycott All Pope Merchandise

Our only recourse is to refuse to buy anything?be it candles, incense, Pope Oaties breakfast cereal, Popeshine shampoo, or Craftspope-brand power tools?and, by destroying consumer confidence, bring the worshipper of the cross and all his subsidiaries to their knees.
We will rain down death and destroy profits wherever the infidel is found, from the rivers of Diet Papal Cola to the mountains of Pope-Tarts.
Not everyone was persuaded though
I am a Muslim warrior, and I will gladly take to the streets in wrathful indignation," Malaysian-born Montreal resident Ridhuan Amir said. "But papal products mean higher quality. He may be the great infidel, but the fact is, he makes the best odor-absorbing scoopable cat litter on the market.
And the Vatican went into damage control mode:
the Vatican released a statement expressing regret over the Pope's remarks and reaffirmed his respect for the Islamic faith in his goods, announcing plans to offer its own line of long-burning Li'l Benedict effigy dolls, with prices starting at $39.95.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

more!

Tyler Cowen responded to Will Wilkinson's post claiming theists should die lots of accidental deaths:
They have their own selfish reasons, plus whatever role they think they are supposed to be playing in God's plan. So they ought to take fewer chances
Yeah, well, here's what I had to say on the topic.

Reading what Cowen has to say does make me squirm a bit, I'm satisfied that, unlike Charles Murray, he is not evil (or going senile), so I don't pass so lightly over what he has to say when it conflicts with my views.

answer sought

Of course Tyler Cowen is a hero of mine, so I take this type of thing seriously:
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. I'm still at p = .05, if only because I fear such a heavy reliance on the anthropic principle. This book didn't sway me one way or the other. And while I am not religious myself, I am suspicious of anti-religious tracts which do not recognize great profundity in the Bible.
I'm not exactly sure what his comment about the anthropic principle is about. I think he has a problem arguments for God based on the incredible fine tuning of the universe (Anthony Flew, the once prominent atheist philosopher, renounced his atheism because of the fine tuning argument), and is suspicious that there are not other, better arguments, but I could be wrong. Anyway, he seems to really like the bible, it's reasonable to assume that hell should be considered a live possibility. 5% refers to what? Christian God? With or without hell? When declaring religious views I think it should be mandatory to be clear about your views of the afterlife. Many people are undecided about God, or Christianity (for example Jesus may not be the Son of God, but was like, the best person ever) but suppress the fact that they are absolutly certain about hell (they have reasons for this of course, but none that will win over your local evangelist). I think this involves a more committed theological stance than said people are willing to admit. Considering the importance of an afterlife, and the apparently concrete views of most agnostics, I don't really get why attention is so often focused on atheists confidence about the non-existence of God. It seems trivial.

So what is Cowen's 5%?

I know I've written about this before, but I really think its worth thinking seriously about hell. I find it weird that people worry about shark attacks. Sure they're horrible, but they are just so incredibly rare. There are plenty of other horrible things with better claims to our fear. But I have my own irrational fear, being tortured. I don't mean in the way you see on 24, electric shocks or burns, I mean much more exotic things (I'll leave it to you to ponder what I'm talking about). The odds of me being tortured are pretty low, billions to one against probably, but not trillions. I agree it's a weird concern, but not so weird considering how much worse it would be than being attacked by a shark, for example. Say, for example you are ten times more likely to be shark attacked than tortured, if torture is ten times worse it might be rational to fear shark attacks and torture equally.

If the odds were one in a thousand that I would be tortured in my lifetime I would be terrified, I suppose the terror would wear off, but I can?t believe all the anxiety would. How about one in twenty? What would your life be like? Remember some of the people you know will definitely experience it. I don?t think it would be possible to live life in anything like the way we live it now.

I'm no expert on the details of hell, but people spend eternity there, so I think it?s fair to say that hell is worse than any possible torture. So my question is: What makes the suffering in hell different enough from the suffering available in this life to justify the vastly different attitudes?