Monday, December 31, 2007

I’m sure this is common in cool cities

But seeing a buff white man wearing nothing but a Speedo, a cowboy hat and his infant son wandering the streets in the middle of town is an unusual sighting for me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My bloggy energy

Has been consumed with setting some wrongheaded loser straight on a few things. I know you're aching to be dazzled by my latest offerings, so why not head over?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Religion and individualism

What I actually mean to get at in the previous post was that religion is insufficiently individualistic for my taste (or at least the religion that I see, which I assume isn't true religion). A response to the problem of evil is that suffering allows people to display higher gifts, like empathy. So John's being tortured to death gives me the chance to be honourable.

The Bahia religion says that we're moving in a definite direction. We're moving towards a kind of utopia where unity reigns. Of course we're all dying before we get there, but some of us will turn out ok anyway. If this utopia is really worth fighting for then in some objective sense it is better to live in than the world we see. So why are we denied this better world? And if living in this kind of world is fine, why bother, why is this future state of affairs better?

It's also a problem I have with movie and books. Minor characters are often ruthlessly dispatched as a way of making hour hero's ultimate triumph more glorious. Its fine to kill off characters as a way of illustrating why the baddie is bad, not telling us how hardcore the goodie is.

An issue with religion

This is one of the first issues that come up when taking the Bible or the Koran seriously; if we really need these books then what about the people who died before them? Or people who live miles away and have never heard of Jesus or Mohammed. It seems to me that Christians take this issue seriously or they wouldn't try so hard to distribute Bibles or otherwise spread the word. Since it's an obvious question and it isn't much discussed I take it there's an obvious answer but I don't know it. So can anyone tell me?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Being an asshole: the perfect gift to give yourself this Christmas

In day to day life we know that acting like the asshole has consequences, so we try to do it inconspicuously. But on Christmas you can act like one and if you get called on it, you can always say, "Hey, chill bro. It's Christmas!!" in the past hour, I've witnessed more blatant queue jumping (and the grumpiness that accompanies blatant queue jumping) and aggressive driving than I have in the past month. I've also had a fist shaken at me by a little old lady (if you're interested, she was guilty of exactly the same crime as I was; driving the wrong way down a one way street).

Anyway, it has rather robbed me of my Christmas spirit. But with the help of all this beer I just bought (we do live in a very spiritual age) I hope to get it back.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I never write all these thoughts down but I gotta start somewhere

The past few months I've taken an active interest in sci-fi and fantasy. They can both be great escapism and be interesting morally and philosophically and sci-fi (or at least hard (doesn't break the known laws of physics) sci-fi) can inspire events of the future. Anyway, I have a few problems with the way both are generally presented.

  • No matter how diabolical the (non-superintilligent) individual, he cannot threaten the security of a galaxy spanning civilisation capable of light speed travel. It's nothing personal, but they won't give you all the codes just cos you seem like a decent chap.
  • As we get smarter we know more
    animals not less, so a superintelligence will not lead to the sudden incomprehension and hence indifference to human suffering.
  • Claiming that cloning, life extension, disease cures AI will lead to the apocalypse is not deep. Just like denouncing the war in Iraq or George Bush doesn't make you an astute political commentator.
  • The ability to do (basically costless) magic should lead to an (very great) increase in living standards.
  • Fantasy is supposed to be all about invention and imagination, so why are there such familiar themes and why are elves, witches wizards etc so flippin common?

This post will probably be the first in a continuing series.

Sporty thoughts (feel like making money?)

They say it's shaping up to be the most competitive title race in years (English soccer) but they're wrong. Man U will cruise all the way home. The bookies do have them as clear favourites, but not clear enough!

This year I've been a little grumpy about people heralding the demise of Roger Federer. Sure it was a worse year than the past couple but I really think he needs to lose at least one non-clay grand slam before he can be consigned to the dustbin of tennisy history. Having said all this the bookies say that Fed winning all four next year is as likely as him winning one and that Fed winning two is as likely as him winning three. I say that three is as likely as one with two far the most likely option. He is very unlikely to win all four.

This weather

Is frikkin crazy...

Monday, December 17, 2007


I had heard that recent Simpsons have been getting better but I had my doubts, but this new episode is great. I wonder how many other good episodes I've missed.

If you work in publishing and are looking for the next best thing

Look no further. I have a great idea for a book; "The big book of answers" (it's your job to come up with a snappy title). So, the idea is that book will collect the consensus views of the experts on a wide range of subjects. You get a professional economist to come up with a list of statements like, "The minimum wage is a net benefit for the poorest 10%" and "free trade benefits developing countries". Philosophers would be asked, "Do humans have free will?" and "does god exist" and stuff like that. Then get academics from the top 100 universities to answer.

The questions would cover topics sometimes covered in the news and that people usually have opinions on, so things like cloning and evolution would be covered. But the idea is flexible; surely it would be useful for academics (the questions could be altered to reflect the current topics of interest). I'm also not sure about the best way to present it. You could just have the list of questions and answers, or it could be less formal, like Schott's Original Miscellany.

There are plenty of ways in which the book's value would be limited. The consensus view has debatable relevance, the phrasing of the questions will not be value neutral and not everybody will agree on who the relevant experts are, but so what?! It would still be a cool book and it would be easy to refine in future editions to address these issues.

Next US president

This is a pretty pointless post, but I'm just putting myself on the record early. John McCain is my favourite but he has little chance (though I'm not really sure why). Barrack Obama comes next and he has a better chance. Hilary Clinton and Mitt Romney are the most likely to win I think.

Each of the candidates offer intriguing novelties; Romney's a Mormon, Clinton's a girl, Obama's black (kinda), Giuliani's crazy etc. So it'll be fun to watch the whole thing go down.

My least favourite candidates are Romney, Huckabee and Edwards, so it'll probably end up being one of them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Some people are stupid (or Stuart exaggerates shamelessly)

Pilsner Urquel cases come packaged in cardboard not plastic, so can't really see what's "going on in there" it also makes it more difficult to grab a six pack out of. So if you see a tower of 4 cases with the bottom one already open (with one 6 pack already removed) it's only natural to bend down and pull two more packs out of the bottom case, while the other 3 cases start toppling over on top of you.

I pointed this out to the rather fat gentleman in question as I held up the collapsing tower. He could see the beer trying to topple over but just couldn't understand why this should be.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Even more golden compass

I haven't read the book, but the current fuss is over the movie and having seen it I'm confident in my conclusion that these people are pathetic losers.

The movie is great, you should drop everything right now and go see it.

Question about free will

Since there have been quite a few comments recently I'll try take advantage.

How would you define free will?

I've found that people have opinions on whether we have it or not, but it's very difficult to articulate what it actually means.

More golden compass stuff

There's nothing wrong with moaning about a movie that you think has a dodgy moral and nobody's actually trying to get the film banned. People should be critical of movies, if the way they do it makes them dorks then that's fine. Of course they think I'm a bigger, eviler dork and that's also fine, but I guess thinking and writing about this kind of thing is trying to get past just declaring your opponents all bad things.

It's possible to try to persuade people not to see the film while not believing that the makers are vicious and diabolical. To me, that's clearly dishonest, but trying to see inside the soul of the author or director doesn't yield much reliable data to rebut the claims of evil intent. So do we just declare that these people are morons?

Friday, December 07, 2007

The lion the witch and the wardrobe

Is obviously a Christian story directed at kids. "The Golden Compass" from the trailer looks similar has an atheisty story, and is also aimed at kids.

So now (at least some) people are outraged

In early October, the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched a boycott of the film, calling it "selling atheism to kids" at Christmastime in stealth fashion...

Adam Holz of Focus on the Family, writing on the Christian ministry's Plugged In site, calls Pullman's books and the film a "deliberate attempt to foist his viciously anti-God beliefs upon his audience."

Most diabolical, Holz said in an interview, is that Pullman's audience is children, setting it apart from another book-to-movie some Christians view as heretical -- "The Da Vinci Code."

I'm sure only a few people care much one way or the other, but the whole thing emphasis on kids is crazy. Parents want to teach their kids stuff they believe is true, it doesn't help to insist that I'm right and you're wrong.

Sporting greatness

One of the least remarkable news stories recently has been Murali "breaking" the record for most test wickets. It's an impressive feat, but he and Warne were both breaking it while they were both still playing, the newsworthy thing happened when Warne retired. People get excited when the stock market reaches "record highs" even though it's in the nature of the thing to do so.

I've enjoyed the half hearted debate about who's the best though; rating people is fun. My feeling is that Warne is the better of the two, but looking at the numbers it's hard to see why. Murali has a better average, a better strike rate, more five wicket hauls and more 10 wicket hauls.

Of course if we still think that Warne is better we're free to descend into a discussion about the strength of the opposition, the way they "changed the game" etc. It is comforting to know that if the numbers don't tell the right story others are here to help tell a better one. It's a trick I keep up my sleeve.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I love House

And so does the onion

HAPEVILLE, GA—After being laid off last year from his door-fitting job at the local Ford Motor Company plant, uninsured 35-year-old Chris Thaney has been watching Fox's hit medical drama House to find out why he experiences severe headaches, an inability to urinate, sharp lower-back pains, and numbness on the left side of his body.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

This made me laugh

An indigenous language in southern Mexico is in danger of disappearing because its last two speakers have stopped talking to one another.

Most of what I find really funny is black humour, but it's usually because of the ridiculousness of the situation. This is actually very sad, but still...

this made me smile

Ok, so I'm a bad purist. I'm not sure I have such a grudge against English teams. Hopefully I'll get over it.

this REALLY made me laugh

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Video-Game Characters Denounce Randomly Placed Swinging Blades

The Onion is so very funny

Exacerbating the situation, Mario said, is the seemingly arbitrary placement of the hazards. "I could see why, if you're in a factory, you might find yourself jumping around on dangerous conveyor belts moving in different directions," he said. "But why would you have conveyor belts in a castle? Or in the middle of a forest? Nintendo and these other companies are always talking about how realistic their graphics are. Well, what's so realistic about killer turtles shooting out of clouds and such?"

Added Mario: "It's-a me, Mario!"

You really, really, should read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free will

The way I see it, free will is attacked from "above" and "below". From below because, you know, physics and stuff. And from above because we're always finding new mental illnesses and ways that our biology dictates some of the things we do. Kleptomaniacs are not free like other people; they feel compelled to steal stuff. We usually think they need to get fixed not punished. So maybe everything we do can eventually be explained by some subtle kleptomania like condition. We don't feel compelled to do stuff but the kletpo doesn't feel compelled either, he wants to steal.

We wish we could change out habits, but we don't just want to change our behaviour, we wish our desires were different. An obese person doesn't just want to eat less; he wants to stop being hungry all the time. It's easy for us to want to distance ourselves from our bad qualities but we like taking credit for our good bits but that's cheating. The thing is that we just are the collection of all these tendencies and desires, take them away and there's nothing left of us. I'm not trying to argue against free will, just that it's crazy to wish to be free of all the things that actually make us, us.

The reason we feel queasy about free will is the sinister sense of compulsion that it conjures, "but if determinism is a straightjacket it's one that fits so well that it allows every movement" (quote from Nick Fearn book).

Market failure

I'm converted, the market sucks. There was a time when books came out in hardcover; they were expensive but nice. It was straightforward price discrimination but I didn't mind it, because the books were nice. Now people who get the book early get stuck with an enormous paperback with coarse pages that will fall out after six months. It's still expensive but a worse product than the thing that appears a year later. Why not just change the colour after a year or something? It's stupid.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is America failing in the pursuit of happiness?

Tyler Cowen and Will Wilkinson said no to Jeff Sachs and Betsy Stevenson's (?) yes. Sachs is the obvious heavyweight of the four, but according to the debate rules good triumphed over evil (Tyler and Will). The audience voted their view on the topic before and after the debate and there was a huge swing towards the con side. The debate was organised by The Economist and hundreds of people paid $30 to watch so I don't think it's a stretch to think that the audience was unusually smart and successful. 25% of the audience changed their opinions on the topic, that's a lot in a short period of time; what could have caused the shift?

  1. The audience was probably much more familiar with arguments claiming America sucks, so cogent counter arguments may have been unexpected. The audience then had little time to process the information and placed too much emphasis on the shiny new arguments.
  2. People consciously voted for the debaters and not their view on the topic (a MR commenter changed his vote because he thought the pro side sucked, not because he changed his mind).
  3. Tyler and Will were better debaters (better at manipulating the audience).
  4. The topic was a little vague causing both sides to talk past each other and Will and Tyler's take gelled better with the audience.
  5. Tyler and Will were more attractive, charismatic or cheerful or something (Tracy refers to Tyler as the short fat bald guy, so maybe the cheerful part).
  6. The shift is temporary and the audience has since reverted back to their original views.
  7. The audience were genuinely interested to know the truth, were aware of their ignorance and held their views lightly changing them with new evidence. Ha ha ha!! Ooh my sides!

Whatever; people enjoy believing what they do, so I'd I wouldn't expect much change at all. The shift seems really big to me. My instinct is to get all excited but my head says that's a mistake. What are some simple reasons not to read much into the shift?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

‘Moral thinning’

One can never read too many popular introductions to philosophy; it helps in the quest to avoid doing anything constructive. Nick Fearn's book is surprisingly cool, mostly because of how opinionated he is. His attitude is that philosophers should just come out and say if some topic is considered settled, which, surprisingly, includes free will (we have it).

He goes around interviewing top philosophers and he structures each chapter around them. Nick Bostrom features prominently and Robin Hanson gets quoted at length, which is cool. Peter Singer is the obvious choice for the chapter on animal stuff and it's impressively even handed for someone who clearly doesn't buy Singer's arguments.

Still, he views the expanding moral circle as a 'levelling down' (so he's an idiot). Humans become devalued rather than animals being valued more; apparently America's litigious culture is knock down evidence of this. Previous additions to the moral circle include women, brown people, gays and some people even go as far as foreigners. I wonder if all these previous expansions contributed to the dire moral state we're in and are to be regretted as a result. He views this negative trend as self evident as well as its cause (expanding circle), but maybe

  1. We're not in such a dire moral state.
  2. We are in a dire moral state but it has nothing to do with the fact that some people think that girls should have rights.
  3. Some people are in a dire moral state, but others are not.
  4. There is not a fixed amount of 'morality' to be appropriately (morally) distributed.
  5. Torturing animals is wrong even if it causes us to become morally exhausted and more likely to do other bad things.
  6. The fact that we're getting richer means that each human life is becoming more valuable in all practical regards and allows us to indulge in 'moral luxuries'. There's a book called "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" which argues that the consequences are good.
  7. Torturing animals is wrong but we should do it anyway to reassure other people that we still like them.

Someone was the first to think of this...

... but it's not that original. I still like it though.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

motoring madness

Driving is one area where I actually notice my irrationality (maybe not all of it though).
  • My petrol light goes off when I drive uphill, so I actually prefer driving uphill.
  • I have true hatred in my heart when I encounter bad drivers. I am convinced they are bad people, but they could easily be people I'm already friends with.
  • I believe that I'm a very good, safe driver.
  • Today I actively looked for places to drive after my clutch was fixed, because it's sooooo nice to drive with a functioning clutch, so here I am, typing this at gym.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Megan gets mad

It's always nice to see your heroes get indignant and self righteous on a topic you feel strongly about. Apparently many liberals oppose vouchers but few (read none) will send their kids to the crappy school in big cities. Trouble is that lots of people find it pretty difficult to just up and leave, cos they're poor. Here are some
posts. I don't much care about the substance, but here's a juicy quote:

I very rarely get angry about politics. But every time I see some middle class parent prattling about vouchers "destroying" the public schools by "cherry picking" the best students, when they've made damn sure that their own precious little cherries have been plucked out of the failing school systems, I seethe with barely controllable inward rage.

Monday, October 29, 2007

my life finally has meaning

I just saw the team!! I saw the trophy!!!!!!!
  • The players look very, very bored. They were not smiling.
  • People really, really care. There's a seething mass of people running along with the bus, and it's not just school kids lining the route. People arrived over an hour ago to get a good spot on the pavement.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Oh. My. God.

Eliezer Yudkowsky is super duper smart. He's 100 times smarter than me, which is probably why he intended this for primary school kids. In my experience, clever people often know they're clever but massively overestimate what other people should know, which is actually very stupid. It is so pathetically out of touch with reality I don't know how he can excuse it. Most types of intelligence correlate quite well with each other (although this doesn't fit the image of the socially inept mathematician. I think that's a special case), but this is a genuine and terrible stupidity so don't laugh it off you smug bastard. Will my dear, unsmug readers challenge the claim that smart people actually enjoy demonstrating their superiority in this way? Ah, the age old question, is person X evil or stupid? Here's an easily pasted section.

The right side of Bayes' Theorem is derived from the left side through these steps:

p(AX) =


p(AX) =


p(AX) =

p(X&A) + p(X&~A)

p(AX) =

p(XA)*p(A) + p(X~A)*p(~A)

The first step, p(AX) to p(X&A)/p(X), may look like a tautology. The actual math performed is different, though. p(AX) is a single number, the normalized probability or frequency of A within the subgroup X. p(X&A)/p(X) are usually the percentage frequencies of X&A and X within the entire sample, but the calculation also works if X&A and X are absolute numbers of people, events, or things. p(cancerpositive) is a single percentage/frequency/probability, always between 0 and 1. (positive&cancer)/(positive) can be measured either in probabilities, such as 0.008/0.103, or it might be expressed in groups of women, for example 194/2494. As long as both the numerator and denominator are measured in the same units, it should make no difference.

PRIMARY SCHOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Don’t mistake this post for a functioning patriotism gland

Right at the very top of my List are people who somehow think that England's "try" was a real try, or say stuff like, "it just didn't go our way this time". Yes, it was very close and without the TMO it would have been given, but the guy was very, clearly in touch (after the game, he claimed that it should have been given, I wonder if he's sticking to that). I notice that a Facebook group he sprung up to deal with the issue.

Is it just me or did he screw it up embarrassingly? Did he really need to thwack it into the ground so emphatically (requiring the triumphant lift above the head)? Couldn't he have approached a little more Habbannaly, a little more horizontally? I think the excruciating closeness has diverted English fans from the important work of murdering Mark Cueto.

Added: He is sticking to it
I will take with me to the grave the certainty that I should have been given a try in a World Cup final and that, with a Jonny Wilkinson conversion to come, we might well have had a lead to defend instead of still having to chase the game," he insisted.

"No matter how many times I look at it, I still can't believe he turned me down."
I'll have to kill him myself now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Question about global warming

Al Gore stupidly says, "The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity." The bit about morality isn't the stupid bit; most of the people I know agree that it is. I might agree with versions of it. Now, as far as I know, vegetarians have a much lower carbon footprint than meat eaters.

So my question to you meat eating global warming nuts is this; will you stop eating meat because of the morality issue? Or will you see tradeoffs where there were none before?

Police Race To Scene Of Car Alarm

Since you people don't read the facebook stuff I post, you just must see this one.

Police estimate, however, that as many as two-thirds of these incidents may have been so-called "false" alarms, caused by children bouncing up and down on the tires, subways shaking cars slightly when passing underneath, or kittens rubbing their furry bodies against the vehicles in a stroking motion.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Random stuff I’ve found (probably best skipped)

A monolog delivered by a cat to her owner:

Okay, opposable thumb thing person, you can shut up now. I can't actually speak your monkey tongue language. Also I don't care. See? This face? It's me not caring. So cram it. Now. Shut. Up. You and your monkey tongue, I swear.

"Now is the time where you rub my belly. Because you are behind in the belly rubbing. Also in the neck and head scratching. Also back scritching. Scritching is different from scratching. You always forget. Which is why I claw you and make you bleed. You will learn. Even opposable thumb thing persons can learn. Sometimes...

..."But for now rub my belly. And be quick about it, opposable thumb thing person. I am behind in my rodent disembowling quota today and I cannot let that orange cat get ahead. I have things to do! So get to it, and I may not smother you in fur while you sleep. Today. Maybe."

Megan McArdle finds the idea of academic diversity especially funny:

Perhaps the funniest sight I have ever witnessed is the spectacle of a sociologist cruising straight past the analyses of power relationships and group norms that they apply to every single other facet of human existence, and insisting that the underrepresentation of conservatives in academic could only be explained by the fact that conservatives are a bunch of money-grubbing intellectual lightweights who can't stand rigorous examinations of their ideas, and moreover are too intolerant to fit into the academic community.

From a review of Klein's book is a quote from Klein on libertarianism (neo-liberals):

[it belongs among] the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot co-exist with other belief-systems ... The world as it is must be erased to make way for their purist invention. Rooted in biblical fantasies of great floods and great fires, it is a logic that leads ineluctably towards violence.

And here is the reviewer himself. John Gray used to be a prominent libertarian type philosopher. He weighs in on the age old question, are libertarians evil or stupid?

These ideologues were not the sinister, Dr Strangelove-like figures of the anti-capitalist imagination. They were comically deluded bien-pensants, who promoted their utopian schemes with messianic fervour and have been left stranded by history, as the radiant future they confidently predicted has failed to arrive.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Al Gore should be summarily killed *

Please note that I don't hate Al Gore, I just think he should go on The List for saying, "The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity." Apparently all the measure he's keen on will spring spontaneously into being throughout the world. Or maybe he's just an awesome libertarian who thinks his movie and book will be enough.

* (note to CIA, I don't actually think this)

Naomi and Che

Exhaustive research reveals that Naomi does like Che. He's a hero.

Holocaust denial is a really big deal, it causes people to organise demonstrations or even to end up in jail. The offence though is pretty small, it’s just a stupid view, held in bad faith that’s suggestive of unsavoury moral views.

If Klein is to be believed, people walking free in the west have murdered hundreds of thousands of people to move from being very, very rich to very, very, very rich (the oil dudes behind the Iraq invasion). Many people really do believe this and maybe it’s true, but it’s easy to forget what an enormous claim this is. I often think people like Klein are overly outraged, but they are not nearly outraged enough.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


died 40 years ago last week. Anybody who has a pair of functioning eyeballs will know that many people think Che is awesome, some may even know something about his life and ideas.

I don't know much about him, but I gather that he wasn't squeamish. He was a hardcore Marxist who wanted to confiscate all private business down to the smallest shop and he was in charge of executing counter revolutionaries. If a war is just, ruthlessness might be a virtue and he his opposition to private property was principled; he was fighting for the poor, the workers and for justice. So, even if we personally disagree with things he did to achieve his goals, we can still think that he was a good guy. We often judge people by their motives and Che was trying to do the right thing.

Naomi Klein has written an enormous book about the evils of the "Friedmanite" revolution which has swept the world on the back of war, torture and various other disasters (natural or otherwise). Apparently Friedman was keen on using violence and torture to get his free-market reforms implemented. But, if we go the "Che was a good guy route", what exactly is wrong with this? Guevara used violence to achieve justice so why can't Friedman?

One answer (the one I'd go for) come down to motives, Friedman wasn't really interested in justice or any of that stuff but Che was? We know this because Friedman supports free-market stuff which he knows will ravage the poor in various unjust ways (we know this because...?). In other words, people who disagree with us, for whatever reasons, are bad (at least when it comes to economics and politics).

(By the way, I don't know if Klein likes Che, maybe she hates him.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Just to prove I’m evil

I don't especially like Al Gore. I'm sad he didn't win the 2000 election (or I'm sad that his win was not properly acknowledged, like by making him president). His CV now makes him look like the most accomplished human in history (especially if you believe that he "took the initiative in creating the internet"), which he isn't. He's pretty impressive, but I think he has a flexible relationship with the truth and think his responses to points about his power usage are lame.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

You’ve got your invites

Now join the group!

I remembered another one!

"I'd love to do [Activity X] but I just don't have the time." (maybe this one could be dealt with by torture rather than murder since it would wipe out most of the world's population in one fell swoop. Perhaps reading this post will do?)


This may need a little explanation since I have such a hard time convincing people. People who claim this usually admit after interrogation that they sometimes go to a movie or dinner with friends or whatever. So they could do activity X instead of those things! Ah! But socialising is better (more important than, whatever) than activity X. Fine, but that just means you prefer other stuff, not that you don't have time.


Even having a job doesn't excuse you, you could always quit.

Yay me!!

I have watched a heavy, slow moving foreign (which of course means non-American and possibly non-English. I half consider South African films foreign, not that I watch any) film and loved it. "The Lives of Others" is awesome. There is still unnecessary stuff that's included to make its point. When the baddie hears pretty music, we don't need him to cry and we definitely don't need the goodie to say, "I don't believe anyone who truly hears
this music can be a bad person. I initially thought that the baddie's transformation was too quick and easy but in the end that one of the most impressive parts of the film, cramming the transformation from committed communist party man to dissident into less than two hours and making it pretty believable.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Is awesome, but it has its limits. Here's what it has to say about disciple and "fagging" at Maritzburg College

Over the years, some Old Collegians and parents have been outspoken about College's allegedly outmoded system of "fagging" - where a second year boy waits upon and serves the senior boys, as a butler would. However, this system - together with the general "privilege" system that underpins the school's ethos and sense of discipline - is carefully monitored by the staff, hostel masters and senior prefects. College's rigorous structure of traditions and concepts date back to similar styles found in pre-1900 British boarding schools, and this is perhaps the only school where this structure is retained to something like its original extent.

If memory serves, one of my senior prefects would have a line of second formers wait their turn to sumo wrestle him during breaks. Ahh, I can still here the sounds of young flesh thwacking into cold hard cement as if it were yesterday.

I don't think it's an advert for the school that one of its old boy's actually thinks that College is really the only school that still does this stuff, the only school in the world??

Defective patriotism gland


I was very, very upset after the cricket semi-final in 1999 (this probably has a lot to do with my Klussner adulation) and I was very happy when Josia Thugwane won the Olympic marathon even though I'd never even heard of him. Nevertheless, I find myself caring less and less about the fate of our national teams including the Springboks in this world cup. This is despite the fact that I find the current team more appealing than most past teams.

My Federer devotion shows that I can be fiercely loyal to a group, so my patriotism gland still seems to do stuff, it's just malfunctioning. I wonder why that is, and I wonder if Trevor will offer this as a candidate for instant execution.

Dear reader

On Mandy's suggestion, I (we?) am thinking of starting a Facebook group documenting pet peeves, crimes that warrant instant execution. I've blogged about it before, but it would be cool if there were a place that was easily available and updateable. I know my list is very long but when it comes to remembering what they are I'm lost. You don't happen to know what they are do you? It's ok if you don't know, but perhaps you'd like to add some of your own pet peeves in the comments. How about suggestions for a name etc, I don't wanna do all the work.

Here are some of the ones I do remember

  • Yes, but once you start earning pounds...
  • WWF is fake you know!
  • Those soccer players deserve an Oscar for their acting


Of course, as the list grows, the list of people entitled to life will dwindle alarmingly and we'll start to find that reasonable, decent people are in the cross hairs, so it should only include stuff that that is quickly revealed to be silly and commonly said/done by less intelligent individuals.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I hate nature...

and those stupid nature documentaries it spawns. Nature is mean and the suffering that goes on the whole time is staggering. I couldn't stand watching the injured polar bear slowly die of starvation in the recent BBC version of Planet Earth. I generally wish that environmentalists would focus more on the individual suffering caused to animals, rather than bombard us with other measure of how terrible things are. Pitiful polar bear deaths are a good way to do it. Although we should realise that extreme suffering will remain the standard lot for most animals even in natural utopias.

In theory, I have no problem with massive intervention in nature to reduce the suffering that goes on and I hope one day it will be feasible.

Skip this post

I've got this post on Federer that has been growing for about a month. It's really long now and I suspect the quality is decreasing each time I add to it, luckily for you this means I won't post it. A lot of it revolves around the quality of Sampras and Federer's competition. Will you be surprised to read me claiming that it can be looked at in many different ways? No? Without boring you about why I settle on this measure, Federer wins because he has played a "much" higher percentage of his matches against fellow top ten players, 24% to Sampras' 16%.

I'm surprised that this is close to my intuitive impression. Clearly I am a genius.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I’m a philistine

Predictably people are lamenting the advent of 20-20 cricket even after the success of the tournament. Part of me does sympathise, cricket seems to be an especially random game, so the longer a match, the more likely the better team will win and the better chance each player has to display his worth, all very fine things. But there are many fine things out there that nobody gives a shit about and if test cricket is one of them, well so what? I also disagree with that it impacts negatively on the skills necessary to be a good test player or team. Yes the test game has changed in the past 10 or so years but in a good way, teams score faster and totals have been increasing. It's easy to surmise that this is because of the influence of one day cricket, but it's a good influence. Australia were the first to really change and they kicked ass more than normal all of a sudden. One day cricket has also changed; what counts as a good score is much higher now than when I started watching. My theory is that it was test cricket that made the initial scores so low. People did not (do not) realise that in almost all cases, scoring at a faster rate is better.

I was super excited the first time we played a test at Lords. We'd arrived! We were part of the world! But I remember being mystified at the many empty seats in the ground, which I found out were reserved for members, the purists. If the purists can't be bother to go watch test cricket why the hell are they (yes I know they're not necessarily the same members) moaning at the philistines who are also too bored to watch. The stupidest complaint I've read it (top blogger Norm describes Gideon Haigh as cricket writer supreme) that it's dumb to try attract people who don't normally like cricket, "A novel idea, this: to redesign a game to the specifications of those who don't like it..." Yeah, but the same thing can be said of any rule change that's designed to improve the game or any marketing promotion. There will always be people on the margins of any activity, make it more appealing, those people will join in. Make it less appealing they'll drop out. If we agree that this is bad then why is it not considered good to make test cricket even longer and more boring. Then only true purists will stick around to play and watch, yay!! Of course there will still people on the margin crass bastards and they'll be the ones who don't really like the game, demanding that the activity be pleasurable. How few people must enjoy cricket before it achieves true perfection?

It's a problem with sport, we forget what the point of it is. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about winning; sport exists to bring out human excellence. Players should be trying to win and the game should be set up so that this effort, on average, produces a maximum of valuable moments. In other words, all goals count the same but the beautiful ones make sport meaningful. Batsmen should not be allowed to pad their averages (teams should never declare, unless they've been scoring at 8 an over for a while, they should be bowled out), teams that win by playing an unappealing style should be respected but placed below flamboyant teams with similar results.

The shock doctrine

Tyler Cowen claimed to enjoy Naomi Klein's new book L but then ripped it to shreds in this review
J. Joe Stiglitz raves about the book even though he hints at its shortcomings, "Klein is not an academic and cannot be judged as one." i.e. many of her claims wouldn’t withstand much scrutiny. My impression is that Stiglitz is pretty much the greatest economist of the past 20 years so what do I do? Agree with the true expert and rush off to buy the book or dismiss him as a hugely biased left wing ideologue?

What do you think I'm doing?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Serial rapist outraged by prevalence of sexual harassment in workplace

This isn't from the onion or especially witty or anything but it's what I hear when Bob Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad endlessly lecture the US and UK on human rights abuses. I mean they're kinda right... but it's still fucking ridiculous.


I was just asked, by someone I barely know (a friend of Tracy's), if I had a tent that she could borrow. That's not the strange bit; I did, in my car, 15 meters away.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

This is very important

The cricket rocked. It'd be difficult to overstate how much better this tournament was than the actual World Cup. But that doesn't mean that billions of people were watching yesterday. Yes, I'm aware that India and Pakistan like cricket and yes there are many people in India and Pakistan, but the game was still not watched by billions.

I'll also confess doubts Dhoni will be one of the top earning sportsmen in the world in a year's time. In fact, I have my doubts that he'll be in the top 100 earning sportsmen. 200? 300? I'm not convinced. Top 20 highest earning cricketers in the world??

I apologise for the change away from pink as the theme for this blog; I'm sure you'll adjust. Has anybody noticed the tag line for this blog? Does it make any sense to you?

Why do the springboks want to look like ninja turtles?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ratatouille is awesome!

At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot I think it's deeper than most movies shown at the Nouveau. To make the claim more plausible here are some articles on its depth, the first one is the New York Times review.


Sunday, September 23, 2007


Yesterday I was channel surfing listening out for the cricket and at about Radio 2000 frequency I picked up a very solemn biography of a great Muslim. I don't know how much I missed and I didn't pick up his name (till the end), but I was interested because it was so detailed. It was unashamedly hagiographic so I was sceptical of the claims, but it was nice to hear all this from a different perspective. The dude sounded pretty good, very tolerant and kind. He respected all women and honoured his wife, he almost never got angry and even then it was only for religious reasons (implication that this was good). His righteous religious anger was in clearest display in his persistent demand that Salman Rushdie be killed. Hmm...

Added: Umm... I was typing this in a rush. Ayatollah Khomeini was the person being described.

I also just watched bits of the current Iranian president's speech/Q&A session. The question about Iran's treatment of gays was great; the guy is obviously very smart etc but it was funny how awkward he seemed. I also thought the laughter when he said "we don't have homosexuals like you guys do" was pretty genuine and spontaneous. Laughter from students is brilliant because it illustrates how ridiculous his response was.

I don't know much about Iran and from what I do know this guy has limited real power so maybe the treatment of gays isn't directly his fault. I also don't know exactly how difficult it is to live a discreet gay lifestyle; I don't know. But as long as he symbolises this kind of stuff he's a symbol of something worth taking a stand against.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Other sport stuff

I do try to avoid sport not related in some way to Federer but three stories really caught my eye today.

  • Jose Mourinio has quit (or was forced out).
  • Floyd Landis has finally been stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title. It's been over a year since his B-sample tested positive.
  • I was not aware that South Africa was in real danger of not going through in the 20-20 cricket. I was also not aware that we were playing India yesterday.

the onion

Andy Roddick To New Friend Phil Mickelson: Were Just Like Roger Federer And Tiger Woods

The Onion

Andy Roddick To New Friend Phil Mickelson: 'We're Just Like Roger Federer And Tiger Woods'

LOS ANGELES—Despite having a combined 56 fewer career victories, professional tennis player Andy Roddick informed professional golfer Phil...

Mickelson, who vehemently agreed, saying "Yeah, we're totally just like them… The only difference is that they wish they were as cool as us." Woods and Federer were unavailable for comment, as both athletes were reportedly engaged in pleasurable mutual contemplation of the fact that all other people are their physical and mental inferiors, a fact as simple and undeniable as it is immutable,

Friday, September 14, 2007


People like to make fun of utilitarianism. It's so easy to come up with hilarious examples showing how stupid it is. Serious people prefer something a little more Kantian, virtue ethics is unfashionable and pragmatism is just, well, embarrassing (I assume you'll make allowances for the fact that I actually have no real idea what I'm talking about).

So why do serious pundits on the blogosphere think that the old, "But they're so yummy!" argument is sufficient to explain why it's ok to eat animals? I'd guess it's because they think the topic isn't especially important. This begs the question though; it assumes that your current position is the correct one.

I just came across this post that makes a similar point
Same goes for meat eating. I should give it up rather than eat animals who lived miserable lives in factory farms. But if I can’t? Well, meat eating runs deep in a evolutionary, cultural and personal sense. Better to say “I should but I’m not going to” than come up with flimsy counterarguments.
Although of course I'm complaining about the exact opposite.

Added: This is the best essay on animal ethics I've read. It doesn't focus much on the ethics of eating happy animals though. Also, the title and opening paragraph or so are not exactly well judged to draw skeptics in. Trust me though, it's a good essay.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

As it is in heaven

I’m a bit of a sucker for overly sweet, sentimental movies, so I enjoyed it. I think most of it works well, it makes familiar themes feel fresh and sincere rather than canned and manipulative, but it was still all very familiar.

So it was very close to what I expected in the end, which means I think the hype is mysterious. But I am probably misunderstanding why people like the movie so much.

The audience clapped after the credits! Amazing! I wonder where this clapping thing started, because, it was very, very clear that people only clapped because they had heard that other people had clapped. A trickle of clapping lasting 5 seconds is not a spontaneous eruption of approval.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I very much enjoyed this blog post from the prospect blog

Ever wondered how fast a page updates on wikipedia nowadays? It took all of three minutes after Roger Federer's victory in the US Open for this to appear on his biography there:

In the 2007 US Open, Federer beat 3rd seed Novak Djokovic in the final in straight sets 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 WOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!.

And within the time it took me to copy and paste that extract, the offending exclamation had been removed. Clearly, there's no such thing as too many editors.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


In some ways this has been the least exciting of his wins, but it is still cool. If he can avoid losing every match he plays for the rest of the year he'll have polished off what I think is important in the whole, "greatest of all time" thing; four solid years at the highest level.

There are problems with simple career totals (Alan Border is a better batsman than Don Bradman?), and other problems with just looking to averages (overly harsh on players who glide gently into retirement). A rough compromise would be to look at the best 4, 5 , 6 etc years of a players career. Four is a little on the short side but it's not far from "enough".

Each of Federer's four previous calendar years could be included in a debate for "best year ever".

Depending on how you look at it, it will be a very long time before die hard Laver fans will be compelled to give him up. Probably the same for Borg fans; the Sampras challenge is the only one that Fed will be able comprehensively demolish (though there will be those who witter away about how the competition Sampras face was so much tougher.)

At the end of the day though, there is probably no higher power in this discussion than the vague muttering of idiot pundits.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Pixies : Ed Is Dead (1988)

This may not be the best demonstration, but she's doing it.

Evil Giraffe Kim Deal

I watched a a recording of a Pixies concert last night. It was pretty cool, but sometimes performers don't really know what to do with themselves. Kim Deal spent to whole concert trying impersonate an evil giraffe.

Well, come on

Here I sit, all vulnerable, my wallet bursting with crisp R10 notes and so far nobody has tried to take advantage of this...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The economist blog...

... wants the government to regulate the creation of negative mental externalities. The example in the post is the desecration of a Koran. Somebody threw his own Koran in a toilet.

I guess a post like this appearing in the Economist blog should make me more sympathetic to arguments in favour of restrictions on free speech. Fortunately I am far too brainwashed. Instead I wonder what this guy was thinking and how it is that he ended up at the Economist.

Julian Baggini... still pretty cool I guess. Here he moans about the typical English lefty. This person buys newspapers howling about capitalism and tenderly longing for material equality, but can afford houses near good government schools and knows how to game the system to get more government services than the poor. Oh and they bend over backwards to avoid paying taxes. Recently, the Guardian was embarrassed to discover that readers of the Telegraph and the times lived far greener lifestyles than their own readers.

I personally don't think that kind of lifestyle is especially immoral, but it does make their posturing irritating. Baggini suggests some justifications for their behaviour which might possibly work, but it's still nice to see a lefty noticing this (OB is even harsher on this breed of lefties in the comments).

question for reader/s

What should the goal of school education be?


Thursday, September 06, 2007


Federer often comes across worse in print than he does in real life. He says arrogant things, but he doesn't sound that arrogant when he says them. But this sounds just about right.

If I don't beat Sampras's record people might almost consider me a failure because I've had so much success over the last few years. But the tough times will come for me and you know what, I'm not worried - I'm having the time of my life.

Added: Yes, I was wrong.

After reading all the write ups of the match available on the web I feel that I should point out that the following chain of reasoning is not valid.

The first two sets were very close. Thus Roddick could have won both sets and hence the match. Federer appeared to be at, or near his best. Thus their head-to-head record and the differences between how each players career turned out have come from small differences in ability or BMT or whatever.

The argument could have been used after the Australian Open to show that Roddick is actually really really useless and should consider himself lucky to be in the top 100.

One match doesn't tell us much.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I've decided to cede my rationality a little early this year. Federer may not have lost to John Isner, but he will definitely lose to Andy Roddick. The odds are actually not that different from the odds on the Isner match. There's money to be made!

Local edition

I just overheard a girl saying something like, "and that's why economic liberalism is fundamentally opposed to social liberalism"

What the hell does "liberal" even mean in this sentence?

I was also recently invited to join a group on Facebook where part of the first wall post goes like this:

A hybrid between Roosevelt's New Deals and Stalin collectivisation policy could be used to alleviate the plight of the poor while free-market prevails for those living more comfortable lives. As the situation improves, the former poor will be allowed to gradually enter the free-market system.

Whatever you think of collectivisation I really thought we were past the point where we had to argue that Stalin is not a great role model for the fight against poverty. Poor people lack patriotism; we should look to Hitler for inspiration.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Gun Run

My run didn't go all that well. My worst time ever, including the time where I got drunk the night before.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Oh God...

As per prediction, Isner is one set to love up against Federer.

Update: Panic over. Whew!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum...

is of course, like the best movie EVER! But I do have a question that has gone unanswered on FaceBook for a few days: Why does Bourne tell Vosen that he's in his office? In a way it compensates for how easily he gets into his office in the first place, but two fuzzy bits instead of one isn't better. I think it was just stuck in there to sound cool, but if I'm sure Paul Greengrass has some bullshit story to explain it and I wanna hear that story! If it doesn't totally suck I'll totally buy it.

The ending is poorly done, my guess is that they ran out of time again and rushed it. The endings of both previous films were rushed; the ending of Supremacy was shot two weeks before the premier. It bothers me that the last scene of the series is Bourne getting caught out, damn damn damn!

Federer irrationality

Four times a year I pretty much abandon any pretence of rationality. Now is one of those times.

Last year I thought a Nadal Federer final was almost certain. After Wimbledon this year I thought the same thing but now it seems less likely. William Hill has Djokovic as the second favorite not Nadal, who looks slightly injured.

Anyway, time for my completely ridiculous predictions. I predict that John Isner will beat Federer in the next round. The stage is perfectly set. Isner has burst on to the scene dramatically in the past couple of months, he is American and can count on raucous home support and he has never played Federer. He's also about 12 feet tall. In the past 4 years Federer has pretty much only lost to Nadal in finals and to random nobodies early on in a tournament.

I'm looking forward to the articles announcing the end of the Federer era when he loses. The end of the Fed era might be near but one loss wont be enough to demonstrate it.

Despite my prediction I'll say my betting insanity for the final. You have been reminded.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Lefties are usually keen on paternalism. This is because people do not know what is good for them. They'll eat unhealthy food, fail to save for retirement and get conned at every street corner.

At the same time however lefties are very sensitive to inequalities of wealth (not many other things, like inequality of tennis skill or sexual partners). Wealth = status and it sucks to be low status. Libertarians like Will Wilkinson reply that there are zillions of status hierarchies and a "poor" people can be at the top of many of them. Leftists will then reply that World of Warcraft is a low status activity so it doesn't matter if you're at the top of it. In other words each activity is part of one big status hierarchy and its back to square one.

But if people are so stupid why are they suddenly able to calculate their global status so precisely? Jane Galt sums up nicely that not only do people not realise their "true" status level, they often scorn traditional status structures.

If you've ever spent time around competitive rock climbers, for example, you'll know that they really do believe that being the world's best alpinist is superior to being, say, Secretary of State, even though most people would rather meet Condi Rice than Reinhold Messner. Indeed, in many cases, their status hierarchy is inverted; being a total loser is better than being a certain sort of corporate cretin.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Katie died last night. I don't know which one Katie is in these photos.

She had a lot of bad luck in a really short time, but she did get a lot of playing in too.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Selection bias

Years ago I was surprised to learn that a majority of philosophers were atheists. This of course made me feel good about my own atheism, but I never found out if a majority of philosophers of religion were atheists. I don't know, but I'd guess that a majority are religious (probably Christian).

If this is true, should this make me feel worse about my atheism? Maybe I should, they are they relevant experts after all, but I can think of ways to squirm out of that, mostly because of selection bias in the group. A religious philosopher could be excused for thinking this is a lame response, she can just say, "Here are the six million papers showing why I'm right, have you read any of them?" I haven't but I still don't change my mind, I think they're biased by their prior commitment to their religion.

Tyler Cowen disagrees with the relevant experts about the likelihood of being able to upload our brains to computer. If they chose to study that they probably already had pretty strong views on that before they became experts, making bias a serious problem. But is it less of a problem to simply go with of common sense intuitions? Isn't that pretty much asserting that there's no point in even studying the problem in the first place.

I can see both sides of the argument. I'm torn, how can I side with the uploads, but against the philosophers? I think I should "choose" to revise my estimate of uploading down and my estimate of the likelihood of God up. But practically, it is very difficult to change what you actually believe even if you think you should. My brain thinks the odds of us being a computer simulation are quite good, but I don't really believe it in my heart.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Who wrote this?

"The phrase "weak atheist" is apparently nothing but a weasel self-label for agnostics who have picked a side and don't want to be seen as giving any opening to religion. It is politics disguised as philosophy."

That's from the Dilbert blog. The post is dumb.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Not that I’ve done any, like actual research on the subject, but the dropping of the Bomb on these cities never seemed justified to me. The reason given in standard 9 history is that it saved a million lives by preventing the need for an invasion of Japan. The figure, one million is obviously pulled out of someone’s arse, but the point could still stand.
Oliver Kamm’s a clever guy and he has a go at explaining why the bombs had to be dropped. I feel like I could be convinced by this didn’t do it.
I have a few questions (they may be stupid questions) that the article doesn’t answer.

  • Why two bombs rather than one (or three?)
  • Why those cities? There are reasons, but what were the criteria? Wasn’t the bombing largely symbolic?
  • There is major emphasis on saving American lives. What was the ratio of Japanese civilians to American soldiers were they willing to tolerate. There should be an answer to this and I doubt I would be impressed by the number.

Added: The answer to the first question is a little too obvious to keep like that. What I mean is why were the two bombs dropped so close together? Maybe three days is a long time to think after a nuclear bomb. I donno.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why read books on Atheism?

Part of the reason is that it's fun to read someone smart confirming your own opinion. Humans are tribal creatures, for almost no reason we are fanatically loyal soccer teams, political parties and Roger Federer. Once we've picked our side, we distort reality in its favour and we always like to see our side win. This isn't admirable, but it's pretty difficult to shake the instinct if you've been sucked in. Atheism is just as prone to this kind of loyalty as soccer or whatever.

All this is pretty negative on buying these books but I don't want to diminish the entertainment value they provide even if it isn't noble. I also don't think it's a coincidence that there are suddenly lots of atheism books at a time when religion has suddenly become much more prominent in public. The more I bang on about something position I feel strongly about the more likely it is that'll I'll hear from people who disagree. It makes sense.

Now does anybody deny that the world seemed a more religious place after Bush came to power and September 11th happened?

This post was inspired by Steven Levitt, who is not concerned he might upset people by telling them that abortion reduces crime, but is concerned that people might think he's anti-religious.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Global warming

How can I be sure that global warming is both real and (mostly) caused by humans and not be overcome with fanatical environmental zeal? Jamie Whyte explains ever so well. You might not like his tone, but it's worth a read. Documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth focus too much on the fact of global warming and assume that once we all agree on them we'll also agree on the measures we should take to deal with it, but this isn't the case.

Random thoughts

It's pretty alarming how nervous ticks and habits can escalate into downright bizarre behaviour. Yesterday I was near (far too near) to a conversation where a woman would repeatedly and loudly respond "Yeah! Yeah" to anything that was said. Everybody has their filler words and lots of us use "like" or "ummm" more often than we should, but there comes a point where it gets pretty weird. She would say it before the person said anything and then several times during the following sentence.

Apparently Dorkhead was unaware of his "and he was like aaaaaoowwww and I was like aroooooooo" routine and then his "dooo be doooo be doo" routine (I'm laughing now). We need people to tell us otherwise we don't learn.

This is pretty scary for a prospective teacher. I picked up the nickname "the crow" within weeks at Bishops, god knows what the Khyalitsha kids called me.

You can inform me of my entertaining ticks in the comments, anonymously if you like, though I very much doubt I'll have trouble knowing who you are. And yes, I will be offended.

Bad teacher? No problem

Here's an amusing flow chart/cartoon about how to fire a teacher in America.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Maybe they should be “even tougher”

Cycling is the sport worst hit by doping, but this is at least partly because Americans don't seem to care much if their baseballers dope. Just about all the top hitters of the past decade or so have doped or are assumed to have. They still keep their records and people just debate putting asterisks next to their names.

This is the impression I've got at least. Here's an article that confirms this impression:

The well-regarded Raffy -- by the end of this season, he will almost certainly join Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as only the third major leaguer to have 3,000 hits and 600 home runs -- is coming off a 10-day suspension for using steroids.

10 days!? The horror!! How will he feed his family?? They probably wanted to fine him $10 but knew that would really be stepping over the line. Apparently the commissioner is surprised that such draconian punishments haven't deterred players

In the wake of Palmeiro's bust, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has called for "an even tougher" drug policy, claiming that the "very integrity" of the national pastime is on the line.

I agree, they should suspend them for a full two weeks.

Friday, July 27, 2007


We'll hello there. How are you doing this fine day?

Attempt number two!!

I have my doubts about this

Testing new Word

This is just a test. The new version of word claims to have this blogging feature. Well we'll see wont we?

Trevor is ugly and not very bright.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I watched the 16th stage of the Tour de France yesterday and even though I'm not fanatically supporting any of the riders it was really exciting. I still get why it's one of the worlds big sporting events.

Of course, all the news is about doping. At least this year they caught the leader before the end of the race, although we have to wonder about the other riders. The number of riders who are caught out after winning seems really high to me, which makes me wonder why they still do it. My guess is that so many people dope and are not caught that it's still worth it. Of course, being unable to present a winner with a straight face is devaluing the value of winning. But the costs are spread over everybody with a stake in the race, but the benefits go to successful dopers. My econ bloggers should be blogging about this; maybe I should send an e-mail or two.

If it were up to me I'd just allow the doping. Cyclists are already pretty freakish, I'd be pretty curious to see what they looked like after 15 years of hardcore drug abuse, gene therapy or whatever.

Caffeine is a temporary cognitive enhancement but banning it for exams seems weird. Nobody would care if War and Peace were written on caffeine; we're mainly interested in being able to take pleasure in the finished product.

I don't know how strict they are in tennis, but I'll bet there's more doping than we think.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

job security exchange

A few months ago I got into a gmail back and forth with Rich Palmer about the merits of job security.
I have manfully refrained from altering my original in even cosmetic ways, and (more difficult) from responding. This includes the incomplete and non-sensical point number 7.

My post refers to some of the pre debate we had.

“well, when you're looking for jobs, it certainly seem that way... very few employees feel like they have any say in what they do, their conditions of work or their pay. most just get told how things are going to be. there's no ground for negotiation, it's not an even partnership…”

  1. I’ve no argument with this, but I don’t get what’s wrong with this. This is the reason people are paid, to induce them to do what others want them to do. I don’t want a partnership with my maid, I want a clean flat. It’s the reason why unpleasant, or dangerous jobs pay more than normal jobs (all other things being equal). In the US prostitutes each more than architects.
  2. You said “but there's not really any job security, 2 weeks leave a year... admittedly they get pad pretty well, but I'm not sure that's a good trade-pff”. you might not think it’s a good trade off, but others prefer high risk, high reward; government enforcing one option means picking sides and forcing the others to just deal with it and I view that as a bad result. Besides these preferences can be dealt with in a free market. Employees could be offered a job with lower pay but with a promise of a months notice. Sure this doesn’t happen, but it a problem with cultural norms, not intrinsically impossible. I bet most people would take higher pay.
  3. Job security is best for highly skilled. Well paid people in France have nice lives (partly because they don‘t really need to work much), but many people are desperate just for a job, and are either unemployed or working in a series of temp contracts not knowing if they‘ll get the next one. This is real lack of security which the laws are there to prevent. These people are the less talented ones. In America, at least you know you’ll get another job. I view the French economy as a disaster; and it’s the one that emphasises security the most.
  4. Jobs are not in fixed supply. Easy firing means its easy to take chances on people with little experience, wacky business ventures etc etc. This changes the nature of an economy creating new job types that are more interesting and diverse. This effect compounds over time making us richer and creating cooler jobs. Surely you’d agree that the range of jobs today is more attractive than it’s ever been. I’d like to intensify this.
  5. People adjust their consumption to fit in with expected lifetime earnings (save when times are good, borrow when things are bad), they do this anyway, and they’d adjust if job security changed, saving more when they get a job. You said that the pay is good there, so they smooth higher income over their lives = higher average consumption.
  6. Happiness studies show that that unemployment is the surest way to make someone (who is not starving) miserable. This misery should be weighed up against anxiety of those with less secure jobs. More security, more unemployed.
  7. Bosses want to pay as little as possible, but there’s obviously something counteracting this impulse. Average wages even for the least skilled, shittiest jobs are way above the minimum wage; why is this? They say, “poor immigrants do the jobs americans wont” this means employers
  8. Something that I don’t really expect anybody to agree with, but here goes. Small differences in economic growth rates make vast differences over time. We don’t know what the future looks like, but the richer we are with better technology (these go together) maximises the chances that we’ll increase normal human life spans, improve human cognition and empathy eliminate suffering and develop super intelligence. If less security means more growth, then great.
Richard's response:

    All very good points no doubt, and as usual, I have no argument with your logic on any of the issues you've raised. Except perhaps the French one… maybe the French system isn't a bad system, but rather a poorly applied system. I don't know enough about it, but there are other countries with a high degree of job security that are prosperous (most of the rest of Europe - Scandanavia, the UK, Holland etc).

    My argument is more around humanity and the human condition, something that is not as easily explained in growth terms, but in the relationships between people.

    I agree that employers should have the right to say "here's something I want done, and this is how much I'm willing to pay to do it – take it or leave it". What you describe in the job market as ideal fits quite closely with the (1st year) micro-economic ideal of perfect competition being the ultimate economic solution. I haven't studied any more economics than that, but from what I've heard, that's not really how it works at all.

    To stick with the analogy, what I see is a situation more akin to oligopoly or monopoly, where employers (particularly corporations), because of their relative size, have market power in the employment market. And I don't like it. No major arguments from a logic perspective, but I think that a lot of employees add a lot more value to the companies they work for than they are rewarded for.

    I also think that a completely free job market leads to people working longer and longer hours, for more and more money. I think this has a detrimental effect on the functioning of society because the top people are not interacting socially, teaching, sharing and contributing in any way beyond the professional. And that's quite a sad place to be. If everyone worked 60h or 80h weeks with paid overtime, sure we'd be a more productive society, we'd grow faster, we may even achieve super intelligence quicker… but is it a society we'd like to live in, in the meantime?

    I can't stand the feel of the US for that reason, it feels like it's all about being productive, making more money, getting more stuff and less and less about building relationships, community involvement, volunteering etc. It starts turning into Atlas shrugged, where there's no room for people whose values aren't fixated on growth. And people in that situation don't seem happy or satisfied to me.

    Also, from a sustainability perspective (and this is getting beyond the bounds of job security and into growth) we need to slow down and start doing things better, more efficiently and slower. Growth will be limited by some very fundamental principles, but that doesn't mean that development must be limited. I think the general rule should be to take more time in planning and not rushing headlong into what will offer the fastest short term growth. But I guess that's another discussion…

    how pure are you?

    I wrote this before Wimbledon and for some reason I didn't get round to posting it. Well, here it is:
    Last month few pundits denied that it would have been really impressive if Federer won his fourth straight gland slam, but they all noted that purists would prefer that the four were won in the correct order.

    Why does valuing luck and arbitrariness make you a purist?

    Looking back at grand slam winners its easy to conclude that some wins were more impressive than others. This is most obvious when a player is injured during the final and the other guy is declared the winner. Though there are plenty of ways to win a tournament with the help of blind luck.

    Winning a calendar year grand slam will always be impressive but they are not all equally impressive and sometimes not as impressive as non-grand slam winning year.

    Of course it is also true that a player who has won Wimbledon is not necessarily better than someone who hasn’t. The second best player ever might play at the same time as the greatest and never win a thing.

    Purists, it seems favour the lucky flash in the pan over the consistently impressive. Which is not especially pure.

    Saturday, July 07, 2007


    Nadal made it, the bugger. Another reason why Nadal will win is that people have been talking about how difficult his path to the final has been, shame, poor baby. Federer's has been pretty easy. This will make Nadal's triumph all the more heroic and Federer's shame more complete. It will be the ultimate career destroying defeat.

    My estimate of Fed winning before the tournament started was about 75%, rounded to the nearest whole number my estimate for him winning tomorrow is 0%.

    Off to the bookies! I'm gonna clean em out.

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    random thoughts about tennis

    Today has probably been the best day of tennis since I started taking an interest.

    It might make me sexist, but I generally think women's tennis sucks. I've watched a lot of games this year and so far they've all been boring, but today's semi-final was brilliant.

    My estimation of Federer winning has gone down since the tournament began, surely voiding any claim I may have to rationality on the issue. I think I may have a loophole, but my stats isn't good enough to prove it. I rate Fed's odds no better than 50%, which means that you have a good chance of making money off me in a bet.

    It may be indirect Federer bias, but grass tennis seems especially good to me (men's tennis that is and I include the Aussie Open in this assessment). I didn't see the Nadal game, but Federer, Rodick and Djockovic have all played amazing matches (which means that their opponents did too).

    It's days like this that show why sport is worthwhile. You get to see an approach to the peak of human ability.

    Thursday, June 28, 2007


    Romney was one the guys I thought would make a good president, he even has Greg Mankiw on his economics team. This story shows that he is in fact an evil man.

    For those readers not interested in clicking through, he used to put his dog in a dog carrier and strap it to the roof of his car when they set off for family holidays. When the dog had an "accident" he just hosed the dog and car down and carried on.

    The story could be bullshit, I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007

    the power of negative thinking

    Wimbledon is just getting going so I think I should go on the record with my prediction so I cant squirm out of it later.

    Roger Federer will lose, probably in the final, but I have no strong feeling on that. Why will he lose?
    1. The roof of centre court has been removed.
    2. His confidence has been shattered by his French open humiliation.
    3. He's gotta be challenged some time and when he is, his lack of BMT will cause him to crumble.
    4. He has a knack of losing when he's about to equal of beat some cool record, 5 Wimbledons in a row is a prime candidate.
    5. Nadal is clearly the superior player.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007

    what does he thrive on then?

    A priest interviewed on the radio just said something like "the God I know does not thrive on making people blind" he was explaining that God does not want you to stare at the sun.

    You know where I'm going with this; if God does not thrive on making people blind, why does he, in fact, make so many people blind?

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    Has the Iraq war increased the odds of global catastrophe?

    Unfortunately I think the answer is yes; but why?! I hear you cry. Surely Stuart can't hold this alarmist (lefty?) position!

    Well, we've already invented some pretty cool weapons that can kill millions of people in a few minutes. This is scary and no matter how wrong the war enthusiasts were about Iraq it is still very undesirable that bad countries have them. Especially countries with insane/evil leaders. For the moment WMD are both difficult to make and very expensive, but the way things have been going is that people get richer and technology gets cheaper. As long as this is happening it's more likely that some deranged lunatic will get his hands on a bomb and blow up lots of people.

    Not too far in the future it's likely that new weapons will be made that are much more destructive than the weapons we have now. Weapons that could wipe out all life (including cockroaches). If countries like North Korea get these weapons or even fail to regulate their own population properly we'd all be in great danger and preemptive war could be the only way to deal with it.

    If the Iraq war had been a success it would have acted as a powerful deterrent to other governments messing around and public opinion would be less hostile to the concept. It's now a much tougher sell and that's dangerous.

    oh dear

    I supported the war in Iraq and I'm not especially ashamed to admit it, though I also agree that it has been a disaster. I take the "war has been badly handled!" line, cos, like I would have done way better.

    Here's an example of something that is screwed up; America has let in TWO Iraqi refugees in the past two months. I guess this is a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but I think there's something really obnoxious about that.

    When they realised that there were no WMDs, America was keen to play up the liberating role of the invasion. It's more difficult to sell the humanitarian story when you do everything you can to stop people finding a new life after you destroyed their old one (or just made it worse).

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007


    Men accusing women of "stealing" their sperm appeared in a pair of 2005 stories, including that of a Chicago doctor who impregnated herself with her doctor-boyfriend's sperm (from oral sex). (He sued her for theft, but an appeals court called the sperm a "gift.")
    Via Tim Worstall

    Monday, June 11, 2007


    It looks like I'm paying a heavy price for Liverpool winning the final two years ago.

    Friday, June 08, 2007


    Ahhh... there's nothing like a really smart person saying something that you agree with in a really smart sounding way. Will Wilkinson has two great posts on immigration. Here are some non-fancy bits that I really liked:
    Yet the idea that we discount the potentional welfare gains to people outside the fence by bringing them inside simply because they are not already inside the fence strikes me as monstrously, stupefyingly immoral...

    And once we decide to consider the issue like decent human beings, and take into account the welfare of other human beings who just happen to have been born outside our public goods provision jurisdiction, the argument for free labor is so overwhelming you basically have to reject the idea of morality itself to deny its force.
    Not especially related, but the Economist has an article on Mark Shuttleworth and his open source software project.