Wednesday, March 28, 2007

name my kittens

One's a boy and one's a girl but I don't know which is which. They both very nearly died, but they are doing much better now. They are very good at miaowing, squirming around their cat carrier and have even dabbled in a little purring. So, any suggestions for names?
Added: Tracy points out that in the top photo the kittens claws look like it's teeth. I hadn't noticed that, but it is true. I think it looks really, really funny.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

anyone want some kittens?

There are only two of them I'm afraid.

Emotionally manipulative posts, complete with pictures, to follow shortly.

you know what pisses me off?

The battery display on my cell phone, that's what.

The first bar lasts a long time, the second lasts 5 minutes. God only knows how long the fifth one will last.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Michael Moore

There's a new documentary about Michael Moore. The makers of the documentary were fans of Moore but when couldn't arrange an interview with him they started to investigate how he made his films. Unsurprisingly, Moore does not come off well. I am surprised by just how dishonest he actually is. He made his name with the film "Roger & Me" which covered the effects of General Motors closing down several plants resulting in thousands of workers losing their jobs. The film shows Moore unsuccessfully trying to talk to the CEO Roger Smith:
Offended by what he perceives as an injustice, Moore begins seeking out Roger Smith to confront him about the closing of the Flint plants. Moore, thrust off by GM security and PR staff, changes course and turns his camera on the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau...
Turns out he actually did interview Smith twice but chose not to include the footage!

Ah! But he's a lefty and hates Georg Bush, so he can't be all bad. The film makers are, understandably eager to distance themselves from right wingers
She and Caine also had trouble finding people to talk on camera about Moore, partly because potential interview subjects assumed they were creating a right-wing attack piece; as self-proclaimed left-wingers, they weren't.

Despite what they've learned, the directors still appreciate Moore.
Moore and Chomsky are bad, bad men.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

positive and negative freedom

A while back Tracy and I "discussed" the difference between positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom is the freedom from coercion and positive freedom focuses on the opportunity to fulfil ones potential. Poor people may have negative freedom but not much positive freedom. Tracy’s position is that you’re not really free without positive freedom. My feeling is that while it may not be possible to lead a decent life without a fair whack of positive freedom I’d prefer not to call it freedom.

The more I think about it though the more it makes my head hurt. Will Wilkinson has a long, thoughtful post on how muddled positive and negative freedom are in reality.

If we're interested in maximising positive freedom we (society) do things like sending poor kids to school and giving them violin lessons. In fact to maximise positive freedom, we need to do a lot of this kind of thing and we need taxes to pay for it all, a lot of taxes. If this tax rate slows economic growth slightly (by 1% say) the society will be a lot poorer than it would have been in 100 years with correspondingly less positive freedom. As global warming hawks tell us, future generations are important too. How do we trade off positive freedom of today with that of tomorrow? Even today, surely positive freedom would be better served by free immigration into rich countries than enormous government programs?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

vouchers

This is worthwhile bloggery. Jane Galt has been very busy discussing educational vouchers; all of these posts are from the past week and are all substantial.

She is much more even handed than I am.

These posts were prompted by some lefty bloggers and commenters. I am shocked (shocked!) by some of their uncharitable readings of her. For example, when she says that she would support doubling education funding to pay for vouchers, the response is (I’m paraphrasing here), “Wow! Libertarians have such a profound hatred of everything good that they would be willing to hack their own legs off with rusty saws to destroy the lives of every, single, angelic union teacher.”

Added: Jane has more. She's not convinced that using the "tax is theft" slogan when talking bout educating underprivileged kids is a good way to market libertarianism to non weirdos. I concur.

I hate Macs

This is wonderful. It’s difficult to choose which bits to quote from because the whole thing’s great, but I have to choose some.
The ads are adapted from a near-identical American campaign - the only difference is the use of Mitchell and Webb. They are a logical choice in one sense (everyone likes them), but a curious choice in another, since they are best known for the television series Peep Show - probably the best sitcom of the past five years - in which Mitchell plays a repressed, neurotic underdog, and Webb plays a selfish, self-regarding poseur. So when you see the ads, you think, "PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately lovable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers." In other words, it is a devastatingly accurate campaign...

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don't use Macs but sometimes wish they did...

When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, "I hate Macs", and then I think, "Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?"...

But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot...

Cue 10 years of nasal bleating from Mac-likers who profess to like Macs not because they are fashionable, but because "they are just better"...

Better at "fun stuff", my arse. The only way to have fun with a Mac is to poke its insufferable owner in the eye.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cowen on animals

Tyler Cowen has been taking requests, so I asked him about vegetarianism/animal rights. He didn't answer my question specifically but it may have prodded him to answer a similar question. Here is the post. This is the relevant bit:
3. I have nothing against eating animals per se, even live ones, but I think it is immoral to eat animals raised under awful conditions, such as factory farming. Personally, I often try to be good but I often fail as well. I never feel bad eating meat in Europe, and animal welfare is the best argument for European farm subsidies. I will pay more for humanely-raised food, but I won't drive through ten minutes of extra traffic to get it.
I have a lot of sympathy for this position and wouldn’t rule out adopting it myself in the future. Practically, it probably differs very little from my current position; I really should be a vegan. I also think Cowen’s response shows the flaw of taking this approach; it’s too difficult to be disciplined. He is quite unconcerned about his lapses and laziness (on this issue at least) even though he’s declared eating animals reared in awful conditions immoral.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

vista

As you probably already know, the Onion is America's finest news sourse. So when I was researching Vista on the web I naturally wanted to know what they had to say about it. Here's their take:
    • Microsoft Word's helpful paper-clip icon now blinks at rate of normal humans
    • Enhanced graphics on "System Is Not Responding" pop-up window
    • Five new card-back designs for Solitaire
    • Something that Apple would never, ever dream up in a billion years
    • 4,391 security flaws to be patched over next 15 years
    • Promise of broad, open-minded future or some bullshit
    • Lists blocked wireless connections with greater speed and accuracy

the great issue of the 21st century

I recently bought a book on happiness by Richard Layard. I'm not expecting to enjoy it, but I'll probably get round to reading it someday.

He's one of the intellectuals that Prospect asked this question, "Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next?" Here's his answer(you have to scroll way down):
The great issue for the 21st century will be materialism vs quality of life. Those who want priority for economic progress will be pitched against those who focus more strongly on the quality of life that people experience. Both left and right will be divided on this issue. This division will occur in most of the main policy debates: materialism will favour higher migration; quality of life will favour lower migration. Materialism will favour financial incentives and low job security; quality of life will favour the reverse. Materialism will favour little regulation of gambling on advertising; quality of life will favour more. Materialism will favour education for success; quality of life will favour the education of character. Materialism will focus less on mental illness; quality of life will focus on it more. Materialism will focus on the cost of averting climate change; quality of life will focus on the implications of not averting it. Eventually, the quality of life will win out.
Wow.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

immigration

The effects of immigration is a hotly contested topic among economists, like the minimum wage. Economists are more pro immigration and anti minimum wage than the average person, but there are still plenty in the common man's corner.

George Borjas is one of the most prominent anti-immigration economists and his research is normally cited by the anti side. The standard line is that immigrants have depressed the wages of low skilled Americans by 8%. I not bothered by this figure in the least and some of the most vigorously pro-immigration economists have accepted that figure (Bryan Caplan uses the figure here). Turns out that it's an oversimplification. This post contains a table with more data about the effects of immigration. 8% is the figure for the short run effects on high school dropouts. The long run effects on high school dropouts is 4%. Other skill groups do better; in fact high school graduates who don't go onto university actually gain.

Remember these are the pessimistic figures.

A while back Paul Krugman wrote an article which was fairly negative about immigration, it included this quote:
First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.
Bryan Caplan responds
Horrors! Only a small gain to native-born Americans? Something's got to be done to fight this small gain.
You see why he was such a hero?

new laptop

Despite the best efforts of the laptop gods I got my laptop. It is not an Acer, it doesn't have 512Mb of Ram and is not a Celeron.

It is beautiful. VISTA is also pretty.

It seems to work so far, I'm writing this post on it!

Incidentally, this is my 301st post. Yay me.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The quote below comes from a debate about government paternalism. Earlier the same person said this:
Saying "People who buy dangerous products deserve to get hurt!" is not tough-minded. It is a way of refusing to live in an unfair universe. Real tough-mindedness is saying, "Yes, sulfuric acid is a horrible painful death, and no, that mother of 5 children didn't deserve it, but we're going to keep the shops open anyway because we did this cost-benefit calculation."
Her point is that if people are not forcibly prevented from doing certain things some stupid people will do them and this is a reason in favor of paternalism. Sure these things will happen, and it does suck but people die in the most astounding variety of ways. Just about everything you've ever done has some no zero risk of death attached, and the death may be really horrible. This is no reason for paternalistic policiesWhat’s really important is the probability that something bad will happen and the severity of the consequences. Individuals are allowed knives, they are not allowed nuclear weapons and guns are a grey area. Why can people not bring themselves to be more explicit on this point?

Later she says:
They will lose their jobs, lose their pensions, lose their health insurance, be ground down to bloody stumps by poverty, perhaps die, and they won't deserve it either.
Hectic. Am I allowed to jump to conclusions about her bias. I agree that people will do stupid, tragic things, but is this really something that happens in rich countries? Like she says this is just a straight forward factual question.
Good point from someone at Overcoming Bias
In recent posts, I have predicted that, if not otherwise prevented from doing so, some people will behave stupidly and suffer the consequences: "If people have a right to be stupid, the market will respond by supplying all the stupidity that can be sold." People misinterpret this as indicating that I take a policy stance in favor of regulation. It indicates no such thing. It is meant purely as guess about empirical consequences - a testable prediction on a question of simple fact.

Perhaps I would be less misinterpreted if I also told "the other side of the story" - inveighed at length about the reasons why bureaucrats are not perfect rationalists guarding our net best interests. But ideally, I shouldn't have to go to such lengths. Ideally, I could make a prediction about a strictly factual question without this being interpreted as a policy stance, or as a stance on logically distinct factual questions.
This has been an issue on this blog, and just in conversation in general. People look straight past what was actually said to the "true meaning" of what you've said.

bias, truth and the future

The forum Overcoming Bias is really cool. I imagine that in practice it has enabled many readers to dismiss the arguments of their foes by "spotting" one of the examples of bias discussed. If that’s true it would be really funny because the blog is mainly to help the reader tackle their own bias. Given that our brains evolved along with our bodies I suspect that there might be good reasons why we simply can't overcome our bias, or if we could we might be sent to the depths of depression.

Robin Hanson thinks certain types of institutions would help most in our quest. Betting markets are an example. People often sound 100% certain of their opinions on certain topics but wouldn't put money on themselves with odds that match their certainty. This is an example of bias that is corrected, if you wanna make money you better be bias free.

Another less formal institution is "truth telling". If this rule were observed that would help but wouldn't eliminate bias because you could choose only to talk about certain things. I think that truth telling has been overwhelmed by politeness in western society. It’s better to have your heart in the right place than be a remorseless truth teller. Global warming is good example here's Al Gore
Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.[my emphasis]


When facts on the ground change these kinds of institutions also change. Maybe the current PC norm is because the rights blacks, gays and women have only recently been fully recognized, but now society is changing again and much more of what we’ve ever said is accessible in e-mails sms and more importantly on the web.

This is a problem because saying what you think can have negative consequences. People are fired (or not hired) for things they may have said years ago. The way the incentives are lined up now there is a pressure to self censorship and away from truth telling.

I’m optimistic about the long term effects though. Since information can spread so fast and there are so many people scrutinizing everything factual errors don’t last long. Recently a photographer added smoke to one of his pictures for dramatic effect and was instantly found out, I can’t imagine that happening 20 years ago.

So how will new media affect cultural norms of truth telling and attitudes towards bias?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The laptop Gods hate me

All laptops I'm considering now come with Vista basic, which apparently sucks. I got over it. Then, when I had pretty much decided which one to get I come across this page (I'll admit that discovering this particular page doesn't catapult me into the upper reaches of tech savvyness). Hooray! An even better laptop! Then Jane Galt goes and says this:
It should be pretty powerful; no 512MB RAM/Celeron processor candidates, please.
What's wrong with Celerons??
I don't want to go with Acer or Averatec. My chinese is not that good.
Now, my Chinese isn't great either.

My previous choice was neither a Celeron (which is possibly a bad thing??) nor an Acer.

Siiiiggghhh...

this is cool

Follow this link to an article about Al Gore in the New York Times. Double click on any word in the article and bingo! the definition pops up. That's brilliant!

The article is also interesting. I'm surprised that the New York Time could even think a bad thought about Gore:
“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”

blogging problem

It’s not that surprising that academics like tenure, even economist academics; I’d like tenure. Here's Tyler Cowen arguing in favor of tenure:
Most of the research value comes from a small percentage of creators in the first place, and many of those people have done their important work by age 45 in any case. To put it bluntly, the tenure system works because for many people their "output" doesn't matter in the first place; tenure is however wonderful for the stars. The goods produced in academia are often symbolic goods anyway, such as prestige.
This is the problem with blogs I guess. The reason he's blogging about tenure is because people are suspicious of it. This of response is short and incomprehensible, he writes quite a few posts like this. He should make his post longer, but that breaks the sacred blogging rule.

I am perfectly willing to be generous in my reading because Cowen is an omniscient super genius but what the hell does this mean?? To me it reads:
If you didn't have tenure only the stars would get jobs leaving lots of empty offices which would be bad.
Stars are not the ones needing job security. Only the stupid do.Bryan Caplan calls him on it:
Bizarre Dadaism:

To put it bluntly, the tenure system works because for many people their "output" doesn't matter in the first place; tenure is however wonderful for the stars.

Right... Tenure is "wonderful" because it infinitesimally raises the job security of the stars, and sharply raises the job security of people who don't produce anything of value anyway.
This makes me feel slightly less stupid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What is the world coming to?

Some sick bastard has scratched my car. There is black stuff, there is some missing paint and there is a small dent. This is all on the driver side of the car!! The side that has hubcaps! The unblemished side! The side I see when I want to get into the car!! It was a hit and run, so there will be no (voluntary) compensation.

I've reported the incident to the police. They say they'll let me know the minute anything turns up.

A moment of bloggy silence please…

Roger Federer lost in the first round. His 41 match winning streak is over and he now has a losing record against Guillermo Canas.

Monday, March 12, 2007

During the last cricket World Cup staying in Newlands right by the stadium was a mixed blessing. I went to two games so I didn’t need to bother about finding a parking space: Hooray! But I also ended up with about R15 000 worth of parking tickets because the traffic laws changed with the time of day.

This was not the only time I have been frustrated (i.e. thrown into a murderous rage) by enormous fines for dubious infractions. The really irritating thing is that I was (usually) in the wrong, I admit it, I’m a bad, bad man. I am so bad that I don’t even feel guilty for parking the wrong way on an empty residential road in the middle of the night.

I complain a lot, but I didn’t always get sympathy because I was guilty of the crime I was punished for.

Thankfully Jane Galt
and Glen Whitman explain why I’m partly right to feel hard done by. This is from Whitman:
The proliferation and laws and regulations that make virtually everyone guilty of something gives state authorities the discretion to punish whomever they want, whenever they want.
Jane adds:
It increases the number of detectable offenses until not all of them can be prosecuted, or even paid attention to. It[increasing police power] puts me in mind of that novel . . . and damned if I can remember WHAT novel . . . when the man from the government laughs in surprise "Do you imagine we want you to obey the law?" Laws become an instrumental means not for maintaining public order, but for targeting persons.

More sub-selves

I think I get the basic idea behind the whole sub-self thing. One sub-self wants to eat the cake and another wants us to live a long healthy life. Unfortunately the cake eater often seems to carry more weight than the boring health freak, so the cake eater is an evil tyrant destroying the health freaks liberty.

We all have these inner conflicts; one of my sub-selves is a shoplifter and I deny his freedom every time I walk into Exclusive Books or Incredible Connection (of course if I didn’t someone else probably would). Some people don’t do this even though they know they should; they are bad. But some people simply can’t deny this sub-self what it wants, these people are mentally defective (in this case kleptomaniacs); they are not “bad” (though I still wouldn’t want these people in any shop of mine). Many libertarians don’t mind restricting the liberty of the insane.

That’s my take on the sub-self argument for paternalism (and the destroyer of libertarianism); that we should restrict the freedom of the insane.

If you follow this link, you'll find a blizzard of fancy terms backing up sub-self theory (this time without spelling errors so bad that even I spotted them). There is an excellent chance that I don’t understand it all, fortunately this is not my fault it is just a renegade sub-self.

Friday, March 09, 2007

huh?

Libertarians are against paternalism, libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron. One of the contributors to Overcoming Bias makes the following argument against the libertarianism:
I thought I detected a libertarian strain in Robin's arguements on this and on other issues, but perhaps I am wrong about this. If he is using libertarian arguements, then such arguements rely on a unitary self, as follows:

Libertarianism is based on a person's self-ownership, with liberty to do whatever he wants with his self, as long as he allows others the same liberty.

But with multiple subselves within the same person, when one subself takes an action it will often restrict the liberty of another subself, thus making a nonsense of the libertarian project.
Gosh! That was easy!

My poor little sub-selves! how they have been suffering all these years! Living under the totalitarian rule of umm... other... umm... sub... selves...

more on banks

It happens all over the world, even (gasp!) in America! Jane Galt relates some similarly infuriating encounters.
When I pushed my driver's license through the window, the woman said "I need another form of ID." I stared blankly at her. "Like a credit card."

Now, this makes absolutely no sense. The driver's license has my picture on it and everything. If the driver's license is no good, all the credit card would prove is that I had managed to steal Jane Galt's wallet... Now, I am cognizant that it is only by luck that I myself am not trapped in some crap customer service job. Yet still, this makes my blood boil, this insistence that something fairly simple is not merely inconvenient, but actually impossible.
I feel her pain. Now all we need to do is get over all this hand wringing about people who earn decent amounts of money for sitting in air-conditioned buildings for seven or eight hours a day. Now… back to Atlas Shrugged.

Jamie Whyte

Here are two unsurprisingly good articles by Jamie Whyte .

The first discusses why rich Brits moan so much about government services:
Nothing satisfies us. Crime rates have fallen consistently since 1993, yet we think law enforcement a shambles. Trains are faster and safer than ever. Still, we consider the railways a disgrace. Waiting lists for surgery are shorter. Third World health service!
The problem
Everyone buys roughly the same things with their first £10,000 of income. Then they start to show some individuality... We may agree on what a service that costs us £500 a year should provide. But what extra should we get when we are spending £2,000? Nicer hospital rooms? Better-paid doctors? Viagra?
It isn't reasonable to expect everybody to agree, and most don't. What's the answer to this conundrum??

There's some moaning about education towards the end.

The second article is about profit seeking in education. The idea strikes most people as deeply immoral, but why?
I blame teachers. Resist as we may, they influence us. They have our little minds at their disposal from the ages of 5 to 18, and they are institutionally socialistic. Most are state employees. And most are women. For evolutionary reasons that I will leave you to gather, women are more risk-averse than men and, hence, congenitally disposed towards the nanny state. In the battle for hearts and minds, what chance have we free-marketeers when 90 per cent of the population is educated by female government employees?
The article closes by pointing out how weird it is that people think Bishops kids should be the recipients of charity
Sir Eric’s sophistry inadvertently provides a reason to remove independent schools’ bogus charitable status. If they were openly commercial enterprises, their headmasters might divert their energy to defending the profit motive. It is more in need of charitable attention than are the children of investment bankers.

Study Reveals: Kids Are Stupid

That's the best headline I've read today, from hit&run.

The least surprising (sub)heading is from Noam Chomsky Washington's escalation of threats against Iran is driven by a determination to secure control of the region's energy resources. I love this little bit included at the end of the article
(Due to copyright restrictions this article will only be available for 24 hours)
. Here's Chomsky on the NAFTA free-trade agreement
Furthermore, it shares with the global agreements such anti-market principles as "intellectual property rights"...
It always goes in sneer quotes.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bernstein paragraph

Context is a term frequently used but less frequently given the status of a derived term. Such a logical status is crucial when context is the basic unit of a theory or description. Among socio-linguists the definition of a context is often no more than the application of a botanical classification the principle of which is arbitrary, or which operates at a very low level of description

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Randian heroes

Ayn Rand’s heroes are supremely motivated, passionate about what they do and almost never make any mistakes (of any kind). Of course they’re fiercely competitive, but they have no professional jealousy; they long to meet, and compete with, people of superior ability and are gracious when they lose. They are serenely confident of their ability but not in an arrogant way. Don’t expect them to praise the team effort when they win; they know how good they are. They would never, ever, cheat in any way.

Rand would not approve of today’s hero figures. They spout too much banal crap, “Ya, it was a tough game hay, but the guys all pulled together and we managed to pull together and blah blah blah.” I suspect most big shots are too willing to cheat to win, but even those who won’t provide completely ridiculous accounts of events (I’m thinking of coaches here).

So who are the Randian (sporting) heroes of the past few generations? Tiger Woods is too arrogant and boring. Schumacher was too willing to cheat. Zidane lost his head too often. Lance Armstrong is better but he is far too petty when it comes to those he doesn’t like. Pele’s a good option but I don’t really know enough about him. Various Australian cricketers would do well, Ponting perhaps?

But the ultimate Randian hero for our time has to be Roger Federer. His slightly cringe-worthy, but largely honest assessments of how matches fit the bill nicely. He doesn’t throw compliments around which hints that they may be sincere.

Which Randian heroes have I neglected?

Basil Bernstein

I don't like Basil Bernstein: his writing style is completely unnecessary. Yet I'm forced to read paper after paper and then pretend (along with everybody else) that I understood a word of it. But maybe I'm just thick and everybody else thinks he writes like a dream, I don't know.

Anyway, I though of a fun game. The last paper I read of his runs from about page twenty to page forty. Choose a page and paragraph number and let me know in the comments. I'll post the paragraph and maybe you can tell me what it means.

OK? Go!

vista

I'm gonna buy a laptop soon (!) and I can choose between Vista and XP. I want Vista, because it's all new and stuff, but I've been reading up on it. I discovered some surprising (to me) things:
  1. You need a very fancy machine to make it run properly; fancier than I'm getting.
  2. Despite this, there are few real advances over XP. Several features they had planned were scrapped because they were to hard to program.
  3. It is no better, or prettier, than the SuSE Linux operating system.
This isn't exactly exhilarating news, but at least it's not a raging disaster! Yay!

What I want to know though, is what the hell is wrong with Microsoft!? It's one thing not to come up with all the cool new innovations (though why shouldn't they? Steve Jobs' people seem to be able to), but it's another to shelve so many projects because they were to hard. $100 000 000 000 000 and all the geniuses in the world could not solve the bloody problems! Lesser mortals are able to program cool software, are operating systems that much more difficult than everything else. It's not like they didn't have enough time, the project was started six years ago! No cool new features!

I am a complete ignoramus when it comes to this stuff so maybe I have said many stupid things in this post, but does the point that Microsoft sucks not stand?

Added: Wired does not recommend buying a computer pre-loaded with Vista. Oh dear…

The politics of star wars

Trevor says that I should lighten things up round here, so that’s what I’ll do (for now). I just stumbled across this hilarious debate between Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan. Tyler thinks that the Jedi are evil while Bryan gives them two cheers . Unfortunately, you should read the posts to fully appreciate them and it would help if you already know the storyline. Here are some Tyler tidbits:
2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway?... Aren't they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.

4. The Jedi can't even keep us safe.

5. The bad guys have sex and do all the procreating. The Jedi are not supposed to marry, or presumably have children. Not ESS, if you ask me. Anakin gets Natalie Portman; Luke spends two episodes with a perverse and distant crush on his sister Leia, leading only to one chaste kiss.

6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force. How true this turns out to be. But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means. Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys. But you also have to get rid of the Jedi. The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys. Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story.

Addendum: By the way, did I mention that the Jedi are genetically superior supermen with "enhanced blood"? That the rebels' victory party in Episode IV borrows liberally from Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will"? And that the much-maligned ewoks make perfect sense as an antidote to Jedi fascism?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

School with mutt?

I had an embarrassing “epiphany” about private education the other day. The British taxpayer spends about 5000 pounds per kid on schooling, but quite a few people pay this tax yet still send their kids to even more expensive private schools. There’s a lot of money in this education business, but education in Britain sucks, 1 in 7 kids leave school unable to read properly.

I have opinions on education, I’ve got ideas about what should be taught and I could have a crack at teaching some of these subjects. If I could convince 10 parents that I wasn’t a psycho or a moron (there are plenty of gullible people out there) I could earn at least 50 000 pounds a year teaching their kids; that’s a lot of money.

Advantages include:
  • extremely flexible/personalised education for each kid (within limits set by ideological convictions on teaching and teacher ignorance of certain subjects).
  • parents will have large control of their kid's peer group.
  • bullying would be easily controlled.
  • loads of one on one attention for each kid and better odds of spotting and accommodating talents and stupidities.
  • discourages getting stuck in a teaching rut, I can't imagine the same lesson plans being used for 30 years. Encourages teacher to invest in keeping up to date and to study outside the area of teaching speciality.
  • teacher could earn loads of money.

There is loads more to say about this and I can think of some cons to weigh in against these pros, but I was actually quite shocked by how attractive this option should seem to parents, teachers and kids. I take this either as a sign of how screwed up education is in most places and possibly how little foresight I have.

Any comments?

An inconvenient truth?

Not the fact of global warming, but the fact that Al Gore’s house uses more than 20 times as much power as the average American household:
Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year.
Gore's people hit back:
Gore’s family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence...
Ooooohhhh... good comeback! (using my best Groundskeeper Willy voice) To me the response reads:
Mr Gore is extremely rich and it is really really difficult for rich people to limit their emissions
I can't think of anybody who has a bigger incentive to live a green lifestyle than Gore; not money wise but image wise, he's still a potential president after all. Given that he is very rich and does have a large stake in appearing green, I think it's worth noting that he is in a far better position to buy expensive things that have low emissions and to employ people to plant trees to offset his emissions.

I love the lack of embarrassment though, after all Gore is only using 20 times the power of ordinary people when he could be using 50 times as much if he didn't spend so much money reducing his usage. Same deal with Chomsky; he's gotten stinking rich writting books attacking America, capitalism, intellectual property rights and the right of inheritance. His books are copyrighted and sold on the open market, he takes advantage of all the comforts of the unique American university system and jealously protects his fortune from being taxed away. What does he say bout this? That he is not ashamed about providing for his family and, well what should do? Live in a cabin in Montana??

Naturally, the anonymous blogger at Free Exchange does a better job of dealing with the issues than I do.

fallen hero

Top hero Bryan Caplan mentioned South Africa in a post a while ago:
Once a GMU grad student got a job offer in South Africa. He could have bought a glorious mansion there for $80,000. The drawback was that, by buying that house, he would have painted a big target on his back saying "Kidnap me." He didn't go, and who can blame him? There's got to be something horribly wrong with a place where mansions go for $80,000.
He was corrected in the comments but didn't respond one way or the other. This post was a while ago but it has left a really bad taste in my mouth and I can't read his posts in the same way.

Am I guilty of pro South African bias? That would be interesting; it's not something I think I'd be accused of often.

Anyway, I've written an e-mail to Prof. Caplan; if he responds and I don't think I come across as a total moron I'll post the exchange.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Stuart shrugged?

No. Stuart did not shrug. Stuart got all huffy and stomped out.

I’m deeply involved in Atlas Shrugged at the moment and by now I feel that everybody I speak too should somehow know exactly who Dagny Taggart is and what color Rearden Metal is. I think the book is excellent, much better than I thought it would be. I expected the basic philosophy but I didn’t expect the plot to be interesting and exciting.

The baddies in the book are caricatures and I wouldn’t expect their real world counterparts (professors in humanities faculties for example) to feel any pangs on reading the book, but I really think there’s a lot of truth in what she says about them.

My experience in the bank yesterday and this morning was straight from the pages of Atlas Shrugged. People will give any old answer to get you off their back. I spent several hours yesterday trying to comply with their “requirements” for opening up a new account. The instructions were very specific, I got them to repeat it three times, I pointed out that the web site said something different and I confirmed these requirements with another employee. Having followed the instructions to the letter I find out that not only are they “wrong” they are wildly, laughably wrong.

I should have known better; I've been though exactly this sort of thing before; I’m an idiot. But surely it's not completely unreasonable to expect verbal exchanges with employees to carry some meaning? ANY meaning??!! How can they simply not give a shit when they knowingly speak complete and utter shit? When their words result in another human being wasting hours of their lives -hours which are worth something- how do they fucking live with themselves?

P.S. While Ayn Rand would hate these bank employees, I doubt she would prefer someone starting a humanities masters in their eighth year of university.