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.