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.