Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ahh memories.

Last night I was reminded of one of the darker moments of my childhood. When I was about 7 or 8 my friend Nick and I decided it'd be a really great idea to use my cool aluminium shield to block arrows we'd fire at each other from point blank range. This was great fun until I shot Nicholas in the throat. My memory of this event is pretty vivid and my only concern was about how much trouble I was now in. I haven't thought about it much since then but now I think I should probably have spent a little more time being relieved that the arrow did not actually penetrate his throat.

Of course my reaction to this thought was to laugh uncontrollably for a minute of two which, to judge by the reaction of the company I was with, was inappropriate.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


A blog is like a shark and your shark is struggling to breathe J

Was the content of an insightful sms I received this morning. Apologies for the lack of blogging recently, I hope I haven't done lasting damage to my readership base.

Posting will lightly remain light for a bit still, but in the meantime I cannot recommend this podcast highly enough if you happen to be blessed with abundant bandwidth. I can find very little online about this Weingast character other than the fact that he seems a very respectable sort of chap. This means that his ideas are not very influential, which means that I'm probably wrong to be so bowled over by the interview. But, if I'd heard it before the Iraq war I'd say there's a good chance that it would have been sufficient to convince me not to support it. I can't say that about anything else I've heard or read since it became apparent that it was a big mistake.

Maybe the reason I like it so much is that Weingast believes that there has, in fact, been a massive decoupling of economic and political power (not in Trevor's sense, but in a non-trivial sense which involves access to violence) and that it's difficult to overstate the role this has played in the development of human civilisation. It is always fun to hear someone say stuff you've already thought but in a much smarter, more convincing way (of course there's the possibility that I completely misunderstand him).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

David Bullard...

was just fired for writing a racist column in the Sunday Times. I find this kind of stuff interesting because of the kinds of reactions you see. People on both sides of the free speech issue get things wrong. The Sunday Times should fire whomever they want and it isn't an assault on free speech to do so (though the fact that they did it in response to the outrage generated by the article is a bad signal). On the other hand, while free speech is not an invitation to racist speech, it does allow (at least some forms of) racist speech. Attacks should focus on what a horrible person he is, not on his actual right to write the article.

This kind of thing inevitably ends up with people discussing what they actually think of the offending item, as though that were relevant. Sooo... I didn't like the article and I do think it's a little racist, but only a little and with a little tweaking it wouldn't be. It was clearly written to piss people off but it was also muddled and unconvincing. This is a pity because I think most people have gone way too far in blaming colonialisation for every single ill faced by African counties and I'm interested to learn more about what the real effects were (Niall Ferguson's book on the British Empire is pretty high up on my list), so I wish he'd done it better.

Anyway, if you want to read a depressingly badly written article on this little drama, click here.


I never considered sending my laptop away for repair if I had to pay for it, I probably wouldn't have done it if they paid for it, but I almost bought a USB wireless thingamajig for R550. I didn't because I thought I'd try the shop in N1 City after school on Monday.

My wireless is working fine now...

I went to some trouble to get good info on what the problem was. I went to three different places, made it clear that I wanted it repaired
on site and that I just wanted a quote. They all said it needed to be sent away. If you're going to abandon yourself to the obesity and greasiness of tech geekdom you should do better at tech geek stuff, IMHO.

Added: It stopped working. I humbly apologise to tech geeks everywhere.

Friday, April 11, 2008

cut him. CUT HIM!!

The irritating Eliezer Yudkowsky is very proud of his essay on the virtues of rationality. I also like it, partly because it is satisfyingly annoying. I did like this quote from Miyamoto Musashi
The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him
I often think this watching sport where (I think) I can tell when one side switches to focusing on the components that make up good play rather than the actual goal of play. In tennis every single shot should be hit with the aim of maximising the odds of winning the point, which is why a risk averse strategy on match point annoys me so much. Soccer teams one goal ahead often try to run the clock down at the end rather than taking advantage of their opponents risk taking.

I think this is a huge problem with university studying and intellectualising in general. We learn a bunch of fancy intellectual tools but haven't the faintest clue how to use them. And learning an intimidating academic vocabulary is a way of bullying people who haven't got it.

Thinking about rationality like this also helps show how important it is to pose the topic properly. The point in the quote is to kill the other guy, but what are you arguing about?

"bad" day

My wireless thingie in my laptop is broken :-( They'll send it away for 6 weeks and it'll come back, possibly fixed, all for the low low price of R2000. Good deal.

Also, I'm being stalked. I'm not hyper sensitive about getting funny looks, but this guy was following me around Exclusive Books, so I started wandering around to random shelves which, astonishingly, he liked too! So I walked out and guess what!? I gave him a bit of a stare and he sorta trailed off. But now he's mysteriously at the Gardens Center and yes, I think it's a little weird.

Keep an eye on the news.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Quote of the day

From Tyler Cowen. Don't ask why I'm linking a post from 18 months ago
In my warped view of the world, everyone believes in some form of meritocracy or another; the kind of meritocracy you believe in shapes most of the rest of your political views.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Seriously though

Was I a little mean about Nassim Taleb? A touch? I expect that a detailed and devastating refutation of my post will appear on his site any day now. At least this time when he explains that he doesn't respect my intelligence he'll have good reason not too.

I haven't finished the book. I enjoyed the first half but now my progress has slowed to a crawl. I basically agree with all the substantive stuff he has to say and I share his irritation at "experts" concocting elaborate after the fact stories to explain events (I think more about sport, since I know nothing about trading). So my mockery is probably a not so subtle way of trying to claim some insight brownie points for myself.

Soooo... If I agree to bow down and worship at the alter of his insight (which we could surely all benefit from) can I say that it's ironic that it takes a person of such supreme arrogance and lack of self-awareness to convince a wide audience to be sceptical of claims to supreme genius made by so many other authorities?

I actually take it as an argument of the importance of the delusions he decries.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Fooled by Randomness in 197 words

If ten thousand people sit around flipping coins all day and somebody gets a streak of 15 in a row do you conclude that she's a really skilled coin tosser? Huh?! Do you???

Now let me explain the withering contempt I feel for you and rest of my fellow human beings. If you start speaking and I even suspect that your utterance will not be dripping with sycophantic hysteria I will sigh very loudly before squashing you like a bug.

People are obsessed with status because they are stupid, coarse and greedy and they don't realise that their status depends on luck. These people disgust me and I do not seek such status. Did I mention that I own 4000 books? That I spend my life reading poetry and classics which I actually understand? That I jet all over the world all the time? That my expertise in economics and philosophy far exceeds that of anybody currently alive? There are a few figures in history that have been perceptive, but I have either been the person to discover their pearls of wisdom or the first person to actually appreciate their insight.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Dear reader. Whatever shall I do?

Given this weekend's sporting results (piled upon other recent results), should I
  • Give up following sport?
  • Accept all the non-judgemental solace that only alcohol can provide?
  • Just end it all right now?

Your wisdom is required.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

One more post

on No Country for Old Men. Given that both the book and the movie emphasise so many of the practical details of Moss's escape attempt and that Moss is clearly an innovative guy who clearly does not expect reality always to come down on his side if he takes a chance (cleaning and blowing on the gun before he shoots the dog), it isn't really explicable that Moss neglects to do the one thing that would guarantee his safety (conditional on him not screwing up later). Especially given Chigurh's sinister coin tossing.

Fill up the car, whip out a coin with heads as left and tails as right. You're odds of being found decrease in a smooth, exponential curve and quickly approach zero (it's actually a step function, but you know what I mean).

Added: I should also point out that McCarthy backs away from the suggestion that things are getting worse; things have always been like this. But I don't think it's clear if he's talking about the way life is on the street (which is getting better), or the fact that we all continue to die in the end, and it always sucks. I agree with one interpretation.

The world is weird

Not being American, I didn't know much about John McCain until quite recently. His biography is pretty amazing. He spent six, very uncomfortable years in a Vietnamese POW camp and, bizarrely, was in the plane that started the Forrestal fire after it was hit by a missile fired by another American plane. 134 soldiers died. He also survived several other crashes including flying, not particular reason, into power cables.

Completely unrelated, but a story that inspires a similar WTF feeling, is Roman Polanski's weird biography. Last night I watched The Pianist –which is really excellent- and I remembered that he won the Oscar for best director but couldn't accept it because he'd get arrested if he ever came back to America. Turns out that he pleaded guilty to drugging and sleeping with (raping) a 13 year old girl.*

It's not enough that he's a great director (he also directed Chinatown) and a child rapist, he's also a holocaust survivor (his mother and sister didn't survive) and in 1968 his 8 month pregnant wife was murdered by the fucking Manson family. What the hell?

*Polanski is full of dark tales of blackmail by the girl's mother and fear of a possible 50 year term causing him to plead guilty to the rape, a bit of searching didn't reveal any especially determined denials though. He still enjoys a lot of support from loads of places though and gets to do prestigious projects with excellent talent.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Modern medicine is one of the things I've recently changed my mind about. I'm not especially interested in the subject; whenever Obama and Clinton start agonising over the difference between their plans my jaw immediately starts to slacken. So, bear that in mind I say that this podcast in incredibly interesting. Seriously. You should listen to it.

Better health outcomes correlate with loads of things, like higher income, higher status and a bunch of other things that I forget now. The one thing that they don't correlate with is medical care. More specifically, in a huge experiment done in America, a few thousand people were given free medical care while another group had to pay out of pocket. The people getting free care consumed 40% more care (and not for trivial stuff) but ended up no healthier than the people consuming much less care.

There's a lot to say about licensing and I don't feel like being thorough right now, but here are some points to get started

  • The default should be doing nothing. Overcoming this default should involve more than the fact that licensing is so deeply entrenched, or seems to make sense.
  • Licensing acts to restrict entry which not only drives up prices and results in the bizarre norm that many doctors get used to working a million hours a week, it affects the average quality of care provided. We could improve the quality of doctors by purging the worst 5% or 10% currently practising, should we do this? Would it be better to license the top 5% of medical losers? What calculations have been done that show that the current number of doctors provides the optimal average healthcare? Considering my doubts about healthcare in general I doubt that this has been done.
  • It isn't true that people choose their doctors now based on the fact that they're licensed. People ask friends shuttle between different doctors etc. If you stopped requiring licenses, most people would still prefer that they went to medical school. The effect would take place at the margin.
  • Excellent results for just about all products have emerged through processes that are thoroughly repressed in the case of medicine, licensing being one of the ways that is used to enforce conformity and suppress innovation.
  • Over regulated medicine encourages and legitimises quack medicine. This post is still one of my favourites; I hope you'll excuse me I borrow liberally from it.

    The bizarre thing is the way this all works. Government regulation limits the availability of decent medical care and makes it expensive. As a result, alternative remedies (of the sort that the regulations are there to stop) become very popular and because they are so popular the government subsidises it! As the Jamie Whyte article points out, the government doesn?t think the remedies actually work. So where have all the high minded ideals that result in the regulations on regular medicine gone?

I have the right to your opinion

This article argues that we don't have the right to our opinion. The argument turns on the fact that rights imply duties on other people. Trevor turns it around by saying that we have a duty to have opinions, not that we have a right to them.

So, does this mean that I have the right to your opinion?