Monday, December 21, 2009


Given that this is my second post of December I realise this is a bit of a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, but it's probably worth making it a little more formal. I don't plan to do much blogging in the forseeable future.

Obviously I could have a change of heart at any second and if there are still any readers checking the site for updates, my recommendation is that you add me to your RSS feed. On a related note, if you don't have an RSS feed you should set one up! I use Google Reader but there are others...

Blogger says this is my 942nd post but it counts unposted drafts which I can't be bothered to count so it's probably in the low 900s. I've always appreciated (and been flattered by) the fact that anybody would come back after a few visits, so thanks!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

the three gorges dam

Trevor's being pleasingly indoctrinated in libertarian theology by Virginia Postrel and is talking about it on his blog. Most recently he wonders about the value of grand projects like the Three Gorges Dam in China.

Way back Trevor defended projects like this and, though the post is sceptical, it still sounds like he's tempted by them.

The project reminds me of District 6, which is remembered as one of the greater injustices of apartheid. We're not conflicted about this big government project because it was racist and evil in concept as well as having bad consequences. But surely the main problem was that it was forcing people to leave their homes; it messed with a functioning community and all the individuals lives. Without this you don't have a great crime.

I know that the goals in China seem nobler, but if you're forcing people to move how can you avoid the same evils? I'm not denying that the benefits may be great, but our moral intuitions usually oppose harming one person to benefit another if the harm is very large (we're okay with taxes and other smaller things).

Friday, November 20, 2009

the new south africa

Seeing hundreds of chickens crammed into a truck or attached in some ingenious way to a bike or something is a reasonably common sight in poor countries. Today I saw a slightly different version of this. A shiny new polo packed with hundreds of chickens crowding the driver. It really looked very odd. I wish I could have gotten a photo.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

killing orcs

In my post on Iglourious Basterds I said
In a way I think we're being tempted to indulge in sick fantasies and think it's OK because it's happening to Nazi's.
I think I should have left out the "in a way". That's how the film was (misleadingly) marketed.

The idea of righteously slaughtering enemies does seem to appeal to us. Lot's of fiction panders to this. It always bothered me in Lord of the Rings the way killing orcs is treated. It's one thing to kill them in war when they're the aggressors, but orc slaughter is often treated as a good thing in itself even when a particular orc isn't threatening. Humans are encouraged not to show mercy or take prisoners because of how mean the orcs are. We're okay with it because they really are nasty pieces of work, they're literally created that way! specifically so we don't feel bad about enjoying their suffering. It's not like individual orcs have a choice in anything, what if some of them were sensitive poets, what the hell are they supposed to do? Defect to the humans? Yeah right.

Orcs are not just bloodthirsty and hate filled, they're ugly and smell bad. Even though they're pretty intelligent, we're encouraged to think of them as lower than animals and that it's a moral duty to exterminated them. A service done for the world and the future. Given what we know about how humans treat outsiders and how genocides usually proceed in real life, is it wrong of me to find this a bit creepy?

(I know it's "just fantasy" and I am a big LOTR fan. But I do think it's true that films like this are appealing to a dark side of our nature.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The first derivative of belief

I'd say the two main questions I have in mind when I blog are, "what can I as a layman do to make my beliefs more reliably true?" and, "what things are important to think about".

Recently I though of a way of conceptualising trying to deal with both goals in choosing what to write and think about. Imagine a function defined by the difference between what I believe and what people in my social circle actually believe. I blog with the intention of maximising the first derivative of this function (setting the second derivative to zero). This could involve me changing my mind or people I know changing theirs, either way.

So take beliefs about global warming, I agree with basically everyone that it's happening and humans are responsible, so f(t) = 0 and this has been stable for some time so f'(t) = 0 too. So I don't blog about it. When I watched An Inconvenient Truth, see yet another global warming book on the shelves or watch a nature documentary I get frustrated, not because I disagree with the factual stuff, but because everybody already knows and agrees!! I'm guessing that this kind of book/documentary would often be defended on the grounds that many people (like republicans) are global warming deniers. This is true, but if changing their minds is the goal, why are these products so nasty about these people? So I think I come off as a climate sceptic, but I disagree mostly with the approach many environmentalists take to the debate (I think the mainstream should more about carbon taxes than drowning polar bears). So since my beliefs about that topic are different and that's what I'm more interested in talking about.

My beliefs about god are very different from most people I know so f(t) = (large amount), but this difference is also pretty stable so f'(t) = 0. So I don't blog about it much anymore. I used to blog about it more, but that's because I hoped to convince people to change their beliefs. I may still want that, but accepting that it's not going to happen lead to less blogging and thinking about that.

Immigration, economics, politics and vegetarianism are all topics where my beliefs are very different from most of the people I know and I believe that there is more scope for some convergence in views (my views on economics and politics are more fluid than my views on immigration and vegetarianism, so I don't always blog with the sole intention of changing other views to mine).

monetizing eyeballs

Was just relistening to an old Will Wilkinson podcast and one of the topics was how Facebook was going to make money. At the time of the podcast Facebook had tons of traffic but not all that much revenue. It's an issue of monetizing eyeballs you see.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I feel like I'm in danger of raging against an argument that nobody makes. But I've been so annoyed by Oliver Kamm's objections to wikipedia for so long that I may as well just get it out of my system a bit. Here are some of the things he's said

Wikipedia deserves worse than contumely and derision, for it is pernicious in conception rather than merely flawed in execution.
I accept of course that there are many good articles alongside others that are a total disgrace... But the balance of good and bad articles is beside the point. The ethos of Wikipedia is destructive, because it is by design a forum that anyone can join in. Knowledge isn't democratic.
Beside the point?!!?? How can the fact that there are millions or great entries be beside the point!?? His complaint would carry some weight if the good and bad articles were randomly distributed, but they're not. Entries on the merits of some fancy new pharmaceutical or the crisis in the middle east are going to be less trustworthy than entries giving biographical info about some moderately famous person or the basic info and summary of a movie.

I suppose the fact that it's as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica is also beside the point, because any particular bit could be deliberatly change to something wrong.

A source of an amazing range of information (as well as information about where to get further information) that's as likely to be right as most other sources. Yip, better get rid of it.


Crystal meth is not a performance enhancing drug. Agassi was taking it in 1997 which were not, to put it mildly, his glory days. He started the year ranked no. 8 and ended it ranked no. 110.

But the tennis doping body "wants answers".

People also got very upset that Marina Hingis took cocain.

Remind me again why nobody cared that Obama took cocain? If we get all upset about a tennis player taking drugs in the distant past, why don't we care about the president taking drugs in the distant past.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

(Moderate spoiler alert)

Saw it last night and I found it a weird sort of experience. I fell asleep for a chunk of it (it's long and often quite boring), but also I was also strangely gripped while I was awake. I was glad that it ended the way it did; if you choose a fantasy route, you may as well go all the way. Mostly I just felt repulsed, but in a dazed, attentive sort of way.

In a way I think we're being tempted to indulge in sick fantasies and think it's OK because it's happening to Nazi's. At least that's how it tries to sell itself, but it's weirder than that.

Here's what Tyler Cowen said, which is interesting, but a little difficult to make out. Steve Sailer's take is longer, easier to understand and also interesting.

cool quote

From Slavoj Žižek, I don't know much about him but I see his books in Exclusive Books. I think he's a radical leftist and Stalin and Mao apologist.
We shouldn't fetishise democracy - after all, you can have democratic elections where the majority votes for a rightist populist, and when it does, you have the right to treat the government as illegitimate. I don't think that this formal electoral procedure should be taken as equalling legitimacy.
in the same interview he says
I am a Leninist. Lenin wasn't afraid to dirty his hands. If you can get power, grab it. Do whatever is possible.
In other words, kill people who disagree with you, they deserve it.

Friday, October 30, 2009


A few weeks ago we the matrics had their valedictory. Since there are only 13 of them, each student got to hear a little speech about themselves and an award at the end. One got a toy microphone because he talks so much, etc.

At the end of the ceremony the matrics gave each of the teachers an award too in the same spirit. I won the "meat" award because I'm a pescetarian (they actually used that word) and I was presented with some wors. Ever since then I've had kids coming to me asking why I'm a vegetarian and then explaining why that's a stupid reason. They usually extremely confident (otherwise they wouldn't approach me, especially the ones I don't teach) that their point refutes my position.

What is it about vegetarianism that inspires this kind of reaction? The matrics know I'm a vegetarian because I went up the Orange River with them so they saw me avoiding meat. It gets mentioned in front of the school and then people investigate further why? It's not exactly like I've shoved it in their faces. But it still gets people so worked up.

I'm also unsure if people expect they're making a point I hadn't heard before when they tell me that humans have incisors. I can't tell.

we are doomed

is a book Tyler is reading. I like the title a lot. Apparently it's not about global warming (which is what I immediately thought of) but cultural decline. This is a view I don't really get, but I'm used to it. But apparently the author's complaint is that popular culture today doesn't measure up to exalted standards of... Carol Burnett and Saturday Night Fever. Huh?

I don't know exactly what's going through this guys head, but I imagine he's mentally comparing Carol Burnett to Jerry Springer and Cheaters not The Wire and Rome. There is just so much great stuff to watch these days that I think it's embarrassing to make such a display of your own ignorance.

It's a variant on people moaning about blogs for being self indulgent opinionated crap*. This may describe most blogs including mine, but there are lots of good blogs out there. I sometimes get the impression that these people think that being a blog reader necessarily means reading blogs chosen at random.

I wonder why people who deplore pop culture today find the idea of making some sort of effort to find good stuff so offensive. The point of reading or watching high quality stuff isn't that it's easy surely, so why demand that a randomly chosen example meet your high standards. Why isn't it enough that it's there and can be found by those who care to look?

*I'm prepared to defend this aspect of the bloggosphere to a certain extent too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

war and noble savages

I'm one of the people who think that humans are naturally pretty violent and that modern society constrains this tendency. I think that when tribes fought with each other it usually had a very bloody outcome. Many people disagree and think humans are naturally peaceful and that modern society has corrupted us into becoming more violent. The noble savage vision of humans.

I've often heard and read that when hunter gather tribes fought it was mostly ceremonial and conflict would generally end when the first person was killed. The thing that strikes me about this vision, is that it is still extremely violent but modern standards!

Assuming this view of tribal war is true, and these confrontations happened every couple of years, most people would end up seeing several of their tribe members killed in these ceremonial battles over their lifetimes, which if you scaled up to modern populations would result in astronomical death rates.

America is a violent place by developed country standards with a murder rate of about 10 per one hundred thousand people per year. Having that murder rate in a hunter gatherer society would mean that a typical person would never know anyone who was killed.

The noble savage account is still pretty damn savage.

Monday, October 26, 2009

the trivial benefits of consumer culture

I find a common pattern emerging in discussions I have about the merits of the free market. It's a feature of stuff produced in the market (I think) that there are trends towards variety in products and each individual product generally getting better, in quality and features. I already feel myself getting into trouble as I think many people will object to the quality claim and think that increased choice is actually a bad thing. But let's say we grant the premise.

Recently I used TV series as an example of this trend and my friend agreed that they were getting better and that there are lots of them but claimed that the benefits were trivial and so didn't matter.

But even if we grant that the benefits are trivial to each individual, it doesn't follow that they don't matter in the grand scheme of things and I think this attitude is where we can easily get into trouble.

In politics I think it's really easy to get into the habit of seeing any individual expense as a negligible part of total spending. A corrupt official might rationalise his corruption as costing each taxpayer only 5 cents. Even homeless people wouldn't miss 5 cents! It doesn't make a difference to anyone else but it makes a big difference to me! I doubt this is the exact thought process but I'm sure something of this attitude is involved. It's very different emotionally if there are highly visible victims.

But when it comes to politicians, I think we can agree that stealing a million rand from the general taxpayer should be treated with the same severity as stealing a million from only a few people. It's really important to establish the convention against corruption because a generally corrupt government is terrible for a country's citizens even if a single instance isn't a big deal.

Similarly, trivial benefits widely spread do add up. And while we wouldn't (and don't) notice if one of these benefits vanishes (or fails to materialise), we should take seriously the protection of the system that encourages these trivial benefits to proliferate.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The Chesterhouse prize giving was a couple of weeks ago. One of the awards was to the winner of our history essay contest who spoke about his essay. The topic was Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement in the run up to the second world war.

It was the standard story that I was taught and exists in the popular consciousness. Chamberlain was a coward who could have prevented the second world war if he'd invaded Germany after Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland. Even though I know the story I'd forgotten the sheer amount of contempt for Chamberlain. I shouldn't have, the word appeasement is still dirty and most people know where it comes from.

What struck me most about the talk is how uneasily this view sits with anti-Iraq war opinion. I think the standard story is more or less right in each case, but it's more or less the same story in each case.

I think the moral of the story is that there are no easy answers in situations like this. There's just a choice between bad options.

My impression is that many people are perfectly comfortable with this tension.

cd tray fight

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

more about science

My last post was about how, if you start with a strong conviction that creationism is true (and some people have this drummed into them from an early age), the belief can persist for roughly the same reasons that scientists belief in evolution persists. And how we can seem as frustrating to them as they are to us.

I've actually had similar thoughts about economics. One of the assumptions that economists make is that people are rational. So if you see some puzzling behaviour, we should think twice about concluding that people people (or the institutional arrangement) are messing up. There's probably something going on that explains what's going on in a way that makes the behaviour seem much more reasonable.

This is usually true even though we know for damn sure that individuals are not especially rational. If people are doing something in a familiar, reasonably clearly incentivised situation, their behaviour probably more or less makes sense.

The difference between this and evolution though, is that though most of people in my extended social group are willing to sign up to, and defend evolution, they're not that keen on markets, so when they see outcomes they don't like, stories about how it actually makes sense for people to be doing what they're doing seem forced and pretty lame.

I think this is part of the reason for skepticism about quite a lot of the accepted wisdom in economics.

Monday, October 12, 2009

evolution and religion

I'm very much in the evolution/science camp of this issue, but something has been floating around in my mind vaguely for a while now and it relates to what what we mean by science at all.

We in the science camp more or less know the big answer behind each question; evolution did it. So when some creationist triumphantly claims that evolution doesn't explain how a squirrels knee joint could have come to be, we don't freak out. The answer is something like, well we haven't specifically studied that yet, but we're confident that the answer will fit with the evolution story, just like everything else has.

This is all fine, but the trouble is that it can very easily look like, or actually become (in some cases I'm sure) a story that's made up specifically to fit with your theory, which is bad.

In reality, there's bound to be some of this going on.

The thing is though that sciency types often gripe at religious types for exactly this.

Religious people also know the big answer which lies behind all the questions. God did it. People like me then ask why evil exists if God is omnipotent and all loving. The religious can just say, well that's an interesting problem, but the answer will fit with the God story, just like everything else has. Here's a nice theodicy!

Sure, the story looks suspiciously like we're arguing for a specific conclusion from the start, which may not even consider other possible explanations, but how is this different to those evolution types? Huh?

Added: A reader commented to me that this was another of my anti-religious posts. Weird how different things can seem to different people...


Friday, October 09, 2009

I don't know why I find this so funny

Seriously I don't. But I just can't stop laughing.


Barack Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Oh well, it doesn't make less sense to me than Al Gore winning it...

Incidentally, Stanislav Petrov, who deviated from standard protocol and declared a missile attack warning a false alarm thereby preventing possible nuclear war, has not won the award.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

the singularity may be near

but not near enough for me.

For a few months I've had two phones which means that I can use the one to find the other one by calling it. I resort to this method more often than you might think.

It's getting to the point where I'm getting genuinely annoyed by my inability to phone my keys and the access card to my block. I need that feature in all of my stuff.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Roman Polanski

I wrote a post on him in April because he has such an amazing biography (not in a good way). I included some background about the rape in the post.

I find the support he enjoys utterly bizarre. He didn't just sleep with a 13 year old girl, he drugged her as well as using his position as a successful film director with influence over the girl's career.

I'm not sure it goes without saying, but to many of his supporters, being a conservative or libertarian is a greater crime than the one he committed*.

*I don't want to deny at some some ambiguity regarding the nature of the rape, but he did confess and though he has suggested that he was the victim of a bit of a witch hunt, Googling around hardly makes me more sympathetic to him. Even from stuff he said himself, he doesn't sound innocent at all.

Monday, September 28, 2009

more xkcd

As I demonstrated a few posts down I enjoy thinking of really big numbers. This includes thinking about eternity, which does come up when thinking about the afterlife, or life extension stuff. This is hardly a scientific survey, but I find that if I ever end up talking bout transhumanist stuff people often treat immortality as quite a short amount of time, like a thousand or a million years, which is really, really nothing like eternity.
I've never spent any time thinking of a way of trying to describe a long period of time in an intuitive way, though for ages I've like this example.
Say there's a giant iron ball the size of the earth and a fly lands on it an takes off every million years. When that ball has worn away to nothing eternity hasn't even begun yet.
While this doesn't really lend itself to easy retelling (and though it's really about boredom), this is much better.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

stupid economists


posts I don't understand

If I had to pick one person who I'd choose to model my thought on (or hope to emulate) it'd probably choose Robin Hanson.

So when I say this
our current era is likely unique in having the least contact with strange cultures. Our distant ancestors heard rumors from travelers about distant strange cultures. Our descendants may also have contact with strange cultures when they re-engineer themselves and fragment Cambrian-explosion-style into a vast space of possible creatures, grouped into local cultures.
doesn't make a lot of sense to me it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But who wants to actually think about these things when one can immediately advertise one's own ignorance?!

Why do the (almost certainly inaccurate) rumors of strange cultures trump the access we have now? Maybe I'll figure it out...

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Stop whatever you're doing right now! Robin van Persie has admitted that he exaggerates falls. He doesn't dive, but he exaggerates his falls. This is simply shattering. Maybe if I start a Facebook group we can have him thrown in jail.

Recently an Arsenal player was suspended for two games for diving in an attempt to win a penalty (the suspension was later overturned) and Alex Ferguson was all for it, cos he's principled that way and would be fine if it were his player (Ferguson wasn't actually that bad but this is something that really annoys me so I'm being unfair).

Sentences like this (that are actually enforced) are the only way of getting rid of this kid of cheating and I think they should do it (even to players from Arsenal), but I haven't heard of any other players being banned for diving and I think it's, err, unlikely that he was the only one diving. In the little soccer I've watched so far this season I've seen plenty of players go down theatrically were the ref just waves play on. This is the way things are. The people in charge let it happen so in a sense it's hardly even cheating. Randomly punishing every 1000th instance doesn't exactly command respect.

English soccer isn't exactly the place where you'd expect cool heads to prevail, sanity is punished by raving morons, but I still think the way this issue plays out is almost indescribably pathetic.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

sentences like this on "serious" blogs are fun

It seems just physically impossible to create 10^140 or more lives we would value like ours per atom, even considering quantum computing and black hole negentropy. But could individual living standards be that high?
Just reproducing a post by Tyler Cowen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just so you know

My voting mark finally grew out! I can vote again!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moral discovery

Over the past year or so I've listened to some fantastic podcasts on ethics and read a book and Eliezer Yudkowsky posts on the subject. I have a hard time classifying what position I take on ethics, which is most likely motivated by the fond hope that one day someone will seek out my expertise and then sit rapt as I explain why I'm torn between the realist and anti-realist positions.

Beyond the Golden Rule, utilitarianism is the moral theory that most people are likely to have though about in some detail. It's intuitively appealing but also easy to think of utilitarian recommendations that most people reject. Utilitarianism is also assumed in just about all public discourse, though people seldom say so explicitly (we usually deny it).

I'm less phased by the horrible examples people use to discredit the theory than most people and have long thought of myself as a kind of utilitarian but I finally came accross a though experiment that really does make me pause.

There are about 10^(80) subatomic particles in the visible universe. So 10^(80) is a big number. 10^(90) is ten billion times bigger. Now imagine a number of the form 10^(999999999999999999999....) where you write the 9s as small as you can, and you convert all the matter in the universe into paper to keep writing 9s. The number you end up with is pretty big.

Now suppose there are that many people in the multiverse and you have to choose between all of them getting a speck of dust in their eye and one person being tortured for 50 years, what do you choose?

I choose the people getting dust specs in their eyes. This is difficult to square with utilitarianism, which makes me feel a bit weird.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I'm kinda hard on sports journalism, but I should give credit where it's due. The official ATP site has this to say about Juan Martin del Potro getting to the final
At the age of 20 years and 355 days, del Potro is the youngest US Open finalist since Novak Djokovic finished runner-up to Roger Federer in the 2007 final, aged 20 years and 100 days.
There has been one other final since then and Andy Murry was in it aged about 90 days older than del Potro is now.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serena Williams and Emmanuel Adebayor

I've never been a fan of Serena so I'm glad her behaviour had some real consequences. Predictably, I'm annoyed that there's been some attention on whether is actually was a foot fault or whether she actually threatened to kill the line judge. As though gesturing aggressively and threatening to ram the ball down her throat wasn't enough for a code violation. Oh! But other people say worse things! Classy. I'm sure she's right about that, but I watch a fair amount of tennis and it's probably the worst behaviour I've seen.

I was a big Emmanuel Adebayor fan. I even blogged my fandom. It did seem reasonably clear that was an asshole, but I was just glad he was doing well for my team. Let that be a lesson to me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the death penalty

I am against it except in extreme cases and I do think that the possibility of executing innocent people is a good reason to be against it, but I've never quite understood why finally finding a concrete case of wrongful execution is quite such a big deal. If we're executing a bunch of people I think it's bound to happen.

But it is a big deal and it seems like they have found a case in America. This article is brilliant and horrifying. I didn't think that the cast of CSI were working on these murder cases, but the stuff that went on is truly shocking. Apparently the fact that the guy had posters of Iron Maiden and Led Zepplin (!!) in his room showed that he had a fascination with violence and death. The arson investigators basically knew nothing and a real expert saying as much wasn't enough to convince the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him a stay of execution. The governor also refused to grant a stay of execution claiming his decision was "based on the facts of the case."

If it's a topic that you feel passionate about, you should really take the time to read it.


I check the map thingie at the bottom of my sidebar from time to time. I like it because I think there's a good chance that hit hit it registers is from a live human.

I look today and apparently I got 343 hits in the past 24 hours. Somehow I doubt it.

this makes me slightly uncomfortable

As a rabid anti-Rafite

You might think I'd be happy that his quarterfinal had to be postponed, but I'm not.

The only thing more painful than watching Fed lose to Nadal in a final is Fed losing to Nadal in a final after Nadal has had to play 4 days in a row including two 5 set classics each lasting over 5 hours in the quarters and semis. And after Nadal has had a chance to say, "Getting to final is good for me no? Beating the best player in history when I'm so tired and injured will not possible no? All I can do is try my best and se what happens no?"




The streak started a year after he got his head right and will be ended partly because he's getting old.

Oh how that loss to Kuerten must haunt him!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Trevor had a post on Che a while back in which he mentions both my distaste for the guy and the lack of reasons on my blog. I've wanted to write a post but have been held back partly because, like Trevor, I don't know much about him and partly because I want to place how we think about someone like Che in a broader moral framework. Addressing both smacks of effort and while posting a half-assed blog post isn't a big deal, an ignorant post on a topic that people feel passionate about is a great way to make a really bad impression. But whatever, half-assed post it is.

I don't like Che because
  • he's a symbol (the quintessential symbol) of stuff I don't like. Socialism, Marxism, communism, violent revolution, anti-capitalism etc.
  • the way he is celebrated (that bloody photo everywhere) really aggravates me. That shirt is one of the crassest, most commercial things out there. The people who wear them usually don't know much about him. Anti-capitalism is just one of the products they love which capitalism provides.
  • he had people executed without any real kind of process. Given the gripes about the Bush administration this should count as a pretty bad black mark.
  • he was instrumental in bringing nuclear missiles to Cuba.

Even assuming the wikipedia article is biased I was a little surprised by how well he came across. I don't think he's this bad guy of historic proportions.

One of my concerns is one that I did try to get at in a previous post. If you think you're justified using violence to fight what oppression, on what grounds do you oppose the use of violence by other people who perceive oppression very differently to you?

It's a similar issue to the people who will cite free speech when defending their right to say extreme things but then suggest that Salman Rushdie should be killed because of what he said.

And while I agree with Trevor about not being so ready to divide the world up into good and bad (when it comes to this kind of history, I tend to think everyone is pretty bad), I do think this can be a tool that works a little in the direction of where our instincts point us in the first place. For example, my impression is that Trevor is very willing to categorise George Bush as being one of the very bad guys.

I'm thinking about getting a gun, and dealin' crack. Being a crack dealer. Not, like, a mean crack dealer, but like... like a nice one.

Kinda friendly, like, "Hey, what's up guys? You want some crack?".

Actually I'm not. Ricky Bobby is, but this is exactly what I thought of when I read Thomas Friedman saying this
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.

Starting a paragraph, "One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But..." is like starting a sentence, "I'm not a racist, but..."

Sure dictatorships don't tend to work out well, but that because I'm not the dictator! I know what needs to be done. All you people may think you know what needs to be done but you're wrong and since I can't convince you of your wrongness and my rightness, it's reasonable for me to request the power to simply ram my proposals through and no it is NOT reasonable for you to feel the same way.

Hey man, I don't have a job writing for the New York Times, I have written few bestsellers and I know how common this attitude is, but just come out and say it like this seems really lame to me. To feel no shame about effectively using that amazing platform to complain about how outrageous it is that some people disagree with you.

Good question

Well I think it's a good question, but it's probably one that will annoy Obama fanatics.

Obama says that health care reform can be paid for with the money they'll save by cutting waste in existing health care spending. Arnold Kling asks
And if we don't pass this plan, does he intend to keep the waste and inefficiency, out of spite?
Should the American people now hope that trillions of dollars is currently wasted? After all that would mean more money for reform right?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

great quote

"The fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to."

George Bernard Shaw.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

killer fact!

You get a lot more rankings points for wins at the US Open than you do for any of the other major tournaments. I don't know why this is.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I watched District 9 on Sunday and even though it isn't really my kind of movie, I was really impressed.

I'm not entirely sure about how original I think it is, but that may be because I watched "The Fly" for the first time on Saturday where the protagonist gradually turns into a fly in a similarly gruesome way.

Originality in one aspect was definitely lacking though. The baddies work for an evil multinational corporation! Surprise! Apparently concerned that this fact would be lost on the audience, they call the evil company "Multinational United" and repeat a few times that it's privately owned. Maybe District 10 will take the logical next step and call it EMNU.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I wonder if Morpheus ever even really tried to explain


I've been keeping an eye on the odds for the US Open. They'd been holding steady though the last two tournaments but there was a bit of activity in the last week even though no top players were playing. I'd guess that's just because people are only starting to bet now.

Federer's odds have shortened a bit while both Murray and Nadal's have lengthened.

Interestingly, Federer's odds are now the same as Laver's before Wimbledon in 1969 and yes I do think that's significant.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A small point

Reading a bit about Woods for the past while and pondering the pressing question of whether he's greater than Federer I sometimes get the impression that results are interpreted too much in his favor. It has a lot to do with the large role of randomness in golf. Even at his best the probability of Tiger winning a major isn't much higher than 50% while obscure players quite often win big tournaments, so individual losses do little to damage anyone's reputation.
This is all right, but one can take it too far.

Using the final round of the recent US PGA as an example, one cannot consistently believe all of the following propositions.
  • Going into the final round, Woods was overwhelmingly likely to win.
  • Winning would have boosted his reputation by a small, but significant amount.
  • Losing his lead does very little to damage his reputation.

If you agree with the first two, his reputation should suffer from losing much more than it would have been enhanced by his winning.

My impression is that many people believe all three of these propositions.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

As some readers will know, the trendiness of some foreign films is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I think the ones that do well in the west are generally very similar to mainstream American films but seem exotic and different because they're in a different language and the actors are unfamiliar.

This is what I thought Slumdog Millionaire would be like and I think that's more or less right. I thought it was enjoyable and good.

The poverty stuff was horrible and it makes the reasonable point that mocking someone for not knowing the motto on on India's national emblem is as silly as mocking someone for not knowing who stole some particular item. The rich know different things but that isn't in itself admirable.

But otherwise, I don't get it. There are things that I think are problems, but perhaps that's just me not getting stuff. There was a love story, which was very sweet, but it's more a vehicle to show off how awesome Jamal is than anything else. Latika is barely a character and there's never a chance to explore their relationship at all. Telling Jamal's life story through the questions is a clever idea, but it's a clever gimmick, it isn't anything more than an excuse to tell us about some parts of his past. Having once handled a gun isn't an explanation for why he knows which was the first commercially successful gun.

I also thought the violence was a little odd. The gang stuff feels about the same as City of God and it makes sense; kids growing up in poverty without parents, why wouldn't they be in gangs? But unlike Rio, India has an extremely low murder rate. I think one of the reasons people like the film is because we hardly know anything about India. I think it'd have been more interesting if the film attempted to shed some light on why those conditions don't generally lead to violence.

Anyway, I liked it, I just don't really get why people go so crazy over it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I watched Slumdog Millionaire

and I'm disturbed but how easy it is to make torturers sympathetic characters in films. This is hardly the first film to do it, it's just the most recent that I've seen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pascal's mugging

A commenter over at Trevor's blog asks about Pascal's wager. The standard reply is that it doesn't help you decide which go to believe in and we don't know how impressed by such a cynical motivation for belief.

But in my comment focuses on the problems created by infinite (or Really Big) utilities. Getting to heaven is infinitely valuable, so any probability of getting there is also infinitely valuable and so is any increase in the odds of getting there.

So any activity that increases our chances of getting to heaven is much more important than anything else we ever do. Yet I've yet to meet someone who really organises her life accordingly.

Most people argue that believing in god or being a christian or whatever is enough. But unless they're literally 100% sure that they're going to heaven this response doesn't work. And I guess many people are 100% sure. But that strikes me as really really dumb. I think many people don't understand what it means to be 100% sure...


England won the Ashes. I'm thrilled.

I don't know enough about Adrew Flintoff to explain why I dislike him, I just do. So the "defining image" of the series being him celebrating after running Ponting out in his last ever test match makes me a little nauseous.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Lockerbie bomber

Has been in the news recently. Everything I know about the attack (other than that it happened) I found out because of the story. While I don't have a strong opinion about his release, I didn't like the cheering on his arrival back in Libya, which I very much doubt was just friends and family happy to see him again.

The thing that I find odd though is how often the fact that he didn't show compassion for his victims (as I understand it there's a lot of doubt over the extent of his involvement) has been used as an argument against his release on compassionate grounds.

I shouldn't find it odd, an eye for an eye is one of the most common phrases you'll hear in a discussion about punishment. But it is not something that anyone applies consistently! I seldom hear people arguing that torturers be tortured or rapists raped (though people often seem to like the fact that this may happen in prison). It isn't a principle that we associate with a civilised society because we like to think we're better than the criminals. Haven't we been talking about this recently in the torture debate?

I don't think anyone who's used this line in the Lockerbie case wants criminals hands cut off or anything, so I don't know why citing the criminal's own behaviour here seems like such a reasonable argument.

the punishment light

For a long time, particular traffic lights have annoyed me out of proportion to the actual effect on my life. That's not something to be especially proud of. But not only did I recently find this comic. There is an episode of Weeds (which is brilliant) called "The Punishment Light" in which the main character complains that the light's sole purpose is to make her life miserable.

It's nice to know that one isn't alone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

crap :(

Technical problems prevented me from liveblogging the men's 200m final. Sorry everyone.

That Bolt dude is pretty good.


I once expressed shock that Peter Singer apparently had never really thought of immigration as a way of reducing world poverty. The guy is a genius who's spent a large part of his life thinking about the question. What's his excuse?

Well, Niall Ferguson is another academic superstar. I've bought several of his books (and someday may read one). He also writes for the FT where he recently said (in an article on the US federal budget deficit)
President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky.
A number of other pundits (most notably James Fallows and Paul Krugman) responded with a collective "What the hell", which Ferguson took issue with and responded that his black friends didn't have a problem with his comparison. He quotes one of these friends with approval
None of us thought of Felix as black, unlike some of the racially-questionable caricatures Disney used. Felix's blackness, like Mickey's and Minnie's, was like a suit of clothes, not a skin color.
Riiiiiggghhhht. So Ferguson thinks the cat's colour is beside the point but compares him to Obama by starting, "Felix was not only black...".

It's just so lame yet he persists. Why?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I think

I like this guy because he's like me (only much funnier and more intelligent). I spent a lot of time walking to the corner flat in Smuts and Fuller. I found that I would walk around the palm tree on opposite side depending on which direction I was going. In both cases because I thought I was taking the quicker route. This disturbed me because obviously it was the same distance each way but...

another puzzel

About 2 weeks ago a car was abandoned in the emergency lane of the road on my route to work. It was an oldish Jetta in good condition. There were no hazard lights or anything to alert people to its presence and it was on a curving rise, which, given that there are many trucks trying to let people through on curving rises, is very dangerous, especially in the dark with no street lights. And it stayed there for four days! That seemed like a long time for a nice car to be abandoned in an odd spot. It eventually disappeared, which is as likely a result of towing as its owner claiming it.

Odd, but not too remarkable, except that now another, even nicer car has been abandoned in exactly the same place! Last night its hazards were on, but this morning the battery had obviously run down. So there it sits. There is no obvious destination within easy walking distance.

Any obvious explanations I'm missing?

More on Woods

Here's a piece in the Telegraph about his behaviour during his loss on Sunday. I don't find it as off putting as threatening to break a photographer's neck, but in golfing terms it sounds worse, because apparently he didn't follow the standard etiquette. Walking to the next hole before your playing partner is finished is something even I might have know not to do, especially since he inevitably dragged a bunch of spectators with him, who inevitably made more noise than they should have.

I have a phenomenal bias, but it strikes me as weird that Federer's reputation seems to have taken a much bigger knock for wearing a top that said 15 on the back after Wimbledon, than Woods' has for this kind of behaviour.

Added: I've been Googling around and it seems reasonably clear that anyone who knows much about golf knows about his swearing and club smashing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


When I was in matric I went through a phase of looking for patterns in the number plates of other cars on the way to school. It got to the point that I started to recognise a large number of individual cars on our route.
During this time I was also looking out for cars who's flickers were in sync. It's good to know there are others out there.

I really don't understand golf

I don't understand anything about it, not least why it's such an enormous global sport.

But the puzzle on my mind at the moment is golf etiquette, or why is it acceptable for golfers to act like complete assholes when they insist (utterly humorlessly) on such a strict code of conduct. It's true that the horrible behaviour is usually in response to a breach of the code -If a photographer takes a picture during your swing- obviously it's okay to threaten to kill him and get him banned from the tour for life, but not always.

I'd heard from Greg that Tiger is pretty bad tempered on the course, but I didn't realise how bad it was. Apparently he swears and smashes his clubs a lot in response to bad shots. I hardly ever watch golf, so I don't know how often TV viewers get to see these outbursts, but my understanding is that there's a small delay in transmission and it's pretty easy to edit them out or just cut to a different hole. How many people even know about his temper? I came across this article in the Guardian that suggests that the price of reporting on Woods' temper is that you'll never get an interview with Woods again (of course this may turn out not to be true).

Even when I'm really trying, I am unable to avoid violating golfing etiquette, but generally, from what I've seen, golfers at tiny little golf clubs and professionals can just be dicks and be immune from any kind of censure.

Why don't we teach useful maths?

Monday, August 17, 2009


The Telegraph has a short piece about how Usain Bolt is challenging Muhammad Ali for the title of greatest ever sportsman. Well fair enough, though not my choices. But he also quickly considers other contenders
Yes, Tiger Woods is a wonderful golfer, Rafael Nadal majestic on court, Ronaldo exquisite on the ball.

But none of them are doing what Bolt continues to do - and make what we can all do, to a greater or lesser extent, look so easy, yet so fast.
Nadal? Seriously?


Usain Bolt ran 9.58s last night. Even without knowing about the time I was surprised he didn't run away with it more, so good for Tyson Gay. Amazing.

Tiger Woods loses by three shots after going into the final round leading by two. Almost unthinkable.

And Andy Murray is now ranked second in the world! The first time in just over 4 years that it's not Nadal or Federer. It makes me a little sad, especially because of the role his injury played. Not that I'm sad that Federer took over as number one or anything.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

killer facts!

The 2005 Wimbledon final between Roddick and Federer was 6 minutes longer than the fifth set of this year's final. There was one more game and 9 more points*.

*citation needed!

Market worship

Here's Matt Yglesias being annoying through Paul Krugman.
Since the crisis, people who always thought strong claims about efficient financial markets were wrong have been feeling vindicated. But I don’t see much evidence of anyone having changed their minds. Nor have the big banks lost any clout on the Hill. Nothing really seems changed. To an extent, I suppose this is a consequence of the fact that Bernanke and Geithner succeeded in avoiding the total collapse of the world economy. Maybe we’re doomed to an escalating series of crashes—’87 stock crash, LTCM collapse, tech bubble, Panic of 2008—until something happens that the lenders of last resort can’t save us.
The annoying thing is that many pro-market people have always known about crashes and expected another one sometime. Few people may have predicted things playing out in the way they did, but it still fits in with the general pattern.

I didn't realise that we were crediting Bernanke and Geithner with preventing a "total collapse of the world economy". Wow. I really think people should go easy on this kind of imagery. Maybe by collapse they mean something like world GDP shrinking by 10%, and that would be terrible, but that's not what it makes people think of and he knows that. True collapse would involve something like nuclear weapons destroying most of the world.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Matt Yglesias

usually annoys me because he really seems to believe that people with the wrong politics are evil and/or stupid. He's reasonably good at resisting agreeing with typical left wing positions for the purposes of group solidarity.

Anyway, he takes up Tyler's challenge to come up with an intelligent version of libertarianism and I'd say does it pretty well. Good for him
A separate issue is the welfare of the world’s poorest. Progressive internationalists have this kind of dopey vision of trying to make trade and immigration policy win-win-win for everyone by using redistributive taxation to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits. That sounds nice, but it means that in addition to trying to conquer people’s racist and nationalistic instincts you’re also engaged in a fight to pry wealth out of the hands of the wealthy and powerful. As a political strategy, it doesn’t really make much sense. Why not simply join forces with the wealthy and powerful so as to create a political coalition that’s plausibly capable of overwhelming xenophobia and creating borders that are relatively open to the flow of goods and labor?
Tyler's I'd guess is closer to how progressives would likely self describe, but that's not the point.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


This is just fantastic

Friday, August 07, 2009

This is why I love Tyler Cowen

Arnold Kling asks what progressives believe in this post. I don't think his own answer is that far wrong but it still sounds like a libertarian who fundamentally disagrees/dislikes with progressives. When Tyler has a go at the question it sounds like he believes in it. While he's not a progressive he does agree with some of his points, but it's hard to tell which ones.

I'd say that most of his posts don't interest me, but when he goes into this mode there's no one I'd rather read.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Unintentionally hilarious paragraph on Federer

The Onion has some great posts on Federer, but generally he's not the source of a lot of laughs, except perhaps when he says something silly in an interview or post match speech. I don't think his crying is funny but maybe some people disagree.

Anyway, I came across this on his Wikipedia page.

Like all Swiss males, Federer is subject to compulsory military service in the Swiss Armed Forces. Unfortunately, long-standing back trouble led him to be declared inapt in 2003 and he was unable to fulfill his obligations[22]. Nevertheless, he did not let it affect his tennis and bounced back to win Wimbledon that year.

It had never occurred to me that his tennis career could have been disrupted because of military service. I love the "unfortunately". It's pretty impressive that despite being physically handicapped he was able to be one of the world's greatest athletes. Imagine how good he could have been if he was healthy!

Friday, July 03, 2009

It doesn't make sense to me

I've read some of the news stories, the Freakonomics chapter on sumo wrestling and one post on the topic on the Freakonomics blog, so I don't have much of a leg to stand on when I say this, but what the hell: Match fixing in tennis is not a problem but doping probably is.

Match fixing has been in the news a lot but I can hardly think of a case of a famous tennis player being caught doping, so I say that in the face of the evidence. But tennis is just a terrible sport to fix. The incentives line up so well in tennis. Money, ranking and status in tennis go with winning every match you can (this isn't true in sumo and in lots of other sports). But more importantly, people just don't bet much on tennis, especially on matches involving lower ranked players, so there's not much money to be made. Matches that are heavily bet on stick out like a sore thumb.

I do think it's likely that Davedenko threw his match way back, but I'll bet it was more from people credibly threatening to kill him than him making lots of money. I have no reason to think this beyond the fact that he's Russian. Sorry.

On the other hand, for some reason people taper off drastically at quite an early age, much more so than most other sports. So physical intensity is very important and the benefit of doping is potentially very large. So players probably do it.

Good thing Federer is so scrawny, otherwise I'd wonder.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

some good sport results recently

And I'm not even counting the rugby. Of course the tennis can still take a painful turn, but I feel pretty relaxed about it. And I'm glad Fed's semi-final streak is still going.

The Confederations Cup results were decent. But while I'm glad we did well I have to confess how deep my lack of patriotism runs. I hate vuvuzelas, always have. I don't want the lasting memory of next year's world cup to be that horrible fucking noise.

been a long time

I know I haven't been blogging, but I was surprised to find just how foreign it felt opening blogger just now. That "test" post was done from word, not blogger.

For about a week the browser on my laptop stopped working for god knows what reason...

Anyway, what better way to get back into blogging than to blog about how little you've been blogging? On the other hand, I doubt this is the best way to go about rebuilding my once huge readership.

Soo... while I won't kid myself that I'll get back up to a really decent post rate. I haven't given up. So do check in every now and then...

Monday, June 29, 2009


Is just a test.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

this is great

I was smiling through most of it and laughed a few times.


I live in a relatively upscale block in Century City and I really like it there. It's brand new and I was the first person on my end of the building to move in there, mostly because it wasn't quite done. There was still some construction going on and the kind of white cement dust that comes with that.

And obviously construction workers too. Everything was pretty much sorted months ago but there are teething problems that need to be sorted out. Yesterday as I got to my car on my way to work I found two guys sleeping on the ground next to my car. The back, passenger side wheel in fact, close enough to where I had to be careful not to run them over as I reversed.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Yay Federer!


And no trauma! Well he did miss two ridiculously Federerish forehands, one which shoulda given him match point but gave Soderling break point instead. But Soderling didn't break.

Federer was very assured and in control, in the way that makes him (increasingly rarely) a pleasure to watch.

I feel guilty for moaning about people wanting to put an asterisk next to this win. Everything I've read has been satisfactorily worshipful. The consensus about the GOAT is basically in now; even people who like Laver are basically saying that it's useless to debate rather than simply sticking with Laver.

More than the pleasing worshipfulness though is just how unaffectedly happy so many people are that he won. I'm not talking about comments from Borg or Sampras or anything. More from Nadal fans and people who don't really care about tennis. But mostly it's just a sense I get. That feeling is increased by how well he played.

After all the fuss made about the career Grand Slam part of the deal though, it's pretty alarming that Nadal could do it in about 3 months...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Oh how I look forward to the trauma!

The break points not converted! Being broken on the first break point conceded! The screwed up smashes! The passing shot directly into the forehand volley... The possibilities are endless!

For the record, I think there's a good chance that Federer will win easily. But I think there's a slightly better one that it'll be painfully stressful.

It'll be pretty bad if he loses...


Being the free market ideologue I am I trust the market to provide the best information about who's most likely to win stuff.

So I was interested to see how Nadal's loss would affect his odds at Wimbledon and the US Open. His odds had lengthened a lot. Fine, so that's probably because he's pulled out of Queens and is actually a doubt for Wimbledon.

His odds for the US also plummeted, but Andy Murray is now joint favourite!! What the hell?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Murder most fowl

The other day, as I trudged to a cash machine for money to get the boot on my car removed, I happened on two ducks (both grey) beating up another duck (white).

I mean they were pecking at the poor things head. Being the softy I am I tried to break it up since they were on land. I figured it was a dispute over food or something and it would end right away. Instead, as the victim fled for its life the other two chased him down, one grabbing the back of the victim's neck and plunging it underwater the other helping to push the head down.

Birds of other species rushed to the victim's aid and managed to temporarily break it up a few times. Every time they did, the white duck would fly for its life but get chased down and dunked. The other birds kept trying to help but they were too small and got scared when the grey ducks turned on them.

Eventually they managed to drown the poor white duck. Poor thing :( It was pretty amazing to watch. I didn't know that ducks would deliberately execute other ducks. Huh.

If you are weird or live under a rock

and only get tennis results from this blog, then Federer ended up winning yesterday. Yay!

This doesn't necessarily bode well for the future though as he'll likely play Del Potro if he beats Monfis and then Murray in the final. He should beat each of them, but they're some the streakiest players around, between them one of them is likely to have a great day and they could blow Federer away. Players like David Ferrer would be better.

Also, I'd like to express, in advance, my irritation at people demanding an asterisk against Federer if he wins because he didn't beat Nadal.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Two service games into the second set Federer has lost two points on his own serve. And he's a set down.

I'm interested to know if that's ever happened before.

Added: Wow, this is really happening. Two sets down. Just fantastic. I guess this is my punishment for being happy that Nadal lost yesterday.

This will be such a devestating loss for him.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This is just too weird

Nadal lost.




Apparently the bookies say it's the biggest upset of the decade. Only one person bet on Soderling, at 100:1. Madness.

Of course Federer is the big favorite now, but a final against Murray actually makes me feel a bit sick. Nadal not winning and someone like Murray or Roddick winning instead of Federer; the world will truly have gone mad...

Saturday, May 30, 2009


61-17!? I suppose I shoulda seen that coming. A lot of teams don't seem to be able to handle Loftus.

And Djokovic lost! Federer downplays this but it's a big deal. Before the tournament he was basically the only player with a even a chance against Nadal, but in Federer's side of the draw he was a nuicance. I blogged about Philipp Kohlschreiber last year. People seem surprised, and it's true that he wont go far from here, but he can play some of the best tennis you'll see.

I can't resist pointing out that for over five years now Federer has been imune from this kind of defeat. People should make a bigger deal of this.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The way the English media reports on sport usually annoys me intensely.

I won't deny enjoying the hysterical tone in reporting Manchester United's loss last night. The fact that it's a guilty pleasure doesn't bother me.

But seriously! Come On! United are still incredibly good and have done incredibly well. Barcelona are a brilliant side and had a good night. United are a brilliant side and had a bad night.

It's fun, but it's ridiculous.

They went

Good for them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Go Barcelona

I just remember that for a short while I had a really nice silver Barcelona replica shirt. They hardly use the strip, but it was cool, and it got stolen.

Pity I can't wear it tonight.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

sporting purity

I've blogged much about sport; about why Federer rocks etc. I argued that in a sense it is the very fact that Nadal is more admirable that makes Federer's play a better example of why we should care about sport at all.

Another way of thinking about it is this. In Federer's story, guts, mental strength, "finding a way to win" blah blah plays a relatively smaller role in his success than many other sporting greats.

He was exploiting the gaps between what was literally possible and what "what one does to get better", the things like training harder, eating better, seeing a psychologist etc. These things make people better at tennis, but also just about every other sport. Every sport demands the mental strength not to choke. What made Federer different were the things that are not replicable and enabled his success in tennis.

Good serving, forehands, backhands etc are components of good tennis, but those gaps between the possible and the replicable are the very essence of what tennis actually is.

What people like Federer do is the essence of sport.

The German Soccer Team approach to sport is not only boring, it is an existential threat to the point of the whole enterprise.

Random thought

I hate to brag, but I'm sometimes impressed by how random and pointless these thoughts can be. Which is no doubt one of my vain attempts at signalling.

Anyway, I have thought in the past that it's crazy that American supreme court judges are appointed for life. These people sometimes go on till crazy old age after having been living in extremely unusual circumstances for decades. These people are exceptional of course, but it still seems crazy to me.

What struck me today though on hearing the news of the new appointment is that not having term limits gives them quite a lot of control over the future composition of the supreme court. Call me cynical, but I doubt that this guy retiring a couple of months after Obama's inauguration is a coincidence. And guess what, Obama appoints a liberal judge, because he's a liberal.

She could be there for 40 years, guiding us through the singularity.

(note, this is nothing against her. I'm sure she's a fine person.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

The biggest anti-climax in sport?

Months after the Australian Open and a year after the last French Open it's finally here!

Isn't it exciting to see that Federer's playing Albert Martin! And he won too! Woo. Nadal beat Marco Daniel. Amazing!

It's good that so many people play in these tournaments though. It's what reminds us how good the top players are. Tennis is just about the most ruthlessly meritocratic sport there is. The fact that top players disappear so quickly is another reminder of that.

Basically I have one competitive match to look forward to. Federer v Djokovic. Which is also pretty much Federer's death sentence. But getting to the semis will be good and the final would be excellent. No chance against Nadal though. Funny how you don't get the feeling that Nadal will be injured. He has lot of injury problems, but I'm not gonna hold my breath.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Ugh. In the "great" Sampras vs. Agassi rivalry I always rooted for Sampras for reasons that now escape me. It's not that I wish he'd won more so that Sampras would have been overtaken by Federer already, Agassi seems cooler and was a more interesting player to watch.

I feel partially vindicated by this stupid comment Agassi made about Nadal winning the grand slam this year

This is the first time in a long time we're going to have the opportunity for somebody to pull it off...

I didn't think I'd ever see it, just because it seems impossible.

It's true that for most of the 80's and all of the 90's there were no players who could plausibly have won the grand slam. But you see, Federer has twice come within two sets of winning four straight slams. The first time he won the first set 6-1 against Nadal so must have been at better than 50% of doing the deed. Or maybe 2007 is a long time ago in Agassi's book.

Yes, 4 straight isn't a proper grand slam, but each of those times he went on to win both Wimbledon and the US Open, which isn't exactly out of character for him since he won each of them 5 times in a row.

That's not to say Nadal wont win all four this year, I think he has a great chance (I compute it at around 10%). But it is to say that it was a really dumb thing for Agassi to say.

Monday, May 18, 2009


A blogger has noticed that Barry Weingast's book Violence and Social Orders is out. I don't expect it to start a trend though, cos Arnold Kling was talking about their (North and Wallis too) work for a while now.

The lack of interest disturbs me because I actually ordered a copy and with pay a Vast sum for it when it finally arrives.

It'll do my efforts at pretentious signalling a power of good but why don't people like it?? One of the authors is a Nobel prize winner! I like it (well the paper it's based on)! But nooo, everyone loves Paul Collier. I simply don't understand it.

Yay Federer!

I intended to write a short post before I read any of the reports moaning about all the people wanting to put an asterisk next to this result. Turns out I was wrong, everyone has been pretty gracious. Pointing out that Nadal was tired and below par is fine, pretending that this isn't something that just happens, especially when you're on sucha great streak, is not.

The other time Federer beat Nadal on clay people saw it as sign that Federer could win the French, nobody really thinks that now, and that's also right.

Federer's record against Nadal on clay is now 2-9, which is bad, but only he and Gaston Gaudio (the last time Gaudio won was just as Nadal got good and Gaudio is a past French Open winner) have beaten Nadal more than once on clay. Federer accounts for 40% of all Nadal's defeats on clay since he got good at 17 and he's the only person to beat Nadal in a final on clay, which he's done twice. He also had two match points in a five set clay court match.

Point being that Federer is pretty good on clay.

And Nadal is very good on clay.

Added: The Telegraph wants an asterisk. That's it, I'm cancelling my subscription.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Great sports writing

I take sport ever so seriously. I maintain that its ultimate justification is similar to art. It's about human excellence and creativity. Sure, most people don't see it like that. Sport is also about US versus THEM, about group identity and loyalty.

Sports writing is usually unsatisfying, but this blog about soccer is great. This is just a fantastic (but very long) post. You should read it, but I'm blogging it because of this bit
A great player in the NFL—even someone like Barry Sanders, who regularly did things I've never seen another human being even try—is essentially great because he performs his specific function better than anyone else and gives his team a better chance to win. A great soccer player—Zidane, say—is great because, in addition to that accomplishment, he lifts a new understanding out of the flow of play and says "football can be like this."
I've toyed with a post along these lines for ages. Much of sport, or most art of human activity falls into the category of stuff that may be difficult, but we kinda know how to do. With sport, generally you can become really good by training more, getting fitter, stronger, faster more accurate. This is difficult of course, but knowable from a comfy armchair.

But that's not what's really important. What matters is when someone does something, sees something that you never would have guessed or seen yourself. It matters that it works, that it helps to achieve the goal of the game. But there is kind of a moral element to this, the creativity must be directed towards winning, but winning cannot be the only objective. There's so much room for winning stuff that falls outside of the actual sport itself. You can be thuggish, constantly push the boundaries of the rules, intimidate the referees etc. In an imperfect world there's no way to guarantee that the cynical players or teams don't succeed.

Even within the spirit of the game, there's reason to support the smaller, slower team or player, because if they are to win they will need to do more to explore that non-obvious territory that can't be discovered by relentless training. It's a difficult balancing act, winning is not dispensable, but can't be the only thing.

Maybe you've seen one of the places I've been going with this. These are the reasons why it's Federer and not Nadal who makes tennis worthwhile, something more than my guy beating your guy. Other than deliberately annoying opponents with delays, Nadal is probably the more admirable player, but his superiority over Federer is mostly "outside" tennis itself. He's faster, more disciplined, physically and mentally stronger and he seems more determined. Most of the things he's actually has control over. Federer, despite his frailties, has the ability to transcend the brute mechanics of the game. At his best, it doesn't matter if his opponent has done everything right his entire life. There is a gap between perfectly drilled serve, forehand and backhand, between textbook tennis and what can be done by a creative genius. Nadal is much more than ruthless efficiency, but he's not Federer.

new rule suggestion

Expert that I am on all things, I enjoy thinking about rule changes that would improve various sports. I can't remember which changes I've thrilled readers of this blog with in the past, maybe I'll compile them all into a future post, but today I'll improve one day cricket.

Get rid of restrictions on how many overs any bowler can bowl!!

I've listened to my share of cricket commentary and its not like shy about talking cricketing trivia (nor should they be), but I've never heard the rational behind these restrictions. I'll speculate wildly and suggest that they were trying to maintain the basic cricketing status quo. Trying to keep the same number of bowlers and batsmen per team in both forms of the game.

Status quo is a powerful lure, but this still should not have been allowed. Why not have a rule requiring batsmen to retire if they score a fifty too fast?

I imagine that people would defend the rule on the grounds that people like to see high scoring games. This does seem to govern other rules (fielding restrictions etc). I don't think this is a good enough reason for the rule, but even if I did, one of effects of having better bowlers bowling more would be that more batsmen would be selected for each team, resulting in better batting.

Maybe fewer runs would still be scored, but looked at in the way that surely matters, the result would be better bowlers bowling at better batsmen. Perhaps I'm missing something, but how would that not be a good thing?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

This one's new to me

It's the first suggestion from Youtube's search function and it's great.

Eddie Izzard

I heard this clip when I was still in Smuts. Ah, the wonders of Youtube.


What the hell is the matter with Federer?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

some photo's

You should probably click on this one.

Tragically that's the best one of me.
More soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The morality of voting.

I'll cast my vote soon.

Libertarians are quite fond of pointing out that your vote really does not make a difference. The conclusion they tend to draw is that you shouldn't vote, or at least that you're wasting your time.

I don't think the conclusion follows even though it's true that your vote doesn't make a difference. I'm surprised by this attitude because of its explicit reliance on utilitarian ethics. They do this calculation, basically multiplying the odds of your vote making a difference by the good effects enjoyed if it did. The thing though is that people, and many libertarians in particular, are not utilitarians. We're generally not encouraged to do a cost benefit analysis when considering whether to lie or steal. Lying and stealing are wrong, the reason they're wrong could be given that it leads to good outcomes in the future, but this is a rule of thumb cos we can't know the exact effects of our actions.

So I'd expect more people to take this line with voting. We expect people to follow the general rule of voting cos in the long run that's what will have good consequences.

I might not fully sign up for that, but maybe a rule along the lines that voting is good if you're informed. A rule which I am about to violate.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


After my awesome run of posting I've been bad the past week, and I'm on holiday! I'm off the the Drakensberg for Easter, so don't hold your breath.

Hopefully you'll have better things to do and so not be checking anyway.

lack of consistency?

Lame title I know, and possibly a lame post.


Instinctively I'm anti-stimulus but I'm almost convinced that America needs one, even though there is little evidence from history that it'll work.

Thing is though that we know that it's gonna make people poorer in the short run, they're gonna spend a lot of money. But the hope is that it'll shock the economy into a permanently higher level of output.

The sentence I've liked best to explain why a stimulus is needed is from Samuel Brittan
A slump is a tragedy for those who lose their jobs and also for those who fear to lose them. But it is also a logical absurdity that there should exist unsatisfied wants side by side with idle workers willing to supply them.
Stimulus ideally should prevent this from happening.

When it comes to immigration though it's very hard to avoid thinking in terms of low skilled wages and jobs. They depress the wages and compete for jobs. During a recession or depression I find this pretty compelling.

But like the stimulus it isn't the whole story. Immigrants in America tend to be pretty entrepreneurial, even if they're not starting Googles. That seems pretty important to me. I have no idea about economics of immigrant stimulus, but since stimulus talk is so mainstream, hence the idea that it's good for the economy to sacrifice in some ways, I'd think this angle should get more attention.

Tyler Cowen seems to think it'd be a good idea.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Cannibalism is funny

Dilbert.comI also think cartoon vomiting is funny. My sense of humor is a little crude I guess.

Friday, April 03, 2009

orange river

I'm back.

It was an excellent trip and I hope to post some photos soon.

The most significant event of the trip was drinking coke with cigarette ash in it.

It was gross.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My job here is done

I've posted everyday for a month now. Whew!

I've enjoyed blogging more again. But I'm off on a trip on the Orange River tomorrow and won't be posting till Friday.

I hope you'll muddle along alright without me.

because I enjoy blogging about it

one more post.

Of course there are other ways of sending the same or similar signals as books. But the fact is that it does work as a signal. Much of Trevor's most recent post explains why books will persist as a signal. People will simply deny that they use it as a signal! And most of the time they'll mean it!

Trevor's last post on the subject was titled "the smell of paper". I've already read a few articles arguing against e-readers and marvelling at how wonderful books make a room look. We come up with different reasons for why we like books.

Trevor endorses the idea of what we're reading being used as a signal when he suggests that the e-reader could display what's being read, but that's exactly what I think would destroy the signal. How do we explain why we have this expensive feature on our reading device? Denying that we're signaling (as Trevor does with his History of Western Philosophy) is a much more credible way of denying that we're trying to signal to people.

Signalling has been around for a long time as an explanation for a lot of our behaviour yet most people are not aware of the explanation. I don't see any reason why this would suddenly happen with books.

But like I said, they people with the specific attachment to books rather than reading will die. And our reading habits will become more rational.

Friday, March 27, 2009

did I just destroy my status?

Oops. I admit in my last post that I only buy books, or enjoy getting them as presents because of the status I get from telling people what I'm reading and displaying them in my flat. Trevor says
By default doesn't that signal change as soon as you are aware of it?

People use books as a signal for how smart they are. A smart person without bias uses an ebook because it is more efficient. The signal of people with lots of books then becomes one of someone who likes signals but not reading?
I hope so, and I think it will happen, but probably only when all the people obsessed with books in particular are dead.

But even if we agree on this I'm skeptical about books losing their signaling power any time soon.

Knowing that we signal for status doesn't prevent us from doing it. People still try to signal fertility by looking good. It still works even though we know people get plastic surgery and have clever ways to hide flaws. Doctors are still high status even though there's little evidence that they do much to help and plenty of evidence that they don't much care that they don't.

It matters more that the signal be hard to fake. It's easy to buy pretentious books, but harder to talk knowingly about them. So the signal is for people who either know about, or care in some way about similar books. We need ways to hang out with people like us without seeming too much like assholes about it.

Often the only thing that counts is that people know what we're reading. We read Harry Potter in public because other people know about it and are likely to be able to chat about it. Road to Serfdom is better on a learned bookshelf.

It's like Trevor's university filter. If we know that people mostly go to Harvard for the signal and to be with the right kinda people, won't people just learn online? It's so much cheaper and more efficient!

The point is not that unbiased smart people will not use e-book's, just that they don't perform some social functions that we to perform sometime anyway.

I'd also predict that people with secure reputations for deepness and learning will be quicker to adopt. Tyler Cowens rather than academic careerists.

Personally I'm fine with telling people that I like having books for signalling. Just so long as people appreciate how profound and self effacing I'm being when I do it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I posted a comment on Trevor's blog about 2 minutes ago. I was impressed by how insightful it was so I thought I'd link to it. Then I considered reprinting the whole thing here
We use books to construct our identities but mostly as a signaling device to increase our status.

Kindle gives gadget status, but not so much culture status. the very fact that books take up lots of space is a big reason why people like them. it shoves your smartness and sophistication into visitors faces.

you can't just keep talking about books you have on your kindle, you'd sound liek a pretentious ass.

For an enjoyable few seconds I contemplated my choices while skimming posts in my Google Reader when I came across this
I've been following your Kindle posts for a while now and something that struck me is the signalling effects of reading a book versus a reading using a Kindle - yes I read Robin Hanson's blog too!

Reading with a Kindle, the signal is relatively constant and, at the moment, is something like "I'm an early technology adopter and I like to read". As the Kindle gets more commonplace the efficacy of this signal will, I think, diminish. Compare this with the signalling effects of reading a traditional book, where you signal to people not only that you like to read, but crucially what you are reading.

I wonder if Kindle advocates are underestimating how important it is for people to show those around them not just that they like to read, but also what they like to read?
That's a loyal Marginal Revolution reader.

I swear! I wrote my comment before I read that!

Oh and look how smart I am.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the amazing thing about morality is...

  1. the incredible convergence across different cultures. All societies have prohibitions on rape, theft and murder etc.
  2. the incredible diversity of moral norms. An incredible range of cruelty is acceptable in different societies. Societies have slavery, genital mutilation and execute gays etc.
Depending on the conversation, each can sound deeply wise (though I think more people think 1. than 2.). Jonathan Haidt goes for no. 1 and Jesse Prinz goes for no. 2. Haidt is famous but Prinz is very cool.

I think no. 2 is far more telling. But isn't it weird that super duper profs are equally taken by entirely contradictory positions?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

this doesn't happen often

but consecutive weekends of good soccer results! Man U lose 2-0 to Fulham with Scholes and Rooney sent off. Nice.

United are 6-1 in their last two matches. Arsenal and Liverpool winning too.