Friday, January 30, 2009

Response to Trevor on heroes

I don't really think we disagree much, it's more a matter of emphasis.
But, I do think that sometimes, people do need a beacon. They need someone to be a symbol
We’ve talked about this type of stuff before. It may seem like there’s tension in my position but I don’t think there is. I think leaders are very important to society, including politicians. But what exactly should leaders be doing? Companies and governments need good leaders. But government is not not the same thing as society. Managing a company is not the same thing as managing an economy. I’m not so sure about all these beacons and symbols, but I’d prefer them to be people like Roger Federer and Desmond Tutu. I don’t think politicians should see one of their duties to help me develop moral fiber.
we need something to believe in
I find this pretty depressing, though I’m not really sure I understand what Trevor means (I have watched the Dark Knight). Why? Do we need something to replace our belief in god?
Mandela gave South Africa an aura to gather around
Mandela is a wonderful example of important leadership. A big accomplishment was in an area where leaders should be. He helped prevent a descent into violence.

In most societies most of the time organizations are part of the government one way or another. If everything is political, then political leaders are more important, there’s nowhere else to look if you want a better life. Countries like America are not like that and politicians should be less of a focal point for people.
A black man with a second name like Hussein... is now the president of the USA. The world is changing
I agree. But here the Obama’s election says something about the world more than Obama. Obama doesn’t need to be deified because it seemed so unlikely. It also doesn’t mean Obama has to do anything in particular. He already radiates the symbol.

Monday, January 26, 2009

yay for the moon!

When I was at school (as a pupil) I was often told that I should be grateful to/for the sun. I understood on some abstract level that the sun was important in various ways, but I didn't like hot sunny days and the sun surely must take its fair share of blame for that. Nobody ever told me to be grateful to the moon, but because of the moon I arrived at school in watery cool light. It was a great way to start the day.

Thanks moon!

are we having fun yet?

Eliezer Yudkowsky has written many posts on Fun Theory. This my sound silly but it's the very serious response to people who supposedly don't want to live very long because they're worried they'll get bored (I've experienced this several times, like here. I think this is a little cringe worthy and I don't claim it's worth watching, it's 7 minutes long).

Here's a relatively long post summarising everything, it's really worth a read. Increasingly, I think a reading Eliezer's posts closely would be a much better education than all of high school put together (not including all the social stuff).

Friday, January 23, 2009

I simply can't tell you

How thrilled I am to have another 15 Matt Yglesias posts in my google reader. I'll get right on that now.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

the most depressing thing I've read in ages

Or, "the case for libertarianism in one sentence". This is Richard Posner (who isn't a libertarian.

Though in principle the money needed for such programs could be obtained from cutting wasteful government programs, that is politically infeasible.
What the hell man!? I love the way this is slipped in there. I would think that the natural attitude in the face of this uncontroversial fact is to be very suspicious of new government initiatives!

When Milton Friedman says that there's "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program." he can be dismissed for his partisan wingnuttery, but I think it's worth noting that this is the conventional political wisdom. Where are all the articles arguing that this is the time to get rid of wasteful programs? You can explain away any individual mistakes, but this attitude guarantees that there will be lots of bad programs.

I loved this post

Whenever people sigh over how the Internet has stopped us from pulling musty old volumes from library shelves I think of this blog. Grant McCracken is a well known anthropologist. I never did read many books I randomly pulled from library shelves but I doubt I would have pulled down many books on anthropology.

Anyway, I loved this post about how TV is changing. It's not just getting more demanding and complex but also more serious; less pop culture and more culture.

Ever since I saw the Lion King I've hated the use of a horrific disaster as a prop for some other characters personal development and to make the happy ending feel sweeter. Once Mufassa is murdered there can be no properly happy ending, there's only damage control. This is also why I have a thing against religions that have a direction to history; if it's worth humanity growing and becoming one or whatever, why will only those future humans be around to enjoy it? And if we're not being short changed in any way, what's the point of advancing to that better state?

I think it's great that several TV series look you right in the eye and say, "Sometimes things just aren't going to be okay". I'll bet that a lot of people think that shows like The Wire have a negative impact on our moral character. I find the idea of preferring Murder She Wrote's overarching moral philosophy to The Wire's pretty disturbing.

that's better

Federer needs to win three more matches to make the semis. I think the odds of him losing one of them are higher than him winning the whole thing.

That said, I also didn't think Murray should be the favourite. Seems like trading has turned that around. Federer's only slightly ahead of Murray which seems about right.

British bookmakers probably got a little overexcited.

Friday, January 16, 2009

check this out

Click the heading for the story. It is pretty amazing, I'm a little surprised to be as wowed, but there you go.

Sooo... we've got a new celebrity on our hands. From the info available the pilot was genuinely heroic. Wouldn't it be nice if turns out to have some personality instead of grinding out tired cliches. I won't hold my breath. I'm sure he's an interesting guy, but we've all watched enough TV and sporting events to know the kind of things you're meant to say, which has the effect of making interesting stuff seem banal and boring.

I saw a couple of reports on Sky and I really hope that the survivors stay focused on how lucky and happy they are (which really cheered me up) rather than reflecting on how traumatic it all was.

I'm not sure why I'm being preemptive mean about people, maybe I'm just a mean person.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Slumdog Millionaire doesn't come out here for a while, but since it did so well at the Golden Globes I feel the urge to make my prediction now. I'm pretty sure I'll hate it. It'll be sappy, uplifting and inspiring in a thoroughly American way but will get rave reviews because it's not American. I'll probably see it to test my prediction, but my negativity will be dismissed because I didn't give it a chance. Life is so unjust sometimes.

Prove me wrong Slumdog!

Wall-E won best animated picture! Whoop dee doo! I bet this makes it all worth while for them. More animated films are getting made these days I guess, but I don't get the point of an award for something that seldom has more than one real contender. Also, films like Wall-E, Ratatoullie and the Incredibles are excellent films! Nominate them for some real awards!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

best match ever

Since Federer's career is pretty much over I feel like looking to the past (though this post is sad too).

It's easy to understand why people are so excited about last year's Wimbledon final but a big reason is that it was the Wimbledon final rather than the quality of the play. This isn't arbitrary or new, this is what people care about. But if we're searching for quality I think a specific question (which excludes almost every match ever played) gives points in a direction that nobody looks (seriously, I read a lot on this topic).
Which match saw Federer and Nadal playing closest to their best?
They've played 18 times and you can see the results here. The answer is clear to me. 2006 was Federer's best year and Nadal was in the middle of his record breaking clay court streak and they played a five hour long match on clay. I remember the match painfully well so I could ramble on for ages about how awesome it was but I think the facts outlined above provide a strong hint that this is the perfect storm of tennis .

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Does the free market corrode moral character?

I recently raged against John Gray's answer to this question and I've been planning to blog it myself Any Day Now for far too long. Several heroes answered (including Gary Kasparov). See here, here and here for Tyler Cowen, Will Wilkinson and Tim Harford's answers.

No hero gets it wrong, but only Will gets it really right. Tyler and Tim argue that places with free, well functioning markets are the ones with the high levels of trust and cooperation and low levels of corruption. These qualities are moral ones, so it doesn't look like the free market has corroded them.All very fine, but if we agree that loyalty to your in group is more of a virtue when Nazi's are trying to kill you and less of one if you live in the EU, we should accept that what counts as moral behaviour changes as circumstances change. A free market produces a huge amount of social change and our moral norms should change accordingly. To people who prefer the good old days, this will obviously look like moral debasement. And it's true that a moral character will be degraded which is what the question asks about, but this is a good thing!

Creating a better moral character sometimes means what used to pass for moral character must be corroded.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I think I'm gonna be sick

Well, not really. I get outraged over things like the Larry Summers debacle a few years ago. I think this article more or less sums up what most right thinking people believe.

Another reason for my lack of outrage is that I genuinely don't know in which direction this would be sexist.

It may be that women perceive and act on risk in subtly different ways; that they don't, as a general rule, embrace the kind of massively aggressive behavior that brought us a Dow of 14,000 and then, seemingly overnight, a crash of epic proportions. Whether it be from a protectiveness born of biology or a reticence imposed by social norms, women may be less inclined than men to place the kind of bets that can get them in real trouble.

Conversely, women may also be more inclined to blow the whistle on others' risky business...

One possibility, explored in a fascinating study published last year by John Coates and Joe Herbert of Cambridge University, is that women simply don't have the testosterone for it; on the trading floor, they deduced, higher profits literally correlate with higher levels of the male hormone. Another, examined in laboratory experiments conducted by Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund at the University of Pittsburgh, is that women are far less inclined than men to bet their pay on performance, even if they have evidence to suggest that they are superior performers.

Claiming that biological differences could result in different performance in the real world is usually enough to demonstrate sexism. But that's exactly what's claimed here, it's just that women would do better, which is ok. The article also implies that women are generally better ethically too which, which I think is pretty much coventional wisdom in the kind of circles I move in (I'm including TV and movies etc).

The article doesn't say anything about IQ which is what really gets the blood flowing, but I'm not really sure why this is better.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Welcome home!

Did you hear about that freak storm? Last I heard the death toll was at 13. My parents got off pretty lightly, there's some damage but it looks worse than it is.
Our huge pine tree was chopped down three months ago because it was going to fall onto the house eventually. My parents don't think this storm would have done it, and they're probably right, but I wonder...