Tuesday, January 23, 2007

G.K. Chesterton

I randomly stumbled across this man's profile while browsing Wikipedia. Quite an incredible person. He never graduated college yet he wrote "around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays and several plays" and was critically acclaimed. He's known for his witty remarks and his "Uncommon Sense" approach to philosophy:

Thus when Mr. H. G. Wells says (as he did somewhere), "All chairs are quite different," he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them "all chairs."

Is he right? My position is that "chair" is a logical (linguistic) construction. It is an approximation. Classifying all chairs together under a concept doesn't mean that they are all the same empirically.

The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless—one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan’s will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite’s will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is—well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads.[14]

Again, I disagree. I've never read anything by Tolstoy but I don't agree that Nietzsche is ultimately a Buddhist. (That is what he's saying, isn't it?)

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.

He also came up with an economic theory called distributism, in which the ownership of large companies is distributed among a large group of people. Sounds good to me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

From the Scripture

I tried to post some scripture on the RWC blog but they censored me. So I'll post it up here:


"Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
--Matthew 19:24

"It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God."
--Mark 10:25

"It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried."
--Luke 16:22


And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
--Luke 6:29

"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
--Matthew 5:43-48

I'm going to try to expose conservatives to the words of God more on the internet. It seems to make them uncomfortable.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Truth about Venezuela?

You're not likely to find it in the mainstream media. Misinformation pervades society, but when it comes to Venezuela (and the rest of the developing world) it is the rule. Here is a well-done documentary on the current situation in Venezuela.

Halfway through the video you can watch a small skirmish between the white demonstrators opposed to Chavez and the poor. A few of the poor were sniped by someone, and between ducking they fired back with their handguns. The private TV (given complete freedom of speech by Chavez) showed them shooting their handguns and claimed that the Chavez supporters were firing on the anti-Chavez group. They then took over the State TV and began to push forward a coup based on this misinformation. And so ensues the powerful, chilling, yet ultimately happy story of the failed 2002 coup.

To complement that I point you to this story at Venezuela News. If you don't have time to watch the video, I highly recommend reading the story completely.

The Piraha Tribe

They must be one of the most unique groups of people in the world. They have philosophical significance:

As far as the Pirahã have related to researchers, their culture is concerned solely with matters that fall within direct personal experience, and thus there is no history beyond living memory.

The language is claimed to have no relative clauses or grammatical recursion, but this is not clear. Should the language truly feature a lack of recursion, then it would be a counterexample to the theory proposed by Chomsky, Hauser and Fitch (2002) that recursion is a crucial and uniquely human language property.

The people do not count and the language does not have words for precise numbers. Despite efforts to teach them, some researchers, such as Prof. Peter Gordon of Columbia University, claim that they are incapable of learning numeracy. His colleague, Prof. Daniel L. Everett, on the other hand, argues that the Pirahã are cognitively capable of counting; they simply choose not to do so.

UPDATE: As Wikipedia says, they are in serious danger of extinction with only 200 left. To help them, perhaps donate to The Nature Conservancy, which works to preserve habitat in Brazil?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Complete Review

When I ran across this site I instinctively bookmarked it, thinking that it would offer some quality summaries and reviews of good literature. A year ago I would have never checked it out, but now I'm trying to clear my bookmarks out. Man. This site makes one wonder about the rational choice theory: what are the creators of this site thinking?

It's rife with spelling, grammar, and logical errors. Its "reviews" are worthless blurbs; I could probably find better on Wikipedia or Amazon. In short, it serves no purpose. Yet it must take an immense amount of effort to write all these superflous comments -- and for what? How are these people profiting? Is Adsense really supporting their venture? I don't get it. And I see stupid shit like this all the time.

If you do come up with an idea like this -- if you do want to expend yourself in such a way, why not do it on something people will check out often like Wikipedia or Wikisummaries? (Actually Wikisummaries looks a bit sketch -- it's for-profit and not connected to the Wikimedia foundation?)

The point is: try to do something meaningful with your energy rather than reinventing the wheel.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Difference in male/female humor

This article is interesting, especially in light of the post I made earlier. It outlines some of the current research on what the different sexes expect and/or want in humor.

A "good" sense of humor is hard thing to find, but there's more than one reason for that. Humor is one the most subjective experiences. I rarely laugh out loud. In fact, the only times I can remember doing so (and in these cases it was uncontrollable) is when I find someone doing something truly stupid and not realizing that it is stupid. Now, you might think I'd be laughing all the time. I'm not that observant. But when I am in a good mood, I tend (and try) to look at events with amusement.

There are well-liked jokes that I hate. I don't like poop and fart jokes (not that observant or strong-stomached). I don't like Chuck Norris jokes. I don't like, strangely enough, male humor.

"Men taunt other men with clever nicknames and insults," says John Morreal, a professor of religion at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, who has studied humor for 25 years. "That isn't something that women do. They don't tend to play practical jokes, or engage in humor that humiliates or puts somebody down."

I don't know. I don't think that's what male humor is entirely composed of, but hey, maybe I'm wrong. I felt the following to be very true regardless:

Subjects were asked to choose a potential date of the opposite sex. Bressler found that women want a man who is a humor "generator," while men seek a humor "appreciator."

I know that in my interaction with women this is generally the case, but I for one don't actively seek it out. I'd rather have someone reduce the burden on me to provide comic relief.

Is irony the root of humor?

Smaller Classes

My follow-up on the previous post:

The Tennesse STAR program was an experiment on the effects of class size. It has been called "one of the most important educational investigations ever carried out." The subjects were 6385 students who were beginning kindergarten. Each student was assigned to one of three treatments: regular class (22 to 25 students) with one teacher, regular class with a teacher and a full-time teacher's aide, and a small class (13 to 17 students). These treatments are levels of a single factor: the type of class. The students stayed in the same type of class for four years, then returned to regular classes. In later years, students from the small classes had higher scores on standard tests, were less likely to fail a grade, had better high school grades, and so on. The benefits of small classes were greatest for minority students.

From Introduction To the Practice of Statistics by Moore at al. The book point those interested to this webpage. It has the specifics:

In the paper "Carry-over Effects of Small Classes" J.D Finn, B.D. Fulton, J.B. Zaharias, and B.A. Nye reported that "The results of Project STAR show clearly that average pupil performance in the primary years can be increased (with reduced class size) by approximately one fourth to one third of a standard deviation without the introduction of new materials or curricula and without retraining the teachers." They also stated that in contrast to other education reforms that focus on specific subject areas and generally require some reorganization of course content, teaching strategies, and/or class scheduling "the effects of reduced-size classes were found on every achievement measure administered in Project STAR... To realize performance gains as extensive as this through any combination of student grouping, individualized instruction, or tutoring would be both difficult and expensive, if it were even possible to implement or maintain such an approach"

"...What our age needs is education. And so this is what happened: God chose a man who also needed to be educated, and educated him privatissime, so that he might be able to teach others from his own experience." -- The Journals, Soren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

WSJ on Intelligence&Education

Here is a typical WSJ editorial. When I saw this I felt a knee-jerk reaction of annoyance and disgust at its emphasis on innate intelligence. The thesis seems to be that we have to lower our standards to allow for those people who are just too dumb to understand basic things:

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

I prepared a short response about how there's problems with IQ testing and intensive education can raise IQ, but then I stopped to think -- maybe he has a point. Maybe we have to face the fact that many children are not going to be able to handle high-level topics.

After thinking it through, though, my belief is that the root of the education problem is not intelligence. It has to do with overwhelming distraction, poor teachers, poor funding (yes, smaller class sizes do help significantly), and poor nutrition. The solutions are parental involvement (or something equivalent), merit-based teacher pay, smaller class sizes, and better nutrition. Saying that the children are to blame is not only wrong but counter-productive. I've never taken an IQ test, but I know that I'm no genius. My mother is a teacher (focusing on early childhood development) and my father used to debate issues with me at the dinner table.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I attended church today

I went to a Unitarian Universalist church today. It was my first time. I wasn't sure to expect, but when I got there I had to remind myself that it mostly be elderly people as I walked in with a greybeard.

The service was great. The female's pastor's female partner (age 60 or so) sat next to me. It began with hymns. Then the floor was given to anyone who wished to voice "a joy or concern." One woman came forward with the news that her friend's 13-year old daughter had collapsed and died rather randomly. The next woman came up to say that she was very happy, somewhat randomly. The next guy came up to speak on Bush's upcoming surge. I laughed my way through his short rant because it made me happy. Then we lit a last "candle of concern" for the "unspoken" and "unspeakable" concerns in the world.

The sermon was good. It was mostly on Martin Luther King, Jr. and a Unitarian martyr of the period, James Reed. It ended on the subject if money, a word that, like God, Unitarians like to avoid. She urged us to spend our money wisely, because every time we spend our money, we change the world. It ended with the following quote:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Exactly my thoughts on the matter. If we had resolved the Israel-Palestine conflict by pressuring Israel to concede the West Bank this entire terrorism problem wouldn't exist. It's not too late. It requires sacrifice. That this entire method for dealing with the problem is seemingly ignored by the mainstream drives me nuts.

By the way, I encourage you to check out Martin Luther's page of quotes and perhaps check out his Letter to Birmingham out of respect for his memory. He was surprisingly intelligent.

Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change. ... Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often have problems with power. There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites — polar opposites — so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.
It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we've got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. What has happened is that we have had it wrong and confused in our own country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience.

Now, I don't think Nietzsche thought love and power were polar opposites. Quite the opposite: power is required to love. He calls into question the sincerity of the love of the weak. After all:

"What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness."

To this end we now need many preparatory courageous human beings who cannot very well leap out of nothing—any more than out of the sand and slime of present-day civilization and metropolitanism: human beings who know how to be silent, lonely, resolute, and content and constant in invisible activities; human beings who are bent on seeking in all things for what in them must be overcome; human beings distinguished as much by cheerfulness, patience, unpretentiousness, and contempt for all great vanities as by magnanimity in victory and forbearance regarding the small vanities of the vanquished; human beings whose judgment concerning all victors and the share of chance in every victory and fame is sharp and free; human beings with their own festivals, their own working days, and their own periods of mourning, accustomed to command with assurance but instantly ready to obey when that is called for, equally proud, equally serving their own cause in both cases; more endangered human beings, more fruitful human beings, happier beings!

Violence and oppression are far from the result of the will to power, nor likely involved in the will to power. The best path towards power has always been a very different method. Sincere magnanimity is the most powerful position to take. Period. It must be taken from a position of power, although one might say that Jesus died magnanimously. And Nietzsche would have lavished powerful praise upon King for his efforts, I imagine.

"What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil." -- Beyond Good and Evil.

UPDATE: I forgot to add that it was refreshing to talk to these people. All of them were highly educated. Most of them well understand economics (one woman and I discussed the economic effects of war as she brought up the fact that it destroys reources) and philosophy. Nearly of all them were white-collar professionals; there were a couple people from Intel, a retired engineer, a journalist. Attending a Universalist Unitarian church is a good way to network.

Eternal Recurrence from Anaximander

"The beginning and origin of the things that are", Anaximander says, "is the Indefinite [apeiron]. Into that from which the things that are arise, however, they pass away again, as they are obliged to do; for they give satisfaction and reparation to one another for their injustice, as is appointed according to the ordering of time".

I pulled that from R.J Hollingdale's concise Western Philosophy. It got me to thinking about Nietzsche's eternal recurrence. When I raised the idea with my philosophy professor he somewhat dismissively said that it was a mostly psychological concept to get one thinking in terms of absolute meaninglessness - which might be true, but is is really a bad theory of time? What are the arguments against it? I think my professor mentioned something mathematical about how things could recur infinitely and never hit the same old point again. But stretched infinitely, it seems like it would hit that same old point again, and again, and again(even if it's done it once, there's a pretty darn high likelihood it's gonna do it again). Infinity -- such a conundrum.

The comment from Hollingdale immediately proceeding from that is:

These sentences, the earliest surviving complete sentences of Western philosophy, contain, it has been suggested, the ethical judgment that all created things deserve the destruction which is awaiting them, and that Anaximander is thus an ethical pessimist of a kind similar to Schopenhauer.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Girl Next Door

There's a hot girl living next door to me right now(it seems like there always is). I took her out to dinner once last month, then went home for the holidays. I dropped by there the other day to say hi and when her roommate went to get her, she said she was sick. It's been a good six or seven days since then and she still hasn't dropped by to say hi. I'm not going to visit again. If she's not that interested enough to return my overture then I'm not going to push it.

But I still wonder. We seemed to hit it off and hopefully we'll get together sometime in the future. In the meantime we're both sitting around in our respective houses 20 feet from each other. Is she shy? She's an aspiring actor - she shouldn't be. Is there something about me that intimidates people, or scares them, or bores them? Very few people make an effort to visit or hang out with me. In fact, the only visitor I've had so far this month was a friend of my roommate's, who is out of town. Perhaps people sense that I'm not really interested in them(or maybe that's just what I tell myself, because they're not interested in me). Perhaps I annoy them because I can't relate to their shallow hobbies. Half the time when I hang out with people or party I feel like I'm wasting my time, but a quarter (especially Friday nights) of the time when I'm alone I feel achingly lonely, and seek people through movies, books, or the internet. Today I spent an hour wandering Safeway just because it felt nice to be around people and music.

Nietzsche Family Circus

This is amusing.

Chevy Volt

I want this car. The first 40 miles on pure electricity.

Power corrupts

This story might shed some light on the old adage that "power corrupts."

...researchers assessed the effect of power on perspective taking, adjusting to another's perspective, and interpreting the emotions of others.

To study the link between power and perspective taking, Galinsky and colleagues used a unique method in which the participants were told to draw the letter E on their forehead. If the subject wrote the E in a self-oriented direction, backwards to others, this indicated a lack of perspective taking. On the other hand, when the E was written legible to others, this indicated that the person had thought about how others might perceive the letter.

The results showed that those who had previously been randomly assigned to a high power group were almost three times more likely to draw a self-oriented E than those who were assigned to the low power condition. Galinsky and colleagues also found that power leads individuals to anchor too heavily on their own vantage point, thus leaving them unable to adjust to another person's perspective and decreases one's ability to correctly interpret emotion.

This is an interesting study -- I'm not sure about the methodology(I might have drawn the E self-oriented out of carelessness or defiance, but I'm fine at taking other's perspective at the moment), but certainly I'm willing to agree that power tends to make one more secure in one's beliefs. The strange thing is that while I believe this, I also feel that I'm much more immune to its effects. But I'm not. I constantly have to resist getting sucked into an ideology and defending something that I know is not necessarily correct.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Climate Expert Silenced

This is an old story, but it bears repeating:

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said.

Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, said there was no effort to silence Dr. Hansen. "That's not the way we operate here at NASA," Mr. Acosta said. "We promote openness and we speak with the facts."

He said the restrictions on Dr. Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. He added that government scientists were free to discuss scientific findings, but that policy statements should be left to policy makers and appointed spokesmen.

Should scientists be really be restricted from speaking on policy? Could it be argued that only they (and other scientists) truly understand the implications of their findings? Or is policy best left to the "policy makers" (politicians and their secretaries or, perhaps, corporate lobbyists) and their "appointed spokesmen" (puppets)? What really sets policy makers apart as experts on these issues? And shouldn't we be pushing the experts to speak on issues such as their areas of expertise?

Why Telecoms Should Be Regulated

Check out this show and keep watching through the first chapter, at least. One of the people interviewed says that before telecoms were deregulated, they were required to invest all of their (considerable) profits into their infrastructure. When they were deregulated, they promised to build a fiber optic infrastructure - but they "reneged" on that promise (which he alleges are on the books). Instead they "took the money and ran." (Are they public companies? Is this money being wasted as dividends?)

He also says you can get 100 megabit speeds for 40 bucks a month in Korea or Japan. Consider that the typical broadband speed in the US is 1 megabit. Astonishing -- and disheartening...

(For you libertarians or economists, the reason that telecoms need to be regulated is that they are a natural monopoly.)

Mitt Romney

An eye-opening expose of Mitt Romney, the Mormon Governor of Massachusetts and likely Presidential Candidate in 2008, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan. The man has reversed his position on nearly all those issues in hopes of gathering more conservative support. See more at Wikipedia.

After attending Stanford University for two quarters, Romney served for 30 months as a Mormon missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France.[5] Upon returning from France he transferred to Brigham Young University, where he was valedictorian, earning his B.A. summa cum laude in 1971. In 1975, Romney simultaneously earned an MBA from Harvard Business School where he was named a Baker Scholar, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He graduated cum laude from law school and in the top 5 percent of his business school class...

On February 11, 1999 Romney was hired as the new president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Games.[11] Romney revamped the organization's leadership and policies, reduced budgets and boosted fundraising. He also worked to ensure the safety of the Games following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by coordinating a $300 million security budget.[12] Despite the initial fiscal shortfall, the Games ended up clearing a profit of $100 million. Following the conclusion of the Games, President George Bush praised Romney's management.[13]

Romney contributed $1 million to the Olympics, and donated the $825,000 salary he earned as President and CEO to charity.

The man sounds legit. If Barack Obama wasn't around, I would maybe have voted for him. It's too bad that he has to sacrifice his values to win the Republican primaries -- unless, of course, he never had those values to begin with. (Guessing from his charity donation and that debate, I think he did.)

UPDATE: Here Mitt Romney clarifies his 'smarter' position on the issues today. Disgusting.


From, again, Environmental Science: A Global Concern:

WTO judges are trade bureaucrats, usually corporate lawyers with ties to the industries being regulated. There are no rules against conflicts of interest, nor are there requirements that judges know anything about the culture or circumstances of the countries they judge. No appeal of WTO rulings is allowed. A country that loses a trade dispute has three options: (1) amend laws to comply with WTO rules, (2) pay annual compensation -- often millions of dollars -- to the complainants, or (3) face nonnegotiable trade sanctions. Critics claim that the WTO always serves the interest of transational corporations and the world's richest countries...

Among the most controversial issues brought up in this round of WTO negotiations are agricultual subsidies, child labor laws, occupational health and safety standards, protection of intellectual property, and environment standards. Environmentalists ... were outraged by a 1998 WTO ruling that U.S. laws prohibiting the import of shrimp caught in nets that can entrap sea turtles are a barrier to trade. The United States must either accept shrimp regardless of how they are caught, or face large fines. Some other WTO rulings that overturn environmental or consumer safety laws require Europeans to allow importation of U.S. hormone-treated beef, Americans must allow importation of U.S. hormone-treated beef, Americans must accept tuna from Mexico that endangers dolphins, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cannot bar import of low-quality gasoline that causes excessive air pollution. In some pending cases, Denmark wants to ban 200 lead compounds in consumer products; France wants to prohibit asbestos; and several countries want to eliminate electronic devices containing lead, mercury, and cadmium. Under current WTO rules all of these caes probably will be ruled illegal.

Why can't countries sort out their trade barriers between each other? If, as neoclassical economics tells us (and as I mostly agree with) trade subsidies and tariffs only hurt the countries perpetuating them, then why can't the countries deal with it themselves? And why has the WTO still not ruled the enormous US agricultual subsidies illegal?

And what about the aforementioned selective tax breaks to certain sectors? (I'm referring to the oil sector.) Are those not a form of subsidies? What about government healthcare -- does that not reduce the burden of the corporation? What about the high corporate taxes in some countries? (Corporate taxes aren't a great idea.) The point is that the global market is never very free, even if the obtrusive subsidies and tariffs are eliminated.

Subsidies and tariffs are sometimes effective tool for change. At this point I'd say the world would be better off without the WTO entirely -- let countries sort things out between themselves.

RE: Cafe Hayek

So a couple dim-witted "classical liberals" responded to my comment, and I responded back. Here is what I had to say. I'm sorry that it runs a little long:

"Second, in the US insurance is generally connected to employment benefits so the majority of people who are frictionally unemployed (which right now is about the only unemployment we have) likely do not have health insurance, nor do their dependants."

And that's a good thing how? Besides, that's not true -- those people are covered under Medicare. Get your facts straight. [Meant to say Medicaid, but even that isn't actually right -- Medicaid covers mostly low-income children and people with disabilities.]

"Third, a lot of those people choose not to have health insurance. THEY KNOW THE RISKS and decide that money is better in their pocket."

Indeed. But when they go the emergency room and can't pay their bill, guess what? The federal government foots the bill. Health problems cause a large number of bankruptcies. The US spends more on healthcare per capita than any other industrialized nation and yet it seems to get the least done, with 47 million uninsured. If you'd like some facts (for a change), check out these two sites. Find credible sources that contradict them -- if you can.


"I will only mention one more thing that makes this a silly statistic, in a global economy why are you only worried about the 40 million Americans?"

I'm not a complete altruist. I, like most Americans (or perhaps because of most Americans) think that we should take care of the -needs- of our own first. That's not silly. It makes economic sense. Health problems can be devastating to workers. If they aren't treated, you can kiss that worker goodbye.

"It certainly is their right to do so. But before you recommend that a later date, perhaps you should review the successes of such programs as the IMF, UNICEF, OxFam, et al."

Perhaps you can point me to your source? Your information has trickled down to you -- you believe in dogmatically, like some sort of religious nut. You don't understand economics, you just listen to those who say they understand economics (like Russel here) and take it on faith. I see it all the time.

But, yes, you do have a point. I like the microfinance idea of Muhammad Yunus (who doesn't?) and agree that large donations are often weak. There are a lot of problems with the way we do aid (especially just giving corrupt companies money). Instead we have to force accountability -- get some good (principled) Americans on the field. Pay our workers to build infrastructure and train people overseas. Similarly, handing out money can simply destroy the developing world's agricultural sector. Instead we could eliminate the subsidies on our farms and help to distribute money to the people so that they can buy their own food. There are effective ways to distribute food.

The benefits, I might add, would be enormous. With lower poverty (and a resulting stronger lower-class) we would see, I expect, less violence, ecological destruction, political corruption, and productivity (which might put more of a strain on world resources, but it would be a good thing).

"This is one of the unwritten rules of the political game. There is no way, given the realities of human nature to avoid this characteristic of politically controlled wealth distribution. The actual result of foreign aid to third world nations provide averwhelming evidence of this."

Huh? I don't see the link between your quote and your conclusion. Your quote sounds like it's saying that when wealth transfers happen, the lower-class will inevitably use it to further their political causes - but that wouldn't happen. We set the standard at the basics and no higher. If you want the good shit, you will always have to work for them. But in the modern age, when there is plenty, people (especially American citizens) should have healthcare (like the rest of the developed world) and food stamps, and shelter. We already provide these things, just not as broadly as we will inevitably have to. Besides - you claim evidence, but you don't show. Again, I fear you've accepted information which has trickled down to you as fact with dogmatic enthusiam. I'm not saying I know everything about these things, but I have my own analysis, at least -- which tells me that the world of work is going to get a lot stranger in the future, and that we could do a lot more for the world.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cafe Hayek on Income Inequality

I've taken to commenting on posts at the Cafe Hayek. Scroll down and you'll see what I wrote:

There are many disconcerting things about the income inequality. 40 million people are uninsured in the United States. 3 billion people in the world have less combined wealth than 200 people. People are starving while there is plenty of resources for all. Meanwhile, the Earth is being destroyed by unbridled, irresponsible consumerism.

The income inequality encourages inefficiency when you think of efficiency as distributing resources to people who need them and are certainly willing to work for them. Simply because these people grew up in an economy which cannot produce goods that we like doesn't mean they don't deserve to eat. We've made such vast productivity gains that laborers aren't really all that necessary. Soon the US economy is going to have to come to grips with the fact that the retail sector could be entirely phased out and replaced by managers overseeing shops, or online ordering.

Soon we're going to have to decide what to do with all these people who are actually incapable of integrating themselves into the "knowledge economy" -- with our huge advances in productivity, why can't we give them free healthcare, food stamps, and housing vouchers? Perhaps a small stipend (negative income tax credit) for other things. That leaves them with an incentive to work if they want further consumption, but still enough money to live. I'd venture to say many, many people would be happy to simply have a small house, basic food, the internet (free wireless!), and a small amount of discretionary income. And, in fact, that would be a very good thing - it would reduce the burden on the environment as we phase into a more equitable and highly populated world. The fact is that there are scarce resources, and the Earth does have a limit - we cannot support 9 billion people living like the 500 million in the developed world currently do. The market will show us that, but in order for people to live when they no longer have anything to offer, the government will inevitably have to tax the capitalists and fund these services.

There is nothing wrong with a post-materialist economy!

(What I would add is that people who are not employed are not necessarily not contributing to society. In the future people may be more and more inclined to contribute to society without being paid for it -- through community service, blogs (both word and video), research (editting Wikipedia), political campaigns, learning, art ect. Perhaps rewards could even be tied to such efforts by the government. It may be that even the media and the knowledge workers will soon be phased out as the volunteer efforts by internet users continue to forge ahead.)

Wittgenstein and ... Kierkegaard?

Am I the only one who finds it surprising that Wittgenstein, the logical genius protege of Bertrand Russell, was fascinated by Kierkegaard. Tracking back through Kierkegaard's article I found that Wittgenstein considered Kierkegaard to be "by far the most profound thinker of the last century. Kierkegaard was a saint." Not only that, but Wittgenstein allegedly said that "Kierkegaard is far too deep for me...[h]e bewilders me without working the good effects which he would in deeper souls". The article remarks "the point is that Wittgenstein acknowledges the possibility that he is unable to see something that would be more apparent to someone with greater religious sensitivity."

Is this point somewhat neglected by academic philosophy? An excerpt from a biography of him sheds more light on Wittgenstein:

Wittgenstein's penchant for active philosophizing also helps to account for the fact that he was not very well read in the history of philosophy. He once assured a student that 'no assistant lecturer in philosophy in the country had read fewer books on philosophy than he had.'10 He read a great deal of Plato, but no Aristotle at all! Most of his favorite authors were suggestive and moral, rather than rigorous and logical, in their writings; in addition to Kierkegaard, Saint Augustine, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy are often mentioned. It was Tolstoy's abridgement of the Gospels that he discovered during the First World War, and carried with him. He read George Fox with approbation. Schopenhauer's World as Will and Idea was one of his earliest philosophical readings. He read, and was excited by, William James's Varieties of Religious Experience as early as 1912. He believed that it caused a moral improvement in him.11

The paucity of Wittgenstein's philosophical reading was a [12] conscious decision ... Another reason why Wittgenstein read little philosophy was that he disdained academia-for-its-own-sake. 'Professorial philosophy by philosophy professors,' or non-genuine philosophizing, was one of Wittgenstein's greatest dislikes.12 He often tried to discourage his best students from becoming professors. Several of them report that he seems to have been afraid they would cheat their students - and themselves - by offering a course in philosophy. (He seemed to believe that no one could deliver what 'philosophy' promises.13) He suggested that instead they should do useful work. This fits, not only with his remarks on 'philosophy' in general, but with his expressions of his own inadequacy as a teacher. He was sure that his teaching had done more harm than good to his students. He twice left the academic scene because he felt he had nothing more to contribute, and there is evidence that he had considered leaving more often.

It seems that academic philosophy often forgets the primary purpose of philosophy: to guide one's thoughts, decisions, and actions. Metaphysics, epistemology, and logic are simply tools toward discovering how best to act in the real world.

The math of procrastination

One procrastinating professor released this study on procrastination the other day. The results from the man who may be the world's foremost procrastination scholar are surprising. Here are some of his results:

Most self-help books have it completely wrong when they say perfectionism is at the root of procrastination

Procrastination can be explained by a single mathematical equation. (is this man sure he's a pyschologist and not an economist?)

"Essentially, procrastinators have less confidence in themselves, less expectancy that they can actually complete a task," Steel says. "Perfectionism is not the culprit. In fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less, but they worry about it more."

It's estimated that about 15-20 per cent of the general population are procrastinators. And the costs of procrastinating can add up well beyond poor work performance, especially for those who delay filing their taxes or planning their retirement.

The good news is that willpower has an unusual capacity. "The old saying is true: 'Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you're probably right'," Steel says. "And as you get better at self control, your expectancy about whether you can resist goes up and thus improves your ability to resist."

Might be better if you just read the article. It's interesting - but I think it couldn't be further than the truth. It seems like the off the cuff analysis of a bad psychologist. People procrastinate because they're not confident they can do a great job - is that not perfectionism? (I know that the drive behind my procrastination appears to be, in fact, perfectionism and general anxiety.) Whenever I actually do something, I do well 90% of the time. Yet that doesn't stop me from procrastinating. I'll even procrastinate on simple, mundane tasks - why? (I feel that it is because of fear and in part laziness.)

And, at a guess, I'd say much more than 15-20% of the population is a procrastinator - it's simply a matter of degree. I know that 90% of the men I go to school with are procrastinators - they wait until the last minute (the night before) to do assignments, papers, and study for tests. Why doesn't he mention the higher incidence among men?

Steel has also come up with the E=MC2 of procrastination, a formula he's dubbed Temporal Motivational Theory, which takes into account factors such as the expectancy a person has of succeeding with a given task (E), the value of completing the task (V), the desirability of the task (Utility), its immediacy or availability (Ã) and the person's sensitivity to delay (D).

It looks like this and uses the Greek letter Ã: Utility = E x V/ÃD

Then there's this idea that procrastination can be shown perfectly with his simplistic mathematical model. Such models are always flawed, usually extremely flawed. It looks as if half the variables there aren't truly relevant. Looking at life from his perspective, we walk around choosing actions based on their utility. I continue to play my video game, according to him, because it's easy (100% E), it's relatively valuable (V), it's immediate (A), and I have a low sensitivity to delay (?). Contrast that to paper-writing, which has a slightly lower probability of success (90%), a relatively MUCH HIGHER value, and a slightly higher immediacy (I must open Word). Sensitivity to delay would seem to be an individual constant - would it be spread universally

It would have been so easy for him to try and examine the differences between men and women that cause men to procrastinate more, to do an empirical study of the brain, but no...apparently the expected value of such a decision was too low.

It's too bad the man couldn't wrap his head around the idea that habits persist, either, and incorporate that into his math.

By the way, I have a statistics class in 7 hours as well as a problem set due, and I haven't devoted much time to either of them. That's procrastination. It seems I no longer sleep at night (I procrastinate at that as well.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nietzsche on Kant

He was proud of having discovered a new faculty in man -- the faculty of making synthetic a priori judgments ... It is the ambition and rivalry of all the younger philosophers to discover "new faculties"! ... How are synthetic a priori judgements possible, Kant asked himself. And what was actually his answer? By virtue of virtue -- but unfortunately not in five words but so complicatedly, respectably, with such a show of German profundity and sinuosity, that one failed to hear the funny German simple-mindedness inherent in such an answer.

Beyond Good and Evil, trans. by Marianne Cowan, section 11. (I have no idea how to cite this.)

Unfortunately I haven't read enough Kant (I've only read the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals), but Nietzsche's criticism does strike me as true.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Nietzsche on Philosophers

Going through Beyond Good and Evil again. It's hard to pick out a quote from Nietzsche, because all his statements are powerful, but here's one in the first few pages:

What tempts us to look at all philosophers half suspiciously and half mockingly is not so much that we recognize again and again how innocent they are, how often and how easily they make mistakes and lose their way, in short their childishness and childlike-ness -- but rather that they are not sufficiently candid, though they make a great virtuous noisy to-do as soon as the problem of truthfulness is even remotely touched upon. Every one of them pretends that he has discovered his opinions through the self-development of cold, pure, divinely untroubled dialectic (in distinction to the mystics of every rank who, more honest and fatuous, talk about "inspiration"), whereas, at bottom, a pre-conceived dogma, a notion, an "institution," or mostly a heart's desire, made abstract and refined, is defended by them with arguments sought after the fact.

It is in some ways an ad hominem attack - but it's true. And the actual argument, that philosophers defend arguments "sought after the fact", is not an ad hominem attack. It may be more similar to a genetic fallacy.


Gradually I have come to realize what every great philosophy up to now has been: the personal confession of its originator...