Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Left, Right, and how they see each other

(originally from a comment on this metafilter thread)

... I believe it is possible for some people on the right to genuinely believe their way is better for everyone in the long run (rather than just being self-interested etc, which is the usual way the left views the right), and such a hypothetical honest good-intentioned right-winger would argue thus:

"The left wing aim of redistributing wealth to help people in need is well intentioned, and I would allow some of that for the most needy cases. In general though, such hand-outs engender dependency and yes, lets admit it, possibly lazyness and lack of motivation in some cases. Also redistribution by the state is always inefficient and clumsy and slow. Its better for most people to have to fend for themselves to a large degree (excepting some extreme cases) and a country of people standing up for themselves will be dynamic and productive. Redistribution if left unchecked would grow to cover more and more cases and dampen the whole economy and although it would hurt the rich first, it would eventually hurt everybody. Thus (in corb's wording) voting for the left eventually fucks everybody"

I don't agree with that position, but I do admit the possibility that some people honestly think like that, and that they honestly believe their way is for the ultimate good of everybody.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

160 chars: LHC for Ideas

"We are the first generation to have the information equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider for ideas."

Sunday, 29 July 2012


I was pretty olymposkeptic (see my mefi comment history) but I was looking forward to the ceremony because I like Danny Boyle and because all the #savethesecret people said it was good.

I really liked the ceremony - presenting the Industrial Revolution as both something epic and something terrible. Having a whole section for the NHS, and the 'Frankie and June Say Thanks Tim' social-media bit devoted to Tim Berners-Lee* was brilliant. I totally lost it when the panning-back camera revealed Rowan Atkinson on keyboards.

The naff bits (reading the oath of 'olympism', speeches etc) were the bits that the IOC mandate as _having_ to be in the ceremony.

The parade of nations was great (imagine how much more amazing those parades would have been 30 years ago when people travelled/internetted less). And the torch was great.

In the end I was left thinking - "That was a beautiful spectacle, ending with a lovely tribute to world togetherness etc. Shame its all about sport rather than something I'm actually interested in" ... as in, to me, it seemed _too_ epic to just be about a running and jumping competition. Why don't we have ceremonies like this to celebrate other things, like science, or literature, or just the fact the we exist at all? (I suppose the millenium celebrations were celebrating that, which is why they were great)

And that line of thinking - 'why such a large tribute to sport instead of something really important?' led me to "get" sport for the first time. I get it now. Humans like to play games. Sport is just play. But play boosted and codified and regulated for the world stage. We, as a species, like to play, and when we play big it ends up looking like the olympics.

So I guess I'm a bit of a convert now. Still dont like all the sponsorship nonsense, but at least they kept that out of the ceremony.

* Tim Berners-Lee appeared with his original NeXTcube and sent this tweet just before he appeared

(originally a comment on this metafilter thread)

Monday, 25 June 2012

160 chars: Leaders

Theory: Leaders that are imprisoned before they get into power are better than leaders that are imprisoned after they get into power?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

160 chars: Unity

Is there any point in Unity if it's not in opposition to something?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Looking for the Magic Answer

From Looking for the Magic Answer, interview with Noam Chomsky, 17 years ago:
The question that comes up over and over again, and I don't really have an answer still -- really, I don't know any other people who have answers to them -- is, "It's terrible, awful, getting worse. What do we do? Tell me the answer." The trouble is, there has not in history ever been any answer other than, "Get to work on it."

There are a thousand different ways to get to work on it. For one thing, there's no "it." There's lots of different things. You can think of long-term goals and visions you have in mind, but even if that's what you're focused on, you're going to have to take steps towards them. The steps can be in all kinds of directions, from caring about starving children in Central America or Africa, to working on the rights of working people here, to worrying about the fact that the environment's in serious danger. There's no one thing that's the right thing to do. It depends on what your interests are and what's going on and what the problems are, and so on. And you have to deal with them. There's very little that anybody can do about these things alone. Occasionally somebody can, but it's marginal. Mainly you work with other people to try to develop ideas and learn more about it and figure out appropriate tactics for the situation in question and deal with them and try to develop more support. That's the way everything happens, whether it's small changes or huge changes.

If there is a magic answer, I don't know it. But it sounds to me as if the tone of the questions and part of the disparity between listening and acting suggests -- I'm sure this is unfair -- "Tell me something that's going to work pretty soon or else I'm not going to bother, because I've got other things to do." Nothing is going to work pretty soon, at least if it's worth doing, nor has that ever been the case.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Inside Job

Finally saw Inside Job the other day, and it did pretty well in explaining what seemed to have happened. I felt that more could have been put at the door of the ratings agencies - private companies whose function is written into law, lets not forget. For example look at the graph in this Reuters blog post by Felix Salmon - is shows the world issue of AAA bonds since the 1990s. They went from non-existent to being about half of all issued bonds by 2006. As Felix says:
That’s possibly the most horrifying bit of all: it simply defies credulity for anybody to be asked to believe that more than half the bonds issued in any given year are essentially free of any credit risk.
An article in today's Guardian about the Black-Scholes equation is also pretty interesting. Ian Stewart (Professor of Maths at Warwick) points out that the financial industry has repeatedly used equations beyond their stated limits and then got us all into a mess. His paragraph at the end caught my eye:
Despite its supposed expertise, the financial sector performs no better than random guesswork. The stock market has spent 20 years going nowhere. The system is too complex to be run on error-strewn hunches and gut feelings, but current mathematical models don't represent reality adequately. The entire system is poorly understood and dangerously unstable.
This ties into my earlier blue-screen metaphor for the crash, but also his statements that the stock market has spent 20 years going nowhere gave me a jolt. Having grown up in the 80s I guess I'd internalised the conventional wisdom that over the longer term the stock market is always a good bet. But if you look at the recent era, the era of super fast transactions and derivatives, it certainly no longer seems to be the case. Since the mid 90's the FTSE 100 has just been bouncing from about 3500 to about 6500 and back again. If you look for an inflation adjusted FTSE 100 it looks even bleaker. But in the meantime, the trend has been for people to base more and more of their savings and mortgages on stock-market products. Hmmmm.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Edge is a Conversation?

Something about Edge bothers me - it bills itself as a 'Conversation' and supposedly its all about getting smart people to talk to each other. According to the Guardian, its the "world's smartest website" and its partially based on the ideas of James Lee Byars - "gather the 100 most brilliant minds in the world in a room, lock them in and have them ask one another the questions they'd been asking themselves"

So it makes it sound like its based on dialogue ... That would indeed be a fantastic site. Socrates showed us how to arrive at the truth through dialogue. And as Wittgenstein said "A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring".

But the reality of Edge seems to be occasional open questions, with long essays for answers, and none of the thinkers ever being challenged on what they said or entering into a dialogue with any of the others.

If they really want to advance knowledge, it should be a forum, where maybe only certain people are allowed to post, but everyone is allowed to read. Then we'd get some really interesting discussions.

They are missing this obvious direction (allowing dialogue) in such a huge way that it must be a deliberate ommission. In its current form, Edge seems more optimised towards selling books than advancing knowledge.

(Originally a comment on this metafilter thread)