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Everything posted by eriatarka

  1. What about keeping up interest payments on the existing national debt (around $400 billion a year)? Defaulting on it is possible but it would pretty much ruin the economy. You have to decide whether youre just making up blueprints for some theoretical utopian society, or talking about the actual US today. If America was going to move towards a minarchist political system then the existing national debt would be a fairly serious problem and its not clear what could be done about it without causing a disasterous global recession.
  2. Structually simple yes. Theres obviously an extremely high amount of 'local' complexity due to the counterpoint but it doesnt have the complex large-scale forms that you find in (eg) Mahler or even Beethoven. Its not so much relativism as it is realising that different types of music need to be judged by different standards. Comparing Bach to (eg) Scarlatti is one thing, but comparing him to Wagner or Philip Glass makes little sense since they are making completely different types of music.
  3. It's not clear what rating the composers 'objectively' means here, and I think youre using a standard of value which is inherently biased towards Bach. Theres no question that Bach was a more technically gifted composer than Rachmaninov, and possibly the most gifted ever. However its not clear that technically brilliant music is inherently better than more simple music. Rachmaninov was a Romantic and the purpose of Romantic music was generally expression and the communication of emotion/inner states. Therefore by a Romantic standard, the 'best' composer is the one who's work communicates the greatest depth of feeling, not the composer who's work is the most groundbreaking on a technical level. Much late-Romantic music (I'm thinking of Wagner/Mahler/Bruckner) would have been viewed as crass, over-the-top egofests by the standards of Bach's time, so comparing the two eras is difficult. Both Bach and Rachmaninov were trying to achieve very different things with their art, and their music has very different forms as a result - who you prefer is going to be biased by whether you prefer structually simple, emotionally understated, subtle, technical music, or large, sprawling, frenzies of emotional expression. If most people find that Rachnaninov's music communicates emotional and spritual depths than Bach's, then Rachmaninov was a 'better' composer by Romantic standards.
  4. The radicalness of Marx often gets underestimated - he didnt support really the sort of things which Obama is proposing. Obama's position is fairly straightforward social democracy, as implemented in pretty much every Western country. It has little to do with socialism/communism/Marx, all of whcih involve a radical transformation of society rather than just raising tax by another few percent and having a couple more social programs. Remember that Obama is still to the right economically of every European country including the UK, and none of them could reasonably be described socialist under its proper definition. Also Marxists tend to be ambivalent towards the welfare state rather than enthusiastic supporters, since they often see it as propping up a fundamentally broken system (a fairly standard Marxian analysis of the 20th century is that programs like the New Deal and various welfare states in other countries were necessary to prevent the working classes revolting against the capitalist system and bringing it down entirely). Obama wants a largely market-based economy with a social welfare net, which has little in common with what socialists/communists are after. Obama's America will still have a lot more in common with an idealist Objectivist society that it will have with either Soviet Russia or a theoretical anarchist/communist state. Its not too important, but he graduated magna cum laude, I'd disagree with this - first, there isnt a direct connection between intelligence and being a good public speaker (although with Obama's legal background I'd expect him to be quick on his feet in debates), and secondly Im not sure I agree with your assessment. I havent watched Obama speak many times, but on the few occasions that I have, I've thought that he comes across as fairly intelligent (for a politician) - he handled the Joe the Plumber incident well, and made his point with more clarity than I'd expect from people like Bush/McCain (its not a case of whether you agree with his position, its how lucidly he managed to present it). I find his pre-written speeches genuinelly painful to listen to due to all the banality and cliches that he uses, but again I think that's more of a reflection of the political system as a whole, and the audience he's addressing, that it is of him personally. The only politicians who are interesting to listen to are those who have no chance of being elected and so are free to say whatever they like rather than pandering to populism (Ron Paul for example), but I dont think this makes them any more intelligent than Obama.
  5. What caused the first child to be a better block builder than the second? Was he just genetically more intelligent, or was his increased creativity a result of his upbringing and social conditions? What about the child who was building a tower and then had his blocks taken away because his parents needed to sell them to buy food? Obviously children who are more talented (for whatever reason) shouldnt be handicapped to help those who are less talented, but I think that stories like this have the effect of portraying intelligence/creativity as something which is innate (or chosen/willed) rather than as something which is strongly influenced by upbringing. The children of wealthy parents are more likely to have their intellectual curiosity encouraged from an early age, and have access to more resources, which is going to have an effect on creativity and academic performance. It's not enough to just notice that some people are more talented than others, you need to look at where this talent comes from. I do think that a lot of modern educational philosophy is horribly misguided and does tend to have the effect of stifling more gifted children, but its not clear what the 'best' educational system would be. Parental income is one of the strongest predictors of academic performance, so a system which is geared towards trying to identify the brightest children and give them special attention is flawed because it results in potentially intelligent children being passed over because they havent yet been shown how to use their intellectual tools. Education is a really difficult problem imo - ideally you want the most talented children to be continually encouraged to excel, but in a way which doesnt involve segretating them from children who havent developed their potential yet, and I'm not sure what that would look like in practice. I like the Montessori idea of refusing to segregate based on age though - a classroom which tries to eliminate competition between children and focuses on developing an environment where everyone can learn at their own pace seems like a fundamentally good idea. Along these lines, I think the way the first child ignores the second in your example is quite interesting - it seems like he has already formed negative attitudes about others, maybe because he is used to an education system which regularly holds back the talented children back to help the less talented. So perhaps if he had been raised in a more healthy educational environment where his own development wasnt being continually sacrificed to help others, he would have a more benevolent attitude towards the other child. Teaching others about something is often the best way of improving your own understanding of it, and I think that most children enjoy showing-off what they know. Its not really healthy to be hostile to people just because theyre less talented, and I think this hostility is mainly the creation of a broken education system which pits children against each other rather than trying to encourage mutual learning.
  6. Obama's public persona isnt remotely Marxist and anyone who thinks it is has a superficial understanding of Marx and probably hasnt read more than the Communist Manifesto (if even that). Regarding Obama's intelligence, you cant really judge him on his public persona because his speeches exist in a political climate which is geared towards soundbites and anti-intellectualism. No mainstream American politician is going to come across as being intelligent, because intelligence isnt a value which is currently respected in mainstream American politics. I remember reading some accounts of Obama written by his former students though, and they pretty much all agreed that he came across as extremely intelligent while working in academia, and they felt that his political speeches were very dumbed down (which is to be expected).
  7. Criticizing a set of awards because they often go to people of a different political persuasion than yourself is about as ideological as it gets. Awards in semi-scientific fields like economics are always going to be more influenced by bias than those in pure sciences like physics where it's easier to evaluate theories in a value-free way, but the 'liberal conspiracy' accusations are rooted in far deeper bias than anything the Nobel committee has ever had. It's counter-intuitive but the fact it's went unrefuted for decades is decent evidence that it's correct. Noone has managed to conclusively demonstrate non-trivial inefficiencies in developed markets which dont require access to information which isnt available to the general public (eg insider information, access to expensive data-sets which only large-capital hedgefunds can afford, complex trading algorithms which allow funds to act before information is widely disseminated, etc [and none of these things are inconsistent with the EMH]) If you can establish this claim then you'll be in the running for a Nobel prize yourself. LTCM's collapse is down to over-confidence and bad luck (Russia defaulting). Why do you think that the EMH was involved?
  8. what The Nobel peace prize (which Gore won) has nothing to do with any of the academic prizes and using it to discredit the awards as a whole is ridiculous. The efficient market hypothesis is not 'stupid', is largely correct, and had nothing to do with the collapse of LTCM Black-Scholes still has a central place in quantitative finance, and modern portfolio theory is still largely based around models like CAPM which assume efficiency.
  9. This may be heresy but I prefer Shostakovich's first book of preludes and fugues to anything Ive heard by Bach, and to me it carries more emotional range. (these are pretty horrible performances though, Keith Jarrett's interpretation is exceptional and the one I'd recommend. Why are so many composers so bad at performing/interpretating their own work? I'd say the same about Rachmaninov too!).
  10. Its just an applied ethics class as opposed to meta ethics
  11. How so? Ignore the Ayn Rand books and the Reader's list is hardly great - it overrates pop fiction (sci-fi, LoTR, etc) whereas the board's list is more concerned with artistic merit (Lolita, Portrait of an Artist, and so on). I'm not a huge fan of either list (it ignores pretty much all European literature) but if I had to be stuck on a desert island with all the books from one then it would be the board's. They arent that different though, once you remove the sci-fi nerdery. edit: both the non-fiction lists are weird and read like anything with academic merit in its field has been deliberately excluded. I thought at first that the board had taken a decision to leave out works of philosophy/sociology/science and keep it to non-specialist works which are accessible to everyone, but then I noticed they have Keynes' economic treatise and Russell's Principia while ignoring Wittgenstein/Freud/Kuhn/Nietzsche/etc. Very odd list. The reader's one is still worse though, it looks like it was voted on exclusively by readers of free republic.
  12. Just back up your important documents and reformat your computer...
  13. She's wrong about several things, particularly the part about 'sociological studies showing that group consensus is better than individual opinion'. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiral_of_silence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_polarization http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink
  14. John told me that we'd be best buddies for life but now he has a new girlfriend and doesnt have time to see me very often, what moral recourse do I have against him for violating the implicit contract of our friendship?
  15. Isnt the Clarion Fund a branch of an Orthodox Jewish organization with strong ties to Israel? It hardly seems the most unbiased source of information on Islam or the Arab world.
  16. Well I doubt that most juries are going to give you a long sentence for stealing medicine to save a dying family member; youd probably get a couple of years in prison max and maybe not even that much if it was your first offence. But the deeper problem is that the same logic could be used to argue that its 'wrong' to break laws even if those laws are immoral. For example, suppose you lived in a non-free country where it was illegal to buy drug X, yet that drug was necessary to save the life of a family member. You find someone willing to sell you it, but you know that buying it will cause you to incur a long jail sentence if youre caught. Would you say that buying the drug is immoral, purely because the risk of jail is so great? If not, then I dont think you can argue that its wrong to steal on the grounds that you risk a prison sentence. Realistically, what happens (in both the stealing example, and the non-free country example) is that the person has to weigh up the benefits of saving the life of a family member against the risk of being caught and going to jail. But this has nothing at all to do with the morality of stealing - the theft is just as 'justified' as buying the illegal drug and the situations are basically identical from the point of view of the person who needs the drug. Well I'm not sure I agree with that but it doesnt matter because youre not sacrificing your life, youre risking it. Are you saying that its always irrational for a person to risk their life to save someone that they loved?
  17. The sense of moral righteousness that you'd get from just letting your wife die because you didnt want to steal something isnt going to keep you warm when youre alone in bed at night, nor will it prevent you from feeling any worse when you think about what youve lost and how you could have prevented it, so the argument that its 'in your best interest' to do so sounds like rationalization. I'd say beyond any shadow of a doubt that the person who relaxed his moral code to save the life of someone he loved is going to be a lot happier afterwards than the person who didnt. If you want to argue that 'not stealing' should have priority over personal happiness thats one thing, but to claim in this case that 'not stealing' would increase happiness is just wrong.
  18. I wanted to dislike this because it seemed so gimmicky but I have to admit thats awesome. The curves of the figure are really visually appealing (and would be so even if the medium was marble), and the all-blue colour is very striking. I like it a lot.
  19. (Theres a huge risk of confusion here because the modern scientific use of the term altruism isnt the same as what Objectivists mean by it, so I'm going to use the term 'beneveolence' instead, by which I mean a sense of concern and love towards others that doesnt involve self-sacrifice) I'm not convinced that reductionist explainations are the best way of approaching these questions in humans. In many cases, benevolence is an expression of self-love and world-openness - when a person is in an extremely good mood and happy with his life, he'll often express this in terms of a positive attitude towards others and be more willing to do nice things for them. Speaking very generally, a happy man tries to make others happy while a man consumed with bitterness generally acts in a spiteful way. When youre in the right mood, helping others can make you feel even better - the warm feeling you get and so on. So from the point of view of psychology there isnt really any further explanation needed - people act benevolently because it makes them feel good, and gives them a 'warm feeling'. So I think the question youre asking is not 'why do people today act benevolently?' but more 'why does helping others make people feel good?' - ie what is the biological origin of this warm feeling? And while hardcore adaptionists would insist that it needs to have an evolutionary explanation, this is an expression of an a priori methodological committment rather than something that theres any real evidence for. Not all psychological traits can (or need to be) explained by adaptionism - they may well just be emergent features of consciousness which emerged once sufficient complexity had evolved. The problem is that studies of 'altruism' in animals dont really help to explain acts of beneveolence in humans because human beneveolence is a far more complex trait which looks qualitatively different. Firstly, human beneveolence is a cultural trait which is hugely affected by a person's philosophy and belief system - the kind of beneveolence you get in an average person today has little in common with the 'beneveolence' that a Mongol felt. Our notions of human rights, universal love, and so on arent things which exist in humans innately - they took thousands of years of cultural evolution to emerge. Secondly, human beneveolence is often motivated by the concern that a person has towards humanity considered as a universal rather than towards a particular human viewed as a particular. The idea that all people, purely by virtue of being human, have inviolate rights to (eg) life/liberty/etc is an extremely high level notion which depends on a level of conceptual and philosophical reasoning that has no parallel in animals. An animal isnt able to abstract away from the particular members of his species that he encounters in order to form a general concept, which can then be used as a basis for moral judgements and action. Animals arent able to view their species historically or universally, nor can they justify their acts of 'altruism' by arguments about what is best for their species as a whole, nor can they understand the links between history and morality, and so on. An animal may feel an innate sense of 'benevolence' towards members of its species but this could never be justified or argued for in the way that human morality can, nor could an animal be persuaded about the merits of some particular moral framework.
  20. Thats awesome, congrats. Got before/after pics? Or arent you comfy posting them yet.
  21. I dont think its right to look for any particular character as being the main antagonist - the real enemy is the shapeless black beast that Stephen Mallory described in the Fountainhead, which stands for a whole bundle of interrelated cultural attitudes/institutations involving conformity, irrationality, selflessness, and bureaucracy. The 'bad' characters in Atlas Shrugged do portray different aspects of that beast, but the beast itself is something that permeates all of society to some degree rather than being any particular person. Thats why I think that the 'bad guys' in AS were much better handled than the character of Toohey in the Fountainhead, who came across as some kind of cartoonish supervillian and imo deflected attention from the main point. I think more evil is committed by the sort of people in AS than is carried out deliberately by evil geniuses. The beauty of AS is that there doesnt need to be some kind of criminal mastermind behind the scenes orchestrating everything; the results develop quite naturally out of organic social processes once the corrupt ideological framework is in place. It seems like a much more realistic picture of social history than the one in the Fountainhead.
  22. Replace 'wearing a red ribbon' with 'having white skin' and its hardly much different to the social situation during the founding of the united states. Mass ostracisation by private individuals within a 'free' society can be a serious problem; look at America before the civil rights movement in the 60s for example, where large numbers of businesses either refused to serve people with black skin or segregated them from white customers.
  23. Its not scepticism towards induction, its a study of how rational decision-making changes when you introduce a high penalty for being wrong. In day-to-day life relying on inductive judgement is fine because even though theres always a possibility that youre wrong, this possibility is normally quite small and the costs for being incorret arent too high. If I'm a scientist studying swans and every swan I've ever seen is white then its logical for me to hypothesize that all swans are white - yeah, its possible that one day a black swan will turn up and disprove my theory but who cares? Scientific theories exist to be revised and theres nothing bad about saying "ok I was wrong" and updating the theory. However in finance things are slightly difference because even if the possibility of being wrong is extremely small, the cost that you incur if your model is incorrect can be astronomical. If I'm a hedge fund using a statistical model which is 'wrong' yet works 99.9999% of the time then I cant just ignore the 0.0001% chance of the model failing because if it does I might lose everything I have. So a proper risk management strategy needs to be robust against the possibility that the model I'm using is fundamentally wrong, purely because the costs that I can incur if this is the case are so high. Decision making isnt just about maximising the probability of being right, its about balancing risks, and sometimes the decision which is optimal if youre only concerned about being right becomes suboptimal once you start factoring in the relative costs that you incur if a mistake is made. Theres no point being right 99% of the time if the benefits from being right are outweighed by the loss you suffer during the 1% of the time your predictions are incorrect. His other key point is that its very difficult to get an accurate estimate of the costs/probability of being wrong, since calculating these will generally presuppose some kind of model and this itself may be incorrect. So standard risk management strategies will often underestimate the likelihood/costs of mistakes (Goldman Sachs classic statement that their losses during the subprime crisis "were a 25 sigma event" and so on) because its difficult for a model to predict the consequences of its own failure without making assumptions that are hard to justify. Any attempt to model abnormal conditions is subject to scepticism. As for the book, I think most of the points he makes are correct (some to the point of being trivial), but his smug tone really annoys me. Theres not much in the book which isnt obvious to a practicising statistician but he continually has the attitude that he is the only person that understands the things under discussion while the scientific community is labouring under misconceptions. The correct conclusion to draw isnt that statisticians dont understand the logic of decision making, it's that the pressures of working in a some environments (eg financial) often causes people to ignore their better judgement for the pupose of making short-term gains. So I'd say that the book is more a study of greed than anything else.
  24. Ive always lived in a big city and while I'm pretty adapted and would choose city-life over rural, theres a lot of problems with them (which to be fair may not be intrinsic to cities, and probably have more to do with modern Western 9-5 lifestyles). In particular, the dehumanizing effects of navigating the city in rush-hour (especially on public transport which is the only feasible way to get around anyway), and the isolation and total lack of any local community spirit that comes from not knowing your neighbours. In general I think that cities are better from the standpoint of economic prosperity and increased access to consumer goods, job opportunities, nightlife, and (non-rural) leisure activities, but the trade-off is the risk of objectification/dehumanization. But again, I think its important to distinguish the things which are intrinsic to cities from the things which are specific to modern life and are changable.
  25. personally I was referring to extreme things such as serious injury/death for sexual pleasure - lighter BDSM can be fun and I dont think its indicative of illness or anything like that.
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