Friday, May 23, 2008

Self-paternalism on the web
Tom Smith

Now you can publicly bet yourself on your self-improvement goals, on a new website started by a Yale econ professor.  Many of the goals seem fitness oriented.

I actually had this idea a while back.  Really.  So probably did a number of other people.  The old joke:  A professor writes at the end of a student paper:  "There is much in this paper that is good and original.  Unfortunately, that which is good is not original, and that which is original, is not good."  If you have a good idea, somebody else has had it.  But the Yale econ professor actually did something about it.  No slacker he.

Co-founder Dean Karlan is indeed a leading light of behavioral and experimental economics, and is probably younger and in better shape than you are, if you are sitting around reading blogs.  Go out and run a few miles and then get to work on that paper.  Right now!  As an example of the sort of pettiness to which the vice of envy leads one, I will just note he has even less hair on his head than I do.  Though to his credit, he has done much more for poor people than I have.

Self-paternalism is rather interesting.  I don't think it is in the least paradoxical, however.  Puzzling about it goes back at least to Aristotle and his ruminations about weakness of the will, for which there is a Greek word.  I really must look that up sometime.  I think you have to be as rational, disciplined and intellectual as an ancient Greek philosopher to think it (i.e., either self-paternalism or its target, weakness of the will) is at all paradoxical.  For example, I know that I would be better off if I were reading exams right now, but instead I am writing this.  Then I am going to go and get a quad latte.  Then I am going to work on exams. I don't see any paradox.

Ah, it's akrasia, often translated as "incontinence," which I do not like the sound of, though I suppose it is related to coffee (sorry couldn't resist).

May 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Farm bill f#@k-up
Tom Smith

You've got to love it when Congress screws up perhaps the largest pork bill of all time in a messy, little Constitutional knot.  If this delays the bill by even a few days, it will save the American people some money.

Among its many faults, it is hard to make fun of a bill that increases the price of food so rich farmers can get greater subsidies.  We also need to come up with a more accurate name than farmer.  These guys would not know which end of a turnip goes in the ground.  The Joads, these guys ain't.  I really, really hate giving them money.

May 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

A Little Harry Potter Trivia
Gail Heriot

Harry_potter_gail_2 Ok, I confess.  I like the Harry Potter stories.  If you don't ... well ... I can't understand why.  I'm in Edinburgh this week, and my friend John and I strolled by the Elephant Cafe, where J.K. Rowling penned a major portion of the series.  Of course we stopped in the have a cup of coffee. 

From the back window, Rowling could see George Heriot's School, a school founded in 1628, and the children there dressed in their very proper school uniforms.  They look very much like Hary Potter and his comrades.  The building seems very 17th century.  To my delight, I have since learned from more than one source that Hogwart's was inspired in part by Heriot's (which was founded by a distant ancestor of mine).  I think that entitles me to a magic wand, don't you?  Half a wand maybe?

May 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)

Orwell and Catholicism
Maimon Schwarzschild

Here is an unusually perceptive essay about Orwell and Catholicism by Lawrence Dugan (originally published in Modern Age, June 22, 2006):

Orwell saw Catholicism as a reactionary force working against left-wing movements in the world, not as a moral force preaching a doctrine that was unique. He must have sensed, however, that something was missing from his definition of the Church, for his opinion shifted with the course of events in the middle of the last century, until finally his understanding of Catholicism must have seemed so inadequate that he stopped referring to it in his journalism...

Dugan's essay is very acute, both about George Orwell and about religious and political polemics generally, in the 20th century and today.  Dugan writes from a Catholic point of view, but notably fair-mindedly.  Read the whole thing.

May 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blog Goodness
Maimon Schwarzschild

Time on your hands?

The (London) Spectator now runs several blogs, including Stephen Pollard and Melanie Phillips, very much worth reading.  The Spectator, a centre-right weekly in England, is justly known for good, sharp writing.

But there's more.  Pollard's blog has its own Blog Roll, linking to other - mostly English - blogs, all, or almost all, good.  (Samizdata, a libertarian-tinged English blog, is especially good.)

And here's Mary Beard's blog on the Times Literary Supplement webpage.   Beard, a classicist at Cambridge, is no dupe of the American-Zionist world conspiracy: she is notorious, or ought to be, for her anti-American screed in TLS after 9/11 intimating, in fact saying, that America had it coming.  But she is often interesting, and sometimes free-thinking, for all that.

No shortage of New Media - some of it disconcertingly good.  Really, is anyone still reading dreary Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the rest of them?

May 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

I knew it!
Tom Smith

Old brains really are wiser than young brains.  Not as fast, perhaps, but, uhm, wiser.  Science says so!

May 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

This is bad
Mike Rappaport

And could be a big thing.  If suicide bombers start blowing up crowded restaurants in England, that will dramatically change the world.  It would be part of the Israelization of the West.  The Islamic Jihadists engage in tactics in Israel and then transfer them to the rest of the West some years later.

May 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

American Idol
Mike Rappaport

This is my first American Idol post.  I started watching the show last season, and am now a big fan.  Unlike many people who feel embarrassed about watching popular TV, I actually feel a little embarrassed about not watching it.  So I was glad to be part of the extravaganza that is the finale of American Idol.

On Tuesday, the judges seemed to endorse David Archuleta, and I felt that they really were a bit over the top, trying to give it to him.  Then, tonight, just before the final announcement, Simon -- who I really do like quite a bit -- apologizes for having pushed too hard for Archuleta.  I am listening to this, and saying, "you gotta be kidding.  I have never heard him admit error before.  What's up?"  And then, of course, they announced that David Cook had won.   

It occurred to me that Simon had given that apology because he knew that Cook had won and wanted to redeem himself with the public and the new American Idol.  (Of course, Simon knew.  Even Ann Althouse knew.)  The public had voted for Cook by 56-44, and had basically rejected Simon -- a rare event.  So Simon needed to make amends.  While it might have been nice for him to apologize, this suggests his apology was insincere -- which makes that apology, just barely better than nothing.   

Update: Simon now claims not to have known Cook had won when he made the statement.  Well, count me skeptical. 

May 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Not the Usual Political Demographic
Mike Rappaport

In my son's history class, they took a test to measure your political views.  The most liberal person in the class was a Mormon.  The most conservative was a Jew.   Obviously, not everyone fits the stereotype!

May 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spam war setback?
Tom Smith

I use gmail because i's spam filter is amazingly powerful.  Yet, in the past week to 10 days, I have noticed an unusual amount of spam slipping through.  What gives?  Have spammers made some leap in the arms race between spammer and spam filter?

May 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)