It takes a lot for a seasoned partisan pro like Dennis to react like this. It means he’s not ‘in the tent’ and that’s not much fun, especially if you still work for these guys on a freelance basis – though Dennis has plenty of other clients for his writing business. In any event, I published his last Cri de Coeur here recently, and here’s the next one: NG
How do we explain the catastrophe now overtaking the Labor Party? Has there ever been an organisation so conscious of the foolishness of its behaviour but so unable to prevent itself from plunging to destruction?
We all watch on, horrified but transfixed, waiting for the next blood-soaked scene to be played out on News24 or Sky News. Like a great stage play, it’s utterly mesmerising – even more so, knowing that the government of the country and possibly the fate of a great political party is at stake. I can’t help but be reminded of the essence of tragedy: a royal house being laid low by a previously concealed but inevitably fatal flaw. So the question is: What is that flaw? Continue reading →
George Orwell was a stickler for plain and simple English in public discourse. He argued that one could escape some of “the worst follies of orthodoxy” by simplifying one’s language.
“When you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies
sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Last week the OECD felt it was time for a bit of pure wind. It headed a media release “Structural reforms more important than ever for a strong and balanced economic recovery”. Really? Let’s invert the rhetorical body language and leave the literal meaning in tact. The OECD thinks that structural reforms have always been less important than they are today. Less important in addressing the economic ailments of the 1970s? Less important in the industrial revolution? Enough said.
I had the good fortune to see this remarkable thing recently. And I thought as I was in the Sistine Chapel something I’ve thought before and have probably pontificated about here at pontification central. (Checking I find this post for instance). Why are there not more facsimiles in the world. Lots of things can be made as well a second time as the first. Now a facsimile Sistine Chapel would not be the same as the real thing, but with some careful attention one ought to be able to produce something that is pretty similar to the real experience of being inside it and looking around. It’s not that large.
Anyway, the real inspiration for pecking this post out is this link which my friend (and occasional Troppodillian) Tony Harris sent me. As a choir sings in the background you can ‘tour’ the glories of the Sistine Chapel’s frescoes, zoom in and around them. There are some advantages over being there in the flesh, namely that you can really look closely at the work. Anyway, load it up and have a look and a listen and gorge yourself on its magnificence. I’ve just been doing it and reading a few of his poems. I’ll put one below the fold for you – translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Continue reading →
I couldn’t resist buying a copy of Daniel Kahneman’s best-seller when returning from holidays. Several friends and colleagues told me it was a great book; it got great reviews; and Kahneman’s journal articles are invariably a good read, so I was curious.
Its general message is simple and intuitively appealing: Kahneman argues that people use two distinct systems to make decisions, a fast one and a slow one. System 1, the fast one, is intuitive and essentially consists of heuristics, such as when we without much thought finish the nursery rhyme ‘Mary had a little…’. The answer ‘lamb’ is what occurs to us from our associative memory. The heuristic to follow that impulse gives the right answer in most cases but can be lead astray by phrases like ‘Ork, ork, ork, soup is eaten with a …’. Less innocuous examples of these heuristics and how they can lead to sub-optimal outcomes are to distrust the unfamiliar, to remember mainly the most intense and the last aspect of an experience (the ‘peak-end rule’), to value something more after possessing it than before possessing it (the ‘endowment effect’) and to judge the probability of an event by how easily examples can come to mind.
System 2, the slow way to make decisions, is more deliberative and involves an individual understanding a situation, involving many different experiences and outside data. System 2 is what many economists would call ‘rational’ whilst System 1 is ‘not so rational’, though Kahneman wants his cake and eat it by saying that System 1 challenges the universality of the rational economic agent model whilst nevertheless not wanting to say that the rational model is wrong. ‘Sort of wrong sometimes’ seems to be his final verdict.
Let me below explore two issues that I have not seen in the reviews of this book. The first is on whether or not his main dichotomy is going to be taken up by economics or social science in the longer-run. The second, related point, is where I think this kind of ‘rationality or not’ debate is leading to. Both issues involve a more careful look at whether the distinction between System 1 and 2 really is all that valid and thus the question of what Kahneman ultimately has achieved, which in turn will center on the usefulness of the rational economic man paradigm.
The 21st was supposed to be the age of flying cars, teleporters and affordable space travel, says David Graeber. But now here we are in the future still arguing about overcrowded trains and the price of petrol. David Graeber feels cheated:
Where … are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now?
In an essay for the Baffler, Graeber, a radical anti-capitalist anthropologist, argues technological progress has slowed to a crawl. "Those who grew up at the turn of the century reading Jules Verne or H.G. Wells imagined the world of, say, 1960 with flying machines, rocket ships, submarines, radio, and television", says Graeber, "and that was pretty much what they got." But most of the technology imagined by sci-fi writers in the 50s, 60s and 70s has failed to eventuate.