A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Desert Island Discs

The BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs features a different famous guest. The guest is asked to imagine that they will be stranded upon a desert island and must choose what they will have with them. In particular, they are asked to pick:

  • eight pieces of music
  • a book. (They receive the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare in addition to whichever book they choose).
  • One luxury item of no use for escaping the island.
I do not anticipate being invited to the program any time soon - for one thing, my life hasn't been at all interesting enough yet - but have worked out a list of what I would choose were I in this position. It is not entirely complete - several of the choices are merely a choice from two or three different pieces - and is of course subject to change, but here (in no particular order) is my rough list.

Gaol Ise Gaol I/Lisnagun Jig (The Eilidhs) or Llongau Caenarfon (trad.) 
I want at least one folksy tune, and these are both lovely songs. Gaol Ise Goal I also has the distinction of being the only piece on here that I first heard live, at IVFDF 2014 in Edinburgh, so there's a personal-interest angle on that one.

Something from West Side Story (Leonard Berstein & Stephen Sondheim). I don't know what, because there are so many incredible songs from which to choose: Something's Coming, Maria, Tonight, America, One Hand One Heart, Tonight (reprise), I Feel Pretty, Gee! Officer Krupke!, I Have a Love... For the sake of having something here, I'll choose one which came out well in the original film.

Appalachian Spring (Aaron Copland). I would expect to be allowed the entire ballet, but if I'm not then I would go specifically for the fourth section, which contains what is in my opinion the single greatest moment in all of classical music. In the video below, the suite starts at about 2:05, while the moment I love so much is at 16:05 (although to appreciate it you need to listen to the thirty seconds or so leading up to it).
Incidentally, the seventh section (an adaptation of Simple Gifts, a Quaker song known to generations of pupils of Anglican schools as Lord of the Dance) is something I detested a few years back, thinking it overwrought and pretentious. I still think that it doesn't work on its own, but now that I listen to it as the climax of a half-hour ballet rather than as an isolated piece overplayed by Classic FM, I have very much come to appreciate it.

White Blank Page (Mumford & Sons) or The Sea and the Sky or I was an Oak Tree (Jonathan Byrd)
This choice allows me to combine folksiness with modernity - twice the signalling!

Symphony no. 6 "Pastoral" (Ludwig van Beethoven) or Symphony no. 9 "From the New World" (Antonin Dvorak)
Two of my favourite long pieces of classical music. Other alternatives would have included a number of works by Elgar (Cello Concerto, Enigma Variations), Tchaikovsky (Violin Concerto, Swan Lake), and probably a whole bunch of other things.
The Pastoral Symphony is just such a happy piece, a such a joy to listen to! The New World Symphony, on the other hand, can in no way be described as happy, but has some wonderful tunes. For example, the first movement conjures for me mental images of early settlers arriving in the New World during a sea storm and looking at the villages of the Iroquois. This is completely anachronistic given that Dvorak was writing several centuries after this, but then again he was a terrible ethnomusicologist so perhaps it is what he had in mind.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel (is the Light of an Oncoming Train) (Half Man Half Biscuit)
I thought I ought perhaps to include something by a slightly out-of-date band. Both of the possible bands, HMHB and the Rolling Stones, are still active, so I just went for my favourite song by one of the two.

Varen or Wedding-Day at Troldhaugen (Edvard Grieg) or Bailero (Joseph Cantaloube)
Varen is a lovely song, while I am determined to fit Wedding-Day at Troldhaugen into my own wedding somehow. (See also). I have no idea what Bailero is about, but it is the most soothing song I have ever encountered.

Mary's Room (Claude-Michel Schoenberg & Scott Alexander)
Les Miserables has nice music, but that's not really why I'm including this. It's more because the Effective Altruism/ Less Wrong community is so fun to be part of, and this song would give me a connection to that (however tenuous). If someone did a well-produced version of Philosopher Kripke then I would be tempted to take that to fill both this slot and the West Side Story slot.

Be Thou My Vision (trad.)
I may not really believe the Bible any more, but you can't tell the story of my life without mentioning the church. This is my favourite hymn, so in it goes. An alternative would be When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.

The book would be Rationality: from AI to Zombies, which taught me how to think; the luxury item would have to be a piano.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

My thoughts on the EU

I don't lean especially either in favour of UK membership of the EU or against it, given the current political climate. In an ideal world we would withdraw from the EU, declare open borders or something not far off, and put the savings from leaving the EU into reducing the deficit. Realistically, withdrawal from the EU would lead to lower immigration into the UK, and any savings would just wasted in the same way that most government spending gets wasted.

What is (in my view) a serious issue, though, is uncertainty regarding British membership of the EU. So long as there is uncertainty over EU funding, immigration, tariffs, and all the other things which governments stick their greasy paws into, businesses will be reluctant to invest in projects which are reliant upon these uncertainties.

For that reason, my opinion regarding an EU referendum is "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly." Pushing a referendum back to 2018 might change the result, but it also creates two or three years of uncertainty which the markets will hate. If there is going to be an election, it should be held either in October 2015 or in May 2016.

It should be made clear that I see this as the best course for the UK as a whole. My personal interests would be very well served by a referendum being pushed back to at least 2017, given that I intend to spend the next two years living in Budapest. So long as the UK is in the EU, I can just turn up there, fill in a few forms, and live there indefinitely without the Hungarian state demanding all that much money to leave me alone. If the UK leaves the EU, then I'll need to sort out a visa (expensive and fairly time-consuming).

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Woo watch

I had a bit of a further look into this. The paper itself is for the most part rather dull - the highlight comes as early as the first page:
I now want to have a look at this paper in which the author apparently shows Marxist economics to be on sounder foundations than neoclassical economics!

The author herself is a bit of a character. She seems to almost be a parody of the stereotypical far-left political activist. Quoting from her profile at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she is a professor of economics:

"I... enjoy cooking and eating healthy, organic food; walking and biking; communing with nature... I am inspired by and involved with the Occupy movement."

She participates in the Cambridge Time Trade Circle, which is interesting enough to merit its own discussion independent of this person.

Among her many papers, 90% of whose titles include at least one of the words "Marxist" and "feminist" if not both, are such gems as "Spirituality and Economic Transformation" and "Why feminist, Marxist and anti-racist economists should be feminist-Marxist-anti-racist economists".

Her classes must be something of an unusual experience. She begins each lecture with a short meditation, her introductory economics course requires students to watch the film "Affluenza" and to read about "Buddhist economics".

Where do they find these people? And why on earth do these people get tenure in economics departments?

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Accepted to MA Philosophy program at CEU

I have greatly enjoyed studying PPE over the last almost-three years, and am very pleased to say that I will be doing so for at least another two years. I have been accepted onto the two-year MA program in Philosophy at Central European University in the beautiful city of Budapest with a Partial Fellowship!

The outline of the course is here, the outline of the fellowship is here.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Past was Way Creepy

86% of people asked would rather see the lanterns with Flynn Rider than dance in the forest with Prince Philip. This is not enough, because the dancing-in-the-forest-scene from Sleeping Beauty is horrendously rapey:
I mean, what was Philip thinking?

(1) I'll creep up on this teenage girl who is all alone in the woods!
(2) I'll grab her and start dancing with her before she even knows that I'm there!
(3) Every time she gets loose from me and starts walking away, I'll grab her wrist and pull her back!

Or more to the point, what were the animators thinking? Did they realise how creepy Prince Philip's behaviour is, or did they just see it as a mixture of confidence and love-at-first-sight?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

All government departments are useless, but some are more useless than others

From a description of the Taxpayers' Alliance's proposed budget:
the Plan makes for sobering reading. An implementation of the first, less stringent, programme would, among other things, see the abolition of no less than three government departments (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; for Culture, Media and Sport; and of Energy and Climate Change), an end to national pay bargaining in the public sector, and a sizeable cut to Scotland’s grant from the UK government.
Compare those departments: the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is basically a highly inefficient  way of subsidising big business, The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is an undeniable waste of taxpayers' money. The Department for Energy and Climate Change is despised by conservatives and libertarians, and is loved by lefties. Global Warming is a politically polarising issue in the UK, with everyone from the centre-right to the far left viewing it as a massive threat demanding government action and everyone right of there denouncing it as a myth.

The average left-winger will struggle to find much to say against cutting the first two departments there. If you were constructing a bipartisan deal to slash government, then they would be prime candidates for destruction. The inclusion of the DECC, however, firmly stamps this proposed budget as "right-wing". Quite apart from the issue of whether Climate Change is something that the government needs to respond to, trying to get rid of the DECC is a middle finger raised at the political left which will obstruct this contribution to debate from being taken seriously.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Diminishing Marginal Returns is not known A Priori

Taken from an online discussion of Austrian economics, in which someone is attempting to prove that the law of diminishing marginal returns can be known a priori.
The law of marginal utility is indeed universally true. Any person will value less of a good more than if he had large quantities of it. For instance, the cigarette addict will value his last two cigarettes higher than if he had all twenty in his pack. He would also value two cigarettes far less if he had a whole carton of them at his disposal. Of course he would prefer to have more of them, which is your point and actually a consequence of the law. The law of marginal utility states that with an increase in quantity, the value of each individual item decreases. Thus, he can put each one to its next best use: 

A.) Smoking one now.
B.) Smoking one in an hour.
C.) Magic tricks with a cigarette.
D.) Having a cigarette for a friend.
E.) Smoking one in two hours.

Or, if he's down to his last two, all other uses will be put aside so that he will prefer to smoke one now and the other in an hour, instead of using one for a magic trick, saving one for a friend, etc. The reason he would want more is so that he could achieve all of his desired ends.
Counterexample: suppose your friend will be visiting in an hour and you would like to smoke with him. If you have two cigarettes, you hold onto them so that in an hour each of you will smoke one. If you have only one cigarette, you prefer to smoke it immediately.

Thus, we have a case where your preferred use for your first cigarette is different across the cases where you have differing numbers of cigarettes. Hence, a possible counterexample to the law of diminishing marginal returns, meaning that it cannot be known a priori.

I'm not familiar enough with Austrian economics to know if this is the argument that Mises would use to "prove" diminishing marginal returns, but in any case this argument is bunkum.

(Neoclassical economists have a far better way of establishing the law of diminishing marginal returns: we simply assume it. But at least we're honest about the fact that we're assuming it and have the tools to relax that assumption if necessary. Fortunately it seems to hold up pretty well in the real world).