Monday, July 31, 2006


"Herbert A. Simon (of Carnegie Mellon) coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. (Based on the evidence) even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

"...K. Anders Ericsson (of Florida State University) argues that what matters is not experience but 'effortful study,' which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time...

"Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or driving a car. But having reached an acceptable level of performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their field."

Philip E. Ross, "The Expert Mind," Scientific American, August 2006, pp. 69-70

Friday, July 28, 2006


"The primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his students to recognize 'inconvenient' facts - I mean facts that are inconvenient to their party opinions. And for every party opinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient, for my own opinion no less than for others. I believe the teacher accomplishes more than an intellectual task if he compels his audience to accustom itself to the existence of such facts. I would be so immodest as even to apply the expression 'moral achievement' though perhaps this may sound too grandiose for something that should go without saying." - Max Weber, "Science as a Vocation" (1918).

A Word That Belies Its Meaning


The Dhimmi

"...Jews throve under Muslim rule, especially after Islam expanded into Byzantine lands, where Orthodox rulers routinely persecuted both Jews and non- Orthodox Christians for their religious beliefs, often forcing them to convert to Imperial Christianity under penalty of death. In contrast, Muslim law, which considers Jews and Christians 'protected peoples' (dhimmi), neither required nor encouraged their conversion to Islam. (Pagans and polytheists, however, were given a choice between conversion and death.)

"Muslim persecution of the dhimmi was not only forbidden by Islamic law, it was in direct defiance of Muhammad's orders to his expanding armies never to trouble Jews in their practice of Judaism, and always to preserve the Christian institutions they encountered. Thus, when Umar (Caliph and second successor to Muhammad) ordered the demolition of a mosque in Damascus that had been illegally constructed by forcibly expropriating the house of a Jew, he was merely following the Prophet's warning that 'he who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have me as his accuser on the Day of Judgement.'

"...Islamic law did prohibit Jews and Christians from openly proselytizing their faith in public places. But...such prohibitions affected Christians more than they did Jews, who had been historically disinclined toward both proselytizing and public displays of their religious rituals. This may explain why Christianity gradually disappeared in most Islamic lands, while Jewish communities increased and prospered."

"(Muhammad) saw these differences (among the three religions) as part of the divine plan of God...Thus, to the Jews, God sent the Torah, 'which contains guidance and light'; to the Christians, God sent Jesus, who 'confirms the Torah', and finally, to the Arabs, God sent the Quran, which 'confirms the earlier revelations.' In this way, the ideological differences among the Peoples of the Book is (sic) explained by the Quran as indicating God's desire to give each people its own 'law and path and way of life.' "

Reza Aslan, No god but God, Random House, 2005, pp. 94-5, 101

On another note:

Firefox is so much faster than Safari. I cannot believe I waited this long to switch. I do a lot of tabbed browsing and Firefox just kicks the crap out of Safari.

An Unfair Tribute of Suffering

"The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering."

"Physically, the Ventoux is dreadful. Bald, it's the spirit of Dry: Its climate (it is much more an essence of climate than a geographic place) makes it a damned terrain, a testing place for heroes, something like a higher hell."

~ Roland Barthes, French philosopher and bicycle racing fan, author of Mythologies, describes Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France.

So True

"But to say that the race is the metaphor for the life is to miss the point. The race is everything. It obliterates whatever isn't racing. Life is the metaphor for the race."

~ Donald Antrim

Exactly what I am thinking towards the end of a 160 km road race or a 90 minute criterium.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Creative Quote

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature
born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him... a touch is a blow, a sound
is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a
lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate
organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create -- so that
without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something
of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour
out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really
alive unless he is creating. -Pearl S. Buck, novelist, Nobel laureate

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Das Capital as Literature

File under worth looking into.

Fascinating Book Review on Free Speech

Not that I reject the arguments for free speech, but I have found many of them to be glib - e.g. "the marketplace of ideas" and "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The abyss-redemption argument also seems problematic, but we need to study it more.

I wonder if there have been any empirical (consequentialist) studies on free speech (Is the marketplace of ideas efficient? Do the best ideas rise to the top?) Are the familiar deontological arguments for free speech more convincing than empirical defenses?

Pretty Pictures


"Simply put, that is one of the ugliest moments in recent American history. In this moment, Connolly—a journalistic disgrace throughout this campaign—invented another fake claim about Gore, a claim that would be repeated, far and wide, for the rest of Campaign 2000. If you want to know why the U.S. Army is now in Iraq, go ahead—reread those three paragraphs by Connolly, who would be drummed out of any real profession for her astonishing conduct throughout this campaign. Starting in early April 1999, Connolly just kept making up bogus claims about Gore. Result? George Bush ended up in the White House—and the US Army ended up in Iraq. If you don’t understand that chain of events, you don’t yet understand recent history."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ten Dimensions!

A concise, cogent presentation of higher dimensions.

The Sublime.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Sublime

Good comment at Brad DeLong's

«I've frequently heard something like "Education is the best single factor deciding lifetime earnings". So if we want to increase equality, we should promote education,»

This is just a way of saying that income inequality depends on objective factors, and since people with less education tend to be ashamed of that, it is a way of making them feel guilty for being poorer.

«If education is being used as a selector, then increasing the educational level of the populace will just raise the bar.»

Well, one could advance the idea that rewards flow to the top 5%, irrespective of the absolute educational level. Let's look at graduates...

When only 5% of the population got a degree, 100% of graduates had it very good, as their degree had scarcity value.

Now that 40-50% of the population has a degree, not having one sucks; but having one is not awesome either, unless it is from the same institutions (Ivy league, Oxbridge) that graduate the top 5%, and once granted all degrees...

Mass education as you say does not much affect the _distribution_ of the pie, because it does not much change the bargaining power of employees vs. employers. It does not even affect much the absolute level of compensation, according to the data, as all productivity gains go to asset holders (and the top 1% of income earners are really asset holders).

More education has sure and immediate costs and uncertain (for those not in the top 5%) and long term benefits. Then what matters is who captures the benefits if any...

With mass education the benefits are largely captured by _employers_, because increased competition among employees reduces the scarcity value and pricing power of ''bulk headcount'' credentials.

Mass education also has wonderful side effects: it considerably reduces the reported rate of unemployment (a very important factor for many OECD governments), and makes employees more desperate to get a job and afraid of losing it because of university debt.

No wonder that the ''more education'' line is so common among certain advocates...

As to productivity, a good high school education is usually all that's needed to obtain the productivity benefits in a modern economy. Degrees are really only necessary for the professions and for access to the elite jobs.

Posted by: Blissex | July 16, 2006 at 07:34 AM

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Being human, we’re all inclined to put our thumb on the scale when we review events around us. But we don’t see how we can build a real progressive politics out of posting embellished complaints. Going a bit further, it seems to us that progressives will be poorly served by adopting the tactics of the kooky-con right (something this writer at the Huffington Post seemed to advocate this weekend). Increasingly, our politics is going to feature battles between the haves and have-nots. For progressives, the other side will increasingly be better-connected and more powerful. In these future debates, the most powerful tool we’ll have on our side will be an insistence on traditional standards of fact and logic. We will never be able to out-bullroar the tribunes of the rich and the powerful. Our view? When we head down that tempting road, we commit ourselves to future defeat.

We don’t know Harwood, and we’re not major fans. As noted, he’s competent, bland, conventional, predictable—but no, his isn’t a right-winger. On Meet the Press, he went after Bennett for the whole segment. But then, there was nothing surprising about that. In fact, Meet the Press had not assembled a panel of “right-wingers” that day.
On the liberal web, we often brag that we represent the “reality-based” community. In the future, progressives will continue to find themselves at war with well-funded dissemblers—tribunes of powerful upper-class interests. Our view? Aggressive embrace of “reality”—of the traditions of fact and logic—will constitute our best hope for success. It’s always tempting to overstate—and being human, we all end up doing it. But for progressives, it’s a road to defeat. There they go again, we should say, when tribunes of the powerful do it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sweet Sailing

An impressive use of carbon fiber to say the least.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Sublime

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tom Petty

"The war in Iraq is shameful. Whether you're pro or con Bush, you've got to admit: The guy lied. And he continues to do so. I can't understand why he's just not run out on a rail. To send somebody's kids off and have them killed for no good reason--he's going to have his day in hell for that. I wouldn't want that karma.

When you kill somebody's little sister with a missile, he's going to hate you forever. And the next generation will hate you even more." - Tom Petty

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Sublime

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I wonder if the bilabial sound of papa and moma were selected so babies could alert their parents?

bilabial (by-LAY-bee-uhl) adjective

Using both lips.


A bilabial sound or consonant, for example p, b, m, where both lips
touch each other, and w in which lips are rounded.

[Latin bi- (two) + labial, from labium (lip), ultimately from Indo-European
root leb- (lip, to lick) that's also the source of lip, labrose (having
thick or large lips), and labret (an ornament worn in a pierced lip).]

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:

-Anu Garg (

"Bilabial sounds like mamma, papa and baba are probably the easiest for
the infant mouth to master."
Jack Rosenthal; From Arf to Zap; The New York Times; Jun 30, 1985.


"We thought that perhaps our species thrives best and most creatively in a state of semi-anarchy, governed by loose rules and half-practiced mores. To this we add the premise that over-integration in human groups might parallel the law in paleontology that over-armor and over-ornamentation are symptoms of decay and disappearance. Indeed, we thought, over-integration might be the symptom of human decay. We thought: there is no creative unit in the human save the individual working alone. In pure creativeness, in art, in music, in mathematics...the creative principle is a lonely and individual matter. Groups can correlate, investigate, and build, but we could not think of any group that has ever created or invented anything. Indeed, the first impulse of the group seems to be to destroy the creation and the creator...

"Consider, we would say, the Third Reich or the Politburo-controlled Soviet. The sudden removal of twenty-five key men from either system could cripple it so thoroughly that it would take a long time to recover, if it ever could. To preserve itself in safety such a system must destroy or remove all opposition as a danger to itself. But opposition is creative and restriction is non-creative. The force that feeds growth is therefore cut off...thought and art must be forced to disappear and a weighty traditionalism take its place...A too greatly integrated system or society is in danger of destruction since the removal of one unit may cripple the whole.

"Consider the blundering anarchic system of the United States, the stupidity of some of its lawmakers, the violent reaction, the slowness of its ability to change. Twenty-five key men destroyed could make the Soviet Union stagger, but we could lose our congress, our president and our general staff and nothing much would have happened. We would go right on. In fact we might be better for it..."

John Steinbeck, The Log From the Sea of Cortez, Penguin, 1951, pp. 257-8

Funny comment at Phrayngula

"Hmmm, wasn't January around the time Tim Curtin et al were braying loudest about the genocidal atrocities of the environmental movement and loudly and sanctimonously accusing people of not caring about Africans'lifes?"

"How dare you criticize the right of companies to flood the market with drugs, quickly establishing resistance, thereby requiring new drugs to be developed"

Monday, July 03, 2006


"Such is the depth of anxiety that one-fifth or more of Americans believe they will personally be victims of a future terrorist attack. This number has not budged in the last four and a half years." - Source unclear

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Walter Benjamin

"With Benjamin there was, I think, an inability to embrace the illusion of a future. Yet without an investment in what might be, one is doomed to dwell solely on what was, and, in the case of those in extremis, to see the hardships one is presently forced to endure as the only reality. I have always shared Adorno's and Horkheimer's view that Benjamin's social criticism was compromised by his religious idealism, and I have, in particular, never accepted the idea that the present is simply a site of eternal return for all that has gone before, and that the possibility of renewal lies in meditating on a dismembered past.10 In this view, entropy is inescapable (the debris piling up at our feet as the storm of progress hurls us away from paradise), and redemption dependent on the appearance of a savior. But perhaps it was Benjamin's unworldliness I found so unsettling—the accusation that the intellectual is by definition maladapted to real life, to practical tasks, to marriage, to human relationships, his head in the clouds, his life in an ivory tower, his ideas of no earthly use. Yet I shared the view of Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno that the thinker does not owe it to society to demonstrate how it might be changed for the better. Although Marx had taken exception to the notion that the task of the philosopher was simply to understand the world, not change it, I had a deep aversion to prescriptions and exhortations as to how one should lead one's life, and was drawn to Anna Akhmatova's desire to describe, before all else, and to "stand as witness to the common lot.""