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By TheophileEscargot (Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 08:29:42 AM EST) Reading, Not Reading, Web (all tags)
Reading: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". Not Reading. Stuff. Web.


What I'm Reading
Finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Overall, pretty much on a par with the recent ones, not quite as bloated as the Order of the Phoenix.

This one veers away from the formula somewhat, since it doesn't take place in a normal Hogwarts school year. That's refreshing in some ways since it avoids some of the plot repetition. However, without that scaffolding Rowling seems uncertain about how to work the plot. For much of the middle section the characters seem to be ambling around with no particular idea what to do.

Things come back together in the last section though, with a fair amount of action and the plot elements resolved fairly well.

Overall, worth reading if you've been following the series. Won't make much sense if you haven't.

Aside which didn't really fit in
So now that's over:

  1. The next Thomas Covenant book "Fatal Revenant" is out 18 Oct 2007
  2. Battlestar Galactica restarts: 24 Nov 2007
  3. "The Merchant's War" is out 10 Nov 2007
  4. "A Dance with Dragons" may be out 7 April 2008
Can I finish off Season 4 of The Wire then go into cryogenic suspension till October?

What I'm Not Reading
Picked up the much-hyped Affluenza (2007) by Oliver James at the library. Have got a couple of chapters in but not sure if I'll continue.

Seems to fit in with the other Happiness Agenda books "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science" (2006) by Richard Layard, and "Status Anxiety" (2005) by Alain de Botton; but I've already read those and I'm not sure if this one really adds anything or just jumps on the bandwagon.

Another problem is that it has a very high irritant value. He Capitalizes what he thinks are the Highly Important Terms such as Selfish Capitalism and the Affluenza Virus, and seems to want to use one to several such Highly Important Term per page. However, he doesn't bother actually defining terms like Selfish Capitalism. If it's important enough to capitalize, I feel it ought to be important enough to define. Is it supposed mean just regular Capitalism, which he regards as Selfish? Is it a particular variety of Capitalism which is more Selfish? If so, what specifically is more Selfish about it? If Selfishness is intrinsic to Capitalism which seems likely, is Unselfish Capitalism just non-Capitalism? How would Unselfish Capitalism differ from Moderate Socialism? I think we should be told.

Another problem is that he doesn't make any attempt to distinguish correlation and causation. Every chapter begins with a bunch of correlations which he presents as irrefutable proof of his claims. This guy used to be a scientist: find it quite depressing how far he's fallen. The book is a tie-in to a TV series that he's presenting, and seems to be dumbed down to near moronic levels.

Apart from assuming correlation is causation, his other argument is proof by anecdote. Basically he wanders around the world, interviews rich unhappy people and poor happy people to confirm his point.

This doesn't really match up with the much more detailed evidence that Layard presents, however. Layard observes that happiness is correlated with wealth, but this correlation flattens out at higher values of wealth. (Even that's not certain: Johan Norberg has some interesting objections). James' interviews with super-rich super-miserygutses seem to be overegging the pudding to the point of cholesterol poisoning.

In favour of continuing: it's very easy reading and the anecdotes are interesting. I'm also concerned about my own possible confirmation biases. I generally find myself arguing against people who believe that empirically-measurable happiness is a policy goal, and that (Selfish?) capitalism is a bad thing. Am I biasing myself by choosing not to read things I disagree with? On the other hand, I might also be biasing myself by choosing to read really bad arguments for propositions I disagree with.

Update [2007-7-28 11:49:41 by TheophileEscargot]: Checked the index, and he does define Selfish Capitalism after all!

By Selfish Capitalism I mean four basic things. The first is that the success of businesses is judged almost exclusively by their current share price. The second is a strong drive to privatise public utilities, such as water, gas and electricity, or, in the case of America, to keep them in private hands. The third is that there should be as little regulation of business as possible, with taxation for the rich and very rich so limited that whether to contribute becomes almost a matter of choice. The fourth is the conviction that consumption and market forces can meet human needs of almost every kind. America is the apotheosis of Selfish Capitalism, Denmark the nearest thing to its Unselfish opposite.

Aside which didn't really fit in
If capitalism just means individuals owning stuff, trading stuff, and trading their labour; then capitalism has been going on for millennia, including periods that a Marxist would consider to be Feudalist rather than Capitalist.

The distinguishing factor about the capitalism of the last couple of centuries seems to me to be the private corporation or public limited company. That is, that a group of people can create a legal entity that collectively owns and trades property as if it were an individual.

In the feudal period, you had very rich individuals and families of merchants, traders and bankers. However, if you weren't in the family, there was no way you could buy into it. Now though, any individual can buy into the success of Microsoft or Coca-Cola or RTZ.

So, I don't think it's correct to talk about modern capitalism as being particularly Selfish. The distinguishing feature of modern capitalism is not that it's more centred on the individual. The distinguishing feature is that it's less centred on the individual and more centred on the collective.

Quote of the day
"Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise."

Bertrand Russell

Web
Long geopolitics article: End of Dreams, Return of History

Modern Drunkard on Star Trek booze.

< Unit 731 | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
I'm Looking Forward to Death | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 hidden)
Stop reading: by greyrat (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:02:13 AM EST
"Another problem is that he doesn't make any attempt to distinguish correlation and causation. Every chapter begins with a bunch of correlations which he presents as irrefutable proof of his claims. This guy used to be a scientist: find it quite depressing how far he's fallen. The book is a tie-in to a TV series that he's presenting, and seems to be dumbed down to near moronic levels."


Battlestar??? by jayhawk88 (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:06:42 AM EST
I thought they were saying 2008 for it's return?

TV.com has some dates by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:14:05 AM EST
On closer inspection, that was a "mini-sode", it gives 11/24/2007 for the first episode proper.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
More shamelessly stolen blog reviews of HP7 by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:21:24 AM EST
The Atlantic
I couldn't help but thinking this may end up being the best movie of the seven, even if it's far from the best book.

I could easily see a very skilled screenwriter distilling this down to a tight and exciting movie (one with about 7 minutes of camping).

Slate

I love these books and take them as seriously as you can take anything in which uncontrollable projectile vomiting is a major plot point.
The New Republic
Though the Potter books are constantly compared to Tolkien, Lewis, and a handful of others, what they resemble most closely is Joss Whedon's cult TV hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Both Harry and Buffy are "chosen ones," forced to balance their unsought role fighting evil with the everyday triumphs and tragedies of being a teenaged schoolkid. Both had two best friends, a bookish girl and mischievous boy, both had to die and come back in order to save the world, and on and on. Just as the seven Potter books each comprised a year at Hogwarts, so the seven Buffy seasons (or rather the first three) each tracked a year at Sunnydale High. "Buffy"'s first three seasons were, for want of a better word, magic. And while there were plenty of terrific episodes and storylines in subsequent seasons, the show lost its footing a bit after high school.


Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Jeeez. by ObviousTroll (4.00 / 3) #5 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:36:34 AM EST
For much of the middle section the characters seem to be ambling around with no particular idea what to do.

Well, that was kind of the point, wasn't it? They didn't know what to do. For those of you who don't know how it ends: it ends with a little bio about J.K. Rowling.

The next Thomas Covenant book "Fatal Revenant" is out 18 Oct 2007

Now, this is just sad. Donaldson is a fairly talented writer, I read a book of short stories he wrote, and he had some very creative ideas. To be trapped writing about the same characters for 25 years is just sad.

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Has anybody seen my clue? I know I had it when I came in here.

Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:40:54 AM EST
I got the impression the characters didn't really know what to do because Rowling didn't really know what to do.

Stephen Donaldson did write quite a lot of other stuff in the 21 years between the Second and Third chronicles...
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Yeabut by ObviousTroll (4.00 / 1) #9 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:46:54 AM EST
I'm pretty sure if you asked even serious fantasy readers to name some of Donaldson's books, not one in 10 could name anything that wasn't a Covenant book.

It's the author's version of type-casting, I suppose.

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Has anybody seen my clue? I know I had it when I came in here.

[ Parent ]
He hasn't written that much fantasy in that time by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #10 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:52:00 AM EST
The "Gap" series was science fiction / space opera; and "The Man Who..." series was a detective series, published under a different name. I think "Mordant's Need" and some short stories were the only other fantasy he did.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
The Mirror of Her Dreams by ObviousTroll (4.00 / 1) #11 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:55:56 AM EST
It came out between the two chronicles, IIRC.

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Has anybody seen my clue? I know I had it when I came in here.
[ Parent ]
That was one of the two Mordant's Need books [nt] by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #12 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:58:12 AM EST

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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Oh, duh. by ObviousTroll (4.00 / 1) #13 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 10:02:58 AM EST
I was thinking of, I think, Daughter of Regals - it was the book of short stories I mentioned.

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Has anybody seen my clue? I know I had it when I came in here.
[ Parent ]
You don't actually read that Covenant crap do you? by greyrat (4.00 / 2) #15 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 12:33:24 PM EST
I got about 20 pages into the first book and decided that no matter how bat the story got, I'd stick it out to the end of the book. I didn't even make it half way. Dreck. Utter dreck. I'd rather watch TV or sit staring at a wall than read anything from that series.

[ Parent ]
My thoughts exactly by dn (4.00 / 1) #17 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 08:53:19 PM EST
I forced myself to read all of the first book. The plot was interesting enough, but the writing was too ... ponderous.

I'd gladly read more if Reader's Digest made a version.

    I ♥   
 TOXIC 
WASTE

[ Parent ]
Beg to differ by anonimouse (4.00 / 1) #18 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 08:55:00 PM EST
The first Chronicles is worth the effort, unfortunately I think by resurrecting the idea for the second (and third) it's like a low budget follow on to a classic movie.

Mordant's Need is also recommended, as is the short story Daughter of Regals. I couldn't get into his "Gap" space opera series.

To paraphrase Emperor Joseph, "Too many words!". Donaldson could do with a good editor with the balls to cut his novels down to the meat.


Girls come and go but a mortgage is for 25 years -- JtL
[ Parent ]
without the background by alprazolam (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:40:19 AM EST
"The distinguishing feature (of modern capitalism)is that it's  less centred on the individual and more centred on the collective."

I'd have a hard time convincing myself of that statement, even if I were so inclined. In fact without the rest of what you were saying....it sounds pretty stupid. Greed is still all about the individual. Now people are simply organized differently.

But that by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #8 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 09:44:04 AM EST
Still doesn't explain why modern capitalism should be considered more Selfish.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
right by alprazolam (4.00 / 1) #14 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 10:21:48 AM EST
I'd say people are pretty much still just as greedy for the most part. Maybe there are more people like me, who are content to be comfortable without any desire to dominate others, but in the end, people like me really don't matter...the greedy/power hungry ones do. So the aristocrats, oligarchs, robber barons, CEOs, and hedge fund managers are all pretty much one in the same to me.

[ Parent ]
Sounds like. . . by johnny (4.00 / 1) #16 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 06:29:47 PM EST
Apart from assuming correlation is causation, his other argument is proof by anecdote. Basically he wanders around the world, interviews rich unhappy people and poor happy people to confirm his point.

another proud graduate of the Thomas Friedman Earth-is-Flat correspondence school!

I think there's a difference between corporatism and capitalism.  The corporations of Marx's day and the corporations of today are arguably very, very different things.
... this is dreamworld after all... it isn't? Shit.

so different? by alprazolam (4.00 / 1) #24 Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 05:36:15 AM EST
maybe only as different as people are today as from what they were 1000 years ago.

[ Parent ]
Sure, I guess by johnny (2.00 / 0) #26 Thu Aug 02, 2007 at 02:26:56 AM EST
And socialism is pretty much the same as capitalism which is pretty much the same as Islamic fundamentalism which is pretty much the same as feudalism, people being people, after all.  Or?
... this is dreamworld after all... it isn't? Shit.
[ Parent ]
2009! 2000 and Fucking 9!! by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 1) #19 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 11:01:03 PM EST
If he's not careful that stupid fucker is going to end up doing a Jordan and:
  1. Completely forget what made his books interesting in the first place
  2. Die before he actually published the last chapter that he's no doubt had written for 40 years.
  3. Aargh Nerd Rage!!!!1111one

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This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.
I think TheophileEscargot has made a mistake there by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #20 Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 11:16:26 PM EST
That ought to be 2008 according to the amazon page, though that's probably not certain since he's still writing it.

[ Parent ]
Haha, you can't trust amazon by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 1) #23 Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 12:34:36 AM EST
They've had A Dance with Dragons being "released" every April since 2004, every now and then they just add another year.
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This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.
[ Parent ]
Harry Potter by nebbish (4.00 / 2) #21 Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 12:21:21 AM EST
How does the adult version differ?

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It's political correctness gone mad!

The cover on the "adult" version by Imperial Mince (4.00 / 1) #22 Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 12:32:23 AM EST
isn't shit.
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This space reserved for whining like a little bitch and being sanctimonious.
[ Parent ]
This one brings me down by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #25 Fri Jul 27, 2007 at 06:54:48 AM EST
Your point about corporations is a pretty good one. I think most middle class wealth in the Anglosphere has been vested in residential property though. Similarly insurance products and savings accounts. Reliable retail banking probably has more to do with the widespread capital realization and accumulation you're talking about.

My commercial history isn't that great but at least today the big retail banks are public corporations, so it's probably mutually reinforcing. Perhaps the only ones who could organise capital on the scale required for retail banking and insurance were public corporations and national governments.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

I'm Looking Forward to Death | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 hidden)