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:
- The next Thomas Covenant book "Fatal Revenant" is out 18 Oct 2007
- Battlestar Galactica restarts: 24 Nov 2007
- "The Merchant's War" is out 10 Nov 2007
- "A Dance with Dragons" may be out 7 April 2008
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."
Long geopolitics article: End of Dreams, Return of History
Modern Drunkard on Star Trek booze.
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