Finished Fool's Fate, third book in the trilogy. Pretty good, keeps the attention, easy to read in a couple of sessions.
Little bit disappointed though: the trilogy started very promisingly but didn't really live up to it. Could have done with some editing and tightening up: the book comes to a big climax with about 200 pages still to go, which is spent tying up loose ends in absolutely predictable ways. Also starts to sink a bit into cliché, with little things like the totally soundproof tents that only exist in fantasyland.
Also didn't like the way the dilemmas of the early book were resolved: it starts with the protagonist as a kind of cross between Cincinnatus and Reggie Perrin; living quietly on a farm after faking his own death. He spends much the trilogy agonizing about whether to reveal himself and go back to his former family, even though that might endanger them and draw his daughter into the circumscribed freedom of the court.
After three long books he decides actually there wasn't really much of a downside and he was just being an idiot, which makes the whole thing feel fairly pointless. The difficulties are melted easily away by authorial fiat as the husband of his wife conveniently dies, and his daughter decides she likes being at court anyway. I don't want to get all anarcho-syndicalist, but I don't see what's so wonderful about serving the monarchy, and what's so terrible about going off and living a normal life.
Overall, decent time-filling light reading, but not really brilliant.
Finished 48-lecture series Great Ideas of Psychology by Daniel N. Robinson. Excellent history of and introduction to psychology. Focuses heavily on neuropsychology and the philosophical implications of psychology, has very little on therapy, which suited me.
Weaknesses: he did a couple of lectures on AI which I didn't think really represented the field very well: he seemed to focus entirely on top-down rather than bottom-up AI. I'm not that convinced by top-down AI but I didn't think his criticisms made sense: he repeated the old Chinese room and Godel's Incompleteness based criticisms, which I don't think really hold water but he seemed to regard as conclusive.
You have to expect a bit of hobby-horse riding though, and apart from that it was a thorough and informative course.
Obligatory quote from T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone
"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then--to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn--pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics--why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until is it is time to learn to plough."
What I'm Watching
Got around to seeing the Simpsons movie. About what I expected, like a good, extended episode. Thought the animation worked pretty well, with lots of extra background detail, pov movement and vertiginous swooping to take advantage of the big screen; but still staying true to the original look and feel.
So, a good laugh, but wouldn't say it's something you have to see at the cinema: you could easily wait for the DVD. In some ways that might work better as I'm sure there's lots of little details you can't see without pausing or watching multiple times.
There are a few jokes mixed in with the end credits, but not really funny enough to justify sitting through the whole lot.
Could plasma crystals form alien life?
Peter T. Leeson: Anarchy works better than you think:
In a recent study I compared Somali welfare under anarchy to welfare under government using all key development indicators for which data allowed comparison. According to the data, of the eighteen development indicators, fourteen show unambiguous improvement under anarchy. Life expectancy is higher today than was in the last years of government’s existence; infant mortality has improved twenty-four percent; maternal mortality has fallen over thirty percent; infants with low birth weight has fallen more than fifteen percentage points; access to health facilities has increased more than twenty-five percentage points; access to sanitation has risen eight percentage points; extreme poverty has plummeted nearly twenty percentage points; one year olds fully immunized for TB has grown nearly twenty percentage points, and for measles has increased ten; fatalities due to measles have dropped thirty percent; and the prevalence of TVs, radios, and telephones has jumped between three and twenty-five times.Dani Rodrik responds.
As Tatiana Nenova and Tim Harford discuss in their World Bank brief, "Anarchy and Invention," much of this development can be attributed to improvements in public goods provided better by Somalia’s anarchic private sector than by its former government.
There is a strong, statistically highly significant, and positive association between countries’ income levels and the share of their economy that the government consumes. This highlights the complementarity between markets and the state. Those societies in which markets work best are the ones where the reach of the state is longer--not shorter. Prosperity is achieved when states are effective in setting and enforcing the rules of the game, not when they wither away. It is possible that the Somali people are better off under anarchy than under a predatory state. Certainly no one believes that "any government is always superior to no government." But to think that the Somali can ever develop economically without an effective state apparatus is to commit the flip side of the Nirvana fallacy: to believe that a better state than what exists currently is not achievable just because a perfect state is not possible. There is no example of a society that has become prosperous without a state machinery.
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