Print Story To be no better than a homely swain
Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 01:27:10 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Watching: "Henry VI Part Three", "The Man in the White Suit", "Looking for Richard". Reading: "The Happiness Hypothesis", "Miracles of Life". Web.


What I'm Watching
Finished the BBC Shakespeare's "Henry VI Part Three". Another good entry in the series, even darker than the last as England descends into bitter civil war between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Atrocity follows on from atrocity, with some characters' only regret that they cannot kill their enemies twice.

Has a nicely ironic ending, with Edward V expressing a fond hope that peace has come at last while Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III, looks on in disgust.

The production has continuity between the three Henry plays and Richard III. At last the music at the start of R3 is explained: Richard has just walked out of a happy dance scene in disgust, though somehow he's managed to change out of his battledress rather quickly.

However, watching these hasn't confirmed my theory about the moral degeneration of Richard: he's pretty villainous right from the start. His assassination of the princes in the tower is prefigured here, when he helps kill the son of Henry VI.

Watching the Henry VI plays does put a new light on the Richard III play though. It's more satisfying if you can see it as a kind of self-destruction of the House of York, as the terrible force they've unleashed in the hunched form of Richard turns against them.

What I'm Watching 2
Watched gentle 1951 Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit. Alec Guinness plays a chemist who develops an indestructible, self-cleaning fabric. This causes a quaint horror amongst the factory owners and unions, all of whom assume no-one will ever buy new clothes again.

Crisp, effective and well-done; definitely a good example of the genre.

This movie terrified me when I was a small child: the final scene where Alec Guinness flees a baying mob through the dark northern streets, unable to hide because of his glowing white suit. However I didn't get any nightmares this time.

What I'm Watching 3
Saw Al Pacino's documentary Looking for Richard, where he puts on a performance of some scenes from the play, and goes through explaining it.

Not bad, but a bit too basic if you're already familiar with it. He does explain the plot and the characters very lucidly though,

What I'm Reading
Finished The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Book which discusses the currently popular field of scientific happiness research by going through various systems of ancient wisdom and evaluating them in relation to modern evidence.

The basics are pretty familiar from other books like Richard Layard's Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Most people are poor judges of what will make them happy. "Hedonic adaptation" means that your happiness level tends to regress to its basic level after a change.

Haidt does point out that not all changes regress the same way. One familiar example is that if you move to a larger house with a longer commute, you will rapidly adapt to the larger house size and find it no longer makes you happy; but you will not adapt so well to the longer commute, which will still be causing you extra stress a long time later.

Haidt also claims that intermittent noise is also something that is hard to adapt to. Found this one interesting in the light of Seneca's letters: he admitted in one that he was unable to cope with the noise of the city and was moving somewhere else.

However, the book seems a little bit arrogant at times, when he does things like rapidly go through "Buddhism" and explain what's wrong with it.

Haidt also isn't as evidence-based as he seems to promise. For instance, he quotes research showing that when people claim they've profoundly change their life, their friend often don't notice any difference, and their test scores don't change. However, he seems attached to the notion of this kind of self-improvement and invents some thin justifications for it.

Moreover, I think Haidt is somewhat hamstrung by his assumptions. For one thing, you seem more likely to achieve happiness if you seek something else. Religious believers, active volunteers, people committed to their jobs all seem to be happier according to research. In the stoic point of view, happiness is something that will turn up as a by-product if you seek virtue/excellence. So, a book of this kind about how to seek happiness may be misguided.

I suspect he's also limited because some things are easier to research than others. In particular, it's easy to research short-term programmes, it's pretty hard to research what an entire life of living according to certain principles will do.

I have a hunch, though no evidence, that consistently following a practical belief system like stoicism, Buddhism or Christianity may be better over the long haul of a lifetime, than trying to grab a handful of isolated techniques as he does here.

Even so, a pretty interesting book, worth keeping an eye out for. First chapter.

What I'm Reading 2
Finished J.G. Ballard autobiography Miracles of Life. Covers most of his life: he wrote it while diagnosed with his terminal cancer. It covers similar territory to the autobiographical novels "Empire of the Sun" and "The Comfort of Women", but purports to be more complete and accurate. The childhood sections have more information on his relationship with his parents and life in the internment camp.

It's written in his characteristic style: cool and detached even when describing events that are somewhat horrific. I'd say it's still worth reading even if you've read the novels: puts things in much clearer perspective.

Web
Economics. Will an aging workforce diminish productivity? Kaletsky: be glad for pound's fall. 4% inflation target. US net fiscal stimulus was zero.

Articles. Why so little Jewish Fantasy, rebuttal, via. Electoral Commission whitewash over Ashcroft? Classic game Doom analysed.

History. Archives of 1641 Irish rebellion to go online (interesting how much it seems like a modern conflict, could be in Nigeria or Rwanda).

Science. Fat and fit no so great.

Random. New London pavement maps to abandon North-top convention. Hoax? Logo design for London Sperm Bank. Sheep physics game.

Video. Hitchcock's cameos. Dogs catch things in slow motion: original, ad.

< Life Etchings, Number 3 | You got any angel food? >
To be no better than a homely swain | 38 comments (38 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Ob Duke Nukem Forever by georgeha (4.00 / 3) #1 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 01:38:04 PM EST
will be much better than Doom.


Non-north-pointing maps by priestess (4.00 / 1) #2 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 02:21:39 PM EST
I have a new phone, and Google Maps won't work on the N900 yet. Ovi Maps is annoying in more than one way. Firstly: I can't stick pins in the map. So I can't mark where I'm going when I leave and pull it up when I get there very easily.

Possibly more annoying still, the map rotates around so that it points the way it thinks you're moving. Which is just utterly disorientating. You might know where you are, but you have no idea which direction the thing you're trying to get to is on that map. You only have a visual image in your mind of the location on the map you saw at home on the computer screen, with north at the top. God knows which way you have to scroll to find it on this new map that's facing in whatever random direction you happen to have last stepped.

So I find that annoying, and even more annoying is that you don't appear to be able to turn it off and stop it rotating about all over the place.

The perspective mode makes it a bit clearer what's going on as the map turns, but isn't as clear to view.

In general, I miss Google Maps. Please port it to the N900 Google people?

Pre........
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Chat to the virtual me...

It seems to me by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #28 Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 02:30:49 PM EST
Any miniscule benefits of non-North maps are going to be massively overwhelmed by the huge cost of not being able to look at a map and know for certain which way is which.
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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 ]
4% Inflation target by Herring (4.00 / 1) #3 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 02:30:51 PM EST
Maybe I'm ignorant, but I don't know where this magic 2% target came from. Is it really just a number somebody pulled out of their bottom?

Speaking as someone with an oppressive mortgage, I wouldn't mind a bit more inflation.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

Numbers by duxup (4.00 / 1) #4 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 02:50:14 PM EST
When it comes to numbers I think most economists just pull them out of their ass.  Not the objective ones like counting people.  The "good" numbers particularly when it comes to advice on what to do.... useless.

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[ Parent ]
Metrics by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #6 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 03:17:22 PM EST
In my mind, the trouble is that most economists worry about rich person's problems than poor person's problems.  Hence, they worry more about inflation, and less about unemployment.

It is interesting to note that the German hyperinflation of the thirties actually helped the average German farmer, as it completely wiped out their debt.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Well of course by Herring (2.00 / 0) #7 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 03:36:20 PM EST
Inflation is a concern of people who have money, not people who need money. House price falls are a problem to people who have houses they don't need, not to people who need houses they don't have.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
[ Parent ]
Inflation is a poor person's problem by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 09:19:27 PM EST
It hits people without assets that act as inflation hedges, such as houses, gold, or stocks.

Farmers had indebted property so are exactly the sort of propertied middle class that can survive inflation relatively well. People with meagre savings and little leverage against their employer to increase their income, or with short term debt (eg credit cards) get screwed. Similarly for the unemployed welfare payments will usually be outpaced by cost of living increases because the government is skint.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
The problem with the 2% target... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #24 Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 06:16:34 AM EST
we're discovering, is that our measures of inflation are all a bit problematic (I'm too lazy to list all the problems right now) and thus it's fair to think that the figures involved are out by around 1% quite a bit.

If you think you're at 1.7% and it's going ok, you can actually be at 0.7%.

Trouble with 0.7% is you're dangerously close to deflation spiral effects.

The other thing we're re-discovering is that while Scrymarch is right about how inflation can hurt ordinary people, deflation hurts them a lot too, because of the way it affects the employment market.


[ Parent ]
I don't disagree ... by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #25 Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 07:21:38 PM EST
4% is not too unreasonable to my mind. It is once you start going over 5% that trouble starts; and 10%+ is real wealth-destroying territory.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
I'm not even sure... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #26 Thu Mar 11, 2010 at 04:23:46 AM EST
4% is right... 3% might make a better target... or even just start taking undershoots much more seriously - half the problem is that people had extrapolated from 10% inflation being bad to quietly cheering when it was below 2% - there's weird morality psychologies in play from a lot of the ratings agencies too... 

[ Parent ]
I forget which commentator by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #27 Thu Mar 11, 2010 at 08:38:38 PM EST
... pointed out that the most brutal inflation targets, and casualness about deflation, came from Germany (and therefore the Eurozone) and Japan. Both of course had horrible inflation episodes in the 20th century, the suggestion was that they were willing to over-react a bit.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
Pretty much by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #29 Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 02:33:48 PM EST
I don't think there was any exact models or data behind it.

They didn't want it to be zero for a couple of reasons. If you risk accidentally tipping into deflation, that's worse than inflation and even harder to fix. And some think a small degree of inflation helps with "sticky" wages, since it's easier to cut workers pay by keeping the nominal amount the same so they don't notice the reduction.

But I think the 2% was just, "well, we need some sort of margin and that seems kind of OK".
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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 ]
Jewish fantasy by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #5 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 03:01:01 PM EST
I was going to comment on the stupidity of that, but realized that your other link did that well enough.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #8 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 03:49:52 PM EST
I do get a vague impression there are more Jewish Science Fiction than Fantasy writers.

Slightly related: Frederick Pohl's blog has had a few Isaac Asimov reminiscences and he mentions that originally Asimov wanted to be a doctor, but realised that being Jewish he wouldn't be allowed into a good medical school, and ended up a scientist instead. So I wonder what would have happened if he had become a doctor, if he might have stopped writing and lost interest in science.
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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 ]
Not really true by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 04:31:38 PM EST
First, there's the obvious thing that Silverberg is also a Fantasy author, plus Neil Gaiman being Jewish.  Beyond that, you get into people like Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber...
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Joel Rosenberg by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #10 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 04:49:21 PM EST
Dunno how popular he is but I enjoy some of his stuff.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Rosenberg_%28science_fiction_author%29

[ Parent ]
oh ... by BlueOregon (4.00 / 2) #12 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 05:02:49 PM EST
... don't make me start citing Slovotsky's Laws ...

[ Parent ]
indeed by BlueOregon (4.00 / 2) #11 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 04:56:52 PM EST
... and as much as I hate to admit it, the MeFi thread covers a lot of it.

There are, however, at least 2 questions being raised, regarding:

  1. Jewish writers of fantasy
  2. Jewish fantasy

And they're obviously different matters. The first has been answered definitively: there are plenty, including Gaiman and Yolen, not to count the whole science fiction side of things.

The second is more problematic for a couple of reasons. There are plenty of Jewish writers writing fantasy, but to what extent is it "Jewish fantasy"? One answer was "Jewish Narnia Is Called Marvel Comics" (but it doesn't really address 'is there something as pop-theology-grounded as Narnia is ...?')

But others hinted at a couple of answers/solutions: while Tolkien & Lewis were Christian and, especially in Narnia, the Christian element is hard to ignore, more importantly they are English (more relevant for Tolkien) and it's that that influences their fantasy. And then there's a bit of a UK-US divide on fantasy. But the most obvious question is: sample size? There's Tolkien and Lewis but what about a survey of the rest of fantasy in a similar vein ... blah blah blah ... and why would we take them as representative? (hell, while Tolkien sort of is, Lewis isn't really even paradigmatic anymore).

Ok, I'll stop ...

[ Parent ]
My problem by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #14 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 07:03:43 PM EST
He's mostly talking about two writers who wrote nearly fifty years ago, and whose influence on modern fantasy is on the wane.  It's not like most non-Jewish fantasy writers today are writing things in the style of C S Lewis!  He also throws in J K Rowlings in the mix, which I find very odd given that Rowlings' work is very much secular fantasy.

He veers all over the map.  If he is talking simply about fantasy written by Jewish writers, he's completely off base given all the top fantasy writers who are Jewish.  If he is talking about a Jewish version of Narnia, then again, he's off base, because there isn't really anyone writing things like Narnia these days.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Something like Narnia: The Golden Compass by lm (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 08:43:50 PM EST
And Rowling seems to have in mind that Harry Potter was something like the new Narnia. (I'm not sure I believe her on that but she wrote the thing and I didn't so I suspect I should defer to her authority on the matter.)

But by and large, works like the Chronicles of Narnia are fairly rare in the fantasy realm.

Perhaps a better analogy would be Twilight. Are there any fantasy books that are morality plays that endeavor to teach Jewish morals in the same way that Twilight does for Mormonism?


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
I don't know Twilight by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #21 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 09:41:39 PM EST
...and I never intend to.

Narnia is fairly rare in that it is a fairly blatant mapping of Christian imagery onto another space.  As for Harry Potter, I see little in common between it and Narnia, other than overall genre.

(The Golden Compass, on the other hand, seems more obviously an atheist Narnia.)

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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Also, just imagine contemporary fantasy works . . by lm (4.00 / 1) #13 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 05:08:05 PM EST
. . . without the Kaballah, Golems, the Temple of Solomon, and the Essenes.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Thing is by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #15 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 07:08:47 PM EST
The thing is, good fantasy writers pull from all sorts of different sources.  On the one hand, Lewis himself certainly pulled from the old testament on many occasions.  On the other, Tolkien's example of "Christian" fantasy pulled more from pagan sources than Christian.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
I'm not well read on Tolkein by lm (4.00 / 2) #16 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 08:36:46 PM EST
But I'd be surprised if he considered his fantasy to be `Christian.' I'd expect that he though some bits of it exemplified Christian virtue in some regard. But that's a far cry from considering it to be Christian.

My only point is that without the traditions of Judaism, contemporary fantasy would be far less rich.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
I completely agree (both counts) by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #20 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 09:36:30 PM EST
It was the author of the essay that called it Christian.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
WIth regards to scientifically measuring happiness by lm (4.00 / 1) #19 Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 09:34:03 PM EST
``Most people are poor judges of what will make them happy''

Why is it that science is any better of a judge? Is science able to uncover what it means to be happy in a way that the average person is not?


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Future tense by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #30 Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 02:36:58 PM EST
The theory is that people are fairly accurate about their current happiness: they seem consistent and match things like brain scans. But people are supposedly bad about judging what will make them happy in the future: when it actually comes round, their old predictions don't match their assessment.
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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 ]
brains scans by lm (2.00 / 0) #31 Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 03:58:13 PM EST
They scan a brain and it says ``I'm happy''?

I suspect that what they can scan for is closer to ``I feel good right now.''

An argument can certainly be made that this is all that happiness is. But I think that presupposing that this is what constitutes happiness is a bit of question begging.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
No by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #32 Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 03:50:47 PM EST
I think we've been through this before with Richard Layard's book "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science".

The measurement method is basically just to ask people how happy they are. The brain scans just confirm similar results between different people.
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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 ]
Yes by lm (2.00 / 0) #33 Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 04:08:03 PM EST
We may have been through it before.

``The measurement method is basically just to ask people how happy they are. The brain scans just confirm similar results between different people.''

Uhm, that's exactly my point.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #34 Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 04:33:57 PM EST
Then the definition of happiness here is just the common usage. If you mean a different concept, then call it something else.
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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 ]
It's not that at all by lm (2.00 / 0) #35 Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 05:06:43 PM EST
You could do a similar test with being fit.

And then measure how fit people are by doing stress tests on a treadmill, taking body fat measurements and such.

The objective measurement of being fit may very well not match the self description of being fit.

All the brain scans are doing is measuring whatever it is that people self-report as being happy. It doesn't tell you whether or not that is some sort of objective measurement of what happiness is.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
What do you actually mean by that? by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #36 Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 01:38:48 AM EST
Usually, "objective" means pertaining to the physical world, "subjective" to mental states.

Happiness is a mental state.

So your comment to me seems to be saying "a mental state is a mental state".
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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 ]
Is happiness a mental state? by lm (2.00 / 0) #37 Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 05:40:46 PM EST
I think that, at least partially begs, the question. If it doesn't, then correlating brain scans to mental states surely does. It isn't clear that neurons firing in the sam approximate location has any necessary correlation to whatever it is that happiness is.

The point of my analogy is this. If you look at self-reported occasions of people being `fit', you can probably find some objective metric that is identical across all of those reports. You can then probably find that this objective metric exists in other people.

But then if you develop another criterion, such as treadmill stress tests, that measure fitness in another way, then you it seems that the first objective metric for being fit may not coincide with other objective metrics of being fit.

Happiness, I'm arguing, could very well be similar.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
That seems like a generic argument against science by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #38 Tue Mar 16, 2010 at 02:08:35 AM EST
You can apply that analogy to anything. If a scientist uses method X to study a variable, he can never be sure that there isn't a method Y that would give different results. But unless there's some reason to think method Y is better, there's no point throwing away method X, especially if X looks consistent.

Physical fitness is a physical phenomenon, so it's better to investigate it with physical measurements. But even with self-reported fitness:

Both self-reported health and self-reported fitness were independent predictors of mortality. Where the objective assessment of aerobic fitness is not feasible, a simple measure of subjective fitness could prove a useful alternative.
I think when you talk about objective/subjective, you're confusing the subjectivity of the researcher with the subjectivity of the subject.

The planet Mars is a physical object. But when Lowell reported canals there, he was wrong because he, the researcher, was subjectively interpeting the data in an incorrect way. It's when the researcher is being subjective that you have a problem. That doesn't mean you can't do research using subjective reports by the subject: that data can still be researched objectively.
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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 ]
A shame by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #22 Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 04:36:39 AM EST
That tube stations you can walk between map isn't bigger. Might try and find a better version.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

Ashcroft... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #23 Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 05:46:11 AM EST
looks like a whitewash...

I guess it's a flaw of democracy that no-one is interested in the corruption of an incoming party. 

To be no better than a homely swain | 38 comments (38 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback