In the spirit of cleaning out my "links" folder, a dump of things I found interesting at the time and hopefully you will too:
Perhaps you have plenty of time to get where you want to go, but are tired of dull and ugly routes. Look no further than this tool for identifying not the quickest, but the most beautiful route between two places! The only catch: it's for Yahoo rather than Google, so no-one will ever use it.
An 88-year-old man has found the ultimate trick for getting to sleep with young women under hegemonic capitalism: market yourself as a commodity! "Grandfather Busted For Prostituting Himself To Young Women".
An article about one of my favourite albums of recent years, The Lyre Ensemble's The Flood. The Flood is an attempt at recreating, or at least composing in the spirit of, ancient Babylonian music; more about the album can be found here and the album is on iTunes, my personal favourite songs are "Enkidu Curses the Harlot" and "Ishtar's Descent".
Staying on the topic of music, "Towards a 21st century orchestral music canon". Various enthusiasts chip in with their thoughts on modenr long-from orchestral music and why there's relatively little of it.
The collection of Wellcome Library, Euston Road, includes an impressive selection of calling cards for London prostitutes. Fascinating both because sex and as a reflection of the social history of London. "Until the mid-190s, the typical tart was of apparently English stock. From around 1994 onwards, we see Oriental beauties, busty Amazons and Jamaican Dominatrices. Raunchy photographs become common at this point, but are often cribbed from magazines and bear little resemblance to the goods on offer. The production values improve as well. One lady poses next to an inset that shows her recent endorsement by the News of the World."
Another library I'd have been interested to visit: that of the IRA prisoners. People are often surprised at how well-educated and middle-class most terrorists are, but you have to remember that terrorism is a fundamentally political act, which means that it is most popular among the political classes. In this light, the greater surprise is not that the prisoners were so interested in Marxism, but that they were able to establish such a remarkable compendium of works in the tradition.
Only the true Messiah denies his divinity! (via this 2009 Marginal Revolution post)
Stewart Lee defends the German sense of humour. Incidentally, a dirty Hungarian joke I heard last night about Transylvanians, but which could be about many other nationalities too:
A young Transylvanian man is getting married, and asks his father for advice concerning the wedding night. The father tells him: "First, you must pick up your new wife, to show that Transylvanians are strong. Then you throw her on the bed, to show that Transylvanians are masculine. Then you remove your clothes, to show that Transylvanians are beautiful. And I'm sure you can work out what to do from there."
After the newlyweds return from their honeymoon, and the delighted son checks in with his father. "It was just like you said! I picked her up, to show that Transylvanians are strong. I threw her on the bed, to show that we are masculine. I removed our clothes, to show that we are beautiful. And then I stood next to the bed and masturbated, to show that Transylvanians are independent and autonomous!"
Robert Wiblin has one of the most interesting Facebook feeds I know, and this is a particular highlight: a discussion of "What's the strongest argument against a political position you hold dear?"
Everyone likes to joke about homoerotic readings of the relationship between Batman and Robin, but this is an impressively thorough history.
The complaint that English people only know England, and have no idea of how the world works or of how they are perceived beyond their borders, is a familiar one: I hear it all the time from Scots and Northern Irish. If I had any Welsh friends they'd probably say the same thing, the British-but-not-English countries are all basically the same anyway. In any case, an expat skewers this mentality from a more international perspective, with regard to our beloved "athlete" Eddie the Eagle.
Braess' Paradox: adding capacity to a road network can increase congestion, without changing the volume of traffic!
Edward Feser explains a particular view of the nature of heaven and hell, according to which people choose to go to hell. Warning: relies on kooky metaphysics (though nonetheless fascinating if you have an interest in theology).
A defence of Napoleon, portraying him as a great reformer who sought to avoid war, at least following his return to power in the Hundred Days. In a similarly revisionist but less hot-takey, more plausible vein, various instances of private violence being taken over by the government as a way to restrain and control it. "Many southern states tightened "Jim Crow" racial codes between the World Wars as part of an attempt to stop lynchings"!
Since I may have just defended governments, better even it out with a reminder that many of them are literally evil: as famine is declared in two counties of South Sudan, the government increases the fee for work permits for foreign aid workers from $100 to $10,000.
Some people just hate progress: an argument against colonising Mars. That said, perhaps the problem is that Mars is the wrong target and we should aim for Venus first.
A takedown of certain elite views that war with China is inevitable. Convincing as an explainer, I particularly enjoyed the section suggesting that the same argument imply inevitable war between the US and Europe.
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Friday, 9 June 2017
So Theresa May is bringing the DUP into a governing coalition:
-After campaigning in 2015 on the fact that a Labour government would rely on a purely Scottish party with 5% of the vote, the Tories go into government with a purely Northern Irish party with 0.9% of the vote.
-After calling an election in order to obtain a strong majority, the Tories lose the majority they had.
-After branding Corbyn a friend of terrorists, the Tories bring some actual (former) terrorists into the governing coalition.
-A mass movement of socially liberal youngsters has brought a climate-change-denying anti-abortion anti-LGBT party into the government.
-The DUP can't even govern Northern Ireland due to a corruption scandal, but they're going to be helping to govern the whole of the UK.
Can anything top this bants?
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Over the last few days I've tweeted various thoughts about tomorrow's general election. The key points I have made, expanded to take advantage of there being no 140 characters limit and to include explanation I didn't really give at the time:
(1) May and Corbyn are both absolutely awful.
(2) It's very difficult to say who is worse. I suggested, however, that May is probably worse in the long-run. (And ultimately, the long-run is the only thing that matters):
(2a) May is likely to make changes not just to our laws, but to our very society.
(2ai) Firstly, by massively restricting immigration (and quite possibly forcing out foreign citizens who are already present), she will remove many of our most reliably cosmopolitan members. Second, our population is already ageing and immigration is one of the things keeping it from going up faster - both because immigrants themselves are typically relatively young, but also because they raise the fertility of native Brits.
(2aii) Second, May is moving away from entrusting immigration control to a few sociopaths on the border and more to employers and landlords. If they employ or let to unauthorised immigrants, then they will be punished - so they will have to be vigilant to avoid this. Given the way that government enforcement tends to create public acceptance (see chapter 6), I think this is likely to further contribute to negative views of immigration and immigrants.
(2b) As Rory also notes, Corbyn is likely to fail a lot more visibly than May. Perhaps we undergo a few years of stagnation or recession, fine. Hopefully people see this isn't working and after a decade or so of self-inflicted misery, we end up with better policies. (This feels relevant, though I'm not certain how).
(3) But ultimately, this is just a guess. I would put my confidence that May is worse somewhere between 55% and 60%, and would not blame anyone for deciding that either May or Corbyn is the lesser evil.
(4) Anyone who has a reasonable knowledge and understanding of economics ought to realise that both are awful, and enthusiasm for either one indicates that you should views on politics should not, in general, be taken seriously. (This is not intended as a personal slight. There is nothing wrong with knowing nothing about politics, any more than there is with knowing nothing about car maintenance. The problem comes when one attempts to force one's uninformed views on others, rather than leaving politics well enough alone).
(4ai) Donald Trump received just under 63 million votes last year. The overwhelming majority of those were not from out-and-out racists, but rather from people who think that it is more important that the president have an R next to his or her name than that he or she be a sound thinker of calm disposition who adheres to even basic standards of ethical conduct. Party loyalty and partisanship allows people to overlook terrible flaws in their candidate; to be enthusiastic for either May or Corbyn, rather than resigned to whoever one takes to be the less bad candidate, is to place oneself in the same category as those millions who elected the ape currently occupying the White House. If the candidate one supports is less bad than Trump, this has nothing do with one's own virtues and everything to do with the fact that one is fortunate enough to live in a place with less awful candidates than the US.
(4aii) Anyone who genuinely believes in communism ought never to be allowed anywhere near government office, regardless of what they profess in order to get elected (or to be acceptable in polite society). Firstly, this belief displays a severe lack of judgement, and judgement is key to good governance. Second, the communist will attempt to implement communist policies, constrained by what they think they can get away with.
Tony Blair was acceptable is Prime Minister because he demonstrated, in particular by forcing the rewriting of Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution, that he was not any kind of communist. He was not someone who wanted communism but would settle for being able to implement liberal policies with a leftist slant; rather, he genuinely accepted the superiority of liberalism over communism. If one is the kind of leftist who ought to be entrusted with power, then one will - as a genuine liberal - be horrified at the prospect of Corbyn getting to implement his policies.
(4b) Both (4ai) and (4aii) are valid criticism of some enthusiastic Labour supporters. However, attributing both to any individual voter is perhaps to make things overdetermined. If one is a full-on socialist, then while one almost certainly despises the Tories this is hardly necessary for one to gather around the Labour flag. Similarly, becoming a loud and enthusiastic Corbynite merely to keep the Tories out has its own problems, but it does not indicate a deficit of judgement in the way that being a genuine Marxist does.