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Perspectivist Connections  v3.0


CultureBy: 'How I Talk'

In the inbetween moments these last few days, I've caught up on some truly great blogs I'd neglected this year.

I present to you my single favorite post I'd missed...I'm a lot like its author; I highly value the style he sketches, and I want to learn to do it more widely,

I have a problem.  It's the way I talk.  I speak in full sentences.(more)

AB  2007     3 further

The REAL story of Christmas...

I love the holidays this year.

AND, as Dec 25th rolls to an end, let's take just a moment to make logical sense of the Christians' culturally prevailing story.

AB  2007     6 further

Most amazing music this year...for me

[updated w/ youtube links]

SONG: 1. "Portions for Foxes" (*Lorelai!) 2. "Girlfriend" * (as featured in Big Love!) 3. "The Jeep Song" (*Veronica!) 4. "The Needle Has Landed" *

LBUM: 1. Pinkerton * (had to eventually become my most played...yay Orientalism!) 2. Forever *  (best youtube comment: What the hell is a PGP key?) (this album is still universally overlooked as "obviously" a band's greatest Pinkerton once was)

WHOLE CORPUS: The National * (a band I've known for maybe a year; thanks to willmagic

JUST THEIR RECENT WORK: 1. Her Space Holiday (The Young Machines, the remix album, and The Past Presents the Future) 2. Ben Lee (Awake Is The New Sleep and Ripe)

INCREASINGLY CONVINCED spans the best career in world history: R.E.M. *


SUDDENLY STARTING TO APPRECIATE after years of exposures: Pinback *

HONORABLE MENTIONS that I keep enjoying surprisingly more as this decade goes on: Aqua, Frank Black, Bjork, Blink-182, Counting Crows, Ben Folds, Jesus & Mary Chain, Kent, Ladytron, The Magnetic Fields, Panic! At The Disco, Regina Spektor, the new TMBG (now "The Else"), TV On The Radio, Young Galaxy


PRETTIEST (HORRIFICALLY UNRELIABLE) PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYER THAT I WENT THROUGH 2 OF: the now-impossible-to-find-because-too-many-returns-made-unprofitable Creative Zen V Plus 8GB

AB  2007     7 further

Best movie of 2007!

so far.

Long-time screenwriter and first-time director Tony Gilroy weaves hyperrealistic social details (think Syriana) with stylized characterizations. It's engagingly fun, exploratory...feels continually novel.

And, we saw a very exciting promo poster for Harold & Kumar 2. The NPH rides a unicorn!!

AB  2007     2 further

Famous atheist abandons "atheist" and similar predrawn boxes...

The WashPost transcribed an excellent Sam Harris talk -- in which he argues against using his own most famous label! Highlights:

The (main) problem is that the (social) concept of atheism imposes upon us a false burden of remaining fixated on people’s beliefs about God and remaining even-handed in our treatment of religion. But we shouldn’t be fixated, and we shouldn’t be even-handed. In fact, we should be quick to point out the differences among religions, for two reasons:

First, these differences make all religions look contingent, and therefore silly. Consider the unique features of Mormonism, which may have some relevance in the next Presidential election. Mormonism, it seems to me, is—objectively—just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas. For instance, the Mormons think Jesus is going to return to earth and administer his Thousand years of Peace, at least part of the time, from the state of Missouri. Why does this make Mormonism less likely to be true than Christianity? Because whatever probability you assign to Jesus’ coming back, you have to assign a lesser probability to his coming back and keeping a summer home in Jackson County, Missouri. If Mitt Romney wants to be the next President of the United States, he should be made to feel the burden of our incredulity. We can make common cause with our Christian brothers and sisters on this point. Just what does the man believe? The world should know. And it is almost guaranteed to be embarrassing even to most people who believe in the biblical God.

The second reason to be attentive to the differences among the world’s religions is that these differences are actually a matter of life and death. There are very few of us who lie awake at night worrying about the Amish. This is not an accident. While I have no doubt that the Amish are mistreating their children, by not educating them adequately, they are not likely to hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings. But consider how we, as atheists, tend to talk about Islam. Christians often complain that atheists, and the secular world generally, balance every criticism of Muslim extremism with a mention of Christian extremism. The usual approach is to say that they have their jihadists, and we have people who kill abortion doctors. Our Christian neighbors, even the craziest of them, are right to be outraged by this pretense of even-handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time.And the world must wake up to this fact. Muslims themselves must wakeup to this fact. And they can.

Atheism is too blunt an instrument to use at moments like this. It’s as though we have a landscape of human ignorance and bewilderment—with peaks and valleys and local attractors—and the concept of atheism causes us to fixate one part of this landscape, the part related to theistic religion, and then just flattens it. Because to be consistent as atheists we must oppose, or seem to oppose, all faith claims equally. This is a waste of precious time and energy, and it squanders the trust of people who would otherwise agree with us on specific issues.

I’m not at all suggesting that we leave people’s core religious beliefs, or faith itself, unscathed—I’m still the kind of person who writes articles with rather sweeping titles like “Science must destroy religion”—but it seems to me that we should never lose sight of useful and important distinctions.

Another problem with calling ourselves “atheists” is that every religious person thinks he has a knockdown argument against atheism.We’ve all heard these arguments, and we are going to keep hearing themas long as we insist upon calling ourselves “atheists.

Why should we fall into this trap? Why should we stand obediently in the space provided, in the space carved out by the conceptual scheme of theistic religion? It’s as though, before the debate even begins, our opponents draw the chalk-outline of a dead man on the sidewalk, and we just walk up and lie down in it.

Instead of doing this, consider what would happen if we simply used words like “reason” and “evidence.” What is the argument against reason? It’s true that a few people will bite the bullet here and argue that reason is itself a problem, that the Enlightenment was a failed project, etc. But the truth is that there are very few people, even among religious fundamentalists, who will happily admit to being enemies of reason. In fact, fundamentalists tend to think they are champions of reason and that they have very good reasons for believing in God. Nobody wants to believe things on bad evidence. The desire to know what is actually going on in world is very difficult to argue with. In so far as we represent that desire, we become difficult to argue with. And this desire is not reducible to an interest group. It’s not a club or an affiliation, and I think trying to make it one diminishes its power.


Steve Jobs releases the iPhone, and I’m sure it wasn’t twenty minutes before someone asked, “when are you going to make this thing smaller?” Notice that very few people at this juncture, no matter what they’ve accomplished, say, “I’m done. I’ve met all my goals. Now I’m just going to stay here & eat ice cream until I die in front of you.”

Even when everything has gone as well as it can go, the search for happiness continues, the effort required to keep doubt and dissatisfaction and boredom at bay continues, moment to moment. If nothing else, the reality of death and the experience of losing loved ones punctures even the most gratifying and well-ordered life.

In this context, certain people have traditionally wondered whether a deeper form of well-being exists. Is there a form of happiness that is not contingent upon our merely reiterating our pleasures and successes and avoiding our pains? Is there a form of happiness that is not dependent upon having one’s favorite food always available to be placed on one’s tongue or having all one’s friends and loved ones within arm’s reach, or having good books to read, or having something to look forward to on the weekend? Is it possible to be utterly happy before anything happens, before one’s desires get gratified, in spite of life’s inevitable difficulties, in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease, and death?

This question, I think, lies at the periphery of everyone’s consciousness. We are all, in some sense, living our answer to it—and many of us are living as though the answer is “no.” No, there is nothing more profound that repeating one’s pleasures and avoiding one’s pains; there is nothing more profound that seeking satisfaction, both sensory and intellectual. Many of us seem think that all we can do is just keep our foot on the gas until we run out of road.

But certain people, for whatever reason, are led to suspect that there is more to human experience than this. In fact, many of them are led to suspect this by religion—by the claims of people like the Buddha or Jesus or some other celebrated religious figures. And such a person may begin to practice various disciplines of attention—often called “meditation” or “contemplation”—as a means of examining his moment to moment experience closely enough to see if a deeper basis of well-being is there to be found.

Contemplatives have claimed to find extraordinary depths of psychological well-being while spending vast stretches of time in total isolation. It seems to me that, as rational people, whether we call ourselves “atheists” or not, we have a choice to make in how we view this whole enterprise. Either the contemplative literature is a mere catalogue of religious delusion, deliberate fraud, and psychopathology, or people have been having interesting and even normative experiences under the name of “spirituality” and “mysticism” for millennia.

Leaving aside all the metaphysics and mythology and mumbo jumbo,what contemplatives and mystics over the millennia claim to have discovered is that there is an alternative to merely living at the mercy of the next neurotic thought that comes careening into consciousness. There is an alternative to being continuously spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves.

Most us think that if a person is walking down the street talking to himself—that is, not able to censor himself in front of other people—he’s probably mentally ill. But if we talk to ourselves all day long silently—thinking, thinking, thinking, rehearsing prior conversations, thinking about what we said, what we didn’t say, what we should have said, jabbering on to ourselves about what we hope is going to happen, what just happened, what almost happened, what should have happened, what may yet happen—but we just know enough to just keep this conversation private, this is perfectly normal. This is perfectly compatible with sanity. Well, this is not what the experience of millions of contemplatives suggests.

Of course, I am by no means denying the importance of thinking.There is no question that linguistic thought is indispensable for us.It is, in large part, what makes us human. It is the fabric of almost all culture and every social relationship. Needless to say, it is the basis of all science. And it is surely responsible for much rudimentary cognition—for integrating beliefs, planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other mental capacities. Even talking to oneself out loud may occasionally serve a useful function.

From the point of view of our contemplative traditions, however—to boil them all down to a cartoon version, that ignores the rather esoteric disputes among them—our habitual identification with discursive thought, our failure moment to moment to recognize thoughts as thoughts, is a primary source of human suffering. And when a person breaks this spell, an extraordinary kind of relief is available.

But the problem with a contemplative claim of this sort is that you can’t borrow someone else’s contemplative tools to test it. The problem is that to test such a claim—indeed, to even appreciate how distracted we tend to be in the first place, we have to build our own contemplative tools. Imagine where astronomy would be if everyone had to build his own telescope before he could even begin to see if astronomy was a legitimate enterprise. It wouldn’t make the sky any less worthy of investigation, but it would make it immensely more difficult for us to establish astronomy as a science.

To judge the empirical claims of contemplatives, you have to build your own telescope. Judging their metaphysical claims is another matter: many of these can be dismissed as bad science or bad philosophy by merely thinking about them. But to judge whether certain experiences are possible—and if possible, desirable—we have to be able to use our attention in the requisite ways. We have to be able to break our identification with discursive thought, if only for a few moments. This can take a tremendous amount of work. And it is not work that our culture knows much about.

One problem with atheism as a category of thought, is that it seems more or less synonymous with not being interested in what someone like the Buddha or Jesus may have actually experienced. In fact, many atheists reject such experiences out of hand, as either impossible, or if possible, not worth wanting. Another common mistake is to imagine that such experiences are necessarily equivalent to states of mind with which many of us are already familiar—the feeling of scientific awe, or ordinary states of aesthetic appreciation, artistic inspiration, etc.

My concern is that atheism can easily become the position of not being interested in certain possibilities in principle. I don’t know if our universe is, as JBS Haldane said, “not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” But I am sure that it is stranger than we, as “atheists,” tend to represent while advocating atheism. As “atheists” we give others, and even ourselves, the sense that we are well on our way toward purging the universe of mystery. As advocates of reason, we know that mystery is going to be with us for a very long time. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe that mystery is ineradicable from our circumstance, because however much we know, it seems like there will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which we must rely upon to explain everything else. This may be a problem for epistemology but it is not a problem for human life and for human solidarity. It does not rob our lives of meaning. And it is not a barrier to human happiness.

We are faced, however, with the challenge of communicating this view to others. We are faced with the monumental task of persuading a myth-infatuated world that love and curiosity are sufficient, and that we need not console or frighten ourselves or our children with Iron Age fairy tales. I don’t think there is a more important intellectual struggle to win; it has to be fought from a hundred sides, all at once,and continuously; but it seems to me that there is no reason for us to fight in well-ordered ranks, like the red coats of Atheism.

Finally, I think it’s useful to envision what victory will look like. Again, the analogy with racism seems instructive to me. What will victory against racism look like, should that happy day ever dawn? It certainly won’t be a world in which a majority of people profess that they are “nonracist.” Most likely, it will be a world in which the very concept of separate races has lost its meaning.

We will have won this war of ideas against religion when atheism is scarcely intelligible as a concept. We will simply find ourselves in a world in which people cease to praise one another for pretending to know things they do not know. This is certainly a future worth fighting for. It may be the only future compatible with our long-term survival as a species.


AB  2007     11 further

From Judgment To Calculation: Gaining Certainty, Ignoring "Fallacies"

If you can't solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: Find it. — George Pólya

I'm playing two new (to me) problem-solving competitions that feel extremely different: heads-up no-limit hold em*, and Chess Tactics Server*. Their distinct feels make me meditate on how we build decision rules to navigate life's complex environs.

Solving chess problems, the calculations dominate. Tactical thinking feels systematic, step-by-step "100% valid." A board's terra firma absolutism rapidly expands as I look at a problem. Conclusions snap into place in cascades. Nothing feels tentative. Except!: 1) How my attention seeks out the most fertile regions of playspace to analyze. That part, my finding where to look first, second and third as my eyes take in a new board, feels like judgment, not at all calculation. General rules can describe how I prioritize the problem-scanning, but they don't fully specify the process. [The best I've crystallized, in order: King safety for each side? What's en prise? Sense who has space/play in which theaters — pawn structures & piece arrangements. Sense for trappable pieces, especially queens & rooks, or promotable pawns. Check for dangerous long diagonals and knight scope possibilities. By this time, I either see the answer or have the first candidate moves worth calculating. (If you enjoyed that parenthetical's chessiness, then do try's the most critical few percent of each chess game that explains 80% of victories — without any of those boring-to-non-experts parts!) ] 2) How my attention realizes that it's "done," ready to commit to my answer. There's usually a satisfying "snap" of a best move, but it's not actually certain — it rests on my not having missed any important pregnant possibilities in the final boards I've envisioned. Chess computers like Deep Blue have to use glitteringly generalities to decide they've calculated "far enough" (that nothing really exciting is about to happen in the final positions of their trees), and I surely do too.

Heads-up NLHE, on the other hand, feels way more judgment than calculation. I sense myself just scanning the situation (focusing on many factors with no clear rules for resolving the tensions among them) & letting my intuitions fight it out for a best decision. There is often no satisfying "snap" of correctness, just a least awkward move to play as a timer ticks down.

Poker is a way less solved game than chess tactics, which may wholly explain why their best reasoning processes feel so different. The more exactly & formally we've discerned & distilled what's important for a class of decisionmaking, the more calculations will trump judgments. (Once the terra firma gets built, it just wins. Unless its foundations turn out to be wrong.) I've witnessed several arcs of discerning & distilling in the poker world: most single-table tournaments & NL ring games are beatable through pure calculation now. (Cutting-edge judgments can still increase your edge in any game, but calculation is often sufficient to create some positive edge.)

George Pólya:
Mathematics is regarded as a demonstrative science. Finished mathematics presented in a finished form appears as purely demonstrative [calculative], consisting of proofs only. Yet mathematics in the making resembles any other human knowledge in the making. You have to guess a mathematical theorem before you prove it; you have to guess the idea of the proof before you carry through the details. You have to combine observations and follow analogies; you have to try and try again. If the learning of mathematics reflects to any degree the invention of mathematics, it must have a place for guessing, for plausible inference. In strict reasoning the principal thing is to distinguish a proof from a guess, a valid demonstration from an invalid attempt. In plausible reasoning the principal thing is to distinguish a guess from a guess, a more reasonable guess from a less reasonable guess. Certainly, let us learn proving, but let us also learn guessing. To be a good mathematician, or a good gambler, or good at anything, you must be a good guesser.

This makes me ponder how the classical logic courses can't apply to normal judgments, only to formalized calculations. Do you bet that teaching "logical fallacies" (as things to be avoided) actually does more to help shape our (children's) calculations or does more to confound & confuse our own fluid firsthand judgments about real-world situations?

For all its glory, "logic" is virtually useless in any real-world reasoning and argumentation task. Nobody actually expresses their ideas logically, except in some rare circumstances where the discussion is about some microworld domain for which logical reasoning is possible in principle. And logic is used even less in coming up with the ideas and positions.

In this light, the weight that the first logic and argumentation textbooks give to propositional logic is absolutely hilarious. I doubt that there has ever been a single situation anywhere where someone has successfully come to a solution and argued his case to others using propositional logic, for some nontrivial real-world issue.

I was once amused to notice that the popular lists of logical fallacies are practically isomorphic with the lists of techniques of informal logic and argumentation.

Consider "Ad hominem",the most beloved of all logical fallacies. I am sorry, but I still don't consider the representatives of the multibillion dollar tobacco institute to be very credible when they claim that smoking is not harmful to health. Or "Appeal to authority". I again apologize, but for some reason I just tend to trust Richard Dawkins over a sideshow creationist preacher.

I bet it would be interesting to see someone present an argument for some nontrivial issue that is relevant to everyday life,in a way that the individual steps of the argument are made explicit and the argument does not contain any part that is structurally isomorphic with some well-known logical fallacy. I wonder if anyone could point me to an actual example. Until I see such an example, I think I stay in my opinion... or am I now committing the dreaded "Argument from ignorance"?  *

Robin Hanson:
The Fallacy Fallacy

People love to collect lists of "fallacious" argument forms, with which to club opponents. Specialists have found little support for the idea that one can tell an argument is bad just by looking at its form. *

Ben Kovitz:

Systematic, rule-based [calculation] is a tiny sliver of your full powers of cognition, and it requires non-rule-based judgment to tell when and where it applies. For example, how can you tell that your cat is hungry? By the way he's purring and walking back and forth across the keyboard even as you keep trying to push him out of the way? That's probably part of how you can tell, but really there are a trillion factors going into that judgment, most of which you can't possibly be conscious of. And even if you identified the full rule that you're applying (assuming such a thing even exists), what rule could tell you that that rule is valid in this case?

If you held back on making judgments like "my cat is hungry" until you had a complete set of rules, which themselves had been validated by other rules, all the way to perfect bedrock rules that are rationally unchallengeable, your cat would starve before you did something. Yet, your brain has astounding powers to make guesses of all sorts, based on negligible amounts of information. You're typing a wiki page, you sense this annoyance at the corner of your consciousness, and suddenly the amazing machinery of your brain puts a guess into your mind: "Hey, I'll bet Rufus is hungry." So then you place your bet and pour some food for him. The bet is not a sure thing, but nothing is.

Fully systematic rules are ways to get things that you can define in advance, in environments where every possible observation is known, along with the appropriate response, so all that's left is to make the observation and then perform the response. Such perfectly understood regions of reality are only a tiny part of what's there, though. Most of the goodies live in the Yawning Void.

Mood: creative

AB  2007     8 further

2.5 months of "serious fun"

Saturday in the park...neither the 4th of July nor Chicago...discuss!
Life in the North Midwest!
"geriatric vampires" select sunglasses+hat

Mood: alive

AB  2007     20 further

Xmas lights & razor blades...and (behold the underlying truth) always The Creek to me...

I surprised San Diego's perfect weather (weather which takes my affections for granted at this point, really) & instead spent this week in the city where they set Garden State 2.* Glorious, A+++.

If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts;
you can never escape, you can only move south down the coast

With all the blue light reflections that color my mind when I sleep,
all the razor perceptions that cut just a little too deep


Also, never hesitate to take another look at Marta. Whatever match you catch, there are no wrong answers in a series this perfectly sculpted. Reuptakes just enrich. Thank you, Jasmine.

Mood: caffeinated, not tilty

AB  2007     21 further

no quote marks, no + symbol

quirky search today:
a is a

I enjoyed puzzling at how each first page hit made it so high.

AB  2007     10 further

The Holy Grail of perfect price discrimination...

Sailer observes,

As you know, colleges set their sticker prices by picking some absurdly high figure, like $46,732 per year, then discount like crazy, although they call their discounts "financial aid." But, they discount the way economic theory predicts a monopolist would - by perfect price discrimination, setting the profit-maximizing price for each potential customer. You learn in Econ 101 that in the real world, this theoretical result is seldom achieved because firms can't obtain all the detail necessary about each customer for setting the perfect price. If your econ professor has a rogue wit, he will then point out that there is a single exception: American colleges, which insist upon complete financial disclosure from applicants for "financial aid."

Our Endangered Right to Privacy is a favorite topic of newspaper editorials and long op-eds. Yet, I don't recall ever seeing anyone point out that the extraordinarily elaborate process of applying for "financial aid" from colleges tramples all over your privacy. This says a lot about the deference paid to the college cartel by the American upper middle class.

AB  2007     1 further

filmic storytelling

There's probably enough material to make more than one movie about my life, but, my God, look at me. Let's not get all, you know, optimistic. (I still get occasional Onion flashbacks.)

AB  2007     1 further

conversations with other women

best movie in ages

Devoured it tonight, and will likely watch again this week. (almost unprecedented)

The movie plays all around the very essence of memories/perception (the multiple drafts model of consciousness, esp.), and does that & much else subtly & novelly. Its story is always, constantly, the central poignant romance. Insanely efficient, not a frame wasted.

Even better than Eternal Sunshine. Comparable to Before's actually one possible future several years past Before Sunset.

AB  2007     7 further

NN Taleb's still got it!

Intellectually, I must be getting a lot more selective. Today's annual Edge Question saw me skim the first 4+ long pages of responses in a mere few moments...disappointed by every single one.

Until...I hit Taleb. Delivers, as usual!

EDIT: Krause's is extremely inspiring.

AB  2007     5 further

I'm so skeptical of skeptic cheer

You know you're a Scrooge when your own publicist apparently photoshopped you into Christmas morning. Dennett looks like something the cat dragged in from a lake full of dead people. Dawkins looks like he's pimping for Harvard Econ. But Harris looks completely normal for first season 90210.

It's awesome how they're each dramatically quirkyalone in the photos...but maybe next year for variety someone will insert the cast of Pleasantville!

AB  2006     5 further

Alternate Reflections on the Sudden Appearance of Several Well-Kept, Surprisingly Agitated Baha Dogs

(my inner dialogue with a "song" fragment popping into my head from six years ago...ah, memory!)

How did these dogs get here? And, what are they all riled up about? (Is this in a sense normal? Would they usually act this way if let out at strange hours?)

Assume someone let them out. (Why would someone? Relatedly, who? On this party night, of all nights?)

Perhaps no one let the dogs out? (They escaped?)

Is someone sending us a message? Maybe we're being too loud. Are the dogs sending us a message? Oh, Timmy and the others! I don't think I've seen them in the hour since they went down to the river...

AB  2006     10 further

Semi-Annual McSweeney's Round-Up

my favorite lists debuting over last 8 months:

Tuesdays With Stabby


Keeping time to music by beating a staff

Peter Cetera's ex-girlfriend's hotter, younger sister

Protein shakes and feeling the burn

Axis and Ally

Canadian dollars

The Moon Is a Strict Dominatrix

Why was six afraid of seven?

Mainline the Magic Hippogriff

Vermin Vanguard

Oscar Picks for Best Actor, 2025.

AB  2006     1 further

Want a gift of 2 extra hours every day?!

I was an 8 hour sleeper (maybe 7.5). Now, for going on 6 weeks, I'm at ~5.6+-1. (This morning, 4.5...and I feel terrific.)

What's changed?

It might be high-energy transitionalness (surges of motive power for fresh personal opportunities)...but I doubt it because I've never experienced a sleep shift nearly this profound.

I bet it's the 5-HTP. It's a serotonin-inspirer that I just started taking as both a sleep-deepener and a mood-enhancer (tilt-blocker). 200mg/day, as one dose ~20 minutes before bed.

I expected to feel more rested...but nothing like this! I've never heard a report of suddenly sleeping much less & feeling as or more rested.

I'm writing this down mostly because it's potentially so hugely valuable...extremely worth sharing as an opportunity for you to self-experiment. 2 hrs/day is tremendous payoff. And, it doesn't feel like a drug; subjectively, even a little caffeine feels more significant (psychoactively, experientially) than this. Many years ago, I used drugstore "sleeping pills" for a short while; those felt many many times more like a freight train than this. Vivid dreams are the biggest felt effect.

If I keep feeling so good on so little sleep, should this just become my lifestyle choice? Do you think I'm doing any damage?

UPDATE: Unfortunately, stopped showing these effects -- after almost another month. I've now (Feb 4th) totally ceased the supplement (for now, nothing dramatic), and am happily experiencing many of the same positive effects from STOPPING that I did from STARTING. I'm now guessing that a lot of the positive mood, et cetera effects have to do with CHANGING body chemistry in this way rather than the direction of change...

AB  2006     31 further

Why Was/Is American Food Bad?

In interview, Tyler Cowen (USCF 2350 apparently, as I catch up on weeks of Marginal Revolution!) addresses our bad food (a topic that's long puzzled me):

The first was Prohibition. Mr. Cowen said fine restaurants earned a disproportionate share of profits from selling drinks. When America made it illegal to sell drinks, most of the top restaurants closed.

[...] A third reason that food became so bad was not due to government, but to family structure. "There seems to be no country in the world where children are more spoiled than in America," he said. In America, children are treated more leniently, and more than elsewhere are given what they want. "This means, when it comes time for the family to go out to eat, whose food tastes are often catered to?" Children often prefer greasy, soft, bland, sweet food. "Have you ever heard a 10-year-old complain that the sauce was not sufficiently complex?" he asked. "You have families going to places like McDonald's simply because the kids want them."
("Me On Food")

AB  2006     2 further

Where You Will Live the Longest

According to a Harvard study, the top seven counties for life expectancy are in Colorado. Is there something magic in the air there? TIME's correspondent from top-ranking Clear Creek County investigates:

It hardly seems coincidental that all seven — Clear Creek, Eagle, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Park and Summit — lie either on or near the Continental Divide and are spectacularly beautiful.

AB  2006     7 further

"Time Enough For Counting"

Aaron Brown essentializes poker's game theory frontier in Willmott magazine (a journal of quantitative finance):

A minority of games have "vying" aspects, chances to adjust the stake with impact on the play of the game. Poker is unique as a pure vying game. The outcome is entirely luck. Skill cannot be exercised on the cards, only on the setting of the stake. [...]

[Vying] is the only theoretically interesting popular game. There is interesting work to be done on games like chess and go, but the basic theory is already known. Existing algorithms could play perfectly. But we still have no accepted theory for poker, or bidding in bridge, or Monopoly. [...]

I think the proper way to analyze poker is through derivative accounting. [...]

The only edge you get in poker [from someone who knows your full basic strategy] comes from bluffing. [...]

Poker may be the only activity popularly considered to evidence both masculinity and intelligence.
(nice pdf)

AB  2006     5 further

Our poker morality blogosphere

All-too-typically lashing out against freedom in a world it knows nothing about, the U.S. House yesterday passed an anti-online-gambling bill (exempting the state lotteries...and, um, horse racing, why not). ...Collapse )

Earlier this month, Slate printed the harrowing Lifetime movie of a respected 2+2er supporting his wife and family online. Inspired, a Libertarian economics professor at Harvard blogged the rather obvious Why I Hate Gambling. What's supercool, and the only reason I mention him, is that some REALLY interesting comments rolled in at his place. Here they are:

The best is when Aaron Brown, the author of my beloved The Poker Face of Wall Street(!), swoops in:
Gambling is an older and more powerful economic stimulus than money. Periods of economic innovation are invariably accompanied by explosions of gambling. The legal gambling industry in the United States today is roughly the size of the commercial banking industry. Toss in illegal gambling, gambling in financial markets and non-monetary gambling (e.g. risking one's life) and it would appear to be a significant economic force worthy of study.

Or, consider that H. L. Hunt bet every penny he had and won his first oil well. Kirk Kirkorian won the money for his first business in a poker game. Bill Gates, Clint Murchison, John Kluge and Carl Icahn all played high stakes poker before getting rich. I can't think of six billionaires who got their starts from bank loans or stock issuance. There are few enough billionaires that this is impressive statistical evidence for the economic importance of poker.more Brownian motion scoring more than just Brownie pointsCollapse )
The next most interesting, from one The Superfluous Man:
The highest-paying straight job Cero had ever had was managing an independent video store, for which he made about $300 in take-home pay every week.

HUGE market inefficiency, the only job this very bright and motivated individual is able to obtain is a crappy $300/week retail job. Reasons?:

1. IQ, on average, predicts about half of productivity, the most greatest predictor. "This meta-analysis found that the validity of GMA [General Mental Ability - IQ] for predicting job performance was .58 for professional-managerial jobs, .56 for high level complex technical jobs, .51 for medium complexity jobs, .40 for semi-skilled jobs, and .23 for completely unskilled jobs. " .51 is listed as the average. With an integrity test, it's about .65.

2. Employers cannot administer tests to determine either of these traits among job applicants, due to Griggs v. Duke and its bastard offspring.

{ (a review of all such research - 85 years of it) }

This is one of myriad clefts between the knowledge of experts and the general public. Larry Summers was impaled for trying to bridge one such cleft. It's astounding (and sadly indicative) that such bright lights as Professor Mankiw do not know it.
Then, a little food for thought from one cpurick:
Winning players' actual consumption is only a fraction of the pot. They do other consumers a favor by tying up a bunch of worthless cash. The gambler's true skill is not risk management -- it's the ability to foresee what the other players are going to do. Using that skill in a game against similarly-skilled opponents is more honorable than using it to fleece investors and clients in the real world.
Finally, to my amusement patrissimo gets quoted to drive home a judgment that winning poker is immoral:

What matters is that smart, talented people are wasting their time transferring wealth instead of creating it. Whether or not you are a libertarian or a utilitarian, that is waste. It's waste just like any other kind of rent-seeking.

AB  2006     37 further

2 superb books

This month I've gone on a huge reading jag. Like ten books. Two new ones deserve shortlisting for best of the decade(!):

1) No Two Alike. This is child development, personality psych on a grand scale. Judith Rich Harris sees herself as a scholarly detective, slowly building the best model ever for how we shape our social selves through adolescence. Her field was originally just psychology, but she's turned out to draw most heavily on behavioral genetics and Pinker-school evolpsych.

Her main hypothesis:

Personality gets created through the interplay of three mental systems: the relationship system, the socialization system, and the status system. The relationship system lets us attach to, and later relate to, specific individuals. The socialization system lets us figure out the norms of groups so we can fit in. The relationship system is with us at birth, and the socialization system develops around 2-3 yrs. The slowest system to emerge is the status system, which we use to set ourselves apart and excel within our group.

The socialization and status systems are often at odds: Do I do what's best for me even if it risks harming others? Most of a life's high drama involves trade-offs among these systems.
Harris is fun to read for her wry humor and her careful clarity. Her thoughts are among the most precise in the social sciences, so you'll feel glad she puts them so straightforwardly.

I walked away freshly noticing how our personalities are omnipresent and layered. If you're likely to have children or you love science, you definitely should look at No Two Alike.

2) The Poker Face of Wall Street. This is perspectives on how pure risk-taking is often the efficient way to channel resources for productive use. Naked risk is always looked at as a cost, as something to be minimized. The author starts there like everyone else, but ends up believing that even most poker games are big-picture productive!! He is a high-level quant (at Morgan Stanley) and pro-level poker player who applies keen economic insights to the Mississippi River Valley 200 years ago, the Chicago Board of Trade in the 1970's, the Old West, Europe 200 years ago, and of course finance & poker today.

Teasers for how pure risk rocks: Capital formation for big projects...sometimes people refuse to sell things but they will gamble them, and sometimes they're correct to do so!...chips as an alternative to soft money banking...a way to let a random couple out of several successful miners/loggers retire early from the risky profession and make way for new market economy incubation.

His story of Black Monday sheds new light, and his story of Soros spanking the British govt is fun. The book is even better than I hoped, and I had high expectations because it was spontaneously sent to my front door by two separate friends (arriving the same day by two separate carriers!) in lieu of normal recommends.

Only Fooled by Randomness equally shaped my gambling markets world view.

AB  2006     7 further

On The Ken Lay Obits

Right on:

It's been fascinating to watch the howls of betrayal following Ken Lay's death.

What it lays bare is the weirdness of our judicial system. The subtext of the post-death commentary has been that oblivion is a mercy, jail the true punishment. Yet our most devious crimes are sent to the chair, not to solitary confinement. And, meanwhile, corporal punishment is considered barbaric, with Singapore's occasional canings generating many outraged gasps from domestic blowhards. But it's not clear why five years in prison -- with all the rape and violence that occurs behind bars -- is more civilized than a public, or private, beating. I know which I'd choose. And from a social perspective, while prison has the advantage of actually locking folks up, for nonviolent offenders, society isn't endangered by their freedom.

As for capital punishment, it's telling that we think it the ultimate in retribution when we carry it out, but an escape hatch when Lay's faulty arteries do the job for us. Never mind that his heart attack was probably more painful than the anesthetized injections that generally complete the sentence. His body's failure denied us the pleasures of revenge, and revenge appears to be what we really wanted. We're not angry that he died, but that we didn't kill him.


AB  2006     4 further

INTPness vs ENTJness

Me on aggressive life action in the face of uncertainty:
The "most tenuous probabilistic associations" can & SHOULD produce ACTIONS that seem-to-imply absolute certainties...for the simple reason that actions are often binary (by the nature of the physical universe, there's often no way to interact safely with only the safer parts of someone's psyche, for one). Breaking up with a girlfriend doesn't mean that you hate her, or even that you're nearly certain you're making the right choice...just that you're at least 55% certain (say) that it's what you need to do!
I like the whole thread.

AB  2006     6 further

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