u Notes from the Underground: March 2006

The first Web 3.0 product

Thursday, March 23, 2006

This is just what the doc ordered! (HT: Kerabu)

Filter-blogging: Monday morning snarkiness edition

Monday, March 20, 2006

A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move."

On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.
Just count the infelicities here. A voice doesn't speak —a person speaks; a voice is what a person speaks with. "Chillingly close" would be right in your ear, whereas this voice is fifteen feet away behind the thundering gate. The curator (do we really need to be told his profession a third time?) cannot slowly turn his head if he has frozen; freezing (as a voluntary human action) means temporarily ceasing all muscular movements. And crucially, a silhouette does not stare! A silhouette is a shadow. If Saunière can see the man's pale skin, thinning hair, iris color, and red pupils (all at fifteen feet), the man cannot possibly be in silhouette.

A linguist picks on all the stylistic blunders that Dan Brown committed in his You-Know-Which-One book. As if the writing itself wasnt egregious enough (here's another one to convince you, though its slightly more jargon ridden), you had to contend with the mediocre plot, with its steady stream of cheap twists. It would have been convenient if no one had read it; but no, the way things were sometime back, you had to suffer every fool telling his opinion about the book and asking you what you thought of it. In retrospect, I wish some crackpot group claiming to represent some fringe community had protested against the book in India, which would have led to the immediate banning of the book by our ever-sensitive government, and we would have been spared much agony.

[There. I am in a somewhat better position to handle my Monday now.]

[And ofcourse, no disrespect meant to anyone who liked the novel. We just have different priorities.]

No sir, its not wasted beauty

Friday, March 17, 2006

Touch, brush, caress. Ever so lightly. Drown. And, explore.

(Oh-so-thankful, Pi)

Update: Chetan, in the comments, points me to another awesome site,Ashes and Snow. Again, just Explore. Wordlessly. I've been doing it for an hour now. And do put on your headphones/speakers.

Inequality discussion on Cato

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

[I am very late in linking to this. I've been trying to put together my own thoughts on inequality, which, in the end, I decided are neither very original nor well expressed, so I just ended up being a week late.]

Cato Unbound's latest issue, talks about whether inequality is important. In the lead essay, David Schmidtz makes a very clear-headed argument against obsessing on equal opportunity:
In a race, equal opportunity matters. In a race, people need to start on an equal footing. Why? Because a race’s purpose is to measure relative performance. Measuring relative performance, though, is not a society’s purpose. We form societies with the Joneses so that we may do well, period, not so that we may do well relative to the Joneses. To do well, period, people need a good footing, not an equal footing. No one needs to win, so no one needs a fair chance to win. No one needs to keep up with the Joneses, so no one needs a fair chance to keep up with the Joneses. No one needs to put the Joneses in their place or to stop them from pulling ahead. The Joneses are neighbors, not competitors.
Schmidtz's essay ends by asking "which inequalities are ours to arrange". This is, I think, the question to ask. If inequality really is an emergent side-effect of division of labour and voluntary exchanges between individuals, does anybody have the moral authority to "force" equality? Tom Palmer's response picks up on this and dissects some of the approaches to and justifications for redistributionism. (Indeed, this essay and one of its footnotes helped clarify my thinking on the claim that wealth is created "jointly" by societies.)

For balance, read this from crookedtimber.org. The comments thread is in that post is quite interesting.

Some cricket trivia

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The week culminating in the ides of March has always been a great time for cricket, apparently. Most recently we've had the greatest one-dayer ever; exactly five years before today was a day no Indian fan will ever forget. Cricinfo has more.

India is gonna grow leaps and bounds

Monday, March 13, 2006

Our Minister of Commerce tells us why. (Thanks to India Uncut)

Property, ownership and collectivist pitfalls

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Spot the fallacy in the following:
A medical researcher might make a discovery of great commercial value. He might have worked terribly hard to bring it off. But even so, who trained him? Who moved the subject to the point where the discovery became possible? Who built their lab in which he worked? Who runs it? Who pays for it? Who is responsible for the enduring social institutions that present the commercial opportunities? One who cleverly exploits the social framework has both his cleverness and the framework to thank.
So, whats wrong with the above argument? I, for one, was stumped. I knew that there was something sneaky about this argument, but I just couldnt put my finger on what that was. I knew that if one accepted the above argument, it was a short step from there to socialism and then to hell. Yet I couldnt just muster my thoughts properly in the moment; it was a rhetorical stranglehold, albeit a temporary one.

There are two fallacies in the above argument actually:
There is a minor and a major point to recognise. The minor point is that the "framework" is not a person, natural or legal, to whom a debt can be owed, "institutions" do not act, "society" has no mind, no will, and makes no contributions. Only persons do these things. Imputing responsibility and credit for accumulated wealth, current production and well-being to entities that have no mind and no will is nonsense. It is a variant of the notorious fallacy of composition. [Me: This is a fallacy that humans commit all the time: ascribing intentions/responsibility/credit to entities which dont have minds, if only for lack of a better explanation.]

Once this is understood, we can move on to the major point. All contributions of others to the building of your house have been paid for at each link in the chain of production. [Me:in the above example, all contributors to the discovery of the medical research have been paid for at the appropriate links in the chain of production.] Value has been and is being given for value received, even though the "value" is not always money and goods, but may sometimes be affection, loyalty or the discharge of duty. In the exchange relation, a giver is also a recipient, and of course vice versa.

.. In a voluntary exchange, once each side has delivered and received the agreed contribution, the parties are quits. Seeking to credit and debit them for putative outstanding claims is double counting.
(Emphasis mine)

All the extracts are from "Your Dog Owns Your House", by Anthony De Jasay, a well-known libertarian philosopher.

My two links on the Oscars

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

(Er, the title is my attempt at snowclonising an idiom: "my two cents".)

[Note:It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in posession of a good net connection must be downloading and watching a lot of movies. Unsated with such wanton infringement of copyright, such men may also proceed to further fritter away their time by reading others opinions on the said movies, or worse, proffer their own unsolicited opinions and betray their philistinism. It can be of little doubt that you are currently perusing such a gentleman's journal; let it not, therefore, be said that you were not forewarned.]

[Note2: Obvious links not provided; benefits not apparent enough to me, at 2 in the morning]

Here is some polemic on why Crash is simplistic to the point of delusion. (Link via Daniel Drezner)

Cowritten by Haggis and Robert Moresco, "Crash" directly contradicts what we know about how race plays out in the U.S. today, not just in Los Angeles, but all over. In the name of Big Drama, it ignores the chilling effect of political correctness, which compels everyone who's not a fringe-dwelling hatemonger or a person pushed to the edge of his or her rope to express racist thoughts in code.

Ignoring this psychological given, "Crash" is set in Archie Bunker World, a nostalgic land where race is at the forefront of every consciousness during every minute of every day, where elaborately worded slurs are loaded into everyone's speech centers like bullets in a gun, ready to be fired at the instant that disrespect is given. The characters are anachronistic cartoons posing as symbols of contemporary distress.

You dont need to live in the US to have your bullshit alarms going off many times during the movie. It just feels too slick and, at times, cloyingly ironic.

[Update: Evidently, even Google was very disappointed with Crash winning best movie. Image from this Language Log post. I wish these dudes would post less often, its just too good to miss.]

Brokeback Mountain, while being cinematically perfect, doesnt sustain your interest well in the latter half. The real reason why it didnt win Best Picture is left for Tyler Cowen to explain:
Hollywood controls system, not fixed but rigged to favor picture with greatest elasticity of profits with respect to favorable publicity. Too many people won't see BBM, plus fear that Hollywood looks out of touch, Crash!
Would that be why Titanic won so many Oscars?

Also watched "Pride and Prejudice". I feel that the greatest joy of reading Jane Austen comes not from her plot (which always ends happily, a minus in my book), but from her wonderful sentences and the superbly witty conversations between the characters. (The note at the start of the blog, btw, was a pathetic attempt at some Austen pastiche.) That means that I lost out on a whole lot of the experience of reading the book, but the movie has its own compensations as well. You get to see drawn-out chapters in the book compressed into short, torrid scenes where the leads come perilously close to kissing each other(gasp!). You lose out on the sentences but you have the challenge of processing the characters' utterances in real time. (Consider this dialogue that Matt Macfadyen, playing Mr. Darcy, delivers in said torrid scene : "Perhaps these offences might have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honesty in admitting scruples about our relationship.") The movie has a smooth, taut pace that is very resonant of the way the book itself reads. A downside of a movie adaptation is that the story feels a tad too real: you dont want the characters to be so literally shown, you realise you liked them best when they were in that semi-crystallised state, as comfortably disembodied souls. Once you go back to the book, you feel cheated that your own mind's eye movie is so much more different, and (out of what? just childish stubbornness?) you grant greater authenticity to your own pallid mental images.