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Thursday, February 20, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

So I've been reading Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom". It's interesting, probably deserves its status as a Classic among libertarians and others in that part of the vector space.

Some interesting insights into the workings of collectivism. I like the observation (not made in so many words, but nearly) that a bunch of individualists who succeed in getting to "everyone can do what they want as long as they don't bop each other in the nose" are in a reasonably (or at least plausibly) stable state, whereas a bunch of collectivists who succeed in getting to "everyone is obliged to work for the good of the community" isn't a stable state because there will be more than one notion of "the good of the community".

(Of course there will also be more than one notion, in the individualist case, of the proper reading of "bop each other in the nose", so it's not a completely clearcut distinction; but rough consensus in that case seems more likely than in the "what is the good of the community?" case. One could argue that that's only because we haven't been brought up with a common understanding of the good of the community.)

I also like the observation that when we look down our noses at economic considerations, when we say "it's only money" or "he's only in it for the money", we can do this because we're pretty well off, and when we think of money we're thinking of money at the margin. That is, of the amount of good one more handful of dollars would do us. And, at least for those of us whose basic needs are satisfied, that's a comparatively small amount of good.

On the other hand, the contempt that we're able to feel for money (Hayek argues rather convincingly) would vanish if we no longer had control over our own resources, and were no longer free to decide not only how to spend our money at the margin, but how to allocate our resources in general.

I'm not expressing this terribly well, and I can't find a single sentence of Hayek's short enough and pithy enough to quote here, but that's the general idea. With luck I've recorded it well enough that at least I myself will recognize it when someday I search the log for "Hayek", trying to remember what that interesting point I found in "Serfdom" was. *8)

Hayek is no minarchist; he thinks there are all sorts of things that governments can properly do, including providing various kinds of financial incentives to behave, or not behave, in various ways. Which is fine, minarchism isn't required; but many of the people who like to cite Hayek are minarchists, so I'd wondered.

The thing that annoys me most about the book so far is that it dives into argument by assertion every now and then. In a passage I read just now, for instance, Hayek is contrasting individualist morality with collectivist morality, and concluding that the latter scarcely exists:

There can be no limit to what [the collectivist state's] citizen must be prepared to do, no act which his conscience must prevent him from committing, if it is necessary for an end which the community has set itself or which his superior orders him to achieve.

He just states this as if it were obvious; if there's some line of argument showing why this is necessarily true of collectivist states, I've missed it. One could just as easily write:

There can be no limit to what [the individualist state's] citizen must be prepared to do, no act which his conscience must prevent him from committing, if it is necessary for an end which he has set himself or which he has decided to achieve.

Certainly either an individual individualist or a collectivist collection can decide not to be bound by any restrictions on the means to its ends, but in neither case does it seem necessary. Individualists in the main accept moral restrictions on their fulfilling of their own desires, and there seems nothing contradictory about the notion of a collective accepting moral restrictions on its fulfilling of the goal of the general good. Hayek's statement to the contrary seems to be just preaching to the choir, or an attempt at proof by assertion.

(Which isn't to say that there may not be plausible arguments for a collective's being less likely to obey moral restrictions than an individual; I'm just annoyed that Hayek isn't giving me one.)

Also reading Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". Apparently, what we talk about when we talk about love, is pain. Which isn't exactly a new observation. *8) Each of the four very short stories that I've so far read in the book has been sharp and well-crafted. But all four have had a very very similar flavor.

Perhaps limited and well-spaced doses are indicated.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

So I was writing this Swing GUI thing mostly to distract myself from a less frivolous and much more complex program that I've been trying to write for weeks. It's a set of classes to model an annoyingly complicated physical system; I had a hack that worked, but was brittle and not extensible, and now that I need to extend it I decided to throw the core of it away and replace it with something closer to The Right Thing.

For some reason I couldn't quite get my mind through to The Right Thing for a long time, but in the last few days I for some reason managed to (maybe the distraction of the Swing thing getting me close to the Zone, maybe just being on vacation and having the chance to sit and do nothing or anything for hours and hours on end, snowed in somewhere near Boston), and first I got the program back to the level of function of the hack version, and then with a few more lines I added some function that I'd tried unsuccessfully for days to add to the hack version, and then in another couple of hours I added (to the degree that I can while away from the hardware) the extension whose necessity moved me to do the rewrite in the first place.

So that was good.

Homeowner-like, we're worrying about the house, three or four hours south of here, covered in a couple of feet of snow and exposed to deep cold followed by a rapid thaw as it's been. We talked to the neighbors on the phone, and they say everything's okay in the neighborhood, and they ran their snowblower up our driveway, so everything should be just fine; shovelling a couple feet off of the porches, even if it has had a week to compress, shouldn't be bad.

Being mostly offline has been relaxing; there's a TV going in the corner of the other room now, and it sounds like the lunatics in charge of U.S. foreign policy have had no sudden bursts of sanity. It's been nice not thinking about that.

Today we went into Concord and had lunch, and went to Books with a Past. I bought a copy of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"; seventeen very short and sharp stories. Also K. C. Constantine "The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes" (a Mario Balzic Mysterty), a short novel about a small town police chief and some people and some things. I read some of it (the novel) while watching the kids playing in and on the huge pile of snow around the evergreen tree down at the end of the street.

Each of the kids picked out an old book for themselves; a little pricey, but I'm pretty willing to subsidize their book buying. The little boy bought a "Stampkraft" book (copyright 1915), "Joseph and his Brethren done in Poster Stamps"; and the little daughter got something by Trollope in an edition from the 50's. Does my heart good, I tell ya.

Ah, time for dinner. The little boys are chanting the title line from Ye Kha Ho Raha Hai, and we're having Trader Joe's potstickers and dim sum for the main course. How eclectic we are!

Sunday, February 16, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

So we're once again painfully distant from the nearest broadband access point, but otherwise pretty content; sitting in the living room with a fire going, more thoroughly teaching myself the Swing GUI library for Java. Again I'm not sure when I'll actually be able to post this, but that's okay.

I've finally broken down and acknowledged the existence of anonymous inner classes, and am now an anonymous inner classifying fool. The little linear finite automaton I just got working (the Nth time I've implemented that particular algorithm) has five anonymous inner classes, and my generalized Swing container-thing ("Cake") into which it's a plug-in currently has (yipe) seventeen.

TimerTask timerTask = new TimerTask() {
  public void run() {

One of the more amusing things about Java is how often you say things like "TimerTask timerTask = new TimerTask()". Not much timertask in that, is there?

Photoshopped images of Britney Spears
Pics Of Southern Girls
Picture of Halle Barry Naked
Picture of the Alethiometer
Pictures +crying+tears
Pictures Comedy and Tragedy
Pictures Of The Annunciation
Pictures Of pregnant elves
Pictures of Christina Aguilera's house
Pictures of Excretion in Grasshoppers
Pictures of Princess Leia Organa Nude
Pictures of a Normal Clitoris
Pictures of nude triplets

But my favorite item from the Recent Search Terms section of the referer log is this one, in the general category of "type your entire homework assignment into Google and see what comes out":

You are facing a high wall that stretches infinitely in both directions. There is a door in the wall, but you don't know how far away or in which direction. It is pitch dark, but you have a very dim lighted candle that will enable you to see the door when you are right next to it. Show that there is an algorithm that enables you to find the door by walking at most O(n) steps, where n is the number of steps that you would have taken if you knew where the door is and walked directly to it.

I have once or twice over the years referred vaguely in these pages to my interest in Bollywood movies (where "Bollywood" for this purpose refers to popular culture movies from India, many in Hindi, many with elaborate dance numbers). One of our local PBS stations used to have a few hours of Indian-language TV now and then, and I loved the elaborate costumes and stylized dancing and vivid scenary and stuff. (Ref the relevant paragraph in VOZ.)

Other the years I've casually looked around for books about Bollywood (only ever found one possibility; it's on my Amazon wishlist, but may not be exactly what I'm looking for), and for the thing itself (neither Amazon nor Amazon co uk has a significant amount). The other day I asked on a mailing list I follow for recommendations and advice on the subject, and was told I should start with "Sholay", and to get a copy I should find my local Indian retailer.

Being too lazy to exert any effort, I was unable to find a handy Indian retailer, and was about to give up when I suddenly smacked myself on the forehead and exclaimed "eBay!". I bid on a copy of Sholay, but the price went above where I wanted it. However, something else had a very temping "Buy It Now!" button, so now we have a copy of "Bollywood Hits, Volume Two" (I think the kids are in fact downstairs watching it now); 47 song and dance numbers extracted from popular movies, all full of color and sounds and songs in languages we don't speak, and exhaustingly enthusiastic dancing.

The very thing.

From amptoons awhile back, something cool:

The first notes in the longest and slowest piece of music in history, designed to go on for 639 years, are being played on a German church organ on Wednesday.

The three notes, which will last for a year and a half, are just the start of the piece, called As Slow As Possible.

(You are facing a high wall that stretches infinitely in both directions.)


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