A thought for today

This quote from Deirdre McCloskey makes very good sense:

“That businesspeople buy low and sell high in a particularly alert and advantageous way does not make them bad unless all trading is bad, unless when you yourself shop prudently you are bad, unless any tall poppy needs to be cut down, unless we wish to run our ethical lives on the sin of envy.”
Deirdre N. McCloskey

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Cohen on Liberalism and Free Speech

Liberalism does not only fail to satisfy the new conservatives who are storming to power across the west. It fails to satisfy many who call themselves “liberal”. It is simultaneously too hard and too soft an ideology to bear. It demands tolerance. But we do not want to be tolerated as if we were poor relations. We want respect, approval and freedom from criticism and insult. In our wilder moments, we want, in our vanity, to be loved.

To paraphrase the paraphrase of Voltaire, the liberal view of sexual tolerance used to be: “I may disapprove of who you take to bed, but I will defend to my death your right to bed them.”

Just as liberals used to tolerate free speech, except when t....

Where Rashid and Juliet can’t wed

Many countries make it hard to marry someone from another religion – change is needed

Around two dozen countries have no provision for civil marriage

ARMAN DHANI, an Indonesian journalist who is Muslim, broke up with his Catholic girlfriend of five years when he reached the heartbreaking conclusion that they would never be able to marry. Indonesian officials refuse to register inter-faith marriages because the law does not mention them. “My mother said: ‘If you want to marry her she must convert to Islam,’” he says. “But I didn....

Crime, Ink and Tattoos

A statistical analysis of the art on convicts’ bodies. What can be learned from a prisoner’s tattoos – how they affect ability to get work and to stay out of prison.

IN THE mid-1990s a man named Frank, recently released from prison, came to Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles, for help. Frank was having a difficult time finding a job, in part because of his chequered past. It probably wasn’t helping that he had the words “FUCK THE WORLD” inked across his forehead.

Father Boyle hired Frank to work....

Nutrition Trend Nonsense

Joe Bennett this week on nutrition, as published in the Otago Daily Times:

I WAS going to write something earnest about I no longer remember what —Venezuelan architecture, perhaps, or the moral ramifications of string theory (and, boy, does someone need to address that some time!) — but then I remembered my vow.

Last week, you see, I was asked to talk on the radio about this and that. The this turned out to be Trump, which was fine, but the that turned out to be — wait for it — ‘‘ the healthy food trends predicted for 2017’’ .

And I’m afraid that when I heard that sentence I felt a surge of such strong emotion that it overwhelmed my little hippocampus, and the hipp....

How to Make a Good Teacher


FORGET smart uniforms and small classes. The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers. One American study found that in a single year’s teaching the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do. Another suggests that, if black pupils were taught by the best quarter of teachers, the gap between their achievement and that of white pupils would disappear. 

But efforts to ensure that every teacher can teach are hobbled by the tenacious myth that good teachers are born, not made. Classroom heroes like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds” are endowed with excepti....

Driver-less Car Ethics

Better you than me:

You can switch tracks so a runaway train kills one person instead of five. Do you throw the switch? What if you’re the one person? Variants of this “trolley problem” are classic ethics questions. And autonomous cars’ programs must have answers to them in the event of an unavoidable crash. Should they be “utilitarian”, aiming to kill fewer, or unfailingly protect their occupants? It depends how the question is phrased, say researchers writing in Science this week. In surveys portraying a number of simulated crash scenarios (try them at moralmachine.mit.edu), people overwhelmingly made the utilitarian choice. But when the notional passengers were....

Costs of Poor Research

The great butter versus margarine debate

Butter has gone from fridge-shelf pariah to the golden boy of healthy spreads. Photo / iStock

Butter has gone from fridge-shelf pariah to the golden boy of healthy spreads.

As a 12-year-old at a family meal, I asked my uncle quizzically why he chose to eat margarine. From another part of the table came the answer: “He doesn’t want to die like your father.”

My dad had suffered a sudden, fatal heart attack in the late 60s, aged only 52. That kitche....

One Door Closes, Another Opens

Euthanasia – A missed opportunity in Britain; a chance to be seized in California

Caught between conflicting moral arguments, Governor Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, signed a measure on Tuesday 6th October 2015 (NZT) allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths.

This article from The Economist in September 2015 discusses the issue prior to California’s decision:

SHOULD doctors be allowed to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients who ask for it? For this newspaper the answer is simple: the state should no more intrude on personal decisions at the close of life tha....

Tweeting From Left to Right Is Online Political Communication More Than an Echo Chamber?

US in origin and thus examples, this paper has relevance to the Twitterati in NZ and is well worth a thought or two…..


We estimated ideological preferences of 3.8 million Twitter users and, using a data set of nearly 150 million tweets concerning 12 political and non political issues, explored whether online communication resembles an “echo chamber” (as a result of selective exposure and ideological segregation) or a “national conversation.” We observed that information was exchanged primarily among individuals with similar ideological preferences in the case of political issues (e.g., 2012 presidential election, 2013 government shutdown) ....

Playing the Music of Capitalism

There are many ways to tell the stories of how  people’s well-being has improved over time. No-one recognises this more than Arthur Brooks from the American Enterprise Institute.

Before he was president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks played the French horn. Not on the side. For a living.

It’s not the standard route to the top job at a Beltway think tank. Then again, not much about Mr. Brooks is standard. From dropping out of college to go to Spain to play for the Barcelona City Orchestra, to earning his B.A. degree via correspondence courses from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, his life makes for an eclectic résumé.

Today he boasts ....

They think, therefore they are

French intellectualism

Sharp contrasts with US, Australia and NZ: too Sharp
Why the life of the mind is so important in France

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People. By Sudhir Hazareesingh. Allen Lane; 427 pages;

IN 2003, as America was gearing up for the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a tall Frenchman with a thick silvery mane took the floor at the UN in New York. Dominique de Villep....

10 Algorithms Dominating our World

Thirty years ago, other than mathematicians and computer scientists, most people would not know what an algorithm was. Today, even if we don’t know what mystery number sequences are at play, we are generally aware that algorithms shape our world in a big way. They decide much of what we see and hear, and have the ability to anticipate our interests and influence our political views.
Drawing from io9.com’s list of popular algorithms, here are 10 ways that these calculations influence our lives today.

Progressives are Wrong about the Essence of the Constitution

By George F. Will, Published: April 16, 2014

In a 2006 interview, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said the Constitution is “basically about” one word — “democracy” — that appears in neither that document nor the Declaration of Independence. Democracy is America’s way of allocating political power. The Constitution, however, was adopted to confine that power in order to “secure the blessings of” that which simultaneously justifies and limits democratic government — natural liberty.

The fundamental division in U.S. politics is between those who take their bearings from the individual’s right to a capacious, indeed indefinit....

Type I and type II errors

These two are so commonly confused that any good treatment is worth reading. The following is adapted from Wikipedia.

In statistics, a null hypothesis is a statement that the thing being studied produces no effect or makes no difference. An example of a null hypothesis is the statement “This diet has no effect on people’s weight.” Usually an experimenter frames a null hypothesis with the intent of rejecting it: that is, intending to run an experiment which produces data that shows that the thing under study does mak....

Peril of Capture in Science

Very poor experimental design, a lack of ethics on the part of enthusiasts dressed up as scientists can have large unintended consequences. Put the frying pan on the stove and consider this…..

“Saturated fat does not cause heart disease”—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola ....

The Improbability Principle

In 2009, the Bulgarian lottery pumped out the exact same winning numbers in consecutive weeks. An investigation was ordered. The public couldn’t fathom that it was possible. The lottery must have been tampered with. Surely it couldn’t be coincidence?

Actually a similar occurrence has happened before, in North Carolina in 2007. It’s what mathematician David Hand calls the Improbability Principle, and the basic premise is that events that might seem miraculous, or freakish, shouldn’t really be particularly surprising because it’s just math.

Even with only 23 people in a room, the probability that two of them share the sa....