Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Read of the day: "Rational Atheism"

Michael Shermer at his best. The gist:

Whenever religious beliefs conflict with scientific facts or violate principles of political liberty, we must respond with appropriate aplomb. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about irrational exuberance.

Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion. [my emphasis in bold]

PS. This wonderfully matches to my previous post (in Romanian; about Romania), which actually deals with an instance where the freedom of choice itself is under attack.

Libertatea de alegere in educatia pre-universitara

...e atacata frontal in ceea ce constituie cea mai recenta mostra de imbecilitate a MEdC. Se intampla desigur in Romania, un stat care, pe hartie, se declara "neutru fata de orice credinta religioasa sau ideologie atee". My forecast: MEdC actual va cadea in curand; si mai important, in sfarsit exista motiv si scop suficient pentru incurajarea si sustinerea scolilor particulare, care s-ar detasa de ideile infantile ale sindicalistilor si guvernantilor (de acum si de pururea). Intre studiul istoriei religiilor (ceea ce ar fi chiar recomandat fiecaruia) si studiul obligatoriu al religiei exista o diferenta enorma; pentru aproximare, cam aceeasi diferenta e intre potentialul creativ al lui Eliade si ceea ce avea in cap Teoctist-- sa folosim doar exemple autohtone pentru a nu suprasolicita capacitatea cognitiva a personajelor MEdC. Personaje care ar face bine sa-si aminteasca care e functia lor la MEdC si sa lase rugaciunile la alegerea fiecaruia.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The song of the day: "Finite Simple Group (of Order Two)", by the Klein Four Group

Fantastic, simply fantastic! Maths, music (nod bad at all), fun and-- the sine qua non-- love, at work, together: I've just relived my entire college life :-). Never heard of the guys before, but they've surely got all my votes. The excellent lyrics of today's song are pasted below, for future reference... More songs and lyrics on the Klein Four Group's website.

Many thanks, Ana!

Finite Simple Group (of order two)
A Klein Four original by Matt Salomone

The path of love is never smooth
But mine's continuous for you
You're the upper bound in the chains of my heart
You're my Axiom of Choice, you know it's true

But lately our relation's not so well-defined
And I just can't function without you
I'll prove my proposition and I'm sure you'll find
We're a finite simple group of order two

I'm losing my identity
I'm getting tensor every day
And without loss of generality
I will assume that you feel the same way

Since every time I see you, you just quotient out
The faithful image that I map into
But when we're one-to-one you'll see what I'm about
'Cause we're a finite simple group of order two

Our equivalence was stable,
A principal love bundle sitting deep inside
But then you drove a wedge between our two-forms
Now everything is so complexified

When we first met, we simply connected
My heart was open but too dense
Our system was already directed
To have a finite limit, in some sense

I'm living in the kernel of a rank-one map
From my domain, its image looks so blue,
'Cause all I see are zeroes, it's a cruel trap
But we're a finite simple group of order two

I'm not the smoothest operator in my class,
But we're a mirror pair, me and you,
So let's apply forgetful functors to the past
And be a finite simple group, a finite simple group,
Let's be a finite simple group of order two
(Oughter: "Why not three?")

I've proved my proposition now, as you can see,
So let's both be associative and free
And by corollary, this shows you and I to be
Purely inseparable. Q. E. D.

Check out the previous songs in my "song of the day" category (with the caveat that most of them are less hilarious than this one :-)).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Econlinks for 14-08-'07

  • Ken Rogoff says that we might be "better red than dead" in the long run. I doubt most Central-Eastern Europeans would feel any close to comfortable with that. And that despite that the Vikings (the present-day ones) are rather reddish and pretty well still. Link to Rogoff's via Greg Mankiw

  • Why do you have sex? If you can't give any answer to that, perhaps you should answer the "why don't you have sex?" question, but that in a future econlinks edition. All right, just bloody think of the first question formulated in the past tense... Among all the reasons these researchers compiled (far from exhaustive; the "I'm sick of lying to women" reason is, for instance, not among them- you complete the list), I think "the person had beautiful eyes" wins my prize :-).

The King of Bongo Bong

I am quite surprised to realize that I knew next to nothing about bonobos until recently, while an absolute bonobo frenzy seems to have been going on for quite a while out there, stretching far beyond scientific curiosity. Here's the gist of the discussions on the topic: many (possibly counting a majority of feminists, pacifists, gay-rights activitists etc.) see the bonobo as the non-combative, sex loving, supreme social, ideal species, while others believe the 'let's have sex (and what sex!), not war' bonobo hippy myth emerged without much evidence in the first place and has been maintained and amplified artificially since. The very interesting part is that divergent opinions (and full-fledged animosities) seem to reign also among the few scientists who have been or are currently studying these beasts (all right, homo sapiens' cousins if you really want). And the truth is that they (we) still don't know much about the chimp's closest relative.

Anyway, the following two articles should enlighten you somewhat on the real king (queen?) of bongo bong (these two articles are by far the best I could find on the topic so far, with the second a reaction to the first). Caveat lector: stop reading right now if you believe yourself to be a puritan and want to stay a puritan... Same thing if you don't believe in evolution :-).

Bonobos (take your time, this is 12 full pages long, worth reading for the impressions and reported facts of the reporter, not necessarily for his conclusions).
More bonobos (shorter piece; Frans de Waal concise and sounding convincing, as de Waal usually sounds)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Constructive alignment

An interesting didactical short movie (20 min) by a team at the University of Aarhus, about teaching at the university level (link to the google video). The subject is built around the "constructive alignment" paradigm of John Biggs. Recommended both to university lecturers (and, with some caveats, also highschool teachers) and students. The movie can be rather slow at times (especially for those that know something about the topic...), but be patient until the end, the idea is -- eventually-- well addressed :-).

Here's the statement of the jury that awarded the "Golden Ratio" prize to this movie, last year:

The production conveys substantial insights from the area of didactics (university studies in education). It is a basis for a discussion about three perspectives on higher education; the students' activities, the teachers' activities, and the subject matter to be taught and learned.

It is intended for teachers and students at higher educational institutions. It is an exemplary basis for reflection with good identificational opportunities for the target audience.
In about twenty minutes it manages to convey a complicated message in a very well-structured and thought-provoking way.

One of the mechanisms used is humour; another, images and graphics. It is not just a double portrayal, where images and spoken words elicit the same information in two different ways. On the contrary, sound, image, and graphic elements are brought together elegantly forming one united expression.

PS. Susan, the "good student" in the movie, is very likely played by a Romanian: her name is Doina Bucur. Probably there are more Romanian students/researchers at the University of Aarhus than I imagined.

Quote for week 5th- 11th of Aug '07

Beware of great thinkers who advertise their conclusions without revealing their assumptions. I like economics because it insists on a higher standard.

Steven Landsburg, "The Armchair Economist"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Publicity: Anna's photo-trips around the world

Not bad so far, Anna :-). And I love Bresson as well...

Question: do we meet in Budapest later this month? Although it is not so exotic as your other trips. But hey, this one is about Economics :-).

Monday, August 06, 2007

Economists versus other social scientists versus other scientists versus others

The read of the day: enter the economist species, from the perpective of other scientists (put forward in the first part of the letter to Greg Mankiw linked here; the second part is self-praise from the viewpoint of one member of this species...). Aside the fact that we seem to be the most agressive among the science species (I plead guilty there; it comes with years and years of doctoral training-- with many conferences and seminars included; I strongly doubt this is about ex ante selection on specific features...), it doesn't sound so bad, does it? :-). Below a summary of the crucial points (put some economists and other various scientists in the same room):

  • The economists present better papers and are less likely to be caught off-guard in a seminar. They are also more likely to discover problems in the work of others.
  • The economists are the most aggressive people in the room
  • The economists are the only social-scientists in the room that are willing to argue with the statisticians.
  • There seems to [be] no love lost between the economists and other social-sciences.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Quote for week 29th of Jul-4th of Aug '07

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

from T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton"- the 1st of the "Four Quartets"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Econlinks for 03-08-'07

  • talking about incentives: why would one have sex with a prostitute? Well, here's something I would call a decent (pretty honest?) answer: "I visited a prostitute for one obvious, practical reason and another less so: I'm sick of lying to women. Being single and in my 30s, I find it increasingly difficult to justify the lies and manipulation involved in having a sexual relationship with women who I'm not in love with." Read more.


Cat despre

a. decorarea post-mortem a Patriarhului de catre Presedintele Basescu (pur si simplu in calitatea defunctului de Patriarh al BOR si ignorand complet trecutul 'problematic'--caveat lector: dovedit-- al acestuia; Dan Tapalaga e singurul jurnalist-analist-etc. care in zilele acestea nu sufera de lapsus memoriae..., iar despre poftele recente, mai putin divine, ale Patriarhului nimanui pare sa nu-i mai pese de la Dinescu-Bulgakov incoace...)

si despre

acestea sunt materializarea pateticului sub cea mai pura forma.

Departe insa de a fi neasteptate, evenimentele acestea ne apropie mai mult de q.e.d.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What I've been reading...

Some recommendations among the books I've recently finished reading:

  • "On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt, truly a gem of a book (in fact a book in miniature; it can be read in less than an hour). Teaches you the obvious and not so obvious differences between "bullshit", "humbug" and "lies" & much more than that... I guarantee you that you'll love it; I chose a fragment of this book as last week's quote on my blog.

  • "Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science", by Charles Wheelan. The reason I started reading this (and other similar books) in my scarce free time is because I wanted to recommend my non-economist friends the best books they can read, void of the formal dressing that most Econ texbooks wear, so that they grasp what (basic) Economics is really about. But in fact this book fulfills that criteria and does much more: it is filled with excellent examples (true, most of them are linked to the USA; also, the book is published in '02, but most examples still hold) that can be succesfully used in undergraduate Economics classes to incite and deepen the interest of students who could be, a priori, put off by the formal modelling omnipresent in such classes (I've experimented this already on at least such a student: it really works :-) )... Therefore I would recommend this book to anyone who would like/ plans/ has just started to study Economics or to anybody else who simply wants to "gain an understanding of basic economics with little pain and much pleasure", as Gary Becker writes in his short characterization of this book. Though some of his examples are exaggerated, Wheelan does an excellent job in using them to point out fundamental economics mechanisms.

  • "The Armchair Economist. Economics and Everyday Life", by Steven E. Landsburg. This 1993 book is by now a classic (some excellent Econ teachers have been recommending it to their undergrad students as holiday reading, for years...). This is perhaps the book that 'opened' the way to the best-selling series on 'Freakonomics' books (the best best-selling so far being Levitt and Dubner's "Freakonomics", of course-- I've tackled previously topics directly or indirectly connected to that book here and here and here and here...). However, caveat lector when interpreting what I've just said above: this book is at the same time different from the 'Freakonomics series' in that it chooses to systematically explain the very basic principles of Economics by means of concrete (yes, sometimes very unusual, counterintuitive) facts and not the other way around, i.e. attempt to explain some extremely unusual/ counterintuitive facts by means of economic theory, sometimes stretched-to-extremes economic theory etc... So I'd place Landburg's book in a category with Wheelan's book above and recommend it to all those who would like to get a feeling of how genuine economists think. Milton Friedman praised the book in the following words: "An ingenious and highly original presentation of some central principles of economics for the proverbial Everyman. Its breezy tone conceals the subtlety of the analysis. Guaranteed to puncture some illusions and to make you think". Now, for people who never had Economics in their higher education, I'd recommend reading this book after having read "Naked Economics", since indeed Landburg's "Armchair Economist" is somewhat more subtle. But very much fun indeed!