2008-09-28

Credit crunch

Toby asked what I thought of a credit-crunch article in the Telegraph. The key bit for me was:
There is a pure free market position which holds that no financial institution should be bailed out – ever. If this approach was followed, people would factor much more risk into their behaviour and the world would be a better place – eventually. I have some sympathy for the intellectual purity of this position – but that is all. On balance, I think it would be rather a good idea, you know, if we did not repeat the Great Depression all over again.
I'm one of those that take the 'pure free market' position. I follow the Austrian School of thought on the Great Depression:

In the Austrian view it was this inflation of the money supply that led to an unsustainable boom in both asset prices (stocks and bonds) and capital goods. By the time the Fed belatedly tightened in 1928, it was far too late and, in the Austrian view, a depression was inevitable.

The artificial interference in the economy was a disaster prior to the Depression, and government efforts to prop up the economy after the crash of 1929 only made things worse. According to Rothbard, government intervention delayed the market's adjustment and made the road to complete recovery more difficult.

Axiomatic and The Ends Of Our Tethers

After reading Luminous, I was pleased when Janos plonked Axiomatic on my desk. I wasn't disappointed. Perhaps Axiomatic is the superior collection? Written in 1995, it's way ahead of its time. The sort of things Egan writes about, free will, the neurological basis for decision making, parallel universes, brain and body modification and consciousness, are all things I find myself thinking about.

I'm still getting to grips with the idea of short stories. Each one of Egan's short stories has enough meat on it to be a novel. Now I've allowed short stories into my life, they seem to just keep on coming. Prowling through the shelves of Bath Central Library I came upon an Alasdair Gray collection of short stories called 'The Ends Of Our Tethers'. Zoe had given me Poor Things and that and his reputation made me give Ends a try.

On reading the first story, some may think Professor Gray a bit pervy. Well, I think Gray has a unique voice. His scottishness is continually present, and his left wingery is put forth unashamedly. Actually, I do have an issue with his socialism. Socialists come in two flavours, those who propound a complete world-view and those that just take pot shots at free-markets and capitalism. The complete world-view types are more honest, but reveal themselves and socialism to be bonkers. The pot shotters are saner, but don't really have a viable alternative. Gray is a pot-shotter.

Don't go away with the idea that I didn't like the book. On the contrary, it was quirky and well crafted.

2008-09-20

The Infinite Book

John Barrow introduced me to Thompson's Lamp in his The Infinite Book, and I've been asking everyone I meet about it.

Katherine said, 'It's a divergent infinite series, so the question doesn't have an answer'. I was impressed!

My brother and Jonathan both came up with practical objections, my brother saying, 'You'd fuse the light!'.

Bill said, 'You can't do an infinite number of things in a finite time, so it could never happen'.

[Correction from bill: '.....if time is infinitely divisible, then you never reach the end point (1 minute), so the issues never arises. ......']

My answer was to say that the universe is digital, so there aren't an infinite number of states the universe can be in.

What do you think?

Btw, the rest of the book is equally thought provoking. Recommended. Interesting parallels with Freedom Evolves.

Campaign For Free BIOS

I support the Campaign for free BIOS and intend to buy AMD CPUs over Intel. Even though I don't buy computers very often, I'm sure I'll have Intel quaking in their sockets.

2008-09-08

Research Priorities

I've just listened to David King saying that we should switch our research funding away from fundamental research and direct it towards the practical problems we face, such as climate change, population growth and AIDS in poor countries.

I instinctively disagree with this. Thinking further, there are two reasons for disagreeing:

1. The issues that David is talking about are political problems rather than scientific problems. The solution to many of these problems is a world government, not a change in funding priorities.

2. Once you have good government, then science and technology is important to people's quality of life. With fundamental research, you never know where it's going to lead. Often there are practical applications that result. For example, would David have cut research into quantum mechanics? If so, he would have damaged the computer industry, and I wouldn't have been able to read his views on the BBC website, or be able to post this response.

2008-09-07

The Plague

At my aunt's house during Christmas 2000, not long after my mum died, I started to read l'Etranger. I never finished it, and I keep meaning to come back to it. It was different from anything I had read before, and I found that it both shocked and appealed to me.

When I saw Camus' The Plague at the library I pounced. The plague is obviously a metaphor for Nazism, and the resistance against the plague is the French resistance, which Camus was involved in. As I've said before I avoid allegory and metaphor like the plague. So I read it as if it were a real plague in a real town. The character I identified with was Cottard. I was a bit worried therefore when he went mad at the end and started shooting at people. Cottard actually liked the plague because it meant that for the first time, he was in the same boat as everyone else.

There was something else I meant to say, but it escapes me. Anyway, I've got to go and clean the house as I've got people coming round. See you soon.