Harry Hope's Saloon

This blog takes it's name from the setting for O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh -- a lousy gin-mill; a smoked-out, greasy dive where the habitues have all landed, it seems, permanently. Their lives, in each case, are paralyzed by fear and laziness. Like my own.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Cowen Questions

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen has had the audacity to claim that he holds beliefs with what is quite possibly insufficient evidence. (!) Although deeply offensive to my normative standard of 101% rationality (according to which, as follows rationally, we are all sinners) I feel that such an attractive assortment deserves sniffing.

[clearing throat]

1. China will someday just get up and attack Taiwan. Recent progress aside, how many rational decisions have Chinese governments made in the last six hundred years? And its inability to get over the idea of conquering Taiwan will stop China from democratizing anytime soon. I am not in general a "China hawk," but I view Taiwan as, sadly, a goner. I remain amazed by how many "liberal" Chinese simply think Taiwan is "theirs."

While it certainly seems that the PRC will get away with assimilating and corrupting Taiwan, is it not far more plausible that a series of deals between the Party and crony capitalists will faciliate a reunification scheme to (like Hong Kong on a much larger scale) establish much greater superficial freedoms on the island, and providing much more in the way of bread and circuses than the mainland gets, while gradually consolidating ultimate power?

2. High-quality American high school students study too much and have too many extracurricular activities. Yes, I am thinking zero-sum game. It would be better for most of them to go out and get jobs bagging groceries. They would learn more about the real world.

Hell yeah. The only thing I'll add is that most of the application-padding extracurricular activities (and, probably needless to say, far too much of the curricular) reflect a painfully shallow standard of well-rounded virtue, with all of the attendant absurditites of thoughless adult value-projection onto adolescents. For a particularly clear example: I doubt that many kids list "Dungeons and Dragons" on college apps. I sure as hell didn't. But looking back, there's no doubt in my mind that the role-playing game did far more for my intellectual development, on a diversity of subjects, than did French Club or Debate Club or wherever the hell else I hung out with my smart friends for one hour a week.

3. Shaquille O'Neal is the greatest NBA player ever, bar none. (Well, OK, there is some evidence for this.)

Heh, no way. I'm writing this from the Sacramento area, so you may disregard with a snicker if you so choose. But Shaq has done so well because he gets away with many offensive fouls, every game, appalling in frequency and degree, by almost any standard you can name: the history of basketball, the spirit of basketball, or the standard by which most his contemporary centers are held. Most of his points come from shielding the ball with his back to the net, knocking a defender back or down a couple of times, and just kinda stomping to the basket for an easy lay-in. Okay, so rules evolve, and maybe he's pioneering a new style that hasn't caught on widely enough. If so, basketball is going to end up a really stupid sport.

4. The first two Star Wars installments (yes, that includes the one with Jar Jar Binks) were excellent, and will someday be recognized as such. Maybe you view those films as engaged in excessive pandering. I see them as a Bildungsroman (Anakin/Darth) which makes few concessions to popular taste and also presents public choice theory in sophisticated fashion. Lucas simply doesn't care if the films make no sense in stand-alone fashion, nor should he. By the way, in the interests of personal safety, I've decided to limit my number of car trips before May 19.

I haven't seen "The Clone Wars", so can't really address your point. But I thought the first movie was atrocious, for the acting, the weight of uninspired action over development, and especially for the weirdly quick resolution.

5. High-quality barbecue (alas, not available here in Virginia) is better than most expensive French restaurants. And I love most expensive French restaurants, especially when someone else is paying.

Yep, but lots of ethnic and local cuisine is, at its best, also better than expensive French restaurants, often with much less fat and snob content. Somehow the imported Thais seem to make consistently excellent dishes without reminding you of that fact incessantly, or criticizing your beverage pairing. You know, the main reason I've opted for muckety-muck French restaurants is precisely nostalgia for a time and class level where I might have lived as such a snob. Luckily, I don't get that disease very often.

6. Aesthetic judgments are, in principle, objective rather than arbitrary.

Well, duh. Unfortunately, I suspect the master key will lie far in the future, coming from advances in the study of cortical structure, philosophy of consciousness, and a really rigorous form of semiotics. Hell, if we're already having so much trouble with the concept of "IQ"...


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