Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, March 25, 2011

UN says 6 million North Koreans are in urgent need of international food assistance


This is an impossible situation. It is a feature of Communist regimes with brainwashed populations that the people will not revolt (at least not on a large scale/successfully) even if they are starving, even if people start dying en masse -- they didn't during the Holodomor, they didn't during the Great Leap Forward, and they didn't during the 1995-8 North Korean famine. We have no choice but to feed them; not doing so will not cause the regime to fall, it will cause millions to die. At the same time, however, we should have extricated ourselves from this situation long ago by invading the country. Probably would have been a better place to go into than Iraq/Afghanistan.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Free Will Does Not Exist

In a defense of free will that falls flat, William Egginton says the following:


“The point to stress, however, is that this catalog [of our past events] is not even legible in theory, for to be known it assumes a kind of knower unconstrained by time and space, a knower who could be present from every possible perspective at every possible deciding moment in an agent’s history and prehistory. Such a knower, of course, could only be something along the lines of what the monotheistic traditions call God.”


Egginton assumes that all past events that have ever occurred are factored into the decisions we make, and thus, absent a God, we have no way of determining what a person will do at any given moment. The first part of this statement is certainly true, but we don’t need to have a “God” to uncover and untangle the relationships between past events that determine our present mental states, we just need a machine capable of examining the brain at a sufficiently deep level, for every neuron is in its current position because of past events. There is no reason such a technology could not be built. Free will does not exist.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Prosperous Time: China 2013

The Prosperous Time: China 2013


Part 1

The Near Future


The First Long-Lost Friend

A month is gone. I mean, a whole month is gone, it’s just vanished. Usually January is followed by February, which precedes March, which comes before April, and so on, but now it’s different, now March comes after January, now February is April, it’s skipped a month.

         I said to Fang Caodi, forget it, don’t go looking for it, it’s not worth it, life is short and bitter, just live it well.

          A man of greater ability would not have been able to convince him. But to tell you the truth, if you really wanted to find that lost month, Fang Caodi would be the man for the job. Throughout his life, he has had many months disappear, or perhaps have their existence be reduced to non-existence – his experiences resemble a strand of fragments, unable to be organized into stories. He appears at odd times in odd places, or, many years after having seemingly vanished from the face of the earth, he returns triumphantly from the brink of eternity at some unexpected hour. Such a person might be likely to do things that are behind the times, such as going to find a missing month.

          I hadn’t noticed its disappearance at first, and despite other people saying it had indeed vanished, I am of a skeptical sort. Every day, I read the papers, go on news websites, and watch China Central Television and Phoenix Satellite Television, and so I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable person when it comes to these kinds of things. Could such a major event so easily slip under my nose? I trust myself, my understanding, my intelligence, and my ability to make independent judgments.

          On the afternoon of February 17, I had left home and, as part of my daily routine, was walking towards the Pacific Century Place Starbucks when someone suddenly ran in front of me and shouted with a gasp, “Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen! A month is gone! It’s been two years!”

          He was wearing an unassuming baseball cap; I couldn’t make him out.

          “Fang Caodi, Fang Caodi.” He said his name twice and took off his hat, revealing a bald head and a ponytail tied with a rubber band.

          “You’ve started calling me ‘teacher’ now too?”

          With an air of importance, he added, “A month is gone! Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen, what do we do? What do we do?”

          “It’s not just a month that’s gone now, is it?”

“No, no. Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen, a month is missing, you know too! What do we do?”

Speaking with this man is tiring indeed. “When did you get back to Beijing?”

He sneezed. I gave him a business card: “Don’t get sick. It’s colder now, don’t go running around like this anymore. Let’s meet up later – my phone number and e-mail address are on the front.”

He put his cap back on and took the card. “We work well together; we’ll find it.”

          It was only as I watched him run off in the direction of the foreign embassies that I realized he wasn’t exercising.

He was running somewhere.



Pay me $5,000 and I’ll translate the rest of it. Only half-joking.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Genetics, culture, and success

Barbados is a country that's 80% black but that has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and one of its lowest crime rates (on par with Japan). Not coincidentally, the smartest black people by far I met in Beijing were Barbadian*. Yet these blacks are the descendents of African slaves brought over en masse from Ghana and Nigeria. This suggests to me that culture is far more important than genetics in determining success of countries and populations.


*One of them, having studied Chinese for a mere two years, was getting an engineering degree from a Chinese university. His curriculum was entirely in Chinese. This is, needless to say, extremely impressive.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Genetics/practice in developing high-level skill

Interesting post here. Comments are good too; check this one out:


This is also seen in the shows about various elite military units. The "selection" process isn't really about training. It's about whittling down 125 men to the 13 genetic and psychological freaks that possess the required skills.

THEN the training begins.

This was hammered home in a different TV special that demonstrated the ability of various special forces members to control core body temperature in extreme environments. They soaked one in ice water for an hour, and baked another under heat lamps. Environments that would cripple a normal person in 10 minutes had no detectable impact on performance after an hour of exposure.

And, different specialists were selected for different abilities. The pilot couldn't endure the apoxia, the ranger couldn't handle the disorientation of spinning maneuvers.

In other words, the people who make the news, in either sport or combat, are not like you. No amount of training will ever get you there.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Beijing Subway

Spent some time studying the subway today. Two observations:


*The conductor does nothing but push a lever to make the train go forward. He also gets out of the train at every stop to make sure no one is crushed in the doors. Everything else is done automatically.

*The doors open for exactly 20 seconds at every stop, an amount of time longer than it feels.


The Beijing Subway is more technologically advanced and much cleaner than the New York City Subway, but it lacks its character. In particular, no one plays music, sings, or performs, with the exception of some singing beggars you’ll come across every so often. (They’re not very good, though.)