Econstudentlog

Carbon dioxide in a historical context

Interesting.

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April 23, 2008 Posted by | climate, Data | Leave a comment

Legal pixie dust

Section 3.1 of the Alberta Human Rights law:

(1) No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that

(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a class of persons, or

(b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt

because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income or family status of that person or class of persons.

Section 3.2 of the same law:

Nothing in this section shall be deemed to interfere with the free expression of opinion on any subject.

Ezra Levant calls section 3.2 “legal pixie dust“. That is exactly what it is. Those words don’t change anything the slightest, they don’t even mean anything, they just take up space, that’s all.

I shall not comment on the insanity of the law, how utterly stupid it is, ect. You know what I think. Instead, I will draw a parellel to the the Danish constitution. I think of course specifically about §77:

Enhver er berettiget til på tryk, i skrift og tale at offentliggøre sine tanker, dog under ansvar for domstolene. Censur og andre forebyggende forholdsregler kan ingensinde på ny indføres.

[Update: English translation added below, source]

Any person shall be at liberty to publish his ideas in print, in writing, and in speech, subject to his being held responsible in a court of law. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced.

Danes are allowed to speak our minds – as long as we don’t break any laws. The problem is that politicians are still allowed to make all the laws they like ‘regulating’ free speech, as long as it isn’t ‘censorship and other preventive measures’. But if politicians can just write it in the laws that what they are doing isn’t censorship, even if it is, and get away with it, then how does §77 help us? This is what has happened in Canada.

Today ‘racist remarks’ and ‘blasphemy’ are both illegal here in Denmark. Now my question is this: If disallowing ‘racist remarks’ and ‘blasphemy’ are not ‘preventive measures’, what is? Either a) the laws we already have are in conflict with the constitution – which would be quite bad, as such an interpretation would make it obvious that our current constitution actually doesn’t protect our freedom of speech at all, as unconstitutional laws are passed just the same – or b) they are not: Which is also bad, as this interpretation obviously means that our constitution doesn’t protect our freedom of speech, even if we think it does.

The point being: Don’t feel too certain that the stuff that takes place in Canada will not come to Denmark. Or at least don’t delude yourself into thinking that it will be our constitution that will save us from this madness.

April 23, 2008 Posted by | freedom of speech | Leave a comment

Zombies

From Yudkowsky’s latest post:

COLONEL TODD: It’s worse than I imagined.

CAPTAIN MUDD: How can you tell, exactly?

COLONEL TODD: I’ve never seen anything so brutally ordinary.

A lab-coated SCIENTIST stands up at the foot of the table.

SCIENTIST: The zombie disease eliminates consciousness without changing the brain in any way. We’ve been trying to understand how the disease is transmitted. Our conclusion is that, since the disease attacks dual properties of ordinary matter, it must, itself, operate outside our universe. We’re dealing with an epiphenomenal virus.

GENERAL FRED: Are you sure?

SCIENTIST: As sure as we can be in the total absence of evidence.

GENERAL FRED: All right. Compile a report on every epiphenomenon ever observed. What, where, and who. I want a list of everything that hasn’t happened in the last fifty years.

CAPTAIN MUDD: If the virus is epiphenomenal, how do we know it exists?

SCIENTIST: The same way we know we’re conscious.

CAPTAIN MUDD: Oh, okay.

GENERAL FRED: Have the doctors made any progress on finding an epiphenomenal cure?

SCIENTIST: They’ve tried every placebo in the book. No dice. Everything they do has an effect.

A lot more here. It’s probably a good idea to read some of his earlier posts on the subject if you haven’t already, that way you get the full blast of the post.

Brian Jaress, in the comments section, puts it this way: I say Eliezer has finally dealt with the zombie issue as it deserves. It’s a silly idea that invites convoluted discussion, which makes it look sophisticated and hard to refute. I feel the same way. However this is not a problem I find is limited to this particular subject matter: Is this not in fact a big general problem when it comes to the subject of philosophy; that it is riddled with silly ideas that invite convoluted discussions, making the ideas look sophisticated and hard to refute?

April 20, 2008 Posted by | Philosophy | Leave a comment

I agree: Wow!

Tyler Cowen points me to the fact that the complete works of Charles Darwin’s are now online. 90.000 pages.

I have never read On the origin of species but I think I’ll have to take a look now. However that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Update to Danish readers: Hvis andre er interesserede findes der også en dansk oversættelse af Arternes oprindelse på siden her.

April 17, 2008 Posted by | Biology | Leave a comment

Something I didn’t know

This article reminded me of a particular quote from House: You know how they say that you can’t live without love? Well oxygen is even more important.

Roughly two and a half billion years ago, when the level of oxygen in the atmosphere had started to increase dramatically as a result of oxygenic photosynthesis, a lot of the ‘stuff’ that was living here on Earth didn’t really think (…at all, but go with it…) of that extra oxygen as an improvement. No, the fact that oxygen came around was quite the opposite of an improvement in the short term, looking through the ‘eyes’ of the anaerobic organisms that lived back then it was nothing short of a catastrophe; the oxygen was really bad for them, it killed them in droves.

Incidentally, this is one of the most important processes of all that take place here on Earth. If you don’t already know the basics of how it works, after you’ve read the article call your former school teachers and complain.

April 14, 2008 Posted by | Biology | Leave a comment

What I’ve been reading

i) I recently finished Moltved. Maybe a longer post will follow later on, I have not yet decided how much work the book is worth.

ii) I have read Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee’s book Cradle. It is not one of Clarke’s best books, but I did read it to the end. I would probably give it a 2.5-3 out of 5 on a rating scale.

April 13, 2008 Posted by | Books, History | Leave a comment

Pathetique

Jeg gider ikke rigtig blogge for alvor lige for tiden, så mindre må gøre det:

Det er ikke normalt at grave-delen gentages, som han gør det i videoen, og jeg mener det er ukorrekt at gøre det – afsnittet er en indledning til satsen, ikke mere. Derudover ved jeg ikke om der er så meget at komme efter, jeg kan ikke lide den måde han betoner fraseringerne i allegroens anden gennemspilning, det er som om tempoet på et tidspunkt (omkring takt 60) bliver en lille smule ujævnt pga. ‘opholdene’ ved de dybe toner (det er bevidst fra hans side, men jeg bryder mig ikke om det) – men det være sagt, jeg kan naturligvis ikke gøre det nær så godt selv, selvom jeg har en ret god ide om, hvordan det ‘bør’ lyde. Hvis du er i tvivl om, hvorfor den stopper så abrupt: De sidste 25 sekunder eller så er ikke med – tough luck, jeg hørte faktisk ikke stykket helt til ende før jeg uploadede. Beklager. Der skal dog nok være en anden version tilgængelig på youtube, hvis man er meget nysgerrig og ikke har hørt den før.

Det er et dejligt stykke – jeg tog det frem omkring jul, efter det havde ligget på is et års tid eller så. Håber jeg kan blive færdig med det og komme i gang med tredje sats i løbet af foråret, 2. satsen var naturligvis den første jeg stiftede bekendtskab med.

April 3, 2008 Posted by | musik | Leave a comment

Public Choice lesson of the day

Most people having had a course in microeconomics know about Arrow and some of the problems relating to preference aggregation. Likewise most of them unfortunately probably forget about these things quite soon afterwards, thinking that these theoretical problems are just that – theoretical.

Now there’s some evidence to the contrary. Well, actually the first edition of the paper was published in 2001, so maybe ‘now’ is a bad word to use, but anyway I’ve never seen it before so it’s news to me. From Peter Kurrild-Klitgaards paper presented at The Annual Meeting of the European Public Choice Society: Voting paradoxes under proportional representation: Evidence from eight Danish elections:

The present analysis […] suggests that some of the social choice paradoxes potentially occurring in proportional election systems actually do occur in reality. Specifically, one social choice paradox is present in virtually all elections using list-systems with proportional representation, albeit to different extents, namely the More-Preferred-Less-Seats Paradox, while two other paradoxes, the Condorcet-Winner-Turns-Loser Paradox and the Condorcet-Loser-Turns-Winner Paradox, seem to occur occasionally.

What does the existence of these paradoxes mean, I hear you ask. Well:

More generally the presence of this particular paradox would seem to contradict a premise underlying much of contemporary democratic theory, namely that if more people prefer one party than another, then it would be wrong for the latter party to receive more seats. It would in particular seem contrary to the views and justifications usually offered in favour of proportional representation, namely that this somehow is more in line with “what the people want”. Proportional representation obviously tends to add pluralism to a party system compared to, e.g., the first-past-the-post system, but it also seem not only to do so by benefiting some parties at the cost of others (which is inevitable) but also to do so in a way that seems intuitively in direct opposition to the majority principle underlying the democratic idea.

[…]

…apparently, it is quite often the case that the preference of a majority of the voters is quite different from what the seat allocations are under proportional representation. This is an insight which should make democrats careful about how they emphasize the values of the democratic process and its outcomes – and be more interested in the consequenses of alternative electoral arrangements.

I have only looked at a few of the papers from the conference, but it looks like there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. Do take a look if you have the time.

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Papers, voting | Leave a comment