Weekly Link Roundup #62

The weekly link roundup is where I list links for the links that I liked for the week. Remember that I don’t necessarily agree with everything stated in every article. Feel free to comment or ask. Lastly, it may be worth noting that I do try to sort these links in the order that I like them, descending. You can see the other roundups via the category page.

  • Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality [YouTube]
  • Game Theory as a Dark Art: “One of the most charming features of game theory is the almost limitless depths of evil to which it can sink. Your garden-variety evils act against your values. Your better class of evil, like Voldemort and the folk-tale version of Satan, use your greed to trick you into acting against your own values, then grab away the promised reward at the last moment. But even demons and dark wizards can only do this once or twice before most victims wise up and decide that taking their advice is a bad idea. Game theory can force you to betray your deepest principles for no lasting benefit again and again, and still leave you convinced that your behavior was rational.”
  • Toby Ord – Why I’m Giving £1m To Charity: “When Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg pledged to give away most of his wealth during his lifetime, some British commentators bemoaned the lack of philanthropy on this side of the Atlantic. But an academic at Oxford University is living off little more than £300 a month in an act of charity-giving that is arguably more impressive than those of Zuckerberg, Gates, Buffett and co. Toby Ord, 31, has in the past year given more than a third of his earnings, £10,000, to charities working in the poorest countries. He also gave away £15,000 of savings, as the start of his pledge to give away £1m over his lifetime.”
  • A Pickpocket’s Tale – The Spectacular Thefts of Appolo Robbins: “Robbins, who is thirty-eight and lives in Las Vegas, is a peculiar variety-arts hybrid, known in the trade as a theatrical pickpocket. Among his peers, he is widely considered the best in the world at what he does, which is taking things from people’s jackets, pants, purses, wrists, fingers, and necks, then returning them in amusing and mind-boggling ways. Robbins works smoothly and invisibly, with a diffident charm that belies his talent for larceny. One senses that he would prosper on the other side of the law. ‘You have to ask yourself one question,’ he often says as he holds up a wallet or a watch that he has just swiped. ‘Am I being paid enough to give it back?’”
  • Comparing Apples and Oranges?: ” Our research has shown that there is a huge amount of discretion involved in any impact measurement. You can decide which indicators to use, what timeframe to look at, and who to talk to. If you are looking to examine your own performance, to learn and to decide which direction to take in the future, using discretion does not matter because you can use the same approach each time. I don’t have a problem with people using their discretion or judgement as long as this is set out clearly and consistently. I do get worried when people compare results of one evaluation with another that has taken a different approach.”
  • The House GOP and the Fiscal Cliff: Position-taking vs. Policy-making: “Long ago David Mayhew told us that much of what Members of Congress do is “position-taking.” Their votes, like their speeches, are largely for public consumption. Collectively, their votes shape public policy. Yet an individual legislator knows that her vote will seldom decide the fate of a given bill. It will however contribute to the shaping of her image. Given that the individual Member of Congress controls his vote but does not control the outcome of legislative battles, he often has reason to vote based on how he would like to be seen. Often the positions a legislator wants to be seen to support and the policy outcomes he favors are closely aligned. Yet when the two diverge he has political reason to vote for what he wants to be seen to favor, rather than the legislative outcome actually he favors. This is especially so, Mayhew argues, because legislators are usually judged on the basis of the positions they take, not on policy outcomes.”
  • The Contingent Right to Life: “Last night’s post argued that rights cannot be morally fundamental because it’s a contingent matter what rights will promote human welfare. I want to establish this point as strongly as possible by showing that even the right to life itself is contingent. I will describe a (highly fantastical) hypothetical situation in which a society would be morally required to limit the right to life, and sometimes actively kill innocent people. [Non-philosophers are reminded that this in no way implies support for government killings in our (very different!) situation. Please take care to understand the argument before hurling insults.]“
  • Why Vote?: “If we don’t want a small minority to determine our government, we will favor a high turnout. Yet since our own vote makes such a tiny contribution to the outcome, each of us still faces the temptation to get a free ride, not bothering to vote while hoping that enough other people will vote to keep democracy robust and to elect a government that is responsive to the views of a majority of citizens. But there are many possible reasons for voting. Some people vote because they enjoy it, and would have nothing better to do with the time saved if they did not. Others are motivated by a sense of civic duty that does not assess the rationality of voting in terms of the possible impact of one’s own ballot. [...] If these considerations fail to get people to the polls, however, compulsory voting is one way of overcoming the free-rider problem. The small cost imposed on not voting makes it rational for everyone to vote and at the same time establishes a social norm of voting.”
  • The Alternative Alternative Spring Break: “Taking the money I earned working over winter break, and the money I received for working as a teaching fellow this semester, I am donating $1414 – the average cost for one student at my university to go on an international service trip during spring break – and giving it directly to VillageReach, a highly efficient charity which works to improve infrastructure that would otherwise keep lifesaving vaccines from those in rural Africa who need them. By staying home, I am actually doing good abroad.”
  • What Work is Really For: “We’re ambivalent about work because in our capitalist system it means work-for-pay (wage-labor), not for its own sake. It is what philosophers call an instrumental good, something valuable not in itself but for what we can use it to achieve. For most of us, a paying job is still utterly essential — as masses of unemployed people know all too well. But in our economic system, most of us inevitably see our work as a means to something else: it makes a living, but it doesn’t make a life. What, then, is work for? Aristotle has a striking answer: ‘we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.’ This may at first seem absurd. How can we be happy just doing nothing, however sweetly (dolce far niente)? Doesn’t idleness lead to boredom, the life-destroying ennui portrayed in so many novels, at least since ‘Madame Bovary’?”
  • One Half of One Cent: “To put it another way, as I once heard Neil deGrasse Tyson do in a talk: for every dollar you pay in federal taxes, slightly more than half a penny goes to NASA. And this half a penny from each of us has brought an incredible wealth of knowledge about our solar system, the origins of our world and our place in the universe. It’s brought us not just Curiosity and the other Mars missions, but a whole fleet of spacecraft flying out from the Earth like seeds from a puffball: the New Horizons spacecraft on its way to Pluto, the Juno probe traveling to Jupiter, the MESSENGER craft orbiting Mercury, Cassini in orbit around Saturn, Dawn exploring the asteroids, and even the Voyagers, which are still transmitting data from the edge of the solar system. All this and much more was ours for one-half of one cent.”
  • Ask an Economist: Which Bond Villain Plan Would Have Worked (and Which Not)?: “While the bad guy in Skyfall is obsessed primarily with revenge and humiliation, many of James Bond’s chief adversaries over the years have wanted something more simple and tangible: cash money. The Bond villain is often deranged and grandiose, sure, but he (or she) is also capable of hatching elaborate plans to increase their bottom line, often by secretly manipulating the world’s economic systems (sometimes with the aid of a clandestine nuclear weapon or two). So, could they have succeeded? If James Bond hadn’t foiled these plots, could these Bond villains have fulfilled their dreams of financial glory? We looked through their schemes, and asked Jean-Jacques Dethier, a development economist at the World Bank (and a lifelong Bond fan), what he thought.”

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On 25 Jan 2013 in All, Link Roundup. No Comments.

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