"They just can’t understand the idea that freedom means living around ideas you despise."

Via Andrew Sullivan, a pretty impressive profile of satirical Christian news site Christwire. As for the title of this post - very much guilty as charged. Working on it.

21 May 2012 / 0 notes

Don’t call it a comeback…

…because it’s more than likely just a check-in.

But now the project’s done and I’ve had a few hours sleep, here’s the links I didn’t get to while I was stuck in the basement computer room.

First, the Guardian’s banking blog (which is consistently fantastic at getting into the psyche of the City) talks to an economics professor, most likely from the LSE. If you can’t quite understand the banking or bust mentality of many economics students, this is the place to look.

Money quote:

"I speak to students who are beginning to realise they won’t get the grades necessary to even apply. They literally think their lives are over, 21-year-old kids who have been led to believe that either you get into a top paying bank, or it’s a cardboard box under London Bridge."

"It’s crazy but they’ve heard little else for three years. I like to say, provocatively: if this kind of brain washing were done by a religious movement rather than the financial sector, it would have been banned long ago. By the way, for foreigners there’s a different dynamic as the British Border Agency won’t extend their visa unless they get a job."

Mental Floss had an article entitled "Way More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Animaniacs", which was perfect procrastination fodder (and also gave an insight into exactly how obscene that show managed to be without offending the censor).

John Scalzi manages to talk about privilege in a way that even video game nerds can understand - although judging by the horrific comments on at least one reprint of this post (which I shan’t link to), they don’t agree - so here’s why being a straight white male is like being on life’s easiest difficulty setting. Another fawning post on this later if I get to it, but here’s a sample:

In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.”

"This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get."

And finally, via Laughing Squid, here’s Zuckerberg: The Musical.

19 May 2012 / 0 notes

Back in the saddle

I spent most of yesterday on an unwise project and I’ve got to catch up today, but there should be some blogging including further procrastinatory thoughts on instrumentalism in education. (Related: someone should really make a Tumblr of bloggers apologising for not posting more)

As for you, you should read this Bruce Bartlett piece which neatly illustrates the two points that I will probably making over and over again in future posts - that rich people are not just flighty job creators who must be fawned over in order to keep their magic employment pixie dust in the country, and that the Laffer curve is not a freaking downward sloping line. 

Also, Maurice Sendak, the author of “Where The Wild Things Are” has died at 83. Here (via @delrayser) is a GIF of President Obama reading the book to children, which contains a lot of the facial expressions that I would like Obama to make at the aforementioned rich people.

Doubly also - Chris Hayes had Betsey Stevenson on MSNBC last night to discuss the Fed, and, suffice to say, both of them kicked ass. I’m not sure I agree with Hayes’ (and some other people’s) characterization of Vitter as not wanting the economy to grow, but that’s something for another post this afternoon.

More later when I’ve finished digging into the effects of health insurance on self-employment…

8 May 2012 / 0 notes

Choral Dork Sundays

Since I have to spend most of my Sunday in chapel doing the singing thing, instead of blogging, studying or doing any of the other hundred things that would probably be more useful, you should have to suffer too.

Since it’s the first one, I think it’s appropriate to have something a bit fanfare-y.

More later, maybe, with a following wind and some academic productivity.

(P.S. Apologies for the lack of video, but all of the ones with good video seemed to be from royal occasions and I didn’t want any awkward accusations regarding Kate Middleton or republicanism…)

6 May 2012 / 0 notes

Well, that worked well.

12.30am and I find myself doing an impression of an overexcited cheetah for my flatmates… So much for taking the night off to get stuff done and then get an early night.

I may as well get one more post in before I go to bed - The Economist is reporting that for the first time ever, the London Underground is having station names sponsored as they add a cable car over the Thames.

Tempting as it is to gain some anti-capitalist street cred by steadfastly opposing the deal, the idea of a cable car over the Thames is far too cool for me to care. The Underground is commercialised to the hilt as it is, and anything that makes the ridiculous fares cheaper is good with me.

That said, call me back when the novelty of a cable car over the Thames has worn off.

6 May 2012 / 0 notes

Compline

Knocking off early for the evening so I can actually get something done.

As ever, Sunday blogging is likely to be limited as I’ll be bouncing between chapel, project, chapel and Cambridge stereotypes, but until then, Coldplay’s Beastie Boys tribute is surprisingly touching. I wouldn’t really describe myself as a Coldplay hater but this is a really good take. “I’ll kick you out of this house if you don’t cut that hair” is just achingly sad.

Night all.

5 May 2012 / 0 notes

Lessons from Development

I’m sitting in the library revising for my Economic Development exam in a couple of weeks time, and this paragraph in the textbook particularly struck me.

"The second reason to be concerned with inequality among those above the poverty line is that extreme income disparities undermine social stability and solidarity, Worse, high inequality strengthens the political power of the rich, as well as their economic bargaining power. Usually this power will be used to encourage outcomes favourable to themselves.

High inequality facilitates “rent seeking”, including actions such as excessive lobbying, large political donations, bribery and cronyism. When resources are allocated to such rent-seeking behaviours, they are diverted from productive purposes that could lead to faster growth.

(Todaro and Smith, Economic Development, Ninth Edition)

Most of this stuff isn’t hugely new (though it’s weird to think about it in the context of the UK and the US rather than developing countries). It’s pretty much accepted that the rich are bending the rules in their direction in the ways listed above, but the difference in opinion tends to be between the left saying that it’s undemocratic and the right saying it’s totally fine because they’re “job creators”. That’s a loud shouty argument which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

What’s not normally discussed is that when big corporations and rich people do these things, they’re not doing the job creating that we love to laud them for. When big music and film companies spend millions lobbying Congress for huge draconian anti-piracy laws, they’re not investing in new artists or funding new movies. When pharmaceutical companies put money into political campaigns in order to get the government that they want, that’s money that could have gone into developing new drugs. And when the Koch brothers spend huge amounts of their money financing Republican candidates and right-wing astroturfing operations like FreedomWorks, they’re undermining their own claims that they’re merely humble Galtian job creators who just want to employ people.

This isn’t something that’s heard in the debate much, and it’s kind of a finicky point, but it’s definitely something that people who are interested in this should consider talking about more.

5 May 2012 / 0 notes

Stop *making* us study

Andrew Sullivan has a good roundup of posts on the topic of whether students should be cramming for exams (I assume this is what the post means, because over here studying can be a longer-term activity instead of a night before, Red Bull inspired marathon).

Here’s David Jaffee:

If there is one student attitude that most all faculty bemoan, it is instrumentalism. This is the view that you go to college to get a degree to get a job to make money to be happy. Similarly, you take this course to meet this requirement, and you do coursework and read the material to pass the course to graduate to get the degree. Everything is a means to an end. Nothing is an end in itself. There is no higher purpose.

When we tell students to study for the exam or, more to the point, to study so that they can do well on the exam, we powerfully reinforce that way of thinking. While faculty consistently complain about instrumentalism, our behavior and the entire system encourages and facilitates it.”

Cambridge, and specifically Economics at Cambridge (to be high-minded and capital-lettery about it) has this partly right - in order to keep your head above water during the year, you have to keep up with the work in order to do the supervisions. But everything is on the exams - five days, four three hour papers, your entire Tripos grade hanging on your performance. There’s no modules, very limited project or coursework (40% of one paper this year), no retakes.

This doesn’t exactly help with the instrumentalism problem, as you might guess. Neither does the high standard of the students, the difficulty of the exams, the piles of often unnecessary material to learn, the public display of the results for all and sundry, and the outright refusal of the University to award students in the bottom half of the distribution anything like the grade that they would have earned if they put their application in the bin and went to Warwick or Bristol instead. It turns exam term into a neurotic, caffeine-fuelled nightmare where no-one socialises, everyone’s trying to one-up each other on how much work they’re doing* and which nobody enjoys. It’s terrible.

Add to that the internships ahead for many or most economics students and the possibility that they only need their grade to get their place in the banking or consultancy firm - more on this in later posts - and you can damn well bet that education’s going to be a means to an end for most people.

I don’t know what the solution is - but maybe turning the pressure cooker down would help a bit.

*Actual line heard this week: “I really should be working sixteen hours a day by now…” This was in response to someone from the same subject saying much the same thing, presumably in response to living near that one person who never leaves their room and actually does work sixteen hours a day.

5 May 2012 / 0 notes

Compline

So this is the plan - every night (or so - remember I’m kind of flaky about this) I’ll take a step back, take a look at what’s happened in the previous day, and give you the one thing you should take away from it.

As for today - while the big news up front in the UK local elections is that Labour have made huge gains and Boris Johnson is likely to be re-elected Mayor of London, spare some crocodile tears for the BNP. Yes, boo-hoo. 

They’ve lost ten seats, which is quite impressive considering they were only defending twelve, and most of their former strongholds have disappeared. Matthew Goodwin has the take over at the Guardian.

Nationalist parties don’t seem to be finished - stories last week were suggesting that UKIP are now pulling ahead of the Lib Dems in the national polls - but voters seem to have decided that overt racism isn’t the solution to our current crises. And about time too.

As for the daily distraction - Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys died today at 48. While I’m about ten years too young to have any kind of claim on the band, I do remember watching this video on the rock music channels of my Grandma’s Sky box. And more to the point, remember when you had to watch music channels if you wanted to see a video you liked? Sheesh. Praise YouTube. 

4 May 2012 / 0 notes

It’s this or the MPhil…

So, thanks to the continued bugging of several friends, the advice of one Chris Hayes (as seen on TV!) and the looming spectre of unemployment in just over a year’s time, I’m back and blogging.

Things that are likely to come up include British and American politics, unemployment, inequality, the banking culture, the ethics and viability of economics, and those big wishy-washy discussions we have every so often about the size and purpose of government. Hopefully I can use my economic knowledge to explain some of the things that don’t seem to make any sense, and maybe even make them vaguely interesting (and even funny! Though let’s not get carried away…)

On a lighter note, there’ll be sexy maps, links to weird stories from far away, dorky choral music, and the occasional attempt at humour.

As for me - I’m a second year undergrad reading economics at the University of Cambridge and hoping to enter policy, political or journalism work after graduation. Varsity still aren’t answering my emails.

4 May 2012 / 0 notes