Thursday, June 25, 2009


Okay, I think I just have to say it: I'm not a big fan of the TV series Dollhouse. Joss Wheadon is usually great, as Dr. Horrible and Firefly can attest (and I think I could even watch and enjoy Buffy).

But not Dollhouse. I think a large part of it is the lack of characters that I'm able to care about. As the concept of 'Dollhouse' is unambiguously disgusting and evil, I have a hard time caring about any of its employees as characters - Topher and Dewitt especially. The 'actives' have ceased being people, so it's hard to really care about them. Maybe if Caroline, Echo's original self, were more compelling then I would at least be able to root for her being reinstated.

Ballard, the FBI agent, isn't very sympathetic either, and is rather obsessive; not necessarily because he sees the dollhouse as evil, but just because he seems the obsessive-type person, who is out for his ego as much as justice. I liked Mellie, but she was then revealed to be an active, as did Dr. Saunders.

Which, I guess leaves Boyd, Echo's handler. I guess what I don't find believable is his willingness to work for the Dollhouse while retaining his moral reservations about the place. He doesn't seem like the type of person who would otherwise be starving on the street, so his willing to do something he sees as immoral doesn't speak well to him.

On top of the lack of characters to care about, I don't really feel the need to know what happens. The show is unfolding rather nicely, and might have made a nice movie, but it's not the type of thing that I will devote much time thinking about the mystery of what happens, like I would have in LOST before I gave up on that.

I'll finish out the first season, but I probably won't watch any more beyond that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thoughts on the correlation between being a Good Economist and a Good Person

I've just started reading Deirdre McCloskey's book, sent to me in my intro packet to the Mercatus Center, How to Be Human*: *Though an Economist. So far, I've been loving it. She believes in Economics as a social science, rather than the illegitimate stepchild of Mathematics. As I've said before, Economics is the study of human behavior, albeit not a fully inclusive study. Which is why it has always bothered me that there isn't more interaction between Economics and the other social sciences. I think the disconnect is there for a couple reasons. First, the type of person who goes into Sociology, History, etc, and the type of person who goes into Economics, at least traditionally and in general, are two very different types of people, who don't communicate with each other very well. Secondly, Economics really wants to be a Physical Science, rather than a Social one. Much of Economics uses statistical significance as truth, and Economic data as the experimental data of a physicist.

Anyways, I think that was a tangent off of a tangent that distracted me from my original tangent. In one of her essays she denounces the usual words that Economists use to describe other Economists; 'smart' and 'nice,' instead preferring 'good' as in, Good Economist and Good Person. She points out that the two are not perfectly, if at all, correlated.

I can accept that it's easy for a scientist working in the 'hard sciences' to have no correlation between their success in their field and their success as a Human Being. If something is objectively provable (ie, based in mathematics), then all you need is to be smart. But in the Social Sciences, I would argue, there should be a much bigger correlation. Any Social Science, not being based on mathematics, has to be built on an underlying philosophy. And in a 'you shall know them by the fruit they bear' way, I believe that people's success as Human Beings (ie, being a Good Person), is reliant on their underlying philosophy. Which is why I don't find it absurd when Ayn Rand portrays the only happy people in her books as the people with fully constructed philosophies (and in her works, of course, they're all objectivists). If someone is a good Social Scientist, then they should also have a good underlying philosophy, and the same with their being a Good Person.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel

I have just started the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. In the book he is trying to come up with the explanation of why the societies that dominate the world today do so.

A couple of quick comments -

He seems to be convinced that the world of 1500, and those in power then, directly resulted in today's power structure. I'm not convinced - first, because I think he underestimates the Middle East and Northern Africa circa 1500; by his logic, they should be in much better shape than they are. I also think he overestimates the Japan of 1500.

"Progress," in the Modern sense of political and technological power, seems to me to be directly related to one thing (maybe more, but I'm just noting one) - Openness. Intellectual curiosity, maybe, or just maybe the willingness to look for what works best and use it. Rome rose to power by absorbing other cultures - the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, etc, and then stagnated. Once they became too powerful, they stopped absorbing other ideas, cultures, technologies, and just started trying to spread what they had, making copies of Roman society in Spain and in the Near East.

Europe was consistently invaded - 'opened,' especially from the East. The Golden Horde left its mark on Europe, and prevented it from being a single contained entity.

China was the most powerful civilization, probably, at 1500. It was around this time (it may have been even earlier) that they decided they wanted no part of the West, scuttled their merchant and exploratory fleets, and did their best to remain Pure. Japan did the same thing. Like Rome, they looked only to within for progress, and slowed. Instead of trying to expand themselves and make other peoples copies of themselves, they wanted just to make sure they remained fully them. They stagnated.

Later, once Japan opened, Japan quickly grew to match Western powers in Guns and Steel, and technology. The societies that flourished continued to be more open - Europe, and later to a greater extent, America. Now, I'm not delusional, and I know that these places weren't necessarily happy about having other people join them, but they still integrated other things into them.

So, it seems that the worst thing a society can do it think that it has reached its potential, and adopt a closed mind to other ideas and technologies.

Late night rant brought to you by Benedryl