Wandering Thoughts

August 30, 2009

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (3 schools of thought)

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 4:24 pm

I’m just jotting notes. One of these days I’d like to turn this into a talk. Remember, these are just my musings – I could be wrong.

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations – three schools of thought and a bunch of also-rans

Most of the world is very, very poor, small pockets of it are very, very rich – what gives? What follows is an explanation of three of the main forms of answer to this question, as well as a brief note on some also-rans – theories that have had their days in the sun but which aren’t so compelling now.

Lets start with the also-rans:

Click here to read the rest


Save the Footpath

Save Manners Mall! You can join the Facebook group. You can hardly avoid the eye-catching posters.  But can you, can anyone, actually explain to me what’s there to save? What good is served by the current pedestrianised Manners Mall that outweighs the need to improve our public transport system?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. Maybe I’m missing something amongst the mopey teenagers, the grimy bricks and the sparse, ugly seats. If so, I’d love to know what it is.

August 29, 2009


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 11:01 am

Simon has a ghost story from South Amercia. How do you explain these things? He doesn’t give us the back story, so maybe this tale hasn’t been relayed to him first hand by the protagonists, maybe it’s a rural urban-legend. But that’s not the sense I get.

So how do you explain these things?

Of course it could just be people seeking supernatural explanations for simple somnambulism. And I guess that’s most likely the case.

But there’s a part of me, a day-dreamy part fed by teenage years reading fantasy novels, that can’t quite shake the idle thought that our ancestors’ belief in the super-natural isn’t just a collection of mistaken attempts to explain the natural world. But that, once, ghosts existed – an existence impossible to test or to prove. Because test and proof are the vanguard of reason. And because reason itself, if clung to strongly enough, and if drawing upon a sufficient reservoir of shared belief, is sufficient to vanquish these things without contest. Study them scientifically and they vanish.

Of course, there’s also a part of my that thinks the above explanation is utter, utter nonsense.

August 27, 2009

Don’t Worry

Filed under: Aortic Valves,Reactive Arthritis — terence @ 7:44 pm

To the person who found my blog by googling “reiter’s syndrome will it kill me”. If you’re reading this, and if you’ve read my blog – do not worry. Complications of reactive arthritis as severe as those I have experienced are very, very rare.


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 7:39 pm

August 24, 2009

At the River

Marianne quells her internal critic in time to enjoy the view. And as someone who likes views and who also spends far too much time time distracted by his own internal chatter I’m thinking good for her.

I’m also remembering…

…late summer in London and a shorter than usual stop in between surf trips. Short enough that I’d not got round to getting a key cut for the front door of the travellers house where I was staying. The doorbell would do I figured. People would let me in. I did the same for them. It was how the house worked; enough give and take to enable a restless and shifting group of people to live together under the same roof.

Or, at least, that was how I saw it. Rhino the Sicilian South African clearly didn’t.

“You again!”

The exclamation mark was wilted; the weary anger of someone who was missing his sleep.

“Get your own key cut you lazy fuck. I’m not your doorman.”

“Sorry.” Words, especially retorts, fail me when I’m flustered. I pushed past him into the house.

Half an hour later I was walking down to Fulham, continuing my errands, seething in the smoggy heat.

What a jerk. I’ve let him in before. He’s such a weirdo too.

As I walked, concocting all the devastating retorts I’d forgotten in the heat of the moment, my mind drifted to a tale I’d read in a new-age book. In it, two monks came across a beautiful woman at the side of a swollen ford. Acceding, to her request, one of them carries her across. Later that day as they continued along their way, the other monk, troubled, asks the first.

“How could you do that? Carry such a beautiful women? Exposing yourself to temptation”.

To which the first monk answers. “That woman? Are you still thinking about her? I left her at the river.”

It’s a lamentably male-centric story, of course. But the message, I thought, wasn’t bad: it’s happened; let it go!

The trouble was, I couldn’t let Rhino go. The confrontation bugged and bugged me.

And so I stewed, all the way to High Street Kensington. What was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I learn the lesson of the monks. Why couldn’t I let it go. I was travelling, learning all these lessons, and I could never put them into practice. It was so easy I just had to stop thinking about him. And I couldn’t

Except that, oddly enough, I had. I was no longer feeling uptight about Rhino. I was feeling uptight about the fact that I’d felt uptight.

And perhaps, that was progress enough, for that over-heated August day.


August 23, 2009

A Year and two days

Filed under: Aortic Valves,Reactive Arthritis,Surfing — terence @ 9:08 pm

Yesterday, a year and two days after open heart surgery, on a day when the nor’easter spilled out over the sea and a small South West groundswell curled over the sandbanks, my wife, her friend and I went for a surf.

With the white V’s of snow covered mountains behind us, and the sun dodging licks of high cloud, we waded into the sea. I managed to pilot my big, blue learners’ board beyond the whitewater. Out back I waited until a small clean right hander rolled my way. As the wave picked me up I attempted to jump to my feet – back, knees and ankle all protesting the contortion. Ankle especially – the sharp shock of pain cleaving through it almost toppled me. But it didn’t. And the friendly little swell forgave my clumsy start, leaving me time to turn down the line. I swept across a couple of sections adjusting, trimming, turning – sailing – sploshing down eventually in the shallows.

It was a very shaky return, each wave hurt my ankle more, my heart felt funny, and I struggled for breath worse than I ever did before surgery. And, when I paddled down the beach to try and surf some of the steeper lefts, I failed, more or less.

But I made it. Nothing so certain as a come back, my body feels too fragile to try it again for a while. But I rode a few waves. I surfed again. And that was pretty sweet.

August 20, 2009

A thought experiment…

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:30 pm

…for people who think only negative freedoms matter.

You are the last person left alive on Earth. There is no longer a state, nor any rules. There are no taxes to pay. You can do what you want. No one will stop you. No one will ever stop you. Your liberty is complete.

How does that freedom feel?

August 10, 2009

Soil and Sand

I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth

Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves

~ Harry Patch

Harry Patch, the last surviving soldier to have fought in the Trenches in World War 1 died last month. He survived the battle of Passchendaele to live to be 111 years old. Radiohead released a song for him, using as lyrics words from an interview Patch once gave. Have a listen.

A couple of years ago I took a tour out to the end of Farewell Spit. As our four wheel drive bus bucked and bounced over the track onto the 26 kilometre long bow of sand, our guide told us the story of Jack Ashford, another Passchendale vet. Jack had been gassed in the trenches there, his lungs ruined. Returned to New Zealand, and advised by doctors that he didn’t have long to live, he sought work in the supposedly curative salt air. He became Farewell Spit lighthouse keeper, and the first person to traverse the length of sand regularly in an automobile.

As I sat out at the lighthouse that day, eating my sandwiches under the sighing marcocarpa trees, staring at the folding swash of the waves out off the shore, I made believe a story. I sketched Jack Ashford in my head, wheezing softly, sitting beneath younger trees, on an afternoon when the seabreeze was light and the ocean no menace to ships. And I imagined him, on that day, finding in the sun and space an antidote of sorts to the doom of trench warfare.

I was doing what everyone does, of course: making up stories to avoid staring the horrors of World War 1 in the face.

But maybe…Jack Ashford did live to be 99, afterall.

Beautiful Titles for Academic Books…

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:13 pm

Coral Gardens and Their Magic

August 4, 2009

North Face: Good, Bad and Ugly

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:21 pm
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The rock face was sheer and unforgiving. Even in summer the bits that weren’t vertical were dusted with snow. I stared intently, trying to stifle vertigo, swallowed by the drop, by the yawning space below. One wrong move, one misplaced footstep, one frayed rope – and doom. I squirmed on my uncomfortable perch.

Now was not the time to freak out. Most definitely not. The cinema was packed. Half of them rock climbers for sure. What would they make of some balding chubby guy hobbling out at top speed, wailing, sloshing cola.

I practiced a technique I’d used successfully in horror movies.

Don’t worry Terence they’re just actors. Just actors, just actors.

That worked for a bit, right up to the rock fall.

And that was the good. To my non-climber eyes, the climbing scenes in North Face were astounding, compelling, authentic, frighteningly real.

On the other hand, the the bad and the ugly were both to be found where the movie deviated from reality, from what really happened in Kurz/Hinterstrosser/Angerer/Rainer expedition.

The ugly is the portrayal of the two Austrians (Angerer and Rainer), they’re arrogant, freeload off the Germans and ultimately contribute to their demise. They’re also the avid Nazis in the group. Which is all kind of ironic: German movies these days have to be anti-Nazi but, apparently, non-Nazi German nationalism is just fine. And if by a sleight of hand you can blend your anti-Nazism and nationalism in a manner in which foreigners become the Nazis and Germans the anti-Nazis, well that’s even better…hhmmmm.

And the bad is the hokey romantic half story which is tacked onto the climb. The heroine who spends a night on the face, communicating with her almost lover as he slowly expires. But who also salvages from the tragedy the courage to follow her own dreams and live her own life in a meaningful manner. Blah. I can understand why the authors of the movie wanted an ending that salvaged something from Kurz’s death. Plenty of people die rock climbing, but that’s not the story. The story is how they live. The places they go and the beauty, purpose and fulfillment that comes with getting there. If I were making a movie about climbing I wouldn’t want to end with the grim death of a man trapped on a rope, either. But nor would I want to duck my way out of a bind by inventing an improbable cliff climbing heroine who’s future redeems the expedition’s grisly end. Personally, and I’m no movie maker, so maybe this would suck just as bad, I’d end my movie by going back in time, leaving Toni Kurz atop one of the summits he did scale, alive and revelling in it, in a place most of us will never go. If he died on a rock face, he lived on them too. And that’s happy enough in it’s way.

August 2, 2009

Rational Irrationality

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:34 pm

William Easterly digests Vernon L Smith so we don’t have to.  The interesting, if not completely novel, insight is that that which appears irrational in the experiment actually serves a deeper rationality in the real world. Irrationally, players of Prisoner’s Dilemma type games don’t defect and betray their partners as often as you would expect, while in other experimental games a preference for fairness trumps rational self interest. On the surface we’re nowhere near as rational nor self-interested as are the representations of ourselves that populate neo-classical economics. And yet, in real life, where games are played time and time again, and where no woman is an island, being loyal and fair is a form of a rational strategy for maximising one’s own welfare. Often enough, the treacherous are betrayed in return. And the unfair excluded from exchange. And so, as communal creatures, somewhere under our first layer of consciousness we’ve developed preferences for fairness and trust in others, the propensity to exhibit such behaviour ourselves and the tendency to create social norms to foster such behavior. And, broadly speaking this is a good for our self interest.

So far so good, but you get the sense that from this insight Smith and Easterly are then happy to pull out the stumps, declare victory and ignore behavioral economics happily ever after. Which would be odd because the fact that our irrationality is kind of rational at a deeper level doesn’t leave it any less at odds with the model of behaviour underpinning neo-classical economics…

…to be continued (and hopefully made coherent too…)

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