… when you’re supposed to be doing something else is enjoyable. Wasting your actual leisure time reading such a load of bollocks is just depressing.

Here’s what I’ve been working on lately – my very own online children’s music shop called kids-tunes.com. If you have kids yourself, or if you’ve to buy presents for friends-and-relations’ children, you should take a look.

Freakonomics on crime

March 25, 2009

I read the book “Freaknomics” recently and enjoyed it, mostly, although in the end it turned out to be a disappointment. In the introduction is said something like “economics is a set of tools that allows us to study incentives and how people respond to them” but really the only tools I saw being used were a) plain old statistics and b) plain old conjecture.

One of the chapters¬† I enjoyed most at first was the one on abortion and crime – the authors attribute the fall in violent crime in the 90s in the US to the legalisation of abortion around 20 years previously. Fewer unwanted kids = fewer criminals, they say. At first I went “oh yeah, that makes sense” and, on the surface, it does, and they use a lot of science-y sounding language to back up their case which would be inclined to convince a fella.

But then at the back of the book they answer some detractors who’ve found fault with their approach by giving some more technical information on the statistical analysis they’ve used. They modify their treatment of the data saying the new way is “more accurate”, and end up with a stronger relation between abortions 20 years ago and the crime drop today. I don’t really have the statistical chops to check whether their analysis is reasonable, but this carry-on makes me suspicious – is their new treatment really more accurate, or are they just massaging the data so that it agrees with their thesis better?

I’m not sure I trust these guys. They attribute the rise in crime in the US during the 1960s to the (for the US) “liberal” political regime that was in place at the time and not to the big upsurge in drug use, but say the rise in crime during the 80s when there was a right-wing regime in power was exclusively due to drugs (crack cocaine in particular). Hmmm.

Rotting in hell

March 24, 2009

I don’t think you can rot in hell. Rotting is caused by micro-organisms, and it’d seem unfair if God sent micro-organisms to hell, seeing as he didn’t give them Free Will.

Jared Diamond on drugs

March 24, 2009

Just finished reading Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” in which, according to Wikipedia, ‘Diamond addresses two issues: how and why human beings transformed in a short period from “just another species of big mammal” into a world-dominating force; and the degree to which our immense progress has been coupled with the seeds of self-destruction, particularly through genocide and environmental degradation.’

It’s a brilliant book, as you might expect, but one chapter – “Why do we smoke, drink and take dangerous drugs?” – just didn’t ring true for me. Diamond proposes that narcotic use is a handicap principle behaviour like stotting in gazelles or a peacock’s tail – basically something wasteful or dangerous that has evolved because it proves to the opposite sex that you are tough enough to waste your energy in this way, and are therefore a good bet to have babies with.

Two things struck me when I first read the chapter. The first was that he seemed to think drugs’ dangerousness (and by “drugs” here I mean nicotine and booze as well as illegal drugs) is their primary characteristic –¬† even though, for example, it didn’t become common knowledge that tobacco is bad for you until quite recently in the history of its use. The second was his apparent complete ignorance of the fact that people enjoy using drugs.

Even so it took me a little while to come up with a counter-argument, but I did eventually and here it is – if people take drugs primarily because they’re dangerous, then why don’t people ingest dangerous substances that don’t get you high? Rhubarb leaves, say, or ragwort, or human shit? The answer is, of course, that getting high is the point, not showing off in order to get laid.

Of course Jared Diamond would classify “getting high” as a proximate reason, rather than an ultimate reason, for doing something – “cos I like it” is be the proximate reason people have sex, but the ultimate reason can be found in the millions of years of evolution that has made sex enjoyable for humans. So what’s the ultimate reason people like to get high? Well, we have opiod and cannabinoid and zillion other chemical receptors in our brains,¬† and, through an accident of evolution, plants make these chemicals too and therefore we can override our own hormonal emotional controls and make ourselves euphoric using plant extracts. Drug use is just a form of tool use where we satisfy (or manipulate) our instinctive/emotional drives directly using chemicals rather than indirectly via manipulation of the physical world.

New Jinx Lennon album

March 20, 2009

Good piece of news number 2 – Jinx Lennon’s new album is released today. You really really need to buy it. His myspace is http://www.myspace.com/httpwwwmyspacecomjinxlennon

Good piece of news number 1 – it seems Road might be staying open after all. There’s been a big effort in the local scene to raise a kind of retirement fund for them (kinda like the end of “It’s a wonderful life”), and now they’re considering staying open. From their website:

We regarded our decision in January as final having spent a long time trying to find a way out of our situation to no avail. Soon after announcing our closure a number of ideas were thrown at us by different people and we started to think that maybe there was a way that we could carry on.

We have set ourselves certain targets and have agreed that if we manage to hit every single one of them then we will carry on with the shop. Last Saturday night (benefit gig) was the fulfilment of a major target!

Fingers crossed they’ll meet their other targets too. The maddest thing about the benefit gig is that it was organised by the manager of Tower Records, fair play to him

When I overheat in bed I get nightmares, so now the weather’s warming up a little bit again but we still have winter bedclothes on the bed it’s doom, mayhem and horror in the Land of Nod for me.

Last night civilisation had collapsed – the cities were destroyed and I was living in a kind of shantytown full of aggressive and hostile men (no women). The town was partially floating on a jelly-ish mass writhing with flesh-eating worms about the same size and thickness as your thumb that, when I awoke, I was struggling not to stumble into while being jostled by my sneering fellows.

Nasty.

I’m the only person in my work who drinks “proper” coffee rather than instant. There’s proper coffee in the fridge, there’s a coffee machine, but everyone except me boils the kettle for some Maxwell House instead.

WTF? It only takes about 30 seconds more to make the real thing. The only explanation I can think of is that my workmates just don’t love themselves enough, and don’t think they deserve it.

Talent

March 6, 2009

When you meet someone for the first time, and they find out you play music, they’ll often tell you about some musician friend of theirs – “oh they’re really good, very talented”.

Talented?

That’s ok when you’re talking about a kid, but I always think it’s almost insulting to a really good musician to refer to them as talented, because it ignores the enormous amount of hard work they’ve put in to get so good.

Really. Talent is the thing that allows someone to knock a tune out of an instrument they’ve never played before, it’s of very little help when playing Liszt. So don’t do that, ok?

Here’s an article from the Freakonomics column in the New York Times that backs me up.