Assorted links

1. Will computers ever fully solve chess?, from Ken Regan.

2. Do inequality and slavery matter for later Brazilian outcomes?

3. Increasingly, I think meals like this are B.S.  Two years ago I ate at Noma, now labeled "the best restaurant in the world" and I barely enjoyed it.

4. Is Bill Simmons my favorite writer these days?  How many journalists or for that matter social scientists are as consistently smart and insightful?  Why can't they be?

5. Should we judge Supreme Court Justices (and nominees) by their taste in art?

6. Another perspective on Greece's problems.

7. Astronomy picture of the day.


Tyler -

Although Bill Simmons is certainly a fun writer to read, that column you reference is not very good. The Godfather references are quite strained and underexplained (possibly because, if he had tried to, he'd have seen how strained they are).


3. The Fat Duck really is brilliant, though so is Noma. I can understand why you might not like to eat like that every night, but I cannot really understand how someone who likes variety in food as much as you profess to could miss the point: Probably just more of the same sort of signaling that makes you steer clear of European food in general.

Increasingly, I think meals like that are the only ones worth paying for. In most other cases I prefer my own cooking.

Simmons, like you, is a basketball nut. I'd be more impressed by a writer who piques your interest in baseball.

What is the basis for legal opinions anyway? Does anyone actually think that most Supreme Court issues have a "right" answer? The Court itself doesn't even seem to discourage the notion that there are no wrong answers. If majority rules, why the Dissenting Opinion? Shouldn't the individual Justices consider the Court's verdict more "correct" than their own? If not, then they would seem to have less faith in the Court than all of the rest of us are expected to. If the Justices really were neutral legal experts, then their ideologies ought not to matter. Shouldn't the fact that judges seem to personally agree with most of their own decisions expose them as either hopelessly arrogant or cripplingly biased? If the Court is simply going to output its ideological median result, what is the point anyway? Not to mention the fact that the Court picks its cases as well as its verdicts, compounding whatever judgment "errors" exist in the process in the first place. It seems we sacrifice a more accountable and up-to-date process for Constitutional interpretation (i.e., whatever we want it to be, we wrote the thing) for the sake of stability and consistent expectations, such as the idea of precedents, which are always followed until..they are no longer followed. Whether intended or not, this idea of a Ten Commandments-style set of inviolable rules, interpreted by a body immune from electoral pressures, feels like a protection against the will of the majority. But over a long enough time span, public opinion eventually filters into either precedent or amendment.

My question: do we gain or lose from this storied institution with incoherent goals? Is this a necessary hedge against the irrational voter, or an irrational roadblock to government being whatever its citizens wish it to be? Is it economically efficient, in that it leads to more stable and predictable legal cirumstances for business operation? And lastly, for the functionalists, why do we still have this particular setup? My guess would be that because over time the Court's opinions simply reflect public opinion anyway, and people like the idea of a system in which all of its laws are held to the high standard of "The Constitution," there has simply never been a reason to radically reform the process.

Sketches towards answering what I also find to be a fascinating question re Simmons: consider the related question of why organized sports compels us. Hypothesis: it combines the structural cohesiveness of fiction with the emotional impact of public events, like a big election in which the main characters were well drawn, the conclusion clear, and the many small moments on the way factored cleanly, causally, and dramatically towards the final decision. Simmons has better material to work with than either novelists or journalists. His audience comes to him having bought in to the shared mythos he furthers: professional sports fans have a commitment to "suspension of disbelief" on many points which makes his job much easier than other writers. The simple fact that elimination tournaments always end with a "champion" should lead to a null hypothesis that "championship" says more about the contest than the contestant.

Raised on sports, following them all my life, I've come to the tentative conclusion that they are an attention parasite, an infection I'd be better off without. Simmons's work seems to me a bit of a waste.

Think of it this way: Going to a restaurant like the Fat Duck is not just about food; it is a complete theatrical experience. And it is no more expensive than going to the theater. Well, actually it is more expensive than going to the theater, but less expensive than, say, hiring an up-scale prostitute.

Simmons is great when he writes.

Unfortunately in his striving for uniqueness? interest in pushing digital boundaries? laziness? most of his output is in the form of hour-long torturous podcasts in which he discusses Boston sports with his college pals.

Not particularly entertaining if you're not from Beantown or into his clique.

I do wish he would write as much as he used to as I enjoy his melding of sports and pop culture.

3. I'd rather get mugged on my way out of a Vietnamese restaurant than eat there. It would save time and money.

It has been clear for a while that Simmons is a truly outstanding basketball writer. But on the other subjects, especially the NFL or golf........ not so much.

Bill Simmons could perhaps be interesting, but he writes about the most ridiculous spectacle known to man, the NBA.

"How many journalists or for that matter social scientists are as consistently smart and insightful? Why can't they be?"

#4: Not a fan of Simmons, but then not a fan of basketball so much. But the answer to the question is perhaps that the overwhelming majority of journalists are not sufficiently educated in the topics they cover.

#3: Of course they're BS. There is something to be said for the whole food-as-art thing, but for many people this is simply a form of snobbery, another way for them to look down on people outside their 'group' and to set themselves above the uncultured. (Which also explains why members of the group become snarky in response to your comment, as it cuts not just at the restaurant but at the construct into which they have placed themselves.)

It's the jargonization of eating.

Tyler, I recommend this article:

"Be that as it may, we were novices; we were uninitiated, and felt it. Needing to arrive by appointment to an elaborate mid-day dinner, we got a little anxious; we suffered from stage fright. We spent a lot of time grooming ourselves that morning, picking out our clothes, and, once dressed, worrying whether we were dressed appropriately. We spent the morning wandering about the streets of London involved in other research, looking at food markets, but with our minds distracted and our hearts in our mouths. Would we make it on time? Would our clothes be mussed by the time we got there? Would we make a good entrance? Would we, as we partook of our sybaritic pleasures, as it were, remember our lines? By one o’clock in the afternoon we were nearly frantic with expectation."

His related book is very interesting: Aguecheek’s Beef, Belch’s Hiccup,
and Other Gastronomic Interjections
literature, culture, and food among the early moderns

Robert Appelbaum

One can love art without wanting to buy it. Some do so as an
investment, without necessarily loving it.
The point about the capacity of art (or literature, for that matter)
to liberate lawyers and judges from rigid conceptions is well taken.

Ken Regan taught me the Programming Languages course at SUNY Buffalo.
He's brilliant.

How many journalists or for that matter social scientists are as consistently smart and insightful? Why can't they be?

The name you are looking for is Joe Posnanski, the best sportswriter in America.

Simmons isn't really a very good writer but he is a brilliant podcaster.

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