Assorted links


Am I the only one with no formatting and no pictures when viewing this site? It's unreadable.

Working fine for me.

I've commented on this once. It came back for me briefly, before failing again. Personally, I find it mildly funny, as it is a venue from which to criticize "the exchanges"

Since it works for Rahul, I'll add info. No visible formatting or images on:

Version 28.0.1500.71 Ubuntu 12.04 (28.0.1500.71-0ubuntu1.12.04.1)

Same effect on Android 2.2 native browser, current revision.

In my environment I am getting this path as the image for The Average Is Over:

It's 404, no image. Perhaps it is a regional thing, edge servers, or whatever.

I'm pulling from the same CDN server as you for what it's worth.

Sorry, that was Chrome "Version 28.0.1500.71."

Since I've been house-sitting, I can say it's the same from two different Southern California neighborhoods.

Works fine for me. I think it is you.

As I say, two different southern California neighborhoods. Makes me think it is regional.

So I used this page to confirm:

With a request for Texas that image above comes up fine. With a request from los Angeles, it fails.

Seems good on our end. Try a different browser, different computer. If you can duplicate do email us and we will look into it.

Do I need to email? I've localized it to a regional so-cal problem. You can use the page test site above to confirm.

I think I deserve a free copy of The Average Is Over for my debugging.

(email attached to this comment, of course)

You might be able to fix it by "touching" (unix command to update change date) your resources, and triggering a re-propagation across the edge servers.

It had also been failing in Wales, but it is back now.

It all works for me this morning.

I actually had the same problem Halloween Eve in Dubai. Viewing on my ipad Safari browser. But it's fine now.

Looks good now.

Not working for Safari in So-Cal either.

Same non-formatting on Safari on Mac OX X 10.8 and iOS 7, SoCal also.

And now that I just finished an install of OS X 10.9 (Mavericks), it works!

Surely "Ender's Game" is more suited to Samantha Power's realm of knowledge.

#7: Clever of her to end her essay by implying that anyone who disagrees with her is a child who wants to toss little girls out of airlocks.

The airlock thing is by far the weakest part of her essay. She obviously thinks it's incredibly profound, but it's just the worst kind of author-insertion fallacy I can imagine. Tell me if I'm misunderstanding her -- she thinks this story is proof that all (well, most) men secretly want to throw teen girls through airlocks. Super weird conclusion to draw.

Little girls, no. One particular adult woman, I might be persuaded.

And yeah, you can't get that conclusion from reading the original story. Reading a precis of the story, maybe. The real thing, Godwin pulls every trick in the book to make that ending hurt, and hurt bad. People come up with clever scenarios where the least-bad option is to kill someone all the time, and they are quickly and deservedly forgotten all the time. This one, we're still talking about sixty years later. Yes, even in spite of the clunky, dated writing.

I generally hate it when authors of any kind of essay try to make themselves look smart by starting their essay with a seemingly unconnected story just to tie their text up by coming back to it in the very last paragraph.
Especially in some news magazins like Germany's 'Spiegel' the authors do it all. the. time.

Also what she acutally had to say was kind of underwhelming: "Let us not interpret the book like it was about its story but like it was about some psychological insight about the protagonists." Whow. First time anyone ever did that for sure! Creative. Smart. Impressive.

But what can one expect when she has to explicitely come out and say what any interpretion always implicitely assumes anyway: That the interpreter knows the story's meaning better than the author.

(Fun fact: Her quib about the author not being up to her exhalted level in real life.)

The irony that her critique of "people want to show off how smart they are by having 'clever' insights" applies more to her own essay than to the book was crushing.

But she posts spoilers very quick without no warning nor apology, so it's feels a lot like there's some other agenda at hand.

#7: SPOILER ALERT. Way to ruin the book and the movie to anyone who hasn't read it.

Why would you read an article on a 30 year old book and not expect spoilers?

I read the book so it wasn't actually ruined but I figured I would do the right thing and alert anyone who hasn't since the author was much too lazy to be bothered to do the right thing and throw down a spoiler alert. It's just common decency honestly.

I am a fan of Ender's game, even though I read the later (and far inferior) books first. Those were spoilers too.

Re the Ender's Game review: I was also pretty unimpressed with it. I didn't feel like I got any new insights into the story from reading the review. Also, like a lot of Salon writing, I kept feeling like she was trying to be come off as more deep and provocative than she really could justify being. And the bit about "The Cold Equations" was just silly--I suppose she also thinks the point of Old Yeller [spoiler alert] was to get to shoot a dog?

3) podcast. TC: "in the very, very far future smart machines will produce things so cheap or free (paraphrasing) that the majority will be very well off, a kind of utopia."

I can see the cost of production of consumer products going way down, but what about the cost of commodities and real estate? Energy and housing are only getting more expensive. Even if the cost of shaping raw materials into useful things goes to zero, the cost of getting those raw materials themselves is headed towards infinity.

Agreed. The amount of money people spend on items produced from raw materials is tiny when compared to rent, insurance, taxes, health care, utilities, cable, gasoline, data plans, Internet connectivity, software, etc. I can easily go entire months without spending money on anything "physical" other than supermarket items (eg food, paper towels, toothpaste).

#5: That's 1 hour 18 minutes, not 1 minute 18 seconds, on statistics if people were wondering.I did not watch it.

Even I expected 1 min 18 Sec. In this world of shorter and shorter attention spans , should n't the link have said 1:18:00?

Heh. Me too. I assumed the time length was mentioned because it was so short.

If it looked more professionally produced I would watch it. As it is, its a bunch of younger people in some sort of Talking Heads software speaking extemporaneously. I sit in long meetings enough during the day.

The Ender books have plenty of space for more serious science fiction kind of stuff, but the first one is a Harry Potter precursor. A bit better, IMO, because Potter was a messiah from birth.

I think most people who've read the two books would disagree with this pretty strenuously. Indeed, other than both books be predicated on two young boys going to a boarding school, they have little in common.

`` Orson Scott Card's bestseller is supposed to be an antiwar novel, but its real subject is closer to home ``


Does Ender's game even vaguely seem like an anti-war novel?

As far as I can tell, the Ender's game relates to war in exactly the same way is Starship Troopers. The main difference is that the war is Ender's game seems more reasonable, because you find out why the misunderstanding happened, because Card actually takes the time to talk about the aliens.

Which makes sense, what with the real message being closer to home and all.

Agreed. Ender's Game is not an anti-war novel.

It is a "War is Hell" novel.

It can be interpreted as anti-war.

It's not apparent from the first novel that the second war with Buggers was necessary at all.

What is apparent is that the government deceived its own population and it's own soldiers about the conflict.

That's a huge stretch, given that there are conversations about how the humans don't know if the buggers are coming, but launched their invasion anyway, leaving no defenses at home. They HOPE they are launching a genocidal offensive without the possibility of a counterstrike. This isn't something they hide from Ender. What they hide from him is the human cost of the battles, because they think it will emotionally cripple him. There's never any doubt that the whole thing is rational. It just sucks. As JWatts says, it's a "War is Hell" novel. The whole thing is written as if the interaction with the buggers and its outcome is inevitable.

As I recall (it's been many years since I read the book), from the perspective of pretty much every viewpoint character, the war is both inevitable and all but hopeless. The whole assumption on which the battle school is based is that:

a. Earth is utterly overmatched and screwed and needs a miracle.

b. Inborn military genius exists and can be searched out and trained quickly.

c. Finding a few dozen born military geniuses is the only hope anyone can see of Earth's inferior technology prevailing against the buggers.

Now, later on, we come to see that it probably wasn't inevitable, but was instead the result of a misunderstanding. But as I recall, nobody realized that until after Ender's final big battle.

I read it to my kids recently. I think you are mostly correct.

I only quibble here: "wasn't inevitable" is true only in the sense that "if the misunderstanding never occurred, the resolution wasn't inevitable." Once things got underway, there's no indication anyone involved could have stopped in the middle without it being probably suicidal. Any rational actor would have kept on keeping on in the face of the bugger threat. It wasn't even possible to know there was no bugger invasion fleet on the way until after the bugger homeworld was destroyed. Even then I'd still be nervous for decades, wondering if we'd misunderstood them and there was some fail-safe killer on the way.

In science fiction it often turns out that the "enemy" is nicer and more human than we really thought, but there's little reason to actually expect it to turn out that way.

“But at a certain point I realized that’s not really what that story is about. It’s really about concocting a scenario where you get a free pass to toss a girl out an airlock.”

The writer was that uttered this inanity is a fool who either never read the story or who let his prejudices blind him to what was really a very simple concept.

The reason a teenage girl was chosen was precisely because it made the moral dilemma clear. The spaceship pilot was absolutely horrified that a teenage girl had to die, and it was clear that the reader was supposed to feel that way as well Had the stowaway been an adult male, the moral choice would not have been as clear - one had to go, and between two adult males it might as well be a coin flip. But a teenage girl? You'd do ANYTHING to keep her alive. But there was just no way to do so - she couldn't fly the ship, and there wasn't enough fuel for both to survive, so she had to go. Hence the title "The Cold Equations".

You also have to wonder about the mindset of a person who thinks there's a market for stories aimed at readers who like reading about teenage girls being thrown out of airlocks. If he's a science fiction writer, he's got an extremely low opinion of his readership.

Perhaps "Dr. Strangelove" was just an excuse to show how much fun it would be to ride a nuclear bomb. Clearly that was the whole point to that movie, right Mr. Science Fiction author?

Laura Miller is a woman. But yes she is clearly an idiot with pretensions of grandeur.

It's even funnier now that you made this comment while I was typing my comment below.

It's funny because when I read this comment I had not read the article and knowing that the article's writer was female and you referred to "the writer" as a male I assumed you had not read it either, not even so far as to know the article's author's name. Now having looked at the article I see that the female author of the article was quoting another unnamed author. And indeed, the quote provided is incredibly asinine. It was probably some goldbricking postmodern lit-crit professor at a third rate university, I understand they often consider themselves "authors".

The entirety of the postmodern lit-crit genre, of which this article is a prime example, is the equivalent of a decabillion dollar a year funded encyclopedic Protocols of the Elders of Zion against white heterosexual Christian men.

You poor little baby.

Godwin also palms a card re: "teenage girl", as well. The character is eighteen, an adult on board a quasi-military starship (think "Star Trek: TOS"), which plausibly gives her inadequately-supervised access to things as dangerous an interplanetary shuttlecraft. When the opportunity to sneak a visit to a brother she hasn't seen in years arises, she starts acting more like a mischeivous fourteen-year-old, and that's who we interact with for most of the story. Plausible to a degree, and far more sympathetic - by the time she goes out the airlock, nobody is thinking she's a consenting adult who knew what she was doing and deserved what she got.

Oh, and FWIW, she wasn't thrown out of an airlock; I suspect you know that, but others might be unclear given Miller's twisting of the tale. She walked.

Laura Miller may be smart but she doesn't show it in her review. It should be clear that the doomed character-as-young-girl was chosen precisely to evoke the response of wanting to protect her, as youthful and innocent. (This does not mean to imply that all women are innocent/naive etc., or need protecting.) It is to bring our concepts of loyalty, protection, innocence, and commitment into conflict, and hence relief.

@#4 - a polemic about UK housing being too high because they don't build on green fields. It makes several errors:

(1) strawman: it claims a developer would build in an industrial area (shows a desolate landscape with electrical hightowers) but not in pristine green fields. This is clearly wrong. No developer in their right mind would build houses under unsightly electric towers. They would prefer to buy farms from unsophisticated older sellers, a classic pattern here in America, and build there. This would cause unsightly urban sprawl, of the kind found for example in Denver, Colorado

(2) it mistakenly states that zoning is the cause of the high price of houses. Not really true. In zoning, most places, anything that can be build will be built regardless of zoning (a study in the USA that compared Houston, Texas, which has no zoning, with other places, that do, proved this). Zoning pushes up the price a bit but unless there's a hard limit (like no building can block St. Paul's cathedral, or no building can be higher than the Washington Monument in DC)

(3) notice that home ownership ROSE in the 1970s to 80s, despite the higher prices. So high prices (like high taxes) do not stymie home ownership

@ #5 - 5. 1:18 YouTube video on the future of statistics. - too long. As I type this and read this blog I am hearing these weak, watered down lectures. Since you can only convey a few pages of information in a half hour of speech, spending over an hour listening to these guys is a waste of time. Better to post the written transcripts online, or at least the slides. Cute girl scientist however at the 12 minute mark. She is married (note family photo). And why is she cute? I don't know but she is to me. But, living as a Caucasian here in Asia, I realize beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The girls I think are cute, others say are average. Then the girl that is the "it girl", that everybody says is so beautiful, I find average. When I ask why they think she is cute, they say something like "look at her nose and lips, they are perfect". Such is beauty around the world.

As someone who spent many years living in the UK and become quite knowledgeable about the housing market there:

1. People in the UK (especially people in their 30s) are desperate for any type of house they can afford. Of course it is true that a developer would much prefer to build on farm land. However, they can sell homes built on a brown field sites. People will accept power lines near a modest home that they can afford. And when you are 35 and have never owned you own home you will settle for power lines. Look at the ratio of house price to income. It has gone from 2.5 to 5 since the 1980s. People are that desperate!

2. Zoning laws are not only the strictest in the world. They are strictly enforced! If you do somehow manage to build without planning permission, you will be heavily fined and forced to tear down the structure. Indeed the default is that you are not allowed to build or modify a property unless you obtain permission. In most other countries it is the other way round. And if you still have doubts, examine the relative paucity of skyscrapers in London as compared with Manhattan, Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai. It's so bad that even the government sometimes has a hard time renovating a school if it's in a listed building. And there is plenty of empirical evidence that demonstrates that the artificial scarcity of land created by government regulation has made housing the most unaffordable in the industrialized world. See here -

3. Home ownership did rise in the 1970s and 80. It did so DESPITE, higher prices. So what caused the higher rates of home ownership in the 1970s? Tax relief on mortgages was introduced, the mortgage sector was deregulated, people valued owning their own home more so that before and real incomes rose. In the 1980s, Thatcher forced local councils to sell their council housing to their tenants.

Between 1971 and 1973, house prices for small starter homes in North London tripped in nominal price. I met people who simply got priced out of London. This was when the baby boomer generation was coming of age and first needed housing for new families they were forming. Despite those price signals, nothing happened supply wise. Why not? Because supply was successfully capped. Your notion of developers being able to circumvent the rules is simply mistaken.

This is how absurd things have gotten. The creative industries in the UK are some of the last bastions of world class industries. They are responsible for 6% of GDP and 10% of exports (in a country with a structural balance of payments deficit). They are one of the few goods that foreigners are still eager to buy. Indeed music, publishing, art, film, advertising, fashion and design are the few remaining dynamic areas of the British economy. In particular Pinewood studios forms an essential part of that core and are arguably the most important studios in Europe and have been used for major Hollywood movies since the 1930s. Pinewood wanted to expand for the first time since before WW II. The expansion would have created 3100 jobs at a time when the economy was reeling from the worst recession since the 1930s. Despite this and despite its corporate power it was refused planning permission. It appealed and later reapplied. And yet again in 2009 and 2012 it was repeatedly rejected.

So what did it do? It expanded in the USA in Georgia at a campus three times the size of the proposed original expansion. And now another country will enjoy the economic benefits, The farce does not end there. The creative industries emit far less carbon emissions than do manufacturing, transport and energy per pound of GDP. They require less real estate per pound of GDP. They offer middle class salaries that are becoming increasingly rare in our newly bifurcating world. So why would the British government handicap the goose that lays the golden eggs? Because the green belt is a religion in the UK and the anti-development lobby is all powerful. It's something all three parties agree on and no amount of data, poverty, unemployment or personal suffering can change minds on this subject.

And look at the size of houses - they are the smallest in Europe. And new home sizes are the smallest in the industrialized world. -
In 1920, typical homes measured 1,647 square feet with four bedrooms,now it has three bedrooms and has 925 square feet.
For more information see here:

+1 for that. Pinewood is a depressing example of UK planning as a complete collective action cluster-frak. What is particular frustrating is non-one understands Coase theory, so politicians don't realise the existing equity holders need to be brought out rather than exhorted to change or bludgeoned ito submission with the planning process.


I live in southern UK. The presentation is exactly right. To address your points

1) Both brownfield and greenfield are developed and sold. Greenfield development is cheaper, and most new builds are greenfield, but developers will build on both when profitable. Please understand that there simply isn't enough brownfield land to make much difference to quantities and price; only about 100k units compared to much more greenfield potential. And much brownfield isn't in the places people want (mostly in poor bits of run-down northern cities - our equivalent of Detroit). Hence most new builds are greenfield. (Oh, and I have electrical pylons within 100 yards of my house, but I'm greenfield).

2) "Zoning" or as we Brits say "Planning Regulation/Permission" is entirely and utterly the cause of high prices. I can show you two plots of land, literally across the road from each other and identical in every way except planning permission. The difference in price? Over a factor of 10. More than half the price of typical a UK house is the cost of land it is built on, or rather, planning permission on that land.

The rules are strict and very strictly enforced by county councils - we do things differently to your US experience here. Apart from minor additions (conservatories, small 1-storey back annexes), you have to have planning permission for everything. Unauthorised build will be and is torn down. Have a look at what you can't do;

Typical planning permission takes > 3 months for domestic home extensions. For developers it takes > 3 years. Local owners fight development tooth and claw to protect their equity, and councils tend to back them against developers, however unreasonably. The Pinewood example by Robert is typical of the gross mal-allocation of capital that results. It is becoming an inter-generational war of Boomers vs Gen Y.

3) As Robert said, this is "in spite of " rather than "because of". Discounted council house sales made a big difference.

@ Robert and Alistair--

Thanks for your replies. I have carefully considered them but reject them as inadequate. Here's why:

(1) Population density of the UK demands strict zoning. Consider the facts: the UK is 243k m2 for 63 million people, that's 3.86k m2/million people density. Compare with three places where I've lived (higher is better): California (424k m2 for 38m people, or 11.2k m2/million); Greece (132k m2 for 11 m people, or 12k m2/million) and the Philippines (300k m2/100m people, or 3.0k m2/million people). So, UK = the Philippines while California = Greece (seems this is true for weather as well, the English and Filipinos have gloomy weather most of the year, aka "rainy season", while both CA/GR have "Mediterranean climates") . High density is not very nice for the people, I think we would all agree. You need strict zoning controls since you would otherwise develop every square inch of land, and become like Bangladesh (148k m2, 150m people, or 0.99k m2/ million), where not a single blade of grass exists. Do you wish to destroy the beautiful English countryside just so you can enjoy your American-style McMansion monster home? You egotist.

(2) Pinewood is better off expanding in Georgia. Many successful companies move overseas. Possibly they'd be better off in Los Angeles than Georgia, but time will tell. Anyway this is a strawman or outlier.

(3) many smaller houses are works of art, so you should be happy to be living in a small house. See World's Narrowest House, Keret House, Warsaw, Poland. Seems like a gem, though if I had a family of 5 to 10 it would be a bit too tiny, unless I was a small framed Filipino then it would be just fine.


Thanks for the reply. I don't think you're actually disagreeing with Robert and myself. You don't appear to dispute our (or the presentations) main claim; that planning regulation causes high prices. You seem to accept that and just argue that the planning regulation is necessary/desirable to preserve the countryside, a collective good.

That's a whole separate argument. We've moved from positive to normative economics right there.

I would disagree there too, I suppose. The amount of greenbelt supply side liberalisation would require is quite small, even in the south (which is disproportionately crowded - more so than your numbers would suggest - our distribution is more heterogenous than SoCal).

It might help to frame the discussion if you knew a bit more about how land in the UK is used (Gov & BBC links below). Developed land is only about 10% - (20% in the south) - and over half of that is urban parks and gardens. In fact, only about 2-3% of UK (6% in the south) is actually built on, and only some of those are residential. To put things in perspective You could double the entire housing stock, give them all gardens and parks, roads and services, and still have about 85% green landscape . This is hardly "destroying the countryside".


#4. The real estate article places a value judgement on home ownership ("it's the young who are
losing out most"), which assumes the cohorts born 1987-1995 and 1986-1977 value owning a home
to the same degree as the older cohorts they are compared with. I think this is a very strong
and inaccurate assumption. If these younger cohorts value home ownership to a lesser degree, than this
is a positive sign.

It would be interesting to see this chart plotting car ownership instead. I think you may see a similar pattern.

It would only be a positive sign if the younger cohort valued owning a home negatively. If they just valued owning a home less than the older cohort, then that would make it a less-negative sign.

On a side note, there is no need to account for subjective preferences. If I told you that genital mutilation was on the rise in Somalia, but it's a good thing because the population there is pro-genital-mutilation, would you think that was an entirely reasonable thing to say?

@mike--probably it is reasonable. Point in fact: the Papua New Guinea people started practicing cannibalism around 120 years ago. This led to a form of 'mad cow' disease called "CJD". It was found that the ritual of eating the brains of the dead only started about 120 years ago (this is not uncommon; 'primitive peoples' will revert from one form of civilization to another--for example 'civilized' people will go back to live in the forest). Through the efforts of several anthropologists, including one scientist who ended up being convicted of being a child molester in the USA (he practiced homosexual underage sex, which I think he claimed he picked up in Papua New Guinea), CJD was eliminated when eating human brains was outlawed. Was this reasonable or yet another intrusion by the White Missionary? That's a question Oprah Winfrey is unlikely to ask but food for thought.

If you think I'm making this hit up, just f'ing Google it.

That's quite good, but Mike's point about higher prices for house under different cohort preferences it only being a smaller bad still holds.

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