eXTReMe Tracker WARNING: The opinions expressed and linked to in this blog are not necessarily mine (anymore).

My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Thursday, March 23

New Writing Project - Development and Prosperity

In an effort to improve my writing, I've been looking for a longer term project to work on. Coincidentally, I stumbled into a controversy about 9/11 which included some accusations about the World Bank. Right there on the front page was an announcement about a research competition. The theme is Business and Development: The Private Path to Prosperity. It seems perfect - a potentially interesting subject to research, a deadline, and even a potential prize. I don't know whether I'll have time to really do it properly, but I hope to at least get some better writing out of it.

The problem is, well, I've never been particularly good at narrowing down a topic to write. When I had research papers in school, I'd check out every possible book on the subject, skim them all, enthusiastically read some of them and be completely overwhelmed with where to start writing. I'd put it off until about 2 days before it was due. Then, suddenly, the paper would nearly write itself. Then I'd turn it in and generally get an A or a high B - unless I was supposed to have turned in a draft. If I had to turn in drafts and abstracts and other little stuff first, then I'd get points deducted and get a C or maybe even a D.

It seemed as if I wrote better under stress. I suspect that's because I'd stop trying to make it perfect and just put something down. "Just putting something down" worked because I'd done all that reading weeks before. It also occurred to me more recently that maybe it just took me a few weeks of thinking about the new ideas to come up with some sort of coherent viewpoint.

Moving along. I would really like to be able to write something where there was an actual draft, some criticism, some editing, some revisions, and it felt complete. The trick is, still, how to get started.

There's way more information than I could possible read much less analyze. All I can think to do is ask some questions about the topic and see where it leads.

It seems logical to get some understanding of what the theme itself means. I have some notions about it, but it seems like as good a time as any to re-examine them.

I think for now I'll list out the questions and brief first thoughts about them. Later I'll write separate articles about each of them.

What is development?
I'm assuming they mean Economic Development but maybe I shouldn't.

What is business?
A group of people pooling their resources. Sounds a bit like a government.

What is private?
Is business private and government public? Seems like some people consider things like restaurants public. I don't.

What is prosperity?
I think they mean material wealth - like food, clothes, shelter and enough surplus to not have to worry about those things anymore. I wonder if free time is included in a measure of prosperity.

Is there a private path to prosperity?
It depends on the answers to my questions. I suspect that there isn't one for some people. They simply don't have the knowledge and/or resources to become prosperous. Maybe they could acquire that with private help. I'll think more about that later.

Wednesday, March 15

True Lies

CIA front companies identified by the Tribune typically do not list any directors, officers or other employees - usually just a single CEO who, upon
further investigation, appears to have no spouse or family, no mortgage history, no previous addresses, no driver's license or auto registration. In short, no existence.

The company's telephone number, if one is listed, rings at the switchboard at CIA headquarters in northern Virginia, where operators pretend to be an answering service that takes messages for the company's owner, who is perpetually "out of the

It's been a long time since I've seen the movie, but I distinctly remember a scene where the wife tries to call her husband at work and the intelligence agency answers and pretends to be a typical office. It hadn't occurred to me that things were really done that way.
Not having any sort of background on spy work. I assumed that if there were "front companies", they'd actually be real businesses that were a bit less efficient than a normal company.


The opinions expressed and linked to in this blog are not necessarily mine.

I link to what interests me - not because I agree or disagree with all or part of it. My opinion and knowledge sometimes change very rapidly. I disagree with what I wrote before I can even finish a post. I post anyways. If I only posted the ones where I thought the same thing through the whole post - this would be a blank site.

I write what I think about the topic at that moment given my particular set of knowledge, my particular interest in the topic at that moment, and a variety of other factors (possibly including what I had for dinner). If I waited 5 minutes, I'd write an entirely different article.

Genetic Selfishness and Altruism - Comments

Leo said...

I think it is a HUGE mistake to see selfishness as an opposite characteristic and as an innate one. I actually think that selfishness is more complex to learn than altruism. It is not easy to not care about others.

I must admit, I hadn't thought of this before. I've heard people suggest that it "feels good" to do something for someone else. I thought that this didn't necessarily hold with all people - that some people got no enjoyment out of doing "good" for others. I concluded that some people are conditioned or taught to feel good about doing something for someone else very early on.

I don't have any particularly good reason to think that people are innately selfish.

Leo also said...

If nobody inately has altruism, how is it possible that some people know it so they can teach it to others, where does the knowledge comes from?

Perhaps, originally, someone simply thought of it and tried it out. It brought good results (allowed them to survive) and other people copied the example.

Leo also said...

What decided what gives us pleasure and what doesn't? Can we really control what we feel about things? Can we make ourselves like food we don't like? Much more complex than that smart moral upright author makes it sound like, really. ;)

I think we can change how we feel about things. At least, I've had the experience of my feelings changing about things after my thoughts changed. Sometimes there's a lag between the thoughts and feelings. Sometimes the lag is years. Sometimes I've changed my feelings by exposing myself to particular experiences. I could be very timid and fearful about things as a child. I hated being afraid of things, so I would sometimes purposely expose myself to frightening things. Often, over time, I would stop being afraid of them or become less afraid of them.

I've definitely experienced liking a food that I didn't previously like. I don't know if that's the same as "making" myself like it. It seems that with many foods, I don't like them until I've tasted them a huge number of times. My expectations about them also "flavor" them. There are some foods that I don't think I could make myself like, but it's possible if I mixed them with foods I liked and got used to their flavor. I've become able to enjoy quite a lot more foods now than I used to. I've read that sometimes people's sense of taste becomes less sensitive over time. I also have come to find it more of a hassle to go to social events and not be able to eat, so motivation to have more flexibility (not have to leave events because I'm hungry and can't find food I can stand) could be part of the change. I'll stop this now, as I'm rambling...

Friday, March 10

A gene for altruism?

I don't like just posting a link without comment, but I'm finding it a bit tedious to add them to the sidebar where they tend to get out of date quickly...

Altruism certainly does occur amongst human beings, but it must be taught, and those who display it are only confirming that innate selfish human drives can be overriden with enough instruction.

Thursday, March 9

Is Altruism hard-wired or just learned very early?

The observations of 18 month old human children showing "helping" behavior seems consistent with my experiences with children, but I don't think the observations really support the conclusion that such behavior is hardwired:

"It's been claimed chimpanzees act mainly for their own ends; but in our experiment, there was no reward and they still helped." Altruism might have evolved six million years ago in the common ancestor of chimps and humans, the study suggests.

I don't know all the details of the study, but children can learn quite a lot in that 18 months. Although an average 18 month old may not have a large speaking vocabulary, they do tend to understand quite a lot more than they are yet able to speak.

Even if "helping" isn't rewarded in the study, I would expect that many children are "rewarded" for helping by their parents or other people who take care of them. The parent may be pleased and tend to do more things that the child wants. The child may not be aware of it fully. He just may associate helping with being happier. I don't know that I would consider that being hardwired for altruism so much as being wired in a way such that altruism could easily be learned.