The Good Place

StitcherEzra Klein – The moral philosophy of The Good Place – Dec 10, 2019

After creating and running Parks and Recreation and writing for The Office, Michael Schur decided he wanted to create a sitcom about one of the most fundamental questions of human existence: What does it mean to be a good person? That’s how The Good Place was born.

Soon into the show’s writing, Schur realized he was in way over his head. The question of human morality is one of the most complicated and hotly contested subjects of all time. He needed someone to help him out. So, he recruited Pamela Hieronymi, a professor at UCLA specializing in the subjects of moral responsibility, psychology, and free will, to join the show as a “consulting philosopher” — surely a first in sitcom history.

I wanted to bring Shur and Hieronymi onto the show because The Good Place should not exist. Moral philosophy is traditionally the stuff of obscure academic journals and undergraduate seminars, not popular television. Yet, three-and-a-half seasons on, The Good Place is not only one of the funniest sitcoms on TV, it has popularized academic philosophy in an unprecedented fashion and put forward its own highly sophisticated moral vision.

This is a conversation about how and why The Good Place exists and what it reflects about The Odd Place in which we actually live. Unlike a lot of conversations about moral philosophy, this one is a lot of fun.

Ezra Klein – The moral philosophy of The Good Place – Dec 10, 2019

I mentioned the show here.

RAnt(hony)-ings

…so I thought I could at least mention it again in an article about it. I wish I had more to say on the subject than just watch the show. I’ve gone back and started watching Veronica Mars because of Kristen Bell‘s lead role in the show. That’s how much I like it.

Writers Write

I’m a slow worker and I think a steady worker. You know, so many writers don’t like to write. I think that is their chief complaint. They hate to write. They must, they do it under the compulsion that makes any artist what he is. But they really don’t enjoy sitting down and trying to turn a thought into a reasonable sentence. But I do. I like to write, and sometimes I’m afraid that I like it too much because, when I get into work I don’t want to leave it.

Harper Lee

Her final trial and associated literary work were never finished, as is documented in the book Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep a story described in this episode of Criminal,

StitcherCriminal Episode 127: The Reverend

In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, of the book to the fire or to the public, whether due to weariness or to a need to deliver it for publication, is a sort of accident, comparable to the letting-go of an idea that has become so tiring or annoying that one has lost all interest in it.

Paul Valéry

Existence

What is the meaning of life? You assign your own meaning, there really isn’t any mystery there. If you aren’t happy with what your life will end up meaning, only you can change that, and you don’t have limitless amounts of time to do that in. Get to it, Man!

The Meaning of Life with Martin Hägglund by Why Is This Happening? with Chris Hayes

Part of what’s so moving when someone commits to you for life is precisely that you know that this person doesn’t have eternity to lead their lives and they’re making you a priority. You can only do that if you understand that you have limited time.

Martin Hägglund – This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom

I have no qualms about my own death and probable ending of existence in any form beyond not wanting my death to happen anytime soon. I do carry a fair portion of caution with me everywhere I go. However, the universe existed before I was born and it will continue to exist after I’m gone. The universe does not need me, and anyone who is bothered by that probably needs to be talking to a therapist.

The only thing that bothers me about passing from existence is dying without knowing why the universe exists at all. It is a question that is not likely ever to be answered. The universe is for all intents and purposes its own reason to exist. It is, just like I am.

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (1980)

Religion Does Not Improve Your Mental Health

The fact that this research keeps being revisited on the media is just about to drive me crazy. What research? The finding that going to church correlates with less depression. This finding is so overblown in importance that I almost hesitate to talk about it here simply because I don’t want to spread misinformation about the subject. But really, someone should say something to debunk the bullshit.

To be specific; just getting out of your home or workplace and talking to different people has been shown to reduce depression. Just spending less time alone has been shown to produce similar results. There is no mystery here. Religion does not magically make you a happier, more stable person. Talking to new people does. Now, can we please stop having this insane argument?

Vindman vs. Sondland

I put a lot more stock in the testimony of career military officers like Colonel Vindman than I do in some rich real estate developer who bought his way into a diplomatic position.

U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY18)
Impeachment: A Daily Podcast – ‘It’s as Bad as You Think,’ Says Congressman Inside Impeachment Hearings – October 30, 2019

…or one that bought his way into the presidency.

Who is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman? Well, here’s a few things to know. He works at the White House as a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He heard the call on July 25 between President Trump and President Zelenskiy of Ukraine. He’s active-duty Army. And today he has testified in the impeachment inquiry underway on Capitol Hill.

NPR, Who is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman?

The twins, Alexander and Yevgeny Vindman, both ended up working for the White House under President Trump. Both Vindmans served in the U.S. Army, and both rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Each now works for the National Security Council.

Theirs is, in the abstract, the quintessential American story. Migrants who arrived from the former Soviet Union at age 3 who’ve since dedicated their lives to serving their new country. The Vindmans’ experience is a manifestation of the poem at the base of the statue: They are part of the impoverished, huddled masses seeking the chance to breathe free. They did so, deeply.

The Washington Post, The fundamentally un-American attacks on Alexander Vindman

Four Questions for Your MD

Christer Mjåset|TEDxOslo 4 questions you should always ask your doctor

What we know from research is that one out of five of you, 20 percent, will change your opinion on what to do. And by doing that, you will not only have made your life a whole lot easier, and probably even better, but the whole health care sector will have benefited from your decision.

Presidential Tax Returns Revisited.

Back in 2016 I lamented that we didn’t have Trump’s taxes.

…and I predicted at that time that we would never see his tax returns if we waited for him to release them. I was right. I was right on many counts. This is not proof that I can read minds or predict the future. It is, however, a vindication of my assertion three years ago that I knew who Donald Trump was. That he was dirty and that he was never going to reveal that dirt willingly.

This week we learned that his businesses keep at least two sets of books. One set of books that they show to the government, and one set of books that they show to the banks. There is probably a third set of books out there somewhere that contains real numbers, but that set of books they don’t show to anybody. This isn’t rocket science, this is how you do business as a con artist.

TRUMP, INC. – Never-Before-Seen Trump Tax Documents Show Major Inconsistencies – Oct. 16, 2019

A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

New York City’s property tax forms state that the person signing them “affirms the truth of the statements made” and that “false filings are subject to all applicable civil and criminal penalties.”

The punishments for lying to tax officials, or to lenders, can be significant, ranging from fines to criminal fraud charges. Two former Trump associates, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, are serving prison time for offenses that include falsifying tax and bank records, some of them related to real estate.

TRUMP, INC.

His tax returns will soon be a matter of public record, as they should be, given that his arguments for keeping them private are being laughed out of courtrooms across the country.

NYT – Trump Taxes: President Ordered to Turn Over Returns to Manhattan D.A.

Not to mention the lawful request made by the House of Representatives that has been illegally stymied by the White House.

NYT – House Files Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure of Trump Tax Returns

These issues will both be represented in points in the articles of impeachment that will be recommended against Donald J. Trump. Who else he takes down with him has yet to be determined.

Slaves?

Main deficiency of active people. Active men are usually lacking in higher activity-I mean individual activity. They are active as officials, businessmen, scholars, that is, as generic beings, but not as quite particular, single and unique men. In this respect they are lazy.

It is the misfortune of active men that their activity is almost always a bit irrational. For example, one must not inquire of the money-gathering banker what the purpose for his restless activity is: it is irrational. Active people roll like a stone, conforming to the stupidity of mechanics.

Today as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.

Friedrich Nietzsche – Human, All Too Human
Section Five: Signs of Higher and Lower Culture #283

I’ll just quote a book title as the proper question in response to Nietzsche’s aphorism above. Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? Like Adam Smith, Nietzsche is oblivious to the comforts that having others around, even others that he derides as lesser than himself, provides. If Friedrich Nietzsche or Adam Smith cooked and cleaned for themselves, they would be slaves, per Nietzsche. Slaves to their own needs. At least, in Adam Smith’s case, he would have ended up with a better idea of what economics was. If he had time to think about economics between the washing and the cooking, the hauling of water, etc. I wonder what that version of Wealth of Nations would have looked like?

Listening to the discussion of Nietzsche contained in Episode 11: Nietzsche’s Immoralism: What Is Ethics, Anyway? it’s easy to see the inspiration for much of Hitler and the Nazi party’s philosophy. How and why Hitler was so empowered by the German people to go out and achieve greatness for them. Never mind that Nietzsche would never have condoned the use of his ideas in this fashion. Ideas are like that. Once realized and expressed they are free to be used by anyone who happens upon them.

I need a certain level of comfort to be great.

Mark Linsenmayer

Abortion, Lead & Crime

My paper does not refute their conclusions. To the contrary, it actually reaffirms them. I include their abortion measure in my analysis, and I find that the abortion effect is pretty much unchanged when one includes the lead effect. That the two effects are operating relatively independently, and that each one is of similar magnitude when you do or don’t account for the other. So what that means is that, from my perspective, both stories are true. And we can hold both of them kind of side by side. It doesn’t make sense to look for a single explanation for a decline in crime. There are lots of explanations.

Jessica Wolpaw Reyes

I’m glad that Freakonomics Radio went back and revisited this subject. I’ve been wanting to hear Levitt’s opinions on how the data has proven out over the last eighteen years. I had not expected that they would invite the lead study author (Jessica Reyes) to appear on the show and add her weight to the argument concerning why crime rates fell, and what to credit for this dramatic fall in crime.

StitcherAbortion and Crime, Revisited (Ep. 384)

Just a quick tangent here. I have to wonder about Stitcher just as I wonder about most podcast apps and their approach to embedded content. I have to construct the embed for myself in order to get the podcast to play, and even then the embed lacks most of the information that could be provided. Contrast this embed with the embed for Today Explained in this article. That embed showed up just by pasting the URL for the episode directly into WordPress. Like the articles of my own that I post below, the content simply appears.

I, as a firstborn child, born before the legal availability of abortion, a child now turned mature adult. I have no doubt as to the causal nature between wantedness and a tendency towards criminal behavior. I know what my teenage years were like. No, I won’t discuss that subject here. Not now, anyway.

I can say that my experiences have lead me to echo Levitt’s sentiment that I quote below, with my own children. I have striven always to make them feel loved, no matter what they did at any given time in their childhood years. I love them. I wanted them, and I want them to know that. No matter what secret feelings I harbor about my mother and what choices she would have made, had she been allowed to make them, I do my best not allow these feelings to color my dealings with my own children or anyone else around me. If anyone should be terrified that they might have been aborted before birth, that person is me. I would have preferred never to have existed than to have been an unwanted burden on anybody. I can also state that with certainty.

…if there’s one thing that comes out of our research, it is the idea that unwantedness is super-powerful. And it’s affected me as a father in the sense that when I first was having kids, I didn’t feel maybe so obligated to make children feel loved. And it’s interesting that that now as I go through a second round of kids, I am not trying to teach my kids very much. I’m just trying to make them feel incredibly loved. And it seems to me that that’s a pretty good premise for young kids.

Steve Levitt