Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2012

Mathiness

Two weeks into my arrival in London and I’m getting my ass kicked by a “review” math course right now.  It’s ridiculous.

Image

The class is pretty polarized into extremes with not that many people in the middle, which is kind of similar to the Business Writing course that they made us take in undergraduate.  Essentially, if you have no idea what’s going on before the course, the course does not really fulfill its role of fully introducing you to a topic (given they cover like, 4 or 5 terms of information in 15 days) but if you have already seen it before (because you are planning on doing a PhD, or already have a Masters, or are just freaky smart) then it will bore you to tears.  I’m on the first end of the extreme.  At least that’s how I feel given my propensity to hyperbolize (which is something that I should remember from calc, but don’t.)

It also polarized the class into those who are interested in economics mainly for academic purposes (papers, research, a career as a prof) and those who took this but are actually going into an MPA class (which is more for those who are geared towards some kind of job after grad).  I used to be kind of a quant/academic snob and think that theory and rigour, and an understanding of these concepts, made me better than my social science counterparts.  I’ve fully become one of those counterparts.  We’ve done so much stuff in probability densities, Lagrange, manipulations of matrices and vectors and what’s quasiconvex but not convex but actually also concave . . . . I’m starting to see why it’s dangerous.

It’s so easy to get lost in a see of Greek letters and to forget what you are actually trying to do, which is (positively) influence people’s lives and choices.  We ain’t doing this for fun!  But being surrounded by the objectiveness of the math can make it easy to think that our manipulations of the real world are so insignificant that we can shuffle them across both sides of an equal sign, when really they can represent millions of people.  I always felt like the world was opposed to academia for being detached from her worries, and the danger is real.  Economists who operate with “moral awareness” like Amartya Sen are rare because after hours of studying equations in the library, it can be easy to forget to be human.

I don’t like the way the world pits “street” vs “book” smarts.  If I had to choose, I’d prefer to be on the side of “street” but I’d love the credentials on the other side.  Mainly because I don’t want to take the same side as Ron Paul.

Related Video: “Street vs. Book, Paul vs. Paul” (I’ll side with Krugman)

Paul vs. Paul

Read Full Post »

Historic Gifts

 

 

 

 

 

I am in London now.  The things that I have learned are that:

1) Food in London isn’t really that expensive.  I mean, it is, but you can get set lunches and meals for around 6 pounds.  There are signs for this all around the city, which is about the same or less than a $10 lunch in Yaletown (which has an additional tax and tip on it). The grocery store in the area is pretty cheap. and cost me only marginally more than what I would pay for the same things in Vancouver. 

2) Phone plans are ridiculously cheap in London, and are going to cost me the same as what I paid in Canada except NOW I GET DATA 😀

3) Museums are free.  I almost refused to go to any but yesterday an American told me that she’s been going to all the museums because they are free, and you can imagine the cartwheels my heart did.

Image

Today I went and visited the British Museum, which has a whackload of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Japan, you name it.  This is one of the statues from the Egypt Wing, it was a “gift” from the Egypt Exploration Fund” in 1905, which is in the middle of British occupation.  This has gotta make you wonder; who has the right to “own” historic artifacts in a period of foreign influence or occupation?

When I was in Tanzania, there was a museum on the island of Zanzibar which housed some very old artifacts from a slave-trading time, items that showed the island while it was used as a port between Africa and the Middle East.  They were kept out in the open (some of them were paper) with no control for the intense heat or humidity or light (it is Zanzibar . . . ) and I did think about what kind of decay this could potentially cause over time.  Or about the turbulence in places like Afghanistan which have seen the destruction of huge Buddha statues by the Taliban.  Are the Taliban an occupational force?  Are they domestic?  What if domestic groups are fighting over the right to own a piece of historical significance?  

 

Would you rather have something decay in the hands of a “rightful” owner or let a “false” one preserve it?  

 

Read Full Post »