Archive for June, 2009

Against Agnosticism

Agnosticism has a certain appeal as a more moderate form of atheism. Agnosticism, for our purposes, refers to the belief that the existence (or lack thereof) of god is unknowable.  I’ve generally found that theists tend to have more respect for agnostics due to their holding of a more “reasonable” position. However, this is misguided: When it comes to the belief in god, agnosticism is logically unsound at best and intellectually cowardly at worst. Many agnostics are cowardly in the sense that they use agnosticism as a cop-out for not thinking hard about religious questions. Many agnostics do not actually deal with the epistemological question of whether we—as humans with reason—can know whether there is a god; Rather, they deal with the subjective personal question of whether they believe in a god: “Do you believe in god?” “I don’t know!” And, because agnosticism is a more socially acceptable position to hold, there is an incentive not to think.
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In Awe of Mariano

In the bottom of the eighth at Citi Field on Sunday night, with runners on first and second and two outs, the game promptly ended. The gleefully wide eyes and pumped fist of the 10-year-old in front of me was all I needed to see: Mariano Rivera was walking through that door. That moment of excitation, of victory assured, is one every Yankee fan has gotten to know intimately for 13 years now; it is one I, and every fan of a Major League Baseball team not named the Yankees, have never really experienced.

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Monday Medley

What we read on the clandestine flight to South America:

  • This probably isn’t Tom Junod’s best work–the paragraph-to-paragraph logic is a bit lacking at times–but it is the best thing we’ve read about who, and more importantly what, Michael Jackson was. It’s also another reminder of a simple rule we have: If Junod writes it, we’ll read it. See: The Falling Man, which may just be his best.
  • Josh alluded to David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster earlier this week. Here’s the NPI consensus best essay from that collection. Take our word: It’s about much more than grammar. (N.B.: Feel free to skip the first paragraph/subtitle.)

The Most You Ever Lost on a Coin Toss: The Sense in Senseless Violence


“The only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.”

—Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight





Carla Jean: The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you.

Anton Chigurh: Well, I got here the same way the coin did.

No Country For Old Men





There has been a rash of coin-flipping killers in the movies recently—well, only two, but they are from two of the most important and memorable movies of the last decade.

Both titles are in IMDb’s ranking of the top 50 titles of this decade, with The Dark Knight in the top spot—granted the list is severely flawed (Up is No. 2 and Gran Torino is actually on the list), but it is a clear indication that these films had resonance.

The cultural importance of DK and NC is heightened even more when we consider the vacuum in culturally important movies over the last five years. On IMDb, which tends to be incredibly present-biased, most of this decade’s top films come from its first half. Even among the more recent ones, three are Pixar and six are foreign (not that these facts make the films bad or insignificant, just not the types of pictures that resonate with the culture at large), and I don’t think Star Trek or The Hangover will last long on the list. Continue reading

Thoughts on Creating Your Own Economy

Tyler Cowen refers us to his fascinating preview article of his upcoming book, Create Your Own Economy. In the article, he makes the following arguments:

  1. The economic concept of “production” has changed: More and more production is occurring internally, inside one’s mind, rather than in factories. The combination of one’s entries and work on different social networking tools (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace) results in production of internal “joy, emotion and suspense.” Accordingly, GDP tells us less about human well-being than it previously did.
  2. Since many of these productive web activities are free, they don’t generate jobs and appear to hurt the traditional economy. The fact that only 50 people work for Twitter is an example of this.
  3. Despite this, there is a bright side. Individuals get what Cowen calls a “human capital dividend” by reallocating time in the “free sector” and freeing former manufacturers and intermediaries to do more productive work.
  4. The other part of the “human capital dividend” is that people are A) becoming more socially connected with diverse groups of people and B) better able to keep track of long-term interests and stories because of the ease and low-cost of keeping track with the resources of the Internet. Rather than the Internet causing us to become increasingly impatient, it causes us to develop and maintain long-term interests and connections.

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A Tribute: The Top Ten Michael Jackson Songs

So in light of his unfortunate passing, NPI got together and decided to rank our favorite Jacko songs. It was a dead heat for the #1 spot, with the top three all falling within one point of each other. In our collective opinion, this is what the list looks like: Continue reading

Top 173 Things in History: #78. The Great Northern War

Contrary to popular belief, the Great Northern War was not the dramatic final meeting between the United States and Iceland at the end of D2: The Mighty Ducks. Rather, it was a 21-year war between Sweden and a group of northern nations, headlined by Russia under Peter the Great. I know what you’re thinking already: Wait, Sweden in a war? Sweden taking on Russia and others? Preposterous!

How’s this for even more preposterousness: This could be the single most underrated war in world history.

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Start Being Real: Real World Cancun

MTV’s The Real World is the godfather of the reality TV genre: It’s been around the longest (since 1992), has spawned the most spin-offs and derivatives and has one of the most loyal followings

Now, it may seem like this is not a distinction to be proud of. This is probably the point where I need to defend watching a show that is ostensibly all about young people drinking and having sex with each other. Clearly, that’s what most people are watching for; that is, after all, why MTV set the show’s newest iteration in Cancun. Continue reading

Consider the Appetizer… Or the Lobster

I love the concept of tapas. Since dinner is served so late in Spain, tapas, a variety of small appetizers, serve to keep Spaniards from suffering from hunger bouts between work and dinner. What I love about tapas is that it allows people to eat a diversity of foods in one meal. One can reasonably eat four tapas for the price of one entrée.

In Spain, tapas precede dinner. But, I see no reason why tapas-style appetizers should not constitute dinner. Most entrees have diminishing returns. As you eat more of an entrée, that entrée becomes less pleasurable. Some of this can be attributed to decreased hunger but much of it can also be attributed to decreased novelty. The first taste of a delicious flavor does more for you than the 35th taste of that flavor (there, arguably, are exceptions: lobster may be one). The last bite of that steak or chicken is rarely as pleasurable as that first bite. Rich foods like creamy pastas tend to have significant diminishing returns. Anyone who has ever eaten penne alla vodka can attest to this.  Moreover, one of the benefits of going out to eat at a restaurant is that the chefs cook for far more people (who have varying tastes) than you probably do at your home: as a result, its easier to order a variety of dishes than it is to cook a variety of dishes.

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The Sports Revolution: Flipping the Diamond

Let me set the scene for you: a prominent base stealer is on first. A left-handed pitcher is on the mound. The baserunner doesn’t try to steal second—as he would if a right-hander were on the mound—because the lefty has an intrinsic advantage in picking him off.

Let me reset the scene for you: a prominent base stealer is on first. A left-handed pitcher is on the mound. The baserunner does go for second—as he would if a right-hander were on the mound—because the lefty no longer has an intrinsic advantage to picking him off.

How? Because the baseball diamond was flipped. With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, third base becomes first base, and vice versa.*

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