Spending Motivation

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Here’s a piece of guesswork about moral psychology. Suppose you are aware that purchasing antiquities without a clear provenance might result in money going to organisations like Hamas and ISIS/Islamic State. Suppose you've seen remarks like this one from Conflict Antiquities:

[P]otential buyers need to ask themselves one key question: ‘What are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?’ (Or, as Paul Barford rephrased it, ‘what are the chances that they are not[?]’)

Wishing to do good rather than ill, you choose to spend your money elsewhere. And how do those wishing to do good in the world spend their money? One way, you might think, is to donate it as foreign aid. Except that you might have seen another recent blog post, this one from Civitas...

Leading development economist Paul Collier [...] finds that 40 per cent of African military spending is inadvertently funded by aid. Over 11 per cent of development aid “leaks into military budgets”. Because military expenditure by African governments is influenced by both aid and the level of military spending of neighbouring states, they conclude that “Where aid is common across a region, as in Africa” it “inadvertently has the effect of escalating a regional arms race… In Africa military spending is almost double its level in the absence of aid.” Britain’s foreign aid has exacerbated the instability politicians claimed it could solve.

If you were of a hard and cynical mind, you might reason like this: if I buy murkily sourced antiquities, I contribute to messing the world up but gain some antiquities for myself. If I try to make the world a better place through charity, I contribute to messing it up anyway (as I already do through my taxes), and gain nothing for myself. So trying to do the right thing here is futile and unprofitable.

I don’t know whether anyone does reason like that. Certainly it’s reasoning of doubtful soundness. Still, it reaffirms that the task of discouraging trade in dubious antiquities is one that isn’t enjoying the most helpful of wider contexts.

The Sum of Its Department

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It is of course traditional for people to call for the dismantling of the D.C.M.S. even in weeks when the Secretary of State has not been forcibly replaced: on this occasion the Spectator is doing the honours. Yet last June the Telegraph carried suggestions that the Department was too small...

Some senior Conservatives are privately arguing that her entire department should be disbanded and its duties handed to other, better-rated ministers. One Conservative Cabinet minister told the Daily Telegraph there is a ‘strong case’ for dismantling the DCMS. The minister said: “Under Maria, it’s shrunk so much that it’s close to losing critical mass – they do so little now it’s hard to justify the costs and status of a full department and a Cabinet minister.”

...whereas today the B.B.C. quotes the artistic director of a theatre company saying roughly the opposite:

“The first thing would be to ask parliament and his bosses to reduce the size of this portfolio,” he said. “Look at what they have to do; broadcasting, sport, media – including Leveson, telecoms, art. It is a very, very big portfolio. I wish the arts could be separate, like it used to be, with its own minister.”

Unless the Department has ballooned over the past year (unlikely, in these times of cuts and austerity), they can’t both be right.

Fool’s Gold

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What the Hunterian Art Gallery presents: ‘This major new exhibition features a spectacular array of Scottish gold items from the Bronze Age to the present.’

What Culture24 picked out for special attention: ‘Ancient gold coin left by dynasty with Jesus blood line link to go on show in Glasgow’.

‘Jesus blood line link’? Read beyond the eye-catching headline to understand the gimmick: ‘An “extremely rare” 7th century gold coin, thought to come from the Merovingians – the dynasty linked to the blood line of Jesus Christ in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code – is part of a new exhibition opening in Glasgow.’


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‘I tend... to the view that Williams, like Hume, was a minimalist. He saw the impossibility of systems and grand narratives, and yet at the same time wanted to uphold our ordinary ways of thinking,’ writes the philosopher Roger Scruton in a Telegraph review of essays by the philosopher Bernard Williams. To which someone in the editorial chain has added a hyperlink, elucidating the term ‘minimalist’ by associating it with an article on interior décor.

Cold Fusion Power Notation

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I’ve just had to e-mail a science education website (which shall remain nameless) to explain that the interior of the Sun is probably not, as it claims, around 107 Kelvin. By way of comparison, water freezes at about 273 Kelvin.

The problem seems to be a typical copy-and-paste problem in software: the power notation in 107 has been lost at some point. (A scan through a few online sources suggests estimated temperatures for the core of the Sun cluster around 1.5 x 107 K.) I wonder how many such errors are propagating, seldom noticed, through the Internet: the dords of our day.

Update: I received the following response: I understand that the [page] is speaking about absolute temperature and the Planck temperature, and it is in this context that the Sun's interior temperature is mentioned as only 107 K. It seems to me to be something different to what you are expecting to read, which would be the Sun’s interior temperature of 1.5 X 10**7 Kelvin. This is only my opinion, however I will ask for a second opinion to our scientists. Given that the page in question also refers to what things were like 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang, I think I’ll stick to my interpretation...