Return of the underwater zombies

by John Q on September 12, 2011

CT has long been the go-to blog on the cultural significance of underwater zombies (as in this classic). But now as reported by Paul Krugman in the NYTimes, they’ve taken over the ECB.



dsquared 09.12.11 at 9:46 pm

It’s the parable of the man who tried to teach the King’s horse to talk …


Moe 09.12.11 at 10:29 pm

Mess with a man’s livelihood and reputation and you apparently mess with his capacity to recognize/admit to/face even the most obvious facts. There’s the Captain Ahab version but I think this is a different kind that deserves its own special name. More of ‘bureaucrat as Captain Ahab.’ They’ll take us all down with them if we let them.


alex 09.12.11 at 10:36 pm

This wasn’t mentioned in the previous underwater zombie thread, but I thought the best use of underwater zombies in film was in Fulci’s Zombie, wherein a zombie does battle with a topless scuba diver and a shark.


matt w 09.13.11 at 12:23 am

Who knew that would be my lasting contribution to the blogosphere…

Agreed about the Fulci film.

Shockwaves was available for some time on Netflix streaming service. Unfortunately, it seems to have gone.


Watson Ladd 09.13.11 at 1:07 am

This shows that voters are stupid: consistency is rewarded much more then correctness. But the ECB is supposed to be isolated much more from pressure. So I’m not sure how reputational costs are supposed to work.


Glen Tomkins 09.13.11 at 1:08 am

They’re like Allied generals in WWI. They can’t admit that they were wrong with the last five or six pointless offensives, so there have to be more pointless 50,ooo+ casualty offensives to keep up the pretext that they are the only alternative.

If the comparison seems harsh or exaggerated, well, let’s hope it remains the case that the consequences won’t be 50,000 lives lost. But they’re playing with an economy whose crash could lead us to stop calling the present crisis the Lesser Depression


Meredith 09.13.11 at 4:52 am

Glen Tomkins, your insightful comment frightens me because it reinforces my impression, growing ever stronger over the last year, that we are living through some version of the pre-WWI period — and of WWI? (Did the British of the last decade or more relive and examine the WWI nightmare for nothing?)


Alex 09.13.11 at 8:57 am

The problem with kicking the can down the road is that eventually you kick it against the King’s horse, and then you’re in real trouble.


Niall McAuley 09.13.11 at 9:09 am

So you’re kicking the can down the road and you meet the Interrupting Buddha, and you start to ask “Does the can have the Buddha n..” when he shouts “MUUUUU!”


Bruce Wilder 09.13.11 at 9:40 am

Sensible policy would be to stick it to the banks and the bondholders, and call it a day. But, banks and bondholders are politically powerful.

Tell me again why ideas matter.


Barry 09.13.11 at 12:41 pm

They matter in the sense of being justification. The right can’t, in general, openly say ‘f*ck you all, only the rich matter, and we’ll take your money and give it to them'[1]. But right-wing econolies set it up so that they can pretend it’s for the greater good.

[1] Although in the USA, it’s getting so that they can.


R.Mutt 09.13.11 at 1:09 pm

Fulci`s zombie vs. shark scene:


The Raven 09.13.11 at 1:18 pm

Meredeth, Glen, my sense is we have a 1930s economy with 1950s politics. It’s a dangerous mix.

Surely all that is needed for this to become the Greater Depression is a continuation of the austerity policies already in place? And yet I see nothing in the USA that is going to change them until 2020.


gman 09.13.11 at 3:35 pm

People have trouble understanding when there living depends on NOT understanding…

oh yeah and having a media environment that keeps 60% of the populace ignorant helps as well..


gman 09.13.11 at 3:54 pm

Neocon fp ideas should now be clearly considered “zombie” as well. The advocates of this agenda are doing just fine thank you. The 911 anniv. showed this clearly.

No penalty or shame for being massively wrong..if you enrich or protect the proper interests!


Peter K. 09.13.11 at 4:53 pm

Awesome music in the zombie vs. shark video.


John Quiggin 09.13.11 at 5:28 pm

And among the YouTube links, a (not very successful) attempt to produce a film version of the reassurance offered visitors to Australia’s tropical north, “No worries about sharks up here – the crocs keep them down pretty well”


ScentOfViolets 09.13.11 at 7:03 pm

They matter in the sense of being justification. The right can’t, in general, openly say ‘f*ck you all, only the rich matter, and we’ll take your money and give it to them’[1]. But right-wing econolies set it up so that they can pretend it’s for the greater good.

Yeah, in the here and now that’s a pretty depressing analysis. But don’t forget, this is an immense improvement over the social setup from as recently as a couple of centuries ago when the elites could openly say and as a matter of course that only the rich matter. Needless to say, these things take time. If you want an armchair psychohistorical analysis, I’d like to think that having an advanced civilization is impossible without a concomitant comfortable and comfortably broad middle class, the average citizen well-educated and made a stakeholder in the natural order of things by their relative wealth and power.

Of course, the Great Experiment is still young. Come back in 20,000 years to see how things turned out.

Speaking to the actual topic of the post, yes, this is a less than optimal setup . . . but isn’t this attitude prevalent everywhere in every sphere of human commerce and at every level? From the most rabid Red State commentors, the most fervent anti-Relativity cranks all the way up to the most esteemed and influential experts? As you know that’s one the things that will get me on my soapbox, this stubborn insistence of people to advance theories without ever admitting to said theories being discredited many times over time and again. Without, in fact, ever saying beforehand what it would take to disprove those theories. Without, in fact, that notion as an unquestioned procedural methodology ever even entering their heads . . . :-(

Speaking of books to read, and on this subject, I find myself with some surprise recommending that people read Eliezer Yudkowsky’s online fanfic, “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”. Here’s some opening quotes;

On resolving disputes:

“Dad! Mum!”

The two of them stopped and looked at Harry as though they’d forgotten there was a third person in the room.

Harry took a deep breath. “Mum, your parents didn’t have magic, did they?”

“No,” Petunia said, looking puzzled.

“Then no one in your family knew about magic when Lily got her letter. How did they get convinced?”

“Ah…” Petunia said. “They didn’t just send a letter. They sent a professor from Hogwarts. He -” Petunia’s eyes flicked to Michael. “He showed us some magic.”

“Then you don’t have to fight over this,” Harry said firmly. Hoping against hope that this time, just this once, they would listen to him. “If it’s true, we can just get a Hogwarts professor here and see the magic for ourselves, and Dad will admit that it’s true. And if not, then Mum will admit that it’s false. That’s what the experimental method is for, so that we don’t have to resolve things just by arguing.”

On the highest order of proof:

“Mum,” Harry said. “If you want to win this argument with Dad, look in chapter two of the first book of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. There’s a quote there about how philosophers say a great deal about what science absolutely requires, and it is all wrong, because the only rule in science is that the final arbiter is observation – that you just have to look at the world and report what you see. Um… I can’t think offhand of where to find something about how it’s an ideal of science to settle things by experiment instead of arguments -“

On the sort of strategies people use to win arguments and when to be suspicious of a theory:

Now his parents were getting into one of those arguments again, one where his mother tried to make his father feel guilty, and his father tried to make his mother feel stupid.

Then he opened his door and went back downstairs. His father was sitting in the living-room and reading a book of higher math to show how smart he was; and his mother was in the kitchen preparing one of his father’s favorite dishes to show how loving she was. It didn’t look like they were talking to one another at all. As scary as arguments could be, not arguing was somehow much worse.

“Mum,” Harry said into the unnerving silence, “I’m going to test the hypothesis. According to your theory, how do I send an owl to Hogwarts?”

His mother turned from the kitchen sink to stare at him, looking shocked. “I – I don’t know, I think you just have to own a magic owl.”

That should’ve sounded highly suspicious, oh, so there’s no way to test your theory then, but the peculiar certainty in Harry seemed willing to stick its neck out even further.

“Well, the letter got here somehow,” Harry said, “so I’ll just wave it around outside and call ‘letter for Hogwarts!’ and see if an owl picks it up. Dad, do you want to come watch?”

On devising experiments to falsify a theory:

“Now, just to be clear,” Harry said, “if the professor does levitate you, Dad, when you know you haven’t been attached to any wires, that’s going to be sufficient evidence. You’re not going to turn around and say that it’s a magician’s trick. That wouldn’t be fair play. If you feel that way, you should say so now, and we can figure out a different experiment instead.”

Harry’s father, Professor Michael Verres-Evans, rolled his eyes. “Yes, Harry.”

“And you, Mum, your theory says that the professor should be able to do this, and if that doesn’t happen, you’ll admit you’re mistaken. Nothing about how magic doesn’t work when people are skeptical of it, or anything like that.”

On the decisiveness of such experiments:

Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall was watching Harry with a bemused expression. She looked quite witchy in her black robes and pointed hat, but when she spoke she sounded formal and Scottish, which didn’t go together with the look at all. At first glance she looked like someone who ought to cackle and put babies into cauldrons, but the whole effect was ruined as soon as she opened her mouth. “Is that sufficient, Mr. Potter?” she said. “Shall I go ahead and demonstrate?”

Sufficient? Probably not,” Harry said. “But at least it will help. Go ahead, Deputy Headmistress.”

And so on and so forth. As fanfic, it has it’s moments and precious moments they are. But it’s a light and entertaining read for all that, regardless of the underlying (and often overly didactic and earnest) exposition. Read the first couple of chapters at least. Oh, btw, these opening chapters loosely follow the chapter headings and sequences of events in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”:

# Chapter 1: A Day of Very Low Probability

# Chapter 2: Everything I Believe Is False

# Chapter 3: Comparing Reality To Its Alternatives

# Chapter 4: The Efficient Market Hypothesis

# Chapter 5: The Fundamental Attribution Error

# Chapter 6: The Planning Fallacy

# Chapter 7: Reciprocation

# Chapter 8: Positive Bias

# Chapter 9: Title Redacted, Part I

# Chapter 10: Self Awareness, Part II

# Chapter 11: Omake Files 1 and 2

# Chapter 12: Impulse Control

# Chapter 13: Asking the Wrong Questions

# Chapter 14: The Unknown and the Unknowable

# Chapter 15: Conscientiousness

# Chapter 16: Lateral Thinking

# Chapter 17: Locating the Hypothesis

# Chapter 18: Dominance Hierarchies

# Chapter 19: Delayed Gratification

# Chapter 20: Bayes’s Theorem

# Chapter 21: Rationalization

# Chapter 22: The Scientific Method

# Chapter 23: Belief in Belief

# Chapter 24: Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis

# Chapter 25: Hold Off on Proposing Solutions

And so on and so forth :-)


ScentOfViolets 09.13.11 at 7:10 pm

No penalty or shame for being massively wrong..if you enrich or protect the proper interests!

I’ve got to ask: How is this any different – or any worse – from what the situation was in the 20th century? Or the century before that? Or the century before that?

I would take this to mean that (in the long run) things do tend to get better, despite the determined opposition of very powerful persons and institutions that very much do not want this to be so.

Of course, come the Singularity . . .

Comments on this entry are closed.