30 November 2005

How does bulletproof glass work?

Quote of the Day

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

- Abraham Lincoln

Are Wives Necessary?

Another great article from James Pinkerton at Tech Central Station.


Excessively Simplistic Summary:

Great article, most of which is a kind of review of a American feminist columnist Maureen Dowd's new book Are Men Necessary?. The book has been a flop, mainly, according to Pinkerton, because it's so anti-feminist.

Essentially, the thesis is that since the rise of feminism, men have become more liberated along the lines of the Hugh Hefner philosophy, while women have not fared so well.

He goes on to visit that anti-feminist feminist, the only feminist to whom I take off my hat (until I heard of Maureen Dows in this article), Camille Paglia.

However, Pinkerton concludes, the Hugh Hefner Philosophy will lead to our ultimate destruction (not through fire and brimstone, but through lack of procreation), so we need to rethink things.

(As for myself, I am one of those "on strike". I would like to procreate, but in the current cultural climate, I refuse.

Quite understandably, "[m]any of the brightest and most educated women have, in effect, gone on strike, baby-making-wise" as well. The solution is simple, allow the mass importation of Third-Worlder maids to do the housework while husband and wife have high-powered careers. Almost no First-Worlder will be put out of a job as few First-Worlders can afford a domestic servant anyway. Third-Worlders can make good money for their families back home, First-Worlders can focus on their careers without sacrificing nice meals and clean houses.)

23 November 2005

Current Affairs Quote of the Day

He could face very serious repercussions, either official or unofficial, from the Iraqi population.

- Attorney Simon Laurent, on why his client, former Iraqi Agriculture Minister Amer Mahdi Al-Khashali, should not be expelled from New Zealand due to suspicion that he was involved in chemical weapons production in the 1980s.

Source: Global Security Newswire, Thursday, 5 May 2005, http://www.nti.org/

Book Review: Horses Are Made to Be Horses

Horses Are Made to Be Horses: A Personal Philosophy of Horsemanship
Franz Mairinger

I loved the guy's soothing simple old-fashioned almost dorky sensitive Australian boy a la Alan Marshall style.

Franz Raininger was apparantly a champion Australian horseman. He may have had something to do with Australia's first appearance at an Olympics equestrian event.

The things I learned were:

1. Balance is all important. By balance I mean not only left-right balance but position on the back of the horse and posture.

2. The aim is to become one animal, where you let the horse do the things that he already naturally knows how to do (except with a load on his back the effect of which you try to minimise by correct balance, position & posture), but he does them when you decide. You are the brain, he is the body.

3. A horse is an excellent learner but a poor unlearner, so correct and carefully-thought-out teaching is critical.

4. The horse has natural, deeply embedded instincts which are perfectly correct for it from an evolutionary point of view. Don't try to override these with your fierce strict will. Be patient and understanding. Gently and subtly surf these instincts in a judo-like way. Shape them, don't countermand them.

5. Dressage [literally "training"] is the 2500 year old art of military horsemanship.

Sounds to me very much applicable to humans...

Quote (re a dressage move called the capriole):

In the capriole horse goes piaffe, piaffe, piaffe [i.e. 3 trots on the spot], then straight up into the air, and as he reaches the apex of his jump he kicks out with both hindlegs. It was developed in the past when a knight was surrounded by foot soldiers. He made a capriole and scattered everything around him. Then he did a half-pirouette and poof he was gone. It is a natural movement. You can see horses, particularly young horses, doing it in the paddock with no artificial aids at all. But no rider with any sense will try to teach capriole to a horse that has never shown a natural desire to get off the ground.

Oh, and the fundamental rule of horsemanship is?...anybody?...

Don't fall off.

22 November 2005

Quote of the Day

The world is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.

Horace Walpole

Source: http://www.info.bw/~jacana/QuotesP.htm

Walpole is absolutely right. The world is absurd, which in a comedy is what makes us laugh, but unlike in a play, the harsh effects of this absurdity are real, and thus tragic.

Bleeding Heart Libertarianism

For a bite-the-bullet tax reform proposal that will reward thrift, hard work and education while removing the poverty trap for the working poor, go to http://www.techcentralstation.com/092903A.html.

Thank God Katrina happened on Dubya's watch

This little pearl was lifted from the interesting small government article A Challenge for Brad DeLong (http://www.techcentralstation.com/091205A.html).

Remember all the kerfuffle about Dubya's choice of head of the emergency relief organisation FEMA when they were severely embarrassed by Hurricane Katrina? Well guess what?

In any event, as Investors' Business Daily pointed out, FEMA under President Clinton was hardly a reflection of superior public administration.

"Bill Clinton's choice to be Southwest Regional FEMA director in 1993 was even less qualified, earning his job handling disaster recovery of a different sort. Raymond 'Buddy' Young, a former Arkansas state trooper, got his choice assignment after leading efforts to discredit other state troopers in the infamous Troopergate scandal. If a storm like Katrina struck the Big Easy back then, Young would've been in charge."

Revanchism is not an excuse, but it is an important reminder.

The Coase Theorem

This gem comes from the middle of a libertarian (i.e. "liberal" for non-Americans) rant which I happen to agree with but may be unpleasant for others called Separation of Family and State (http://www.techcentralstation.com/111005A.html).

His general thesis is that a good society is one that is prepared to live with imperfect rules. When you think about it this makes sense: what matters is not so much that the rules are perfect (although approximating perfection should be the aim and there should be a mechanism for change to that end), but that they are clear and enforced so that people can get on with whatever they're doing. In practice, this is what happens. Our courts are imperfect, individual court cases are subject to a large element of luck, but in Australia people tend to have faith in their courts and rightly so. They are imperfect but fairly so. (Vietnamese courts are also imperfect but no one has faith in those.) It is when the law is constantly changing, see for example the contortions of torts law in the 20th century, that one loses confidence.

Justice, on the other hand, is a different issue altogether.

The Coase Theorem and Imperfect Rules

I believe that a key element of practical libertarianism has to be a willingness to live with imperfect rules. I view the famous theorem of Nobel Laureate
Ronald Coase as an illustration of this.

Suppose that there are two users and a common resource. An example would be a ball field that could be used by soccer players and baseball players. Another example would be a stream that could be used either to water livestock or irrigate crops.

Roughly speaking, the Coase theorem says that it does not matter who owns the common resource, as long as someone owns it. If the farmer owns the stream, then the herder can buy water from the farmer. If the herder owns the stream, then the farmer can buy some water. Either way, water will be allocated efficiently. Furthermore, the owner will have an incentive to maintain the stream in such a way as to maximize the value for both uses. On the other hand, if no one owns the water, then each user will attempt to consume too much. Perhaps the stream will go dry.

A willingness to live with imperfect rules is a little-noticed requirement for libertarianism. If instead you say, "I believe in a government that only enforces rules, but the rules must satisfy the larger needs of justice," you have created a hole in libertarianism through which one can drive a proverbial truck of big government. As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, the
Quest for Cosmic Justice is never-ending and self-defeating.

Word of the Day

Fundamental attribution error - A feature of attribution theory, so frequently seen that it has its own name. This refers to the fact that whenever people are making attributions about an action, they tend to over-emphasise dispositional factors about the actor, and under-emphasise situational factors. An example is attributing a friend's recent car accident to the fact that the friend is a poor driver rather than to the fact that another car just happened to pull out in front of her. The former would be a dispositional attribution; the latter a situational attribution.

Why People Hate Economics

[insert Nietzsche quote here]

In his article Why People Hate Economics (http://www.techcentralstation.com/112105A.html), Arnold Kling introduces a simple concept that crystalised an idea that should have been already vaguely swirling and forming in my mind but wasn't.

He discusses how most people see the world of human affairs (i.e. the social/political/economic world) as being driven by personalities, rather than by impersonal forces.


Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.

06 November 2005

Vietnam on the ball over bird flu...the 8 ball

Vietnam says it will declare a national state of emergency if 10 per cent of the population, or 8 million people, become infected – an indication of the scale the problem is assuming. If it becomes a pandemic, the health system will simply not be able to [cope], the Health Ministry warns.

Source: The Root of the Matter, http://www.earlywarning.com/, 20 October 2005

Glad to see those geniuses at Ba Dinh have everything under control. Since so far they've only had to deal with 91 (admitted) cases and half of those died. So I reckon by the time 8 million people get the bird flu, it's time to pull out the really big guns and declare an official state of emergency.

- Patrick Henry

What one soldier thinks of PMCs

"These guys [private military contractors] run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force.... They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."

- Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, 2IC, Third Infantry Division

Source: Jeremy Scahill, Tender Mercenaries: DynCorp and Me, http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20051102084930721

But then on the other hand, he would say that, wouldn't he? Soldiers hate mercenaries, their competition. Look at how the PNG military reacted when the PNG Government hired Sandline to do what the military couldn't.

Further, as Scahill touches on on his article, one of the reasons PMCs are so useful is that they can behave badly where it would be politically inconvenient for a regular soldier to do so. Who's to say whether this is always such a bad thing?

Soldiers also hate special forces for much the same reason [I forget the source]: they leave big messes that someone else has to clean up, messes that can be bigger than the problem the special forces were called in to deal with in the first place.

Good news if you live in Medellin...

The homicide rate in what used to be the murder capital of the world has fallen from 3,721 in 2002 to 1,177 in 2004 and 612 up to the beginning of October this year. For the first time in a quarter century, heart attacks are the main cause of death in Medellin, pushing murder into second place.

Source: www.earlywarning.com, 3 November 2005

John Howard supports a Bill of Rights...

...for Iraq.

Source: Civil Liberty, September 2005 (Journal of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties)

[Background note: Australia's Prime Minister John Howard opposes a Bill of Rights for Australia.]

04 November 2005

Why the Terror Threat is Real

To find out what someone who describes themself as:

For the past 20 years I have been directly involved in security… My particular area of expertise is terrorism. I have interviewed, recruited and run terrorists, written articles about them and spoken at conferences about them.

thinks of Australia's new anti-terrorism laws, go to: http://www.crikey.com.au/articles/2005/11/03-1500-4176.html

Review: The Money Game

I thought this was going to be a boring book. My edition was printed in 1970, and looked it. (You know what they say about judging a book by its cover.) I thought it was going to be a sort of Making Money Made Simple or Economics textbook from the 60s, but it turned out not quite like that.

It is really about the stockmarket and its ilk, and the people who make it up. It is indeed about money and you, but when you recognise you in its pages, you will not like the picture of you that is painted.

Above all it holds that the stockmarket is a big casino where people play for fun, or some other psychological reason. Hence, The Money Game.

I was gripped from the beginning by 'Adam Smith's' witty, light, well-read, very modern style. On the downside, his ruthless insight into the absurdity of the world, the inefficiency of capitalism, and and the cynicism of many of Wall Street's denizens made me mildly depressed.

Quote (opening words):

The world is not the way they tell you it is.

Unconsciously we all know this. The little girl watching television asks will she really get a part int he spring play if she uses Listerine, and her mother says no, darling, that is just the commercial. It is not long before the moppets figure out that parents have commercials of their own - commercials to keep one quiet, commercials to get one to eat, and so on. But parents - indeed all of us - are in turn being given a whole variety of commercials that do not seem to be commercials. Silver is in short supply, and the Treasury is is running out and begins to fear a run. So the Treasury tells the New York Times that, what with one thing and another, there is enough silver for twenty years. Those who listened to the commercial sat quietly,expecting to get the part in the spring play, and the cynics went and ran all the silver out of the Treasury and the price went through the roof.

He goes on to explain how investing is all about mass psychology (a crowd of men acts like a single woman), the psychology of the individual investor (show me your portfolio and I'll tell you who you are and If you don't know who you are, this [the stockmarket] is an expensive place to find out), that the stockmarket is nothing but a casino inhabited by gambling addicts, that most people are not in it to make money (they want to be part of what's going on), and what do you want all that money for anyway?

***** Five stars

Literary works cited or mentioned:

The Wealth of Nations; Adam Smith
The Theory of Moral Sentiments; Adam Smith
The Sophisticated Investor; Burton Crane
Security Analysis: Graham & Dodd
The Battle for Investment Survival; Gerald Loeb
The Razor's Edge; W. Somerset Maugham
The Wisdom of Insecurity; Alan Watts
Life Against Death; Norman O. Brown
The Crowd; Gustave Le Bon
The Ordeal of Change
African Genesis; Robert Ardrey
The Territorial Imperative; Robert Ardrey
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds; David Mackay
Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; Sigmund Freud
The Group Mind; Dr W. McDougall
Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Altertums
The Romance and Tragedy of a Widely Known Businessman of New York; Himself (William Ingraham Russell)
On the Way to Tyburn Gallows
Poor Richard's Almanac
The Functions of the Executive; Chester Barnard
Growth Opportunities in Common Stocks; Winthrop Knowlton
Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits; Philip Fisher
The Random Character of Stock Market Prices; ed. Prof. Paul Cootner
Relative Strength Concept; Robert Levy
The Intelligent Investor; Benjamin Graham
How to Win in Wall Street; Successful Operator
The Protocols of the Elders of Shanghai [this book does not exist]
Peter Pan
Turn, Turn, Turn; Pete Seeger
Ecclesiastes; God
Twelve O'Clock High

Various journals also get a mention, including Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Economic Journal.

There are a few other allusions, to Sherlock Holmes, and Marcus Aurelius.

Lord Maynard Keynes is ever-present, but none of his works actually get named.

03 November 2005

Quote of the Day

What has posterity ever done for us?

- Sir Boyle Roche was famous for his mixed metaphors and malapropisms, but I think this is brilliant.

02 November 2005

Quote of the Day

Plagiarism is the basis of all culture.

- Charles Seeger, attrib. by his son Pete Seeger

01 November 2005

The Iron Law of Oligarchy, Revisited


Interesting discussion by Lee Harris on how all political systems end up as oligarchies.

I disagree with his proposition, that religion is the only solution (I think there is no solution), but it is not a completely ridiculous conclusion, and the discussion is worth reading.


The sociologist's name was Robert Michels and the book that is no longer read was published in 1911 under the title On the Sociology of Political Parties in Modern Democracies -- the English translation of which was shortened to Political Parties. The central thesis of Michels' book was summed up by the author in the following words:

"The fundamental sociological law of political parties (the term 'political' being here used in its most comprehensive sense) may be formulated in the following terms: It is organization which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization, says oligarchy.'"