12 April 2007

Prison Survival Guide

Awesome page.

From my limited experience I can assure you that what he says is good advice.

Good advice for life, too, as much as it is for prison.


(Thanks to Blackie for the tip.)

09 April 2007

Geopolitics and the US Spoiling Attack

An excellent analysis of the US's aims and apparent failures in medium sized conflicts of the 20th century from the ever-redoubtable Stratfor.

Geopolitics and the US Spoiling Attack
George Friedman

Wed 21/03/2007

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The United States has now spent four years fighting in Iraq. Those who planned the conflict never expected this outcome. Indeed, it could be argued that this outcome represents not only miscalculation but also a strategic defeat for the United States. The best that can be said about the war at the moment is that it is a strategic stalemate, which is an undesired outcome for the Americans. The worst that can be said is that the United States has failed to meet its strategic objectives and that failure represents defeat.

In considering the situation, our attention is drawn to a strange paradox that has been manifest in American foreign policy since World War II. On the one hand, the United States has consistently encountered strategic stalemate or defeat in particular politico-military operations. At those times, the outcomes have appeared to be disappointing if not catastrophic. Yet, over the same period of time, U.S. global power, on the whole, has surged. In spite of stalemate and defeat during the Cold War, the United States was more in 2000 than it had been in 1950.


08 April 2007

How Hard It Is to Improve a Society

MATHEMATICIANS like to play games. In particular, they like to play games that examine how people pick ways of behaving that will maximise returns. One such mathematician is John Nash, who won a Nobel economics prize for his work on the subject. He demonstrated that there are games (the most famous being known in the trade as “prisoner's dilemma”) where the players can arrive at a situation now known as a Nash equilibrium. This is the point at which no one has anything to gain by changing his strategy unilaterally. A Nash equilibrium, however, is rarely the best possible outcome; it is merely the one that pertains if the players are unable or unwilling to co-operate.

- http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8847896

This is precisely the case societies such as China and Vietnam, as opposed to (especially) Anglo-Saxon societies.

In Anglo-Saxon societies, despite the presence of many greedy (as opposed to merely selfish) individuals, there are sufficient individuals who understand that by making certain minor sacrifices, they and everyone else will benefit from the resulting better functioning of society. A case in point is traffic: by following certain rules (both formal and customary), road traffic, and also human traffic in public places, flows optimally. The result is indeed a smoother flowing society.

Vietnamese society is different. Everyone behaves greedily. As a result, all lose. However, there is nothing anyone can do about this. Idealistic individuals, if they change their strategy, will merely be taken advantage of. In fact, they may make things worse: their thinking and thoughtful behaviour is unpredictable and unexpected and therefore hazardous.

In short, it is very difficult to bootstrap oneself from a Vietnamese type society, which Anglos-Saxon society no doubt once (and probably recently) was, to an Anglo-Saxon type society.

How does it happen at all?