Octavo Dia

Saturday, December 31, 2005

An orc is an orc

I've been thinking about The Lord of the Rings lately, and, since what's a good story without a little overwrought analysis, I've been trying to figure out one thing that bothers me: why do orcs fight so badly? From what we've seen of their societies, orcs are plagued by deadly internecine violence. Theoretically, the orcs whom the good guys fight should be extremely proficient at the deadly arts. Yet the good guys, who have far less experience in battle (given that their societies are not internally warring), slaughter them by the truckload when battle is joined. So, how can one have a society with that level of violence without producing extremely good warriors?
Looking for comparable militarist societies, one things stands out: the entire orcish population is apparently armed. While other militarist societies may have an entire group, or gender, or age group, armed, there do not seem to be any in which the entire population is armed. Where are the women? I assumed, I admit, that all of the orcs in the film are male, and that the females are somewhere else. However, given the tremendous number of orcs seen in the Mines of Moria, the total population, if those were only the males, would be far greater than a subterranean/mountain habitat could support. So we have a society in which the entire population is armed. Such societies do not occur among humans, though they do among animals. Wolves, for example, are societies in which all adult members are armed and productive.

The orcs are not strictly hunters, since hunting/gathering could not support populations large enough to field large armies. Furthermore, the weapons carried by orcs tend to be highly ill-suited to hunting. Though they raid other societies for food (as in, the people of other societies) they cannot rely on that source, as some of their dwellings are too isolated (Moria, for example) or too large (Mordor) to allow raiding. We know they can eat bread, but that was most likely stolen, as in neither Mordor or Isengard is there any evidence of agriculture. Therefore, the orcs must have herds of some kind. The best evidence for this is the environmental degradation of Mordor. It is hard to kill an environment as totally as Mordor is devastated. So long as there are plants, the environment will regenerate. Trees can be cut down, brush burned, but it is hard to imagine someone plowing up all the grass for spite. One can imagine, as has happened in the Middle East, a lush country turned to desert by overgrazing. When you combine the impact of overgrazing with a dawning industrial revolution, one could achieve such devastation.

The orcish society, therefore, is a herding society with tendencies towards wolf pack behavior. The size of orc armies, however, indicates a level of social organization far above the clan level, but still maintaining the clans as a part of government. Thus, the orcs have a feudal society, but one in which weaponry is not limited to a noble class. Every orc is a potential noble, all he needs to be is the biggest, baddest, most violent orc in the clan. The orc noble is the alpha male (or female, as both genders serve as warriors). As the alpha male, the orc has two, conflicting interests: on the one hand, he needs to maintain his forces to defend his herds from other clans, thus he would want a large, well-equipped army, yet, on the other hand, he needs to make himself unchallengably superior to all of his subordinates. Thus an orc noble would create massive armies of poorly trained troops with which to overwhelm his enemies, and kill those orcs who begin gaining some skill at arms. And, given the lack of compunctions about cannibalism, all those extra troops serve as a reserve food source. That's why the orcs fight so often and so badly.

Which would he choose?


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Encrypted Warrants

In the debate over recording the phone conversations of American citizens, there are two, quite valid points: one, that the system of warrants is outdated, and that rapidly shifting technology and highly mobile enemy forces make warrants unwieldy. The other is that the warrant is an essential protection of American civil liberties.

I propose that we create encrypted warrants. In effect, the National Security Administration (or any such law-enforcement agency), would be allowed to digitally record any electronic transmission--any target of opportunity--but the recording would have to be encrypted. The encryption keys would be held by the warrant judge. The NSA could then take the recording, present their case for needing the warrant to the judge, who, if he agrees, could grant the warrant and release the key. Without the warrant, the transmission would remain unreadable, and the judge could order it destroyed.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Nerve gas

I read the following headline blurb: "A mystery mass-illness in Russia's conflict-torn Republic of Chechnya could have been caused by psychological factors." and my initial reaction was "chemical weapons." The "psychological factors" seemed, to me, like Yanukovich's (the government candidate in Ukraine's Orange Revolution) blaming Yushchenko's dioxin poisoning on bad sushi. Then in the article they freely admitted that they had suspected nerve gas originally. Hmm. I've got quite the bias going on.

Death Penalty

France's Le Figaro published an article which points out that, "In reality, the South, which hands down the greatest number of death sentences, also suffers the highest murder rate (6.6 for every 100,000 inhabitants). Inversely, as the crime rate decreases, so too does popular support for capital punishment."

If there is one thing that I learned in all my psychology classes, it was that correlation does not equal causation. What if the death penalty is higher in high crime areas, not because of the death penalty, but because the people in those areas see a greater necessity for it? It reminds me of an apocryphals story about a tsar, who, upon being informed that the plague was strongest where there were the most doctors, promptly ordered all the doctors executed. In short, a correlation is enough to make you study something, not to prove it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Baseless accusations

The United States currently has a large number of troops stationed in Okinawa, whose primary purpose is to annoy the Japanese. We also have a large number of troops in western Europe, and South Korea, who serve much the same purpose. We placed those troops there to block a future invasion from the enemy we had at the time.

However, in a world of modern transportation, in which you can get someone anywhere in the world in a matter or hours, why do you need to have someone sitting somewhere waiting for a war to start? The only reason (besides a show of solidarity with your allies--since you will be involved if they're invaded), is that, though we can get people there, we cannot get all of their accessories and heavy equipment to the places it is needed in time.... unless we preposition it.

The United States rules the waves. Few nations even bother to build blue water navies anymore. All we need to do is add a few ships stocked with all the equipment needed for a land force, essentially floating warehouses, to every carrier battle group. Problem somewhere? Fly the troops to the carrier, load them up, and land them where they're needed--between helicopters and hovercraft, we can land on 90% of the world's beaches. Such supply basing on ships would have the following advantages:

1. Mobility. We wouldn't have troops stuck where they're not needed in an emergency (or with political changes). In case a crisis strikes, we can move our floating warehouses to where they are needed.

2. Deals. We wouldn't have to make deals with less-than-savory characters for basing rights, just because they happen to be close to the action.

3. Diplomacy. Our troops would not be in a position to annoy our allies.

4. Expense. Supporting people overseas is expensive. Supporting things overseas requires shipping them overseas, which we would need to do anyway.

5. Defense. Troops which are stationed in a country are automatically taken into consideration by a potential invader. Such an invader will have a plan to neutralize them, thereby increasing our casualties. By keeping the number of troops available in flux, we add more risk to our enemies' plans, and thereby throw off his planning.

6. Security. Naval forces are not very susceptible to asymetric threats. A few guerillas can tie down an army. A few canoes cannot tie up a blue water navy. Furthermore, by staying off shore, we also reduce the ability of our opponents to observe our routines, and plan around them.

In short, the idea of creating military bases overseas is a relic from previous technology. Prior to the advent of nuclear- and oil-powered ships, land bases were needed by naval powers for coaling stations. Prepositioning supplies takes the doctrine of tactical mobility and updates it for modern naval technology and the modern political situation.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


The Economist has an article about the creation debate this week, which includes the quotation from Christian science book:

The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second. To the best of the author's knowledge, the conclusions drawn from the observable facts that are presented in this book agree with the Scriptures. If a mistake has been made (which is probable since this book was prepared by humans) and at any point God's word is not put first, the author apologises."

It is statements such as these that rock the solidity of the creationist argument. It does this by creating a false dichotomy between science and creation. By casting it as a dispute between "religion" and "science", those of inquiring minds will not bother to inquire. Were I to rewrite the statement, this is how it would sound:

"Since creation is an historical fact, 'science' will disagree with creation only in matters of interpretation. This text presents all true science, that is, all science that is observable, testable, and repeatable. It has replaced the evolutionary interpretation of the evidence with a creationist perspective..."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Party of Me: Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state is fundamentally invalid for the following reasons:

First, religion forms the most fundamental beliefs of an individual. Aquinas' Four Ways (of proving the existence of God) include the idea that for every conclusion, there must be a premise, and every premise is, in itself, the conclusion of another premise. Eventually, therefore, there must be a foundational premise, an unquestioned and unquestionable believe on which the whole structure of thought is based. Religion is just such a basis. To separate church and state is to deny the ability of some individuals to partcipate fully in the political process.

Second, religion as an organization is no different from any other ideologically based organization. Yet, unless they have demonstrated themselves to be unalterably dangerous, those organizations are still permitted to participate.

Third, the separation of church and state can create a situation of minority rule. With the separation of church and state, despite how large a percentage of the population desires something to remain in place, a minority as small as one can challenge it in court and have it removed.

Fourth, the difficulty with the church is not with the church per se, it is with a dominant church preventing others from participating fully. We have had the same problem with some groups preventing others from participating fully. Men have kept women from participating. Whites have kept blacks from participating. The rich have kept the poor from participating. Yet we do not ban whites, men, and the rich from participating, and separate them from politics. Rather, we passed laws protecting the rights of minorities to participate. Do not separate church and state; pass laws instead that protect the rights of all churches to participate in the state.

Party of Me: Right of Religion

Much of the right of religion is protected under the right of truth. The right of religion therefore protects not only the ability to believe what one wishes, but to also behave in a manner that coincides with one's religious beliefs. The Right of Religion also posits that the separation of church and state is fundamentally invalid.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Marketplace of Ideas: Take Two

After reviewing my thinking on patent law, (and some harsh comments from Noumenon), I propose instead that we create a market for patents similar to eBay. All U.S. patents would be placed on a searchable site. The site would allow those who needed to use an invention the ability to bid for the purchase, or licensing, of an invention. The site would also have all expired patents posted, so it could serve as a research tool for inventors as well.

Since we still need a way to use inventions in new inventions, given the pace of technology, we would need a change that an invention that incorporates a still patented invention, but is still different enough to warrant a separate patent, would be automatically referred to an administrative law judge. The ALJ (or even judges sitting en banc) would then decide to what extent the previous patent contributed to the new patent. The ALJ would then award a proportion of the sale, license, or profit derived from the new patent to the owner(s) of the prior patent(s).

Of course, this would, as everything seems to do, require an expansion of the bureaucracy. I read recently that the U.S. patent office has an extremely large backlog of patent applications. For this to work, it would need to be updated extremely rapidly. I'm not sure a bureaucracy could handle this. I haven't gotten past this point.

Party of Me: Right of Truth

The right of truth is the right to determine truth for oneself. As such, this right defends not only access to the truth, but also to falsehood.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


The problem with corporate bankruptcy is that, once a company files for bankruptcy, it is shielded from its creditors and can come back stronger than before. Thus a company does not want to drive its competitors out of business, because if it does, it's only hurting itself. Rather, the most competitive companies seek to keep their competitors, small and inefficient, but alive. Bankruptcy law, therefore, weakens the creative destruction of the free market.

The fallout of a company completely collapsing--all of the obligations that it has to its various stakeholders--keeps us from wanting a company to die, but the inefficiencies of keeping it alive hurt us all. Thus I propose that, when a company files for bankruptcy, its competitors have the option of buying it for the cost of its liabilities. This would keep the stakeholders out of hot water, and still allow us to kill companies who have served their purpose.

50 ways to leave your lover

I was talking about the War in Iraq today, and the idea came up that, if we left, Iraq would succumb to a civil war. So why are we leaving Iraq together? If this is true, then they obviously don't want to be a single nation. Why should we leave Iraq together, since Iraq is, itself, an artificial construction of imperialist nations drawing lines in the sand. Why not split Iraq into thirds, creating an independent Kurdistan, East and West Iraq?

Marketplace of Ideas

The Economist ran an article a few weeks ago which started the old wheels turning. The article talked about the role of the patent in modern society, and how the rapid expansion in patents of late is similar to the enclosure movement of the first industrial revolution. The Economist predicted that, eventually, the patent law would adapt into a marketplace in which one can buy and sell ideas.

My contribution to furthering the marketplace of ideas is that the current restrictions on who can use ideas for how long is hindering economic development. With the rapid pace of technology, keeping one out of the marketplace for several years shuts off huge swathes of potential development. I propose that, in addition to purchasing the rights to use an invention in toto, the use of an invention as part of a further development should gain for the inventor only that portion of the profit to which his invention contributed.

For example, if an inventor created a new gear pump which allowed someone else to build a machine around the pump, the inventor of the gear pump would, rather than denying the second inventor the use of the pump, be compensated by a share of the profit derived from the new machine.

Party of Me: Right of Property

The right of property is a contingent right. Of itself, property is irrelevant. Its import is that, without an independent means of support, the other rights can be threatened or taken away. Thus private, productive property is an essential right.

The state's role, consequently, should be one that reduces the threats to private property. These threats, which cannot be dealt with through the free market, fall into three broad categories:

The state should be involved in the creation of public goods, such as national defense, in which the cost born by one produces benefits for all.

The state should be involved in the limiting of externalities, such as pollution, in which the benefits accrued by one produces harms for all.

The state should be involved in stabilization, such as economic volatility, in which processes controlled by none produce harms for all.

What would Jesus think?

Here is a letter to the editor in the area paper:

"What would Jesus think of torture, and state-sponsored murder (the death penalty)? What would Jesus think of invading foreign countries and killings tens of thousands of people? What would Jesus think of those who try to take away the rights of minorities, like gays and lesbians? And what would he think of the supporters of these abominations?"

Far be in from me to words in the mouth of God, but I'm pretty sure I know what Jesus would think. Looking at the description, the author has given a fairly accurate description of the world in which Jesus lived--a description more accurate of that time than ours. So what would Jesus think? Apparently, He thought that He had more important things to do, like saving people's souls for eternity.

College $

The university nearby is attempting to raise funds again. The students are throwing their customary hissy fits again. Why do college costs keep rising? Once again, we turn to the law of supply and demand. If prices are rising, it means that there is more demand than supply. To fix this, prices rise, thereby reducing demand and encouraging supply. The demand for college education exists because it tends to provide a good financial return on the time and money invested. As prices rise, those marginal students (who will tend to benefit the least from college), will eschew education, thereby reducing the demand, and it will encourage alternate forms of education (such as online schools), that can expand to the meet the demand more easily. In short, the university should just add a 20% tuition hike, pay all their bills, and help the market rebalance.