Octavo Dia

Friday, March 31, 2006

Corporate Conformity

I like this little self-fulfilling prophesy from Vanguard, "Vanguard shareholders are a resolute group. 'Our investors don't tend to chase hot performers or push the panic button over downturns. They realize that the wisest approach is to keep a balanced and well-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, then stay the course.'"

Thus, "Why yes, I am a wise and resolute Vanguard investor, I will weather market swings", which allows Vanguard to keep fees low, and reduces the swings in Vanguard funds.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Counter-Insurgency

I read an article a few weeks ago, thus I don't have a link, about how naming a specific place as an example of effective counter-insurgency is counter-productive, because the insurgents will then target that place. The insurgents are forced to target secure populations because security is what insurgency is all about. Insurgents win by undermining the legitimacy of government, and a government that can provide security is not illegitimate.

This seems like a golden opportunity for taking the war to the enemy. Select an area which is ideal for counter-insurgent actions--an area that gives the insurgents limited mobility, for example, an area with relatively few sources of surface water--and fill it with all sorts of troops. Have them patrol constantly, ceaselessly, until the area is truly secure and the troops know every resident, every doorway, and every rock. Once the area is quite secure, broadcast it to the world. The insurgents will be forced to fight on your ground on your terms--they will be the outsiders with all the inherent disadvantages. If they decide not to challenge your supremacy in that area, you still win, as you still have the advantage of demonstrating the effectiveness of your rule.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Afghanistan

Good thing we've instilled a new respect for human rights, eh?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The irrelevancy of women

It has been well established that women's clothing tends to be oppressive, what with the foot-binding, corseted, burka-wearing, high-heeled women of the world. I believe the body type valued by a society is equally oppressive. Contrary to the common assumption that certain body features, such as the lauded hourglass figure, are always and forever valued, the ideal feminine figure has changed dramatically through time: from the obese depictions of ancient fertility goddesses, to the ghostly pale women of Easter Island, to the curveless flapper of the 1920's, to Marilyn Monroe, to the modern athletic physique valued today.

I argue that the physique which is most valued in a society is that which is least relevant to the activities in which the women will engage. To use my examples above, in ancient times, an obese woman, though she would be more likely to survive during a period of famine, would be less able to perform the highly physical functions of daily life (perhaps even making famine more likely). By contrast, in a day when one can find a good many jobs which involve sitting on one's buttocks, the ideal physical type is athletic. The flapper, at a time before baby formula became common, was significantly short of those attributes which make baby formula unnecessary. When baby formula became common, the world was blessed with Marilyn Monroe as the ideal type. On Easter Island the naturally dark-skinned women were cloistered in caves to let their skin lighten, thereby making them useless for any purpose.

One could argue that the ideal is caused by scarcity--those attributes which are rare at the time will be valued. At a time when everyone is a stick figure, an amply endowed woman would attract attention. This cannot be the whole explanation, since one can attract attention by being hideous. There must, therefore, be some reason why these attributes were valued, rather than shunned.

Trophy wife. Women confer status on men. Those men who are with women are of higher status in society than those who are not. In the game of sexual selection there are winners and losers, but some winners win more than others. By having a women who is irrelevant to the needs of the day, a man is reflecting his own status in his partner. In two words, he's saying "I'm rich." Women's bodies are valued when they are irrelevant (high cost in maintenance, low return in usefulness), because only the upper classes can afford such frivolities.

I think I just deconstructed some patriarchal oppression, using Marxist metaphors. Ye gods.

Eclectic

Artists are weird. I watched a bunch of Pink's videos, and I was struck by the odd mixture of topics and emotions expressed. For example, there's my favorite video of hers, Family Portrait, which talks about the impact of divorce, but she's also got to Get the Party Started, which is just silly. Then there's Stupid Girls, one of my new favorites, which speaks about the collapse of female empowerment, to contrast with Just Like a Pill, about a drug overdose.

I think the thing that really makes it weird to me is the contrast with how dreadfully calm I am. My emotional meter doesn't swing, it just vibrates a little. I am almost always on the slightly positive side of contented. Still, artists are weird.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Culture

After reading an article about drought affecting the payment of dowries, I realized that this cultural tradition has the side effect of limiting new births during particularly bad times. It's just one of those odd side-effects of things, which may or may not have been intentional.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Transparency

Having received a third medical bill for a single procedure (one from the doctor, one from the hospital, one from the technician), it makes me think of how terribly opaque the health care industry is. When you go in for a medical procedure, you never know in advance how much it is going to end up costing whom. Perhaps we should make the health care industry provide estimates, with insurance coverages included, of how much every procedure will cost prior to performing that procedure. We require mechanics to provide estimates up front, why not doctors?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Old Testament

A whole batch of apolgetics articles, with my commentary attached. It's like reading the Fox News version of Cliffs Notes.

No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

An interesting concept in the first section is that we know have the resources to allow dissent to exist. There are enough forces holding our societies together that an assault by some other ideology will not cause it to fragment to the misfortune of all. The Spanish Inquisition only looks severe and outrageous to us because our society could easily handle such statements. At the time, the Cathar heresy was an existential crisis for medieval Europe.

Later, by the standards of the time, the Inquisition was quite lenient, so much so that the Inquisators feared mob violence. For example, "Why are you being so nice to this evil wretch? You must be a secret friend of his! HERETIC!"

Kill a man, you're a murderer...

Probably the most shocking part of this review of God's judgement is his comparison with other Ancient Near East cultures. When we read the OT, descriptions of the wholesale destruction of cities are rather disquieting. When the peoples of the ANE read the OT, they must have been like, "Dude, these are some nice people! You mean you don't get to gang rape everyone?"

The high points of the article are summarized near the end, after point four, and if you don't want to read all the supporting documentation for, (a) why the Canaanites deserved to be forcibly deported, (b) why he used human, rather than natural means, (c) how the innocents of Canaan were spared, despite appearances, and (d) how the judgment of God remains consistent.

In the pushback, after the summary, he replies to some critics. The description of defining land ownership in terms of diety makes deporting the Canaanites fit the international law of the time. Your god was supposed to protect your land. If your god couldn't protect it, then he was merely a usurper.

After Being a Litterbug

This article is much more specific, about why the Israelites fought the Amalekites. A very good article, it's worth reading the whole thing.

Interesting distinction: execution for a crime is legally self-caused. It's not a punishment, you did it to yourself by your actions. Thus death by execution is not the fault of the judge or executioner. What this means is that, if suffering is caused by continued resistance, it is the consequence of those who continue to resist. Whether that is a correct moral judgment depends on the circumstances. Those people who were injured at the hands of the Nazis as they were hunting the Resistance could trace the causality of their deaths to the activities of the Resistance, but I doubt that anyone would blame them, for a lack of resistance in that circumstance would be immoral.

Perhaps the best quotation from the article: "In the face of unreasonable, consistent, and oppresive violence against your family and your kin, you are stuck with the imperative and responsibility for serious war. It is naive at best, and morally irresponsible at worst, to deny this. To defend one's family against unprovoked and destructive violence is a fundamental moral obligation." To obtain such results against a nomadic people, you have to destroy the warrior class, which is essentially the destruction in toto for that kind of society. He has a discussion afterwards about the options available.


And to lighten things up a bit...

Spare the rod and spoil the child.

The best part of this article is the "baptizing" aspect of religious work. Cultural traditions are harder to change than religious beliefs, since few of the members of a society are truly devoted to their religion (most are of the Christmas-and-Easter variety, for a modern example). Religious workers would therefore "baptize" cultural traditions so that people would more readily incorporate new religious traditions. It was easier to adopt Aristotelean philosophy than to overturn it. The downside is that, once cultural and scientific beliefs change, the religion that has adopted them is left behind.

Planets

Quite possibly the dumbest paraphrase I've read in the news: "Gould suspects that the planet is a bare, icy Earth-like one, a sort of cold 'super-Earth', although he cannot be certain." Does the phrase, "earth-like" mean anything to anyone? If it is bare, icy, and thirteen times heavier, is it really "earth-like"? I would assume that an earth-like planet would be warm, watery, have a relatively thick atmosphere, and be a binary planet, at the least.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Free Markets Rule

Let's pretend we're in business. We produce a product that everyone needs. We're running short and can't increase our production enough to meet the demand. Let's see, what should we do? We could raise our price until sales drop to where we can meet them, and pocket a tidy profit, or we could take legal action to keep people from using our product how they wish. Sodding government.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Loose lips sink ships...

Literally.

Indiscretion

This is just asking for a financial crisis. This is the kind of thing that gets all sorts of organizations into financial trouble. "We need money for something, let's see... money... Hey! There's all sorts of money in this fund over here! We won't need that for a while! Let's just borrow it! We'll pay it back, honest!"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Troika

I read a very interesting letter to the editor last Friday, but I'm only getting around to blogging about it now. Essentially, the author argued the presidency was both too big and too important a job to be entrusted to one man. He suggested that we replace the presidency with a troika set up like the senate, in which one president would be elected every two years for a single term of six years. As an added bonus, which he didn't bring up, assassination would by much more complicated.

Troikas seem to have a profound weakness, historically speaking, in that one of the troika tends to kill the other two and become dictator for life (or Ceasar) in the process. I can think of two ways around this situation. The first is the institution of the vice president. If one of the presidents mysteriously dies, they would be immediately replaced. That should discourage any violent means of eliminating co-presidents. On the other hand, the new president would be much less experienced than the president he was replacing, and would very likely be ignored. A solution to that would be to replace all the presidents with their vice-presidents should one of the presidents die. The presidents would therefore have a very real incentive to keep each other alive. It just might work in a government with an established line of succession.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Touche

This is the debate equivalent of a backhand. Not very painful, but terribly insulting that they were able to pull it off.

Representative Duncan Hunter: "How can you possibly say that you didn't see in this particular case, in this particular deal [the Dubai Ports takeover], a security problem? ... Are you sure you can say, from a security standpoint, that the ownership is irrelevant?"

Heritage Foundation Spokesman James Carafano: "The system is really ownership-irrelevant. You don't need to buy a $7 billion company to penetrate maritime security. The Mafia doesn't buy FedEx to smuggle."

I know how hard it is to come up with something like that, so I have a great appreciation of someone who does.

Counter-Insurgency

One of the rules of counter-insurgency is that you never break contact with the enemy. If the insurgents are allowed to retreat, they, by virtue of sheer survival, have won. Throughout most of Cuba's revolution, Castro did almost nothing, because he knew that he could win by not losing. The repressive measures necessary to fight an insurgency naturally turn a population against the government, and the inability of a government to defeat an insurgency further undermines its legitimacy.

Constant harassment of the insurgents by police and military forces is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for counter-insurgent victory. Though it will kill a lot of insurgents, if their numbers are constantly replenished and their morale is high, you can go on killing them forever. Constant fighting tends to do two things to the insurgents: it lowers their morale, since when one is constantly on the run one is constantly cold, wet, tired, hungry, and fearful; and it reduces their ability to recruit since these conditions offer neither an attractive lifestyle nor time to propagandize the people. If morale is low enough, desertion will become a major problem for the insurgents. Such deserters are doubly useful, in that they provide excellent intelligence, and can even be "persuaded" to fight in mixed special forces/turncoat units, as in Rhodesia's Selous Scouts.

But, if surrender/desertion (which are very much the same thing, as deserters are easily apprehended) is not an attractice option, the insurgents will continue to fight, in fact, fight much harder, despite low morale. What could make surrender a poor option? Oh, simple things, like torture, "enhanced interrogation," and indefinite detainment outside of the law. Even the brutal prison system in Kenya during the Mau-Mau revolt ended once the prisoners had completed the cycle of interrogation and reeducation. That's why treating prisoners better than they deserve is important. Even if the detainee is pure evil, there are others who are not, and who will not surrender because of how the evil one was treated. There was a saying in Germany during World War II: "Be brave, my son. Join the infantry, and surrender to the first American you see." Would anyone give that advice today?