Econstudentlog

The Second Plane – September 11: Terror and boredom

So why single out Saddam [for military intervention]? It was explained that the North Korean matter was a diplomatic inconvenience, while Iraq’s non-disarmament remained a ‘crisis’. The reason was strategic: even without WMDs, North Korea could inflict a million casualties on its southern neighbor by flattening Seoul. Iraq couldn’t manage anything on this scale, so you could attack it. North Korea could, so you couldn’t. The imponderables of the proliferation age were becoming ponderable. Once a nation has done the risky and nauseous work of acquisition, it becomes unattackable. A single untested nuclear weapon may be a liability. But five or six constitute a deterrent.

The above quote is from the essay The Wrong War, from Martin Amis book, a birthdaypresent I’ve just started reading.

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

How to make sense of the financial mess

Arnold Kling talks with Will Wilkinson about it all (or most of it anyway) on bloggingheads here; this episode is one of the best bloggingheads episodes I’ve seen, it comes highly recommended. Will manages to ask a lot of good questions along the way.

Incidentally, Kling also has a long talk with Russ Roberts on the same subject here.

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Economics | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

There’s a popular historical legend that goes like this: Once upon a time (for this is how stories of this kind should begin), back in the 19th century, the United States economy was almost completely unregulated and laissez-faire. But then there arose a movement to subject business to regulatory restraint in the interests of workers and consumers, a movement that culminated in the presidencies of Wilson and the two Roosevelts.

This story comes in both left-wing and right-wing versions, depending on whether the government is seen as heroically rescuing the poor and weak from the rapacious clutches of unrestrained corporate power, or as unfairly imposing burdensome socialistic fetters on peaceful and productive enterprise. But both versions agree on the central narrative: a century of laissez-faire, followed by a flurry of anti-business legislation.

Every part of this story is false.

Roderick Long, via Will Wilkinson. Read the whole thing.

Incidentally, I see now that I forgot to summarize my reading experience in the Solzhenitsyn-posts. So did I even like the book I quoted at such length? Of course I did, if I didn’t there would not have been a post mentioning the book on this blog, you can be quite sure of that. I liked the book very much, and even if it is quite long (my version has 713 pages), it never feels ‘longish’. If you think a part-fiction, part-historical narrative of the first horrible month of Russian warfare during the Great War might interest you, you should go for it. If your favourite book is Jane Eyre, stay away from it.

September 23, 2008 Posted by | government, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

August 1914 (II)

Ok, so now I’ve finished the book. Some more quotes:

“You must realize that the grand-duke is simply waiting for the arrival of the telegram announcing the capture of Lvov. They’re all waiting for that telegram,” Svechin went on insistently, unsmilingly, with irrefutable logic, his eyes glaring ferociously as he pressed the point home. “And that telegram will simply be used to obliterate the whole Samsonov affair. They’ll set the bells ringing all over Russia to celebrate our own incompetence – because the truth is we had the Austrian army in the grip of a pincer movement and let it go, so that when we captured Lvov it was empty.” […] “Russia is doomed to be governed by fools; she knows no other way. I know what I’m talking about.”

Most of the book describes the actions of the military, however there are also parts of the book that takes place very far from the front. One of these is the following passage, which I shall quote at some length, from a dinner-conversation between a middle-aged engineer and ex-revolutionary (Obodovsky) and two young arts students (Naum, Sonya). Words in bold are words that were emphasized in the original text:

Obodovsky smiled gently. “What is an exploiter?”
Naum shrugged his shoulders. “To my mind, it’s only too obvious. You ought to be ashamed to ask a question like that.”
“No one who earns his living in industry is ashamed to ask such a question, young man. The person who sits with his arms folded and pronounces judgment from afar is the one who ought to be ashamed. Today, for instance, we were looking at a grain elevator where not long ago there was nothing but long grass growing, and then we looked at a modern mill. I can’t begin to convey to you how much intelligence, education, foresight, experience and organization have gone into that mill. Do you know what it all costs? It costs ninety percent of the future earnings! The labor of the workers who laid the bricks and hauled the machines costs ten percent – and even that could have been largely replaced by cranes. And they got their ten percent. But then along come some young men, art students … You are reading the arts, aren’t you?”
“What difference does it make? well, yes.”
“Along comes a bunch of art students and they explain to the workers that they are earning too little, and that that little engineer over there in spectacles is earning God knows how much, and that it’s sheer bribery. And these simple, uneducated people believe it and they are indignant: They can understand the value of their own work, but they’re incapable of understanding or putting a price on somebody else’s.”
“But why should Paramonov, the mill owner, make all that profit?” Sonya shouted.
“He doesn’t get it all for nothing, believe me. Remember, I said ‘organization’. He works for his share too. And if anybody does get something for doing nothing, then we must gradually see to it that that money is channeled elsewhere, by rational political measures. We mustn’t try to take it away by throwing bombs, as we did.”
He could not have expressed his backsliding and apostacy more openly. Naum gave a scornful sneer and exchanged glances with Sonya. “Does that mean you have rejected revolutionary methods forever?”

[…]

He gave his concluding reply: “I would rather put it differently. Before, I was most concerned with how to distribute everything that other people had created without my help. Now my main preoccupation is how to create. The best brains and hands in the country should concentrate on doing that; we can safely leave distribution to the second-raters.”

[…]

“How impatient you are for this revolution! Of course it’s easier to shout and it’s more fun to make a revolution than to build Russia up. That’s too much like hard work. If you were older and could remember 1905 and how it all looked at the time…” […] A reasonable man cannot be in favour of revolution, because revolution is a long and insane process of destruction. Above all, no revolution ever strengthens a country: It tears it apart, and for a long, long time. What’s more, the bloodier and more long-drawn-out it is and the dearer the country pays for it – the more likely the revolution is to be dubbed ‘great'”.

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Books, Russia | Leave a comment

August 1914

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy… Solzhenitsyn!

A few excerpts from the book:

Although every officer was supposed to have a map of the area on his map board, no one in their company did; and Grokholets was the only officer in the battalion to have one. Even this was a reprint of a German map; the place names were barely legible and it was inaccurate. Among the platoon commanders, Yaroslav was the one who hovered closest to Grokholets to take every opportunity to have a look at his map. The Germans had burned all the signposts, and as the names of villages were passed orally from officer to officer, they became more and more distorted

[English general Alfred…] Knox showed particular interest in VI army Corps on the right flank, because this corps had driven deeper than any other into enemy territory and was now not much farther from the Baltic Sea than the distance which it had already covered.
Yes, VI Army Corps should have occupied Bischofsburg yesterday, and by today it was probably already farther north.
It was shown on the map as being in that position, and for the Englishman’s sake, Samsomov had to pretend that it really was there; he could not admit to his Allied colleague that Russians marked their maps with information they did not really possess, that not all radio signals reached their destination, and that apart from radio there were no means of communication except dispatch riders, who were highly insecure since they were sent out unescorted across enemy territory. Blagoveshchensky’s corps had, in fact, strayed so far over to the right that it had ceased to act as a flank guard at all; it was no longer performing a screening role but had become a detached, independent corps, the victim of a quarrel…

[…]

What could he tell this uninvited guest? That all his units were under-strenght, and that XXIII Army Corps was still not mustered? That the force under his command was an army only on paper, that in reality it consisted of no more than two and a half army corps in the center, toward which he was now driving? And that he was not even sure of their positions either?
Knox was now interrogating him ad nauseam about the center corps. Where were they?
Samsomov pointed at the map with his large finger. ‘XIII Corps is here … approximately there … It is moving northward in roughly this direction, between these two lakes …’
‘Moving northward?’
‘Yes, it’s advancing northward … toward Allenstein. It should take Allenstein today.’ (it should have taken Allenstein yesterday, but had been too slow.)
‘And what about XV Corps?’
‘Well, XV Corps should be level with XIII Corps and also moving northward. Yesterday it should have taken Hohenstein.’ (Had it?) ‘And today it should have moved far beyond Hohenstein.’

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Books, History, Russia | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

I think many of the problems with social organization result from the application of monkey methods and monkey brains to very non-monkey problems. Voting for leaders is a perfect example.

Patri Friedman, in a comment here.

September 21, 2008 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

From a game…

A position that came about in a slow game (20+0) I played earlier today:

As white, I naturally played Rd7-d6, with a double attack on the f-pawn and the knight. Black made pretty much the worst possible response to my rook move, he played Rb8-c8. Here’s what happened afterwards:

32.Nb6…Rc7,
33.Nd5…Rc8,
34.Rxc6! … resigned, 1-0

Love those knight-forks!

September 21, 2008 Posted by | Chess | Leave a comment

‘Interesting times’ ahead

The day before yesterday Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. In case you’d missed it, yesterday things took a turn from bad to worse.

Follow the finance/economics blogs closely for the next few days…

September 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And there will be TRUMPETS. Big, scary trumpets!

Jesusandmo.

September 14, 2008 Posted by | Religion | 4 Comments

The latest project

I’m currently working on a Beethoven sonata, or at least part of it, opus 110, 3.rd movement, 1.st part (I might take on the fuga later).

I couldn’t find a reasonably good interpretation on youtube, so I’ll just throw you guys Glenn Gould’s interpretation. If nothing else, at least it’s unique…

My favourite interpretation of the piece, and the one I use when working on it, is that of Mitsuko Uchida. This piece can be so beautiful if played correctly. I think Gould’s complete disregard for the notation (there was a reason why the old man added a ‘ma non troppo’ to the ‘adagio’ part, dammit!) in the recording above is annoying, and I dont find his arioso dolente (second part) convincing at all. However, I know that the opinions are divided on the subject of GG and his sometimes rather off-beat interpretations.

September 14, 2008 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

From Huayna Capac to Thomas More

I’ve previously talked about Thomas More’s Utopia. Now I might have visited Utopia, as I have completed Alfred Métraux’s work Les Incas, in an English edition translated by Douglas Garman, The Incas, Studio Vista Ltd., 1965.

There’s a lot to say about this great piece, and as I knew next to nothing about precolonial South America before, the book has certainly ‘broadened my view’.

Here’s a quote from a Spanish official post-conquest, page 103:

The government of the Incas suited the people very well, for it left them practically without liberty. It imposed upon them a multitude of superiors and chiefs, who supervised them, made them work, plough, sow, weave and engage in other trades so that they might be able to pay tribute. If this had been left to the inclination of the Indians themselves, and if the caciques had not continually been behind them, they would have abandoned themselves to idleness and would not have worked to pay the tribute.

Here’s Thomas More on Utopia (p.65):

Of course you won’t be able to get a meal anywhere, until you’ve done either a morning’s or an afternoon’s work there – but, apart from that, you’re free to go wherever you like within the territory of your own town, and you’re just as useful a member of society as if you’d stayed at home. [US: However do remember that if you go somewhere outside your town without permission, the punishment on the second offence is slavery…]

You see how it is – wherever you, you always have to work. There’s never an excuse for idleness. There are also no wine-taverns, no brothels, no opportunities for seduction, no secret meeting-places. Everyone has his eye on you, so you’re practically forced to get on with your job, and make some proper use of your spare time.

After reading Métraux, I have come to realize that Thomas More’s Utopia might not just be some combination of his far-fetched ‘ideal society’ and ‘imaginary place invented to make it less dangerous for me to criticize British’ customs’, but that it also has some obvious links to what later turned out to be the Inca civilization. The Inca state wasn’t discovered by the time he published the first edition in 1516, true, but as Métraux points out, there were no shortage of rumours of Eldorado among neither the Europeans nor among the indians living in the isolated boundary areas near the Inca state, both before and (paradoxically also) after the discovery of the Incas (as to the latter, this passage from Métraux, p.10, is very telling: In 1535, the greatest army that Spain had ever sent to the West Indies embarked in a fleet of ships ‘worthy of Caesar’ under the command of the most noble adelantado, Pedro de Mendoza, who flattered himself that he would succeed where Cabot had failed. By the time he left Spain, the empire of the Incas was already in Spanish hands; six month’s earlier, the treasures of Atahuallpa’s ransom had arrived in Seville. Yet, strange as it may appear, no one in Medoza’s huge armada seems to have realized that ‘mountain of silver’ they were setting out to capture was none other than the Peru, whose sovereign, the legendary ‘white king’, had been strangled two years earlier). Considering that rumours from the Americas had flowed to Europe for more than twenty years when More published his work, I find it difficult to believe, that what might be termed ‘the Inca myth’ did not play some part in his tale.

In More’s work, the word Utopia was to be taken literally – the original meaning of the word being ‘no-place’. But even if More didn’t intend to, he might just by chance have come a little closer to describing a real place than he would have wanted. And as Métraux makes it very clear to the reader, if there was one thing the Inca society wasn’t, it was – as we use the concept today – a Utopia.

September 14, 2008 Posted by | History | Leave a comment

Quote of the day

I included a link to the passage in my “return post”, but on second thought I concluded that the first part of it deserved a post of it’s own:

There is a widespread delusion that the internet’s technology renders it incapable of being controlled. Of course that is nonsense. It is the same as saying the printing press is beyond control, because it allows anyone to print whatever they like.

All the state does is then arrest people for printing things it deems unacceptable. It’s no different. Technologies do not liberate, in that sense. You may be able to run an “underground” with complex encryption schemes and secrecy, but that is all. The control of the mass internet is as simple as a minister passing a law saying “you may not publish X on a website”. That’s it. Game over.

Ian B, in a comment on samizdata. Some people might say that admitting this is counterproductive, if not outright dangerous, because if we didn’t, politicians would never know how easy it is to ‘block the blogs’. My counter is this: If people don’t realize how much harm the government might be able to do, if it sets its mind to it, then why should they care? The way most Danes think is this: If regulation doesn’t matter, why oppose it?

Loss aversion is quite a powerful bias, why not take advantage of it? One of the best ways to make sure people oppose stupid policies is to make them realize that they have something to lose. And when it comes to the Internet and freedom of expression, there’s still a lot to be lost.

September 14, 2008 Posted by | freedom of speech, technology | 2 Comments