Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sleeping in a Graveyard

Sometimes, just at the moment I wake, I think I must be sleeping in a graveyard --luckily the ghostly pasts evaporate as my mind lights up.

Anyway, here is the article of the year that's lived longest in my thoughts.


Thanks to the JavaJive it's still on the net.

The Secret Family of Jesus

I watched this on Christmas Day. Very interesting. It basically uncovers a more human side of Jesus, which I find very appealing. A good watch for people interested in the history of all that jazz -- would be very interested in seeing some similar programs on Islam and Mohammad.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back to the Future

I saw Back to the Future today. It ranks up there with Rush Hour 2 as one of my favourite films. It's ingeniously crafted, everything fits so well together.

Apart from being a blast, Back to the Future has a little philosophy in it too. It reminded me of this post and Candide (it must've been a decade since I read it).

Candide shows how absurd the idea that "everything is for the best" is. Religious people nowadays often seem to be of a similar passive ilk to Candide, when they qualify what they say with "God willing" and think God has a scheme behind all suffering -- if it happens it must be God's will and some greater good must come of it (however unfathomable it is to us lesser beings).

In Tika's post linked above, she says that works like Candide helped give us the modern world. Candide shows people that they don't have to passively accept "God's will" and that they should actively improve their lot (easier said than done I suppose).

In Back to the Future, Marty changes his parent's past and changes his family's lives for the better. Nowadays, Michael J. Fox campaigns for stem cell research to help cure genetic diseases, in an effort to roll back "God's will" and make countless lives better.

You have to respect those people who /actively/ fight and struggle against all odds in a bid to change our presents and futures for the better.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gone Virtual

I've finally ogtten around to testing out virtual machines - i.e. you can run one operating system within another. Sweet Jesus, I can run XP under Linux with no discernible performance hit for either OS! [My machine is a pretty old, made from spare parts -- 1700 AMD, 756mb]

Not sure what I'll actually use XP for, but whenever did that matter :).

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Price is one of those extremely simple things, which helps to create incredibly complex things.

Price is so natural to us, we rarely think much about it.

I remember reading somewhere, that we should stop every so often and wonder at the art, genius and craft that's gone into even the simplest of everyday objects.

Look around your desk and pick out any object. A pencil for example. What is the pencil made of? Lead, wood, a paint and or lacquer over the wood. The paint itself is made up of many chemicals, the wood is fashioned by some complex machinery, and of course comes from forested wood. The lead is actually graphite something or other, probably mined. (example from Milton Friedman's TV series).

So a simple pencil actually is made up from dozens of raw materials, the materials are produced, processed and distributed directly or indirectly by perhaps hundreds of people on different continents speaking different languages.

All these people worked together in some way to put that pencil in your hand, ready to use.

How did they cooperate? Price.

I suspect price is the most important factor in civilisation, more important than democracy, science or the arts. Price is so simple (--has any society been discovered without some sense of price?) but helps coordinate and build things of amazing complexity and beauty.

Problems occur when prices aren't set by buyer and seller but interfered with by governments, a corrupt official or another third party. Increased prices to hire someone (e.g. income taxes, official corruption) lower employment. Lower subsidised prices, promote wastage, for example the food mountains of the EU. European farmers are given good prices for producing food that no one eats!

When prices aren't meddled with, vibrant societies are created which depend on nothing much other than /people/, e.g. Singapore, Hong Kong and Ireland. (As a side note, I suspect that there's a negative correlation between countries rich in natural resources and their place in the human development index.)

Human Development Index:
Ease of Doing Business Index:
Economic Freedom:

Monday, December 18, 2006


"The People's Republic of China"

What a spectacular oxymoron!

Features vs. Freedom

A popular version of Linux, Ubuntu, is debating whether to include proprietary 3D drivers by default. Something which goes against the principles of Free and Opensource Software. My comment on this post:

john says

I don’t see any problem here.

The FOSS community has been made of many different views and interests since the start. E.g. Linus’ interest in making a good OS, RMS’ interest in wanting to save the world etc. etc.

Canonical has a right to make a call on this and other issues - as long as they stay within the terms of the GPL and other licenses. Just as Novell, Xandros and Linspire etc. have.

The GPL isn’t dictatorial, Canonical /should/ shape Ubuntu in a way it sees fit, in order to achieve /Canonical’s/ goals and visions. If they are successful, then kudos to them, if not, that’s a pity (e.g. Novell’s debacle) but the FOSS community will go on!

It’s a free market! One of the great legacies of the GPL after all!!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Brains Behind the Most Powerful Man in Software

Free and open source software is important, Eben Moglen explains why on this MP3.

Some of his economics is a little befuddled, but he means good :)

Oh and by the way, Richard Stallman is THE most powerful man in software. He has been a visionary, perhaps still is ahead of his time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Are We Waves?

Think about a ripple in water. The wave moves horizontally, however the water molecules actually move vertically. The water molecules aren't a part of the wave, they just react to it when it passes through.


Apparently /all/ of the matter from which we are built from is renewed every 9 years - matter flows in and out.

Richard Dawkins pointed out in his book 'The God Delusion' (referring to 'Creation' by Steve Grand) that the the memories we have from childhood aren't really memories about ourselves, as now we are made up of completely different matter.

Which means, whatever we are, we are /not/ the stuff of which we are made!

How fascinating!

Perhaps we are more like waves more than anything else.

Why Are Regular Expressions So Hard?

Why do I feel I need to code a program using them?

And why isn't there a better way!!??

What Are Waves?

I have little idea.


A moving disturbance in the energy level of a field.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

December 9th

And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions

-- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot

Those lines have have been stuck in my head since school.


I wonder why some feelings are so obstinate. Perhaps because they are the remnants of strong foundations, built for futures that never arrived, to support hopes now forgotten and archaic.


This seems kind of appropriate.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert....Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-- Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley

Friday, December 08, 2006


Polygyny is when men have multiple partners - whereas polygamy is where either sex have multiple partners. /Polygyny/ is legal in Indonesia. This week however a popular Muslim preacher admitted to recently marrying a second wife - and the issue erupted.

Here's my take on polygany (posted on,

At 12/08/2006 10:26:09 AM, johnorford said...
Polygyny happens in societies when men can get away with it, it's a hold-up problem pure and simple, wives have /no/ options but to go along with it.

I imagine societies where polygany is common, are also extremely prone to domestic abuse. E.g. a husband can get away with abusing his wives, knowing they have no other options - again a hold up problem.

Why is it that I only see "intellectual" men pontificating about this subject and not disagreeing with it (bleuuch) (apart from Dhani).

So I suppose polygany is an obvious symptom of chronic inequality, other abuses are just less obvious. Banning it won't solve the root problem, but common practice of polygany is a warning of what is happening under the surface of the society.

(See this too)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I don't know why we are here...

...but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.

-- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Economics from the Master

Great videos from the late Milton Friedman (maybe the greatest economist in the last 100 years).

Skip the first 5 minutes of Arnie...

Amazing how the issues don't really change.

Update: same vids on Google video


Have been thinking too much about religion recently.

Maybe this comment of mine draws a line under my thinking...

>Faith is all about unquestioning.

do you question yourself why Israel does these terrible acts to your country folk? do Israelis really try to figure out why Hizbollah, Hamas etc. terrorise them? did Americans think much about the motives for 9/11?

– no it’s all “evil”.

such good unquestions. diligent unthinking.

is it a coincidence that each side is staunchly religious?

From the (v nice blog...)

that comment could apply to any dogma - communism, pancasila...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Buying a new camera?

This site shows you what's possible with each model:


Recently I have happened to have come across writings about respect and religion. Respect is perhaps /the/ necessary pillar of religious dogma.

But respect changes nothing, there has to be a certain amount of disrespect in order to challenge the staus quo and force introspection and renewal. E.g. Jesus and Judaism, Martin Luther and the Catholic church, Malcolm X and the US establishment or even a teenager and her parents.

Respect disrespect.


It's not uncommon for me to stumble across /educated/ and relatively well off people.

They generally own a slightly understated sense of arrogance and taste, they believe they are knowledgeable and enlightened.

What do these types have to show for their moral hubris?

-- Good dress sense? A pretty wife/husband? The ability to provide good schooling for their kids? The latest MacBook? A connoiseur's taste for coffee? A nice car? A sophisticated job title?

These people aren't better in any way than poor servants, labourers, prostitutes - the desperates of society. They are just wealthier, luckier.

Economics Homework

My sister asked me to help her out with some of her economics homework.

The question she had to discuss went something like: "Karl Marx said that workers are exploited when they generate more wealth than they earn".


My sister said that while she worked at Lush (they sell natural cosmetics) during the Summer she generated €100s a day more than she earned, that it was exploitation, that you had to be resigned to.

(I wish they taught kids about production functions in schools).

My answer was: exploitation is a moral issue, and therefore economics can't answer that question but can only explain how various circumstances arise.

On reflection, it is strange that economics and morality should be dichotomous, as economics is as /social/ science concerned with well being.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Keeping Out of Trouble...

Maybe I need this to stay out of trouble.

A make your own MP3 kit - I have a pal who makes his own model helicopter control devices, always thought it fascinating.

Would be sooo cool to build one's own iPod!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dangerous Ideas

The best ideas are dangerous.There's a new book (and website) devoted to them: WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?.

I picked up the prequel (WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?) last Christmas Eve, it was cheap, and looked a good random present -- in the end I jealously kept it for myself.

Two of the most interesting "unprovable" ideas were:

1) Brains are reducible, although very complex, they are in theory completely explainable. Therefore, there is no such thing as free will, we are complex biological robots. I have pondered on this idea quite a bit - it is mind blowing (excuse the pun).

2) Sooner or later we will know objectively the core moral values of all humanity.

If the book sounds interesting, and PC monitors give you too much eye strain I will send you the book if you contact me (no point in it gaining dust, call it a Christmas present :)) -- I haven't bought the DANGEROUS IDEAS book, but will. I've been thinking of my dangerous idea, it goes something like this:

It is in the interests of the wealthy of the world, that the poor remain so, because,

1) Developed country's citizens use 32x the resources and produce 32x the waste of developing countries (Collapse, Jared Diamond). (China and India could never attain Western European standards of living without disastrous global environmental consequences.)

2) When developing countries manage to cut down on corruption and other barriers to investment, economics tells us that capital will flow in (capital naturally searches for an abundance of labour and vice versa). The corresponding capital outflows from the West will reduce real wages, Western governments will be loath to allow that to happen (just as they are loath to allow economic migrants in).

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Is Indonesia a secular state in disguise? Or was it intended to be?


How has the process of evolution itself evolved?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


President Musharaff looks like he'll fail to reform rape laws in Pakistan.

At the moment in order for a raped woman in Pakistan /not/ to be convicted for adultery she needs at least 4 /male/ witnesses -- they'll be the rest of the gang then...



"The Vatican has stepped into the debate about Muslim women wearing veils, with a cardinal saying 'guests' must follow the laws of their host countries, including any bans on such face-coverings."

WTF? They're wearing veils! I suppose there are practical difficulties, but hasn't the Vatican got better things to do? - like rallying against condom use!

Europe seems to be becoming as dogmatic as states where Sharia law is practiced. Oh you gotta "respect" us, "respect" our religion, "respect" our culture (at least Sharia is based upon an old book - our politicians are just making fascist political hay).

Muslims (and others): respect the law, but if you want to rock the boat by wearing "disrespectful" headwear I say go right ahead -- these bloody Europeans need a bit of disrespect!

(Is there gonna be Hallowe'en next year???)


On Channel 4 (UK) news this evening, a senior Labour politician said something which contained a list of 3 words:

"... immigrants, asylum seekers and criminals ..."

I haven't a clue what exactly he was saying, but it tells you something about the UK (and perhaps also Ireland).


Skinhead finds out he's Jewish


English al-Jazeera is on the air -- I wonder how long it'll take before it becomes al-Jazeera lite in order to appeal to Western business men in hotel rooms and sell advertising...


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Eviction in Jogja

Their houses were knocked down - they were built illegally on Sultan whatever-you-call-him's land.

(Eviction was a huge issue in Ireland historically... poor kids...)

[From The Jakarta Post earlier in the week]


Weird when you look at yourself - am shure that isn't /really/ me...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Expats, RI, Poverty

"Most expats stay in RI, /because/ of rather than in spite of the poverty."

(One of my comments on ...)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


(From BBC News' pictures of the day)

This Orang Utan was one of the lucky ones - saved from forest fires in RI.

Interesting article about our hairy cousins...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pigouvian Taxes - Flavour of the Month - Saviour of Humanity (i.e. The Second Coming)

British news has been full of the Stern Report all week. Stern is an previous chief of the World Bank, and all round respected fellow.

Based on the latest scientific evidence, his report says that if we pump out greenhouse gases at the same high rates over the next few years, by 2050 world income will reduce by 20%.

Tony Blair has said this is the most important report to fall onto his desk since he became Prime Minister (and let's face it, it's a distraction for all of us from Iraq!).

Britain will apparently bring in Green taxes to reduce pollution, but won't be a net increase in the tax burden to the public all in all.

This is actually a neat idea from an economist called Pigou. Pigou noticed that production often causes costs to the environment which the company themselves don't have to pay. Obviously the users of the environment generally have to pay the cost sooner or later in some form.

Pigou's idea was to tax the sale of products depending on how polluting they were, in effect the government would recoup the cost to the environment of the product. Consumer's would directly see the high cost of highly polluting products, which would give them an incentive to seek out less polluting products and firms to pollute less.

What's another big plus point, is the taxes gained from polluters, could be used to lower taxes which economists generally find distorting -- e.g. income tax, which makes employing people expensive to employ and helps cause unemployment.

Pigovian taxes make sense, but as was rightly pointed out in the British press, if Britain didn't produce any pollution any more over night, it'd take China 5 years to fill the pollution gap left by all of Britain.

My idea is how about putting Pigouvian taxes on imports. If the EU started taxing imports based on the projected costs to the EU from green house gases, there would be huge pressure on China, India and the US to knuckle down and deal with pollution more effectively. (Think how expensive palm oil imports from Indonesia would become!).

I don't like barriers to trade, but I reckon consumer power will be the difference. In effect the British public complain about the Chinese for being big polluters but are actually fueling profligate polluting rather than dampening it. If they could see the real price of the goods they buy from China, they'd have to put their money where their mouths are.

The Pact

I've been reading up on the news on Novell and Microsoft's agreement that happened during the week.

Novell has the second largest Linux market share after Redhat (in terms of $s) -- it produces the Suse distro.

Novell and Microsoft struck a deal, which entails both cooperating with each other in terms of interoperability and ensures that neither will sue the other over patent violations.

Obviously the deal will benefit both Novell and Microsoft, because,

1) Novell bases much of it's next gen software (much of it v innovative) on their own version of the Microsoft .Net platform called Mono (C# is a v nice programming language by all accounts). There has always been the possibility of Microsoft blowing Novell away over it's use of .Net - the possibility of being sued over .Net patent violations has been nixed.

2) Both firms will help the other's software cooperate better together. It looks like Novell will gain more from this than Microsoft. As one of Microsoft's key competitive advantages is that competitor's software cannot communicate well with Windows, whereas Novell's software is generally open for all to communicate with (a key principal of Open Source).

Interestingly this agreement also includes Microsoft helping Novell's office software use OfficeXML, Microsoft's next generation Word/Excel/etc. document format.

Enough of the technical, what are the strategic implications?

1) Novell has made Mono a no go area for it's competitors. Even though Mono is open source software it has admitted that there is a possibility that it infringes Microsoft's patents. Novell is safe, but whereas before it would have used it's own patent arsenal in defence of any patent attack against Mono (assured mutual destruction is how the patent system works in the software industry) it now can't.

Novell's competitors are now wide open to attack if they use Mono. Mono is now a large competitive advantage over Redhat and other Linux vendors for Novell.

2) Novell will be given preferential treatment by Microsoft, so that its software will communicate /better/ with Windows etc. than its Open Source competitors. This is a potentially huge advantage over Redhat, Sun's Solaris etc.

On the desktop level -- imagine being able to edit and view Microsoft Office documents with pretty much no bugs or imperfections -- lack of this is still the number 1 reason why Desktop Linux hasn't taken off in business.

No wonder NOVL stock increased by 20% on the news of the agreement.

Obviously there are losers. Linux itself. This is a divide and conquer move by Microsoft.

1) The strength of Open Source is that development is a cooperative effort among all Open Source developers. Mono will split the community. Novell and Redhat (and the rest) two of Open Source's largest contributers, won't be investing in one pool of Open Source software, but two, Mono and non-Mono projects.

2) By giving Novell a peak at Microsoft's secret communication systems and document formats, Novell will have a significant inroads into Desktop Linux and into businesses where Microsoft dominates the server side of things.

3) The push for an open document format was gaining steam - the state of Massachusetts are shifting away from MS Office documents, because it doesn't want its data being dependent on one corporation. Other governments are following. Novell's support of OfficeXML now detracts from that effort.

This picture reminds me of how the Dutch took over Indonesia, or the collections of Sultanates which made up Indonesia at the time. Generally they didn't directly fight against any Sultanates, rather they lent their troops and resources to fight /for/ particular Sultanates fighting against others. Of course the pay back was a monopoly on trade and other things which gradually weakened native Indonesian's control.

Novell looks like it could benefit greatly from Microsoft's help, but in the end Microsoft will still hold on to the keys of the kingdom, they can lock Novell out whenever they wish. So in the short term Novell will out-compete many of its open source competitor's, but in the long run they'll always be subject to a risk of hold-up.

I am not an open source zealot, it's a means to an end -- the destruction of software monopolies (specifically Microsoft's). Choice is good for all (imagine a world with no Firefox! no Apple!). Novell was a pillar of the fight for a competitive software industry, now it is not. That's a step backwards.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Economics and Rationality

"I think the assumption that people are rational is the biggest weakness of economics. Without it economics wouldn't really function, with it human society wouldn't."

(Want to keep this comment somewhere where I can keep an eye on it... -- rationality is also it's biggest strength though...)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

I learnt a New Word

It's not all that exciting, it's Indonesian, "pembantu".

Translated it apparently means "nacker", "chav", "Prolle" or "white trash" (-- wow, I now know that word in multiple dialects and languages ;).

I remember there was a wave of websites and people pointing out chavs in England, and now expat's blogs in RI are going on about "pembantu".

I know where it comes from, fair enough, but basically it's bullshit.

Pembantu / chavs / fiddy cents of this world are a million times more interesting than the average Ikea loving, fake Abercrombie and Fitch wearing, Mac computing people that love themselves.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Messenger."

"There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Messenger."

I realise Saudi Arabia is an extreme in the Islamic world, and I realise the the media have an interest in uncovering the most vile parts of any society (reporters thrive on bad news) but all in all it sounds like some sort of hell.

Indonesia more has a liberal take(s) on Islam derived from different cultures in the archipelago. By all accounts there have been moves towards more conservatism in Islam in Indonesia. Questions:

1) Is Saudi /the/ role model for ultraconservatives?

2) Do Saudis live more virtuous lives than Indonesians?

3) Isn't fundamentalist Islam itself wrapped up in Bedouin culture? -- just as fundamentalist American Christianity is too wrapped up in American white heterosexual culture...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Richard Dawkins: The Root of All Evil Part 2

Maybe I am an atheist afterall. Always believed I just lacked faith, but that probably means I am an atheist...

Richard Dawkins - The Root of All Evil - Part 1.avi

Thoughtful piece about religion and why atheism may not be so bad...


Age takes Everything, Leaves Nothing (Gogol(?))


A "process of non-thinking called faith." (Richard Dawkins)


I don't believe evil exists.

Once you call something evil, you have admitted that you don't understand it.

The word Nazi is synonymous to evil for most.

Al-Qaeda are on the same level for many westerners.

Communists for many Indonesians.

Japanese soldiers (1930s-40s) for many Chinese.


The English establishment - many Irish during the 70s.

The list goes on.

When you label a group "evil" you believe they are pretty much motiveless in their wrongdoing and therefore unable to change. You don't believe they are fully human anymore. The response is often to wipe them out immediately rather than understanding their incentives and motives.

A response based on understanding may be more effective.

Fighting evil can justify almost anything. It's been used by autocrats down through the ages.

It hasn't fallen out of use however. ("Axis of evil" anyone?) Islamic terrorism and America are the world's ultimate evils nowadays, depending whose side you're on. People fear it. Politicians justify their increased power by it.


Germany I think has gotten to grips with its past better than most if not all other nations. Most Germans believe that Nazism was evil, I suspect most would profess not to understand it or fathom it.

Admittance of ignorance is at least an honest response, but then you hear of German politicians condemning far right politicians being elected, and ignoring them as if they are "evil". Shouldn't they rather ask themselves how desperate the electorate must be, how they are completely failing their electorate.

I've taught students in towns with high NDP (far right) support in East Germany. The students were some of the most generous people I have had the pleasure to meet. But people in those towns are in a desperate situation (1 in 3 unemployed -- with mass emigration from their towns). The usual politicians are letting them down, many of the most desperate have little other option but to vote for the far right.


The far right are not evil. Terrorists are not evil. Racists are not Evil. Religious fundamentalists are not evil.

They can be friendly, humorous, honourable and intelligent.

Many of their means and ends are not good. They are misguided. They need to be confronted. The arguments and battles still need to be won -- but we must understand them and treat them with the respect all humans deserve.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Favourite Songs

Strong list - but not an all time greatest list :) :)

This is a better list - almost 2 years of data compared to 6 months...

My Favourite Groups -- Amarok

Amarok tells me these are my favourites artists - the list is a bit mixed up - but who am I to disagree with the almighty Amarok!

Again LastFM has more data on me. But have to say the Amarok top groups is more interesting :)

My Desktop!

My Desktop (Kubuntu / KDE / Linux).

"Concept of counterfeiting revisited"

(In response to:

Von: John Orford
Datum: Heute 14:38:30
Dear Sir / Madam,

The "Concept of counterfeiting revisited" (30th Sept.) article entirely missed the point.

Indonesia has higher priorities than protecting the intellectual property rights and revenue streams of Messrs. Schwarzenegger and Chan, and rightly so.

The point however, is that the counterfeit goods industry breeds industrial scale corruption and organised crime.

Every Rupiah spent on pirated goods is an economic vote /for/ corrupt governance practices and organised crime, and a vote /for/ the status quo.

Those who rage against Indonesia's kleptocrats but purchase illegal goods (e.g. pirated DVDs, drugs) and services (e.g. prostitution) are insulting hypocrites.  They should shut up or put up!


John Orford

Monday, September 25, 2006

Genocides in Affluent Societies

Have there ever been genocides within affluent societies? (there must have been...)

I'm reading Collapse by Jared Diamond at the moment, and it seems blindingly obvious, but I never realised how mass killing generally only happens in poor societies.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Economics and Democracy

Democracy (in the European sense of the word at least) is good for an economy, because:

1) It's fucking hard to run a country. Autocracies can do very well in the short and maybe medium term, but they all become unstuck sooner or later. (Even if they are benevolent dictators, they can pursue wrongminded policies). Democracies do better over the longer term, because more people can input and debate problems.

2) People can't revolt against themselves. Zero chance of coup d'etats, coloured revolutions etc. - helps when you're running a business.

3) Politicians are accountable. Press can root about and uncover wrongdoings, which help ensure good governance and less corruption.

However autocracies (genuinely) aren't unpopular in many countries, as long as:

1) Enough people feel wealthy. I.e. the middle classes are too ensconced in the next holiday they're booking, or toyota model they are going to buy, to worry about a discontented minority (who they are not completely ignorant of... but that package holiday to Phuket looks so dreamy!).

But economics is fickle, because:

1) it's /the/ hard science (forget physics etc.) meaning that even the best macroeconomists don't really have much of a clue about what's going to happen next, let alone how best to guide an economy.

When autocracies come up against bear markets, they find it hard to survive - because:

1) There isn't enough money for package holidays (not to mention decent food) and therefore a majority becomes discontented, and blame their leader's mismanagement.


I don't think China is all that far away from doing an Indonesia in the coming decade if it continues its strong growth. There won't be a monetary crisis, but so much capital investment means that a large amount should have been misallocated (either due to shear over-exuberance, diseconomies of scale, or corruption/fraud).

Many of these misallocations will have been dutifully covered up, but they will eventually tell sooner or later, as happened with Indonesia. And when they do, there will be a huge fallout. The standard of living will stay relatively high historically because it's hard to physically destroy capital (human or otherwise). Nevertheless, there will be increased political pressure for reform in China and economic instability.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Cons and Cons of Lots of Exports

Just read two interesting posts, basically what I should have written for the Jakarta Post (cos they asked) but I ended up not...

When people think of countries they sometimes liken them to firms. If your revenues are higher than your costs, you are doing well, you are obviously earning profits.

But international trade is a more subtle game.

You could liken it to cups, where there's a ball under one of three cups, and your opponent tries to use slight of hand to ensure you can't find the ball.

Or maybe it's like pass the parcel, but the parcel is a booby prize.

In trade you have to look at who ends up with the cash.

Whoever has massive piles of cash is a clear loser, cos they have swapped all their goods and services for pieces of paper.

Not only that, but in the two blog posts below, many govts of poor countries seem to be holding onto pieces of paper which don't offer much return at all. In fact they are giving (generously) as much as 5% of the gains from their hoard to developed countries.

Indonesia for example has $50bn hoarded away for a rainy day which earns near nothing year on year. As 'Sarapan points out, $50bn * 5% = 2007's budget deficit.

But that's nothing, China has almost $1000bn hidden away for a rainy day when it will have to defend its currency peg. Something like 20% of the income the whole of China generates a year. The peg is kinda nice, because we outside China can exchange less paper to get more fun electronics and cool clothes etc. The Chinese end up being the with the paper! - suckers!!

Of course China is doing well, but they are doing well because of their huge labour force and general stability, not because of their hoard of US dollar and TBills. Non economists worry too much about money, money is just an illusion, don't hoard it, get rid of it!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Freedom of Movement

While in Indonesia last March, the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth was shocking. If you're wealthy you breath pure air conditioning 24/7. If you're poor you, your wife and children could make a living begging at traffic lights or rummaging through the rubbish dump you happen to live on, and breathe the toxic fumes of the world's most polluted city.

Last year Bob Geldof did Live Aid 2006. There was one thing that Bob said which really struck me: "in a world of plenty it was intellectually and morally absurd that people should be starving to death" (paraphrase).

I don't think Live Aid and the Glen Eagles G7 summit has done all that much to help. Politicians don't really care about poverty in other countries - they care about taxation and unemployment, because their electorate does.

If a couple of hundred thousand of people are starving in Africa, they should be able to travel to Europe / America etc. and allowed to starve on our doorsteps.

Aid handouts will never work. Governments need real motivation. Economic emigration should become a human right.

This will likely never happen - because of that least endearing of human traits, selfishness. There is no end in sight of human starvation in a world of plenty.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Holy Imperfection

There's a theory in economics which basically says that no contract can cover all facets of an arrangement. There will always be outcomes which will throw up ambiguities.

That's why we have lawyers, and why they get paid so much!

But when you apply this line of thinking to Holy books (the Bible, the Koran etc.) you realise that:

a) they are not "perfect" messages (from God) - at best they are general hand waving.


b) these books need humans to figures out the ambiguities, the tough answers aren't self evident

(/Humans/ are the integral part of our understanding of God)

I suppose all this is already clear. When you hear Taleban legal eagles proving how their actions have been OKed by God and the Koran, and Saudis getting 3 week "marriages" in Indonesia just so they lay their consciences to rest... ( Needless to say there are tons of Christian examples...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Why Linux?

I love Linux. It's software, it's bits and bytes, 1's and 0's, lifeless, static. Weird I know, but there be reasons!

Everyone knows it's free - but so is Mac and Windows software if you look hard enough.

The difference is community. Open source developers give away /all/ of their software for free (no premium versions, 30 day trials etc, ads). Over the years this has built up a lot of karma around the Linux community.

-- Compare this to the Windows / Apple world, where most live in a world of cracks, serials and dodgy pirated copies of software -- not to mention the viruses/rootkits/remote holes on Windows...

Linux veterans will go to extraordinary lengths to help newbies out (cos back in their day Linux was a series of hard knocks (- at first it took me 2 weeks to hook up to the internet and 1 month to get sound working...). Now installation is /easier/ than WinXP!

Ppl switching from Windows to Linux isn't a big deal anymore (anyone in the know will have jumped that ship a long time ago) what's more interesting are the high profile OSX -> Ubuntu switchers:

Thursday, July 06, 2006

If Hell Were A Country...

Would any civilised country extradite wanted criminals to Hell?

Should a God send people to hell? - ignoring human rights.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Jakarta teachers win TV quiz jackpot

Nice story:

"Two school teachers in East Jakarta finally brought home their cash prize of Rp 2 billion (about US$214,000) on Thursday night after waiting for about two weeks following their jackpot win on quiz show Super Deal 2 Milyar (Super Deal 2 Billion)." (

And, they're planning on building a mosque for their school.


"Security guards helped the teachers bring back the cash in an armored vehicle."

Anyone ever think this was a really /bad/ idea???