Saturday, March 31, 2007

Back to the Future

I saw the Sophie Scholl movie last night.

It's about young students in the German resistance movement during the second world war.

Obviously the film was written in the modern Germany I know and love. But in it Sophie Scholl and her brother crystalise the fundamental ideas and thinking that Germany is now built upon.

I know little about the Scholls, however they appear to have been way ahead of their time, and maybe one could say that they were founding members of the Federal Republic of Germany that we have nowadays.


Suppose you could categorise good and bad people into those which are ahead and behind of their times.

The visionaries such as Martin Luther King, the Scholls, Gandhi, Wilberforce, Deng Xiaoping et al are like citizens of the future. They instinctively see the path to an enlightened, better future, and most importantly they realise it's a future worth struggling for.

The bad or evil like Hitler, Stalin, Soeharto, Soekarno, Mao et al are ensconced with past logic, ideals and morals, their dreams are basically old and antiquated.

Then there are the crazy which fall in between. Those that have dreams of futures now which us lesser mortals can't quite grasp.

I suppose the idea presupposes that the future is enlightened and the past is a more brutal, unjust place.

(Perhaps it's a typical white European view, I wonder would many Africans share my view for example?)

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I loved this first time I saw it a few years ago.

Sex and Short-Termism

I just read Miund's post which prompted me to write up an idea I've had for a while.

People are often (mostly?) attracted to someone by a first impression, a skin deep attraction, it could take many forms, but basically it's the person's "sexiness" (either just pure looks, some quick one liners or how he walks) that counts.

Being attracted to someone because they are sexy is the ultimate in short-termism. They may have a great complexion, but it might be a lot more trouble than it's worth getting involved with someone who will turn out to be a complete psycho.

And yet we all have this short-termist outlook built into us.

Superficiality is in business in spades. Sexy, short term, quick fixes are very often favoured over better thought out projects with larger longer term gains. Hence, people complain that businesses are too short-termist in outlook, and are blamed for ruining the environment (and everything else besides).

I ran across a nice model a while back that explained short-termism in business (can't remember exact reference). Quick fixes can be a lot less risky than longer term ones. Over a long time horizon all possible variables can change, therefore investing over the long term is very risky indeed.

(Obviously, if a CEO's average tenure is 5-10 years, they will also look to focus on getting results while they are still in office.)

Maybe relationships are similar? I see a girl, she looks attractive and I don't notice her saying anything too objectionable, in fact she seems a kind of nice sociable person. My mind (or heart) is working in the same way as a CEO would appraise a project. I'm not a psychiatrist, I won't be able to pick up signs of long terms problems. I'm not a geneticist, I won't be able to take a DNA test and see any future genetic diseases etc. It would be very costly (and booooring) to ensure a good long term decision - plus while I'm meticulously figuring stuff out another guy could win my potential long-term sweetheart ;). Moreover, most relationships last a few years tops and don't end up in marriage and kids etc.

So I make my decision on the skin deep stuff I can see instantly. Its' sexiness and superficiality that seals the deal.

Superficiality works also with interviews, because interviewers are only willing to expend an an hour or so each on probing the interviewee.

[Interestingly the same process seems to work when meeting people who've gone to ivy league schools, in my experience they'll let you know about their college within the first meeting. Nevertheless I have no real idea how smart they are -- they could've had a rich parent or a sports scholarship, or have taken home economics courses in order to get their degree.]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sexual Apartheid

Maryam Namazie writes that veils are a form of sexual apartheid and abuse to women.

Yes some are forced to wear the veil, but many I am sure, do it genuinely voluntarily out of religious devotion.

I do believe that religion / traditional culture can often be more trouble than it's worth, but how would you separate a person from her upbringing and culture? How would you convince her that her deeply held beliefs are wrong?

Legislate for it? -- then you are going down the same road as Maoist China and other dogmatic states such as Saudi Arabia.

People should have the freedom to wear (and do) whatever they want, as long as they are not endangering others.

The fact that some are /forced/ and threatened into wearing the veil is a real problem, let's focus on finding solutions to that problem rather than getting sidetracked on anti-religious broadsides.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Democracy and Well Being

Rizal Shidiq wrote this the other day in the Jakarta Post.

Although it mentioned endogenous growth (don't ask) it brought up an important issue - what role does democracy have to play in economic growth?

Rizal referenced research which shows that democracy doesn't necessarily have much to do with economic growth.

However at their core both freedoms help people to cooperate together. Economic freedom minimises the costs that people have to endure to make a living for themselves and their families. Similarly, with democratic freedom, societies can cooperate together in order to set generally accepted rules of fair play, reducing the friction of individual's interactions (economic or otherwise).

According to Rizal, the links between economic growth and democracy are hard to identify; I suggest, that's because both freedoms fundamentally do the same thing, i.e. improve cooperation.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Probably the Best Programming Language in the World

I want to learn Erlang next.

Erlang is kinda cool, because it's functional and concurrent.

Functional programming takes up about 1/7th the number of lines as imperative (eg. Java, C etc.). That means more elegant programming and less numbers of lines for bugs to occur in.

Concurrent programming splits your program into threads. That means that one part of your program won't hold up everything else. Concurrency is normally quite difficult to do with traditional programming languages, which is why many programs still don't take advantage of machines with multiple processors (Core Duo etc.) or run one program on multiple machines over a network. Erlang (apparently) makes concurrency real easy.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

18 Songs

I'll send these songs (either by email or by post on CD) to anyone who cares to ask for 'em.

They sum up where I'm coming from (although not where I'm going to!).

Life and Fate's Whims

Sunday morning. I accidentally stumbled upon this elegy for Morgan Mellish, an Australian journalist based in Indonesia.

Morgan was flying from Jakarta to Jogjakarta. He was booked on Indonesia's most accident prone airline (Adam Air) but generously, Australian embassy officials offered him a ticket on Indonesia's safest carrier, Garuda. The Garuda plane crashed on landing and Morgan died in the crash.

Condolences to those that loved Morgan. He sounds like a truly inspiring, vibrant person.


This weekend I have been pondering quietly to myself about my own life. There has been nothing whimsical about my current thinking, it has to be calculated, I can't make a mistake.

But a nerve was hit when I read about Morgan Mellish.

How awe-full, complex, subtle and intricate causation can be.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Like Frogs Trapped in a Coconut Shell

So how does one sell freedom of movement?

Freedom of movement would, in my opinion decimate much of the poverty in the world. However free movement would also slash western living standards in the short term as the poor compete with westerners for jobs. Despite their rhetoric, western governments therefore have little or no incentive to open up their job markets and really help the needy.

Tossing this conundrum back and forth in my head, led to a rather dangerous idea (coincidentally a few days later I read this illuminating article).

Could Western governments open up particular industries to foreigners, while ensuring that new influxes wouldn't adversely affect the indiginous workforce?

For example, Ireland has little or no textile industry, it evaporated years ago due to expensive labour costs in comparison to the Far East. Ireland could import Indonesian or Chinese workers to help resuscitate the Irish textile industry.

The "imported" workers would receive much higher wages and working conditions than they could ever dream of at home (but still a fraction of Irish wages). Ireland would have a new textile industry which would employ locals in IT, finance, management etc. The Irish government would pick up 12.5% tax on all profits made (China's tax rate is 25%).

Overnight a re-emergent Irish textile industry could then compete somewhat with the Far East. Supply lines to markets in Europe would be much shorter, meaning quicker turnaround times and lower transportation costs. There'd be fewer communication and cultural barriers and most importantly /rock/ /solid/ legal certainty for investors.

There are many other advantages and possible beneficial side effects of such a partial freeing of movement.

I can't see any downsides (although am sure there are some). Can anyone point out major holes in the idea?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

'Smart' Rebels

American Generals admit that Afghani and Iraqi rebels are causing more problems than expected (surprise, surprise).

The rebels don't have very sophisticated weaponry and their numbers are only in the tens of thousands (there are about 140,000 American soldiers on the ground in Iraq alone for example).


1) the rebels have a flat hierarchy, small groups aren't directed centrally, therefore the Americans can't knockout one central command

2) the rebels learn from each other /fast/

For example, if one group figures out how destroy American tanks or aircraft, they tape a "howto" and post it up on the Internet. Also, American soldiers have rules on when they can and can't shoot (rules of engagement) rebels learn these rules and keep each other up-to-date on changes, giving them a good idea on how their enemy will act in any situation.

The rebel's tactics evolve quicker than the American's, and in a meritocratic culture (what works best is used) similar to how open source software evolves.

America has more or less lost the military battle in Iraq (and possibly Southern Afghanistan) and I don't think they have the cultural nous to socially undermine the rebels and regain an advantage.

Although I have no affinity with President Bush et al, America losing Iraq and Afghanistan will mean a very bleak foreseeable future for both countries.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ba’asyir on "Modern" Punishment

Abu Bakar Ba’asyir explains how cheap Sharia amputations are compared to imprisoning people, and that Sharia punishment is the way of the future.

As the spiritual head of JI (Indonesian al-Qaeda group) involved in the Bali bombings, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir was jailed for 2.5 years, but exonerated of involvement last year.

Ironically though, if Indonesia did apply Sharia, I doubt Mr. Ba’asyir would have been released at all, he'd probably be 6 feet under.

Pig Racing Protest Against Mosque

After reading repeatedly how Islamic radicals in Indonesia are endeavouring to take religious bigotry to new levels, it's refreshing to know that Texan Christian bigots are rising to the heights set by their Muslim brothers by creative means.

Locals of Katy, Texas are protesting the building of a new mosque by racing pigs around the proposed site.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Economising Freedom

Apart from the obvious good of emancipating people from evils and injustices; what have been the repercussions of emancipations?

Slavery in all its forms has had a certain evil logic which has locked in its victims and masters. No emancipation has come without a struggle.

The slave trade was abolished 200 years ago by Britain.

Through blood sweat and tears, slaves provided plentiful cheap labour in the capital rich colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia; vertiginously growing enlightenment Europe's opulence and wealth.

What then was the logic behind the abolition of slavery? We would love to think that morality was a driving force, but in fact economics and power may have had a bigger influence. The British feared increasing slave revolts, which could have weakened its hold on its colonies altogether.

I don't have any idea on whether the abolition of slavery had any lasting adverse economic effects on British colonies, but tellingly, slavery (under different terms) lived on in other European colonies into the 20 century.

[Of course slavery survives today. Similarly, slaves are transported from capital poor countries to capital rich countries; but ironically because economic migration is illegal, desperate migrants voluntarily risk getting involved with trafficking gangs, and risk being caught up in sex slavery and other highly nefarious industries.]

Colonial independence movements, women's suffrage and African-American equality are all freedoms that had to be struggled for. Societies never grant rights and freedoms to oppressed people easily, because the oppression usually serves a important economic, political or social role within a society.

Freedom always comes with a cost.


I have one nascent, quixotic mission.

I own one belief, out of all the beliefs beings hawked around by snake oil merchants of various creeds and colours.

I believe that the freedom of movement should be a human right.

A human should be allowed to work or live wherever she chooses. Working and living peacefully should never be seen as wrong or illegal in any context.