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By TheophileEscargot (Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 10:17:05 AM EST) Reading, Watching, Listening, MLP, Politics (all tags)
Listening: "War and World History." Reading: "The Winter Men". UK politics. Charter Cities. Web.

What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was War and World History by Jonathan P. Roth. Not quite what I expected, which was a study of the evolution of military technology and tactics. Instead he concentrates on very high-level patterns of how warfare has influenced the general development of states and empires. Even at 48 lectures it's very generalized. He explains at the start that he will barely mention particular battles.

So, it's a bit drier and less exciting than courses like Great Battles of the Ancient World. But it is very informative and thought-provoking.

Overall, well worth listening to, but requires some concentration.

Some points I found interesting.

  • There were no galley slaves in Greek or Roman navies: rowers also needed to fight as marines, and rowing to ram needed some skill.
  • Imperial Rome, Mauryan India and Han China were all empires that flourished at a time when infantry forces dominated military technology. That favoured large, centralized, agricultural empires who could raise lots of troops.
  • Much later, in the feudal period, the stirrup helped lead to decentralization and small feudal units. Since cavalry dominated warfare, outlying regions could not be dominated by Rome-like agricultural empires with lots of infantry.
    Polities broke up into small units, often named after the title of the ruler: counties, duchies, and baronies in Europe; sultanates and emirates in the Muslim world; dynasties and kingdoms in China.
  • The Mongols used carrier pigeons.
  • It took a long time after gunpowder was invented for it to become a viable weapon, useful for more than scaring horses and panicking badly-disciplined opponents. First they discovered how to make it cheaply, by developing the ability to synthesize saltpeter. Then they discovered how to mix that with wood ash to make a better explosive. Then they discovered how to make "corned" gunpowder, granulated rather than powdered. Only then did it really make a big difference.
  • The recent translation of Mayan glyphs has changed our view of them from a peaceful to a warlike society.
  • The American Neolithic occurred completely independently of the Neolithic period in the core...

    In both cases, urbanization occurred rather rapidly and a single city seems to have been the origin of the culture.

    1. In both San Lorenzo and Uruk, there does not seem to be evidence of conquest; the spread of the culture seems to be through trade.

    2. Although there was an elite, there is no evidence it was a warrior elite. The king's power seems to have derived from religion and the control of irrigation, not from force-a parallel to early Mesopotamia.

  • Religions often become more militaristic when they become state religions: Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism are examples.
  • The Indian culture that developed around the Great Lakes and into the plains was not a traditional one, but rather was an extension of the capitalist system of Europe.

    The Plains Indian was anything but the typical example of a primitive warrior as argued by Harry Turney-High...Most North American natives were part of the global system from the 16th century onward.

  • The Minié ball, [which expanded in the barrel] invented in the 1840s, allowed for easy loading of a rifled barrel. Rifled muskets were far more accurate at longer ranges.
  • Every advance in military technology has brought with it increasing costs...At the beginning of the 20th century, it appeared the costs of war would overwhelm economies... The German Schlieffen Plan was based on the idea of winning very quickly before lack of funds forced a stop to fighting.
  • Capitalists are blamed for many of the wars in the 20th century...

    Historians, however, have shown there is no evidence to support such theories... In fact, businessmen generally oppose war as inimical to trade.

  • Over the course of world history, new weapons systems have generally led first to greater centralization and then to decentralization, as the ability to access and use the new weapons technology spread.
  • By historical standards, there has been relatively little war since 1989.
What I'm Reading
Comic book The Winter Men by John Paul Leon and Brett Lewis.

Comic book set mostly in modern Russia, with a former Spetsnaz commando trying to track down a missing item in a shadowy world of gangsters protected by state officials.

Very effective for the most part. There's a kind of downbeat John le Carre feel to a lot of it, the protagonist is suitably tough and cynical, and there are some good lines. The Russian setting feels authentic with distinctive turns of phrase (no idea if it actually is ). It's drawn in a great jagged black-and-white style that reflects the content very well.

However, I thought the ending got a little weak , as the gangster elements were replaced by superhero elements which weren't quite unconventional enough. Worth a look though.

What I'm Watching
Saw the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro. Two children and their father move to the countryside, encountering strange forest spirit-creatures.

Might be aimed at a younger audience than some of the others. Even though not a lot of importance happens in the plot (no saving of the world or such) it's still quite compelling, with the imaginatively designed creatures holding your attention.

Found it surprisingly heartwarming: didn't think I had much heart left to warm. Well worth a look.

What I'm Watching 2
Saw the classic 1950 Kurosawa movie Rashomon for the first time, on DVD. The same events are retold from different perspectives.

Liked it a lot, doesn't seem to have dated significantly.

UK Politics
Things looked pretty grim for Gordon Brown and Labour back in mid-2009: lots of people seemed to think they were doomed. From looking at the UK Polling Report graph though, Labour's poll ratings have been climbing steadily since then. Some polls still predict a slim Tory majority, but some a hung parliament.

In the case of a hung parliament, it looks like Labour would have an advantage. The pledge to introduce Alternative Vote electoral malform seems to pretty much guarantee Liberal Democrat support, though they'll play hard to get to squeeze out the most concessions. The left-wing Welsh and Scottish Nationalists seem unlikely to support the Tories, though the Northern Irish parties might.

Even in the case of a narrow Tory majority, they could make life pretty difficult for Cameron, as he tries to push through unpopular spending cuts. It's hard to tell how unpopular he is with some of his backbenchers. It could to be tricky to appease the Paranoid Style MPs, since if you don't buy in to the conspiracy theories you're part of the enemy. On the other hand, as Prime Minister a party leader has vastly more powers of patronage, which could tighten his grip.

However, while it's a possibility, I think the odds are against Brown still being PM in 2015. Even if he scrapes a coalition through, there's the possibility of a party coup, or an early election.

Guessing at probabilities, I'd say maybe...
40% chance of Conservative government
30% chance of Labour/Lib Dem coalition
10% chance of Con/Lib Dem coaliton
10% chance of Lab/Con/Lib Dem government of national unity
10% chance of Labour government

Charter Cities
I've seen a few references to Charter Cities as a way to rebuild Haiti lately. I expect that on Marginal Revolution, but I'm a bit troubled to see links like this cropping up on Twitter without anyone pointing out that, in this context, the idea is completely fucking batshit psycho loopy insane.

Basically the idea is to set up brand new cities on "uninhabited land" in the developing world, run by a neo-colonial power, with low taxes and developed world laws.

I'm not a big fan of fisking, but in some cases there are just so many things wrong that you don't have much choice. Let's start here

But we must also remember that aid is just palliative care. It doesn't treat the underlying problems. As leaders like Rwandan president Paul Kagame have noted, it can even make these problems worse if it saps the innovation, ambition, confidence, and aspiration that ultimately helps poor countries grow.
Note the massive assumption here: all aid is just palliative care. What about education? If even some aid addresses underlying problems, it could well be a better use of money than a charter city. Note also the subtle implication: some aid may make things worse, but the answer isn't to make aid more effective, it's to do something else.

Imagine that a government in a poor country set aside a piece of uninhabited land.
This reminds me of the old Zionist slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land". Except actually the land did have some people, and they were quite annoyed when they were told it was uninhabited and they had to move somewhere else. I don't think there's that much habitable-yet-uninhabited land left. Especially in the developing world, the people there may well not have paper documents proving it. Are they going to be happy about the Charter City taking over? Are they and their descendents going to fight for it?

There are large swathes of uninhabited land on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa that are too dry for agriculture. But a city can develop in even the driest locations, supported if necessary by desalinated and recycled water...

Access to the sea is the only real necessity--as long as a charter city can ship goods back and forth on container ships, it can thrive even if its neighbours turn hostile or unstable.

Desalination is costly and takes enormous amounts of energy. Not every piece of shoreland is suitable for a container port. The desalination plants, the port, the power stations, the roads in, the buildings, all have to be built and paid for. Is this charter city really going to be able to compete with existing cities while burdened with paying off these capital costs?

Hong Kong is the middle ground, a state ruled by laws not men, but one that leaves competition and individual initiative to decide the details.

The experience in Hong Kong offers two further lessons. The first is the importance of giving people a choice about the rules that govern them. Hong Kong was sparsely populated when the British took over. Unlike other colonial systems, almost everyone chose to come and live under the new system. This gave the rules proposed by the British a degree of legitimacy they never had in India, where the rules were imposed on often unwilling subjects. This is why building new cities, rather than taking over existing ones, is so powerful... The British experience in Hong Kong shows that enforcing rules costs partners very little, but can have a huge effect.

The British Empire encompassed a quarter of the world's population. But in spite of its middle ground of laws not men, it only produced one Hong Kong. Why?

First, China had a large sophisticated, urbanized, industrial, educated population; but had isolationist, conservative, centralized rulers. Hong Kong was able to tap into a vast frustrated demand for trade and innovation surrounding it. These charter cities won't have that.

Second, Hong Kong has a superb natural harbour and is located close to the two river systems that were the main arteries of trade into the Chinese mainland. Plonking a brand new city down in the middle of desert is not going to create a new Hong Kong.

Moving on, there are some things Paul Romer doesn't address but I'd like to.

Who's there?
If these new charter cities are going to compete head-to-head with Shenzen for manufacturing, and Bangalore for services, they're going to need a skilled and educated workforce. Do these frustrated, currently-unemployed, workers actually exist in the African locations he imagines? Or are these new cities just going to attract immigrants from China and India where they do exist?

This goes back to the "Access to the sea is the only real necessity" thing. These charter cities are plugged into the global economy, but located in sparsely populated areas, with no road or rail links to the rest of the nation, it's hard to see how these cities will spread their benefit the rest of the nation at all.

What's more, owing to the resource curse, it's quite possible that charter cities will be actively harmful to the host nation.

An example of the resource curse would be a poor nation that discovers a goldmine. You'd think this would be a blessing. But the value of this resource pushes up the value of the currency. This means the farmers and manufacturers find their goods vastly more expensive on the international market. Everyone except the gold industry actually suffers.

So too with charter cities. Even if they're successful, that will push up the value of the currency, and actively hurt the rest of the nation.

Overall then, charter cities seem to me to be an incredibly bad idea. In the best case, they just fail, die and waste everyone's money. In the worst cases, they parasitize the host economy, or create displaced-person conflicts for generations.

The colonial era's over: let it rest in peace.

Video. Life with augmented reality. Don't look in the mirror! 2AM worm.

Economics. Kaletsky on Greece. The Eurozone debt crisis: Facts and myths.

Article/Politics. BNP's fascist granny. ICA crisis. The broken Britain myth. Why Chinese belligerence? Public services face management crisis? Flying policebot assists in first arrest.

Sociology. Support for gays in military depends on the question. Peer effects in schools. Why Americans change religion (PDF, via). Action Man more posable than Barbie.

Pics. Photoshop Amateur. Whisky toothpaste. Pic breaks 10 points of Hays code.

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Winter is Coming | 24 comments (24 topical, 0 hidden)
The Plains Indian was anything but by duxup (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 11:09:29 AM EST
I always wondered about the plains Indian's portrayal as sort of a frailly untouched / out of touch (other than their earthy wisdom) group.  I mean they got horses from Europe for cripes sake.  That isn't exactly an insignificant change.

Charter Cities

The whole general sentiment that outsiders need to take a stronger hand in helping in poorer nations just seems to be a pendulum swing in terms of how to help.  I don't buy it.  It isn't hard to be a dick and whip up resentment amongst folks who ... have a lot to be pissed about even if you think they should be grateful.   I don't see much of any experience, wisdom, or successful application behind some of these ideas.  Any nation pulling itself out of the third world goes thru hell trampling over large chunks of the population in one way or another.  I don't want to be the jerk pulling them thru it.

Also Hong Kong is ####ing unique in so many ways, what the hell?  I figure you need some pretty big trade and other big nations around you first, folks willing to invest, political stability, all before you become that big a trade center like Hong Kong.  That has to be the dumbest example I've seen in a while. 

I also doubt a single powerful entity can drive such change in such a poor country without overplaying its hand, or borking up endlessly.   Hong Kong I don't think you can just create if you wanted to.  Big successful cities have roots you can point to and say "hey see they started with X, moved on to Y, and then Z", but that is all too easy and simple..   There are plenty of cities with X, and Y and just fade away or disappear.   When it comes to a nation's success, cities prosperity and so forth I think a lot has to do with happenstance that is not always re-creatable.  We humans often look at civilization and say "hey we made that" without really understanding that there was no master plan that worked out great.  Hell I don't think we know how we got this far....

Hong Kong is unique? by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #15 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 03:12:25 AM EST
Monaco, Goa, Singapore and Macau would like a word with you.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Monaco? by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #19 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 02:16:51 PM EST
I wasn't aware that France was a poor third-world country.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Neither is China. by ammoniacal (2.00 / 0) #20 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 03:40:50 PM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
Compared to Monaco, it is. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #21 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 07:42:29 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Eh by duxup (2.00 / 0) #24 Tue Feb 16, 2010 at 10:30:25 AM EST
How are they like Hong Kong?

[ Parent ]
Japanese movies by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 11:50:32 AM EST
Yes, Totoro is definitely one of Miyazaki's kids films, like Ponyo, Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky.  All are certainly deep enough for adults on some level, but they are well designed for kids.  My son loves Totoro.  But if you are looking for adult depth, you want some of his other films.  Howl's Moving Castle is probably his best.

If you liked Rashomon, check out Yojimbo.  It's the same filmmaking era and a very fun film.  (Not so dark as Rashomon.)  It also is not at all dated.  (Helps to be set in a historical period in the first place.)
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

I would also reccomend Red Beard by greyshade (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:11:48 PM EST
The main characters are doctors in a rural clinic.

"The other part of the fun is nibbling on them when they get off work." -vorheesleatherface
[ Parent ]
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by thunderbee (2.00 / 0) #18 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 12:16:00 PM EST
It's one of my favorites; didn't like Howl's too much.
Chihiro is also great.
Mononoke Hime is pretty good too, very nicely drawn.

[ Parent ]
Stuff by Herring (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 11:51:48 AM EST
Did you see Adam Curtis' bit on this week's Newswipe? Interesting.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

I did see it by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 02:21:24 PM EST
But the original paranoid style essay traced it back centuries, not just to Nixon.

Not sure all hysterical journalists belong to the Paranoid Style either; or that you can class professional elites like doctors as the same as the "Liberal Elite" or the political establishment.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
gunpowder by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 11:59:47 AM EST
no mention of smokeless powder ? In many ways, it's how the west was won .. More powerful cartridges, no huge smoke plume to a) give away your location and b) distort/fog-of-war your shots.

And they slag Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism as militaristic state religions with out mentioning Islam ?

The west was won by the time smokeless powder by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #5 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 12:09:28 PM EST
came on the scene, it was invented by Vieille in 1884.

[ Parent ]
He mentioned smokeless powder by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 02:17:13 PM EST
But that was later.

He didn't exactly "slag Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism as militaristic state religions". He just pointed out that they were fairly anti-military for a long time, until they became state religions after which they became much less so. Islam was more-or-less a state religion from very early on, so you can't do a similar comparison.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Buddhism by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 02:31:48 PM EST
I am very slowly reading a long history of Japan, and it is very clear that Buddhism was very much entwined with the Japanese military class even though Japan was almost entirely free of wars motivated by religion.  Even more fascinating is that Buddhist monasteries often created military forces big enough to cow the imperial court (though not the military classes.)

Ironic given Buddhism's reputation for pacifism. 

This doesn't really reject his thesis, though in Japan, Buddhism as a "state" religion wasn't quite the same as what we normally think of as one.  It was more a state supported religion in that there was little real oppression of other religious thought and it was always intertwined in government with the native Shinto beliefs.

(I know little or nothing about Buddhism and the state in China or India.)
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Tibet, Nepal, etc. by gzt (4.00 / 1) #12 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 03:55:10 PM EST
That's where it gets interesting.

[ Parent ]
Also the Thai - Burmese wars by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #22 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 10:40:15 PM EST

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
Charter cities by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 02:56:13 PM EST
Probably not such a good idea starting from scratch in the arse end of nowhere.

But then in the UK we have many cities who have still not recovered from the clash between hardline unionists and a Tory government, others who are sustained only by targetted state subsidy.

What do you reckon?  Would it be a good thing if places that were formerly economic hubs (mining, shipyards et al) were given a bit of a head start (transport links invested in, a local lowtax bubble created) so they could attract businesses and jobs? 

The only downside I can see is how then do you wean these cities off the lowtax attractant?  Or coulod this be used to roll out more and more charter cities with the aim of reducing the tax burden overall?

There was a post on Burning Our Money about this recently; I haven't finished thinking about it.  On the face of it, there are many immediately attractive benefits.  Just because I haven't seen any obvious downsides as yet doesn't mean there are none.

What do you think?

Transport links, definitely by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #16 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 05:25:20 AM EST
I think a big problem is that even though they've got cheap space and loads of labour in the North, companies don't want to relocate there because getting there from the South sucks too much.

Low-regulation zones are another idea, especially for small businesses. Or (somewhat) reduced minimum wages. Ideally this isn't something for central government though, should just give the regions and councils more options.

Not sure about the tax breaks. It sounds good in theory, but I think when they've tried it in America it just becomes a kind of corporate Danegeld: the companies just keep demanding more money or else they move. Also I think it further promotes the trend towards State Capitalism we're seeing; where inefficient, uncompetitive corporations survive and prosper by milking the State.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Ah you just killed it for me. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #23 Sun Feb 14, 2010 at 06:15:27 PM EST
I was blinded by the lowtax / lowreg thing, but you're right - once businesses get some growth, then they will use this as blackmail for Danegeld favourable treatment.

Could we perhaps then draft terms so that viable startups are protected, but the minute companies start going "you owe us" we can push them out of the charter city?

Still, again, not arguing at all.  Interested if you can come up with something that neither of us can shoot holes in though - that'd be possibly workable.

[ Parent ]
Brilliant stuff on Charter Cities by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 03:03:18 PM EST
I have nothing to add!

It's political correctness gone mad!

30% this is the last first-past-the-post election? by priestess (4.00 / 1) #13 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 05:31:36 PM EST
Oh, I like those odds. Though I know you're not a fan.

Or do you think a lib/lab coalition wouldn't change that?

Chat to the virtual me...

Less than 30% by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #17 Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 06:00:32 AM EST
The bill only promises a referendum: it would have to pass that too.

First, it's in the Labour party's interests if the referendum fails. Second, the referendum will take place at a time when a bickering coalition is raising taxes and slashing spending: that may put voters off the idea of coalition government. Third, referenda are often used by the voters to punish unpopular leaders: the prospect of another five years of Gordon Brown will aggravate some people.

So, I wouldn't count on the referendum passing.

Also, in the first AV parliament, there's nothing to stop Labour and the Conservatives combining to change it back to first past the post, with or without a referendum. The change wouldn't necessarily be permanent.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
BBC Radio 4 by ad hoc (4.00 / 1) #14 Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 09:45:29 PM EST
has a new podcast: History of the World in 100 Objects.

It's pretty good.

Winter is Coming | 24 comments (24 topical, 0 hidden)