Sane man !

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Is there any kind of study or theory...

...on the moral hazards of the division of labour ?

It must be one of the fundamental limitations of the modern economic organisation, along with the limits of hierarchies. Although the specialisation bring some increased efficiency (in theory), there will be some "leaks" because of the moral hazards. There are no reasons why this way of organising our economies would be perfect, after all it has only quite recently been pushed to such an extreme.

Ex: people in the finance industry are in charge of dealing with money, specialised in that area, and dedicated to the task... but they will have more occasions to steal or appropriate some, more abilities to do it. Just as the potato peeler will have more occasions to nick some 'tatties! All moral hazards are not equal.
Similarly, managers are necessary, but the pays of the people setting the payrolls will of course be inflated...

This is related to Arrow and Stiglitz's asymmetries of information, similar I suppose... Of course the question would be: is the system still overall more efficient than if less specialisation is used?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Apposite Quote

"There are plenty of good reasons for fighting," I said, "but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It's that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive.
"It's that part of an imbecile," I said, "that punishes and vilifies and makes war gladly."
"If you want to be a soldier in the Legions of God so much," I told him, "try the Salvation Army."
-Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Killer writing from Vonnegut, that neatly slays both of the sides in the war on rationality...

Friday, July 29, 2005

Great new installment of the 1-minute MBA from D^2.

Another universal rule I'd like to add, although not applicable to the shooting incident:
we are only ever prepared for the catastrophes that have already happened.
This isn't of course a criticism but a basic constraint.

For example: you could see policemen patrolling the tube yesterday in case they blew it up on a Thursday again. And security is pretty tight for airport bagages! The 9/11 attacks managed to hit the Pentagon, which many would consider to be one of the most protected buildings on the planet.
Of course a repeated terror attack has a very powerful effectand that's what they did in London, but in general surprise is their greatest asset. And in general, catastrophies must be considered as random events, essentially unpredictable.

But to tie in with what d2 says, it's even more idiotic to push for zero risk in an area where heuristics will tend to be wrong, because biased towards past occurrences. The risk assessement must consider the diffuse and subjectively random nature of these disasters: hence the importance of soft, low-level approaches... and the ridiculous nature of the strident, panicked calls for "strong measures!!" to be taken.

Relatedly, what will happen when Al-Qaeda (or an offshoot) recruits an angry black- or white-skinned Muslim? If he doesn't look Arabic, he will not likely be stopped... It's quite likely, actually surprising it's never happened before. Just imagine a slightly insane follower of Malcom X (I've met one once).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

London united?

This was taken on the Thursday when the 2nd attack half-failed. No-one died but the psychological effect was terrible of course.

That morning, the Evening standard, which was running out of juicy terrorist-related headlines, had planned a special bombing extravaganza edition: "London stands united". I thought the contrast with their placards and the stunned Tottenham court road was quite striking. There's a lot there...

Thought for the day

London is a cristal in the mud.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

One of the major problems with post-60 music, and the explosion of genres and styles, is that some modes of music which are good to play are not good to listen to.

By modes I don't mean genre or styles, but some sub-genres, some artists, or parts of tracks. This can be remedied by working on improving the listener's ear, and it's not as bad if you're a musician as you can have a certain empathy with the playing (up to a point!)

I don't mean that only immediate or pop music is good to listen to... There is a fundamental imbalance between the artist and the receiver (as in all arts), which is more important in this case because of the pleasure linked to playing the instrument. The latter comes from technical achievements (a by-product of learning to play), or from the nice synchronicities occuring when playing in a band, etc.

This is the problem for some long jazz solos, modern classical music parts, jam bands, introspective self-indulgent indie, etc.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Racism as secularism

This is Lenin talking good sense:

blatant racism has been sold under the guise of secularism

Although I don't fully swallow the Marxist frame he will stuff everything into, he and the SWPers sound much more sensible than a lot of traditional moderates and liberals... Here, he's skewering the nasty kind of lefty "hawk" that decided after 9/11 that the really dangerous thing was all those scary darkies, you know, over there, and that this trumps any other kind of argument. This type of islamophobia has been dissected in detail, and it's not really worth arguing with that kind of people and their prejudice-driven sophistry. Do we talk of "catholic terrorism" about the IRA? (Once again) terrorist bomb NY and London because of their hatred of rock music and women showing their hair?

But Lenin's phrase also goes to the heart to what bothered me in the French scarf ban debate: some deep-rooted racist motivations, dressed in secularism. Let's not forget that around 15% of the French regularly vote for the racist Front National. It is easy to stick the "muslim" label on the population of Algerian or vaguely Arabic origin, even if it isn't true for most, particularly in the younger generation. But did it even bring some politic credit to embattled Chirac and his party? Hardly, they're too incompetent for that, and the racists will always prefer their hatred uncut (from the FN) rather than the shameless but limp centrist imitations... they never learn!

I love France's secular spirit generally, and hate all types of religious superstition, and the idea of making women cover themselves is a pretty nasty example of how religions tend to degenerate into more or less the preservation of patriarchy (I mean, "family values").
But the "laicity" concept concerns the provider, ie the state, and not the user. The idea is not to coerce the latter into a secular state, as this is counter-productive. It's about the separation of church and state.

This type of stupid, wrong-headed forceful removing of a few headscarves (and crosses!) will induce more divisions and wrong-headedness than miraculous conversions to darwinists brights. Indeed sticking a muslim label on a population that wasn't that bothered will probably be a self-fulfilling idiocy, because the group in question isn't properly integrated and is looking for an identity... and will turn to hardline "Islam".


Getting on the picadilly line at south kensington, because most of it is still shut down. I see the train approaching and it seems like a soldier that survived, still running dutifully, nearly empty.
Going in, I make an amazing discovery: pages from the Guardian, dated 07-07-05. It must have stayed there all this time. What was the G2 supplement carelessely examining that morning, what were some reading before those crazies blew up? It was a description of the $billions lost in Iraq by Bremer's CPA, the corruption, suitcases full of money...
In a very creepy and cynical way, it all made sense.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

There is a current of opinion (for example) basically saying that the London attack was crap because it killed very few people. That's showing admirable resilience, and it's the right attitude to have; but as far as analysis goes, it misses the point.

The 9/11 attacks were also really bad as far as killing is concerned (the towers were practically empty, it could have been far far worse during the day), and this is naturally the aspect we focus on emotionally: those deaths are tragic. But the intended effect is much more political, emotional, economic etc. The humiliating aspect it had is also rarely discussed, for obvious reasons.
On the whole, it did what no ground attack by an "Al Qaeda army" could have ever dreamed to do. If the intention was just to kill a lot of Americans, then they could have proceeded otherwise with much more "success".

It's the same for the London attacks. It's not the deaths that count strategically, but the fear, acrimony, and political ends created.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

test post

On good days, I'd say religion is just caused by subtle, superficial philosophical mis-interpretations and confusions between levels of interpretation, and that once a few semantics questions are clarified, I'd agree with a lot of it really.

On bad days, it becomes a contagious mental disease, evolutionarily selected: ie, it spreads because it is good at spreading.

Both attitudes are compatible... I think?

Interesting chapter on companies in Six Degrees.

It discusses hierarchical networks in companies and how "looser" hierarchies with additional horizontal and vertical connecting links are much more able to cope with uncertainties and even random catastrophies: super-robustness.
This connectivity at all scales incurres a loss of productivity as the tasks are less specialised and from the communication cost for all the different actors. But this diminishes the costs of risk. This ties in with the problems of risk and how hard it is for the short-term sighted to take it into account materially...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Why do this? I can't write clearly to save my life...
A good braindump, where thoughts can remain (until the giant crash of the internet). And thoughts are clearer when actually expressed, and not remaining half-hidden in your head. Although this should not be like this, it is somehow... Maybe this will help to clarify and objectify thoughts.

Concerning the terrorists' side: the attack on rationality in question is not exclusively religious.
As much as I detest religious fundamentalism, it has more of a secondary role, particularly an attack like last thursdays. The "soccer ball" faction likes to underline the reactionary nature of fundamentalist Islam, and to tie it to the different terrorist activities.
But the religious fervour comes 2nd, providing a bind, a pretext, a deep well of irrationality, certainty and justifications from which to pick, but anyone who thinks bombs went off because these people didn't like the short skirts, booze and pop music we have in the west is another kind of loony.

If you are pushed to bomb people, out of reasons X or Y, it's a natural human instinct to hunt for rationalisations and to somehow make it fit into your moral universe. Of course, we kid ourselves into thinking it's the other way around, hence the confusion. A direct word from God is a pretty good justification...

Many people have recently pointed out the nationalist or political dimensions of the attacks..
For example see the fantastic Karen Amstrong who knows a thing or two about fundamentalists.
There are too many lazy, unexamined assumptions about Islam, which tends to be regarded as an amorphous, monolithic entity. Remarks such as "They hate our freedom" may give some a righteous glow, but they are not useful, because they are rarely accompanied by a rigorous analysis of who exactly "they" are.

The story of Qutb is also instructive as a reminder that militant religiosity is often the product of social, economic and political factors. Qutb was imprisoned for 15 years in one of Nasser's vile concentration camps, where he and thousands of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were subjected to physical and mental torture. He entered the camp as a moderate, but the prison made him a fundamentalist. Modern secularism, as he had experienced it under Nasser, seemed a great evil and a lethal assault on faith.

Or Juan Cole:
Zarqawi's Salafi group would never celebrate "Arabism" or speak of "heroes" (abtal) when referring to the "holy warriors" or mujahidin. Urubah and batal, Arabism and hero, are typical of the vocabulary of secular Arab nationalism-- in, say, the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser. That message is coming from a group of terrorists that is much more comfortable with this language than are typically the extremist Salafis like Zarqawi. "Hero" would sem a term of humanistic pride to them, and Arabism would seem narrow and idolatrous as a competitor with Islam. There are Muslim thinkers who meld political Islam and Arabism-- this is common in Egypt, e.g. But they belong to a different religious and intellectual tradition than Zarqawi.
They are not trying to create religious but good old nationalist irrationality, the kind that leads to divisions and wars.
You're either with us, or against us.

Friday, July 08, 2005

When the consensus view about the bombing emerged (terrorism!), I was strangely baffled. Thinking about some anarchists "doing something" about the G8, I just could not see what they were trying to achieve through murder. Surely this would only push UK and the US towards more drastic, stupid moves ... what a pointless crime! Then of course, in the afternoon, I realised that's exactly what an Al-Qaeda ofshoot was trying to achieve. More polarisation, violence, hatred will be generated in the western side, more idiotic policy idly justifed and reservations righteously brushed aside.

Then this morning it hit me. What both sides are doing is:

A war on rationality

This goes for both sides. While we can't do much about the Al-Qaeda crazies, we concentrate on our western leaders. And the cowboy-in-chief, alpha male of the sad western (imagine a good Morriconne music going with this) is waging his own little reactionnary crusade on science, reason, reality, peace... Both sides are as destructive and feed of each other. The Enlightenment prinples which are dear to me are needed more than ever.

This was eerily confirmed by all the missionaries out on the prowl today: doe-eyed generic christian, and the scientology recruiters (which I almost pity). I swear they were never there before. They could sense an occasion, an opportunity: nice day for recruiting. All this fear and doubts in the air: we could lock in a few londoners to our peculiar thought-patterns and chain them to our myths. Get them while they're down.