Archives for June 2012

North Korea, Poster Child For HBD Theory

In a response to a race denier on this blog, who argued for the primacy of culture and political economic systems, Lazy Glossophiliac wrote:

In regards to North Korea: how’s that Sudanese nuclear weapons program coming along? Any 100-story hotels put up with the help of local engineering talent? Come to think of it, did even any of Dubai’s high-rise projects use local engineering talent? If the US government ever became so displeased with Congo-Brazzaville as to wish to contain it, how many troops would it need to use? 400? 4,000? 40,000? How long would they have to stay? How much money would have to be spent on this?

Touché. NK demonstrates that no matter how fucked up a country’s polity is, the HBD component will still make itself felt. The distortions of a command economy that directs up to a third of the national output into the MIC might be making it as poor as Senegal but the hermit kingdom nonetheless managed to build nuclear weapons, ICBM’s, architectural splendors, an indigenous operating system; synchronize gymnastics performances involving hundreds of thousands of people; invent political philosophies like Juche and Songun; create a ton of inspiring music; and maintain a million man army posing a grave threat to the prosperity and well-being of its immeasurably richer southern neighbor.

In effect a nation of 23 million people has managed to build, and sustain for 60 years and counting, a mini civilization against a hostile outside world. It might be a deeply perverse civilization from our perspective, held together by love and fear of the Leader, but it is no less an achievement for all that. It is ironic but had Koreans been a less intelligent and socially conformist people, the regime would have likely long since disintegrated from total collapse of basic infrastructure and discipline.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Global Warming

I am an idiosyncratic person. I support HBD, but oppose white (or any other) imperialism. My attitudes towards mainstream liberalism and conservatism is to wish a plague on both their houses. I think we’re in for a world of hurt with Limits to Growth but also buy into “cornucopian” ideas like technological singularity and transhumanism. In personal life, I like to have my guns and hit the bong too. Etc.

I recently drove to the beach with a hipster chick who majored in something involving the environment (nothing technical) and recently found a marketing job with a clean energy start-up in SF. She went on and on about how important it is to buy local, observe Earth Hour, the fucking works. Only problem? She drove a four wheel drive. In one of the very few places in the US where you can get by without a car. It reminds me of an old Guardian story about a Swedish feminist police chief (“Captain Skirt”) who ran prostitution rings on the side… But on second thought all this is entirely normal. After all hypocrisy is the grease that smooths society’s wheels.

The greenies at least don’t force people into these ritualistic observances of Earth Hour, as if there’s some deity that could wave a wand and restore CO2 levels back to 1800. The conservatives tend to simply deny reality, deny AGW, as doing otherwise would make them willing accomplices in an impending global catastrophe. Not only is it dishonest but what’s worse many of them savagely smear and attack AGW’ers for the sin of pointing out the stark truth. They would have felt at home within the ranks of the NKVD.

Only very drastic interventions now stand a chance of averting tipping points that will likely send the Earth into an extreme greenhouse state by the end of the century… interventions that can only be implemented at this late stage of the game by some kind of global dictatorship. Desirable or not, justified or not, is irrelevant… it’s not going to happen, the system isn’t going to change. Furthermore, even individual interventions and lifestyle changes are irrelevant, as the Parable of the Beer Yeast demonstrates.

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Alex Mercouris Untangles Syria

He has an excellent article over at his blog discussing the motivations behind the Western smearing of Russia for supporting – well, not opposing – Assad, against the Islamist insurgent freedom fighters. I highly recommend you read the article Russia, Syria, and the West in full; as Mark Chapman correctly notes in the comments, if you only did that then you would “come away better informed than 90% of those who have followed the situation from the outset.”

Basically, the West pretends that Russia is pursuing mercenary objectives in propping up Assad, while its own motives are altruistic and well-meaning. This of course ignores many inconvenient facts:

  • The situation in Syria is in fact a civil war with the insurgents, vast majority of whom are Islamists, not without their own share of atrocities. (And being supported by Western proxies for months now).
  • Western duplicity in supporting regimes like Saudi Arabia which executes people for witchcraft and militarily intervening in Bahrain to put down a Shi’ite revolt. This exposes their protests vs. Russia, China as hypocritical moralistic posturing; the real objective is to undermine Iran.
  • The BRICS as a whole are against the Western moves to intervene militarily in Syria (with Russia taking most of the flak), or create the pretexts for such. This is an eminently reasonable move given the Libyan experience. Libya, by and by, is hardly ever mentioned now in the Western MSM, as that whole democracy and liberal rights thing doesn’t appear to be panning out with daily reprisals, collapse of central authority, and fast-growing influence of radical Islamists.
  • Ignoring Russia’s (and China’s, etc) real arguments and motivations: Not supporting Assad per se (as Putin pointed out, Assad made more visits to Paris than Moscow in the past few years), but preventing the Western powers from usurping the right to make war, regime change, and general hostile interference in the affairs of non-Western aligned states. I.e., holding to the letter of international law.

For a statement of the Russian position on Syria, I recommend Russian FM Sergey Lavrov’s article in the Huffington Post (On the Right Side of History), as well as Mercouris’ earlier posts on the matter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

The Soviet Economy – Charting Failure

Many Communists, leftists, and even patriots (I’m sorry to say) have a pronounced tendency to make out the Soviet economy as not quite the resounding failure it really was – or even to paint it as a success story that was only brought down by perestroika and liberal reforms.

The above chart – based on historical GDP per capita (Geary-Khamis 1990 Int$) by Angus Maddison, compiled by liberal economist Illarionov, popularized online by Lopatnikov, and Starikov – purports to destroy two “myths”: That of (1) Prosperous Tsarism, and (2) The ineffectiveness of the Soviet economy. After all, the average Russian went from being 40% as rich as the average American in 1885, to only 23% by 1917; whereas during the Soviet period, despite the turmoil of two major wars, Russian incomes reaches a relative peak at 40% of American levels during Brezhnev’s “stagnation” period.

These is however a glaring hole in this logic, namely that (1) relatively slow growth under late Tsarism reflected a permanent state of affairs, as opposed to the heavy but temporary burden of a large rural, illiterate population; and (2) that a level of per capita GDP that is a mere 40% of what Americans enjoy was in any way a fulfillment of Russia’s potential during the 20th century. In fact, graphical comparison with other countries shows this to be almost certainly false.

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ECHR Rules 2003 Elections Fair, Derided As Kremlin Flunkies By Liberals

According to the press release (PDF) regarding the recent judgment, the issues considered by the ECHR as regarding complaints about the 2003 Russian Duma elections were the (1) the opposition’s access to an “effective remedy” to complain about media bias in favor of United Russia; and (2) that the media’s aforementioned bias prejudged the fairness of the elections. The ECHR ruled both claims to be invalid as shown in the extended quotes below:

“However, the applicants had had the possibility of requesting invalidation of the results after the elections, which they had used. The Supreme Court had had the powers to annul election results; it had examined the applicants’ claims and delivered a reasoned judgment. The independence of the Supreme Court had not been questioned, and the Court did not consider that its impartiality was an issue. … It therefore concluded that the proceedings before the Supreme Court had to be considered an effective remedy in accordance with the Convention.”

“The Court first addressed the applicants’ claim that the TV companies had been manipulated by the government. … Thus, the applicants had not presented any direct proof that there had been abuse by the Government of their dominant position in the TV companies concerned. The TV journalists themselves had not complained of undue pressure by the Government or their superiors during the elections. Indeed, formally speaking, the journalists covering elections had been independent and, under Article 10 of the Convention, had had wide discretion to comment on political events.”

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Russian Wages Are Fast Converging To Western Levels

Via The Economist, I’ve come across some fascinating research by Orley Ashenfelter and Stepan Jurajda (Comparing Real Wage Rates, 2012) showing how real wages can be meaningfully compared across different regions by taking notes on prices and wages in McDonald’s restaurants.

The methodology seems solid. Big Macs are a very standardized product, hence they are already used in the so-called Big Mac Index to assess international price differences (and whether currencies are undervalued or overvalued) and REAL wage rates (prices tend to be lower in poorer countries, mitigating the effects of lower nominal wages). By combining these two measures, you can derive the quantity of Big Mac a McDonald’s worker can buy through one hour of his labor (BMPH). This in turn is a good proxy for real median wages, i.e. the life of the average Joe and Ivan in comparative perspective. While we might not want to people to buy too many Big Macs it’s a positive thing if they can actually afford to.

The results for Russia are stunning, and no doubt go a very long way why Putin has retained 70% approval ratings since 2000. Russia’s BMPH increased by 152% (!) from 2000 to 2007, and a further 43% through to 2011, leaving all other economic regions in the dust, even despite a sharp recession in the latter period. The only major region with a comparable performance is China. In contrast, the BMPH has stagnated throughout the developed world since 2000; and Not So Shining India joined them from 2007.

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Paleo On The Go

If you’re in the city during the day and don’t want to grab the nearest carb-loaded baguette, burger, subway etc on hand, what do you do?

1. Get a Burrito Bowl at Chipotle, probably the healthiest major fast food outlet in America. Get it without rice. This is the most affordable option costing only $6 standard, or $8 with avocado spread.

2. Go to a Korean BBQ place and get something like Bulgogi beef. Very caveman-like. Make sure to replace any rice they try to serve with grilled vegetables. Will cost maybe $10. A live Mongolian grill or Shabu Shabu are also valid alternatives, but will typically cost more.

3. A soup at a Thai eatery, no noodles, such as Tom Yum or Tom Kha Kai. Can cost as little as $5.

Modern cell phones are quite adept at finding these places. Then there’s always the traditional method of asking people. No excuse not to do it!

The Top 5 Books On Everything

Good books are of course far better than almost anything you can read in a magazine or find on the Internet. They are also of double the benefit when the reader actually interacts with them, e.g. by writing a review. I have about 25 of these on my two blogs, but they still come very far from encompassing all the best stuff I’ve read.

The problem with writing a review is that they are very time-consuming. A post on on current affairs, in which I can find quotes and links to material on the click of a button, takes far less time and effort than leafing through a tome or trying to locate some important passage in a Kindle book. Reader response rates tend to be fairly modest too. It goes without mention that one is expected to actually read the book too.

So, books reviews are very useful. Both for personal development, to better internalize its lessons through rephrase and summary, as well as for the benefit of laypersons who may be inspired to read the book too – or at least to correctly quote its arguments, while pretending to have read it, and not come off as a fool or a fraud. (For instance, I am personally convinced that 95% of The Bell Curve’s confident critics have never even touched it). But they’re taxing on time and stamina. How to resolve this?

I think I have a solution. Henceforth, instead of reviewing books individually – as I tended to do beforehand – I will review them in taxonomic bunches. I will also only review the best books in their class as reviewing bad books is the most horrid of chores, and useless to boot. After all, going by Pareto, probably something like 80% of the more useful and relevant information on any subject is contained in 20% of the books on it; there is thus an inherent advantage in only focusing on the top 5 or so.

To this end, I have compiled a list of “top books” on various subjects, theories, and themes that will hopefully appear as blog posts in the not too distant future. If they are in italics, it means I have yet to read the book in question. Note that only English language books or books with more or less accessible English language translations cay be included. Please feel free to provide suggestions for the ?’s, to suggest alternatives for any book on the lists you think unworthy, and to suggest lists of books on topics of your own expertise.

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Will Ecuador Protect Assange From The Empire?

So Assange has fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, in scenes reminiscent of what happens to dissidents in truly authoritarian countries. (The parallels keep adding up don’t they).

Let’s recap. His site kept releasing classified documents, from secretive and typically nasty organizations. Too bad that some of them belonged to the Pentagon and the State Department; otherwise, no doubt Assange would still be feted as a heroic whistleblower in the West. Instead, he got an extradition request to Sweden for a rape at about the same time as Cablegate; a “rape” in which the purported victim tweeted about what a great guy he was the morning after (the tweet has since been deleted, of course). One of the supposed victims had posted online tips for girls on filing false rape reports on men who dumped them (this too has since been wiped).

Now Sweden is in Assange’s words “the Saudi Arabia of feminism” and indeed that much is undeniable to any reasonable person who doesn’t derive pleasure from slavishly kowtowing to women. See their recent attempts to ban men from pissing upright because apparently it is an assertion of patriarchy. And which other country could have produced a bestseller like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which would have instantly been condemned as misogynist claptrap had the slurs against men in it been instead been directed towards women? So even in the best possible interpretation it is Swedish feminists running amok in Europe, much like their Viking forefathers did a millennium ago. The alternative explanation is that this is politically motivated.

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Actually China Is Probably Already Bigger

Despite the generally loathsome nature of The Economist, it does have its advantages most of which can be reduced to its Daily Charts blog which focuses on statistics as opposed to rhetoric.

According to the chart above, as of 2012 ever more people, especially in the developed world, are starting to believe that the China is the world’s leading economic power. In terms of nominal GDP, and even conventional measures of GDP (PPP), the Krauts are wrong at least for now. However, as per the chart below, China is fast overtaking the US on increasing numbers of metrics by physical volume – steel (1999), CO2 emissions (2006), exports (2007), and manufacturing output, energy consumption, and car sales (2010). Indeed, according to Arvind Subramanian, in PPP terms China already overtook the US back in 2010, and I think this is plausible given that it ties in perfectly with China overtaking the US in so many key categories in that year. Regardless, by 2015 it will become increasingly hard to deny that China has the bigger economy in PPP terms, and soon after in nominal terms too as the yuan massively appreciates against an increasingly devalued dollar.

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