Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Day the Earth Got Bored.

I went out with a friend tonight to see the movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. My advice to potential viewers, stay at home. Don't even borrow the DVD. To quote a fellow movie goer, "That was a waste of two hours of my life." The movie had every cliche imaginable. Keanu Reeves actually acted quite well but even that could not save the movie. Utter rubbish.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Over the past few days I've been over at Dennis Mangan's arguing that one cannot be a Conservative and an atheist at the same time: The terms are mutually incompatible. This of course, incensed Mr Mangan no end, and apart from some ad hominem attacks on my person, he presented no argument to refute my claim. What he did try to do, is to misconstrue my argument, as if I had said to be a conservative, one had to be a christian; this was not my position. I argued that at the bare minimum, a conservative must leave the room open for the possibility of some form of faith, be it in a traditional or personal form. He could be a Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran etc.

Ed Feser does a much better job than I can do arguing this position in his essay, The Metaphysics of Conservatism. It is well worth the read. Realist conservatives leave room for faith, the others do not. To quote Mr Feser:
So let me end by citing another, and more practical, reason someone with truly conservative instincts ought to favor the Realist brand of conservatism over its rivals -- namely, that it isn't clear that the other versions are really versions of conservatism at all, any more than nominalism or conceptualism are versions of realism.

You see, metaphysics matter. Metaphysics determine both our ontology and epistemology.(Our understanding or reality and the nature of knowledge). The Ancient Greek or Roman may have disagreed with the Catholic or Lutheran about the nature of the the true God/Gods, but he would have agreed that there was some form of higher Deity than himself. More importantly, however imperfectly they did it, men orientated their lives to the imperatives of the Deity. The rules came from God, not from a rational agent's opinion of the facts. The locus of morality was external to man. The great cultural divide between the Modern World and the World that preceded it, lay in this metaphysical shift. In the Modern World, Man was the source of morals.

Can an Atheist therefore be a Conservative, if he does not share their metaphysics? I would argue not, for the same reasons Ed Feser does. Can a man be a conservative and disdain Christianity? Yes, but he cannot be a Western Conservative. He can be a Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian etc, type of conservative or he can be a Liberal.

Denis Mangan did not publish my last reply to his post. I really don't care as it is his blog and he has the right to do on it as he pleases. However the generally accepted form is to publish comments unless they are offensive, which my comments were not. I would invite the reader to to visit the discussion and make his own mind up.

Mencken, Conservatism, and Adversary Culture

Christianity and the West, II

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas.

To my small band of readers , peace and goodwill to you all this Christmas time.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace!

(Handel's Messiah.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dead White Man. No 1

I don't have White guilt and have always preferred civilization to savagery, light to darkness. Other civilizations have had their achievements, however I will maintain, no assert, that European culture, particularly Western European culture, has had a profound and beneficial effect on the rest of the world.

With that in mind, I hope to put up a few biographies of Dead White men over the next few months. These were the type of men that traditional European society produced in abundance and who so are despised by modern Lefties, because they are ashamed of their cultural inheritance. I introduce to you a man who was tough, courageous, resourceful and loved both God and country. Introducing:

Charles James Napier.

All round tough bastard, and the type of man you want with you in the jungle.

The wikipaedia entry pretty much covers his life, but I thought I would like to jot down some of his thoughts as applied to contemporary issues.

On tolerating foreign customs within his jurisdiction:
"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."
On Counterinsurgency:
"The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed"
On negotiating with the natives:
"Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you""
On local self government: perverse is mankind that every nationality prefers to misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another.
And how tough a bastard was he:
He Commanded the force employed in Scinde, and on 17th February, with only 2800 British troops, he attacked and defeated, after a desparate action of three hours duration, 22000 of the enemy strongly posted at Meeanee. On the 21st February, Hydrabad surrendered to him, and on the 24th March, with 5000 men he attacked and signally defeated 20,000 of the enemy posted in a very strong and difficult position at Dubba, near Hydrabad, thus completing the entire subjugation of Scinde.

Early in 1815, with a force consisting of about 5000 men of all arms, he took the field against the mountain and desert tribes, situated at the right bank of the Indus to the North of Skihapore, and after an arduous campaign, he effected the total destruction of the hill robbers.
Check out the odds, he was no metrosexual. There would be no place for him in today's modern Britain. The country to whom he bequeathed so much glory has dishonoured his legacy. But he lives in the Pantheon of Honour; three cheers for the Dead White Man.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Darkness.

Some of the luminaries of the "Secular Conservative" fold have started a new blog site. Predictably religion was dissed almost immediately and rather vehemently, I might add. Which is a bit of a surprise as the Right was always seen as the natural home of religion.

For what it's worth, I think the term Secular Conservative is an oxymoron. Clearly the majority of the important Dead White men, or Hindu's for that matter, believed in some sort of supernatural existence, even though they disagreed--sometimes violently--about the composition of "the other world". God and religion get bandied about quite a bit in conservative thought, and the link with the dead through tradition is a mainstay of the conservative mindset.

Edward Feser, wrote what I think is quite a definitive piece on what in the end, separates Left from Right; a view with which I agree with. You see, in the end its all about epistemology; what we consider is valid knowledge. The secularists seem to believe that Empiricism is all that matters, and what cannot be empirically verified does not really matter. From their point of view, non empirically derived propositions are certainly not something to build one's society on. Furthermore-- and it's quite disappointing that supposed intelligent people hold these views--religious conservatives are painted as sort of nut jobs, who believe any fairy story uncritically and as people who would subordinate any scientific fact to a religious belief.

Now it is true, that there are quite a few conservative religious nuts, but every movement has its idiot adherents. But serious conservatism has never dismissed rationality or empirical evidence, it has however been open to the acceptance of truths which cannot be empirically verified such as religious teachings. I think it was St Thomas who back in the thirteenth century, stated that where faith and science are in conflict, our understanding of faith is probably wrong and needs to be modified, as the truth is indivisible and the two cannot contradict each other. Please note, thirteenth Century people.

The question to ask then is it rational to believe in things which are empirically unprovable?

Consider the following: A blind man is told of the existence of the colour red. There is no way he can empirically "prove" the existence of the colour since he cannot see, but clearly the colour exists. What should he do? If he is a Secular Conservative, he will deny that the colour red exists since he cannot empirically verify it's existence. Empiricism would have lead him to a false conclusion. The only way our blind friend can believe in the colour red is through an act of faith. He can't experience the colour red, through he can believe in it from the testimony of others. Clearly in this instance his faith leads to a belief which is congruent with reality. Empiricism on the other hand leads to an absurd result. Faith has its problems as well. It's also possible through faith to believe in things which are non congruent with reality, to believe in fairy tales.

The key issue of any knowledge is it's congruence with reality. That is, how do beliefs square up with reality. Empiricism is pretty powerful but it does have its faults. It doesn't deal well with non repeatable events and it's limits are defined by the perceptual abilities of the observer.

We can't for instance, scientifically repeat a murder in order to determine who caused it. If our courts demanded empirical proof of guilt, we would never be able to convict anyone. But we can, through a combination of science and rationalism, come to some form of conclusion about the nature of the killer. Sometimes they confess, and more often than not we're right. The point here being that valid knowledge that is congruent with reality may be obtained through non empirical methods. Sticking to empiricism is a bit like deliberately trying to live life with your eyes closed while overcompensating with your hearing.

The next question to ask then: Is there "stuff" in the Universe which we cannot perceive? I mean, are we capable of perceiving all that is out there? Just like our blind man who cannot see the light, is there other matter in the universe which we cannot sense and therefore not subject to empirical verification? I don't just mean religious things, I mean things like forces, dark matter etc. Because if there are, empiricism is not going to help us understand the phenomena. More importantly if there are such "things", the strict claims of empiricism may lead us to the wrong conclusions. Certainly at the subatomic and intergalactic levels, weird stuff happens. No one's seen dark matter.

The secular rejection of the mode of traditional conservative thought, by necessity undercuts the foundations of conservatism itself. Morals can't be derived from scientific facts, and hence conservatism becomes a "lifestyle"preference based on the hedonistic predispositions of the secular conservative; should his pleasures change so should his conservatism. The Dead White Men that made up conservatism in the past, lived that way because they thought it was the Tao of life; it was the truth.

But back to our secular blind man. His empirical enquiries have not been able to demonstrate the phenomena of colour. So when offered corrective surgery to cure his blindness, he angrily chases us away, because his method has taught him that there is no light.

(Cross Posted at The Forvm)

Monday, December 01, 2008

The paradox of extravagance.

John Maynard Keynes was profoundly influential in the field of economics, which is a bit of a shame because some of what he said needed to be thought out more. But while his unthinking acolytes continue to practice his solutions to the current economic crisis, it is worthwhile exploring one of his ideas further.

The paradox of thrift was one of those ideas of Keynes which explain the current government policy of "stimulus". It is assumed that in a normal household there is a balance between savings and spending. And tets take a hypothetical fellow who has a thousand dollars a week to spend, and let's suppose in normal times this fellow saves two hundred dollars and spends eight hundred dollars on stuff and services. That eight hundred dollars of expenditure, keeps business of all kinds profitable and in operation. On the other hand, the money that he has saved is put in a bank which then lends it out to other businesses which need it. There is both consumer demand and capital availability.

Now if our friend decides to save three hundred dollars a week, the amount left over to spend is seven hundred, a reduction of one hundred dollars. There is less consumer demand to go around and business is poor. Likewise if our friend saves only one hundred dollars, then there is more consumer demand and hence business prospers. Therefore the way to stimulate businesses is to increase consumption. However for a given income, more spending will mean less saving.

Should savings become scarce, in a natural market, the demand for savings would push up the rates of interest which would encourage more saving and decrease consumption. In a normal situation this would happen continuously so that the market would quietly hum along. Now Keynes's paradox always assumed that there would be savings to trade for consumption.

Keynes assumed wrongly. From the above chart, the U.S is spent. There are no more savings to trade for consumption. It also means that the U.S has no savings for investment. This is the paradox of extravagance. If an economy spends at its limit, then there are no savings for investment, and eventually the economy starts to contract due to capital starvation. Stimulating an economy to its maximum, eventually leads to a an economic contraction. And this contraction is going to start occurring during a period of economic boom, just as what is happening now.

Of course, one can argue that there is capital from overseas, which one can use to stimulate the economy. The logic being, that we should borrow more to get ourselves out of debt. If you can't see the flaws in the argument, then you should be the Treasury Secretary. The problem with Anglo influenced economies is that they continue to consume more than they produce, stimulating them will perpetuate the same and drive them further into debt. Over consumption is probably worse state of affairs than under consumption, since there are at least savings to invest in the latter situation.

Furthermore, this state of affairs puts a country's economy at the mercy of the providers of capital. If the Chinese and Arabs were to switch off the spigots; it's all over. If I were a Taiwanese I would be extremely nervous; the U.S. is not exactly going to bite the hand that feeds it. On the other hand, should the U.S default on its debt either explicitly or through inflation, the spigots will be closed for non-political reasons as well and U.S interest rates will go through the roof at a time of high indebtedness.

Oh just as I was about to post this, I noticed that Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times, was thinking along similar lines. His article is worth a read.

The economy needs to be restored to a point where there is approximately a 5-10% personal savings rate. This is what constitutes a healthy economy and economic policy should be geared to that goal. However given the fact that most Anglo economies have the same personal savings chart as above, trying to increase the amount of consumer savings is going to result in a contraction of consumer demand. Business is going to shrink, in the Anglo countries by a lot.
There is a lot of pain coming.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sculptor of flesh, healer of souls.

It's been a rather unsettling week, meditating on ugliness and disfigurement. I would like to end it on some thoughts with regard to plastic surgery. I must admit to having a strong approval of the show Extreme Makeover. The change in a persons life after corrective plastic surgery is truly transformative. It would appear that healing the imperfections of the flesh, eases the sorrows of the soul.

Modern Plastic surgery has it's origin in the carnage of the First World War. Horrific head wounds left individuals grotesquely disfigured. The survivors were shunned and separated from society. In England, park benches were painted blue in order to warn people that the facially mangled might be sitting there, in France they had their own special train carriages. Struck down in the prime of their youth, one can only imagine the terrible and isolated lives these individuals must have had. Suicide, drunkenness, endless depression and despair. Repulsive to women and yet still a man. Wilfred Owen captured the torment in his poem, Disabled.
He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
-- In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?

In an effort to heal the ravages of war a young New Zealand surgeon, Harold Gilles begins to operate on the terribly wounded soldiers and modern plastic surgery is born. There was recently an exhibition of his work, called the Faces of battle, it details his WW1 work and the men on whom he operated on. Warning it is quite graphic. It can be found here and here. Gille's aim was to restore these individuals to some form or normality so that they could return to society. He had some spectacular successes and for some there was no help. Looking at their faces, one wonders what sort of life they must have had. Although Gilles later pioneered aesthetic surgery techniques, he always felt that this was a distraction , his job was to restore the disfigured to normalcy.

It seems somewhat perverse, that modern cosmetic surgery, so often subordinated to the desires of the vain and superficial, had its origins in the noble ideal of restoring people to physical normality.

Harold Gilles, a Dead White Man. Healer of Mankind.

The truly disfigured.

Here's a link to a rather revolting You Tube video. For our more delicate readers, caution, it contains I suppose you could say sexual references.

As a follow up to the previous post on disfigurement, I thought I would comment on this video. The ugly are sorrowed by their ugliness, but not the character in our video. He seems to revel in his deformity. A bit like a greedy man singing the praises of his greed or a cruel man boasting about his cruelty. It's a disfigurement of his character, very hard to remedy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Elephant Men

Its not very often that I read something that sends me into a bit of a rage. But anyway, this week I did. I will not link to the piece, since I feel that I will in someway, perpetuate the notoriety of the author and possibly contribute to the misery of his victims.

In a nutshell, the article viciously mocks the love of two unattractive people for each other. Furthermore, the author viciously mocks the unattractive for being so. It would have to be one of the most cruel and vicious pieces of writing I have ever read.

Normal human beings have a need to be loved. Even the vilest and most disfigured individual still seeks love. What gives The Elephant Man it's tragic pathos, is that locked underneath that hideous deformity, is an individual who feels and desires to be loved. As Joseph Merrick's friend, Sir Fredrick Treaves said:

...... Merrick always wanted, even after living at the hospital, to go to a hospital for the blind where he might find a woman who would not be repelled by his appearance.

Indeed, the characters in the movie, and in real life, who befriend and and saw the individual beneath the hideous visage, are ennobled by their actions. Likewise, those who exploit the individual for their advantage are seen as the corrupt demons that they are, tormenting the unfortunate for profit and compounding their misery.

But our author does "better".

Not only does he mock their unattractiveness, he mocks the love that they have for each other. He besmirches the little bit of joy they have in each other. He takes from the poor what little they have.

This author is not a sentimentalist. Beauty is to be preferred to ugliness, but to despise the unattractive for being so, is vile, especially if genetic misfortune is their lot. Nature is cruel. Good men are not. Loneliness is a curse, the unloved suffer, and though we may not be moved to erotically love the unattractive, we should not add to their pain or take what joy they have. Their little joys are worth far more to them than to the undeserving fortunate, who by the Grace of God, do not suffer as they do. As one commentator said, we're all a step away from a disfiguring illness.

The final word should go to Joseph Merrick.

"Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God.
Could I create myself anew,
I would not fail in pleasing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole,
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul,
The mind's the standard of the man."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Form without function.

Farnsworth house is truly beautiful architecture. Designed by Mies van der Rohe for a prominent urologist, Dr. Edith Farnsworth. The house is a triumph of aesthetic design. Architecture books sing the house's praises and the architect's vision. And who can argue? It's complimentary relationship with the environment, the way the structure is approached, how it sits above the ground, its clean lines all validate the greatness of its design. So I suppose it should not be to impolite to ask, what was it like to live in this triumph of modernism?

Crap actually.

According to Dr Farnsworth:
The truth is that in this house with its four walls of glass I feel like a prowling animal, always on the alert. I am always restless. Even in the evening. I feel like a sentinel on guard day and night. I can rarely stretch out and relax…What else? I don’t keep garbage under my sink. Do you know why? Because you can see the whole “kitchen” from the road on the way in here and the can would spoil the appearance of the whole house. So I hide it in the closet further down from the sink. Mies talks about “free space”: but his space is very fixed. I can’t even put a clothes hanger in my house without considering how it affects everything from outside. Any arrangement of furniture becomes a major problem, because the house is transparent, like an X-ray

A night, lit up like a lantern and situated as it was in a forest, the house was a beacon to insects from miles around. Fly screens were not designed for the house, as it would have spoiled the purity of the design, so you couldn't open a window. In winter it was freezing, in summer a furnace. The personally selected marble on the entry steps needed to be scrubbed regularly since the falling leaves tended to stain it. It was unlivable.

A house's primary reason for being is to provide us with shelter and comfort. If a house is unable to do this it has failed in its function. As a machine for living in, it is broken. Yet architects continue to praise this house lavishly. A beautiful house that cannot be lived in; a triumph of form over function. The triumph of Modernism, the failure of modern Architecture.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Form follows function.

No it doesn't.

Engineering is one of those fields where economy and efficiency of materials are highly prized. It, perhaps more than architecture, lives to the credo of "form follows function". Buildings and other engineering works, must satisfy the need that that willed their creation. A bridge that doesn't carry the load is useless.

However this philosophy places form subservient to function which I feel is not its proper place. By this same philosophy, if form does not contribute to function, it is deemed useless and wasteful. The architects agreed, ornament is a crime declared Adolf Loos. In a world of scarce resources, putting more into a structure than what is needed is a waste, and perhaps morally wrong. Accountants and economists would heartily agree. Efficiency uber alles.

Now lets take a look at this from a real world view. From an engineering point of view, both these women are the same. Both are capable of reproducing, performing useful work and both are capable of holding a conversation. The fact that the fatter one will probably die earlier than the thinner one--it's not a given-- is irrelevant if the "design life" is calculated at 60 years. From a functional point of view, both these women are the same. Their form is irrelevant.

And yet they're not. Clearly, though both satisfy the engineering criteria, one is preferable to the other. Likewise consider two bridges.

Both fulfill the same function of carrying traffic over a road, yet clearly they have different form. Most normal people would see one the more desirable than the other. Function alone is clearly not enough.

In an age where life expectancy was so much less than today due to poverty, disease and famine, our forefathers still felt it was worthy to ornament a structure in such a way as to make it both beautiful and functional. Our society baulks at the the cost, we are indeed mean and miserable men

Form should complement function. To hell with the modernists.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Deals structured by cows.

Imagine a wealthy landowner (A) who has a herd of 1000 cows. Suppose this landowner was old and pre-occupied and found it difficult to look after his herd. A fellow landowner (B) hearing of his plight offers to borrow and look after his cows and give A 5% of their milk production.

A considers B’s proposition, he is old and tired and can’t look after the cows, by lending the cows out to B he still owns the cows and gets 5% of their milk production without any effort, upon consideration and agrees, except that he wants to be able to slaughter the occasional cow as needs arise and wants B to be able to give it to him on demand, B considers this and they agree.
B is an enterprising fellow. He has no real intention in looking after the cows at all. He is interest in making a buck. The word on the street is that milk is quite profitable and that people are prepared to borrow cows for 9%. Earn 9%, pay 5%, live off the spread. The 4% of the milk is his to sell at the market, its easy money. Now he knows that C is keen on looking after cattle at market rates B however realizes that A may want some of his cattle back on demand, so B lets C borrow 80% of the cattle, keeping 20% in reserve in case A comes a calling. It’s his fractional reserve.
C accepts 9% terms. C however never intended to milk the cattle, rather he wanted to trade them for some farm equipment which he wanted to grow crops with. He thought, if I grow crops I can sell them at market, buy some milk to pay back B and still make a profit. So C swaps his cows for farm equipment which D makes.
D doesn’t know what to do with cows. But he knows that B is paying 5% milk production for the use of cows. He can live off that quite comfortably and still slaughter a few cattle as required. He gives his cows to B by agreement and on the same terms as B is offering to A. B is an enterprising fellow, he realizes lending at 9% and paying at 5% is the path prosperity so he must keep pushing this good thing. B runs around looking for other people interested in borrowing cattle. At the market B finds E, who is willing to accept the same terms at C and so on. After 5 iterations of this scenario, B’s balance sheet looks like this:

Person Liabilities Assets Reserves
A 1000 cows @5% 800 cows @9% 200 Cows
C 800 cows @5% 640 cows @9% 160 Cows
D 640 cows @5% 512 cows @9% 128 Cows
E 512 cows @5% 410 cows @9% 102 Cows
F 410 cows @5% 328 cows @9% 82 Cows

Total: 3362 cows@5% 2690 cows @9% 672 Cows

Questions for budding economists:

1) Does decreasing the amount of amount of cows left in reserve, increase cow supply?
2) What is the cow multiplier when a reserve ratio of 8% is stipulated?
3) Does varying the rates of return, alter the supply of cows?
4) Does fractional reserve cattle banking, increase the number of cows?
5) Are borrowed cows destroyed when loans are paid back?
6) Are cows created by fiat when loans are made?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The cause and prospective duration of the current economic crisis.

Net household savings.

It wont get any better till savings rates are between 5-10%. Australia and the U.S. will need all the help they can get, but God help New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Postmodern accounting.

H.L Mencken was right, democracy is the greatest show on earth. Yours truly has been following the financial meltdown and political process as a spectacle to behold. This is better than the West Wing.

However the most depressing thing that strikes me about this spectacle, is the intellectual shallowness of most of the leading participants. From the President down to Joe Average, the level of economic idiocy is truly astounding. What is so distressing is that the aforesaid morons, through our political process, determine the economic course of state. Is it any wonder that we are having a meltdown.

I suppose its no suprise, that one of the most 'stupid' solutions to the current crisis should come from the very orginisations that distinguished themselves so well in the regulation of the idiot bankers. Apparently the FASB has now decided that the troubled assets don't have to be marked to market. The wise public servants have determined that we are having a firesale--it's been going on for eighteen months--and the prices that the market is paying for the "troubled securities" are under what they are truly worth. According to wise at the FASB, the current accounting rules significantly understate the value of these assets and hence adversely affect the capital position of the banks. As I understand it, the FASB has implicitly said that the assets should be marked at a value that they would represent in an "orderly market".

What the hell is an orderly market?

I presume it means a market that gives me the price that I want for my asset.

Now Suppose I have a Milli Vanilli Cd which I would like to sell, and that currently, the CD is selling on the open market for 5 cents. I actually think in a few weeks people will be looking back nostalgically at the Eighties and that there will be a demand for Milli Vanilli songs, therefore true value of the CD will be about 30 dollars.

How do I price the value of my asset? What is fair market value? Clearly what the FASB allows is for the holder of an asset to determine the market value of the asset independent of what it has been trading for on the open market. This is just plain dumb and they type of stuff that frightens off intelligent capital. More opacity at a time when no one trusts each other in the banking system.

How the hell do you read a balance sheet when the value of assets is determine by what management thinks is a fair value, as opposed to what the asset is trading for in the open market? Do think there is likely to be a conflict of interest?

I suppose with march of postmodernism through the humanities, it was only a matter of time till it crossed over into the weakest of the "sciences"; economics and its handmaiden, accounting. If various and conflicting readings of the "text" are equally valid, and truth is a construct devoid of any metaphysical basis, it should be no suprise that when reading a balance sheet the numbers put down can mean anything we want them to mean.

It certainly makes investing in this kind of market a very interesting proposition.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How to get a holiday in American Samoa.

Recently I've been reading about the Katyn Forest massacre. For those of you who aren't up to date with your World War Two history, the massacre was perpetrated by the Soviets(Allies) against the Poles(Allies) during the early stages of World War 2. Lots of people seemingly forget that the both the Nazis and the Soviets started the second world war by invading Poland. Russia is still a bit embarrassed about the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. The Polish didn't have a chance.

After taking charge of the eastern half of Poland, those champions of the new world, the Soviets, murdered about 25,000 Polish military officers and intellectuals burying most of them in the Katyn Forrest. It was all hushed up and forgotten. However when the two branchs of socialism (National and Soviet) had their falling out, the graves were discovered by the advancing Nazis. This proved a godsend for Goebbels who used the communist atrocity for Nazi Propaganda advantage. The Nazi's even organised an international commission to verify that the Russians had killed the Poles. The international commission pretty much confirmed that the Russians had done it.

Things changed however when the fortunes of war changed, When they recaptured the area from the Germans they had their own commission set up, however in the interests of "objectivity" only Russians were allowed to be part of the investigative orginisation: can't trust those foreigners. Their commission determined conclusively that the Nazi's did it. The useful idiots on the Left believed them, no one else did.

The political winds by this stage had changed, the Soviet Union previously and enemy, was now an ally and as everyone knows, only Germans did bad things during the Second World War. However the American people were concerned about their Soviet Allies and felt a bit uncomfortable about having a friend who so recently supped with the Nazi's, so FDR sent a certain Naval Commander Earle to investigate the matter. Now Earle it appears, was not your usual fellow. Apparently he personally insulted Hitler by saying:

I have nothing against the Germans, I just don’t like you.”

Earle had been the Ambassador for Bulgaria, and using his contacts, he was able to determine that the Soviets had committed the crime. Now FDR did not like the conclusion he thought that the Soviets were nice. It appears that a lot of negative publicity with regard to the Soviets was hushed up by the Roosevelt Administration; if your an ally of FDR, you can do no wrong. Earle was reassigned to American Samoa for the duration of the war.

The Russians fessed up in 1990.

May the victims rest in peace.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Human Shields.

I think that many of the moral problems that confound the average person have at their core a confusion between innocence and in culpability. Inculpability is not innocence; one can do wrong and not be deserving of punishment for it.

For there to be culpability there must be an evil act of the will(intent) or evil act; that is, a person's deserts are dependent on their acts An evil act in the absence of an evil will may render that person inculpable of desert evens though not innocent of the act. When we say a person "meant well", it usually means that they did something wrong but that their intent was good. In many cases it is as defence for actions which in themselves were deserving of punishment.

Consider a human shield. How do we evaluate the actions of a such a person even though they may be involuntary? Clearly a human shield is shielding a combatant, the human shield is performing a function even though it may not have been deliberately chosen. In the case of a terrorist advancing behind a human shield, the shield is "protecting" the terrorist and hence is complicit in evil albeit involuntarily. The shield is not innocent, it is inculpable. Armchair moralists please take note.

Now suppose a person is being coerced into an action which is morally wrong, what is the right course of action to take, given that failing to take that action will cost them their life? Traditional moralists have argued that we must not do wrong even at the expense of our careers or our life, we must love the good more than we love life. The proper action of a person finding himself as a human shield is to oppose being one, even if it costs them their life. Now I'm not saying that this is what I would have the courage to do, rather it is what should be done.

From the point of view of the person defending themselves from an attacker hiding behind a human shield, it would appear to be morally permissible to defend oneself from the attacker even though it may injure the human shield. In fact it would appear to be justified to directly attack the human shield in order to get to the attacker. The shield is an involuntary accomplice.
The problem of course is that in attacking the shield, we may be inflicting grievous injury on one that is undeserving and that in itself is an evil.

In choosing the correct course of action we must return back to the principles of double effect. Namely :
1) That our action(defence) is just.
2) That on balance the action will result in more good than evil.

Number (2) of course is the fly in the ointment as it is a prudential judgement and hence open to a wide variety of opinion. Sometimes there are no clear answers and we have to make the best of a bad choice in the fog of war.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The innocence of evil.

Several months ago there was a case over here which raised profoundly disturbing questions.

A local convenience store attendant was attacked by a knife wielding schizophrenic. The attacker was in a psychotic state and proceeded to grab the man in a headlock, soon a hostage type of situation ensued. Local bystanders called the police who arrived quickly. Upon their arrival the attacker became more agitated and started to stab the attendant in the neck, the police yelled at him to stop, which he did not do. At risk to themselves from the knife and under pressure to act immediately, the police shot the schizophrenic man who died at the scene. The attendant survived.

How does one morally evaluate the actions of the policemen and the schizophrenic man?

The schizophrenic man was clearly causing evil, He was actuating it. If innocence or guilt refers to responsibility of causation, then the man was guilty. But clearly the man's mind was diseased, so doesn't it offend reason to say that this poor fellow was as guilty of evil in the same sense that a murderer is? Many people would say that the schizophrenic man was an innocent victim. I would disagree.

Traditional morality would have separated guilt from desert. That is, it recognised that a person may not have been totally free to choose the action taken. Traditional moralists would have argued that while the person was guilty of evil he was inculpable. While he did cause harm, he did not know what he was doing, and therefore this person did not deserve to be shot. Causing death to an undeserving man is evil.

The police on the the other hand had an obligation to protect the life of the service station attendant and their own with the practical means available. They were trying to stop the schizophrenic man from stabbing the attendant, their intent was good. Furthermore one is morally justified in using deadly force if the circumstances permit. This was such a circumstance so the actions the police took were morally justifiable. The police performed a good moral action which had a double effect. It saved the life of an innocent service station attendant while it caused the death of an inculpable schizophrenic.

The bottom line is that situations can arise in which we are forced to do good, but that good may result in evil effects to undeserving people. More on this in the next post.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The wrong stuff.

I like to visit Alias Clio's blog from time to time. Recently she has been running a series of "Nice Guy" posts. There well worth a visit and worthy of some contemplation. As I understand it, she was writing about the "nice guy" from the feminine perspective.

I thought I would like to write my own nice guy story.

Several months ago a young man in his 20's--engaged in a creative profession--presented himself to my rooms with his mother.
He was having difficulty sleeping and had lost his appetite and weight His mother stated that he was moody and irritable, and would lock himself up in his room for hours at a time. She was concerned about his behaviour and was concerned that he may have been taking drugs. She was aware that he has was having problems with his long term girlfriend and that their relationship had recently been shaky. I asked him what the matter was:

"My girlfriend wants to break up"

He started sobbing. "It all began after she went to Europe. When she came back she had changed. She started wanting to go out more by herself. She wouldn't call as often and has been cold. I can't live without her(Gasping sobs), I bought her presents, roses and have done everything she wants me to do. I've even written poetry for her. If she leaves I don't know what I'll do". I asked him if he thought about suicide. He nodded his head and sobbed loudly. His mother looked at me grimly.

"How do I get her back? I'll do anything. I've tried talking to her mother to convince her to stay. Her mother is upset at her because she feels we are a good couple. "

Tears were rolling down his cheeks in a small torrent. I empathised with his situation. I too knew of spurned love and how deeply it hurt. But staring at him I felt nothing but contempt. Here was a man who was in his early 20's and had to be bought in by his mother because he was not coping, he was crying in a whining sort of way because his girl was leaving him, here was a man who was prepared to sacrifice his dignity for the affections of a woman who lost affection for him. In short, crying before me was a mummy's boy who had lost out in love. My response was calculated and said in low growling voice;

"Grow some Balls"

My words struck him as if slapped on his cheek, his mother nodded approvingly. I continued;

"You've have lost her already, she's staying with you because she feels guilty about dumping you but wants to break up the relationship without feeling bad about herself. She's not comfortable about hurting you, but she has lost all respect for you. She has probably got the hots for another man. If she calls you up, you respond in a measured tone. No anger, but let her know that she has let you down, do not whine. Find yourself another woman. If you get the chance, flirt with other women in front of her. Act like a man." His mother continued nodding approvingly.

I counseled him for a while and suggested that the best strategy to deal with his sorrows would be to find a new object for his affections. At the end of the consultation his mood improved considerably. As he was leaving my room he pulled a reflective expression and said:

" You know Doc, You're right. Just before she went to Europe she kept complaining that I was too nice to her and that she wanted me to be a bit rougher with her, I didn't know what she meant then but I guess I now understand."

I have seen him again. He has another girlfriend. He is happier and is now going to the gym.

Breaking up is hard to do.

A former Greenpeace founder gives his opinion on some of his former mates and thir policy ideas. I especially like the comment about policy being made by people who have no idea about what they are talking about. Makes for good reading.


(Hat tip. Climate Debate Daily)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to come second in line for the Nobel Peace Prize

See this little old lady. I bet you don't know who she is.

Her name is Irena Sendlerowa. She has just recently passed away, but back in the Second World War she helped rescue over 2500 Jewish Children from the Warsaw Ghetto. To put this into perspective Oscar Schindler managed to save about 1200 people all up. She was captured by the Gestapo,had her legs broken in an effort to betray her cause but she stood firm. She even managed to escape the death sentence. After the war she returned to an ordinary life. You can read more about her here and here. She was nominated by the Polish Government for the Nobel Peace prize. The Nobel Committee awarded it to an environmental windbag, Al Gore.

The Nobel Committee is without honour.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Blessed are the Engineers.

Not many people know who this man is.

His name is David Salonimer, an engineer who worked at the U.S army's Redstone proving ground. He is the father of the modern laser guided bomb. You have probably never heard of him.

His idea, with the collaboration of others has probably done more to reduce human suffering in warfare than any of the peace treaties or political gestures at disarmament since the Second World War. By improving the accuracy of weapons by several orders of magnitude he has spared countless people from becoming collateral damage. He has also probably spared many soldiers and airmen from death and massively increased the military power of his country. In this age of military barbarism he has probably done the most to lessen the miseries of war.

Part of the reason that that area bombing was implemented was because the accuracy of bombing was so low that an inordinate number of large high explosive bombs had to be dropped on a target in order to achieve a probable hit. Given that pinpoint precision is now a real ability of armed forces, military forces have now begun to use the weapon of David, albeit in a smart form. The smart rock.

This guy is an all out legend, yet no one knows of him. As far as I understand it he has won a few engineering awards but that is it. Al Gore gets to win the Nobel peace prize for being an environmental windbag while the man who actually save lives gets passed over. I personally feel he comes second to Henry Dunant in reducing the suffering in war. The world honours its sinners and passes over its saints.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Imprecise precision.

I wish to apologise to all. I have been away rather longer than I expected and I feel I have let duty slip. I will try to post more in the next few weeks.

Carrying on with the theme of double effect, here are a few facts worth pondering. A the end of the Second World War the U.S. conducted a review of the effectiveness of its bombing campaign. The report can be found

During most of the Second World War the U.S pursued a policy of daylight bombing of specific targets of military value. Unlike the British who early on instigated area bombing due to their inability to hit a specific target at all. One of the interesting facts that it presents is that overall only 20% of bombs when aimed at a clear and specific target fell within a 1000 ft radius of the target. Where did the other 80% go?

In fact the average CEP of bombers in the WW2 was approximately 3000 ft.

Now, how do we morally evaluate the actions of the bombardier, who while aiming at a specific target, exposes approximately 5 square miles around the target to the possibility of being bombed? Clearly an attempt at discrimination is being made even if the effects are indiscriminate.