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Keyser Söze, meet Keyser Söze

You've probably already read about it, but Kevin Spacey met with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  From what I can gather, he didn't sink to the level of other Hollywood stars who've met with and praised Castro's policies.  He just thinks it's dandy to have the government make movies.  One article did say that Spacey "questioned Chavez about his proposal to rewrite the constitution" though no specifics were given.


Wall Street Prediction

I first noticed it when the Hang Seng dipped like the American indices, but bounced back amazingly well.  It's up almost 40% as an index since mid-August!  Similarly, Chinese stocks traded in American markets are performing extremely well.  They're acting like late 90s internet stocks, though the only one most people have ever heard of on the Street at the moment is Baidu.

Prediction:  The hype in the markets this winter will be China stocks.


What are you guys watching?

I haven't been keeping up this year.  What shows are you all looking forward to this fall?


Outsourcing squared

Infosys, the juggernaut of the Indian information technology industry, is outsourcing its own work to other countries.

Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies’ campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company’s American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

The company argues it can clone its Indian back offices in other nations and groom Chinese, Mexican or Czech employees to be more productive than local outsourcing companies could make them.

“We have pioneered this movement of work,” Mr. Gopalakrishnan said. “These new countries don’t have experience and maturity in doing that, and that’s what we’re taking to these countries.”

More than a dozen languages are spoken at the Infosys office, which is in Brno, Czech Republic.

Such is the truly global company.


Wisconsin Buttercup

At the end of tonight's Wisconsin - Iowa game, as ABC came back from commercial, I saw the Wisconsin student section singing "Buttercup" in unison without music. Needless to say, I was impressed. Usually you can't get a big crowd to say anything in unison, let alone singing. Unfortunately, Brent Musberger couldn't keep his mouth shut during the singing and ruined the moment. But I did find a clip on youtube.


Lunchtime links

Against female genital mutilation in Egypt

The men in this poor farming community were seething. A 13-year-old girl was brought to a doctor’s office to have her clitoris removed, a surgery considered necessary here to preserve chastity and honor.

The girl died, but that was not the source of the outrage. After her death, the government shut down the clinic, and that got everyone stirred up.

"They will not stop us," shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. "We support circumcision!" he shouted over and over.

...

As recently as 2005, a government health survey showed that 96 percent of the thousands of married, divorced or widowed women interviewed said they had undergone the procedure — a figure that astounds even many Egyptians. In the language of the survey, "The practice of female circumcision is virtually universal among women of reproductive age in Egypt."

A waste of a perfectly good $128 million if you ask me

Don't tase me, bro! stats

Great post by Coyote on the downside to a la carte cable pricing.  


Spin Rage


Spinners beware
:

A Wall Street stock broker has been charged with assault after he became enraged during a cycling class at a posh health club and slammed a fellow member and his bike against a wall, according to a complaint.

Christopher Carter, 44, a broker at Maxim Investments Group, was at Equinox gym taking a spin class, a high-impact workout using stationary bikes. He apparently became so fed up by member Stuart Sugarman's hooting and grunting during the workout that he picked up Sugarman and his bike and hurled them into a wall.
"This is spin rage," said Samuel L. Davis, Sugarman's attorney.

...

"Carter yelled over to him to shut up," Davis said. "My client yells back: 'This is spin class. If you don't like it, leave. Stop being such a baby,'" he said.

With that, Carter walked over to the bike, lifted it into the air and flipped it over, Davis said.


Fantasy Football

A funny thing has happened to NFL fandom over the last decade. You can no longer be a fan without a fantasy team. Or two. The internet has made it easy for anyone and everyone to play. Fantasy football dominates the "water cooler" conversation at my place of employment during the fall and winter. Fans get to "participate" in the games by proxy. It's a great marketing tool for the NFL too. Fans no longer are satisfied with how their favorite team did. Now they have to keep up with all the little games and the second string players.

This year the success of my fantasy team** will be determined by the success of the Colts. I happened to receive Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in the draft. Since they're on the same team, and because one often passes to the other for touchdowns, if they do well, I'm almost guaranteed a win. If they don't, I'm almost guaranteed a loss. Here's to a repeat.

** Ron Mexico's Dogpound


The Killer's Sanity


The following stirring passage appears in Michael P. Ghiglieri's The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Male Violence in the chapter titled "War".

-------------------------------------

All this gives us a final huge--and vital--lesson in war. The Vietnam War was an inadvertent "experiment" revealing the natural limits of the male psyche to "agree" to kill in a warlike situation. In short, as strange as it may sound, this war was not a "war" for most American combat troops. GIs were shipped to Southeast Asia to shoot the bad guys--as defined by some rather hazy principles--in order to help the good guys--who turned out to be one, then another political regime too corrupt even to help themselves. Few, if any Americans actually believed that anything of personal importance was at stake in Vietnam. Yet U.S. troops were ordered to kill NVA and Vietcong--or, again, go to jail. Under these conditions, U.S. troops did kill, but in so doing they exceeded their natural limits of acceptable violence in the context of what Vietnam meant to them, which was close to nothing. From the perspective of most American combatants, the war was unnecessary.

"We're the unwilling led by the unqualified doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful." This was the lament, a sad one indeed, of most U.S. troops in the field in Vietnam. But even this vastly understates the effects on the "guinea pigs" used in President Johnson's "experiment" in meaningless "war."

"Our rule of thumb;" writes Matthew Brennan, veteran of thirty-nine months of combat with the First Air Cavalry's "Headhunters," "was that the typical new recruit had about six months before he was killed, wounded, or pushed to the edge of insanity." It was this "unnecessary" killing that drove many U.S. combat troops crazy. Yet the psychological damage these men sustained was not due just to having followed insane orders to kill nearly a million NVA, Vietcong, and civilians, or even from seeing their own brothers in arms die horribly. Instead, it was because the killings and deaths and maimings on both sides were for nothing--"nothing" because no strategy or plan even existed in the Pentagon to win the war (and U.S, troops knew it), and "nothing" because there was nothing important at stake in Vietnam to any average U.S. combat soldier, except his own survival, which he could have more easily ensured simply by staying at home. In short, the lethal violence of U.S. troops made no sense at all in that delicate natural computer, the human male psyche.

One major lesson here is this: although young men can be convinced initially via propaganda and coercion to kill opponents (especially from other racial groups), unless these men believe their opponents to be true enemies, they will ultimately disobey orders, mutiny, or go crazy. The Vietnam War revealed this in spades. It revealed the instinctive limit in the human male psyche for killing: all killing must be fully 'justified" in the mind of the killer, or the killer's sanity slips away.

The structure of governments today fosters self-growth. Bigger government demands higher taxes--either in money or conscription. To justify higher taxation, some political leaders abuse their vested powers by "inventing" big enemies (drugs, poverty, guns, communists) from which we little citizens on our own cannot protect ourselves. If we fail to pay, politicians warn, we are doomed. This is political extortion. It leads to massive abuse of power.

Johnson's political war was a massive misuse of men's lives and spirits, one that scorched the patriotism of the entire baby boom generation to cold ash and replaced it with a supreme cynicism of U.S. leadership. Lieutenant Colonel Charles F. Parker explains:

A great nation, one that is conceived in liberty with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, does not have the right to abuse the trust, courage, endurance, and sacrifice of its soldiers--who are its own sons and daughters--this way.

It is true that soldiers don't really fight for King and Country. They fight, first of all, to survive, and second of all, not to let their comrades down. Sometimes those priorities are reversed. But somewhere in the back of the American soldier's mind is a childlike faith that somehow this horror is worth it to the nation. To betray that faith, like the Johnson administration did in Vietnam, is contemptible. And that betrayal has probably killed that child-like faith of the nation's soldiers forever.

. . .

Bill now drinks cold Cokes-in therapy meetings with fellow Vietnam combat vets suffering from post--traumatic stress disorder. These meetings, he tells me, are sometimes worse than that damned war.

------------------------------------------------------------------

(italics his)

What I found especially compelling is the psychological claim conveyed in the italicized clauses above: that unjustified killing leads to a loss of sanity in the killer. Appearing at the end of a chapter on a gruesome topic, it gives an uplifting message, implying that man is ultimately a cooperative creature. It's all the more hopeful in this era of ubiquitous media. The humanizing effect of pictures, videos, and podcasts may be the best deterrants of war.


Income Inequality

HT: Scott


Besides Institutions

I've been meaning to link this interview with Greg Clark, author of A Farewell to Alms, at GNXP:


What do you think are the weakest links in the now-conventional "Institutions Matter" chain of reasoning?


Clark
: The book challenges the modern orthodoxy of economics - that people are essentially the same everywhere, and with the right set of institutions, growth is inevitable - in three ways. First by showing that there were societies like medieval England where the institutional structure provided every incentive for growth, yet there was no growth. Second by pointing out that by objective measures the institutions of many highly successful modern economies, such as in Scandinavia, provide much poorer incentives to individuals than those of very poor economies. And lastly by showing that in the long run economic institutions that would prevent growth tend to get replaced endogenously by ones that are pro-growth.


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The Kerala Model

From the NY Times:

With leftist governments here in the state capital spending heavily on health and schools, a generation of scholars has celebrated the "Kerala model" as a humane alternative to market-driven development, a vision of social equality in an unequal capitalist world. But the Kerala model is under attack, one outbound worker at a time.

Plagued by chronic unemployment, more Keralites than ever work abroad, often at sun-scorched jobs in the Persian Gulf that pay about $1 an hour and keep them from their families for years. The cash flowing home now helps support nearly one Kerala resident in three. That has some local scholars rewriting the Kerala story: far from escaping capitalism, they say, this celebrated corner of the developing world is painfully dependent on it.

"Remittances from global capitalism are carrying the whole Kerala economy," said S. Irudaya Rajan, a demographer at the Center for Development Studies, a local research group. "There would have been starvation deaths in Kerala if there had been no migration. The Kerala model is good to read about but not practically applicable to any part of the world, including Kerala."


Huge Breakthrough

CNN Headline: "Men want hot women, study confirms"


Oil, Gas, and Gold

From an article about Singapore's Benign Dictator Emeritus Lee Kuan Yew in the NY Times:

Paradoxically, he said, if Singapore had not been so poor it might never have transformed itself and prospered as it has. His warnings about vulnerability and collapse are a constant theme to persuade his people to accept limits on their freedoms.

"Supposing we had oil and gas, do you think I could get the people to do this?" Mr. Lee said. "No. If I had oil and gas, I’d have a different people, with different motivations and expectations.

"It’s because we don’t have oil and gas and they know that we don’t have, and they know that this progress comes from their efforts," he said. "So please do it and do it well."

It reminded me of one of my favorite bits from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon in which Randy, Avi, and the Gotos are eating dinner in a fancy restaurant atop a Tokyo skyscraper.

Randy and Avi look into their cups. A weirdly glittering layer of scum is floating atop their coffee.

"It is gold," Furudenendu explains. Both of the Gotos laugh. "During the eighties, when Nippon had so much money, this was the fashion. Too ostentacious. But you go ahead and drink."

Randy and Avi do - a bit nervously. The gold dust coats their tongues, then washes down their throats.

"Tell me what you think," Goto Dengo demands.

"It's stupid," Randy says.

"Yes." Goto Dengo nods solemnly. "It is stupid. So tell me, then: why do you want to dig up more of it?"

"We're businessmen," Avi says. "We make money. Gold is worth money."

"Gold is the corpse of value," says Goto Dengo.

"I don't understand."

"If you want to understand, look out the window!" says the patriarch and sweeps his cane around in an arc that encompasses half of Tokyo. "Fifty years ago, it was flames. Now it is lights! Do you understand? The leaders of Nippon were stupid. They took all of the gold out of Tokyo and buried it in holes in the ground in the Philippines! Because they thought that The General would march into Tokyo and steal it. But The General didn't care about the gold. He understood that the real gold is here - " he points to his head " - in the intelligence of the people, and here - " he holds out his hands " - in the work that they do. Getting rid of our gold was the best thing that ever happened to Nippon. It made us rich. Receiving that gold was the worst thing that happened to the Philippines. It made them poor."