Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Crony Capitalism and Nirvana

There’s several scenarios out there on how a Fall-of-Rome redux collapse of modern Civilisation would pan out. Mad Max, Blade Runner, you name it. All quite surreal. Still reality still surpasses fiction.

The Rothschild’s own paper, the Cathedral’s weekly has an awesome post on infrastructure in Mumbai. The writing is surprisingly good, if only because the subject matter pretty much writes itself.

Just some quotes:

Rush-hour trains get so crushed that a phone or pair of glasses carried in a breast pocket will smash under the pressure of bodies. Every year perhaps 500 people perish after falling off trains in the city and 6,000 die on the tracks.

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A ragged family are smashing reinforced concrete rubble. They say they get about a dollar for every two kilos of steel inside—roughly the cost of a one-way Sea Link ticket. Nearby, dogs and feral pigs sniff around abandoned machinery as Girish, aged 52, hits the bottle with his colleagues. The pals work nights in a call centre selling Americans an erectile-dysfunction drug. “You get a quick recharge,” is the sales pitch; the most common response, they all agree, is “Fuck you”.

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The bridge was commissioned in 1999 but took ten years to finish, instead of the planned two and a half. Ajit Gulabchand, the boss of HCC, the construction firm that won the contract to build it, says the project was “a Kafkaesque struggle”. He describes himself as a “south Bombay boy” and drives a Bentley through the city to his office in the north-east (he does not use the Sea Link because there are no good connections between the west and the east).

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other hurdles were peculiarly Indian. In a 107-year-old house in the fishing village the bridge passes over at its southern end sits Vijay Worlikar, one of the “nine Patils”, or clan chiefs, who in effect run the area. He is a Koli, an aboriginal people who have been there for centuries; he has childhood memories of Iranian boats sailing to the village to trade pistachios for dried fish. “This land is our land,” he says.

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To grow fast India needs lots more infrastructure. But lately spending has been falling. The central bank thinks that the value of envisioned projects dropped by 52% in 2011-12.

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the toll-booth system has become a slapstick affair, with a maze of concrete chicanes prone to collapse, complex cash fares and overstaffed booths. Usually receipts are printed, but occasionally they are hand-stamped on the kind of paper used for bingo tickets. Accusations of graft swirl. An electronic swipe system has apparently been introduced but seems to be available only to VIPs. After a suicide jump in August it emerged that the CCTV system to help stop terrorist attacks was not working properly.

That’s diversity + democracy for ya.

On Attrition

I wasn’t really planning on making a series on Chinese proverbs. But it happens that every time I start writing a post I can think up of a proper Chinese expression to introduce it. Such is the vastness of the language.

何苦?

This is not a proverb actually, but it is an idiomatic expression inherited from the Classical Chinese. Word-by-word it means “what bitter”. Which is pretty ungrammatical. But Asian languages in general have quite flexible grammars, and Chinese more so. The expression usually translates as “why bother?”, “why make things so hard”? Bitter is the Chinese word for hardship, hence Coolies 苦力 “bitter force”.

It is a very frequently used expression, because Chinese have this habit of making things harder than they need to be.  For all the talk about HBD having its future in the practical-minded Asian countries, East Asia is very much about effort. At least since Confucius, the key to success in China has been relentless self-improvement. There’s two kinds of humans, “small people” 小人 and Gentlemen 君子. They key to being a Gentlemen is having a good education. Fast-forward 2500 years and you have the Banzai-charges of Japanese army troops against the mechanised Soviet batallions in Khalkhin Gol. They lost, and didn’t learn from it. This year there was a report on some US advisors to the Japanese army saying that their performance sucks because of a lack of fatigue management. They won’t give the soldiers a break.

The obsession of Asians with pointless effort has become a popular topic of discussion with the increasing numbers of Asians in the US, and the  ensuing bitterness for all the other kids who have to compete with them. Everybody hates those Asian kids in cram school getting straight As in topics they don’t give a shit about. Just when people were starting to notice it, Amy Chua had her book, and the infamous article on the WSJ. Really exquisite timing. All in all it was a very interesting book. It’s not often that Asians explain their own culture in proper English. And doing so in a conflicted tone, that one of someone who has properly assimilated to a Western culture, and can explain it on Western terms.

Still for all her explanations, the consensus is that she’s a heartless bitch who mistreated her children, and all Asians parents are freaks. I won’t comment on that. Moralising is cheap. I think you should judge things by their results. So what was the result of Amy Chua terrorising her children for a decade? Did she produce smart, polite, humble and tasteful kids?

nope

Nah, she produced a run-of-the-mill overbearing, loud and full-of-herself liberal bitch.

Go check out yourself. Lotsa pics of the chick in short skirts. The writing is impossibly annoying but the pics are nice. And very telling.

Amy Chua spent 15 years of her life filling her family life with fights and shouts and sheer unpleasantness… to produce yet another narcissistic liberal. Confucius would be proud.

Socialism qua Entropy watch

Let me continue with Chinese proverbs.

We have established that the Chinese love eating, and they celebrate everything with a big feast with family and friends. So it’s not surprise that gatherings with food are the metaphor for a good time. A famous saying (also vernacular) says:

天下没有不散的筵席

Which translates as: there’s no feast where people don’t leave in the end. Meaning basically, all good things must come to an end. I think there’s a better, more funny way of saying that in English, but I can’t remember right now. Any ideas?

I thought of this proverb after reading this news on Singapore’s leading newspaper, the Straits Times.

Two workers from China charged for criminal trespass after crane protest

You can find the news at Youtube too:

The fact that the poor foreign workers have been detained and will probably be deported sounds like business as usual for Singapore. The Rule of Law. Everybody likes Singapore, right? Well look at the comments on the Straits Times piece. It has pearls such as this one:

Looking at the blank and dejected faces of the two Chinese workers, our heart cries for them.   In the eyes of the law, maybe they have done something wrong but then if we are in the same shoes as them, we will equally be frustrated and embittered after coming so far away to slog and toil hard for a meagre salary, they are being cheated of their income.  When they think of their family back home in the deserted rural area who is waiting for their monetary support to survive, their emotion distress will start to overwhelm them leaving them with no choice except to protest in public.

The worst to come is seeing them being charged for criminal offense.   Has Singapore law becoming so inhumane, so merciless and unforgiving that we have lost our touch of human compassion and humanity?   Is a warning letter sufficient enough to settle such trivial issue taking into consideration this is their first offense and they are not harming anybody as far as we know.

This smells of… socialism! In Singapore? But it can’t be! Singapore is a well-run place, right? It has rational governance? It has abolished politics, right?

You can never abolish politics. It’s like abolishing sexual desire. For better or worse it’s here to stay. Now you may say that I’m being specious, and many comments are for arresting the guys and kicking them out. I didn’t go through all of them but I’d say the both sides are pretty even.

One thing that those pinnacles of civilisation, Singapore and Dubai, have in common is a reliance on cheap labor from abroad. Which works OK while you have an effective system to take the workers back once they cease to be useful. But you have to be careful with that. See another piece of recent news from Singapore.

Two pieces of labor unrest in little less than a week must be quite disconcerting for the usually uneventful Singapore. But most disconcerting of all must have been that this news haven’t been ignored in the drivers’ homeland. From the China Daily’s opinion page:

Singapore must stop ill-treating migrants

The Singaporean authorities, companies and the public have a lot to learn from this case. But more than that, Chinese workers who seek to work abroad should learn more about the country they go to and know how to get legal aid when they face problems.

The Chinese government now pays special attention to protection of Chinese citizens abroad. The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Commerce have expressed concerns over the strike incident, and the Chinese embassy in Singapore has communicated with the Singaporean authorities and workers.

The recent Report of the 18th Party Congress said: “We will take solid steps to promote public diplomacy as well as people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and protect China’s legitimate rights and interests overseas.” This case has highlighted the need for the government to take all necessary steps to protect the rights and interests of Chinese citizens working overseas.

Singapore has been able to withstand Cathedralist pressure against its legal system because nobody in the West cares or has any incentive to mess with it. But if China starts flexing its muscle and meddling with what it regards as its sphere of influence, well, things are going to get interesting. Singapore survives, and this was explicitly declared by Lee Kuan Yew himself, by leeching Chinese talent to offset the flight of its own talent to the US and Australia. But Singapore might not be able to secure it’s newly leeched talent’s loyalty if Mother China doesn’t let go.

The best designed governance doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the power to enforce it. What can’t continue will stop.

Stuff White People do

The Chinese in their ancestral wisdom, have proverbs for every single situation. In fact one of the hardest parts of learning the language is their reliance on idioms, which tend to be verbatim quotes of classical works. 3000 years of writing in the same language means there’s a vast pool of wise insight and sharp wit to choose from, but the old language isn’t intelligible as such, so you have to memorise the idioms by rote. Once you do though, you literally have a comeback for everything.

It’s so much part of the culture, that the tradition doesn’t only rely on classical texts. Chinese are prone to make up idioms in the vernacular just as often. There is one I particularly like, which describes people who do pointless stuff. Some time ago Xi Jinping, the recently declared big boss in China, had these words to say:

有些吃饱了没事干的外国人,对中国指手划脚.

This was translated by the South China Morning Post as: “Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us”. The translation is quite literal, and pretty good as it is. The point on this sentence is “full bellies and nothing better to do”. This is the standard way of describing people who do something pointless out of what it’s assumed is too much leisure. As any beginner learner of Chinese knows, full bellies in China used to be a very uncommon sight, to the point that people used to greet each other by saying: “Have you eaten yet?”.

There’s a variant to the saying which I like better, 吃饱了撑的, which means eating to the point of feeling stuffed. The Chinese consider it the root cause of all nonsense. Americans today would say you’re full of shit. Kinda gross if you picture it,  but the association with fullness is there. As far as folk wisdom goes, Catholic countries also have this (quite accurate) stereotype about priests being always fat gluttons. They are also not known for making much sense either.

Personally when I think of food and priests, I don’t picture a fat Italian in a black gown eating too much spaghetti. No, I picture something more modern, yet consubstantial (to use catholic jargon). I think of…

Moldbug called our ruling class the Cathedral. And if you think about it, the economics profession has the most in common with the old medieval priesthood. They are generally smart, well educated people who are trained for up to a decade in what amounts to pure nonsense. They memorise the nonsense, and then use advanced logic to write down complex arguments and debate it with their peers. But only with their peers, their non-peers are commanded to shut up and obey.

Another proof that economics and priests are the same thing is that they end up talking about the same things. See this post at Chalupas Central. They are talking about the poor, and conclude that it’s about Ego Deprivation. Well I don’t know what Ego Deprivation is. My gut tells me it’s as pointless as Homoiousia. Now fortunately many commentators are refuting the pointless drivel that gets economics researchers paid, but then some comments make you lose faith in the powers of reason.

Trailsplitter November 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

It is because of posts like this that I love this blog. Thanks Alex!

Oh well. I do get that Economics was founded by Adam Smith, who was pretty close to becoming a priest, and his real job was moral philosopher. So yes there’s some overlap between morality and macroeconomics, and economists are entitled to be concerned about “the poor”. But Adam Smith, who was the real deal, a priest candidate, and did moral philosophy, surely didn’t conclude that poverty was about Ego Deprivation. In Chinese folk terms, it follows that he didn’t have a full belly. Which is quite likely. As ghastly as British food is today, in the 18th century it must have been really terrible. No cheap ethnic food indeed.

The Chinese saying was of course born in China, a society famously always lying in the Malthusian edge. It wasn’t easy to have a full belly in China, and those who did it were of a particular class. Mostly government bureaucrats, who were of course chosen in a famously competitive civil service exam. My feeling is that  Chinese masses developed the impression that smart people tend to spout quite a lot of nonsense, and they having passed the examination, hence being smart, the only reasonable cause must be that they had too much food. Which is a quite reasonable conclusion. But what if it’s not about food?

See probably one of the highest IQ blogs out there, Robin Hanson’s Overcoming Bias. I use to like much of what’s written there, but they also post a considerable amount of crap. See this post of a while ago:

Invent yourself and think through your impact

One of the things I do when I find something hard to understand is trying to translate it into another language. Say, Chinese. I usually find it quite hard to do, if not outright impossible. This is one of the beefs I have against Chomsky and his theory that all languages are superficial representations of an underlying ‘mentalese’ which is hardwired into human brains and thus universal. Well it’s not that impossible to word by word translate “Invent yourself and think through your impact”. I can do it. But it wouldn’t make any sense in the target language, because they just don’t think that way. They don’t have the concept. Concepts being culturally specific.  Chinese don’t go to college to “invent themselves”. They go there to get a piece of paper that will enable them to make more money than otherwise. And when they graduate they certainly are not thinking about spending $700 in saving lives in Mozambique. 2 months salary! I imagine what a Tiger Mom would tell her daughter if she talked about the categorical imperative of sending $700 to some QUANGO in Mozambique.

“Have you eaten too much?”

Now it’s funny that the Chinese would be attribute saying stupid things to eating too much, when China is the most food-conscious culture on earth. Chinese cuisine is famously good, and everything here is celebrated with food. Part of the disdain that Uyghurs have towards the Han is how the Han are always eating eating and don’t know how to have fun. Fun meaning music and dancing.

But as much as the Chinese like to eat, in reality they aren’t that fat (for now). Everyone knows that the fattest people on earth are the Anglos, and by a long shot. Which must mean they get full at higher rates than any other peoples on earth. And it shows. The first example was American, the second was Australian. Now let’s see how full the Brits are. This also I got from a link at Chalupa’s:

What do Animals Want?

Now I’m used to read macroeconomic non-sequitur crap, and other moralising status-whoring by economists. But this piece on animal rights blew me away. This is not your run-of-the-mill unfalsifiable crap. This is way beyond that. This is the left singularity showing its teeth.

First of all, whose idea was it to put a close-up pic of the old lady on top? It’s gross. You don’t take close-up pics of old women. It’s like asking the age of a 40 year old. You just don’t do it. Nothing against this woman in particular, but old women are ugly by definition. A detailed close-up of an unrelated old human is bad taste.

Now what is this woman about? She studies animal behaviour. Which is a pretty interesting thing to study. We all like to watch funny animal videos at YouTube, and she gets to do that for a living. All she has to do is a write a paper once in a while. She could have stopped there, but of course she didn’t. She had too much food, nothing better to do, so she decided to apply her findings to study Animal Welfare.

I blogged on Animal ethics before, and I do find it a quite interesting subject. It’s a big bleeding point in the European philosophical tradition, and as such it’s the source of much hilarity. And corruption. So which is this old woman about?

Probably both, though I don’t know. This woman is trying to make a case for animal welfare, and she does that by trying to link it with human self-interest. Of course that’s not a moral argument at all. It’s pure marketing. Fooling people into supporting something is not an argument for supporting it, it’s just marketing. It’s Sandra Fluke. But of course she doesn’t care about the logic behind her case. She just wants to convince others. Anglo philosophy has long morphed from a system of logic and proof into a mere branch of public relations. How to manipulate people’s psychology into supporting a thesis.  Not that they will beat the Jews on that.

The second part of her case is defining what Animal Welfare is, which is no easy task. She rambles a lot about anthropomorphism, the idea that animals deserve welfare inasmuch as they are similar to humans. But she correctly points out that animals consciousness doesn’t really exist in any provable way, so linking human psychology to animal psychology is quite impossible. So what’s her solution?  She defines animal welfare as giving animals what they want. Easy! Well, yeah. But in focusing on What Animals Want, what she’s doing is applying standard liberal ethics (as per Jim Kalb’s peerless analysis) to the animal world. So in the end what she’s doing is pure anthropomorphism but without justifying it.

She contrasts this approach with the naturalistic one, which says that animals should live as they would in the natural habitats. To what the old woman says:

A lot of people think that good welfare is when animals are allowed to perform natural behavior, and you can judge welfare by how natural it is. That’s always seemed to me a little problematical because animals in the wild are regularly chased by predators, and that would be natural. I don’t think one could actually argue that that was necessary for good welfare.

Well being eaten by a predator is certainly not What Animals Want, I’ll grant her that. She also points out the practical consequences of that in farms:

this horrible thing that happens with free-range chickens, that they feather-peck each other. It’s very distressing. People think doing away with batting cages will improve welfare. But in fact, you’ve got a whole new set of welfare problems associated with taking birds out of cages.

I think there’s a very useful and profound (HBD-wise) metaphor in that. Not that she realises that of course. In the end, if you treat animals like humans, and give them welfare, you will get the same results as human welfare. Logic isn’t that hard. Unless you have eaten too much, of course.

You can imagine what the Chinese think about animal welfare.