Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A picture is worth 575,000 words

Apparently, the entire Twihard Saga contains approximately 575,100 words in total. And yes, I do want returned to my life the five seconds or so that I spent Googling that. Which is why we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the fine people over at Cracked.com for sparing future generations all of that turgid miserable crap:

A Single Dude on Indian women...

Charlie Bushmeister had some highly amusing commentary from his recent trip to India:
I have been to 50 countries now, and I can say without reservation that India is the absolute worst place for women I have even been. I can think of no place less suitable for a single dude trip with the objective of meeting chicks than India. Perhaps some places I have not been yet, like Saudi Arabia or some AIDS infested shithole Sub-Saharan African country might be worse, but those places would be expected to be poor choices. India, however, would be a much greater disappointment due to the false stereotype that exists that it is a country with many beautiful women. 
Usually I think that stereotypes exist for a reason, but India is a country where the outside stereotypes do not match reality at a couple of extremely important ways. I discussed earlier how the Indian reputation for high intelligence and tech savvy is completely undeserved. India is a world leader in retardation and this is important to know before you outsource any important business work there. 
There also persists a myth that Indian women are beautiful, thanks perhaps to Bollywood. It is similar to what some people expect of America based on Hollywood movies where all the chicks are slim and beautiful. Unfortunately the Bollywood beautiful woman myth is completely false. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. I was in India for two weeks and I did not see a single, truly hot Indian chick the entire time I was there. Granted, I was in Goa during the offseason for the majority of my time there where there was basically no one there, much less hot chicks. However I did spend a couple days in Mumbai and walked around in the Fort district extensively, went to some fancy restaurants, and there were no chicks hot enough to be worth looking at twice at a place like Beach Bar in Sofia, Bulgaria on a slow Tuesday night. 
India is a complete sausage fest. There is a shocking imbalance of men to women in public in India. Walking around on a Sunday afternoon in Mumbai I saw 15-20 men for every woman. It is completely common to see 50 men in a row walk down the street with nary a whiff of feminine presence. The only other places where I saw such enormous multitudes of men everywhere was on the street in Istanbul’s Beyolu neighborhood, and in Marrakesch, Morocco. In those places it is a Muslim thing, where the local small dicked dudes are so insecure they they keep all the women locked up at home, and covered head to toe when they let them go to market.
Now if I were a typical Asian blue-pill-addicted white knight, I would probably Do the Right Thing and sally forth to meet this outrageous slander upon the field of battle to do mighty feats of arms and slay the foul beast who dareth speak illeth of the damsels fair...eth.

Or whatever.

I'm not sure what it is about India. There are pretty women there; my own family actually has a bit of a history of startlingly good-looking women, on both sides. However, he's completely right to argue that if you're just walking around in India, you're not going to see many pretty women and you'll see even fewer genuinely beautiful ones.

I've been in Singapore a little under two weeks now, and every time I walk outside I'll see at least five hot young Chinese girls, no matter what part of the island I'm in. (Slightly OT: the SPGs tend to congregate around Geyland and Holland Village at night- which is one major reason why I stay the hell out of those areas. Ask The Observer about Singaporean Sarong Party Girls sometime, it'll be a highly entertaining conversation.)

In the entire week that I was in India, I think I saw precisely one pretty woman. And she's practically my older sister, I've known her since I was three.

Then Charlie really gets going:
I imagine an Indian guy would disagree and insist that some skinny fat hack actress is who he has only seen on TV with makeup and CGI is the highest standard of beauty, but as an unbiased observer I tell you, no fucking way dudes. India is a wasteland for women. For single dudes traveling to India the only possible options are to import your own chick to India or go pick up horny party Russians on the beach in Goa during high season. Still though, it’s not really worth it, and I would much prefer Nha Trang Vietnam, which has plenty of party Russians, plus beautiful friendly local Vietnamese girls, and also delicious food and available drugs without the retardation everywhere and creepiness of many of the Indian guys. 
The Indians for all their reputation for the Kama Sutra and Tantric sex and gods with 50 penises, are actually total prudes. They keep the sexes separated there. My guess is that all the women hang out in at home in very unsexy saris together at home and gossip about Bollywood. They don’t really mix with the men, and therefore the men have no ability to relate normally with women not in their family. You can’t even get a massage from someone of the opposite sex in India.
About the only thing I disagree with here is this somewhat blanket assertion that saris are unsexy. It is possible for a pretty woman to look quite stunning in the right sari. (Of course, if you happen to look like Aishwarya Rai, you'll look good in pretty much anything, so that is admittedly not a very good standard.) Saris might seem highly exotic and odd to Western women, but they are an accepted fact of life in India; a woman who wears tasteful saris with the right colours and patterns and who has the figure for it is a rare and pleasurable sight to behold.

One thing that most people don't realise about India is that it really is a land of extremes. The best really are the best; India's top engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and yes, female models, can easily compete with and beat anyone else in the world. The trouble is, they represent maybe 0.1% of the entire population. When it comes to the average girl on the street, the standards are much much lower. It's not like Bulgaria or Poland where most women seem to start at a 6 and get better from there.

Oh, and Charlie, it does actually get a little better in North India. I'd recommend Punjab or Rajasthan. But it's not that much better.

Israel aborts its future

Of all of the countries in the world, I didn't expect the land of Moses to support something that goes directly against one of the oldest ideas in the Bible:
In 2014, the government of Israel will pay to abort babies for any woman aged 20 to 33 regardless of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy if, as expected, a health commission’s recommendations are instituted. 
Government health officials expect to pick up the tab for 6,300 or so abortions over the course of the year, reports Haaretz. The total cost of all the procedures will be approximately $4.5 million. The estimated cost per abortion will be just over $700 (about 2,500 Israeli shekels). 
Israel received roughly $3.1 billion in aid from the United States in 2013. 
Officials from a Health Ministry commission recommended the policy on Monday, according to The Times of Israel. The policy has not yet been passed into law. 
The health officials added that they hope to obtain universal funding to pay for even more abortions for women of all ages in future years. 
Israel is already a place where abortions are pretty easy to get. Abortion is illegal without approval from a government-endorsed panel. However, notes the Times, the panels approve 98 percent of all abortion applications. 
Each three-person government panel is made up of two doctors and one licensed social worker. At least one member of each panel must be female. 
For women who are younger than 17 or older than 40, approval is essentially automatic. It’s also almost assured in cases of rape, incest or adultery; in cases when the mother’s physical or mental health is in danger; and in cases when a genetic or congenital birth defect has been diagnosed.
My personal soft spot for the Jews notwithstanding, I find it remarkable that a people that has been so heavily persecuted and ostracised throughout history cannot understand what a disastrous and idiotic idea this is. The end results of abortion in the United States, for instance, have been perfectly clear for a number of years:
  • Women overwhelmingly abort babies for reasons of convenience- and that tendency becomes starkly clear once race is taken into account;
  • Rape- and incest-related abortions are a tiny fraction of the total number of abortions (less than 1%, evidently);
  • The majority of the 55.7 million (and counting) aborted foetuses in the USA since the abomination of Roe v. Wade were black (which I'm sure pleases Margaret Sanger no end);
Now that abortion is basically being used in much of the Third World to pre-select for gender, there is just no excuse any more for feminists and their supporters to continue with their gruesome crusade. A woman's insistence on a "convenient" lifestyle is trumped, always and everywhere, by the fact that abortion ends innocent life. Abortion, under any and all circumstances, is wrong. And yes, that includes situations where the life of the mother is in danger.

If the Israelis cannot see the consequences of their own actions, then they are truly beyond help. They deserve whatever comes to them. And if my limited readings of the Old Testament are anything to go by, this isn't the first time the Sons of David have acted so stupidly as to tempt the wrath of the Lord, and it certainly won't be the last.

Since he is a far better writer and a far more intelligent man, I leave it to Vox to have the last word on the subject:
Let's make it perfectly clear.  If you are a doctor or a nurse who performs abortions, you are every bit as bad, every bit as purely evil, as the SS-Totenkopfverbänder who slaughtered people in the National Socialists' extermination camps.  And if you are a woman who aborts her child, you are every bit as bad, every bit as disgusting, as the SS guards at those camps, who may not have bloodied their hands themselves, but were complicitcollaborated by making the killing possible. 
And if you simply support the so-called "right" to legal abortion, you are no better than a card-carrying member of the National Socialist German Workers Party.  In fact, you are even worse.  For all their many flaws, the National Socialists at least had a substantive cause: the preservation of a defeated and economically devastated German nation.  Your cause is mere female convenience, rendering you even more repellant and abominable in the eyes of anyone who values human life.  Their symbol was the reversed Swastika, but yours should be a pyramid of infant skulls. 
I understand you have your rationalizations and your justifications.  I am aware that you firmly believe that an unborn, or partially born, or newly born, child is either not human or is for some reason or another unworthy of the same right to life possessed by adult human beings who hate racism, support sexual equality, and voted for Barack Obama. I appreciate that you are absolutely convinced that acting to terminate the life of a genetically unique individual who is dependent upon his mother for his continued survival is no different than cutting one's hair or trimming one's nails.  I know you assert that because it is a woman's body, she can do whatever she wants with it, all the various trespassing and drug and flasher laws notwithstanding. Or perhaps you have a different reason, in which case feel free to make your case for it here. 
But remember this: the Nazis had their justifications too. And those justifications were considerably more soundly rooted in science, history, and logic than yours are.

One year in

Another year goes by. And as usual, one is left to wonder where the hell the time went. Didn't seem like all that long ago that I was just starting out with this place. It's been challenging, it's been fun, it's often been cathartic, and it's always been educational. If you go through the archives for the past year, you'll see significant changes in content, writing style, presentation, and other things that are the inevitable results of growth and change as a writer. My writing and content is nowhere near as good as, say, Vox's or the guys over at RoK, but judging by the comments to my work, I'd like to think that I've made people think and had an impact.

According to Google's own stats, in 2013 this place saw 343 posts, over 88,000 page views, and several hundred comments. Not too shabby, I'd say, though of course I plan to do a bit better in 2014; one of my problems last year was always the fact that my job takes up so much of my time. While that's not likely to change, the hours themselves are likely to be a little more flexible now that I'm no longer in what is known as a "line role" within the capital markets industry.

Personally, I'm really not a big fan of New Year's resolutions; most of them tend to get broken or forgotten. So what follows is more like a set of stuff I'd like to do, time and circumstances permitting:

  • Really, seriously get into the game. I'll be the first to admit that I've let this slide in 2013. If you're a regular here, doubtless you've noticed that I tend to post a lot of philosophical musings about the game but very little actual hard game content. That's because I intend to be as truthful as possible about what I see and do as I can possibly be- unlike a certain PUA scammer who recently got outed. This blog is, and will always be, devoted to topics near and dear to introverts, which means that game will have to become a bigger part of it. I doubt I will (or even can) turn this into something as good as what Halfbreed has done (that would probably require setting up a separate, game-only blog), but we'll see what happens.
  • Get some more guest posts. My first real post of any note was a guest post over at Matt Forney's blog. Matt very graciously permitted me to write a post on his blog, and that gave me my first taste of writing for a broad, sometimes global audience. That was also what drove me to continue writing and thinking. I believe that our oddball little corner of teh Interwebz is strong because it is full of individuals engaged in voluntary acts of cooperation and calculation, unlike the Left's insistence on near-monolithic lockstep ideology and publishing. My invitation to submit a guest post remains open; if you want to try your hand at this writing shtick, then please let me know.
  • More introvert-related life material. Keep an eye out for posts designed specifically to help introverts figure out personal finances and a few other important life decisions.
  • Get (slightly more) ripped. I am not, and will never be, an underwear model, and I'm fine with that; I think I look pretty good these days. I would however like to gain a bit more muscle. This is becoming more difficult now due to the simple fact that all of the easy gains from powerlifting have already been achieved; now it's all about conquering that next plateau in 5lb increments. It takes time and patience and above all good form to do this. So there will probably be some amount of gym-related snark to come.
I'm sure there are other useful things to put down there, but let's just leave it at this: rest assured that everything that you like about this blog (if you're a fan) and everything you hate about it too (if you're not) is here to stay.

Here's to another year of posting to come!

Happy 2014

Happy New Year from Singapore, folks. Whether you're a regular reader or just stopping by, I wish you a safe, prosperous, and enjoyable year ahead. Here's to good health and good fortune to you and yours.

Krugman still doesn't get it

Normally I wouldn't touch Paul Krugman's periodic outbursts of moon-brained stupidity with a ten-foot pole. I leave that to older and wiser people (who also have the time to deal with such things). His latest NYT column, though, is literally a target just begging someone to take a potshot at it:
[A] combination of rising tax receipts and falling spending has caused federal borrowing to plunge. This is actually a bad thing, because premature deficit-cutting damages our still-weak economy — in fact, we’d probably be close to full employment now but for the unprecedented fiscal austerity of the past three years. But a falling deficit has undermined the scare tactics so central to the “centrist” cause. Even longer-term projections of federal debt no longer look at all alarming. 
Finally, over the course of 2013 the intellectual case for debt panic collapsed. Normally, technical debates among economists have relatively little impact on the political world, because politicians can almost always find experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to tell them what they want to hear. But what happened in the year behind us may have been an exception.
[Emphasis here and in all other quotes mine]

It's well-known, of course, that Krugman has a habit of conveniently forgetting his own publicly available writings for the sake of a politically expedient argument. Just to remind ourselves, though, let's see what he actually said about the nature of debt in the economy:
Debt was rising by around 2 per cent of GDP annually; that’s not going to happen in future, which a naïve calculation suggests means a reduction in demand, other things equal, of around 2 percent of GDP.
As Vox pointed out in his Absolute Rights article, a critical founding plank of the entire Keynesian sham is that a rise in government spending should, through a lot of mathematical handwaving, result in a multiplied rise in overall output and therefore income (since the two are equivalent in the Keynesian way of thinking). As far as I can tell, Krugman doesn't actually subscribe directly to that argument (which dates back a good 80 years and was largely discredited in the 1970s); he subscribes instead to a derivative idea called the Loanable Funds model:
If the Loanable Funds theory of lending is correct, then rising debt can only tangentially cause an increase in demand (if the borrower spends more than the lender would have done); if on the other hand a change in debt adds roughly one for one to demand, then the Loanable Funds model can’t be right. In other words, Loanable Funds and the argument that macroeconomics can ignore private debt are 'joined at the hip': if one goes, then so must the other.
Essentially, Krugman has been arguing all along (except for when he hasn't) that bank lending and debt are irrelevant to modern macroeconomics, since lenders and borrowers must by definition (in theory at least) offset perfectly. This is complete nonsense once you factor in the reality of debt defaults and fractional reserve monetary policy; it is in fact entirely possible for debts not to cancel out if money is essentially generated "out of thin air" without anything backing it, since multiple rounds of new debt and lending have been created from a single instance of open market operations. And if any one of those lenders then defaults, due to misaligned time preferences from lending, then the entire house of cards collapses in on itself as the very same fractional reserve transmission mechanism then works in reverse to contract the money supply.

Now to get back to where Krugman (as usual) just made s*** up, let's take a look at the two points I've highlighted in his statements above.

The first is this ludicrous contention that we'd back back to "full employment" by now if only the country had printed way more money and gone way deeper into debt. I'm guessing he doesn't pay much attention to the actual numbers (but then, he is a Keynesian; numbers don't matter in the Keynesian world, only formulae):

So... the USA has added huge amounts of new debt, continued to print money at an annual expansion rate of at least 5% p.a., and the next effect on unemployment is... pretty terrible, actually:

(Note: never trust BLS numbers. I've worked for an inflation trading desk. I can tell you straight that the numbers produced by the BLS and the Treasury just don't jive with reality.)

So where exactly was that "unprecedented fiscal austerity", given that Congress and President Jackass have together managed to stack up truly Biblical deficits for the last 5 years?

And then there Krugman's flatly absurd argument that the intellectual case for "debt panic" has collapsed in 2013. Uh, it hasn't. It's still just as salient as ever:
Let us first examine the Debt Fairy. According to the Keynesians, the U.S. economy (as well as the economies of Europe and Japan) languishes in a “liquidity trap”. This is a condition in which interest rates are near-zero and people hoard money instead of spending it. Lowering interest rates obviously won’t spur more business borrowing, so it is up to the government to take advantage of the low rates and borrow (and borrow). 
If governments issue enough debt, argue Debt Fairy True Believers, the econ­omy will gain “traction” as government spending, through the power of pixie dust, fuels a recovery. Governments spend, businesses magically gain confidence, and then they spend and invest. (At this point, we are apparently supposed to just overlook the fact that the Keynesians are saying that we need the Debt Fairy to resurrect the Keynesian version of the Confidence Fairy.) 
The Inflation Fairy also plays an important role, according to Keynesians, for if bona fide inflation can take hold in the econ­omy and people watch their money lose value, then they will spend more of their savings. In turn, this destruction of savings will, through the power of Keynesian sorcery, revive the econ­omy. Thus inflation undermines what Keynesians call the “Para­dox of Thrift,” a theory that says if a lot of people withhold some present consumption in order to save for future con­sumption, the economy quickly will implode and ultimately will slip into a Liquidity Trap in which no one will spend anything. 
These fairies can work their magic if (and only if) one condition exists: factors of production are homogeneous, which means that government spending will enable all lines of production simultaneously. The actual record of the boom-and-bust cycle, however, tells a different story. It seems that the Debt and Inflation Fairies enable booms along certain lines of production (such as housing during the past decade), but as everyone knows, the fairy dust lost its magical powers and the booms collapsed into recessions. 
Austrians such as Mises and Rothbard have well under­stood what Keynesians do not: the structures of produc­tion within an economy are heterogeneous and can be distorted by government intervention through inflation and massive borrowing. Far from being creatures that can “save” an economy, the Debt Fairy and the Inflation Fairy are the architects of economic disaster.
These are criticisms which have been known for decades. Henry Hazlitt's classic, brutal, and inimitably effective evisceration of Keynesian economics has never been properly answered by its targets (I suspect they didn't even bother to try). The intellectual case for sounding the doomsday alarm about debt-deflation is stronger today than ever, and it keeps getting stronger in circles that Krugman doesn't bother paying attention to.

The reason Krugman thinks that the doomsday debt scenario has lost its appeal is because mainstream Republicans aren't promoting it any more. Does this really surprise anyone? Republicans are NOT defenders of free markets and free people. Republicans, especially Republican politicians, are corporatists. They believe in big strong central government- they always have. The idea that the intellectual case for what is happening right before our eyes is somehow lacking or non-existent only makes sense if your entire sample size consists of what is being done and said in the cesspool that is the Federal Mall.

In other words, you have to be smoking a particularly strong Federally mandated brand of crack cocaine to think that
  1. Debt doesn't matter, and
  2. Those who think that debt does matter have disappeared

Monday, 30 December 2013

CLASSIC Book Review: DUNE by Frank Herbert

Mother of God! A giant moving cave with teeth!
I could write this review in just one sentence: "Dune is the greatest science fiction novel ever written".

It would be accurate.

It would be truthful.

And it wouldn't even begin to do this book justice.

This book is not simply the greatest example of its genre, it is also a tremendously powerful social, historical, and anthropological critique, and a work of truly unparalleled vision. The real power of this book doesn't come from its vision of a far-distant future in which Mankind has spread across the stars; it comes from the uncanny way in which Frank Herbert figured out how to take ancient mythologies and religions, contemporary concepts of what the future would hold, and the unchanging nature of Man, and turn them all into a work that still stands today as a literary masterpiece.

If for some reason you've been living under a rock for the last 40 years and haven't gotten around to reading Dune, then allow me to fill in a few blanks for you. The story starts in a far-distant future- something like 21,000 years into the future from the present day, give or take- under the reign of the Padishah Emperor of the Corrino Dynasty. Humanity has seeded countless worlds across the stars, and has evolved in new and unexpected ways. The universe in which humanity finds itself is dark and dangerous; "thinking machines" (computers and artificial intelligences) have been outlawed for over 10,000 years since the end of a climactic event cryptically referred to as the Butlerian Jihad, the worlds of the Imperium are ruled over by an oppressive oligarchy, and there is a continuous, fractious power struggle between the Great Houses of the Lansraad, the Emperor, the enigmatic Bene Gesserit sisterhood, and the Spacing Guild. The latter holds a complete and absolute monopoly over space travel within the Imperium. Key to the balance of power within humanity's Universe is the geriatric, highly addictive drug or "spice" known as "melange". This drug is absolutely critical to humanity's continued existence.  It is available on exactly one world- Arrakis, a forbidding, harsh, exceedingly dangerous desert world on the fringes of known space. It is this world, better known as Dune, where the greatest power struggle in the history of the Imperium will come to a head.

As the story begins, the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV grants Duke Leto Atreides, of the Great Lansraad House of Atreides, a charter to take over the spice production on the planet Dune. Concurrently, the Bene Gesserit, who have maintained a highly selective breeding program to seek out and create the perfect human ultracomputer, the Kwisatz Haderach ("the one who sees all paths", so to speak), test his son, Paul Atreides, for his qualities as a human being. As the novel begins, the Bene Gesserit believe that their eighty-generation, millennia-long breeding program is at last coming to a head. As Paul and his family leave their water-rich, peaceful homeworld of Caladan for the harsh and brutal conditions of the desert planet Arrakis, the intrigues between his family's work and their ancient enemies, House Harkonnen, begin to emerge. These eventually come to a head about halfway through the book, with Paul, his mother, and his yet-unborn sister being forced to flee into the desert to seek refuge among the Fremen, humans who have lived on Dune for generations and have specifically evolved and adapted to deal with its extreme conditions. When Paul meets the Fremen and integrates into their society, he embraces the mantle of the legend of the Lisan al-Gaib, the one who will lead the Fremen to victory over their oppressors, and transform their desert world into a paradise garden.

If that sounds complex, believe me, it is. Truth be told, though, I can't write an adequate plot summary of this book. No one can. It's that good.

The universe that Herbert created with this book was, and in my opinion still is, unparalleled in its richness and depth. The sheer number of ideas that he brought forth in this book is staggering, and it will take multiple readings to absorb them all fully. In just this one book alone, he dealt with:

  • The dangers of charismatic leadership, both for the leader and the followers;
  • The nature of human evolution under conditions of extreme stress;
  • Ecological problems such as desertification, and how to reverse it;
  • The question of eugenics, and the applied use of selective breeding programs to look for specific traits in human biology;
  • The fusion of Zen Buddhism and Islam into the Zensunni and Zenshiite cults (these aren't mentioned specifically here, nor is Buddhislam; these concepts come up a bit later in the series);
  • How balances of power are preserved, and how they are upset;
  • How seeking the safe path at all times will eventually stunt the growth and evolution of a species;
  • The growth, peak, decline, and fall of empires;
... and so much more. It's just not possible to go into everything that this book tackles; the fact that it manages to do all of this in under 450 pages is in and of itself an incredible achievement.

I could rabbit on about this book for weeks, so in the interests of brevity, if I had to pick just one really great idea in this book, it would be the concept of the sandworm. The way Herbert narrates the life-cycle of the sandworm makes it very clear that he did a lot of deep thinking on ecological issues. The sandworm- known by the Fremen as Shai-hulud, the old man of the desert- is a truly awesome creature. In evolutionary terms, they are quite primitive- essentially they are gigantic annelids, i.e. worms, with huge segmented bodies where each segment is effectively an independent organism- yet utterly terrifying for that, growing as they do to monumental lengths. They feed on microscopic creatures called sand plankton, which in turn feed on trace amounts of melange buried in the sands of the desert. The sandtrout is responsible for the desertification of Dune, as they are tiny creatures that are extremely good at finding, and in sufficient numbers completely encysting or encapsulating, bodies of water. As the sandtrout excretes its by-products from digesting water, and water itself seeps into those by-products, pre-spice masses form in the desert sands; eventually, these masses basically explode, killing off millions of sandtrout and sending the survivors into dormant states of hibernation, to emerge eventually as small sandworms. These worms pretty much never stop growing over their lifetimes, except in the rare cases of the "stunted worm", and eventually the Great Worm emerges to rule the desert itself. When they die, for whatever reason, their bodies return to the desert, completing the cycle as the sand plankton feed on the spice-infested remains of the worms.

The sheer depth of imagination and skill required to make this not only believable but useful within the broader context of the story is astonishing. And that is just one part of the Dune saga.

About the only flaw that I could ever find with Herbert's writing was his odd insistence on fusing Islamic religious practices with Buddhist ones. I honestly never figured out why he did this. It makes no sense, seeing as how Islam is so completely and fundamentally hostile towards Buddhism. But, who knows, maybe in 21,000 years' time, the current incarnation of Islam will have died out (one can only hope!) or will have adapted to survive.

As good as this book is, it was in fact the pinnacle of Herbert's writing. Other books in the Dune series- most notably Children of Dune and especially God-Emperor of Dune, which explained the concept of Leto II's Golden Path- were grander in scale and scope, or more action-packed (Chapterhouse Dune). Yet Herbert never managed to reach the same peaks of grandeur and imagination that he did with the original Dune, for a variety of reasons. It's a bittersweet book in a lot of ways, because as amazing as the concepts are, there is a subtle recognition, particularly towards the end of this book, that greatness is fleeting, and that control over greatness is tenuous and illusory at best.

In summary, I simply cannot recommend this book strongly enough. It stands entirely alone as an achievement in literature. Herbert could have written just this one book and would have been forever remembered as perhaps the greatest writer in sci-fi history; instead, he continued on to write multiple sequels which, while brilliant in their own right, were never quite as good and never captured the reader's imagination to the degree that Dune did and still does. I suggest re-reading this book many times; I certainly have, and each time, I get something new and different from it. And if you happen to know an introverted sci-fi nerd who likes to read a lot, then this is quite simply the perfect gift.

Didact's Verdict: 5/5, though 10/5 would be more accurate

Buy/download Dune here.

Four guys and a coffee shop

(... that serves bad American-style coffee and doesn't heat the water for the tea properly, etc., but that's to be expected at a Starbucks)

Ooooh... Pretty...
The Singapore meetup happened yesterday afternoon. As expected, given that it's close to the end of the year and a working day to boot, the turnout was small, and that suited us just fine. There were four of us- The Observer, two others (who will, at their own requests, remain anonymous), and me. It was a good event, there was much to discuss on a variety of subjects. I'll be posting about a couple of those topics in the coming days, particularly the questions about free trade, voluntary slavery, and the severe feminisation of society in this part of the world.

One of the guys there also recommended, in the strongest terms, the writing of a chap named Moldbug. Perhaps surprisingly, I'd never even heard of him before, but apparently he's taken some of the biggest and most difficult problems in modern economics and pretty much figured them out using the Austrolibertarian perspective as his starting point. I'm sure I'll be receiving reading material from my fellows to check out, and I'll be doing my own reading into his work as well; from what little I've seen so far, he knows what he's writing about and he's a very smart guy.

The most important takeaway for me was the fact that this "movement", if you can call it that, is gaining momentum and followers. The reason that it's difficult to think of the Manosphere as a "movement" is that it's really just a set of ideas and concepts held together by bunch of bloggers and personalities, many of whom are natural introverts, writing what and how they please. It's not coordinated, it's not centralised, it's not even particularly uniform- yesterday, for instance, was a meeting between two neoreactionaries, a paleolibertarian, and a guy who's somewhere in between. We don't agree on everything, and we shouldn't expect to. And yet, on broad principles and basic ideas, there is complete understanding. Our disagreements are intellectual, and not personal in the least- and it often turns out that we don't really disagree all that much anyway. Our movement is individualistic, organic, quietly influential, and decentralised.

In other words, it is everything that the Left is not, and can never be.

And that, ultimately, is why the Left will never be able to silence or destroy us, no matter how out-of-control the Cathedral becomes.

Many thanks to those who attended. One of the most refreshing things about writing what I do is that I find, often to my great surprise, many people who think pretty much the same way that I do. It's nice to know that I'm not (completely) crazy, and that these ideas are gaining influence and strength in very diverse parts of the world. Depending on timings and availability, we'll see if we can do this again next year, and maybe see if we can bring in a few more people next time.

And since it's New Year's Eve, happy New Year in advance to all of my readers near and far, and I'll look forward to hearing from you in 2014.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention one thing initially. One of the guys at the meetup expressed an interest in getting some fairly radical ideas out there. I'm very much in favour of this. As indicated earlier, if you read this blog and have an idea that you want to have published or discussed in a public forum, then I'd like you to consider submitting a guest post. You can always reach me via email (top-left corner of the blog). If I think that what you have to say is interesting and worth publishing, then I will do so unedited and unabridged (other than minor corrections to spelling and grammar as required).

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The secret origin of President Jackass

The s***storm of stupidity that is Obarmy actually makes complete sense now:

Hot Asian chick with a sniper rifle.
You're welcome.
Hey, Obarmy annoys me. Nothing better to cleanse the palate after dealing with something about him than gratuitous gun porn.

Ban the BATFE

So you're telling me that there exists a branch of the US government's federal bureaucracy that is corrupt and inept, sells guns to drug cartels in Mexico, hires mentally ill people to conduct sting operations and then arrests them, allows minors to take illegal drugs, and generally acts like Batman without all of the cool gadgets and unbreakable moral code? Surely you must be joking!!!

  • BATFE agents befriended mentally disabled people to stimulate business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, BATFE agents referred to a man with a low IQ as “slow-headed” before deciding to secretly use him as a key figure in their sting. Agents in Albuquerque gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a “tutorial” on machine guns, hoping he could find them one. 
  • Agents in several cities opened undercover gun- and drug-buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, Ore., attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell. 
  • As they did in Milwaukee, agents in other cities offered sky-high prices for guns, leading suspects to buy firearms at stores and turn around and sell them to undercover agents for a quick profit. In other stings, agents ran fake pawnshops and readily bought stolen items, such as electronics and bikes–no questions asked–spurring burglaries and theft. In Atlanta, agents bought guns that had been stolen just hours earlier, several that were taken from police cars.
Beware of any government agency, in any country, that seeks to limit your access to firearms in any way. You, and only you, are responsible for learning how to use and handle weapons (and by extension, yourself) safely and correctly. No government agency that is given the power to regulate people's safety will ever willingly limit its power over you; the BATFE has clearly usurped its own limits many times over.

The great thing about government stupidity is that as long as you expect the worst from your government, you'll never be disappointed. Given its long track record of mismanagement and lousy results, I'd say it's high time to shut down this particularly stupid government agency and turn the ATF into what it always should have been:

Meh... does the job, I suppose
Ah hell, I can do better than that... One moment...

Ah, much better

This is what a truly Strong Independent Woman looks like

No sarcasm, no snark, nothing like that this time. This is genuinely impressive:
Not seen: her target, frantically scribbling its last will and testament
BURLINGTON, WA- Jessie Duff, world renowned champion shooter, has set a new record in the world of shooting sports as the first woman to ever earn the title of Grand Master (GM). The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) designates GM as the highest rating a shooter can achieve. 
In earning this prestigious classification Duff had to maintain an average above 95% in shooting classification courses, a proven challenge in the shooting sports. 2013 was a record-winning year for Duff, which included top wins in USPSA’s Open, Limited and Single Stack National Championships. Duff also took multiple top wins in the Steel Challenge World Championships and earned top titles in the Arkansas Sectional Championships and Steel Challenge National Championships. 
“I am honored to have earned the designation of Grand Master with USPSA” said Duff. “This is something I have been working toward my entire shooting career and I’ve come this far thanks to a lot of hard work and a lot of support,” she added. 
Duff is recognized as one of the most accomplished competition shooters in the world and is setting a new precedent for female shooters across the country. As female participation in shooting sports is on the rise, Duff’s most recent accomplishments and continued success are contributing to an increase in involvement of women in competitive shooting. 
“Jessie is one of the best shooters in the world,” said USPSA Executive Director Kim Williams. “USPSA is proud to announce her historic record as the first woman to ever reach this ranking in Practical Shooting,” added Williams.
Good for her. She competed on the same level as men and proved that she has what it takes to be as good as them. She put in the work, she got the results. That's the way it should be. The one thing that categorically must not happen here is for standards in shooting to be lowered just to suit women or to broaden participation in the sport- and if she advocates for that, then it is perfectly legitimate for her to be roundly criticised for it. Women who really know how to handle guns are actually interesting and pleasant and fun to be around. Personally, I'm thoroughly in favour of women learning how to shoot and how to defend themselves- just as long as they don't then turn around and try to diminish the value of such qualifications for men.

On a more general note, it's important for us Manospherians to remember why we say and write the things that we do. We should never be bitter or angry (beyond a point) about what women are. We can, and should, applaud women for living up to our standards. That is why I can't be bothered watching women's tennis- but I've got no problem watching a woman demonstrate mastery on a pistol course or rifle range.

Enough already with the Strong Female Lead

Doubtless some (if not most) of you have already seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by now. I saw it a couple of nights ago. Judged in isolation, I suppose it was a decent enough movie- at least 30 minutes too long, somewhat pretentious, a bit too far up its own ass for total enjoyment, but still a fun experience. (The giant talking spiders notwithstanding. I f***ing hate spiders.)

In terms of a faithful representation and imagining of The Master's writing, however, it blew chunks.

Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens have done this repeatedly with The Master's canon when it comes to the film adaptations. Purists like Vox Day have long argued that their "improvements" to Tolkien's legendarium have actually harmed the final product, not helped it. This is one of the very very few areas in which I disagree, albeit very mildly, with Vox's opinion with regards to the way female characters were treated in The Lord of the Rings trilogy on film. For instance, I thought that the expansion of the character of Galadriel in those movies was actually a singular achievement of those movies, and would not have been possible without the ethereal, regal beauty of one Cate Blanchett. In that adaptation, the women were present, but they played secondary roles, just as they did in the books. And as Vox has taken great pains to point out, Peter Jackson in fact was for the most part scrupulously faithful to the original canon when he made the films. That is precisely why the LOTR trilogy stands as the monumental achievement in film-making that it is.

I have a very bad feeling, however, that the prequels will be remembered with that same sense of almost post-coital regret and shame that accompanied the release of the STAR WARS prequels, after the massive hype and incredible expectations ran headlong into the limp and unimpressive reality.

Some very interesting scenery... and a
pointy-eared woman blocking the view
There are several reasons why the movie wasn't very good- the ridiculous length, Smaug's annoying rambling, the pretty-boy-female-eye-candy Elves Thranduil and Legolas, and the producers' highly irritating insistence on trying to tie this trilogy into LOTR, which came out ten years ago and may not be familiar to an entire new generation of audiences.

However the biggest reason, by a country mile, was Tauriel.

I just didn't see the point of her character. She was introduced for... what purpose, exactly? To create a ridiculously risible love triangle between a short scruffy dwarf and a borderline gay Elf? To prove that she's just as big of a badass as Legolas is, despite the fact that the entire original story didn't even bother featuring a female Elf in combat? (Actually I can't think of a single example of an Elvess in combat in the entire legendarium, and that includes The Silmarillion.)

In short, her character was a complete failure on every level. Evangeline Lilly could have been completely written out of the movie and it would have been far better for it.

More generally, this endemic obsession within Hollywood for putting Strong Independent Women into stories where they have no business being, is getting out of control. Take the film version of Starship Troopers, for instance. The book is one of the greatest works of fiction ever produced by a human mind. The movie is not terrible, perhaps, but it's a rancid piece of crap next to the book. And this is in large part because Denise Richards and the Dina Meyers got so much screen time even though they were completely superfluous to the actual story (and the fact that Paul Verhoeven didn't bother reading the damn book).

Interestingly, one film franchise that didn't go down this route was also one of the most fun to watch (at least, it was for me). That's right, I'm talking about Michael Bay's Transformers trilogy. Now maybe I just have appalling taste (I'll grant you that), but the fact is that movies with big-ass explosions and giant robots beating the crap out of each other are right up my street.

Male-dominated sci-fi and fantasy universes are interesting because they are believable. There is very little that is believable about most Strong Female Leads in most Hollywood depictions and adaptations- the reason Disney keeps featuring so many SFL princesses in animated movies is because that's the only place where the audience can suspend disbelief long enough for them to get on with their frankly risible plots.

To be honest, I gave up watching movies in theatres, for the most part, years ago. I've just gotten sick of how sackless, stunted, and politically correct they've gotten. I think the only movie I actually watched in a theatre this year was the hysterically funny RED 2, and that's it. And if this trend in films continues, I'm pretty sure you can count me out of the 2014 season too.

Settling an age-old debate...

At last, the answer to one of the most challenging questions of all time- one that has challenged the greatest minds, the most erudite philosophers, the most skilled rhetoricians with its sheer importance!

(Hell, I didn't need Cracked to tell me that. Anyone who watched the old animated series in the 90s, or the last three Nolan movies, knows that it's true.)

Friday, 27 December 2013

The CrossFit question

I've long advocated personal fitness and strength training as the single best way to build strength and muscle. It may surprise some to learn, though, that I'm actually fairly agnostic about the precise method used to build strength and power. I like Stronglifts 5x5 a lot, for instance- it's the program that got me started in powerlifting and got me great results- but if you watch me in the gym these days, what I do isn't remotely like SL5x5 anymore. I'm also fond of martial arts, which involves a lot of high-intensity movement, stretching, and compound exercises, but very little by way of real strength. Both have their time and place. They work well for me, but that's not to say that they will necessarily work for you.

The point is, if you're going to get strong and fit, you should find something that works best for you, and I'm all for people going into the gym or setting up their own home programs that are comfortable for them, give them the exercise that they need, and achieve the results that they want.

That said, I think it's about time I discussed CrossFit. Now I should make it very clear that I have not trained in CrossFit at all, ever, so I'm going to limit myself strictly to what I have observed from watching others and will not criticise the core elements of CrossFit. (That comes later in the post, from someone else who really does know what he's talking about.)

CrossFit appears to have experienced fairly explosive growth over the last few years in the wake of the whole Paleo Diet/Primal Living thing, and has spread to much of the East Coast; in fact my own gym offers CrossFit training at least once a week. As far as I can tell, here's what CrossFit comes down to:
  • Eat Paleo, almost to an extreme point (i.e. very little carbs of any kind)
  • Lift weights
  • Do compound exercises
  • Do everything really really really fast
This all sounds great in theory, and in fact in practice it does work; you burn fat at an incredible rate because of the sheer speed and intensity of the training. The big problem that I have with this approach is that it emphasises speed over form. This bugs the hell out of me. The last thing I want to see is some idiot turning up at the gym and doing squats or heavy deadlifts with terrible form. It angers me because I'm watching someone taking up valuable time in the power rack when I could be using the same weights, getting my own work done, and getting out of there.

See also:

Examples of really terrible form in CrossFit include:
  • Kipping rows - now these are just idiotic. If you're going to do a chin-up, DO IT PROPERLY. All the way up, chin above the bar, all the way down, full range of motion, repeat. None of this Kipping nonsense where you end up destroying your rotator cuffs and tearing open your hands just for the sake of doing lots of reps. In that second video, the guy doing those 108 Kipping rows didn't actually do a single real chin-up.
  • Burpees - either do pushups OR jump squats. Not one after the other.
  • Rounded-back deadlift - if you are going to deadlift like this, please do us all a favour and remove yourself from the gene pool. That sort of thing is horrifying to watch. If you do it intentionally, or you never correct your own form, you're an idiot asking for a hernia.
  • Vertical press - what the f*** is this??? I can't even... That's it, I give up, the FAIL is strong with that one.
For the record, I don't have anything against people doing high-intensity workouts in the gym- just please don't setup some sort of training circuit behind me when I'm doing squats. I do know, however, through long and sometimes painful experience, that your form deteriorates as your exhaustion builds. So if you're going to do weights, do them with this in mind- either high reps and light weights, or low reps and heavy weights. The end result of doing high reps with heavy weights will always be a nasty set of injuries.

There are also some other perspectives on CrossFit that might be useful here. This next one is from a bodybuilder's perspective. Normally I don't have much time for bodybuilders- to me, they're largely poseurs- but this guy's criticisms of CrossFit are reasonable and logical, and it's clear that he knows how to lift:

And here is one of the original developers of the CrossFit program talking about how it has become commercialised and has lost any and all sense of quality control:

If Rob Wolf is right- and I think he is- then you should be very, very careful before beginning a CrossFit program. Many gyms that offer CrossFit may well be the gym equivalent of a McDojo- more interested in making a quick buck than in teaching people how to be safe, healthy, and strong.

The bottom line is that if you have good form, you will build strength. It's really that simple. Better form = better results, every time. Get the basics right, then concentrate on more complex movements and exercises, or on more frequent reps.

Book Review: Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted by Steve Rsaza and Vox Day

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows full well by now that I'm a big fan of Vox Day's work. I'm very much looking forward to his next instalment in his The Arts of Dark and Light series. However, Vox's roots as a writer are as much set in sci-fi as they are in fantasy literature, and with the workload that he has set for himself with the Selenoth canon, he just hasn't had time to write anything in the sci-fi genre.

Enter Steve Rsaza, an author who wanted to collaborate with Vox. Steve cooked up a story based on an old outline of Vox's concerning a sci-fi short story involving a detective, an AI, several interesting plot twists, and a lot of stuff getting blown up but good. The net result is a new sci-fi series called Quantum Mortis, and A Man Disrupted is the first entry into this new canon.

As the authors themselves have noted, the point of this book is very simple: they intended to tell a good, enjoyable, fast-paced detective story where the good guys do what they have to do without letting petty concerns about "civilians" or "collateral damage" get in the way. In other words, they wanted to write the kind of sci-fi novel that just isn't written very often any more- fun, fast-paced, a good read, without any Deep Meaningful Philosophy buried in it. It's the kind of novel that Arthur C. Clarke forgot how to write decades ago- an unabashedly male-centric novel written by, and for, blokes who really like old-school sci-fi. To quote Vox himself:
Blue SF is a return to the manly adventure fiction of the past. Blue SF says "fuck that" to strong independent female protagonists who ride rainbow-farting unicorns and flex their nonexistent muscles when they aren't being mounted by corpses and canids. Blue SF says "fuck that" to sexual equality, salutes la difference, and doesn't deign to throw bones to women who might feelbad that their oh-so-tender feelingses isn't being gently massaged. And Blue SF says "fuck off" to every idiot of either sex who whines about it being too this or not enough that. 
Blue SF does not apologize for being male, for being insufficiently inclusive, or for refusing to fall in line with the dynamic demand for character quotas concerning sex, race, religion, and sexual preferences. Unlike Pink SF, Blue SF is sufficiently confident to be what it is rather than deceptively market itself as what it manifestly is not. Can you even imagine genuine science fiction trying to sneak into the romance market and pretending that it's all proper romance when actually there is little more than action and technology and ideas under a very thin and superficial veil of romantic intrigue and self-centered drama?
Well I've got good news, folks: this book is blue-to-the-bone sci-fi.

QM:AMD concerns the work of one Detective Graven Tower, a homicide cop with a very traumatic military past who works to police the streets (and skies) of the independent planet of Rhysalan in the name of the Duke of said planet. He starts out by investigating the murder of a man killed- a more accurate description would be, disintegrated- by a particle disruptor (a singularly nasty weapon that, judging by its effects, makes a JDAM look subtle and stylish by comparison). His investigation lets him cross paths with a rather shapely young female detective in the city's police department, one Detector Hildreth, while Tower himself gets enmeshed ever deeper within a criminal conspiracy that has so many twists and turns that eventually you're going to have a tough time figuring out which way is up.

I guess the best way to describe this book is this: if you can imagine something like The Maltese Falcon crashing into Ghost in the Shell at roughly 200mph, and then managed to rear-end The Jetsons, the result would be a little bit like this book. It's detective-noir-meets-shoot-em-up-sci-fi-meets-deep-philosophy. And I have to say, it's really pretty good.

The plot is convoluted, to be sure (come to think of it, that's exactly why it's so much like Ghost in the Shell); in fact, by the time you get near the end and discover exactly what is behind the various disintegrated bodies, you'll find yourself amazed at the way that Rsaza built it up without getting completely lost in the details. In fact I found it a little difficult to follow in places, particularly right at the end where I couldn't quite figure out exactly what was going on. In my opinion this is the weakest part of the book, since it's a little hard to keep everything straight after a while.

That said, there is quite a lot to enjoy here. The one question that sci-fi addicts like me always have for a new SF book is: "does s*** get blowed up?" The answer: "awwwww yeah". The book is gratifyingly free of any angst or introspection when it comes to shooting stuff in the face; the chase scene through the park in the middle, for instance, has an enjoyably nasty ending and is exceptionally well written. The amount of gun porn in the story alone is worth the price of admission; slugthrowers, laser rifles, particle disruptors, grenade launchers, and very dangerous projectile weapons are all described in loving detail, and their effects upon the unfortunates who happen to be on the business end of these weapons are imagined with a level of relish and detail that would make a liberabbit run screaming out of the room.

Character development also gets a big plus here. Graven Tower is, as mentioned, refreshingly free of any kind of self-doubt when it comes to blowing stuff up, but you do get considerable insights into his past as a soldier, and you do get to see what made him the borderline psychotic killing machine that he can turn into. And the twist in the plot regarding his AI companion, Baby, is quite an emotional one- you get to understand exactly why it is that Tower hasn't been on a date in 8 years, as Baby mentions to him early on when he contacts Detector Hildreth. (That Baby's personality appears to be a direct riff on Cortana's only serves to make the book more interesting.)

The key to any good sci-fi series, of course, has got to be the development of an interesting, believable, yet futuristic universe. That is precisely what makes this book rather good indeed. Steve and Vox have done a solid job in creating a distant future in which mankind has colonised the stars, yet at all points acknowledge that the basic nature of Man never really changes. That is precisely why this story exists in the first place- despite the incredible technological advances of the society of Rhysalan, Graven Tower and the MCID are kept busy because the feuds and follies of Man follow him no matter where he goes. The duchy of Rhysalan, for instance, is independent and neutral, and a past Duke of Rhysalan figured out ages ago that the best way to preserve the duchy's independence, while also bringing in a great deal of revenue, would be to present the planet as a haven for governments-in-exile, provided that they obey the Duke's laws and not cause any trouble. That latter provision is apparently rather difficult for a lot of feuding governments with established embassies on the planet, so as a result, Tower and his colleagues are constantly busy.

And the technology of this fictional universe is pretty damn neat too. Towers, er, ancilla, Baby, has a sarcastic, hard-edged personality that complements Tower's own very well (which is not the least bit surprising once you realise how Baby came to be), and the descriptions of how Baby's cognitive and computing abilities interface with Tower's own intuitive leaps are very well done. The aforementioned gun porn is, of course, great fun. The technology described in this book is hugely impressive yet very familiar to anyone who's been reading sci-fi for a long time- or to anyone who used to watch The Jetsons as a kid, of course. (I did. Good times, good times...)

As an added bonus, shortly after the release of QM:AMD, Steve and Vox released a short story called Quantum Mortis: Gravity Kills, which brings Graven Tower into the middle of a murder investigation of a diplomat on board a ship carrying, among other things, a truckload of very well-equipped interstellar mercenaries and a lot of very very badass weaponry. I recommend reading AMD first, then GK, otherwise GK won't make very much sense, but let's just say that if you liked the book, you'll like the short story. Everything that made the book good is preserved in the story.

Overall, I'd say that this is the start of a very promising new sci-fi series. If this is what Vox and Steve, and Larry and Tom and John Ringo and David Weber and others like them, mean by "blue SF", then I say, bring it on. This is exactly what we need in response to the hackneyed, Twilight-innnn-SPAAAAAAAAACE derivative works that make up much of the bestseller lists in modern sci-fi.

Didact's Verdict: 4/5, a slightly confusing plot and somewhat rushed action sequences at the end fail to dent an otherwise very enjoyable and fun read.

Buy/download Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted here.