Twofish's Blog

October 2, 2007

Dark matter – What the trade data doesn’t show

Filed under: economics, globalization, international law, internet, new york city — twofish @ 12:35 am 

Someone is typing in NYC. The computer that they are typing into is located in Hong Kong (or quite possibly in some data center in India). While they are typing, they are instant messaging and on the phone with people in London This is all happening real time, and I’d be curious how this gets reflected in the trade data.

My guess is that it doesn’t, and where is where “dark matter” comes in. This also explains a lot about why I don’t think that there is such a anti-globalization backlash. When you get to work, and you start e-mailing and IM’ing people around the world as part of your daily routine, the idea of anti-globalization seems rather quaint…….

As far as fear of job losses…… Well you can move an individual programmer from NYC to India. You can’t easily move Columbia University, NYU, about a hundred skyscrapers in midtown, all of the computers, all of the support staff, all of the headhunters, etc. etc. to India. It’s easier and a lot cheaper to move someone from India to NYC. A tree you can move easily. An entire ecosystem is hard to move. Even convincing people to move thirty blocks from midtown Manhattan to downtown Manhattan is proving to be a challenge.

June 4, 2007

From the brilliant planners of the war in Iraq…..

Filed under: china, international law, iraq, taiwan — twofish @ 5:48 pm

This is a scary article about how high level Department of Defense officials were lobbying Taiwan to declare independence. It sounds frighteningly plausible. 

I probably won’t read the original article for a while, since it would be too stressful to think about it. On the other hand, it is interesting that it is coming out a week after the DOD issued its “China plans to take over the world” report.

One of the few good things about the war in Iraq is that it has took up the energy and then totally discredited the people that had in mind a much larger and scarier war.


From a post I made in Tom Barnett’s blog

What is interesting is that China has had several thousand years of experience doing grand strategy, and every Chinese political and economic thinker since the Warring States period has emphasized the importance of 1) a strong economy 2) learning from your mistakes and 3) learning from your enemies.

The thing that I find both sad and distressing about the United States is how many people in the political leadership are just playing the wrong game. I’m just amazed that the DOD would issue a report that says that China’s military strategy is “non-transparent” and it’s “motives are unclear.” This says some really sad things about the people that wrote the report. China’s motives are clear as day (become a rich and powerful great power) and has been the same for the last 150 years. It’s strategy is transparent as day (make people rich). If DOD can’t figure out what China’s goals and strategy is (and they aren’t being secret about it), then we are really hosed against al-Qaeda.

December 16, 2006

Taiwan and the Peace of Westphalia

Filed under: china, international law, taiwan — twofish @ 4:22 pm

One of the most important events in history was the Peace of Westphalia.  After spending 30 years killing each other over the details of whether and how the wine served at comunion became the blood of Christ, people just got exhausted, and the soution was “do what you want.”  As a result the modern state was born, and this later got mixed in with other threads to form the nation-state.

The trouble is that now the concept of the nation-state is causing more problems that it solves in the Taiwan situation.  The Taiwan dispute is basically about whether or not Taiwan is or is not a nation-state, and if you try to resolve the question unambiguiously, lots of people are going to die.

The solution which seems obvious and which *has* been the solution for the last several decades is to not resolve the question unambiguiously, and to provide enough ambiguity in the system so that people can believe what they want.  This involves having multiple interpretations of what “China”, and “Taiwan” mean.

The problem with Chen Shui-Bian was that he tried to make the situation unambigious, and he started from a premise that if 51% of the people on Taiwan voted for a particular interpretation than that interpretation became the one and only objective one.   The articles that I was going to respond to but did were the classical “what identity are you?” and the idea is that majority wins.

There are two problems with this

1) a system of governence in which 51% of the people get to do whatever that want even if the 49% object is not a particularly stable form of government.  You end up with screaming fights over trivial issues in order to get 50%+1 vote, and that in the long run wrecks public trust and confidence in government.

2) a more serious problem is the notion that Taiwan should be able to decide what to do without considering the opinions of the rest of the world.  The argument says that this comes from the right of self-determination.  There are elements of “democratic legitimacy theory.”  Taiwan is a democracy so its opinions matter, the PRC is not so its opinions don’t.

This notion has one serious problem.  It basically means that Taipei has the right and ability to involve the United States into a major war without any input by the American people.  The idea is that the right of self-determination means that the US would be obligated to come to Taiwan’s defense in case of a declaration of independence.  This would have Taipei determining issues of war and peace for the United States.  Chen Shui-Bian might like this, but most Americans don’t.

December 15, 2006

Where the Iraq Study Group gets it wrong

Filed under: china, international law, iraq — twofish @ 11:07 pm

I’ve been talking a lot recently about how the lack of discussing passion in international relations has caused a lot of problems.  A prime example is that of the Iraq Study Group which is the classic example of rational philosopher-kings trying to rule, but missing the element of emotion and passion.  The recommendations of the ISG are designed specifically so that Iraq does not become a political issue, but this is ultimately undermined by the fact that key question of Iraq is one of passion.

The key question is how much pain and suffering the American people are willing to undergo in order to meet its objectives, whatever they are.  How many dollars are the American people willing to spend and how many bodies are the American people willing to accept?

This is ultimately a political question about passion that *cannot* be answered by rational, unemotional means, and there needs to be a national debate to answer this question and come up with something approaching a national consensus on the answer.  Once the answer of how passionate the American electorate feels about Iraq is answered, then the implementation steps become mere details.

The ideal forum for this debate is the 2008 Presidential elections.  Iraq needs to be the main focus of that election, and this is the idea time for people to debate the issues.  The goal of the Bush administration I believe is to stabilize the situation so that the American electorate can have as many options open in 2008 about what to do next.   The people who need to decide this question are not the philosopher-kings, but people who will expend the blood and treasure needed in Iraq.

December 14, 2006

Added to the Dai Zhen article – relation to international relations

Filed under: academia, china, confucianism, international law — twofish @ 8:49 pm

I added some entries to the Dai Zhen article on wikipedia. It is interesting (and not a coincidence) that his criticism of Neo-Confucianism parallels my criticism of international law (that it ignores individual people and that it ignores the element of passion and emotion) . The problem is that Neo-Confucianism believed that one could become a sage by clearing one’s mind of emotion. Dai Zhen argued that this was incorrect and that it was destructive to ignore human desire because it would then be impossible to manage one’s own desires and also that it would make it impossible to feel empathy toward other human beings.

Homework question: Dai Zhen’s criticism of Neo-Confucianism is that it ignores the value and importance of human emotions. Is it a coincidence or not that the Neo-Confucianism idea of rational discovery of the universe also matches the modern idea that emotions are only the reserve of “primitive people” and that “advanced people” should control their emotions (i.e. the British stiff upper lip). Is it possible that this idea was borrowed through Jesuit missionaries or Cantonese traders or something else? Or is there some deep philosophical connection that caused these ideas to develop independently? Or is this all a coincidence?

December 11, 2006

Protected: Utterly implausible

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Toward a social constructivist theory of law

Filed under: academia, hayek, international law, iraq, islam, wikipedia — twofish @ 2:46 am

Here is a sketch of some ideas that I got reading Benedict Kingsbury’s work on the International Legal order, and his efforts to created an global administrative system.

The two theories of law are legal positivism and natural law, which are in conflict.  To resolve this conflict one can see how a similar conflict was resolved in early childhood education.

There is a deep correspondence between these two theories of law and two theories of early childhood development, the behaviorist and the developmentalist.  The behaviorist model is associated with Skinner and Pavlov.  The developmentalist are associated with Montessori.  Behaviorists wear lab coats.  Maturationists are hippies.

The correspondence between these two theories is not accidental.  If you trace the history of ideas associated with maturationists, you end up with Rosseau, who also came up with the idea of natural law.  If you trace the history of ideas associated with behaviorists you end up with August Comte who came up with the idea of positivism.  These two people also took different sides on the French Revolution.  Rosseau with the republicans, and Comte with the monarchists.  Maturationists are liberals.  Behaviorists are conservatives.   Maturationists are hippies.  Behaviorists wear lab coats.

Now in early childhood education, the conflict between the two was largely resolved in the 1980’s with ideas with from cognitive development.  The main name with this is Lev Vygotsky’s whose main idea is social constructivism.  Learning is the process of making external interactions between human beings internal.

I  would argue that just as there is a “third way” in ECE, the concepts of cognitive development and social construction of ideas can be used to create a theory of law.  One example of this is wikipedia which in a very short time has developed an elaborate legal system with courts and legal norms.   The usefulness of this theory of international law is that I think it allows for the incorporation of non-state or semi-state actors.  States, non-states, and semi-states come from social interactions, and this provides a common ground to see how these relate to each other.  The other thing is that by using social interactions between individuals as the fundamental generating principle of law, one links in law with other endavours such as economics, diplomacy, and politics.  Finally, to get back to my early article, creating a social constructivist theory of law allows for one to bring in passion, emotion, and irrationality into international law.

It is necessary to include passion into international law since the fundamental actors are all based on passion.  International law is particularly “passionless” since it was created in the time of Grotius by kings to mediate what were essentially contractual disputes, and has many elements of contract civil law.  However, since the mid-19th century, the unit of international law has been the nation-state which ultimately is based on the rather irrational but important need for human beings to sacrifice themselves for their family and nation in the name of love.  Any theory of international law must incorporate these irrational but essential aspects of the human condition.  Social constructivism does this by basing law ultimately on the silly and irrational interactions (or lack thereof) between human beings.

To see an example of social constructivism in action, I’d argue that my views on the Chen Guangchen case are very highly influenced by social constructivism.  A legal positivist would look only at the literal application of the law, while a natural lawyer would try to find general principles.  Both would miss what I think is the essential matter of this case, which is how law exists within a particular social system and how it influences and is influenced by that system.

I’d also argue that social constructivism also takes the law out of the realm of the lawyers and puts it into the hands of the common man.  In legal positivism, the law is unconnected with social systems.  In natural law, the law is connected with abstract principles which are not connected with the day-to-day activities of ordinary humans.  The social constructivist views human and social relations as the basis of law, and by connecting law with people’s day to day lives, it provides a gateway by which people can be empowered to use law, rather than becoming dependent on experts.

Question: Relate what I’ve said to the various issues that have concerned Chinese philosophers since Confucius.

December 9, 2006

Passion, love and international law

There is an interesting paradox in international law and in law in general. International law is based on the relations between actors such as nation-states whose existence is based on passion and emotion. China exists because there is a community of people that think that they have something in common with each other and have an emotional bond. When those emotional bonds break as in the case of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the nation state disappears. At the same time, when emotional bonds are formed toward organizations, such as corporations, religions, or things like wikipedia, these items suddenly become powerful actors.

But you’ll never read an international lawyer talk about passion, about love, and you will find that they talk very rarely about individual people, even though love, passion, and relationships between individual people are the building blocks by which all of the international actors are founded on.

The thing that I’ve figured out over the last ten years is that the passions, love, and feelings that I have toward people cannot be seen in isolation, but are products of historical processes. In addition, the other thing that I’ve figured out as a physicist is that things that happen at one scale can tell you a lot about what is happening an other scale. If you understand the behavior of particles, you understand more about the behavior of the entire universe, and this applies to social relations. If you start to look deeply at how two people relate with each other, this will tell you a lot about how nations relate. And it works the other way, if you look at how nations relate to each other, you will start to understand how two people relate with each other.

There is a tendency in social science to trivialize feelings. This results from a basic misconception of Darwinian evolution that was used to justify British colonialism and the British class system. The idea was that there are “higher” and “lower” centers of the brain and that “higher” people and “higher” civilizations use “higher” centers of the brain. The parts of the brain that were more recently developed are those involving logic and language.

So using this incorrect interpretation of Darwinism, “higher” people and civilizations use only logic and language, and the older mammalian centers of the brain which are responsible for passion, emotion, sex, hunger, are the preserve of “lower” people, “lower” civilizations. This view has consequences to people’s views on how society should be structured. This incorrect view of Darwinism was used (and is used) to divide people into “thinkers”, “feelers” and “doers” with the “thinkers” obviously getting all of the power.

And when the people at the bottom get angry that they are being used, well anger is an example of emotion and obviously people with emotions are inferior and shouldn’t be allowed to intermix with us thinkers.

The trouble with all of this is that it is *TOTAL RUBBISH*. Darwinism doesn’t work that way, and you can look at the work of Stephen Jay Gould to see how this view of Darwinism as a ladder is incorrect. In truth, the differently evolved areas of the brain complement each other. The anger, hate, and rage I feel integrates with associative centers that are responsible for poetry and partial differential equations. As a physicist and a computer programmer, I don’t *think* about programs and equations, I *feel* them. The model that I use is an integrative model, in which different parts of the brain have different functions, but all of them are necessary for the functioning of the whole and should be treated with respect. This view of how the brain works extends to how I view society as working. People are complex. People do different things. But people all deserve respect and you get amazing things happening when you network different people together, and societies are about networks, about passion, and about love.

This is the fundamental difference between me and the woman I  call the fairy princess. Her model of the world rejects passion. Mine embraces it. Her model of the world involves associating with only the “elite” and then “helping the lower classes.” Mine involves associating with everyone and both helping and being helped.

I think her ideas are incorrect, and incorrect ideas have bad consequences at the large scale level and at the small scale level. If one does not embrace love, if one does not embrace passion, then one denies one of the very foundations of human existence. Love and passion if not directed correctly and respected by the associative centers of the brain will fester and explode. It’s not a coincidence that the nation that has created a class system that is based on these incorrect views of evolution and Darwinism is facing a huge amount of Islamic radicalism, whereas a nation that is fundamentally based on equality and equal dignity of man is not.

I’ve been reading a lot of the work of Ben Kingsbury who is Professor of International Law at New York University, and he makes this fundamental error. He talks about a passionless system of “global adminstrative law” which rejects the passion and emotions of politics. We are being issued orders by the Iraq study group which are emotionless bureaucrats, objectively studying matters without realizing that war is all about passion and love.

This will not work to win the Long War. Wars, nations, and organizations are about passion. They are about love. Any system of international law which ignores this fundamental reality of human existence will create structures that accord with objective reality, and things that do not fit objective reality are doomed and cause unnecessary pain and agony, both at the level of international relations, and at the level of relations between two people.

I’m tired. I’ve been thinking and feeling too much the last week, and my mind and body are near exhaustion. I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m scared, and I think it is going to be worried. But I do think that I’ve broken free of some intellectual chains, of being ashamed of passion, of being unable to speak about love, that the fairy princess and people like her have put on me. I’m free of things that they aren’t, and that may be a good thing. I’m not afraid to challenge. I’m not afraid to fight.

But I am tired.

I want to end with the one thing that drives me. The one passion that I think explains everything in this blog. The one unifying principle that I would like to present.

I don’t like to think. Thinking is hard. Thinking is painful. Thinking will get you in trouble.  Thinking leads to talking, and talking leads to invoking the name of past ghosts that one may wish to forget.  Ghosts like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.

But I am utterly terrified by the consequences of being unable or unwilling to think, and I have unhealable wounds that keep me in constant pain, that are the result of what happens when one is unable or unwilling to think.  The consequences of being unable or unwilling to think are horrific, both at the international/global level, and at the personal level.

I’ll talk more later. I need to sleep.

Create a free website or blog at