Thursday, October 05, 2006


In prehistoric times men did the hunting, supplied the food, fought off invaders, weathered the elements and generally provided for their families. Women were revered for their fertility. This had been the natural progression; there was no conscious aversion to placing either gender in a different role, it just happened that way. The way it worked was not very different from Homo Sapiens’s ancestors: natural selection.
This continued throughout the ages. Men defended their houses, villages and communities. Wars were fought, nations were defended and ice ages were overcome thanks to efforts put forth by men. Slowly but surely, advances were made: new weapons, new armor and new equipment. In hindsight the pattern could have been discerned from this point on.
Armies followed strategies, crossbows and catapults were invented, wheels and boats were used, fortifications were built. Strength, however, was still the chief attribute of the survival of any society. The longbow was ingenious, but it needed a strong arm, shoulder and footing. Through time, however, this tended to occur less and less.
Muskets and pistols did not need strong muscles. Cars and tanks neither, not to mention planes. After a number of centuries computers were used more and more to operate machinery for warfare and defense. It was clear by this point that brains were much more important than brawn. Activities from farming to conquest were progressively automatic.
Around the same time men started acting differently. Having brute strength was no longer an advantage. It did not accomplish much in life and it did not attract the opposite sex. Men started exercising their brain and started realizing that women were capable of everything they were, for the first time in human history.
Well, that’s not exactly true; it had been happening throughout history, mostly in spurts of realizations. Plato talked about how women differed from men in physical attributes, but had the same intellectual abilities as the best of men, and should therefore be assigned the same vital functions in society. Thomas More’s Utopia, though not as progressive, had women involved in government, labor and battle. Voltaire was attracted to Émilie du Châtelet because of her intellectual genius (most probably far greater than his). Despite all this, however, women received the vote in most countries only when all counter arguments had been exhausted, and even then with great reluctance.
Women could run a country, conduct a war, explore new frontiers, till the land, provide food, defend a society, weather the elements and perform any other activity needed for human survival. Men started acting less like men had acted traditionally, and more like women. Men did not concentrate on their physical prowess; they eschewed violence and prided themselves in their domesticity and care for their environment.
It was shortly after this that the change happened. At the time it was called the Misconception, among many other names: parthenogenesis was the proper term. What was clear, however, was that this was one of the most drastic evolutionary jumps, if not the most drastic, in the history of humans and all mammals. Some women were worshipped as new Madonna’s, while others were reviled as whores. Some had followings, while others were executed. Their children were treated in the same manner. Nevertheless, the trend became evident and undeniable: women were conceiving by themselves.
What started out as tragedy and fear slowly became increasingly controlled. From the great Misconception women soon learned how to have more and more power over their pregnancies, while medicines perfected this mechanism. This was going hand in hand with another concurrent phenomenon: almost all the newborns were females.
At this point it did not take much intellect to decipher what was occurring. Rape, Sexual assaults, molestations, Syphilis, AIDS, prostitution, spousal abuse would all be things of the past. No more bikinis, no more Burkas. And an entire gender would be erased from existence.
To recount the number of scientific studies and experiments which occurred in an attempt to reverse this trend would be useless. Heads of state talked of promoting the male gender. Couples were encouraged and enticed to produce male children. The change, however, was inevitable.
And now here I lie. The last male specimen. I have spent my life in seclusion because of the danger I am to myself for being what I am. The women I had contact with would stare at me intently, stroke my cheek to measure its coarseness, listen to my voice with curiosity. They would ask me about my sports skills and my male organs.
After my death, which is rapidly approaching, males will be consigned to history books, at which point we will be akin to fictional characters, such as fairies and ogres, or a sub-species: Cro-Magnons or Australopithecus.
I do not know if there is a God. I do not know what life means. I have stopped hoping that the male gender will recreate itself. Parthenogenesis has occurred in insect and plant species in the past, although a gender in itself has never become extinct by itself.

Nothing endures but change.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dumb Agent Theory

This is the theory that my thesis is based on. It is a theory that has been observed time and time again, although never proven per se. I am applying this theory to a future’s market, which I believe can be used as an indicator; in my case, for Foreign Direct Investment.
Right away I will say that this theory, being unproven, could be seen as rather tenuous to base my whole thesis on. It would be as if I had constructed an instrument capable of saving the Roman Empire based on the theory of Time travel. On the other hand, many occurrences, especially in physics, have been based on theory. The most prominent example is gravity, which comes about basically through process of elimination. Although this is all we have in theory, we have seen it in practice many times, and many other theories are based on it, such as observing the gravitational pull of stars in order to determine the position, size, mass and movements of planets that cannot be seen. That is why I treated this theory as such. Since it has been observed time and time again in many markets, and has never been shown to be incorrect, I assumed that it was correct.
Lately, however, I’ve been wondering if this is wise, so I decided to delve into the theory behind what happens to see if I can make sense of it.

The basis of any market, is the value of the underlying object or entity, or, more precisely, its utility. The difference between these is that an object could have an underlying value that is never utilized/observed/understood etc. I won’t get into whether something can be of value if it serves no purpose since that would bring me down a philosophical road I won’t know the first thing about. I will say that the value of any object or entity is its utility.

So, let’s take Object Alpha. Alpha has a utility, and therefore a value, of X. Can we guess what X is? If I were to guess I would probably say a number that is too high or too low. If any other person guesses, he or she will have the same results. How can we correct this? Well let’s take the other extreme: If everyone in the world guesses, values will be all across the board. But there will be a mid-point (or equilibrium point, or an amassed perceived value). This point must, by definition, equal Alpha’s value. If everyone estimates its value based on their perception of its utility, the amassed perceived utility must equal its real utility.

This follows along the lines that if I were the only person who could ever possibly achieved any utility (be it positive or negative) from Alpha, my perceived utility would indeed be its value. Therefore, everyone in the world together would be able to discover Alpha’s real value. So one person could achieve any value for Alpha, while everyone in the world would achieve its true value. In fact, everyone that gets any form of utility from Alpha would, collectively, be able to find its true value. Following this theory we can see why more liquidity means more preciseness in determining Alpha’s value, which basically proves the theory.

But what still bothers me is, if this theory can be shown to be true, why isn’t it used more often? I know companies have started using it, especially hi-tech companies, in order to determine what trends will last or pass away. How could one know ahead of time how big the I-pod would be, or how wireless keyboards would not pick up at all? It is also being used in order to predict outbreaks of influenza (I use this as a case study in my thesis) and has been shown to work well even with a very small number of traders. Maybe, like any idea, it just needs to have its time. When a market was proposed where people could trade on likelihood of a terrorist attack the Policy Analysis Market, the idea was immediately crushed in the house and the pentagon had to get rid of it. I still don’t understand why.

Anyway, if anyone has any thoughts, comments or constructive criticisms please let me know as I’d like to know this stuff backwards, forwards and sideways.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Surely my masters will come to get me. Surely they didn't love me all that time for this.

-Laika, the Space dog

Sunday, February 26, 2006


I walked into Borders yesterday, and noticed a book called “The Last Templar”. Thinking this might be a new book about Jacques de Molay, since he was the last templar, I picked it up. The front flap proceeded to talk about how men dressed as knights galloped on horses down Fifth Avenue to steal something, at which point I closed the book and placed it back. It might as well have been discussing the lost continent of Mu or Atlantis. I then see that the front stand still has copies of the Davinci Code (along with all the books that explain it). Readers, it seems, cannot get enough of conspiracy theories. Umberto Eco said it 20 years ago: “If someone brings up the Templars, he’s almost always a lunatic.”

And why not? Monk warriors who conquered the Holy land, lost it, came back to Europe richer than the kings or the pope, developed letters of credit before the Florentine bankers, inspired fear in everyone, and then were all captured on the same day (Friday the 13th) on charges of heresy and burnt at the stake are just asking to be glorified. Add to this the fact that they built their headquarters on the supposed Temple of Solomon (Hence their name), that their insignia shows two knights on one horse (Hence the charges of homosexuality) and their strange knowledge and rituals (They interacted with the Muslims in Palestine who, during the middle ages, were much more advanced than the backward Christians), and you can create hundreds of plots for your books.

But there have been so many more throughout the ages, from John Dee to Madame Blavatsky. The Illuminati were behind the French Revolution. Marco Polo made secret trips to Canada. The Egyptians colonized Mexico (And the Greeks colonized the Yucatan). The Venetians sabotaged the Tower of Pisa. The plague was part of an Indian plan of World domination. Everyone worships serpents. The continent of Lemuria. The whore of Babylon. And aliens aliens aliens.

One that occasionally still makes the rounds is the Pyramid question. How come you can find Pyramids on both sides of the Atlantic, from Egypt to Mexico? And why are they more or less (give or take as much as you like) at the same parallel? People seem to love this, and take it as proof of a conspiracy. By someone. Somewhere. For some reason. The fact is, pyramids are easier to construct than spheres. If you want to make a huge building, and the wheel hasn’t even been invented yet, what shape will you make it in? The fact of parallel has more to do with climate. As humans were able to deal with cooler climates they were able to migrate further North (witness the progression of civilizations: From Egypt to Greece to Rome throughout Europe). Then again, there’s a theory that the pyramids were just constructed to confuse further generations. But doesn’t that sound like an Age of Enlightenment conspiracy?

Obviously I’m just as guilty as the next person of being a sucker for conspiracies. But how can I resist? Take numerology for example. The best numerologist (i.e. most entertaining) about the pyramids was Charles Piazzi Smyth. He said the Great Pyramid was constructed by God; after all, its height is exactly one billionth the distance between the earth and the sun. And the pyramid inch is exactly 100 millionth the speed of the earth. This is a good source for these numbers and many more like them, some of which get pretty complicated.

On the other hand, I have my own doubts about the pyramids. They were constructed out of limestone. Wouldn’t the Egyptians have known that you can melt limestone at 600 degrees, thereby making it easier to carry? But then again I know nothing about the subject. Back to conspiracies:

A big one recently may or may not be a conspiracy, a myth, or truth. I’m referring to the map that proves the Chinese discovered the Americas in 1418, 74 years before Columbus. The map is from the 18th century, but is supposed to be a “genuine copy” of an older 1418 map. I’m agnostic about this, but I am still very hesitant in jumping onto the whole ‘Chinese discoverers’ bandwagon yet for a couple reasons. Well, I have not read Menzies’ book, and I don’t speak a word of Chinese, let alone ancient Chinese; I am also not a cartographer and my only source of Ming Dynasty China is books about Matteo Ricci, so I am the last person who should be commenting on this, but I will anyway. First of all, the map is divided in hemispheres. While the Chinese may have known that the world is round, the Europeans were the only ones who divided maps into hemispheres. And secondly, it seems ridiculous that someone as well known as Zheng He could have had this map made, and then no one spoke of it ever again until last month. A map of the world would most likely have been an item of interest for someone. Either way, I might be proven wrong, but I cannot judge only based on a map that has not been refuted. History is not really based on logic, it’s based on what happened. With one map by itself it’s hard to tell. As we learned in Geometry, using just one data point you can draw a line in any direction.

While I believe it’s a good thing to stop having such a Eurocentric view on the goings on of history (witness that all the conspiracy theories mentioned have to do with European history). A publication with as little proof as this pours more scorn on other more serious theories and just relegates the lot to the fringes.

As a side note, I have found one conspiracy theory dealing with Korean history, having to do with writings at the onset of the Chosun dynasty, which said that it would last 600 years (it lasted 613), would be followed by 100 years of turmoil, after which there would be 1,000 years of a Korean rebirth (I don’t recall the exact words unfortunately). This would technically mean that the rebirth started last year.

And what else? Well, the obvious. There are 9 characters in ‘September’ making the ratio 9-11 with the number. The Kights Templar were formed in 1118 (1+8=9 and 11). The atom is a Jewish conspiracy. The lost tribe of Israel traveled to the Americas. Davinci and Tintoretto painted proof of Jesus’ wife and child. The Masons. The Priory of Sion. Whoever else.

All pieces of evidence contradict one another but they never refute each other (The Luciferine Church and the Order of Satan will disagree, but never denounce each other). On the other hand, authors writing about these subjects can sound knowledgeable by referring to works of literature by other authors who write about these subjects who, in turn, refer back to these same authors until it is all one big Escherite referral game. This is how narwhal horns came to prove the existence of unicorns. Conspiracy theories are wonderful in that one can collect any evidence that promotes the conspiracy, while all evidence refuting it is obviously part of the cover-up. I need to choose whom to believe, but in order to do so, I need to choose the criteria with which to choose whom to believe. But how do I choose that?

Why not start with St. Augustine, since he shares my same birthday? Write my own book of confessions? Plan a city of God? Then again, he would shun the amphitheaters for their barbarous and useless act of wickedness, but he couldn’t stop himself from watching when a dog chased a hare and ate it. He recognized this as morbid curiosity about something bad and of no use, as I have with my useless readings. So we’re on the same page in that sense. On the other hand, who hasn’t rubbernecked?

So in conclusion my logic has found that I am human. Let’s hope tomorrow’s a better day.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Remember the North Korean Cheerleaders?

I remember when I was living in Seoul the Asian Games were held in Busan, and then the Universidad games in Taegu. I remember that for both these games, the biggest hits were the North Korean cheerleaders. They were extremely good looking girls that came cheering for their team, with DPRK and Korean unification flags. In fact, much more airtime and newstime was spent on them than the rest of the games. And not without reason: they were sweet cheery nice girls from North Korea. When they weren't performing their cheers ("Skill! Technique! Focus!") they were staying at a hotel off-limits to anyone else (many young guys would drive up there to meet them and get turned away).

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And then there was the incident with the Kim Jong-il poster, which was a bit strange, but interesting. They were in the bus going back to their dormitories after a game and noticed a banner of Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung that was in the rain, and close to the ground. They started shouting for the bus driver to stop, and in fact one girl slammed on the breaks herself. Then they rushed over to the poster and took it back with them, so that the picture of their Dear Leader wouldn't get ruined.

I also remember how South Korean girls would throw written notes at them from their stands during the games. The notes were always innocent, as in "I hope we all get to be together soon", and they would all scream and cheer together with the south koreans after each of the notes.

Either way, for those who lived in Korea during this time, these cheerleaders were a big event. Guys would ogle over them, and girls would cheer them on. They always had smiles on their faces and watching them made reunification seem so much closer at hand. For once it was nice to see South Koreans genuinely happy, and North Koreans looking excited to be there, both groups sitting right next to each other on the stands, without politics getting in the way. I bring this up because apparently they're in a gulag now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blogs of more value than mine

I usually skip over most of the forwards or back-and-forth bickering that occurs on our school listserv. I just happened to read one yesterday because it was before my morning coffee and I clicked on it without thinking. Either way, I thought it was pretty interesting, and a good sign. I'll just copy the main body of the e-mail here since I have nothing of value to add to it, except that this could be an interesting tie-in to last week's Economist article about home-grown revolutions:

Iranian blogs debate nuclear row
Blogs are relatively unregulated compared to other media in Iran.
Iranian bloggers are commenting extensively on the nuclear row between
Iran and the West.
A significant number of bloggers seem to blame President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad in particular for the crisis and suggest that he has taken
Iran to the brink of war.
The sports lovers are worried that the Iranian team may be expelled
from the World Cup because of the nuclear issue and Mr Ahmadinejad's
comments on Israel and the Holocaust.
There are expressions of confidence about support for Iran in the
Islamic world and suggestions that Iranian politicians are playing a
sophisticated game.

'Deflecting public opinion' - Daftar-e bi Mokhatab (Notebook without a
Reader), 17 January
"Mr Ahmadinejad didn't mention in any of his campaign slogans that, if
he became president, he intended to remove Israel from the map...
"I also don't recall him promising that he'd take the nuclear file to
the point of having international sanctions imposed on the country,
having the file referred to the Security Council, sacrificing the
country's economic interests and war...
"What has brought the government to this point today is that it's
realised that it's not capable of fulfilling even 55% of its campaign
slogans... so it wants to deflect domestic public opinion by creating
constant international crises in order to pretend that it's foreigners
who are preventing the government from fulfilling its promises."

'Count yourself lucky' - Khatt-e Qermez (Red Line), 24 January
"Today, my American professor told me: You Iranians should count
yourselves lucky that we attacked Iraq, because if we hadn't attacked
them, we'd have attacked you by now!"

'Congratulations Mr President!' - After Rain, 16 January
"Greetings Mr President [Ahmadinejad]! I wanted to congratulate you.
God willing, you're on a roll, taking our dear country towards ruin...
I won't allow the flames of war, ruin, famine and wretchedness to be
lit in my country. I don't want to be shamed any further before the
world. I don't want war! I don't want nuclear energy. This oil is more
than enough for me."


Friday, January 27, 2006

Tonight's thesis

So I've been forbidden from writing anymore about Behavioral econ, which suits me just fine. Even though I was going to write about how there's a theory that the ultimatum game and the dictator game, two tenets of Behavioral economics that are used as prime examples of it, might actually turn out to be extremely rational. Well whatever, I was pretty much going to plagiarize from a bunch of Economist articles anyway.

Otherwise I've got nothing much to write about. Except about how I have no imagination, which I of course blame on my society. I think we're going through a period now that, although everyone keeps touting as revolutionary and unprecedented, will be remembered as extremely uninventive. The easiest example is looking at contemporary movies. Some recent box office hits have been King Kong, Chronicles of Narnia, Pride and Prejudice. These are obviously remakes of older books and/or movies. This seems to be a trend currently, with very few exceptions, especially compared to other times, such as the end of the 19th century, with works of art such as those by Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, that guy who wrote Treasure Island, Tolkien, etc. Great. That took me nowhere.

Actually, as most of you know, my subsitute for Morandi's here is reading history books, a majority of which are of the middle ages. So here's my thesis for tonight: in my opinion we're going through another form of Middle Ages. That period of history also known as the Dark Ages, where everything seemed to be at a standstill. The first piece of evidence for this is our subconscious obsession with the middle ages: the infatuation with LOTR, Harry Potter, Narnia and other Medieval-style stories. Star Wars movies needs scenes of grand armies approaching and fighting each other on huge scales over vast terrains; just as tear-jerkers use the concept of love as a feeling that can destroy as much as it rebuilds, which first came about in the middle ages.

Right away I guess people will say that nowadays we are advancing at an extremely rapid pace and are having new inventions so quickly that it is hard to keep up. This is true, but tell this to someone who grew up expectantly in the 60's, and has not yet been able to see the promised colonies on the moon, or the flying cars. Instead we have Ipods and telephony. It's true that we are advancing rapidly as, they did for that matter, during the middle ages, but I think it will take a new Renaissance for us to find real revolutionary uses for these advances.

During the Middle Ages everyone was very religious, and now we aren't, right? Well the ones who are most religious (as in, fanatical, such as Bible-belters and Islamists) are not the ones bringing improvements to life. But that's the wrong way to see it. Fundamental islamists are like the Circoncellians, giving one final push to promote their way of life, as the Bible-belters could be the Cathars, offering a religion that is “Born again” to people who can accept it. And on the other side we find left-wing “anti-religionists” who, like the old “populist” clergy, is quick to denounce the new Cathars for their moral absolutes, but when confronted with racism, the environment and (of course) globalization, will only accept absolute truths, displaying the puritan mentality so prominent in the United States yet so denied by these same Americans.
So the absolutes will go both ways, as contradas, towns and fiefdoms refused to accept the values of their neighbors 1000 years ago. Certain groups will say religion is the biggest difference between these two ages, while opposing groups will say it is the moral degradation, as Dominicans and Franciscans argued in the past. On the other hand, what is the difference between Joan of Arc and Che Guevara; both rallying populaces against evil occupiers and dying in the process? And pop singers and movie stars are the new saints: the non-elite who achieve power through their efforts (usually of charisma) and become our models of behavior.

We observe these models not by reading about what they think, but through visualization. Our movies and special effects are mediums that reach the population as bright, colorful paintings and stained glass did in the middle ages. Both have messages to convey and lessons to teach, and both will denounce the feudal lords. These lords own great palaces, which common people can enter and admire, but where the top and more inaccessible quarters are reserved for the lords themselves. Whether we mean the Sforzesco Castle or Trump tower makes no difference.

The middle ages were a time when people were more likely to visit Jerusalem than the villages in an adjacent valley. As more New Yorkers today will visit Paris than Poughkeepsie.

Monasteries used to be closed-off communities, surrounded by barbarous alien people, and in which monks used to spend their days shut off from the real world, with their noses in their books, trying to achieve some sort of Utopia. Academic institutions of modern times perform the same function, and the neo-marxist utopia being sought today remains just as elusive as Thomas More's. Judging by history, in that case, while some ideas of the new rebirth will take place within these walls, the vast majority will only take hold within the least expected corners of society, among people trying merely to carry on with their own lives. From these areas, therefore, we must expect the new renaissance.