In debates about the American Civil War and its causes, one often hears the argument advanced that the efforts of the Northern abolitionists were unnecessary as slave labor was already on the way out, owing to its declining profitability. I've always found this argument preposterous on its face, but in the course of reading Götz Aly's "Hitler's Beneficiaries", I am struck anew by the utter mendacity of such an assertion: not only did the Nazi regime make slavery pay, but it paid on a truly colossal scale, something on the order of $100-150 billion in the space of a handful of years. If slavery could be made to pay so handsomely in 1941-1945, and in a Germany whose economy was already far more knowledge-intensive than the American South would be until perhaps the 1980s*, why are we supposed to believe that slavery would be abolished today without a war to force its abolition? Why would the South have been willing to go to war to preserve a soon-to-be obsolete institution in the first place?
Human slavery is and likely always will be profitable, at least until reality catches up with Blade Runner and artificial sentient humanoids can be made to do what men, women and children in chains would have (and even that would simply be replacing one type of slavery with another). Optimists might like to believe otherwise, and nothing will stop neo-confederate apologists masquerading as "libertarians" from continuing to make stupid arguments to the contrary, but the viability of slavery is something that will not change in the foreseeable future.
*To be perfectly candid, it isn't even clear that this is true today, considered objectively. 1930s Germany was a creative and innovative powerhouse on a scale that the American South just doesn't seem to be.
PS: A little searching turns up this paper on the economics of slavery in the antebellum South. As expected - and in contrast to the rubbish to be found on "Lew Rockwell" and similar sites - the paper gives every reason to believe that slavery would have continued to thrive had the American Civil War been averted.
One of those new pieces of photographic equipment that I've been meaning to write about on here for ages is the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED, which I had the good fortune to acquire at a relatively low rate from a prior owner who wished to sell it in order to help pay for a Nikon D3.
Having built a search engine from scratch, I can verify that the task is far harder to do right than most people assume, and that's even leaving aside the need to do something cleverer than everyone else with all of the data you're busy gathering and indexing. Rather than go on at length about the precise whys and wherefores, I'll let this ACM Queue article do a little of the work for me; I say "a little" because it addresses only the basic technical aspects of the exercise, while even a stirringly successful development push will still leave the daunting task of commercializing the product. There's nothing to sour one on the competence and vision of the supposed leading lights of the financial world like dealing with venture capitalists who insist on telling you that "search is dead" just 2 years before Google goes public ...
And now for something completely different! It turns out that Terence Tao's recently begun teaching a class at UCLA on Grigori Perelman's proof of the Poincare Conjecture, and for the benefit of all those of us who can't be there to enjoy the benefit of his teaching, he's been putting up his lecture notes on his weblog. If you have the requisite background to appreciate what Tao's writing about, I think you'll find his notes wonderfully lucid. Highly recommended.
There's a small story behind this photo, but as I've already written it on the photo's Flickr page (which you can reach by clicking on the image), I'll only add here that when Korean women are cute - which, like with any other people, is hardly all of the time - they are really cute. Why that is I don't know (and no, I don't agree that surgery has everything to do with it).
Physical height is one of those human traits which nearly everyone seems to care about, with most people either wishing they had a little more of it or wishing they could find a partner who did. In addition, height - unlike a nebulous concept like "intelligence" - is one particular trait which is quite easy to objectively measure, and it is beyond dispute that how tall one will become is heavily determined by one's genetic inheritance. As such, one would think there'd already be a huge body of work out there which nails down the genetic variations which primarily contribute to this trait, but the surprising thing is that very little was actually known about its genetic determinants until very recently (subs reqd).
I've always found the whole media circus around "Knut the Polar Bear" intensely stupid, particularly because I knew from the start how it would end once the animal had ceased to be a cute little pup ignorant but sentimental spectators could fawn over. As this BBC story shows, what I anticipated is precisely what has come to pass.
Germany's celebrity polar bear Knut has triggered a new controversy by fishing out 10 live carp from his moat and killing them in front of visitors.
I've noticed that during the last few weeks, Google has made some tweaks to the way its search engine works, tweaks which effectively destroy its usefulness for those of us who aren't completely technologically illiterate. I've become so fed up with the breakage caused by these changes that I dashed off the following message.
To be completely candid, my personal opinion as to the attractiveness of the typical English female is less than enthusiastic: outside of a few enclaves in which well-born and raised "Sloane Ranger" types are to be found, your average English woman in her 20s or 30s is all too often either an obese and overpainted hussy, a foul-mouthed drunken chav, or some lethal mixture of the two categories, and what one usually finds upon encountering a striking beauty in London who knows how to carry herself like a lady is that she is usually from continental Europe, whether from Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, or some other such place.