March 18, 2012

Reason.tv: Why The Future Is Better Than You Think

Filed under: Economics, Health, History, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:06

The ever-expanding role for women in the military

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Education, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:22

An interesting article at Strategy Page:

The growing number of women in the military is largely driven by the need for people with scarce skills. Since most (over 80 percent) of military jobs have little, or nothing, to do with combat, if you can’t find enough qualified men, you can recruit women. This is especially true in the West, where females tend to be better educated than males. Thus women comprise about ten percent of the troops in Western armed forces. In the United States this is 15 percent for active duty troops, and 18 percent for the reserves. Civilian contractors, who are taking back some of the military jobs they performed for thousands of years, have an even higher percentage of females.

All this reflects growing female participation in the post-agricultural economy. We tend to forget that as recently as the 19th century, 90 percent of humanity were engaged in agriculture. It had been that way for thousands of years. With industrialization, women began to stay at home with the kids, and no longer work the same jobs (as they did in agriculture) with their husbands. But in the last sixty years, women have returned to their traditional place in the economy.

[. . .]

This current trend in using women and contractors are actually a return to the past, when many of the “non-combat” troops were civilians. Another problem is the shrinking proportion of troops who actually fight. A century ago, most armies comprised over 80 percent fighters and the rest “camp followers (support troops) in uniform.” Today the ratio is reversed, and therein resides a major problem. Way back in the day, the support troops were called “camp followers,” and they took care of supply, support, medical care, maintenance and “entertainment” (that’s where the term “camp follower” got a bad name). The majority of these people were men, and some of them were armed, mainly for defending the camp if the combat troops got beat real bad and needed somewhere to retreat to.

[. . .]

One of the great revolutions in military operations in this century has been in the enormous increase in support troops. This came after a sharp drop in the proportion of camp followers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before that it was common for an army on the march to consist of 10-20 percent soldiers and the rest camp followers. There was a reason for this. Armies “in the field” were camping out and living rough could be unhealthy and arduous if you didn’t have a lot of servants along to take care of the camping equipment and help out with the chores. Generals usually had to allow a lot of camp followers in order to get the soldiers to go along with the idea of campaigning.

Only the most disciplined armies could do away with all those camp followers and get the troops to do their own housekeeping. The Romans had such an army, with less than half the “troops” being camp followers. But the Romans system was not re-invented until the 18th century, when many European armies trained their troops to do their own chores in the field, just as the Romans had. In the 19th century, steamships and railroads came along and made supplying the troops even less labor intensive, and more dependent on civilian support “troops.” The widespread introduction of conscription in the 19th century also made it possible to get your “camp followers” cheap by drafting them and putting them in uniform.

Measuring the effectiveness of your charity organization by how they allocate their spending

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:06

Tim Harford’s weekend magazine column:

You’re a generous person, I can tell. But how much do you think about the effectiveness of your charitable donations? One handy way to size up a charity is to pay attention to how much money it spends on overheads such as administration and fundraising, rather than frontline do-gooding. There’s only one small problem: this ready reckoner is enormously misleading.

For people who think about the effectiveness of charities, this insight is not news. Givewell, a charity that evaluates the effectiveness of other charities, complained five years ago about the “pervasive attitude that nonprofits need to get all their money right to the needy, and do all their administration on the cheap”. Dean Karlan, an economics professor and co-author of More Than Good Intentions, analysed Givewell’s recommendations and found that outstanding charities tended to spend more money, not less, on administration and fundraising.

Caroline Fiennes, author of a new book, It Ain’t What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It, explains that fundraising costs tend to be determined by donors — who can generous or stingy, ignorant of the cause or conscious of it. Meanwhile, administration costs could include efficient logistics, accounting or purchasing systems — plus paying for rigorous evaluation.

Can there ever be a “canonical” release of Abel Gance’s Napoleon?

Filed under: Europe, France, History, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:42

Manohla Dargis charts the incredibly rocky history of Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece Napoleon:

SOON after Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” had its premiere in Paris in 1927, he wrote a letter to his audience, soliciting open eyes and hearts. “I have made,” he wrote, “a tangible effort toward a somewhat richer and more elevated form of cinema.” He had created a film towering in ambition, scale, cost, narrative and technical innovations, and believed that nothing less than “the future of the cinema” was at stake. His audacity had merit. The origins of the widescreen image can be traced to “Napoleon,” which also featured hand-held camerawork, eye-blink-fast editing, gorgeous tints, densely layered superimpositions and images shot from a pendulum, a sled, a bicycle and a galloping horse.

The film was an astonishment, and it was doomed. One hurdle was its length — his early versions ran from 3 hours to 6 hours 28 minutes (down from 9 hours) — while other difficulties were posed by Gance’s advances, specifically a process later called Polyvision that extended the visual plane into a panorama or three separate images and that required three screens to show it. Partly as a consequence, distributors and exhibitors took harsh liberties: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cut it down to around 70 minutes for the American release, a butchering that seemed to encourage bad reviews. Gance continued to rework the film, adding sound for a 1935 version and, decades later, new material. Yet even as he was taking it apart, others — notably the British historian Kevin Brownlow — were trying to restore “Napoleon” to its original glory.

In truth “Napoleon,” as it was initially hailed, no longer exists, which raises ticklish questions about authorship. In his book on the film, Mr. Brownlow lists 19 versions of “Napoleon” — including those created by distributors, Gance and Mr. Brownlow himself, who for decades has tried to restore the long-lost full version.

It’s almost a metaphysical question: how can you re-create the “original” when even the creator was busy re-shaping it at every stage along the way? George Lucas looks like an arch-conservator in comparison to Gance’s efforts.

“Santorum’s own web site suggests that seeing this turned between 15 and 25% of the crowd insta-gay”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:31

Title courtesy of Popehat’s Twitter feed. Article at Gawker:

Santorum’s virgin eyes have been tarnished by sin — as a protest against the Republican presidential candidate’s vehemently anti-gay policies, two men got the attention of the crowd at an Illinois rally and kissed each other. Guards removed the men from the gym as the crowd chanted “U-S-A.” Because nothing is more American than repression.

Powered by WordPress