Saturday, April 27, 2002

There are some blogs out there that are concerned with finance/economics. One of the easiest to read (and thus most informative) is Megan McArdle's blog. If you're interested in learning the fundamentals about some of the pressing financial issues that are with us today then I strongly urge you to go and read her blog every day.

But no one seems to care how all of this economic/finance stuff got started. If you happen to be one of those people then RUN, RUN AND DON'T LOOK BACK! Otherwise, read on.

Since civilization started around 12,000 years ago, we can say that anything resembling economics didn't exist for most of civilization's history. Generally speaking, some guy who was bigger and stronger than everyone else owned everything. Since he could take what you had by force (even your life), it really belonged to him. These guys were the first kings. Trade was strictly the barter system, and although various nations and tribes demanded tribute there wasn't anything we'd recognize as commerce.

That all changed with the Ancient Greeks, specifically the Ionian Greeks. See, the Greeks settled a bunch of rocky, barren islands that had very few resources. To gain the stuff they desperately needed to survive they hit on the idea of taking the things they had a bunch of (mostly stuff that would grow in poor and rocky soil, like olive oil and wine), and they would sail around and ask people if they wouldn't mind trading some things they had for some of the stuff the Greeks had.

Cultures that made stuff they traded with their neighbors had existed before, but the Ionians took it very seriously indeed. They packed their little ships with a few tons of cargo (say 20 to 30 trash cans full) and sailed over the horizon to get the things needed for survival. One could say that the Ionians first recognized the idea of supply and demand. Before this it was just the "demand" part, as in "Give me what I demand or get your head cut off."

But the cargo ships were small, and supplies for the crew limited the amount of cargo they could carry. Many times they would arrive at a village or city that had what they needed only to find that the natives didn't want what was in the hold. So the Ionians came up with what is probably the single most important idea for economics, ever. It was a token that they could give to the foriegners that could be exchanged for goods later, just as long as the Ionians got what they needed RIGHT NOW! You betcha, it was money. And the Greeks really developed the idea. Look at this coin. The images are simple and bold, that everyone can understand (you recognize that the guy who made the coin is talking about a snake hidden in a basket even though he's been dead for 2500 years). This means that the coin itself was a billboard for telling other people about how great the Greeks were. Every time it was used it was supposed to reinforce the idea. Things haven't changed any over the centuries.

To make sure that the coins had value they were made from a metal that everyone wanted. Silver was long considered a valuable metal for a variety of reasons, and it is still considered valuable today. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, is the hardest metal until you can smelt iron, which made the stuff perfect for weapons and tools. Coins made from bronze were very common at one time. Get enough coins and you can melt them down and make a knife or a sword. This means that money itself, which is mostly a physical unit of abstract accounting practices today, used to serve a very useful purpose. (After all, what practical purpose can a large pile of modern money serve?)

But these Greeks were geniuses. When making metal tools they sometimes came across a small amount of useless metal. It was really soft so it couldn't be used for tools or weapons. There wasn't enough of it around to be used for ballast or any other useful application. But it was very resistant to corrosion, and it had a distinctive look to it. So even though gold was found mixed with other metals in nature, the Greeks started to put gold in with their coins. They somehow convinced people that this worthless (though very pretty) metal was actually valuable. We still think that.

Damm, what a scam!

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

About the above quote.....yeah, right. Last I checked, airline pilots could already carry pens into the cockpit. Didn't help when faced with nutbags armed with box cutters.

Now I see a petition in favor of allowing pilots to be armed has been started. At the time of this writing more than 30,000 signatures have been collected.

Don't think Ridge will listen, though. The guy just seems to have a problem with the idea that an armed pilot is best for protecting the passengers whose safety he's responsible for.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Last year I came across this item. It was before I started my blog, but all of my friends got an earful.

The dopes! The idiots! We're talking about non-lethal weapons here! What the hell is the problem?

I've always had the position (please scroll down to the post entitled "A Sterile Environment") that law abiding people who take an approved training course should be able to carry non-lethal weapons on board airplanes. Or just police officers, fer Christ's sake!

It seems that United Airlines said they'd do it anyway, even though the FAA disapproved. (Screw them! Let the flight crew protect me, dammit!)

I just heard on CNN that United has finally started the program, and training is going forward with the stun guns. This is actually a misnomer, because the weapons are obviously tasers (weapons that fire darts trailing wires. The wires carry the shock). I have to admit that a taser is more effective than a stun gun, since you can keep your distance and still engage the enemy. But I'm not a big fan of these non-lethal electric things. They are of questionable effectiveness if the attacker is wearing heavy clothing, or if there are more than one attacker.

I'm more comfortable with batons. It's true that you have to get up close and personal, but they never have to be recharged and they have more than two shots. Considering how narrow those airplane aisles are, they're perfect for giving the what-for to 5 Saudi nationals armed with box cutters.