Friday, March 29, 2002

Dollars and Doughnuts

Jay has some good stuff on gold and real value. I have always wondered why the gold bugs and so many libertarians were so anti-fiat and pro-gold. It seems pretty simple to me that something is worth what it will buy. Since, as Jay pointed out, gold is not so rare and I might add, of very little intrinsic or useful value, unlike tantalum, a rare and critical element in chip manufacture, it really is not much more than a form of fiat money itself. Look what the deBeers did with diamonds, which are not rare or labor intensive to produce in proportion with their price. Sure they help guys get laid or married but only because of a marketing campaign that has people convinced that you are not worthy of her unless you blow two month's salary on a chip of crystallized carbon. Don't get me wrong, I know love is partly about irrational grand gestures and if a guy can get a good ring it is a pretty good indicator of what kind of provider he will be. But until fairly recently, deBeers had a stranglehold on the market, setting diamond prices pretty much wherever they pleased. So if we price carbon way above its cost even though the production end is not completely regulated (the Russians and others are starting to erode deBeers market share and price fixing ability) why can't we price simoleans at whatever we want, since we can regulate how many of them are on the market? As far as marketing them as a medium of exchange goes, Iraq, our sworn enemy, pays the families of suicide bombers in dollars. I am pretty sure the world is sold on them.

The street vendor in Manila does not know or care about prime rates or gold standards or currency floats. All he knows is that the greenback I bought the monkey meat with is backed by the world's richest and most powerful country. A dollar is worth X amount of food or gas or labor. If it ceases to have value, so too will anything that is not immediately utile, like food, booze, and ammo. You can't eat gold, it won't make you high and it won't keep an edge.

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

He’s dead Jim!

Jeez! Are you freakin' kidding me! I gave Enterprise another chance, much to my everlasting chagrin. Full disclosure: I'm not really a Trekkie, much less a Trekker. I mean, I grew up on the Captain Kirk fells the the golf ball eyed lizard with the two handed overhead stroke (you remember; duh duh dah dah dah duh ta DAA DUH) and fries the computer with his own special brand of logic series- not the Jean Luc understands the root causes of the long standing feud and adroitly negotiates a mutually acceptable treaty Next Generation (How's that for a run on rantence?). For the love of Spock, the ferrengi (see I'm not even enough of a fan to know how to spell it, much less speak Klingon) were one of the only interesting races in the new series. They were the quintessential voracious capitalists who served as a literary foil to make a few points about the imperfections of that philosophy. Fun if cleverly rendered. Tonight, it wasn't even farcical. Quick plot summary: In the first hu-man ferrenghi interaction, the large lobed aliens get the drop on our heroes and slip them a space mickey, leaving Enterprise free to plunder. Through a plot device, the corn pone Chief Engineer (heretofore known in the USN jargon as CHENG), who I held as the last hope for the series due to his unapologetic optimistic Americanism, avoids the sleep gas and wakes the frigid, but Callipygian Vulcan chic. Meanwhile the alien pirates are portrayed as bumbling buffoons, obsessed with "acquisition" (stealing). They wake the CO and ask him where the treasure is. He claims there is none and then, in what would prove to be a false hope to me, gets wise and comes up with a Kirk-like bluff of a vault full of gold, for which the ferrengis go apoplectic. He also begins to engage the confidence of the sad sack left in charge of him and makes contact with CHENG. OK, here is where it gets horrible. Time after time, when they could get the drop on the poltroon alien, they eschew the opportunity and instead start to play the other three against each other and totally squander any element of surprise. I won't go into the painful details, but when they, finally DO get the upper hand, they shackle the three lead pirates in their ship and turn it over to the CO's idiot guard. They then send them off with a stern talking to. Are you friggin' kidding me!? Hey Skip, these guys waylaid your crew and trashed your ship. Why they did not kill your pathetic asses is beyond my ken. If you were not going to space them, then at least turn them over to the autodoc for unanesthetized vivisection and take the ship as a prize. Unfrigginbelievable.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

What he said.

This, uh, trenchant Oscar commentary from Iain (via The Kubotaphillic and quite prolific Fat Guy) resonates with what I expect a lot of the Red State people are probably thinking:

Oscars 2002: Somebody make it stop!: ... Look, I'm very glad when we finally honor our African-American artists. I just wish it happened a little more regularly, instead of in one big token Big Gulp: "See? We do too give them awards. Lots of them. See?" Let's stop treating our citizens of color like they are a separate people from us. If Sept. 11 showed us anything, it's that we're all Americans together, and our black friends are just as excellent at being overprivileged celebrity fuckwads as anybody else. Let's just bump up with this consciousness and be done with it.

The rest is good too.

UPDATE: My bust. The above passage was actually from Cintra Wilson's Salon piece on the Oscars. It is the reaction to the awards that has been vented piecemeal all over the blogosphere. She does a great job of capturing what I think all a lot of us felt about that self-congratulatory preen-fest. Read it. You'll love it.
Silence of the Glitterati

A few pundits have noted the dearth of comment on the war and more specifically the armed forces during the Oscars Sunday night. I think the only person who said anything was one of the winners from Blackhawk Down during his acceptance. I thought it was a sin that the movie was slighted for best picture as well adapted screenplay. IMHO it was certainly a contender in both. Part of the problem is that Hollywood is loath to give up liberal pieties like a deep suspicion of the military. With a few notable exceptions, like Spielberg's homage to the "Greatest Generation," over the last few decades, most critically acclaimed films about the military cast it in a less than favorable light. Think Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Born on the Forth of July, A Few Good Men, GI Jane, The Last Castle, you get the idea. Even my beloved Patton portrays the man as a sort of necessary evil. This is not to say that that is particularly incorrect (another blog entirely) but more goes to show the type of military story line that seems to get produced. Hell, even James Webb would never have been able to make Rules of Engagement if it didn't criticize the brass for hanging a black colonel out to dry.

Still, with the Academy's slight of the armed forces (they did have the requisite FDNY/NYPD nod in the form of Whoopie displaying the emblems on one of her costumes and say "[Hollywood's] got [their] back") they speak volumes in their silence. There is a no shit friggin' war going on in case you have not noticed. Juxtaposed with Tom Cruise's mewlings at the beginning of the show about Hollywood's increased relevance today and how it is OK to enjoy the movies again (or whatever, I went to get another of what would be many glasses of wine during his blather) it is pretty apparent why the Oscars are losing their market share in the red states. These people really believe their own bullshit and are beginning to alienate Joe Six-pack and Jane Wal-Mart. Also, I wonder if snubbing the military was somehow related to the fact that it was (largely) military absentee votes that defeated their boy in Florida. Maybe that last is tin foil hat stuff, but I sure do miss the good old days.
Hieght makes Right

These anti-SUV guys have always irked me. The other day I was reading Click and Clack (leave it to NPR to dig up PC auto mechanics) and discovered that even they had succumbed to the whole “SUV is more car than most people really need” line of thinking. I am sure you are familiar with the meme:
1) Few if any people really need the 4WD. These things are huge and inefficient. Therefore the government should make them adhere to mileage standards.
2) They cause global warming.
3) They are dangerous to the more socially responsible drivers of econoboxes.

To which I reply:
1) Few if any people really need hot water to survive. Should we give that up? Electric water heaters are pretty inefficient and use a good chunk of the household power load. What about 1st class in airplanes (or for that matter private jets)? What would be the potential per capita fuel savings if everyone were forced to travel coach? I am sure Jay over at Arcturas could swag how much fuel is “wasted” per coast to coast 1st class flyer vs. loading the plane up with coach seats only. There are lots of luxuries that are inefficient. Hell, luxuries are by definition things we don’t need. Yet it is the manufacturing and trade of luxuries that raises societies and economies above subsistence level. No one really needs a cell phone or a PC either. Their manufacture consumes precious resources. Should they be restricted or outlawed? What about nice clothes? Much could be saved if everyone wore cheap cotton smocks. Hmmm, follow this “you don’t need it” rationale for long and look where you end up: North Korea.

2) Whatever. Read Lomberg on this. I will not repeat the arguments. Either you look at the issue rationally and deduct that there is no clear link between human activity and global temps (especially given the relatively short time for which there has been good data) or you are a true believer and what I say won’t matter. I will mention that in some locales modern emissions systems equipped cars seem to be cleaning up the air (I swear I saw it. I think it was and old PJ O'Roarke Car and Driver column, but after much googling, no joy).

3) Oh the victimhood. What about your much vaunted public transportation vehicles like buses and trains. An Insight is not going to do very well vs. them (or for that matter an oak tree) either. Besides, you'd be hard pressed to shoehorn more than two real sized humans in there. May as well get a motorcycle. Anyway, a lot of the attraction to SUVs is for the height, which affords a better view, easier entrance/egress and more headroom. Additionally, taller doors can be shorter in length, actually making some SUVs better suited for tight parking spots. More nonSUVs are being designed with this truism in mind. If these anti-SUV types really cared about people they would be lobbying for minimum vehicle heights and weights, not the opposite.

FWIW I drive an old (and actually amazingly efficient) Mercedes 300SD. My wife drives a Jeep Wrangler, not really an SUV, though it does have the height and headroom advantages (especially when the top is down).


Dan at HFP, who I am flattered to know reads my humble screeds, clued me into the post that probably that likely lodged somewhere in cluttered corners of my blog stuffed mind and inspired the above rant.

Monday, March 25, 2002

I was mocking this before the cool kids.

The Afghan Explorer is a MIT designed telepresence robot similar to the Mars rovers of late. It is now getting mainstream press. While the dripping do-goodism of the bot's designer grates on me (there is a frigging peace sign flag (scroll down to the drawing) on the antenna for chrissake), there is potential here. I would not be surprised if in ten years news agencies were sending out swarms of bug sized flying and crawling mike and cam equipped bots to trouble spots. Of course then the electronic order of battle gets a little more complex for us. Newsbot feeds would have to be jammed or the bots zapped in order to keep enemies from knowing our moves. On the other hand, maybe it would not matter since by then we may be fighting our battles with robots anyway and an enemy knowing the position of the mechanical horde would still be powerless to resist (cue the scary music and maniacal laugh).