Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Eulogy Redux

As referenced at:

NDN was the nickname of a great brown buffalo of a man from Tulsa, OK; like the eponymous Brown Buffalo of Hunter S. Thompson's works (HST's attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta), NDN was one of God's prototypes - never intended for mass-production. With a legendary appetite for life, drink, food, and fun, NDN was an icon in several distinct national sub-communities of gamer-nerds, carnival geeks, chicks with blue hair, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, nipple-piercers, the hirsuite, the corpulent, the French, the verbose, fans of certain touring bands named after famous firearms, and the ambiguously perverse. To this day, if you drink enough Jaggermeister to hallucinate, it is alleged that you will have a vision of The NDN...even if you've never met the man. He was a legend, and when he shuffled off this mortal coil it was as if the last of the great primeval beasts had roared once more to remind the world of his presence, and then faded into the obscurity of anecdote to sleep forever more.

Also known as Jeronimous MacFargyle to his dozens of besotted clanmates, and as Freight Train to people who may have shot at him in a mostly harmless sporting sort of way, he is remembered most fondly by people with similar jolly-pirate nicknames.

A real live Urban Legend. Yogi would be proud.

(Overheard from any number of random people without any logical connection)

"NDN? Big dude, looks like the Bodhisattva...only inebriated?"
"Hey, I think he delivered my sister's baby..."
"Dude he can spit fire! I love that guy."
"No, dude N-D-N; the man is so hip he doesn't really require vowels."
"Like the tetragrammaton?"
"Yeah...kinda. 'IMDNDN' he used to say."

Over a year now, and it still sucks.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rebel Without A Causal Link

Or, if you prefer, Cum hoc ergo WTF?

I listened passively to a debate over gun control over the weekend, amazed and appalled at the arguments presented from both sides. Central to my incredulity was the presentation of correlation as causality (a pet peeve of mine) by the proponents of gun control...essentially the "ugly gun" argument and the absurd notion that making handguns generally illegal will have any effect on the criminal use of handguns more meaningful than an accounting trick when it comes time to tally up the charges in court. That being said, I couldn't help but notice that those opposing gun control never presented what I feel is a key argument for keeping the populace armed. The usual things came up...the "sporting use", both in the sense of handgun hunting and competitive shooting, protection of life and property, etc...but nobody will approach the big one: protection from the state.

There may be a sporting use for a semi-automatic rifle for which a bolt-action rifle is simply inadequate. I can't think of one, but I'm willing to hear the argument. Maybe hunting with revolvers is a prized and cherished right founded on tradition and...whatever. Never mind the fact that nobody hunted with a wheelgun except in desperation before large caliber revolvers became suddenly in vogue. I'm willing to let that slide, but it doesn't represent me.

I have a gun so I can shoot people, period. I live in a city, I have supermarkets all around me, and hunting for meat would be more expensive than buying it from a store 99% of the time. The truth is, I simply don't enjoy hunting enough to justify the expense, so I rarely go. I go to the range to keep frosty, but I don't feel the need to compete. I have firearms so that I can shoot bad people. This includes, but is not limited to, people attempting to harm myself or my family, steal my shit, or violate any of my civil liberties. This group potentially includes a hostile government, frankly; 200 years is a long time for a society founded by dissidents to go without a revolution - we're overdue.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Safety, Control, & Related Delusions

I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the utter uselessness of the following concepts:

1) Firearms Safety

2) Gun Control

To the first point, the essential function of a firearm is unsafe, so I will propose that it is impossible to achieve anything that can be called "safety" in an unqualified sense without compromising utility. A "safe" gun is one that is innert, incapable of firing, and kept sealed in a container that is immovable and inviolate (so that you couldn't, for instance, bludgeon someone with it) and for good measure is located at least 100 yards from any living thing. That's "safe" in the unqualified sense: useless.  A gun is intended to cause harm, preferably mortal harm. It isn't a tool, it isn't a deterrent, and it isn't a toy -- it's a weapon, and there is nothing wrong with that...but call it what it is. You can make it "safer" to some in a relative sense, but to say that you can make one "safe" is absurd.

To the second point, the core concept of control is misapplied because there is no legitimate mechanism for "controlling" anything that can be produced by a half-competent handyman in his basement.  Hell, Girandoni made a military grade air rifle two hundred years ago, so you don't even really need a working knowledge of explosives to make an effective gun.  Regulate-shmegulate; all "gun control" does is make it slightly more difficult to obtain a good firearm by legal means, and frankly a motivated criminal only needs a shitty weapon long enough to kill someone who owns a better one.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

And With Him, Something Of Me

The game is done at thine own behest,
my Invidia and my muse.
Whilst thou lived my pretentions toiled
at a carefully crafted ruse:
to feign both envy and accolade
at my meek distinctions writ bold,
and deign to measure my ambitions
as if in your success bestoled.
But no more shall Nemesis taunt me,
and no further ill shall be said;
Anonymous and heavy hearted,
The game is done if you are dead.

For years I joked that he was "my nemesis"; not only was he a scientist, a doctor, and an incredibly talented author, he was also taller than me at 6'10", which I was sure was a sign that he was sent to punish me by illuminating my shortcommings.

In truth, (quite selfishly, I admit) I will miss that motivation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Musical Chairs

I read this earlier today, thanks to an email from a co-worker. I particularly like the part in the NYT article above where it specifically says that while the mandatory sub-prime policy looks good while the economy is performing, a downturn could prompt "a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's". How prescient was that?

My only issue with assigning the blame here is that the sup-prime mandates from the guarantor organizations (Fannie Mae, etc), the automation of the application processes, and even consumer ignorance and predatory lending practices by brokerages really didn't cause the whole thing to fail; it would have eventually screwed a lot of individual people, and even decent swaths of the industry, but taken at face value none of those things even together could have caused this kind of catastrophic failure. What turned bad policy, individual bad choices, and denialism into a national emergency was the effect of the large firms that turned pools of purchased mortgages and loans into securities and then put them into the market, without having a fair analysis of what the loans were worth. Securitization of loans started in the 70's, and it was a bad idea then. The addition of the CRA and ARM loans later is a big contributor to the current crisis, but the mechanism at fault on a national level is the securitization process, not the loans.

Essentially, under the old system a bank held loans in a portfolio and maintained them until they were paid off. The bank's finances were tied to the centralized banking establishment, but even a large bank was never really in a position to completely hose the national economy if it failed in a vaccuum (not even if a lot of them failed at once). When loans are securitized, a company purchases pools of loans without really examining them at the same level of granularity that the bank did when the loan was signed. Now that these loans are a part of the market rather than a closed system, they are traded on speculation without giving any consideration to the risk levels the orignal lending institution would acknowledge, and the investment banks are all suddenly tied to the performance of all of their collective loans, so if one sinks they all take a hit.

The problem is that all of the involved businesses profit from the circumstances of the loan as it is initially valued, not as it ultimately performs The lender is both obligated by policy and encouraged by profit to issue these loans whenever possible, particularly since they're guaranteed anyway by the government. The broker and the lender both get paid off of the initial structure of the loan, and now with securitization of sub-prime loans they have not only a requirement by the government to pursue them, but an incentive from Wall Street to pursue them even when they are likely to become worthless, because they profit from the securitization process and do not directly suffer from the failure. The investment banks, fund managers, and other consumers of the security profit by trading on the pools, so the more there are the better the market performs, provided there is a need. That works right up until the securitization process stops because the economy dips and a significant portion of the loans fail (like all of the ARM loans that started maturing and defaulting recently), and then suddenly the securitized loans aren't worth anything because the investment banks won't trade on them without better asset liability, and now a substantial portion of the economy is invested in a bunch of worthless loan bonds. If the loans were never pooled, and never securitized, nobody but the banks who issued them and the consumers who defaulted on them would have felt the full effect; the damage would have been contained to the principle plus interest of the collective loans, rather than that plus the market price of the securities based on those loans in which the whole country was invested. Rather than twelve companies and a few hundred thousand people losing money on the deal, a few thousand companies, countless mutual funds and retirement portfolios, the Feds, the stock market as a whole, and now (with the bailout) every taxpayer is going to get bitten by this. The scary thing is that because securitization was so absurdly profitable to speculators while it was working, even as we are dropping 700+ billion on the bailout, we're still talking about extending the concept to other things, like insurance.

Even if you don't feel that the process is sort of creepy (to profit specifically off of someone else's future), it's a parasitic practice economically; essentially you are taking a set amount of money that is being borrowed and repaid, and trying to extrapolate more capital from it than it is really worth by moving it from one state of existence to another and from owner to owner. The process generates more monetary value in the market than there is actual money or asset involved (by pretty much any yardstick), and is tantamount to gambling with the national economy. Eventually, those books have to balance, and then someone gets stuck with 1000% inflation of the original, actual, tangible debt. If you think someone trading on a pool of sub-prime mortages as a bond is idiotic, wrap your head around health, automobile, renters / homeowners, and life insurance becomming a commodity soon.

The market, particularly futures trading, speculation, securities, etc, is a system of rules, so in addition to rather complicated game theory you can even reduce it down to a fair comparison with an actual game. The most telling thing about this game is that it does not conform to the normal concept of causality regarding the end of the game and the determination of winners and losers. In most games, you continue playing until someone loses, or until a certain number of players lose; winning or losing is a precondition to ending the game in completion (otherwise you just abandon the game). This functions more like musical chairs, in that there is an anomaly of causality: it is impossible to determine the outcome until the game is already over. Until the music stops, everyone appears to be winning.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Prone to Penility

In the spirit of progress and political correctness I will no longer consider myself to be insensitive...I am "differently-sensitive", that's all. I am differently-sensitive and differently-sympathetic to the plight of the differently-labeled. I can muster respect, admiration, consideration, and sympathy for people, but I am utterly incapable of considering in any positive light the evangelical zeal with which political correctness diminishes and distances people from their respective challenges.

Much the same way the terms prejudice and discrimination have been subverted into synonyms for bigotry and various -isms, the terminology for disability has been restructured to insure that people's feelings are regarded as more important than the material, the practical, or the functional aspects of their situation. The label can not personify a person, nor can it be used in a vacuum. It requires qualification; "Margaret is a person with a disability", not "Margaret is disabled". They are all "persons with disabilities / differing abilitities / ability distinction", etc, ad nauseum, not "the disabled, the different, or the distinct".

By pointing out the inane, juvenile, attention-whoring, guilt-stroking, self-depricating, victimhood-validating euphamistic bullshit terminology, I am undoubtedly the bad guy...but I can live with it. Weak language and a lack of self respect is why so much progress has been made on the front of discussing disability, and so little progress has been made on addressing disabilites.

I'm not an insensitive dick; I'm a person of different-sensitivity who is prone to penility, and if that's a mouthful, people can choke on it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The New Epidemic

I would like to direct everyone’s attention to a newly identified threat to civilization, the rise of the “Merch Ho’”. Legions of otherwise decent persons, lured into a den of virtual iniquity by the promise of being able to turn the pastiche of bric-a-brac, commemorative plates, used clothing, and semi-functional electronics that pervades their own lives into an intoxicating blend of money, self-respect, and validation of their own worth (via the acceptance of their discarded hobbies and perversions as being valuable to someone). I’m speaking of eBay addiction – the online plague that is spilling out into our neighborhood markets.

We are told that these tragic figures, these rebel’s without a storefront, will eventually turn to theft and other indignities once their own reserves of meaningless crap are dry. They will begin scavenging the homes of relatives, shoplifting from real retailers (people who rent space to push their wares, as God intended), and performing depravities within airport bathrooms to score merchandise, or “merch”, so they can sell it online and feel complete. Disregarding the value of the items to the square community around them, the auction resale junkie finds that the transaction is the rush, the shipping and handling charges the thrill; it doesn’t even matter what the items are…they are all merch in the end, a mutant form of generic, capitalist, virtual dope of uniform potency that is measured dually in avoirdupois weight and kitschiness.

They must be regulated! They must be stopped! According to brick and mortar retailers, the very future of shopping depends upon it.

What a crock.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Paint Mixer

Suppose you have an apparatus for mixing paint from two sealed, opaque cannisters and delivering the result into a third clear cannister. The process is simple enough: load the two starting cannisters, one on the left and the other on the right, turn the machine on, and wait for the third cannister to fill up. For the sake of simplicity, we'll assume that the apparatus works as indicated, doesn't get clogged or retain leftover paint from one operation to the next, and that we have an unambiguous and simplified definition for each possible color of paint we could use.

You take a sealed cannister of paint that says "Yellow", and another that says "Blue", and you load them into the machine, and low and behold green paint fills up the third cannister. The question now becomes, what can you say with certainty about the first two cannisters of paint? You can't say that they are labeled correctly (they could be reversed, after all, and you'd still get the same result). Hell, both could be simply filled with green paint. A better test would be to put two cannisters labeled yellow through the machine, and see if you get yellow out of the deal...but even then, you're assuming that every cannister is labeled with equal accuracy or inaccuracy.

The limitation on what you can or can not know is clear: the cannisters you start with are sealed and opaque, so unless you change those conditions somehow you will always be operating under a certain amount of assumption. That's the essential lesson of the Paint Mixer Problem - to comprehend the constraints on your own understanding and to acknowledge them.

It isn't practical (or even feasible) to insist upon 100% transparency, disclosure, and detail from life's paint mixers, relationships, job interviews, or whatever, but it is probably a good idea to be aware of the limitations on your perspective and understanding in any endeavor. It's always nice to know what you're working with, what you can count on, and what is entirely out of your control.

That being said, sometimes all you want is the goddamned green paint, and you don't care if it's made from yellow and blue or from ground puppies and someone else's dreams.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Déclassé of Internet Diglossia

An open letter to nobody in particular:

As a self-professed elitist snob, there is little more odious to me than the propagation of completely manufactured slang or jargon, where some idiot simply decides one day that everyone on the internet is required to start using or acknowledging some inane term, acronym, or trope so they can all feel special, even if they have no idea what the term actually means.

"I said LOLerskates online, and my friend totally said ROFLcopter back, and I sent her a LOLcat photo that says I CAN HAS EPIC FAIL?...and I'm adorable...don't you like me? Am I special now? Am I a part of something greater than myself?"

Indeed you are, my fictitious little one-dimensional example: you are a part of the great and growing lingual mediocrity that comes with instant communication, unbridled conformity, and the pathological craving of acceptance. Congratulations; just like the 14 year old virus incubating script kiddies who once insisted that all real hackers were obsessed with obfuscating their typed communications in formulaic, stylized, and completely transparent ciphers, you too are a footnote in the decline of reasonable discourse via an electronic medium. Real people dont 5p34k 733+ all of the goddamned time, nor do they communicate solely in acronyms. Sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and (dare I say) letter case plays a vital role even in this strange world of typing on little screens.

I would just like to go on record as saying, if you think you know a hip new piece of internet slang, Google that shit. Search for "intext:[dumbass phrase]" to return all pages where the term is used, and see how other people use it. If you get several pages of results, it probably isn't all that new; do the entire internet a favor and use it sparingly and within the normative context.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Uxorem Habeo

On Friday, June 20, Two Thousand and Eight I came to a startling conclusion as soon as the ceremony closed: I have a wife. It is without a doubt the most amazing realization of my life thus far, more profound even than the first moment I realized the concept of mortality. We've spent the last three days breaking in the terms "husband" and "wife", as if the act of merely repeating them was in some way an echo of the original act of marrying, and in some ways I'm not so sure it isn't just that.

I told my wife when we first realized that we were in love that I firmly believed in the sincere, constant recitation of the phrase "I love you", not because of any need for validation or any uncertainty in the truth of those words, but because that truth deserves exultation. I know couples who simply stopped saying it altogether at some point, and I know people who say it almost dismissively...a reflexive sort of utterance that comes from obligation rather than passion. I know people who keep it completely private and only say it to one another when no one else is around. My wife and I treat those words as though we just discovered them, and are still fascinated.

It makes a difference; after years of living together, having the normal variety of disagreements, arguments, and frustrations that are included in any couple's relationship, people who didn't know better still mistook us for a 'new' couple pretty much the whole time, and were positively sickened when we told them how long we'd been together and they realized that this stage of looking deep into one another's eyes, holding hands at the table, and smiling like fools randomly throughout the day wasn't ever going to end for us.

So right now I'm still rolling that new phrase around. That, and sometimes we look at each other and chant sextasyllabically "ho-ly shit, man and wife" over and over again in unison like we're in the stands at a sporting event. =)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

On Nostaliga

This weekend I found myself in a bar bidding farewell to one of my fiance's co-workers who is bound for Brazil to teach English as a second language. As we approached the front door I heard the unmistakable sound of disco blaring out through the throng of fiftyish barflies who, in this modern era, had been relegated to smoking outside. I resigned myself to enduring Andy Gibb for a few hours, overpaying for scotch, and being grateful that I was overtly attached to my date, as signified by the engagement ring and her habit of clutching my hand in fear when confronted by aging drunkards. In the end it wasn't that bad at all; the booze was certainly overpriced, but the bartender wasn't particularly mindful of his portion control so it all evened out in the end, and our hostess and her friends were charming and gracious the whole night through. Being a decade older than my fiance, I was a bit closer to the rest of the crowd in age anyway, and having been introduced to music at a young age I even had my own moments of nostalgia now and again as I remembered where I was when I first heard a particular Donna Summers song. Everyone else at the table was out smoking pot in a white polyester suit and I was at home experimenting with something called 'Lincoln Logs' on an avocado-green berber carpet, but at least I remembered it.

As the evening progressed, I realized that even in a bar dedicated to the revival of thirty-year-old dance music the management had devoted yet another entirely seperate room to what the normative patrons regarded as the 'older crowd' (i.e., the ones on oxygen). Dubbed the Elvis Room, it dialed the scene back a further ten to twenty years. In conversing with some of our fellow revelers I learned that it had, until fairly recently, been called the Sinatra Room. I was just about to ask why the shift in theme had occured, when it suddently hit me: mortality. The people who came for Sinatra were, as time progressed, thinning out due to age and eventually death. Every ten years that room was going to be renamed after someone whose heyday was a decade prior to the main room's standard fare as old patrons died and new patrons turned forty.

It was a grim revelation that I thought best to keep private while in the company of people who were themselves inexorably sliding back toward whatever the Elvis Room would be renamed in the years to come, but that moment of potential poigniance was completely shattered by the absurdity of continuing that logic into the next thirty years. Am I going to be in that same fucking bar someday listening to Bauhaus in the Huey Lewis Lounge, while the younger crowd is requesting old Marilyn Manson numbers in the main room?

And in that scenario, how much more obscenely expensive will a twelve-year-old scotch become?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Conversational Markup Language

It occurs to me that people have an annoying habit of taking things the wrong way in an email, and to combat this penchant for misunderstanding and promote a general peace among all literate people, I would like to propose a new markup language devoted to overtly clarifying the intentions of the speaker. How much more reliable would our endeavors be if we could simply bracket the phrase "I respect your opinion" with the tags <sarcasm> and </sarcasm>?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Working definitions

Irony - when the word "irony" is on the tip of your tongue, but you can't for the life of you remember it.