Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mystery Advisors

We've know for some time that there were mystery advisers guiding the hands of the teenagers running Abu Ghraib. The question is . . who were they? Not CIA, not Army. Where did they come from?

Traitor and America-Hater Seymour Hersh explores the revelations of General Taguba.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Underrated Edward James Olmos

As many know, I do not own a television. I do, however, make exceptions when it comes to uncommon art. The combination of a New Yorker review (notoriously snooty regarding science fiction), and the recommendations of a friend historically loathe to sci-fi ("This Battlestar Galactica . . um . . it's rather good . . ") convinced me to view a DVD that perchance landed on my doorstep, that contained the re-imagined miniseries of Battlestar Galactica.

I agree, it is rather good. In fact, it might be some of the best television ever made. Commander Adama, played by Olmos, might be one of the most well-acted science fiction character actors to ever be portrayed. So little facial movement, and so much said, with just a twitch, or a shake of those acne-scarred jowels. So much so, I can say that when I grow up, I hope I grow up to be Edward James Olmos' Commander Adama.*

*This is a move up, because when I was 11 I was hoping I would grow up to be Commander Spock. Fate is cruel.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Full World

Something strange happened in the mid 1990s. Liquidity- especially that controlled by the more ballsy investment houses- began moving into the developing world, rather than camp out in its normal homes stateside looking for reinvestment. This liquidity especially enjoyed going to Southeast Asia, and formed the precarious foundation of the "little tigers" that arose there. It came down in a big thump, of course, but the inner question- in my mind- is why they abandoned the traditional market in the first place.

Since the East Asian Financial Crisis, that free-floating global capital has been like a fleeing Frankenstein monster set afire, running back and forth from industry to industry, chased by a mob only it can see. The late Dot Com Bubble, the Real Estate Bubble, the so-far successfully mitigated China Bubble . . that Creature gets around.

Economists disagree about what causes financial bubbles, but it's easy to define it as "too much given to too little". Money, after all, is supposed to represent value. The problem here is that the judgment call of "value" is not lining up with what the real world thinks is worthwhile. That's what makes that monster so skittish. When we get an idea of how the values are going to realign, we not only have a better handle on the future, but we are in a better position to make a whole lot of money.

Money represents stuff. It's a given, but it assumes a constant demand into the future and a constant influx of materiel. What happens when we don't need -or even want- more stuff? It can happen, even to Americans. Furthermore, you aren't guaranteed an infinite world. The Earth is a (relatively) tiny globe of silica and iron floating about in space, not a blue dome maintained by Jehovah. Even if it were, you can't trust the landlord with maintenance a lot of the time.

What happens is that you don't have such an overwhelming interest in making things that make other things, i.e., capital. When you lose interest in that, weird things happen, because capital is very important. We call it"capitalism" for a reason. When the ratio of capital to resources drops, the capital is deflated in real value, and an awful lot of money floats away from the value it was supposed to represent, looking for a bubble to fasten onto. There's that pesky monster again.

It's not a particularly new monster. Locally, this sort of thing has happened all the time- and I do mean all the time- throughout history. There are two things right now that make the monster a lot scarier: one, that the money is so liquid that it presses against the definition of the word "money"; two, the world, unlike a nation, does not have a Federal Bank Chairman.

Ultimately, the safest economic activity will be in those industries that can find resource value in capital. These go all the way from mining old dumps for strategic metals to mining asteroids, or setting up a power grid based on home-unit energy production (imagine a neighborhood where each house gooses the flow of the grid), or something no one has thought up yet. Closed world economics involves a different type of thinking, but it doesn't mean that there isn't money to be made.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Google Streetview: Appalachian Trail?

For the past unknown number of unknown time increments, Google has been mapping city streets in various locations, like late-Antiquity monks frantically scribing every text they could get their hands on, like something from a Canticle for Leibowitz, but with higher data densities. No matter what might happen, it appears the Church of Google will have recorded our civilization for posterity, but open questions remain as to what a "record" is, and what effect it has on a readership that is, at this point, hypothetical.

There's no upper limit to the distortion an alien culture can make on a data without context- witness the sudden rise of lower case in the Roman script. Something the recorders assigned importance to- letter shape- was actually nothing more than the cursive handwriting of a common scribe.

I imagine artificial intelligences and bio-engineered organisms, survivors of some future catastrophe a thousand years hence, finding Google Streetview and shaping their culture after these pictures of huge cities, their mysterious inhabitants and inexplicable activities. Perhaps they would all choose to make themselves look like classic automobiles. Of all the possible futures, perhaps the one I look forward to the least is the one that resembles a real-life re-enactment of The Transformers.

In any case, it made me curious: would one day a hiker carry the camera and hard drive to do this on the Appalachian trail? There's a reason Google Streetview views mostly from the road. All that data storage is heavy, and I can easily see a through-hiker sacrificing the hardware to some strange god by, oh, Hot Springs. Images of shrines and burning also come to mind. Hikers abhor adding grams, let alone pounds, to their pack weight, especially if the weight is not peanut butter.

My hats off to the first hiker that does it . .