Thursday, January 29, 2009

Drunkard's Walk: Ten Short Thoughts

1. More digital age obsolescence: Cars, at least until recently, still got sold listing AM/FM radio (yup, frequency modulated signals processed at no extra charge) and tape decks, and while I'm aware that you can get modern car audio at a premium, I am not willing to pay for it. It was a shock that my '06 had come so far as to include a CD player standard. I don't want the fucking bluetooth, nor do I want to drop an extra hundred bucks (forty more than my beloved little MP3 player) on that broadcaster that sends signal to my radio, but Jesus, let's ease the transition here. It strikes me that it would be a simple engineering matter to add one of those TRS style audio jacks that have been around since forever, and which every pocket audio device has sported for the last 30 years as a headphone connector. In a sane world, I could just use my car stereo as an amplifier for whatever, without necessitating hundreds of dollars of electronics in between. Is it not expensive enough a solution to add on every car radio? It'd sure make me happy.

2. Warpaint: When the Black Crowes' seventh CD came out last year, and some hack at Maxim took the opportunity to unload his pent up opinions about the band without wasting the time to listen to it, I totally put the album on my to-buy list. Naturally, it took awhile. Admittedly, the project is not terribly inspired: the tracks have the casual brio of a talented hippie-party jam band, and compared to Shake Your Money Maker, the whole thing sounds a little...optional. But still. Criticizing them for knocking off the Rolling Stones? I am pretty sure that the Rolling Stones (not even mentioning their more embarrassing efforts) are not even aware that you can put so many instruments in a band, and tired as the Robinsons may be, when they play the bluesy, weed-baked, countrified rock songs, it sounds like they're at least vaguely in tune with wherever it is they came from.

3. Via IOZ (and recycling my comment): I don't know much about running companies, but from my passing association with certain kinds of nerds, I'm pretty sure that Carly Fiorina is the reason why people now say "Hewlett ...what?". But at least you could call her an economic expert by dint of some ruinous joyrides through corporate America. What have George Will, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, or George Stephanopolous ever fucking done or learned? Check out the video. Paul Krugman looks like the tired foodie ringer they put in with the actors and celebrities that for unknown reasons make up the Iron Chef judging panels. At least there, people don't live and die by culinary art.

4. But let's not get carried away: But then, I don't fully accept economics anyway. No matter how furiously you model, how clever your mathematical simulations, even if you uncover some amazing truths about behavior in the ensemble, no matter how interesting it is, or how useful, and even if it can be an excellent approximation, economics ain't quite dealing with natural law. (Uh, probably.) How much people will pay for stuff is not, at the bottom of it all, a fact--it's an opinion. And let's face it, people's opinions tend to be stupid.

5. Anyway, we're still damned if we do: Speaking of economics, the new bailout is super (if you're creating money, then let's print a little for everyone) and so are green jobs, and maybe you can even change some of the deeply held public opinions about our relationship with energy (not that that's the intention), which would be awesome. But you can't trump physics with enthusiasm. No amount of legislated work projects is going to circumvent the usual conservation laws. If we're lucky, we'll keep ourselves from going too far or too quickly down the other side of the peak (and maybe economics will slow it naturally, provided we don't all lose the public faith), and maybe if we're far luckier than we deserve, we'll buy enough time for nuclear fusion to come on line or some such shit, but let's not pretend we're not limited by the rapidly disappearing black ooze. This is the second-biggest reason I hate American politicians, by the way, and if Obama's less aggravating than most of them, then, well, he's still going to molest my children sometime down the line. Maybe keeping up the infrastructure that connects the burbs with easy highway access shouldn't be the first priority going forward.

6. Bad Graphs: That said, while I buy into some version of peak oil, there are good and bad arguments going on there. The charts are famous enough, and it's easy to grasp how regional production peaks and then tails (pace Dr. Hubbert), and to picture that fact against how much many regions are still likely to be out there (e.g.). On the other hand, graphs that pretend to pinpoint the dramatic peak have to make their point by extrapolating heavily, and should therefore be regarded with caution. Penciling a line that tanks starting, always, one year from now (some more egregiously than others) is particularly inelegant. I believe you in the general sense, so please stop going out of your way to look like you're lying.

7. Spelling America with a 'K' are we?: Reading John Dos Passos (link forthcoming) got me thinking about the timing of anti-Communist sentiment in America. It Anti-Labor feelings had settled in pretty hard before the Great War, and a good historian would probably catalogue the movement as a response to conditions following the good ole industrial revolution, an answer to the new aristocracy and the condition of the filthy underpaid masses that grew out of those innovative times. Anti-communismlabor was, naturally enough, the response of that aristocracy, of the political and economic power. The Bolsheviks across the sea were hated by authority well before they earned it, and although they were conceived as anti-Capitalist, the notion of resisting Soviet geographic expansion came about somewhat later. That the Communist revolutions turned out to generate their own tyrants, that Communism turned into a competitor for big global all would be sort of funny if it weren't for the millions dead.

8. Last bit of radicalism, I promise: And you know, as a good technical guy (bourgoisie by way of Sallie Mae), I'm not a huge fan of labor unions, I'm unimpressed by their leadership, and have been occasionally miffed by their (okay: media-exaggerated) demands. If bad business practices must be countered with organization, then I still don't cherish the idea of yet another numbnut garnishing my wages in the name of alleged representation. This morning, WBUR's media analyst (now there's a job) John Carroll, showcased some ads on either side of the Employee Free Choice Act, featuring caricatures of both Labor and Corporate bosses, and I felt tempted to acknowledge a truth that might lie somewhere in between, if just this once. But if Communism was a disaster, limited Socialism didn't seem to tank Western Europe, and on a national or corporate level, either economic model can serve its people well or poorly enough. Democracy may be a bulwark against tyranny, but it's a temporary and often marginal one. The bottom line is not the vote and it's not the economic model--it's really more what we're conditioned, by ourselves and by experience, to expect. (You know, in the aggregate. I don't think any of us can just will our job back, at least if we don't work in marketing.) That can be changed in rare instances, sometimes surprisingly, and within some constraints, and for sure, it can be supressed.

9. Thought experiment: It's hard for humans to avoid identifying with one another according to sex or tribe, but the average opinion seems to be a little bit malleable vis a vis inclusivity. I'd argue that with some good marketing, and without longstanding systemic barriers (slavery, complicated pregnancy, and a good justification for the division of labor come to mind--admittedly I'm talking a sort of frictionless spherical social paradigm here), racism and sexism would likely relax to some inclusive equilibrium within the American tribe, such as it is. Unfortunately, homogenization still appears to be an ugly, generations-long process, walking toward uniformity according to some slow-ass rate law, a few hundred million individually diffusive events, human bumping into human. In this experiment, I think sexism would let go of its hold on public opinion sooner than racism. Why? Because we all have at least one parent that's of the opposite gender. (We could outgrow racism the same way of course, but I haven't had the nerve to even mention the Bulworth plan to my wife.)

10. My tribe didn't even make the playoffs: I'm rooting for the Steelers next week because it reinforces my long-held notion that the Arizona Cardinals are a clown factory of football, a perennially laughable franchise where stars go to underperform, and where playoffs are best viewed from a drunken self-loathing stupor. And it's not that it should have been so much different this year, with a 9-7 record going in, but, like, there they are. It took getting to the conference championship to match the win record of the New England Patriots. Now there may be some irony to take this position as a New England fan--you want to talk about your decades of quasi-football--but I point out that the Pats earlier Super Bowl appearances (even under that douchebag Parcells) were hard to imagine too back then too. On purely aesthetic grounds, if this be Arizona's 1997, then the world remains fathomable. I can live with however well or poorly they perform afterwards.


Bite oftheweek said...

Sorry about your tribe and the playoffs.

I must say that I am so satisfied by the way the Utes kicked Alabama's ass in the Sugar Bowl that I feel my football season is already complete.

Catnapping said...

Bite: I found the Utes' victory to be quite the Poetically Just thing...

It's good to see you...I wondered if you'd run off with the gorgeous LowDudgeon, since he's been MIA almost as long as you.

Keifus: Shoot. I saw this on the fray, and shot off about the Arizona Cardinals...only to learn that there are cardinals in Arizona...lots of 'em, even. doh.

Still not gonna root for 'em.

Bite oftheweek said...

Hi Cat

Good to see you, too. I still have the lingering effects of your story about the "diamond"

It was truly beautiful.

The Ute game was a lot of fun. We were on a cruise to Mexico watching it with some Alabama fans.

They were NOT happy. (which made it more fun, and kind of made up for the fact that if I hadn't already bought the cruise for the kids for xmas, we would be watching it in New Orleans--sigh)

Hope all is well with you and yours. I am pretty much done with BOTF. Maybe Inky caught those same sea turtles out of there.

Love to you and to Keifus, of course.

Keifus said...

Hi Bite, Hi Cat.

Turns out the Super Bowl was an enjoyable game. Found myself not really caring who won--Cards looked like they deserved to be there anyway. As for New England, it's the way it goes. No biggie.

Who can blame you about botf? Glad you stopped by though.

twif said...

hey, the super bowl was yesterday. i, once again, failed to watch it. mostly cause i don't care about football.

cat, the arizona cardinals were originally the st. louis cardinals. and the st. louis rams were once the la rams. go figure.

catnapping said...

twif: i remember when they moved to arizona...i figured for sure they'd change their name.

my late husband was a manic fan of the LA rams...he spent much of his childhood in northern california, where his father retired out of the air force.

and though there were two teams much closer (oakland and sf), he fell in love with the fearsome foursome, and that was that.

they weren't the same, moving to StL, but we still followed them.

nowadays, it's hard for me to watch the rams...i stay more with the seahawks and the vikings. i never ever liked the i just sorta snort when that small but significant plurality of neighbors talks about 'em. we're more of a college football town, so it's all about the grizzlies here.