Friday, February 09, 2007

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2006 Winners

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

It was a day, like any other day, in that Linus got up, faced the sunrise, used his inhaler, applied that special cream between his toes, wrote a quick note and put it in a bottle, and wished he'd been stranded on the island with something other than 40 cases each of inhalers, decorative bottles, and special toe cream.

It was a dreary Monday in September when Constable Lightspeed came across the rotting corpse that resembled one of those zombies from Michael Jackson's "Thriller," except that it was lying down and not performing the electric slide.

It had been a dark and stormy night, but as dawn began to light up the eastern sky, to the west the heavens suddenly cleared, unveiling a pale harvest moon that reposed gently atop the distant mesa like a pumpkin on a toilet with the lid down.

The rest are here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Speaking of Which

This struck me as an excellent piece of snark. I might like having the Dems in power for a while if this is their attitude:

Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) has an idea for Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice: Have the State Department hire all those gay linguists booted from military service. In fact, hire a whole platoon of lesbians!Yesterday, during hearings on the State Department's 2008 budget request, Ackerman noted that Secretary Rice repeatedly emphasized the importance of recruiting qualified language experts to work in the agency. Remembering that the armed forces have fired more than 300 language experts (including at least 55 fluent in Arabic), Ackerman wondered, "Can we marry up those two — or maybe that's the wrong word — can we have some kind of union of those two issues?"

"Well, it seems that the military has gone around and fired a whole bunch of people who speak foreign languages — Farsi and Arabic, etc.," Ackerman said. "For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people than they are against terrorists, but they're very brave with the terrorists. ... If the terrorists ever got a hold of this information, they'd get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad."

Closing a Loophole

I’ve had the gay marriage debate with a number of people who, while supportive of the theory, try to find ways out of actually supporting it, largely due to religious reasons. Personally, I think it’s fine to object to an idea based on religious reasons, just be honest about. Disingenuous libertarians have posed their position as “I’m for equal rights for everyone, but I don’t think the state should be in the marriage business at all. Therefore I wont support gay marriage because, you know, more government”. This is wrong on a number of levels both morally and logically. What they’re really saying is, “I don’t support this, so I will hedge by making my support contingent on something very unlikely, the end of heterosexual marriage. That way I don’t look like a bigot, but don’t have to expose my actual opinions”. It seems however that bluff is going to be called:

The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance seeks to defend equal marriage in this state by challenging the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling on Andersen v. King County. This decision, given in July 2006, declared that a “legitimate state interest” allows the Legislature to limit marriage to those couples able to have and raise children together. Because of this “legitimate state interest,” it is permissible to bar same-sex couples from legal marriage.
The way we are challenging Andersen is unusual: using the initiative, we are working to put the Court’s ruling into law. We will do this through three initiatives. The first would make procreation a requirement for legal marriage. The second would prohibit divorce or legal separation when there are children. The third would make the act of having a child together the legal equivalent of a marriage ceremony.

I completely and 100% support this effort, to the extent I am writing a generous check.
Look son! All the money your army scholarship will save me is going to a good purpose! to Freedom!!!

It will be interesting to see how people make a rational argument against this that can't be turned around and be for gay marriage.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Getting off the Gold Standard

The Almighty Dollar isn't back by gold anymore, in fact no currency is. There was a time when you could take a dollar bill to a bank and (in theory anyway) get $1 worth of gold for it. When it was decided to go off the gold standard, it was a Big Deal. The government created the fiction that it was still backing the dollar with gold, but in reality you dollar is backed merely by the credit of the US Government, with other currencies back the same way. This is all fine except when it goes wrong and you get hyperinflation spirals etc., but even there it's possible to dump value into other tangible assets for transport to other more stable countries. The upshot of the whole program as been a complex combination of lending, credit, inflation, recession and innovation that has propelled the world economy forward for most of a century.

I've always wondered though, "how much gold is there really?" which is another way of asking, "how much higher is the ceiling now than if we stayed on the gold standard?"

I ran across this today:
Finally, global gold mine production is between 2,500 to 3,000 tons per year and about 155,000 tons of gold would have been mined as of 2006, with a total value of $3.2 trillion at June 2006 prices. Underground an estimated 50,000 ton is left and booked as “reserves” on the balance sheets of mining companies.

For reference, the proposed US Government Budget for 2008 is $2.9 trillion.

Neat! :)

[As an aside, I don't really know how the anarchocapitalists tackle this problem. Anarchocapitalism seems to be gold standard type of economy, although in theory it could be backed by any asset. I should find out, but without the concept of a central bank, I think it isn't possible to pull off this fiction. I still think the biggest mistake Bremmer made in Iraq was not getting the central bank back up in 30 days.]

Credit Derivatives

I'm working on an interesting project at the moment, part of which involves designing an art-backed credit security. The basic idea is to take a bundle of a slow, illiquid asset, e.g. art, and turn it into a credit derivative that can be traded on an exchange. In the process I have learned some interesting things:

1) It’s quite possible to build a stable index for art
2) It turns out art naturally falls into a set of stable asset classes
3) It turns out that the value of sub-classes of assets, e.g. old masters, post-modernists etc. are surprisingly well correlated
4) Most interestingly: these asset classes have long term performance statistics which are different from either stocks or bonds in terms of market index correlation.

It’s #4 there that makes this a very interesting assignment. Some days, my job doesn’t completely suck.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dawn Breaks Over Marblehead

oooohhhhhhhh! I get it! The Onion Editorial Cartoon is also parody!

I was wondering why "this guy really likes crying Statues of Liberty"

Sometimes I am a wee bit slow.

Andrew Sullivan Concedes Defeat

If no evidence can change your mind, no argument assail your logic, you've left the realm where reason can aid you and you're flying on blind faith.

Which was, actually the whole point.

So when I am asked to justify this belief, as you reasonably do, I am at a loss. At this layer of faith, the first critical layer, the layer that includes all religious people and many who call themselves spiritual rather than religious, I can offer no justification as such. I have just never experienced the ordeal of consciousness without it. It is the air I have always breathed. I meet atheists and am as baffled at their lack of faith - at this level - as you are at my attachment to it. When people ask me how I came to choose this faith, I can only say it chose me. I have no ability to stop believing. Crises in my life - death of loved ones, diagnosis with a fatal illness, emotional loss - have never shaken this faith. In fact, they have all strengthened it. I know of no "proof" that could dissuade me of this, since no "proof" ever persuaded me of it.

Faith is a very human thing, and every single person has faith in something (or someone). It's not a rational thing, but an emotional one. I have, in general, no problem with people having faith in things. It's when you start trying to rope reason in to "justify" faith that I step off the bus. Reason is ultimately a tool of proof, of habeus corpus, or finding what's wrong and fixing it. No matter how elaborate the argument, convoluted the logic, or loud the proponant, the existance of god cannot be justifed by reason without evidence. And, as any preacher will tell you, if you only believe because of evidence, it isn't faith.

"Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen, Yet Believe" John 20:19-31*

*this is also what god said to me during my first NDE when I was a kid.