Commerce and Death

Commerce continues even in the midst of tragedy. It is, after all, one of the ways people can process the world around them: integrating it into their daily lives and rituals. So we get ads for chemicals of cockroach destruction. There’s a Taiwanese company making rice crackers that you can use to act out the conflict. Parodic products, too, like meals of mass destruction.

Of course, the world continues in ways that have nothing to do with the war, as well. It’s all very Auden and Breughel really. While allying with the US against North Korea, South Korea is still pursuing a WTO ruling against the US on tarrifs. Editorials in Taiwan use any opportunity to proclaim the Chinese government as despotic and awful, which is probably pretty accurate. Pioneers of technology and commerce die and are euologized.

My Body of Evidence

I have reached my goal weight of 160 lb. (72.5 kg). This is the most I have ever weighed. In collece I was like 145, and last year I was 150 or so. One summer in high school I got really depressed and didn’t eat much, and then got pneumonia, and I was down at 135. Not pretty. New goal: bodyfat drop to around nine percent (was 11ish before gaining weight, probably a little more now). Shaquille O’Neal is around 16%, Lance Armstrong about 5%, and anything much below that gets seriously unhealthy.

Lance Armstrong impresses me so much. Partly, because he’s a freak of nature– he was good enough to be pro before he got sick, when he was too lazy to train properly. But he’s convinced me that the limiting factor in most endeavors is not innate ability but sheer will. I like the fact that he’s so good everyone else thinks he’s cheating. If he is, he’s gotten away with it better than anyone else. And I guess you can call me a gullible, star-struck optimist– not usually the first label you’d think of.

A lot of the coverage of his career has discussed the fact that everyone thinks he’s doping. There are over 2000 matches for the search “Lance Armstrong conspiracy.” He did a spot for Nike where he said “Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

Me, I’m on the goddamn interweb, googling for conspiracy theories.

Everybody loves a conspiracy theory, but really, it’s not that complicated. Check the seven signs of quackery, then read an indymedia piece on oil, war, and monetary reserves, and tell me why it’s full of shit.

Start with the author, who doesn’t give a full name and has an AOL email address. Everybody who wants to be credible ought to know better than to use an ISP that’s renowned for the stupidity of its users. Not to mention the fact that they’re attacking a media conspiracy by giving money to AOL/Time-Warner.

Then the essay begins: “Although completely suppressed in the U.S. media…” Did you see the problem there? Anonymous author alleging suppression of story by Powers that Be. Can you find this story in the European media, who would love to hear about any weakness in US finances? Can you find any good arguments for it in academic journals? Have you checked World Oil, and Gulf Industry Worldwide?

No, but you’ve read Gore Vidal. I’m sorry.

Also, get an editor, and use a spell-checker. It’s “excerpt,” and if you don’t have a way to work a quotation into your essay, you refer to it in the bibliography, and don’t just tack it on to the end, hoping that someone else will organize your primary documents and your thinking for you.

Now, for the merits of the argument: that the US is attacking to prevent Iraq from selling its reserve dollars and switching its oil transactions to Euros, thereby flooding the market with dollars and weakening the US economy.

I suppose that it’s imaginable that Iraq and the rest of OPEC would try to destroy the value of the dollar, even if it came at a great cost to them. However, they haven’t got the cash to do that. Iraq is nearly bankrupt– them switching to Euros would have about as much effect on the currency market as a vacationer cashing a traveler’s check. Remember: the US economy is larger than the next three combined, and Iraq is nearly bankrupt. Most of those great oil fields won’t get drilled for 10-20 years, and if they were active now, sanctions would have choked them off.

Even if several major countries were to try and weaken the dollar by switching en masse to euros, the US and its financial allies would be able to buy excess dollars and maintain the stability of the currency. In fact, one of the reasons countries keep foreign reserves is to prevent radical fluctuations in currency value. Other countries could be expected to help out here because exporters, including the EU and especially Japan and the rest of Asia, want a strong dollar to make their exports more attractive. A weak dollar is worse for them than it is for the US!

Not only that, but switching to Euros would be doing it the hard way, given the obvious ability to just jack up the oil prices. Doing it via currency transaction details is just too complicated. Sure, high oil prices hurt OPEC too, but so does crushing the dollar, given that they have lots of their money in dollars.

So, why is Bush really intent on attacking Iraq? Because he’s really convinced that Saddam is evil and dangerous and that the US should get him out of there and install a friendly democratic regime. He’s isolated from reasonable argument and thinks that disagreement is a sure sign of treachery.

In other words, he’s a conspiracy theorist.

Wiki? Wacky

The Disinfopedia keeps tabs on disinformation campaigns, whether they be lies or “astroturf” pseudo-grassroots marketing such as that whole “right to choose your doctor” campaign. It does for marketing and PR what OpenSecrets does for campaign finance and bias such as Fritz Hollings and his ownership by the infotainment cartels. (Am I getting just a little too polemic here? Yeah…)

Anyway, the site is organized in the form of a Wiki, an online database of stuff created, interlinked, edited, and controlled by its users. A Wiki is like a blog, except with more people and no chronological set of entries. There are even several different varieties of wiki software. Like GNU, GIMP, KDE and , the Wiki is a concept and project that has succeeded despite having an incredibly silly name.

When you have a hammer

Truism: When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Application: Gastric bypass surgery.

What gets me about gastric bypass is that it’s a surgical problem to what is most often a psychological or behavioral problem. I’m sure that there are those for whom it is necessary, but it seems, in a lot of cases, that it’s (here’s my personal vendetta again) the easy way out. The solution to the wrong problem. These people have eating disorders, not enlargement of the stomach.

For example, one man’s son says that before the surgery, “All he did was watch videos, [but] now he can do stuff.” At a last-hurrah meal for one couple undergoing the surgery together, the woman ate until she vomited. Of course, she can still do that and lose weight– she’ll be full to sickness after a few bites. There are a lot of personal experience stories out there– blogs and so forth — that suggest a lot of food issues hidden behind the surgery. Look at Basil White’s description of what he ate at his last meal before surgery– or rather, his four or five last meals. It sounds like a junkie trying to kick. Only his last fix included a dozen donuts as an appetizer for a meal of chicken-fried steak, fries, and biscuits.

This FAQ downplays the possibility of becoming malnourished or losing too much weight, but it does point out that people who eat compulsively can gain weight even after gastric bypass, by eating constantly, by bingeing until they throw up again and again, or eventually just stretching their stomachs back out to full size.

Lots of information out there, though: recipe guides and of course suggestions for meal supplement, shakes, given that a diet of normal food would leave you malnourished. Not to mention discussion of different varieties of the surgery. The NIH site on gastric bypass seems pretty informative.

I’m not knocking it– it seems to work for a lot of people. Even proponents recognize that it’s a brute-force way of dealing with obesity, and most places require psychological screening beforehand. Still, I’m concerned that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of acknowledgement of the psychological issues behind the whole thing, at least not in media coverage and celebrity stories.

The Pop Game

The Hollywood Stock Exchange has an offshoot in IMX, the interactive music exchange. In both games, you buy and sell the popularity of popular culture products, and then redeem your virtual earnings for real-world promotional goods and logo merchandise. The sponsors behind IMX are MuchMusic, a Canada-based music video channel, who get not only brand recognition but also good market data for their troubles.

They really do have some neat ideas to go with the game: a TV show centered on the IMX game plays the big IMX movers and shakers, both established large-cap and up-and-coming small-cap artists. There’s a dedication service where you can not only request songs, but have the person emailed to let them know you’ve send them a special message– which is often an insult. Plus, it’s a pretty sophisticated market. You can even short-sell artists you think are overplayed, although pump and dump schemes and other market manipulations are punishable by confiscation of your assets, a trading suspension, or permanent banishment from the game.

Needless to say, I’ve been playing a little, but I’m sure they’ve got me in the junk-data pile, since I’ve confessed to not getting the TV station and being over 25. People sometimes complain about targeted advertising or other forms of user profiling but I’m not opposed to it. I mean, if I were still 20 and watched these videos, I probably would want the shirt to go with it, and I’d want bands I liked to get on the show. Since I’m not, and I don’t want the shirt, there’s no reason I should influence the show, even if I influence the game.

See, every data collection process should involve weeding. I’ve seen sales-lead forms at trade shows that ask “are you a student?” meaning, essentially, “should we just circular-file your info right now?” It sounds callous or rude, but it’s not. If you’re a college student, do you want to be contacted by the sales team and persuaded to discuss twenty or thirty grand worth of rackmount blade servers? No. They could almost ask “OK if sales calls you?” but then people would say no, even if they were potential customers. It’s still easy enough to lie and get your info ignored– just say you make no money, watch no tv, never buy CDs, cars, clustered data servers, electrophoresis equipment. Alternately, to win promotional keychains and junk mail, just claim to be part of whatever demographic they’re aiming for. It’s just marketing data. It’s not like it’s your insurance records.

Jobs I’m Glad I Don’t Have

My brother’s freshman year in college, he took the train into the city and went to South Street with his roommate. They spent a great afternoon, and all of their money, before getting back to the station and realizing that they had to buy a return ticket. So they put down a baseball cap and started doing a capella techno until they had the three or four dollars for the fare. They decided the band name was “TBA and the Special Guests.” Lesson learned: busking sucks.

Item two: although my writing and editing is determined largely by other people’s constraints, I am not a turd polisher. At least, not as much as someone who gets paid $20 to ghetto-ify the dialogue in someone else’s novel.