Aw, what the hell?

The Boy and I figured at the current odds, it was a good time to buy McCain. He’s at about 1-to-6 on Intrade. So I create an account and try to fund it–but am informed that my bank refused, apparently due to some recent Congressional shenanigans.

I’m soooo glad they’re here to protect me. What would I do without their wisdom?

Meanwhile $700B gets thrown around–and wasted—on a dubious prospect. I guess it’s okay to gamble with my money as long as they’re doing it.

New Link To Horror Comix Site

S. Weasel (already in my sidebar, and quite possibly in my trousers–one never knows with weasels) used an graphic for her run-in with customs. Apparently, there are arcane rules about air guns in Pifferdous Albuyin (or whatever he calls England) and even though she hadn’t actually gone afoul of those rules, that was of no interest to the bureaucrat running the show.

That led me to a site where pre-code horror comics are uploaded daily. It’s called The Horrors Of It All, and looks pretty cool.

I’ve often noted how each adult generation is just sure the youth are going to hell, and what they latch on to as “proof”, and how different things were when they did more or less the same crap as kids. Horror comics–those innocuous, occasionally campy, crudely drawn, four color books were targeted in the ‘50s.

What the big publishers (like DC) managed to do, of course, was drive the smaller publisher (like EC) out of business by setting up a “code” and controlling it. The movie industry set up a similar barrier in the Hays Code and (to a lesser extent these days) the MPAA>

One of the things that cracks me up about the socialist/communist/radical left types is how they talk about big corporations not wanting to be regulated by the government. But of course, big corporations LOVE big government because it absolutely strangles any smaller competition: And the little guys with the ideas are the ones that kill.

And since they can influence the government, the more power it has, the more power they have.

I mean, if you want to join me on the radical fringe, you can just fight every expansion of government power you run across. I haven’t worked out how that fight should go, exactly. But it needs to be an idea out there with a real champion.

Any how, this all crosses over nicely The Boy’s brush with Johnny Law. Isn’t it interesting how all the anti-second amendment right folk talk all the time about how the Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have imagined the devastating weapons available today? We know from history that private citizens owned the weapons that were used to fight America’s early wars, including cannons and even frigates.

But even allowing that argument, on what basis should the government be allowed to restrict ownership of what are basically primitive weapons, like knives? Or shurikens! Shurikens are expressly not allowed by law!

The excuse usually given relates to gang violence. And we all know how respectful gangs are of the law, and how effective these laws are at curbing gang violence.

See, this is the main problem with government: Just because something is stupid, and everybody knows it’s gone to hell, doesn’t mean you can stop doing the stupid thing.

It’s Hard Being Right All The Time

As the global warming house of cards tumbles, it’s time to revisit my views on oil.

Like the real estate bubble, which I was vigorously assuring people would pop (I mean honestly, anyone who can afford to pay $750,000 for a house is pulling down six-figures minimum, and not that many households are doing that), I’ve also stated that as soon as we start sinking money into alternative fuels, the price of oil will drop to the point where those fuels are not financially feasible.

According to this, oil is below $70 per barrel. The most feasible of the alternatives I’ve read about is shale oil. (Still oil, but in crunchy form.) According to this, shale costs more than $60 per barrel, though I’ve seen estimates that it can be brought in slightly cheaper.

Russia’s slap-happy waking bear dreams aside, I would suggest that oil can’t be kept higher than the price that encourages alternatives. I mean, obviously, if you have magic car-moving goo for $90 barrel then oil can’t go higher than that, or people will buy MCMG.

But also, the higher the price of a barrel, the more the alternatives can cost, and therefore the greater the interest in providing those alternatives.

Simple, eh?

Oil producers are simply motivated: They want as much money as they can get for what they have for as long as possible. By reducing output, they raise the prices and extend the longevity of their supply. But people will simply use less, on the one hand, and look for alternatives on the other.

The oilmen know this and act accordingly.

Eventually, I’m sure, we’ll get to that better form of fuel. But it’ll probably be something we don’t even see now, maybe taking advantage of physics we don’t even understand yet, say, at the quark or sub-quark level.

That would be cool. In the mean time, enjoy your oil. How low will it go? Think it might go back to sub-$50? Sub-$20?

That, I cannot say. I do like to point out that the peak oil people assured us it could only go up from here, much like the global warming people.

I’m petty that way.

My Oil Platform

As regular readers know (both of them), I’m pro-gasoline. Love the stuff. Would put it on my cereal in the morning.

So, as a public service, the Bit Maelstrom is going to state its position on oil drilling, in case any enterprising politician wants our vote. (Sure, it’s only one, but it’s quality, not quantity, right?)

Wherever there may be oil, we should allow drilling. That means if there’s oil under the redwoods, we drill. If there’s oil in my backyard, we drill. If there’s oil on Mount Rushmore, Lincoln’s getting a lobotomy.

We’ve got to get over this attachment to pieces of the crust that we call “nature”. “Nature” herself is going to destroy it all when we’re dust–after killing us (or alongside of killing us in a twofer). That’s what she does. She’ll bury the redwoods under a mega-volcano, and Rushmore will collapse under some tectonic plate shifting in due time.

The only permanence we have is that which we carve, bloody, out of what narrow windows of opportunity the universe gives life. To do less than carve everything we can to prolong our (probably fleeting) existence is nihilism.

And nihilism, as the Dude says, is exhausting.

Fault-Proof to a Fault.

Commenter William over at Althouse, in the anthrax thread, wrote:

What was so scary about the anthrax scare was that it took just one bright individual to sabotage a basic service of civilization….The sniper nut and his young companion in the Wash-Virginia area weren’t even all that bright…There are so many moving parts, many with a zero tolerance for error, that keep civilization pumping out the goodies that it’s a wonder it all hangs together– especially when you consider how many would love to see it all fall apart….

Civilization, of course, has a very high tolerance for error, at least at this point. In other times and places, minor errors can threaten it, which is why societies enter stoic. The tolerance of error is why societies exit epicurean, as well. In other words, when your survival depends on strict behavioral codes, then the homosexuals in your culture are stoned, unless they line up and have children like the everyone else. Thievery costs a hand. Blasphemy–which is an attack on the code–results in crucifixion. And so on.

Ultimately, society becomes “safe”, and therefore soft, and ultimately is destroyed by not realizing the cost of each individual transgression against the whole. I think this is most readily apparent in Western Europe, where Islam is permitted unthinkable sins (rape, violence and even murder) because, at least at some level, nobody can actually conceive of Paris or London or Rome falling.

The various links that hold things together can be strained: The current oil bubble is an example of that. A combination of speculation, inflated dollars, and refusal to produce in the face of rising demand, causes some discomfort. Then the response comes in the form of decreased consumption, pressure to control inflation, and abandonment of seemingly cherished-beliefs-that-are-in-fact-fads (environmentalism).

Even outright evil in the form of overt attempts to destroy a civilization can be easily handled. (They can even be a “good thing”, for reasons explained later.) Even knocking down the WTC–which was timed exquisitely (however coincidentally) to wreak havoc on the economy–was ultimately a minor blip.

Although it doesn’t get reported much, the economy under most of Bush’s two terms was about as strong as it was under Clinton. (Clinton inherited a great economy and left a mess, while Bush inherited a mess and will leave a mess, but both had good–even great–times in between. And, of course, they had little to do with the successes and failures of the economy, which is why President is such a sucker job.)

Remarkable when you consider that Clinton’s term took place during a time when we didn’t consider ourselves to have any serious enemies, and Bush’s time has been a constant war.

Civilization trucks on. Fault-proof to a fault, you could say.

What kills civilization is corruption. Where the corruption begins–i.e., it is possible to have noble leaders and corrupt populous, just as it’s possible to have noble people and a corrupt leadership, Confucius notwithstanding–almost doesn’t matter. Americans have traditionally been hardasses, I think, much better people than our leaders have reflected, which is why a political career used to be so fragile.

It’s not so true any more. Because wherever the corruption starts, it ultimately spreads. If anyone ever felt any romantic attachment to any mdoern communist government at any time, all you’d have to do is point out that corruption was rampant in all of them from the get-go. Anyone could get out of the USSR with enough bribe money.

Various populations of the US have elected convicted felons to office often enough to suggest that, at some level, other concerns now trump any concerns about corruption.

Not to suggest our impending doom, or anything. Civilizations spiral downward and one can always believe that things are different now than they’ve been before.

Ironically, a direct attack on a civilization can be “helpful”. The sort of patriotism engendered by WWII and even a few weeks after 9/11 can make corruption seem treasonous–which it really is. It’s a lot harder to brook corruption when you’re sacrificing.

Then there’s the idea–codified by the left, but used by everyone long before–that truth is secondary to partisanship. Think “I’d rather be wrong with _____ than right with ______”. One this idea becomes ensconced, once it’s apparent that, at long last, there is no shame, you have a society on the way out.

Although it seems bad today, it’s probably not as bad as all that. 1jpb wrote in the treadmill thread, the French are somewhat shocked by Carla Bruni. The French! We get a homogenous view of other people thanks to the homogenous media, but really, Europe isn’t completely filled with effete, amoral pseudo-intellectuals.

But this brings me to another post, on why I hate politics.

Say what?

Apparently, Time-Warner is planning to spend $25M on advertising the DVD for the moderately successful (and surpriginly good) Horton Hears A Who, with the idea that its target audience is, you know, addled (either from having children or being children). No, that’s not it. It’s that they have the book, so they’ll want the movie.

Well, okay. I like the movie, but I barely associate it with the book. No loud-ass blockbuster Jim Carrey flick is on the same plane as a book. Not saying better or worse, just not comparable. But, okay, that’s just me. Others doubtless go, “Ooh! A movie based on a book! That I’ve read!” and snap it right up.

OK, so with a $25M ad budget how much are pricing these at in order to move those puppies?


Say what? My initial shock was ameliorated somewhat when I realized that that was the “retail price”, i.e., the price you pay at the convenience store for, you know, convenience, and that the real price will be somewhere in the $20, probably $15-25.

Still, I have to wonder if they’ve really worked out the curve on this.

My first “real” job was for Paramount Home Video. I was customer support. I don’t mean that I worked in customer support, I mean that I was customer support. And it was a part time job. (The other part of the job was accounting.)

At this time, it was commong for videos to cost $40-$50, or about 30 gallons of gas, if you want to scale for inflation. (What? What do you mean that doesn’t work?) Anyway, it amounted to over $100 in modern “fun-time bucks”, or whatever we’re calling greenbacks today. You could pay $100 for a copy of Gator Bait, or other movies that were “priced to rent”.

Not long before I got there, some genius at Paramount had figured out that if you sell a video for $20, instead of $40, you sold a whole lot more videos. In fact, they had launched a big promotion with Pepsi and (I think) Burger King, in conjunction with that modern classic Top Gun (dir. Tony Scott).

And they had, for the first time, sold over one billion copies of the Tom Cruise/Val Kilmer love story.

What? OK, one million copies. But they sold ‘em lightning fast. And they sold another million pretty damn fast as well.

Over the years, prices have dropped both on the tag and in real dollars. I don’t know about y’all, but that makes me very inclined to pick a movie up casually. $7 for the Bedazzled remake? Worth it just for Elizabeth Hurley’s 14 outfits. (And she’s the weakest part of that movie!)

I’ve noticed that the HD–well, not anymore, but the Blu-Ray movies are back up to $30 and $40. Whoa! Shock to the system! Since a big part of the high-def push is to find ways to lock content down, you might think they’d use marginally higher prices (on the newer stuff that actually benefits from high-def) while keeping older classics at the same prices (or even lower!). That would be a very compelling argument for getting a new player.

Then they could sneak in whatever dastardly content protection they wanted.

Unfortunately, they are the greediest of the greedy. They fought VCRs tooth and nail, and when they lost that battle, they made billions off the VCR. They really feel that not only do they deserve to charge you $40 for a movie that was made before any of them were born, but that the laws of the land should be changed to make it so that they can charge you whatever they want long after their bones are dust.

Of course, the bandwidth for truly high-high-high def stuff isn’t out there. You can’t get a computer to deliver it. But now that the cat is out of the bag that you’re not actually getting it when you pay for it, from your cable/sat/etc company, it’ll be intriguing to see how it all plays out.

Oh, and the $30 for Horton. Well, when I worked there, one of the most expensive movies we had that wasn’t rent-to-own was The Godfather. You needed two video tapes, and it cost about $70 bucks ($150 or so today). Cost to Paramount to make those tapes? $2.62.

DVDs are even cheaper, however you measure.

Pet Peeve of the Milennium

Know what I hate?

Really, really hate?

You know how when you’re watching a TV show and then the commercial comes on at double the volume? I have that licked: I stopped watching TV with commercials, for the most part.

But in recent years, movies and TV shows are mixed so that dialogue is very, very quiet, while the transitional music is super loud. And special effects.

Don’t these dunderheads know that you want a much smaller range of audio dynamics for home viewing than in the theater–and frankly, it’s overdone in the theater, too. If the only way you can get a reaction out of the audience is to turn the volume to 11, maybe it’s time to pack it in, mm-kay?

I was just trying to watch Secret Diary of a Call Girl with the lovely Billie Piper (Rose from “Dr. Who”) and it was done in this muttering dialogue style with loud transitional music.

It’s TV, fellas, mix it down!

The Pauline Kael “Nobody I Know Voted For Nixon” Award

Even though it’s pretty well established that she didn’t actually say it as it’s commonly reported, like fictitious suicidal lemmings and boiling frogs, Pauline Kael will be forever known as saying nobody she knew voted for Nixon, and symbolizing the New York City dweller’s out-of-touchness with the rest of the country (which voted for Nixon in one of the great electoral and popular massacres of American history).

I therefore institute the Pauline Kael Award for Insularity, and make its first nominee yet another NY Times writer, Dan Ariely, for his article “Eyes off the Price”.

Mr Ariely suggests that it’s the very act of watching the price go up that makes us more sensitive to price increases there than other places. That we don’t notice the other prices going up because we don’t spend the money in the same way.

Really? If you’ve got a bunch of kids and they go through a gallon of milk a day, you think you don’t notice the price going from $2.99 on average to $4.29 in six months–as happened between January 2007 when the ethanol push started, and June 2007?

You don’t notice the weekly food bill going from $250 to $350 over a year? You don’t notice the water and power bill when it spikes?

Five years ago gas was under $2 and today it’s over $4, which makes the increase considerably greater than the increase in milk prices (albeit less condensed).

That’s why we notice.

The people who don’t notice price hikes in other items are people with lots of disposable income they’re not paying much attention to. (I suppose you could be someone without a lot of disposable income whose not paying much attention to it, too, but eventually it’ll up and slap you in the face.)

I dunno, maybe I’m off-base. But not everyone drives. Most everyone eats. The food price spike probably hurts a lot more.

Bachelorhood and Society

“I was unaware that anybody owed society anything.”

You’re not the only one unaware of that.

Consider, however, that this society and all others exist because someone felt they did owe society something, and that this society degrades and will cease to exist because people think the sum total of history’s efforts up to this point was to allow them an entirely self-involved life.

This was from the comments thread at Dr. Helen’s site on a topic that might have been labeled Bachelors: Menace or Threat?

Nobody commented on “I was unaware that anybody owed society anything” at all. Maybe they just ignored it, but I tend to think when something like that gets passed up, it’s because there’s not a lot of disagreement.

I remember thinking the same thing, when I was a teenager. You know, “What has society ever done for me?” kind of stuff. And it’s really that sort of thinking that lies behind the justifications that (say) our officials use to gradually destroy society.

There’s not even good faith, much of the time.

What’s more, if you point it out, you’re obviously a greedy right-wing neocon fascist. I’m an open borders guy, but if I’m asked about the impact on the various social programs, the best answer I can come up with “Get rid of them and it won’t be a problem.” Most people find that extreme.

Life for the elected elite doesn’t seem to be suffering along with our infrastructure. Take that bridge that collapsed last year in Minnesota. I think it was, attributed to some incompetence at the time of its construction. But couldn’t there have been some money in the budget to check those things out more frequently? Did we do all that we reasonably could?

Or did someone in office (or someone well connected) have better uses for our tax dollars?

You can argue–fairly, I think–that there will always be some corruption, some waste, whether private or public sector organizations are involved.

But how much of the deterioration of our world comes down to someone not being aware that they owed something to society?

Just a slob like one of us…

A few days ago on Althouse, the topic of God sprang from a post about whether Einstein was an atheist or not. I’m doubtless flattering myself here, but when I read Einstein on God, I’m usually seeing in what he writes a reflection of how I feel on the topic.

When someone asks me, “Do you believe in God?” I generally have to reply with “What do you mean by God”. Althouse regular cum gadfly Revenant calls me to task by saying:

The most accurate definition of “God” is the one most widely accepted by people.

My problem with that is that I don’t think people sit down and agree on said definition widely. Er, widely sit down and agree. What I mean is, have you ever asked someone what that is? The definition of “God” is rather incomplete and mismatched person-to-person, which is probably where 90% of the arguments come from.

As a contrast, we could talk about god-with-a-small-g. We could define “god” pretty easily as a being with an innate and significantly greater power over natural events. Greek, Nordic and Egyptian mythologies, for example, are populated by gods that, as terrible as they are, are also very limited in scope. Human, even. With frailties and mortality. These gods directly impacted people and performed specific duties.

Now we can argue very precisely about “gods” in general, or any specific “god”, such as Thor. Or, say, Helios by noting that no one has seen his chariot pulling the sun.

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that “gods”, if they ever existed, are hiding pretty well now.

Now, there is a dictionary definition for “God”, of course:

A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

But, oh, what arguments you can find in that simple definition. Omnipotent? What about free will? A lot of religions argue that he can’t mess with free will. (And, by the way, can’t and won’t are the same for the purposes of this discussion.)

Ruler of the universe? Yes, there are some who believe that God rules the universe like a king rules his kingdom, but last I checked he’s issued no taxation decrees. No bans against trans-fats. No suspensions of gravity on holidays. Yes, there are commandments and prophets and all that, but really, in a lot of the big theologies, this universe is a virtual sandbox, and God doesn’t get to the ruling part till after we leave it.

“God”, “angels” or “ghosts” are used to explain many things people don’t understand. (And who’s to say that those explanations aren’t correct? If I were God, an angel or a ghost, I probably wouldn’t take kindly to microscopes.) There’s nothing to rule out the possibility of a “god”, either, coming out of hiding to paint a face on a tortilla or make a statue weep blood. (Are the supernatural beings all just practical jokers? Maybe. Gotta be boring being dead.)

Anyway, if you take that ruling part out, and you’re left with some guy (heh) who knows everything. And some would say he doesn’t know everything–since with free will, that might be problematic–but that he watches everything.

This is probably the biggest bone of contention I have with discussing the matter. A God who is but does not do–you know, what are we talking about? And when the question arises, it’s usually not someone who, like Einstein, was looking out at the universe and wondering, but someone who’s really asking “Do you agree with my dogma?” No, I don’t, but please don’t kill me.

Well, okay, let’s forget about what He does or doesn’t do, but focus on origination. God is the Creator. That works pretty well. We could say He created the universe and all of us as well . That would be a pretty good definition of God.

We could, of course, totally complicate the topic and say God created neither us nor the universe, but that we create the universe with our shared perception of it, and we have no clue about what’s going on in reality, an idea that hearkens to Plato and the Hindu concept of maya, but let’s assume that, even there, if we’re all playing some massive game of D&D, there’s a meta-Dungeon Master, and He created the basement we’re playing in, and the Doritos we’re eating. But we won’t.

The problem with that, to my mind, is that, well, we’re here. The universe is here. Something created the universe (or so it seems) and something created us (unless we were always here).

Would the being that did that be a being that we could, in any sense, understand? Maybe. Maybe he’s just a slob like one of us, only super-powered. But maybe the awareness and power comes from a different sort of consciousness altogether. Even the people who are fond of envisioning God as a giant old white-bearded man in flowing robes maintain that we can’t fathom the mind or the workings of God.

There’s another issue, regarding the word “exist”. Years ago I read a website by an atheist who had a FAQ that read “How do you know God doesn’t exist?” and his answer was “God told me that he doesn’t exist.” He had an explanation of how he had come to talk to God, but there was a certain sense there.

God, if he created the universe, isn’t really of the universe. He doesn’t exist as you and I exist. Or he might, in the form of an avatar, but He, Himself, doesn’t occupy a space or time within the universe. In that sense, he doesn’t exist. (How about them apples? If God created the universe, he doesn’t exist. Heh.)

On the other hand, what if God is the universe? He doesn’t exist; he is existence. We see him in f=ma and E=MC2. Or at least part of him. In that sense, every scientist is studying God.

And that I believe in.