Sunday, April 29, 2007

What to believe?

I like media critiques, the journal that specialized in it is no longer online, which is why Matt Taibbi's articles are like a breath of fresh air.. Here's his obit on Boris Yeltsin , his critique of New York Times, and one more here of a special post 9/11 supplement. Plenty of bite. And this is one of the funniest articles I've read from him, where he launches a full fledged attack on Thomas Nolle.

My mind is all over the place right now, because I've been trying to understand the dollar, and why it's been sinking of late. The problem with being on the internet for too long is that you can't make your mind up about which version of the truth you should believe in. Take the concept of petrodollars, for instance. On one hand it is said that America benefits from every barrel of petrol sold by OPEC, which leads to a quote like this:

In 1968, Richard Nixon inherited the hair-raising collapse of the US Treasury's gold pool and the un-winnable occupation of Vietnam that had caused it. Within the next four years, Nixon would abandon fixed currency exchange rates and the gold standard, then allow a 20% devaluation of the dollar that wiped out billions of dollars in US debts to Western Europe and Japan. Since oil payments were denominated in dollars, the consequent jump in the price of oil was a harsh blow for Europe, Japan, Africa, and Latin America.

The US, on the other hand, owned the dollar printing press, and it was able to recycle the crisis, via petrodollars, through these regions. US puppet governments in Iran and Saudi Arabia helped underwrite this system with their ability to swing oil production.

This game of economic chicken by Nixon set the stage for a new method to assure US supremacy, since the post World War II industrial boom had run aground on the rocks of the Marshall Plan nations' export capacity and on Vietnam.

And then there's someone who thinks this concept is retarded. (Crtl F for tyrone)
It's very hard to say who's on the right. And this isn't some conspiracy theory anymore, it's a school of thought. I mean, here's a wikipedia entry on it which considers it a 'hypothesis

In 2000, Iraq converted all its oil transactions under the Oil for Food program to euros. When U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, it returned oil sales from the euro to the U.S. dollar.

It took a flag, a warcry, complicit media, and a system perpetually geared for war to get there. But it was always about the oil, and America needs it to support the American way of life. The End of Suburbia painted gloom and doom for America and the world as we know it, and A Crude Awakening compounds it. The docu starts off by saying that oil reserves are actually much lower than what the OPEC economies report, because they keep revising their estimates so that they can mine more fuel now. This conspiracy theorist with poorly formatted ebooks gives investment strategies for the crash. Interesting stuff.

Oil is remarkable stuff, one barrel of oil equals 25000 hours of human labor. This is magical, non renewable stuff. It's really outrageous that we allow it to be wasted on such abominations. To compound things, the US government gives American citizens tax cuts if they consume it wastefully on automobiles that weight more than 6,000 pounds.

In 2003, the Bush administration proposed increasing the tax deduction to $75,000. Lawmakers responded by expanding it to a whopping $100,000 as part of the $350 million tax cut package. Yet Congress did not change the weight-based classification of the vehicles, creating a huge benefit for the largest, least efficient vehicles.

The last time OPEC took the world hostage in 1979, the American car industry improved fuel efficiency by 62% from 1975-1984. And it's sad that the automobile industry has actually regressed after that. From the book: Winning the Oil Endgame.

The average new U.S. light vehicle in 2003 had 24% more weight, 93% more horsepower, and 29% faster 0–60-mph time than in 1981, but only 1% more miles per gallon.

A Saudi oil minister once said "The stone age didn't end because of a lack of stones."

Fortunately, human creativity is a renewable, boundless resource. I'll place my bets on the Fischer-Tropsch process. Ze Germans used it in WWII. And we've got plenty of coal reserves in the world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Kanth touch this..

At some point in Tamil Cinema, the erstwhile hero of the masses, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad a.k.a Rajnikanth mired himself in "character roles" as the nice guy, much to the disappointment of his Rasigar mandirams (fan clubs) who'd fallen in love with his bullet-defying badassery. In the 80's, these masala flicks had a patent formula. Rajnikant would smoke like a chimney, dance with Silk Smitha and wield his iron fist to destroy the bad guys.

Rajnikant's success was largely attributed to the color of his skin, which was a few shades closer to the average Tamilian. His physics defying stunts or his nativity were never questioned, he was a dark man, and thusly the projection of a million repressed and neutered libidos.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and it wasn't long before K.N.Alagarswamy Vijayaraja a.k.a Vijayakanth donned the superhero costume, and became the new zeitgeist for the angry Tamilian. Vijayakant didn't try to equal his master, he upped the ante, pushed the envelope, raised the bar, etc, carving a niche that is truly his own. It is said that in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike competition, Charlie Chaplin came third. Vijayakanth is better at being Rajnikanth in all respects.

Script: Vijayakanth twirls moustache unleashing powerful psychic wave. Psi powers yo.

Hooray for subtitles!

Plate Tectonics

Zee Amazing Cooling Glass Trick

Monday, April 16, 2007

So it goes..

To be
the eyes
and ears
and conscience
of the Creator of the Universe,
you fool.

Kurt Vonnegut. - 1922-2007

His last interview, on second life, no less..

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Alternative History with Cricket 2007

In a BBC show called Time Trip, which discussed the possible ways man could traverse time, the presenters arrived at the conclusion that in the future computers could become so powerful that they could simulate virtual realities the earth itself, in different eras.

So if you had a kink for the Victorian age, you could login to your MMORPG, dial 1850, and smoke opium with Dorian Gray. And the super computer would simulate every other human being out there for your entertainment. That would take solipsism to a whole new level, but then again, Hell is other people.

I'm playing a Lo-fi-pre-beta version of that, with EA Sports Cricket 2007. In which, the agony of India's defeat has been overwhelmed by the masturbatory pap of glorious victory for my sovereign nation on my PS2.

I began my glorious World Cup campaign by sending all the cricket players to a gulag so they could dig mass graves for themselves. My comrades in China provided manufactured clones, with names like S. Gungly, R. Dravia, V. Seway and S. Tendehar. My new team had no affiliations or sponsorships to any brand or corporation, except to swear allegiance to our glorious country.

In my first Bangladesh match, I scored 350 runs in 27 overs, after which I used the auto play feature until my score reached 455/8 in 50 overs. The big scorer was Seway, who managed a 225 run partnership with Gemphir, the whole left hand right hand combination working out very well indeed. I won this match by about 200 runs, with 26 sixes in one innings.

Bermuda and Sri-Lanka fell meekly like bowling pins, in spite of putting 270-320 runs on the board. Thanks to the save game feature, I managed to chase these totals before the captains could get out of Power Play mode. With only two fielders outside the circle, Seway would befuddle the opposition by hitting consecutive sixes in the covers, straight back at the bowler, and then one on the on-side. He would repeat this every over, managing his fifty in about 11 deliveries, and his hundred in about 25. This, my friends is how you play Cricket.

In the Super 8's, I defeated Australia, West Indies, England, New Zealand and South Africa with formidable victories that stamped the boot of Indian cricket on their collective faces. Shane Bond, Mc Grath, Brett Lee, Flintoff and Pollock bowled the most expensive overs of their respective careers, as their balls relentlessly whizzed back at high trajectory angles.

I'm in the Semi-finals now, and I shall finish the series while taking on half the gods in Greek mythology during my free time.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Matt Taibbi Vs Thomas Friedman

My awareness of a certain gent named Matt Taibbi started with his scathing review of The World is Flat, a book that a former roommate championed because it painted India in a favorable light.

These are the kind of people who see their daily indignities in Mumbai in a new light once an Australian or a New Yorker writes about it, the likes of whom think the Namesake is a breakthrough in cinema.

What amazes me is the fact that such a mediocre chronicle of people's lives is actually considered a worthy subject for film and book. That the banalities of our lives and deaths are sold as epics of Exotica to a dim-witted international audience; and that when it comes back to us, reeking and regurgitated but with the all-important seal of global approval, we swallow it whole and stand in line for seconds.

That India needs to stop looking for external validation was just a digression. What I wanted to share, with much glee is the fun little sledging match between Matt Taibbi and Thomas Friedman. That review was just foreplay for what's to come. In his Low Post column for Rollingstone, Matt uses Thomas Friedman like a punching bag.

Right War, Wrong Tactics
The notion that our problem in Iraq is a resource deficit is pure, unadulterated madness. Our enemies don't have airplanes or armor. They are fighting us with garage-door openers and fifty year-old artillery shells, sneaking around barefoot in the middle of the night around to plant roadside bombs. Anytime anyone dares oppose us in the daylight, we vaporize them practically from space using weapons that cost more than the annual budgets of most Arab countries to design. We outnumber the active combatants on the other side by at least five to one. This year, we will spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined -- more than six hundred billion dollars. And yet Tom Friedman thinks the problem in Iraq is that we ordinary Americans didn't tighten our belts enough to support the war effort.

Hussein in the Membrane

Tom Friedman is the oracle of this crowd, the tormented fat kid with a wedgie who got smart in his high school years and figured out that all he had to do to be successful was shamelessly and relentlessly flatter his Greatest-Generation parents, stroke their outdated prejudices, sell them on the idea that the entire aim of the modernization process is the spreading of their amazing legacy through the use of space-age technology.

So he goes into America's sleepy suburbs with his Seventies porn-star mustache and he titillates the book clubs full of bored fifty- and sixtysomething housewives with tales of how the Internet is going to turn Afghanistan into Iowa. The suburban guys he ropes in with a half-baked international policy analysis -- what's "going on" on "the Street," as Friedman usually puts it -- that he cleverly makes sound like the world's sexiest collection of stock tips: "So I was playing golf with the Saudi energy minister last week, and he told me..."

How the Media Lies About China

One of the biggest purveyors of this dreck is arch-capitalist spokesmodel Thomas Friedman, who has spent the last ten years trying to talk himself into the position that having to compete with Chinese and Indian industrial slaves is somehow a good thing for America. Nothing makes Friedman happier than being able to appear before a bunch of old ladies in some cobweb-strewn Midwestern library or Jaycees hall and deliver his favorite faux-homespun platitude about the new global economy, a clunky tale about advice he often gives to his daughters. "Girls," his story goes, "when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, 'Tom, finish your dinner. People in China . . . are starving.' My advice to you now: 'Girls, finish your homework, people in China . . . are starving for your jobs.' "

Those are just a few choice samplings. Matt Taibbi's Low Post column is a teaser. His longer articles like the one about American troops in Iraq, gives a first hand view of America's prospects in their war on terror.

What I like about this guy is that he does that little extra, he digs up a bit of history on these politicians and their coterie of shills, and then pulls their pants down, exposes them for what they are, and then pees on them for good measure.

Edit: Found another one.

And another one.

And another one.

Online Documentaries

Slow day at work? Here's a link that should keep you engaged for a few months, it's got links to over 500 documentaries, including some of my favorites from PBS and BBC.

Adam Curtis just came out with a new series called The Trap: What Happenned To Our Ideas of Freedom. The basic gist of the documentary being how game theory permeated into the fields of military, economics, psychiatry, politics, in spite of having fundamental flaws.

However, within this simplistic idea lay the seeds of new forms of control. And what people have forgotten is that there are other ideas of freedom. We are, says Curtis, in a trap of our own making that controls us, deprives us of meaning and causes death and chaos abroad.

And in typical Curtis style, he puts tremendous weight on personality and philosophy, as if it were the guiding stars for the motives and actions of men. This is my fundamental objection to the 3-part series. Curtis pins pivotal movements in history to philosophers like Ali Shariati and Isaiah Berlin; to me, these intellectuals are not the catalysts that he thinks they are, rather, their free market ideologies have been championed because it suits the interests of technocrats and oligarchs - the corporations and the banks.

The actions of these corporations (In Iraq they could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country. No reinvesting, no tax.) have less to do with theosophy and more to do with greed and exploitation.

Some good analysis from the blogosphere: here, and here

Download low-bitrate versions here: