Friday, August 25, 2006

European Anti-Plutonian sentiment rising, this time it's personal

At the 26th General Assembly meeting of the International Astronomical Union currently being held in Prague, which is known for its defenestrations and whimsy, Resolutions 5A, 6A, 6B were discussed and voted on to redefine what it means to be a planet. Arrogant Bastards. Contentious debate raged over terms like local population and Trans-Neputian objects, the number of planets vacillated between 12, 10, 8, and of course the traditional (and correct) 9. When the dust had settled the reclassification of such Local Group minutia as planets, asteroids, dwarf planets, and Small Solar System Bodies had left all in the meeting battered and broken, while leaving us on this side of the Atlantic mostly confused and a bit miffed. In their infinite "wisdom", Pluto is no longer a planet but a dwarf planet. This development can only be seen as a gross act of jingoistic exuberance by the EU against the United States of America.

I blame France.

Apparently, they are still a bit peeved about EuroDisney™ and though they may be justified in their criticism; this astronomical interdict decreed by a kangaroo court of a scientific body is unrepentant planetism, and quite frankly it is un-American. Does that face look like the face of a "dwarf" planet? No, my dear reader, it is not. Pluto© is a testament to the creative genius of Walt Disney, though there is a strange ambivalence, almost a willful negligence when it comes to Goofy©. But more to the point, the issue before us is nothing less than a matter of nationalistic autonomy. Should we allow a bunch of Eurogeeks tell us what is and what is not a planet? The answer again is an obnoxious and Bud-soaked, never. If we allow this planetary
3/5ths Compromise to go on, it will only be a matter of time before we are all eating Nutella on Melba Toast, getting pumped for Red Bull's Flugtag and air-guitar competitions, and erratically switching between policies of multicultural co-habitation and forced integration as regards our minority religious and cultural populations. I urge all of you to contact your representative and demand that Pluto's right to exist as a full and participating member of the Solar System be vigilantly sought after. This is the exactly the sort of issue that can galvanize a nation during the midterm elections.

A Vote Against Pluto is a Vote Against America.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Interrogating the Diet Pepsi...

Claude Frédéric Bastiat was a French liberal economist of the early 19th century, he is probably best known for the "Broken Window Fallacy." Essentially he constructs a narrative in order to illustrate the point that there are opportunity costs that are often not immediately visible and as such it is necessary that good economists become aware of, in an anachronistically postmodern way...Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas, "that which we can see and that which we don't." Economics, that most dismal of sciences as suggested by that most bearded of sages Thomas Carlyle, is often perceived as the science of revealing the mundane in the everyday in excruciatingly mathematical detail. However, Steven Leavitt, author of Freakonomics has taken Bastiat's rule to heart in his work and revealed in interesting and occasionally controversial ways what lies below the commonplace. This disclosure is often paradoxically liberating and annoyingly confusing.

Economic processes often seem mysteriously complex and more to the point their explanations make arbitrary, highly mediated, and totally surprising logical associations, much like the price of tea in China. But it is these very types of associations that exemplify the rather beautiful and staggering nature (perhaps even frightening) in which individuals are enmeshed in our swiftly flattening globe. Thomas Friedman documents this process fluidly if a bit colloquially in his latest work,
The World is Flat. It becomes apparent that what lies below the everyday is far from mundane, if what is meant by mundane is boring or unimportant. While it could be quickly added that the smooth and highly readable prose of Friedman and Leavitt belie a considerably more circuitous and numerically nuanced picture, the social and political ramifications of this work, the statistical data orgy that it is, are undeniably important.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a fridge-friendly twelve-pack, of Diet Pepsi for $2.49 plus tax. Diet Pepsi was initially produced in 1964 as a sugar-free variant of its carbonated cousin. Today it is a deliciously refreshing aspartamed concoction with zero calories and carbs. In the twelve pack I purchased, one of the cans, which otherwise resembled its 11 other friends, despite being sealed had much less than the requisite 12 oz. of the light and crisp goodness that I had come to expect. My original indignation at the absence of the carbonated beverage was replaced with a sense of surprise and confusion, how could this happen? It is not as if John Boy at the plant had had one too many Lowenbraus the night before at the Overtime Pub and was off his can-filling game the next day, leaving my container pathetically under-filled. This process had long been automated and I had thought, erroneously, perfected. Yet here in all its light blue aluminum glory it was, its existence mocking all that is holy about product dispersion technology.

Russell Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason, and author of the economic romance novel, The Invisible Heart, wrote a brief article that read more like a love letter to the Pepsi plant, and waxed poetic as much an economist is liable to do about the marvelous vessel-filling techniques that Pepsi and presumably by extension Coca-Cola utilize. In his effusion of schoolgirl-like admiration of the invisible in the visible in the purchase of a can of Pepsi, he offers that despite the 1.5 billion cans a year that this massive plant will pump out (oddly sexual isn't it, this tone is much more his than mine I assure you), the chance of encountering a half-filled or God forbid unfilled can will be minimal "once-in-a-lifetime" as a result some type of gamma-ray/crystal sensor device which measures photon absorption rates of the can. Further he suggests that such a gargantuan plant requires only a skeleton staff of approximately 15 workers to maintain the behemoth operation on a daily basis.

But, the mostly empty can remains, its contradicting presence foregrounding the invisible, bringing it into the bright light of day...pressuring, questioning the invisible to reveal its worst truths. This can, this hermeneutic tear in the otherwise smooth narrative weave of Leavitt, Roberts, and Friedman, through which the usually dulled and cowed eyes of the consumer might be able peer into the chasm of the Bastiat's invisible and interrogate the plausibility structure, and lay bare the very "human" processes which populate this not so flat, and maybe not so Freakishly efficient space, perhaps?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stay, Capricious Memory...

I am always intrigued as to how our memories get directed and misdirected constantly, often with little volitional control. Despite having heard that the Treaty of Nystadt ended the Great Northern War, which lasted from 1700-1721, multiple times in an environment favorable towards the reception and retention of such information, I have as yet not been able to absorb or recall this fact when it matters (such that it ever matters).
However, years ago while driving past the 300 block of Thurston Ave. in lovely Ithaca, NY -I saw this bumper sticker on the back of a car briefly before it made a left turn. Yet, this sticker and that morning I remember rather clearly, it was mid-morning it was late fall or early winter and it was sunny, which is rare itself in Ithaca at that time of the year. Why is this so? Often when I drive I am usually not fully aware or "plugged in" to my surroundings, especially if it is a route that I have taken many times, in such a case I am usually under automatic pilot. Yet, despite this brief encounter with this car sticker in what can be called an unreceptive state, this statement has been burned into my memory. I remember getting the joke almost instantly, if you are having trouble figuring out the allusion, it is a reference to
blue shift as predicted by the Doppler Effect. Nevertheless, it is amusing and yet incredibly frustrating that at times it seems that I have little willful control over what and how my mind works. My participation in certain intra/extramural events is the motivating force behind my obsessing over the process of memory, and I am always impressed by those whose vast powers recollection far exceeds mine. I am left perplexed at their ability, and inquire to the sources of their power. Is it just a matter of being religiously disciplined when it comes to preparation for an event? Or do they continually and in an omnipresent fashion walk around with this gargantuan knowledge base ready to "whip it out" so to speak on call? Those who are familiar and a bit cynical of this insular world of mine will definitely understand the phallocentric undertones (actually forget undertones, full on is painfully obvious to observe, and even more pathetic that I willingly and eagerly submit to this behavior) that permeate this subculture. From this side of epistemological gap it seems that their minds are virtual pulsating floods of information. Unfortunately, my memory does not speak to me in waves, but startles me with bursts which too often leaves me unprepared to cope strategically. It is my hope that one day I will be able to genuinely master the art of memorization, so that I may be able to file away information efficiently, and copiously such that it is available for immediate recall. There must be research out there that studies and attempts to account for these random acts of memory...but from this under-informed perspective it seems positively impenetrable. But I continue to struggle: Nystadt, Great Northern War, Nystadt Great Northern War....this works right?