Thursday, October 19, 2006

Thanks for Letting Me Vent.

In September of 2001 a terrorist attack that closely serviced then-recent recommendations by a think-tank called Project for the New American Century, led to the deaths of somewhere between 2000 and 3000, or 1/15th to 1/20th of the number of US traffic fatalities for that year.

Today I read a sad and sobering statistic in the Economist relating to the population publicity event from Tuesday: some 650000 people have died in Iraq since the invation (kudos to the Economist for not callng it a "war" or a "liberation", for God's sake...) that would not be dead had the US not shown up. Of course, George Bush quickly dismissed the findings by, taking a page from Ari Fleischer, spiritual leader of the US Government, simply saying something completely indefensible and leaving the honest fools to pick up the pieces with pesky facts...

So how does this relate to you and me?
Well, first, it means that for every 450 of us, there is one dead Iraqui who would be alive today had we simply disallowed the blatant fraud that put George Bush in office, twice. Or, looking at it another way, every one of us has separately allowed about 1/4 lb of living Iraqui flesh to be taken to the grave by our henchmen. This makes me feel bad, though it makes me wonder what that figure would look like if we go clear back to the United Fruit Company and add up the death-toll that underpins our "American way of Life".
Second, on the eve of more comedy elections in the US, it is inconvenient to deal with, so it makes it a lot more attractive to kick up a lot of dust over North Korea's nuclear test - nevermind that the only country in history who has successfully tested nuclear arms and given them up at the request of an international community is South Africa, and that genocidal maniacs all over the globe have all kinds of nasty weapons no one on earth should have..

So I guess the point is that there is numerological evidence constantly surfacing of the scope of terror that the US has spread around the world since George Bush occupied the White House. Wonder how these elections are going to go...

Monday, October 16, 2006

US Population to hit 300M - Set your clocks..

I saw a comedy routine once - it was these American Indian guys making fun of white people - you know, shooting fish in a barrel. They would stand up there on stage and one of them would roll up his sleeve, look at his wristwatch, startle, and inform the other: "Hey, Bob, look! Time to be hungry!"... Try the same thing with Hispanics, or, God forbid, blacks, and see where it lands you. You'll be telling your story to Mel in nothing flat, 'cos no one else will acknowledge you exist...

But, as ususal, I digress... The US poplulation is gong to hit 300M at 1146 GMT Tuesday morning, Oct 17, 2006. Of course, by 2006 tghe majority of Americans are way out of their depth understanding the relation between GMT and their local daylight savings time, but the notion that the moment is meant to signify something momentuous about meat-accounting is, I am sure, not lost on most who find out about it...

I am a little uncomfortable with the idea of understanding, in my head, what that means in the first place. I mean, I think visualizing 300M is doable, but not for the faint of heart, to start with, and then there's the nasty business of the planets. I mean, if we can't trust officialdom to count to 9 in our stead, how the hell are we supposed to believe a bunch of lower level bureaucrats about a bigger and harder number in the first place? I mean, stop & consider it for a second: - OK - I need to digress again.

So the truth is,my life is beautiful in some ways but not so in others. Specifically, I made the titanic mistake of marrying someone who, shall we say, has issues, a while ago. This particular wife of mine, who shall remain nameless, of course, has laid every obstacle from lying about residences to threatening me and our daughter, all to get a taste of power. The bottom line is that I have a net worth that is negative enough that I don't want to go into it, and she has a tidy little nest-egg inherited from dad's knowledge of who to slip a bill to and mom's judicious use of divorce lawyers - if the number started with a one, it would have seven zeroes behind it.

Ok - so the point of the digresson is that hypothetical wife has a hypothetical lawyer who routinely threatens me with horrible things. If she existed, I'd worry. For example they're trying to figure out how to get finanical sanctions against me for being poor about now. Beautiful, classic, it's own reward.

Point being that although I am infinitely more fortunate, I think I have an inkling of how the average homeless guy feels pushing that shopping cart against the traffic during rush-hour, and you know he was not really happy about being counted at all, let alone having some stiff census worker ask a bunch of personal questions.

The old ways are best, and there are certain countries where the population is virtually unknown because of the social stigma against beign counted. African nations are often a reality check because they have been around in the form of neighbourhoods long before the faddish notion of the nation state caught on. The point is that if I have a motive for wanting to disappear from a machinery that supports dishonest people with bad motives, while I have 6Mbit broadband at home, I believe it's fair to assume that 9 out of 10 people living in the streets will actively avoid this particular form of accounting, lest they have to endure similar and much more damaging affronts.

So the official anniversary of the US reaching 300M this morning gives rise to several interesting questions:
  • How many people really live in the US?
  • How unreliable is the official estimate?
  • Is the number knowable?
  • Are there observational factors that render it unknowable more so than political/cultural factors?
  • If we knew how many people live in one place at one time, would we know how many planets there are in the solar sstem?
  • Why does everyone freak out about this number (of people in a given space).
  • Is there a number that is "too much" - based on what?
Will everybody please quit using the word "war" for state-sponsored terrorism, be it in Iraq or Lebanon?

It's amazing, the power of repetition. The Republicans have used it to absolve themselves of their recent tenancy in the Whitehouse, possibly the biggest crime American democracy has ever suffered. Nonetheless, this is not about stolen elections or bitter little subliterate attorney generals calling the Geneva convention "quaint" - oh no. This is about North Korea, wouldn't you know it.

Here's the finer point of this little rant in a nutshell. North Korea, so I hear, tested a nuclear bomb recently and everybody's up in arms that nuclear power is falling into the wrong hands. Ahem. Hello? Nuclear power fell into the wrong hands when the US decided to use the pavement in Hiroshima & Nagasaki as photographic paper. It is fair to take some heat off the US's incredibly bad records by remembering that if it were Russia, China, Saudi, France, or Japan that were at the helm, let alone Rwanda, or Somalia, to give somewhat more sobering examples, things might be a mesure worse than they are today.

What fascinates me is the use of the word "terrorist" instead of "yellow dog" or any other more straightforward appeal to xenophobic cowardice in condemning the actions of anyone who does not share our laudable agenda of stamping out democratic processes wherever they might rear their ugly heads and threaten to stifle coporate operations with due process, minimum wages, universal health-care, or any of the myriad other anti-US activities which advocate for mere individuals ahead of corporate stockholders.

I would not argue that North Korea seems like a dangerous sate - basically run by a psychopath. I would just ask - exactly how is that different from the US?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Million Dollar Earrings...

On August 22nd, the International Congress of Mathematics awarded Grisha Perelman of Saint Petersburg the teraennial Fields medal for a solution to the Poincare conjecture, wich Dr. Perelman posted on the internet three years ago. The elusive Poincare conjecture is one of seven mathematics problems singled out as the Millenium Prize Problems by the Clay Mathematics Institute, which set aside seven $1M prizes for the solution to each of these.
Grisha Perelman stayed home. He did not collect the medal, nor the $1M... There is something so simultaneously heroic and annoying about that, sort of like a good math problem. It got me thinking, like millions of others, I am certain, about simply connected closed manifolds.
People are open 2-manifolds that treat ourselves as closed. There is no loop we can draw on our bodies that cannot be collapsed into a point, with the exception of loops drawn through a piercing, or the slightly more off-color string that Arne Kinski used to eat over and over, documented, I think, in the 1995 documentary Crumb. The string is a tangent, however. The point is that an earring is an affirmation of our openness, in a topological, if somewhat circuitous, way.
So, if Grisha Perelman had gone to get the medal, or the $1M, do you suppose he might have worn an earring?