The US Dollar is proof that Americans are Stupid


There was a time, long ago, that people knew the value of a dollar. And this is not in some “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” sense. I mean, they literally knew what a dollar was worth. For most of 1975, a dollar had a specific value such that one troy ounce of gold was worth $42.22. Exactly. There was a time when banks had to make sure that they had enough gold in their vaults to fund all of the paper money that they had issued. Since the Federal Reserve was established in 1913, that meant that all of this gold was kept in the same place. Safe and sound, and ready to be exchanged at a flat rate for paper currency.

You might remember me mentioning gold and its relative value vis-à-vis anything else. I talked about how Nietzsche spoke of gold’s relative worthlessness. Of course, today we have tons of industrial purposes for it but by and large, most of the gold in the world today is socked away in various hoards because gold’s real value is its exchange value. This is what Nietzsche was talking about. We value it because it’s very, very shiny and has little or no use outside of this fact. So for time immemorial we’ve used gold as a currency itself. Gold (and silver) coins were the most common form of currency. You can’t forge a gold coin because no matter what, you still need freaking gold in order to make the coins. So gold always has intrinsic value.

A friend of mine says that gold used to be backed by grain. Which is an interesting idea that I haven’t backed up with any formal research. Anyone with any further insight into this would be repaid handsomely in honor and accolades.

The problem with gold, of course, is that it is also very, very heavy. So carrying chests of it around is awfully inconvenient and requires carts and wagons (or trucks in today’s world) and a security detail (who must all be paid well in order to make sure they don’t rob you themselves). So paper currency, pegged to the value of such-and-such amount of gold was invented. But this paper currency (usually issued by a private bank) had to be backed up by that gold and had the promise of such an amount of gold upon presenting it at the issuing bank. This is what builds confidence in a currency.

During World War II, the Japanese hoarded tons and tons of gold as part of their plan to create a new, stable currency that would become the standard currency for their entire Pacific empire. As terribly as they lost the war, they knew that if they won, they would need to have the confidence of the consumers in their currency or there’d by no way in hell that it would maintain any sort of real value.

But many, many currencies are off the gold standard now. In particular, the US dollar (the third most valuable and by far the most pervasive currency) is not pegged to any specific value of gold. To make this point really clear, consider that gold no longer has value but instead has a price. What I mean is, gold used to, essentially, be our currency, though it was abstracted through the use of paper banknotes. Now, gold is just another commodity with a price and not a particularly standard price either. It’s continually fluctuating. At the time of this writing, the price of gold is 942.80 USD per troy ounce. The gold itself isn’t changing, however. It’s only the standard price that people would be willing to pay in American dollars.

Here’s the thing. Paper money is worthless. It’s even more worthless than gold (and gold is essentially worthless; I mean, you can’t eat it). Paper money only has value insofar as everyone involved in its distribution can agree that it has value. That’s it. If nobody can agree that it has value, then it has no value whatsoever.

Take for instance, the scene in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe where a bunch of morons (modern humans) have crash-landed on a primitive planet Earth. They quickly decide to adopt the leaf as their standard currency and all assume that they are rich since there are so many trees. But of course this leads to rampant inflation and even simple transactions require the exchange of, say, an entire deciduous forest.

So why is the US Dollar proof that Americans are stupid? Because somehow they have decided to trust the US government and the federal reserve enough to allow them to back the US dollar with–get this–nothing at all. There is nothing backing our currency. It has zero real exchange value. Zilch. Nada. Absolutely nothing.

They have essentially adopted the leaf as a national currency. When the Fed decides we need more, they just print more goddamned money and there’s nothing in the vaults to back it up. They create this crap out of thin air and Americans accept it!

It’s traded on currency exchange markets. It supposedly has an exchange value (and technically does, since people are still willing to exchange it for goods and services) but this isn’t guaranteed by anything except the Fed’s word that the dollar will maintain its value. But what is it worth? We don’t know because it isn’t pegged to anything!

The biggest and most profound evidence of human stupidity is the fact that other countries love the dollar. In a sense, it’s a pretty remarkable currency because, despite its utter worthlessness, it has managed to remain stable (the most important property for a currency to possess) for decades. There has been steady, but not uncontrolled inflation over the years, but it really hasn’t been a huge problem. Most Americans live pretty comfortably in their absurd little fantasies about the stability of the greenback.

Is it going to come around and bite us in the ass? Probably. Is it going to become necessary to peg the US dollar to some precious metal in the future? I have no idea. I’m not an economist. It just seems absurd that people are willing to trust a currency that has absolutely nothing supporting it whatsoever except, what, credit?


Alles dass Glitzern

Hidden Doorways a Reality?


Click on the image to see it full size. I’m working on a new theme for the blog so that I can include larger format images. It might take some time.

This is pretty much exactly what would happen if William Shatner came ’round to tea at the Prime residence.

So I realized today that I have no really good reason for using Optimus Prime as the subject of so many of these comics (if you can call them that). Perhaps it’s that I see him as the sort of ideal outside observer. An alien not of us, but very sympathetic to us. He likes humans in a way that is not patronizing or insincere. He shows us–the inferior race–a kind of respect that is rare between humans.

Prime is the perfect idealist. His most famous quote (from the comics as well as the various Michael Bay films) was, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” On the one hand, it’s the sort of magnanimous statement that gives a person shivers, especially when uttered by the always earnest Peter Cullen. But it’s also, when one really deconstructs it, astonishingly prejudiced against beings that are less than sentient. Regardless, I’ve always wanted to identify with Optimus Prime and I respected his sage wisdom (and awesome robot-fu) as a child.

Perhaps I use him in so many comics because I happen to own an Optimus Prime action figure myself, which makes it easy to photograph him from any angle I want. Do you know how hard it is to find a photo of William Shatner in the perfect pose?

The subject of ‘Hidden Portals’ was spawned by a headline that I saw on Science Daily. It’s one of those headlines that really plays tricks on a guy like me. I read something like this and I get really excited. I imagine, of course, teleportation (something that would really put GM out of business). And, thus, that’s the idea that I explored in my art project.

But that’s not exactly what’s going on in the article. In fact, the article is further misleading in that, try as I might, it’s difficult to figure out what, exactly, these researchers actually accomplished. Upon further research into the matter, it turns out that what they have created is not an actual, workable prototype of a hidden doorway, but instead have built a functional conceptual model of a doorway that does not permit electromagnetic waves to pass through it, but would allow other entities (say, a person) to pass through. A mirror that you can walk through.

It’s actually really cool. But this is the thing that’s frustrating about science sometimes. They’ve proved that it’s theoretically possible, but they haven’t actually built it yet. My question is, of course, why the hell not?

It’s a curious thing about science. In fact, it’s the critical difference between science and applied science (i.e. technology). What use has a scientist for technology except as a way of furthering our understanding of the world? They’ve proved that it’s possible to build the doorway. In a sense, it doesn’t matter to the pure researcher that it ever actually gets built. For the pure researcher, actually building the device would only be important if it could be used in further research. This might be an oversimplification of the pure researcher, who is, of course, only human, but the point remains.

Technology, like for instance these new metamaterials involved in the creation of the hidden portal is, essentially, a means to an end. And I don’t mean this lightly. “Means to an end” is a concept that bears considerable weight to a philosopher. Technology is a means to an end. And it is nothing more than that. To a scientist, the end is knowledge and understanding. To everyone else, the end is often creature comfort or experiential. We use technology as a means to the end of enhancing our individual lives or the lives of others. Both are perfectly reasonable ways to use technology.

Without letting this become a lecture on ethics, I think I’d like to bring this whole thing full circle.

I’d like to bring this around to what I find so interesting about Optimus Prime. He is, in a sense, a piece of technology. But he is also a sentient being. He is the ideal exemplar of a higher being that treats lower beings with dignity and respect. He is a piece of technology that doesn’t treat humans as a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. To be treated as an end and not a means. That is the true meaning of “freedom,” folks.

Now, if only someone would build some mirror-portals so that I could buy one.

Freiheit ist nicht frei.

Why “Terminator Vision” is Inaccurate Terminology


This is one of the possible results of congress enacting the Terminators as Secret Service Agents Act. The world could use fewer jerks.

I found this article on BBC today. Augmented Reality (AR) is a pretty sweet concept. The technology looks very cool, totally validating years of cyberpunk fiction. But there’s a problem with the article as written. And the problem stems not from any direct fault of the journalist, but from a dramatic misunderstanding of the nature of computers and robots.

The article mentions “Terminator Vision” and it is this very concept that is suspect here. By way of explaining, let’s build a mental concept of the flow of information inside of a Terminator’s computer-mind.

In the films (and indeed, in many robot films) when we, the viewers, see from the Terminator’s perspective, it’s a sort of infrared image with a text-based overlay. A Heads Up Display (HUD). I always passed it off as an abstraction, so we could relate, in some way, to how a Terminator relates to the world. However, it never occurred to me that someone would take that as literal. Why, exactly, would a Terminator need to generate this needless text in its image field? It doesn’t need to read it. It creates an unnecessary step in its data processing.

Here’s the algorithm that would be going through the CPU’s image analysis circuit:

  1. Input image from eye-cameras
  2. Analyze image thusly: separate out faces, identify them, identify weapons, identify surrounding structures and other objects
  3. Evaluate possible threat sources
  4. Evaluate possible actions based on threats, possibility for combat, and meaningful interactions with human companions (See Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
  5. Generate text cues
  6. Output: Overlay text cues on HUD for Terminator Higher Brain to then READ and presumably respond.

Why would the Terminator ever need to read this text in order to make an informed decision? The beauty of being a walking computer is the ability to evaluate raw data and process it without forming it into words. It’s faster and far more efficient. I can make allowances for, say, Robocop, who is actually a man with human eyes who might actually need a HUD in order to evaluate incoming data. In fact, any scenario involving a human inside a machine is going to necessitate some sort of AR technology. A cyborg’s lower and higher brain functions occur in the same place (unlike in humans). A cyborg doesn’t need the raw data to be filtered through a process, evaluated, and then passed back through the eyes. It’s ludicrous. Thus, the entire concept of “Terminator Vision” as a euphemism for AR is formed out of ignorance of computer technology. QED.

As for the recent American behavior at town hall meetings: grow up America. Read your history and study other countries. This country is far more likely to turn into Nazi Germany than Maoist China if continue to allow ourselves to be controlled by corporate interests. Don’t people understand that the government is a non-profit organization (or negative-profit, as the case may be)?

I don’t understand how people can allow themselves to be so closed minded about this issue. There is a certain income discrimination going on in health care in this country, and so many people are totally willing to let it continue. I mean, we all know that poor people don’t actually deserve health care, right? Right?

Anyway, one other thing:

Presumably, they would stay in Canada. Where they belong.


On Rescuing Reporters and Accurate Language in Astronomy


I imagine the recent negotiations to have gone something like this. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I like to imagine that Uncle Bill threatened Kim Jong Il with a Roman spatha.

I for one am glad that Bill Clinton gets a little attention. He gets to be the goddamned hero for once. And you know what? Despite everything that anyone says, the right thing happened. Two innocent women were freed from a very bleak future.

This is vitally important. It is not possible to see this as a bad thing unless you are a terrible person.

So anyway, NASA has released an image that was captured by the Spitzer telescope. I like Spitzer and I am a huge fan of the things that we get to see because of Spitzer. And this new image is not a disappointment. It’s an interesting spiral galaxy with a strange eye-shaped structure at its center. I think the most notable feature, however, is smaller galaxy that appears to caught up in orbit around the larger galaxy’s nucleus. It makes a lot of sense from a physics standpoint. The moon orbits Earth which orbits the sun which orbits our own galactic center. Why not have larger, binary galaxies? All around pretty sweet.

The thing that I wanted to focus on, however, is not the image itself, but rather, the language used to describe the image. And exerpt:

  • “The ring around the black hole is bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy is causing the ring to light up with new stars.”

I know that I’m not the first person to point this out, but if we want to be perfectly accurate with our language and consider that this galaxy in the image is about 50-million light-years away, shouldn’t the above quotation be phrased more like this:

  • “The ring around the black hole was bursting with new star formation. An inflow of material toward the central bar of the galaxy was causing the ring to light up with new stars.”

I mean, really. The image is of the state of that galaxy fifty million years ago. I’m not an astronomer, but I am a linguist. When astronomers discuss these things, do they use past-tense language? I’m really curious about this, because it seems to me that by using simpler language to ease communication, then some information is lost in the discussion. By using present tense, you must make the (to be fair, usually accurate) assumption that the reader understands that “is” actually means “was the case fifty million years ago.”

On the one hand, I’m curious about the type of language that professional astronomers use. On the other, I feel like I ought to lobby for the use of accurate language when describing celestial objects like distant galaxies.

Perhaps the most viable solution would be to take Rush Limbaugh, freeze him, stick him in a pod and launch him to that other galaxy so that he can report back to us about what it’s doing. With any luck, we’ll miss and he’ll be lost in the inconceivably vast void between galaxies forever.

Would it be easier to just send him to North Korea where he would be forced to do hard labor for ten years?

Singen Sie mich adieu.