Monday, December 14, 2009

New Blog Post

Things I've done since September 17, 2009:

Worked,
Two work trips (CA x2),
Two personal trips (RI & IA),
Two friends got married,
Two friends got engaged,
Studied less than I probably should have,
Played Medieval 2: Total War more than I probably should have,
Missed seeing Dan in DC at least 3 times,
Lived & Died in LA,
Hyperventilated for 25 straight minutes in a soccer game,
Ignored Andrew's snarky comments on the blog (until now),
Didn't go out for Halloween,
Spoke through a translator,
Rained,
Saw Slumdog Millionaire and the second half of No Country For Old Men,
Found some cool new music (The Dead Weather, Plants & Animals, The Dodos, Hospital Ships, Fuck Buttons, ...),
Tried cheese for the first time,
Saw Steve Vai shred on TV,
Thrice decided to take a photo of the Capitol out my office window every morning but then forgot about it,
Made $28.50 off of Andrew because he's lazy as shit,
Was disappointed by a grade
Was appointed by a grade, and
Didn't blog.

Now we're all caught up, so don't ask me what I've been up to next time you see me. You may ask me how I'm doing, though.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Are The Odds?

I just made a pun and you don't even realize it yet.

I might've learned something "useful" in a class this week. Well, it was in a book, actually: Against the Gods, The Incredible Story of Risk. It's slightly more interesting than it sounds. Slightly.

This week's lesson is about odds. Specifically, odds on horse (or dog, rabbit, turtle, or other raceable animals) racing. Let's say my horse, Brice Lord's Testicle, has odds of 1-to-1 (1:1), and your two horses, Crippleplex and Wendy's Testicle, have odds of 3:1 and 6:1, respectively. Since there's only 3 horses allowed on the track at Brice Lord Memorial Downs at anytime, then my horse has a 50% chance of winning, and yours have 33.3% and 16.7% chances. For example, with 3:1 odds there's a 1/4 chance Crippleplex will win, and with 6:1 odds there's a 1/7 chance that Wendy's Testicle will win. See the pattern? You've learned something already. Anyway, notice how the three horses' odds add up to 100%; this is because some horse must win the race, unless of course they all break their legs.

Wait, it gets a little bit more interesting. At a track that isn't named after me things work a little differently, because they're interested in making money, whereas I am already so goddamned rich I make money from giving it away. The odds at Charlestown Races & Slots for tomorrow are as follows:

Horse, Odds, Relative Probability
1, 5:1, 16.7%
2, 42:1, 2.3%
3, 3/5:1, 62.5%
4
, 3:1, 25%
5, 12:1, 7.7%
6, 7:1, 12.5%
7, 53:1, 1.9%
8, 48:1, 2.0%

Right now you're probably thinking, "Brice comma this is boring as shit semicolon go back to writing about the cola wars period" Exactly! The relative probabilities of all the horses in the race does not add up to 100%, it adds up to 130.6%.

So, what the shit is going on here? How can we be 130.6% certain that a horse is going to win this race? Ever notice how attending races is free? No? Never been to a horse race because it's really boring, simultaneously low- and high-brow, far away, and quite possibly cruel to the animals? Well, it's because that extra 30.6% is the house's take. They skim off the top. It's the bookie fee, the Jew's usury, the Cossack's bargain, the what-have-you.

So next time you rush off to the races to see Cunnilingus 2 run around a dirt path twice in a matter of minutes and then forget where you parked remember that your hard-earned recession-proof cash is lining someone else's lined pockets.

By the way, I don't really know anything about horse racing, so if you do and I'm wrong about any of this, please don't hesitate to immediately explain how you know so much about horse racing.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Obvious Metaphor

Having lost to William & Mary already, the University of Virginia Cavaliers football team probably didn't need their mascot to literally fall off his horse during his otherwise rousing entrance at the beginning of the game on Saturday. Following the mascot's lead, the Cavs watched Texas Christian University put up 30 unanswered points in the 30-14 at home loss. Maybe for the next game he'll switch out his horse for a bicycle.




Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Visited States Update

After another 2 years of aimful (the opposite of aimless) travel, I've created a new visited states map. Note my artful dodge of the central states, which is both incidental and intentional. I've also created my visited Mexican states map, which is somewhat less inspiring.





A comprehensive tally of where I've been in the U.S. of America.


A comprehensive tally of where I have/haven't been in the U.S. of Mexico. Mexico supposedly has states, by the way.

The Stock Market Is Not A Leading Indicator

The logic: "Since the stock market leads economic recoveries, once the stock market recovers, the economy will recover." That is, the stock market is a leading indicator.

I disagree.

I could've asked you
between mid-October 2008 - mid-January 2009, "What would you say is the current health of the economy?", you might've said something like, "Well, the stock market seems to have found a natural bottom around 8,500 (DJIA), so I think we've seen the worst of it, and so I'd expect a recovery in not too long once investor confidence returns in full." How would you explain then the following month and a half we spent below 8,000?

There's an inherent problem in using a stock market index both as a measure of economic health and as a future indicator of economic performance. Analogously, you need both a thermometer and a barometer to perform an analysis of the current environment and to create a forecast. The stock market has no foresight, it is purely reactionary, and so cannot be a barometer.

Why Any Index Sucks

What the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index (DJIA), for example, represents is an instantaneous assessment of investor demand for what the Dow Jones Company deems a representative sample of all publicly-traded companies on the New York Stock Exchange. When the DJIA goes up, the investor demand to own a percentage of those companies within the representative sample of publicly-traded companies goes up, and vice-versa when the DJIA goes down. In fact, it may be the only real world example of a
Giffen good. Leaving aside the validity of any non-statistically selected sample to accurately assess a whole market, we have to question whether the dynamics of that index are capable of capturing (1) the entire current economic state of affairs, and (2) the outlook for the future.

On (1), conceivably, the movement and value of an index, being a representation of investor willingness to own publicly-traded companies, would accurately reflect the overall state of the economy because those informed people buying up company assets in the form of shares would be reacting to a full set of up-to-date economic data, financial forecasts, industry surveys, and deep corporate analysis of assets and liabilities. The errors enter when you consider how inaccurate that full set of up-to-date information really is. E.g. No nation's central bank forecast this global recession. Alan Greenspan just shrugged his shoulders back in 2004. "A new paradigm!" Can you say the U.S. economy was actually strong 1.5 years ago when the DJIA was tickling 14,000? Or was it a facade of cheap capital that bloated the market's perception of those companies' value and led to our current situation? Even greater than inaccurate information is the investing feedback loop. A big mutual fund company dumps a load of cash into a company or industry, prompting others to do the same to catch the ride upward, prompting smaller investors to do the same and grab the sloppy seconds. All parties then unload their shares, in the process taking some good profit, to the latecomers who think they're onto the next hot stock. Did the value of the company ever actually change, or was it just the perception of the value of the company that controlled the stock value? Of course it was just the perception, and when you start attaching numbers (in this case, dollars) directly to people's perceptions, you get misinformation. For example, I'm an Orioles fan (as much as one can be anymore). Would I have put $10,000,000 on a bet at the beginning of the season that the Orioles would make the playoffs because their new pitching talent was being talked up on local sports radio? What if they're winning percentage in the first 20 games is .750? Doesn't sound like a bad bet, until you consider that the Orioles fucking suck and they have been hot early on but then collapsed at or before the All-Star break every year for the past 12. Anyway, the point is that gambling follows the same principle. You attach a value to your perception of the likelihood of the team you bet on winning, and your perception is based on imprecise information compounded with a dependency on the actions of individual people. The stock market is no different.

On (2), I think the obvious volatility caused by overreaction is enough to tank any stock market index's ability to forecast economic performance. Sure, whatever happens today may have residual effects in the future, but on the whole, it's merely a snapshot and an instant history. Looking at the artificial floor at ~8,000 in early February is enough to call this into question. You could point out that the market is back to about 9,500, but then I'd have to wonder why it ever bothered dropping 20% to 6,500 at all if it were a solid predictor of economic activity. It's not, and its value only tells you what other people just like you think it's worth. For that reason it is often considered a measure of investor confidence. This, I think, is true, but it doesn't really matter that much how confident investors are in the long-run. If all it took was confident coke-snorting traders on Wall Street then the DJIA would have gone into orbit by now; investors were mighty confident two years ago until they realized a lot of their money was tied up in things that weren't worth anything. That is, investor confidence is just a projection of past performance onto the future.

Why Weathermen Are Better At Their Jobs

The weather is a chaotic system. There are countless variables that influence it and there are countless attempts to do so. But despite its complexity, weather still follows the immutable laws of physics. The stock market, and for that matter, the economy, ultimately relies on a deeper chaos: human behavior.



What the stock market, or any index, really is is a forced amalgamation and an instantaneously fleeting assessment of what investors think of the value of traded companies, with no memory and no foresight. Simpler? It's an artificial grouping of what people think things are worth right now. Any attempt to derive much of a prediction from stock market data is doomed to fail eventually, because it's essentially a prediction of what people will do, and predicting people's behavior is, well, impossible, unless you work for Pixar.

Why I'm So Damn Right
Instead of breathing a sigh of relief watching the DJIA tick up-up-upwards, I'm rather concerned about the fact that unemployment---as measured by our screwy method---has increased by 62% since last July. If we're looking for a recovery, it's consumers, as always, that will drive it, and if there is less capacity for consumption, then there's less recovery. Less consumption and wages also means less tax revenue for federal and state governments, and the current government economic stimulus is not sustainable in the medium-term anyway.

I know people don't like thinking pessimistically, and for those without jobs it's particularly difficult to bear, and of course I hope I am wrong and the economy does turn around, but I think for financial analysts in the media and in the markets to continue to herd after the stock indexes is overly simplistic and will only lead to further calamity in the future.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Want to Own an Aviary (repost)

I WANT TO OWN AN AVIARY
by Count Langenhoffen (originally posted February 2006)

An Aviary (capitalized because I would own it, and everything I own instantly accords capitalization) is a large enclosure filled with trees and such for the purpose of enclosing birds. You've seen aviaries in such blockbuster classics as Jurassic Park 3 (dazzlingly directed by Joe Johnston, between October Sky and Hidalgo) and The Haunting (which features a pre-celebrity Owen Wilson decapitated by a haunted fireplace[seriously]). So essentially the birds think they can fly through the webbed steel forming the aviary, but it turns out that steel reacts to birds the same way it does to everything else; they hit it, fall, and usually die. BUT, as Darwin taught us, the next generation of birds will know how the system works, and shall obey it unflaggingly, and so they become the living attraction of said Aviary.

Now, my Aviary will be different. First of all, it'll be fucking enormous; not because the birds need room to fly, but because I'm a big guy. In fact, my Aviary will be devoid of those dirty ornithological rats, and if birds end up in my Aviary, it's entirely coincidental. And as soon as you walk into my Aviary you'll be confronted by some kind of spike or boulder trap; notice I use "you," since I would never fall victim to one of my own traps. If you make it past the trap(s?), you'll notice the air is pungent with a tenebrous pall, due in large part to the still black pond to your right and the cobwebbed man-sized iron cages squeaking longingly towards the floor which are numerous and hanging from the roof on long, ancient chains. Spiders are rampant, of course, though not so many so as to draw your attention too much from an omnidirectional moan permeating the wispy white fog. There's some wilting shrubbery that's not been clipped for years, but its plainly obvious they were shorn to resemble souls writhing in the fires of Hell. Twisted trunks of half-dead trees litter the place haphazardly, and there's an exhausted cherry blossom, too (for contrast by juxtaposition). This is obviously just to create the mood for my Aviary, so that the next door neighbor's kids feel compelled to explore it. Then, once inside, they'd be trapped and thusly forced to serve me (not sexually) until their premature death or they embark as a group on a dangerous quest for a pirate ship full of gold hidden in a secret cave within the sewers of the town. If none of the kid's are Asian, then they won't have the quest option, since no one can convincingly yell, "Booby traps!"

Now, being a business-minded person, the logistics of maintaining such an aviary requires some serious rumination. First, there's manpower. Simple solution here: Pay some poor Polish countrymen to immigrate over and maintain my Aviary (I wouldn't use "Aviary" in the Warsaw newspaper ad so as not to stir suspicion). Their rudimentary belief in the spirits of the Old Country would surely remain lit as they torment and toil in my hellish Aviary. And while they toil and cry out at spirits nonexistent, they'd come to me begging to allow their indenture to end. I, of course, would grow to twice my size and cackle ghoulishly at their simple beliefs and hilarious terror. I might allow them put a bird in my Aviary if they agree to stop being fed, but the odds that they learn conversationl English are slim to none since the grand expenditures needed for the Aviary would prevent me from being able to afford Rosetta Stone.

Another important logistical consideration is making sure the Poles and trapped children remain motivated to work, so once in awhile I'd release into the Aviary a pack of hounds or a swarm of locusts. I might also release one of those badass string-tripped swinging log traps that did in the Predator, and I think also may have taken care of Benicio's character in the cinematic feast that is The Hunted.

If the INS gets too hot on my Aviary, I'd just cover it with a tarp whenever they came by looking for missing children and Poles. If they ask what's under the tarp I'd probably just make the whole damn thing send itself into another dimension, and then flash back into our realm when no one's looking.

What's most important for an Aviary is, of course, having a secret room where you crossbreed various hapless animals via torture. There'd be bunny rabbits, little kittens, cuddly otters, happy dolphins, chatty parrots (since they can talk), and tasty chickens (in the form of buffalo wings in the freezer), and also for good measure there'd be a couple of random beating cows' hearts connected to more electrodes than seems necessary. In this room I'd also pay Edgar Allen Poe's great grandson to sit in a tall black chair and read aloud The Telltale Heart and The Raven at odd temporal intervals. Once the creatures I manifest are ready to unleash doom upon the world I'd make sure they go straight for the places of worship, just to fuck with everyone's psyche.

One last item, let's throw in some gargantuan pterodactyls with lasers attached to their shoulders like those Dinobots.

I feel that building from this simple Aviary template, I'll have countless hours of entertainment to tide me over until my battleship is complete.

Bravo


Friday, August 07, 2009

A Fond Farewell

A coworker (someone who works with me, a coworker) recently left and thought it'd be fucking hilarious to dump about $17.28 worth of pennies in my office. Only, he didn't just toss them across the floor, he meticulously placed them in and on every conceivable thing. under my mousepad, on my "Rookie" award, etc. It probably took him an hour. The damage is done, my wrath rose and subsided, but as with any offense put toward me I naturally need to reciprocate asymmetrically. The problem is that he's no longer in his office, so aside from vandalizing his actual personal property (house, car, dog), I have limited recourse. So, I've decided the best way to get back at him is to hit him where he can't defend himself: his ideology. He's a stalwart Republican, and takes quiet pride in his antiquated political philosophy. So I'm trying to find the most left-wing, out-of-his/her-mind public figure who takes donations to whom I will glady donate the 1,728 pennies in his name (and address, phone number).

So, I need your help finding the most left-wing elected official in the country. Any ideas? And by the way, Brice Lord never needs anyone's help, by definition; I only phrased it this way to make you feel altruistic, for which you should feel guilty and used.

Thanks so much.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cyanide & Happiness

Cyanide & Happiness is definitely my favorite web comic, which isn't too much of an accolade, I suppose, because I don't really read any others, and I don't read this one regularly either. But anyway, it's pretty damn funny. It's quite twisted, too, so if you get offended easily, and you are aware that you get offended easily, and you also have the self-control not to enter potentially-offensive situations, you shouldn't read any further. Ever notice that my sentence structure is too complex?

Here's a recent favorite:


Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic


Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bubbles & Manias

I came across this nice little graphic that generically depicts the market swings that occur during manias and bubbles. The graphic was posted on Jesse's Café Américain, an excellent, albeit dire, economics and finance blog that New York Nick pointed me too. The figure originally came from one Dr. Rodrigue at Hofstra University.

The eponymous "Jesse" seems to know his stuff, although I'm certainly not knowledgeable enough to know one way or the other, the admission of which is proof enough that those of you reading my opinions on the economy and the policies created to effect it should stick with caveat emptor.

That said, I'm pretty skeptical of everyone's enthrallment with the "green shoots" of economic recovery. Unemployment is still increasing in absolute terms, some assets' values are still dropping---most obviously housing, which precipitated the entire collapse---and the financial industry is still shackled with nasty debt. Any apparent recovery now would be artificial and lead to yet another empty, unsupported bubble. How does anyone expect the economy to grind forward when so many people have lost their jobs, and thus have no money to spend to prop up GDP? Consumption by households was 76% of nominal GDP in 2006. Where will this recovery come from? Remember that scene from Shawshank Redemption when the U.S. Army launches a nuclear weapon at one of the alien motherships, thinking the bomb will get through their fancy alien energy shields, and then for a moment everybody thinks the bomb worked and all their problems are solved, but then the smoke clears and the ship is still intact, floating above a flattened metropolis? It's gonna be something like that.

Anyway, to counteract the glum I've pasted a picture of the album cover from Kenny Loggins' "Return to Pooh Corner" below the "manias and bubbles" one. Now everybody go out and spend! Consume Kenny Loggins concept albums!








Monday, June 08, 2009

Porno Spam

I'm infinitely amused by the bizarre subject lines spammers come up with to get their porn product emails through my spam filter. Usually they're either unimaginative ("Become the lover of his dreams") or too much of a metaphorical stretch ("Make your spire reach skies"). But once in awhile you get a real gem.

Here's my recent favorites:

"Get the longest banana."
I can't help but giggle when I read that. It's so ridiculous. What are we, 6 years old? "Hey baby, guess how big my banana is? It's big, yellow, curved like a crescent moon, and turns to mush after a day in the sun."


"Prosperity in banging."
Screw that ho-hum prosperity in life or career. I want to focus on "banging." And not just success, but prosperity. I want my banging to flourish, to thrive beyond all known bounds of banging.


"Equip your battleship with main caliber."
Picturing my penis as a battleship is pretty novel, and if that's not enough, it needs to be equipped with "main caliber." Kaboom!!! Face full of equipped battleship. The author gets serious credit for this one, and it's a great example of a porno spam that, in another context, would read like a unproof-read Chinese menu.


"Make your pecker your trump."
No, there isn't an "-et" at the end, it does just say "trump." So, next time I'm in a political argument with my conservative friends about, say, progressive taxation, I'll just confidently bang my dick onto the table and call "trump." Done. Argument over. If the author meant "trumpet," the image it conjures is one that every 15-year old boy has wondered about, and maybe even tried (only spontaneously, while stretching, of course).


"Suck it."
Refreshingly direct, though it could easily be misinterpreted as a crude insult from the early part of this decade.


"You're a moron."
Nothing to misinterpret here. Maybe I am a moron for missing out on "Drilling and drilling more, all night long!" I like this aggressive marketing style, it reminds me of those Macho Man Slim Jim ads where he bursts through walls and basically forces delicious Slim Jims down kids' throats. Tear into the spice!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Jaywalkers Beware

While walking to the Metro last Tuesday (May 26) I noticed something peculiar going down at the southeast corner of 13 & U, NW. A police officer was giving some poor bastard a $5 jaywalking ticket for crossing without a "walk" signal. Understandably, the guy looked a bit confused.

As I scuttled by, late to work as always, I overheard the officer trying to justify the ticket with something like, "...and it's dangerous because if you step into that intersection when the light's still green, you may be paying attention, but the people behind you will just follow you, thinking they have a walk signal."

I saw the same cop standing at the same corner today, so I thought it time to raise the alarm. And as a blogger, I naturally feel a duty to also opine valuably on the justice of jaywalking.

First of all, I don't buy that people will unknowingly fling themselves into dangerous intersections without looking just because someone else does. To quote society from the 1940's, "if your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?" Of course not, it's a stupid question, just like the 1940's. Unlike in the 1940's, people don't hang out around bridges. We hang out at upscale dive bars and places where we can pretend to understand jazz. Getting back to it, it's pretty obvious when the sign says "don't walk," and it's pretty easy to tell who among the group standing on the corner is gonna go for it. Those people are always hanging out 5 feet into the street, staring intently at the traffic patterns, looking like they're trying to steal third base.

And I don't even really know what jaywalking is. I always thought it meant you crossed the street where there's no crosswalk. I can understand why that's undesirable since it can impede traffic. But apparently jaywalking can take place in a crosswalk, too. In my opinion, if there's time to cross---i.e. not needing to weave through heavy traffic---and you're in a cross-walk, this is perfectly fine. It brings to mind the jaywalking scene in Harold and Kumer Go To White Castle when docile, law-abiding Harold gets thrown in jail for being pressured into crossing an empty country street in the middle of the night even though the sign says "don't walk." Who cares? Not me, not the drivers that don't exist, and not my independently-minded fellow pedestrians.

Mr. Kevin, Esq., pointed out that drivers trying to take righthand turns find it annoying when pedestrians cross the street when they don't have the "walk" signal, because it prevents them from making the turn. Nevermind that DC is a heavily pedestrianized city, let's first remember that pedestrians have the right-of-way in this situation, and that said driver is sitting at a red stoplight. The driver can legally take the righthand turn so long as s/he yields the right-of-way, which the pedestrian possesses. BUS-TED, Mr. Kevin!!

Finally, given that DC does indeed have other problems (do I even need to name them?), it's a bit annoying that the cops have chosen to crack down on jaywalking. I know what you're thinking..."But Brice Lord, 'broken windows,' Rudy Giuliani, the crack epidemic, 1990's urban crime, you know what I mean!!!" 'Broken windows' is applied psychology gone horribly wrong, and I'd rather see more cops working the beat on foot, getting to know the communities and building trust and understanding rather than ticketing the low-hanging fruit.

Sure, this really isn't that big of a deal, but I know if I got a jaywalking ticket while rushing to work at 8:00 am I'd be pretty pissed off. Not just because I think it's a ridiculous waste of time for the police (and for me), or because I think I should be able to do it, but also because it's inconsistent with previous enforcement behavior. Worse, it's essentially an indictment by my government that I've done something wrong, and that pisses me off more than anything (except Comcast). Nor do I get the impression that the general public really considers jaywalking that important. Run a Google image search on "jaywalker" and you'll get a page full of knitted socks and a horse (below).


A sobering reminder of the perils of jaywalking: a horse in a weird prone position.

Monday, May 18, 2009

how do you get ... ringworm?

What is wrong with people? This morning I went to google "how do i get a star 5-up in super mario 3 slot machine game" and while I was typing I noticed that Google was helpfully trying to fill-in my train of thought with what turned out to be an unexpectedly bizarre and sad look at humanity:




Of all the questions someone might ask that begins with "how do you get..." these are the most popular:

"how do you get pregnant"
"how do you get pink eye"
"how do you get herpes"
"how do you get a yeast infection"
"how do you get mono"
"how do you get hpv"
"how do you get a passport"
"how do you get ringworm"
"how do you get rid of stretchmarks"
"how do you get aids"

Now, let's think of some normal questions for the sake of comparison:
"how do you get a good night's sleep"
"how do you get rid of a cold"
"how do you get rich"
"how do you get rid of hiccups"
"how do you get free cable"
"how do you get laid"
"how do you get a star 5-up in super mario 3 slot machine game"
...and so on.


But instead we're presented with enough evidence of biological malfeasance to lock up all of humankind: pink eye, pregnancy, AIDS, herpes, yeast infections, mono, stretch marks, ... and then ringworm. I barely know what ringworm is but apparently it's at the forefront of people's minds.

The odd man out among these is "how do you get a passport." I'm sure the U.S. Passport Office is ecstatic about sharing prime web space with people who really want to know how you get herpes. If I was actually trying to figure out how to get a passport I'd probably get so distracted by the ringworm question and completely forget what I was doing. "Passports, passports, passpo... Ringworm. Huh. That sounds disgusting. Better clear my afternoon, I need to find out more about this."

I guess it's good that people are trying to find out how you get pregnant, herpes, AIDS, or passports before it happens. But my guess is, as with most "life events," these questions are being posed after the fact. And you might just end up with a passport after a one night stand if you're not careful.

Friday, February 27, 2009

February Spites East, Prepares Impassioned Exit

In a move described by weather policy experts as puzzling and exasperating, February has signaled its general dislike for both the people of the East Coast and the month of March in its declaration of a warm weather embargo to conclude its annual rotation in the weather presidency.

"It's a general 'Fuck all of you'", says Robert Straus, an expert in foreign weather policy at the University of Colorado's Center for Atmospheric Research.

Straus is not alone in his assessment of February's brusque behavior. Conditions seemed to be warming between the rogue month and the people of the East Coast for several weeks, bringing higher temperatures and brighter spirits across the land. "Easterners who were led to believe the harsh winter cold was in a welcome recession are now left wondering what happened as they grab for their down jackets, scarves, and little colorfully patterned rubber boots that I guess they buy at Urban Outfitters."

Some speculate that February is again using its position as a bridge month between much-reviled winter and favored spring to gain leverage with the international weather community after a particularly unfruitful meeting of the G12. February is believed to have lured in half the country with a delightful warm spell, only to lash out in a childishly retributive manner to bring much-desired attention on its supposed plight. "February has long wished to use the arctic blast weapon to convince the 12-member governing body that its allocation of 28 or 29 days is unfair and moreover, bizarre" believes James Ogden, the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Special Commission for Clouds, Rain, and Grey Skies.

But Straus doesn't think it's that simple. "Why now?" asks Straus. "If this is the feared arctic blast weapon then where's Jake Gyllenhaal and those crazy ice wolves everybody predicted?" Straus favors engagement with February, noting that as the month warmed, the public began to write it off and take its unusually pleasant weather for granted. "I think this really pissed February off. It didn't have to be nice outside on the weekends. It could have been a blustery hell, as February always is, with crazy ice wolves lurking around every corner."

There may be some truth in that. As January's annual reign of terror came to a close, relations between the neighbors were frosty, at best. At a temperature-fixing summit in Kathmandu, Nepal, January delivered a scathing polemic to February for its cozy relationship with March, a month considered to be partly aligned with the centrist Spring bloc. January, long the hard-line member of the G12, was likely lambasting February for its decision not to support January's Joint Resolution To Act In Accordance With The Groundhog Day Proclamation, thus depriving it of the needed supermajority.

"I really don't think the public understood what February had given up to leave January...out in the cold. I'm not particularly surprised this happened, particularly considering the potential for puns" says Frank Case, a former national climate and weather security adviser to President Clinton.

Additionally, while much of the attention has been paid to February's drastic actions and its affect on the East, little mind has been paid to February's other immediate neighbor, March. The enigmatic month has been conspicuous in its denunciations of February's measures. Enraged at its stained reputation as it is forced to swallow a massive cold front and late-winter snow and ice squall pushing eastward across the Midwest just as it begins its term, March has threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with February. "It's just what we need, a more disjointed, confusing transition of power from February---a month with a variable number of days---and March---a month symbolized by two completely opposite animals, the lion and the lamb," says Straus.

February, at least, for its part, is not so pessimistic. While senior officials could not be reached for comment, a high-level source within the month's government tell End The Cola Wars Digest that the reasons for the row came down to the economy. According to the source, February receives covert netback revenues from the natural gas and power industries. Given the presumed state of the month's treasury (it does not release official figures), it comes as little surprise that it has chosen to turn the screws on the public in a bid to shore up domestic reserves. "February has no real economy of its own when it comes down to it," says Case," it's essentially a middleman between the prolific cold exporter January and Ides-heavy March; February's' just a broker."

How the breakdown in relations between February and January and the general public in the future remains to be seen, but cracks have already started appearing in February's grip on state control. "I've about had it with this damn month," proclaims Mary Radabaf, a manager at a Washington area Haagen Dazs. "Every time you think February's had enough, it turns out you were wrong, and it's cold as shit all over again." Sentiments among the public do not stray far from Ms. Radabaf's harsh remarks. A Pew poll on the 25th showed that 95% of people disagreed strongly with February's handling of its rotating presidency; the remaining 5% of people indicated to the pollster that they hadn't left their residences since September ended.

Ogden is more pointed: "We're looking at a possible paradigm shift in the whole world order. Blizzards in July, heat waves in November, fall in April, and frogs in May. The whole system could be on the brink of collapse."

There may still be some hope, believes Case. "With such opposition from all fronts, it might be difficult for February to continue to isolate itself. February's unexpected cold tantrum will really damage its ability to influence the annual two straight weeks of misty drizzle, this year planned for late May."

August could not be reached for comment.

Brice Lord reporting from Los Angeles.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Your Oil, My Oil

As part of my graduatification I'm taking a course that examines the depth of oil's entrenchment as a commodity, as a source of conflict, and as a tool of foreign policy. It's actually pretty interesting.

I recently read "The Oil Crisis: This Time the Wolf is Here," by James Atkins from Foreign Affairs, April 1973, and found a pretty poignant excerpt that I pasted below. The "wolf" here is the oil crisis, and it being here this time refers to other experts having been accused of crying wolf when sounding the alarm of an impending oil crisis (which it turns out they did). Atkins' hypothesis of the coming crisis stems from an inflexibly tight coupling between oil demand and supply, the U.S. and developed world's rapacious consumption and reliance on imports from the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S.' support for Israel in the face of the exporting nations, the lack of a cohesive supply disruption contingency plan among the OECD nations (consumers), and, especially, the newly proven success of OPEC at wrenching control from the oil companies. It turns out Atkins got it right, because 6 months later, in October, OPEC instituted the infamous oil embargo that left Americans waiting in miles-long lines waiting to fill up their 400-cubic inch GTOs. To avoid what Atkins viewed as an impending crisis, he recommended the following:

"In the long run, though, the only satisfactory position for the United States
(and to a lesser extent for its main allies) must be the development of
alternative energy sources. The United States is particularly blessed with large
reserves of coal which can be converted to hydrocarbons, and of shale oil. The
United States shares with all nations the possibility of developing geothermal
energy, solar energy, and energy from nuclear fission and fusion. But the lead
time is long for the development of all of them and some are still purely
hypothetical.

Suggestions a few years ago for a vast program of development
of new energy sources received no support in the Congress or from the public.
Yet, had the United States a few years ago been willing to accept the realities
which became evident in 1967 or even in 1970, it might have started sooner on
the development of Western Hemisphere hydrocarbons and domestic energy sources."


That kinda sounds familiar, doesn't it? Maybe we can follow through with it a little better this time.