Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Multiverse Includes Lost Luggage Universe -- The Colonel Carries On #89

Epigraph: “The play ‘Our American Cousin’ was definitely not worth getting assassinated for. It has stood the test of time in the sense that it was a piece of crap then and it’s a piece of crap now. John Wilkes Booth was an actor and professional pride should have kept him from being anywhere near the theater while that play was on. He should have waited for another opportunity to pop the President, and if none arose, them’s the breaks. It’s that bad a play.” --Harry Grimgorse

Bitcoin’s value in ten years will depend on many things. One is the rise of quantum computing, which borrows computing power from a neighboring universe. It’s an infant application of the "many worlds" theorem.

If quantum computing realizes its promise, it will reduce the time needed to crack the algorithm at the core of bitcoin from 0.65 billion, billion years -- way, way past the heat death of this universe -- down to several months, enabling a hack that reduces the value of bitcoin to zero.

The likelihood of a such a hack in the next ten years is 1 in 14, according to sources close to the inner workings of our local universe.

As an aside, China is a growing part of bitcoin. About 75% of bitcoin transactions occur there. Bitcoin is popular there in part because it’s a way of evading China’s currency restrictions and getting wealth out of the country.

Even more aside, there is only about $8 billion worth of bitcoin in existence, so even if it appreciates tenfold, it still won't amount to a hill of beans. I mention this in case you are looking for an excuse not to think about bitcoin.

The late Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen used to say, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” That now sounds as dated as “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Another dated (=nearly extinct) saying is “the dime dropped,” meaning “understanding dawned.” The reference is to dropping a coin into a payphone and hearing dial tone. I’m not sure, but I think the original form was “the penny dropped.” Chasing that down is on a par with finding railroad schedules from the 1840s. The time it would take is better spent shining your shoes or spackling your nail pops.

Year after year the same salesman won his company’s top sales award. Everyone in the company hated him, not for his success, but for the selfish jerk they perceived him as. A journalist asked him the secret of his success. He said, “I concentrate on what’s important and put everything else aside.”

That brings one up short. Isn’t it what we’re supposed to do? Effectiveness, efficiency, prioritization, time management, triage?

On reflection, the answer emerges that if your goals are bad, efficiency in achieving them is also bad. If Hitler had been more “effective,” the European Union would be 72 years old, and there wouldn’t be a Jew on the planet.

Put otherwise, being a mensch should have been something important to that perennial top salesman.

Obscure joke corner: A doctoral student in a bar asks a pretty woman, “So, what’s your Bewusstsign?”

In the Iliad and the Odyssey, the deathless gods are without tenderness, it seems precisely because they are deathless. An awareness of the brevity and fragility of life gives birth to tenderness.

How tender the scene at the dawn of Western literature of Hektor’s goodbye to his wife Andromache (“man-fighter”) and his toddler son Skamandrios, nicknamed Astyanax (“king of the city”).

She begs him not to go, conjuring images of his son dead and of her a concubine slave, allotted as spoils to a triumphant Greek.

He responds to the effect that what kind of prince takes the best a great city has to offer in exchange for his pledge to protect it in its time of need, and breaks the pledge when that time comes?

Ancient Greeks called war “hated of mothers” and considered it a reversal of nature. In the natural way, children buried their parents. In war, the reverse.

Warriors, therefore, were in a way unnatural, alienated from their wives and children. Homer made this point simply and well, depicting Astyanax as recoiling from his father’s approach because of Hektor’s war helmet, with its great horsehair crest. War, no tenderness.

Hektor and Andromache laugh -- they laugh -- at the boy’s recalcitrance. Hektor removes his fearsome helmet, lays it aside, and dandles the boy. No war, tenderness.

The husband and wife both know that for no reason having to do with them, Troy must fall, Hektor and Astyanax must die, and Andromache must go from princess of a great nation to slave-concubine of a foreigner. That knowledge makes the moment precious. By the scene, Homer rebukes the gods and shows that it is better to be mortal than deathless.

Hektor’s armor was flashy and his war crest tall, not out of a macho “come and get me” attitude, but to strike fear into the enemy, so the common Greek soldier would see him and say, “Dear Zeus in heaven, it’s Hektor the man-killer fighting his way in this direction! Get me out of here!”

It wasn’t Hektor’s trick only. The armor of Akhilleus was equally distinctive, and terrified misled Trojans even when worn by Patroklos with the permission of its tent-sulking owner.

In the moments before Akhilleus killed him, the fallen Hektor warned Akhilleus not to gloat too much, for “just as you loom over me, Fate looms over you.”

Akhilleus responded not without sympathy. “Don’t I know it. But I chose short life and glory over long life and obscurity, and that choice requires me to kill you now. Nothing personal, except for the part that you killed my best friend.”

In many a modern novel, there’s nary a sympathetic character, and the book is unsatisfying on that account. Not so with Homer. It’s hard to find unsympathetic characters except the immortals.

Even when a conquering Greek tossed little Astyanax from the high wall of Troy to a splat-death below as the Greeks soldiers cheered, you understand that what rejoices their hearts is the knowledge that no descendant of fearsome Hektor will ever trouble Hellas. Nothing like a long, bloody war to build fiery sentiments of “NEVER AGAIN.”

Maybe the least sympathetic characters are the suitors who plunder Odysseus’ estate and woo his wife. Seen from their point of view, their conduct makes a fair amount of sense. They are apparently willing to abide by Penelope’s choice and her timetable, and they apparently treat the flocks sustainably (if only from self-interest).

The unspoken dialogue between the divinely enhanced Odysseus and the doomed suitors was, “Hey, if we’d known that filthy beggar was you, we wouldn’t have treated you so badly. As as for the wooing business, we thought you were dead!” “Think nothing of it. I’m not blaming you, I’m just killing you. I think we understand each other. See you in Hades.”

Anyway, what was the point? Oh, yes: it is constraint, editing, limitation that creates and enhances value. Death makes life precious, and editing makes prose better. Eighty percent of our happiness comes from twenty percent of what we do.

“Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want -- that just kills creativity.” --Jack White

In the upcoming world elections, the World Wide Whigs (formally The Anti-Socialist and Beer Party) are running the ticket of Humble Squid and Drunken Uncle as President and Vice President of the World, disrespectively.

Who is the rudest celebrity you ever met?

What is the meaning of life in five words?

How should I talk to people when I have nothing to say? (Write a series of weekly columns.)

What should I do when I have seven girlfriends and still am not happy? (Rejoice that Ann Landers is dead.)

How do I tell my husband that he’s no longer good enough for me? I got fit. I got promoted. Dozens of men at my work are better looking, drive better cars, live in larger homes, and have shown interest in me. I have decided I deserve more and better. (Auction yourself off and give the proceeds to your husband as a divorce settlement.)

“A British diplomat had sent in his expenses form. This included a regular dinner with Ivan Ivanov of the Russian Embassy in order to maintain a relationship with Russia.
“The British embassy checked with the Russian embassy and found out that there was no Ivan Ivanov working for the Russian Embassy - nor had there ever been. The embassy wrote to the diplomat for an explanation of these expenses.
“Instead of admitting that he had been cheating on his expenses, the British diplomat wrote back and said ‘Thank you for informing me of this. Ivan Ivanov is clearly an imposter and I shall cease entertaining him forthwith.’” There will always be an England (TWABAE).

George Orwell said that all leftist political parties are “at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy.”

Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert thinks that the reduction in greenhouse gases necessary to reverse, halt, or even slow global warming will require either that Americans  reduce their energy consumption by more than 80 percent or that the misery of the poor countries be prolonged and worsened. To campaign for utterly inadequate feel-good measures is disingenuous posturing, she believes.

Hypograph: “Your dreams shape your future, so stop wasting time and go to sleep.”

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