austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Share a little joke with the world

(Editorial Note: this is a piece intended for this year's International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day -- ipstp -- although I have to admit it's more hackwork than artistic creation. No time to come up with separate inspiration.)

If there is only one problem in the world today then we're really doing much better than we have the right to expect. Having just one problem would be a relief for most, when we consider that without trying hard we could probably identify eight or ten problems without even getting out of bed in the morning, starting with the hour at which we should have gotten out and working counterclockwise from the top on down, ultimately to how much time in the day is lost to the need to apologize to cats. Compared to that having just the one problem would give us remarkable clarity of purpose.

Consider the simple e-mail: a bundle of text written in the optimistic hope that someone else will appreciate whatever it is the sender had to say. Most e-mail is spam, not written by anybody in particular and not meant to be read by anyone. It's simply blocks of text distributed back and forth, in an exchange of unread material that is essential to the health and liquidity of the modern economy.

Ask any economist how this flow of spam is needed and she or he will be glad to point away from you, scream as if in horror, and then run away. If you don't look, they have to resort to pretending that they're on the other side of a pair of glass security doors and they can't open it without the proper key card. If you're in the middle of the street or somewhere there just can't be any doors, they may pretend to be your mirror image.

If we can rule out that they're your mirror image, they may point out they haven't got much reason to think you aren't their mirror image. While you try to figure out a way to prove you're not the one in the mirror they can run away again. Most economics degree programs include an educational track in field events, and a few proud graduates carry poles with which to vault for just this sort of emergency.

For this reason it's important to always carry with you an experimental apparatus demonstrating the decay of Cobalt-60 atoms trapped in a uniform magnetic field, which allows you to easily distinguish left from right in a process that makes a great deal of sense while you read exactly how it works and then not at all anytime later, even seconds after finishing reading about it. Still, if you could keep straight what its results mean then you could show who was the mirror and who was not.

Or you can shove the Cobalt-60 decay experiment apparatus in the way of a fleeing economist, and thus get an answer, unless you send the economist to the hospital with collision damage. And wouldn't it be a fine joke on everyone if it turned out the economist was going to the hospital anyway on some unrelated task? None of this changes the point I wished to make, although I agree it's getting pretty hard to tell what that was by now. I think I might have been trying to work my way into a pun based on the leaders of the French Revolution, but that's really just a guess based on the sort of thing I do in this situation.

All right. Well. If we suppose that the economy depends on the flow of spam in some way, and most importantly that the spam be passed back and forth without anyone reading it, then it doesn't matter whether or not anyone wrote it, or what it says. And I don't dare actually read it or else that might disrupt the economic infrastructure, and that's in enough trouble as it is. I'm not going to pick a further fight with it. I'm not even done with the old fight; it's mostly sitting on the bottom of the fridge, to be nibbled at now and then, when there's nothing else to snack on.

So if there is one problem then it clearly can't be near this because we haven't got to any particular problem yet. Whatever the problem was, it looks like it's clearing up already.

Trivia: A performance of William Shakespeare's Richard II at the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in 1681 by Nahum Tate was suppressed after two performances, even though Tate had changed all the character names and retitled the play The Sicilian usurper. Source: Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays And The History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337 - 1485, John Julius Norwich.

Currently Reading: Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman.

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