Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Richard Dawkins vs Harry Potter

(Photo borrowed from TotallyLooksLike.com)
After taking on organized religion, Richard Dawkins now has his eyes on his next target: Harry Potter.

Apparently, this is a full-time job as Dawkins has even relinquished his chair at Oxford to pursue the young boy wizard.

Just what upsets Dawkins so much about Potter? "I don't know what to think about magic and fairy tales." Prof Dawkins said he wanted to look at the effects of "bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards".

Me? I think Dawkins is about to go off the deep end.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wikipedia, the judge, and the dwarfs

To begin, let me state for the record that I am not CMA.

To the casual observer, the mistake may be understandable. After all, some people have nicknames made out of their family names. I am not one of them. If anyone were to do so, I would correct them immediately; this means, obviously, that I wouldn't be one to give myself such a moniker.

Now the reason I bring this up is because, unknown to me until recently, my name was involved in a case of mistaken identity in the Wikipedia. It's a controversy that involves a dismissed judge with a penchant for, er, dwarfs.

The reference to me is in the User section of Wikipedia. I would have copied the text but I found it so nonsensical and weird that it's probably best that you see it for yourself. I have provided a screenshot below:

The section came under the heading of someone named Florentino Floro. When I first saw the name, I wondered why it was so familiar. Then it occurred to me that someone by that name had been pestering me in my Friendster and Facebook accounts.

Who was Florentino Floro? And why was he stalking me? I finally had some inkling, but I still didn't know what it was all about.

It wasn't until today that I finally got the rest of the story.

Basically, Floro registered an account on Wikipedia. If you don't remember who he is, he's that judge who was dismissed from the judiciary a few years ago on account of taking counsel from his three magical dwarves, Armand, Luis, and Angel. Anyway, the basic gist is that he's a pretty terrible editor, who may make good edits on occasion, but mostly puts edits that either 1) nobody cares about or 2) "confirm" his psychic predictions about disasters that will befall people he has grudges against.

Me and this other guy called him out on it, and now we constantly watch his edits to revert them if they're bad. Now he hates us, accusing us of crab mentality, e-stalking, harassment, etc. You already know what he thinks he's doing (or thinks he's doing) to me, but on that other guy's end, it's even more bizarre. Floro checked his IP and upon finding out that the guy was in India at the time, decided that he was responsible for three plane crashes in India and started hurling accusations to that effect.

We've tried getting him to stop and I've even been hinting at getting him blocked, but the admins seem to have an excess of diplomacy, thinking it's fair to let him stay on account of his having good intentions, while others inexplicably are unable to see that he's a terrible editor and jump to his defense.

The whole story is really much longer than this and has been going on for about a year, but here's a basic summary.

The best parts are the rants Floro makes whenever someone asks him something, there should be a number of those linked from there. He goes off the deep end a number of times yet somehow nobody can see how nuts he is.


To round it off, here's an article in the Inquirer about the person in question: Stop filing appeals or be held in contempt.

Ah, Weirdness, thy name is the Internet.

Note: Updated with a screenshot of my Facebook inbox.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Idiot's Guide to the Financial Crisis of 2008

Just when we thought that things couldn't get any worse, they did. For the past three weeks, the world financial markets have teetered on the brink of collapse. The really bad news? We're nowhere near any solid resolution, despite the efforts of central banks and state treasuries. We're all just at the beginning, and there are some very tough times ahead.

So what exactly happened, how did things get to this situation, and what lies ahead? I am not an economist but I have been trying to follow the events of recent weeks -- it holds all the morbid fascination of a train wreck. Ordinarily I would leave all the monetary dissection to the financial experts. However, since even the experts are at a loss, I take it as an open invitation for idiots to chime in.

There are many places where we could begin an analysis, but the crucial turning point of the crisis was the week of September 15 this year. Early that week, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, Bank of America purchased Merrill Lynch, and the American Insurance Group sought a bailout from the Federal Reserve Bank.

To gain some perspective on the extent of these troubles, consider that in 2007, Lehman Brothers had total assets of $691-B, Merrill Lynch $1.02-T, and AIG $1.05-T. Consider that the Philippines' annual GDP is only about $120-B, less than a fifth of Lehman's assets.

Spectacular as these falls were, they were also the first dominos that sent many others tumbling, and not just in the United States. As of the second week of October, the financial firms in trouble included: Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia, Bradford & Bingley (UK), Grupo Santander (Spain), Fortis (Belgium), Dexia (Belgium), Hypo Real Estate (Germany), and Glitnir (Iceland). And not just firms, either: Iceland is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.

The immediate cause of these woes is the flow of money; or more precisely, the money isn't flowing. Because of very high perceived risks (more on that in a while), the banks have stopped lending money to each other. Sure, the firms may hold all these high-valued assets but the problem is in converting it into operational cash. Ultimately, it was a problem of liquidity, i.e., having the money to meet its payment obligations.

Just why is liquidity so important? Imagine that, with the last P100 in your wallet, you're about to take a big lunch at your favorite carenderia. All of a sudden, a taxi with Bill Gates as passenger pulls over. Bill Gates has a problem: he forgot his wallet and doesn't have money to pay the cab. At that very moment, you're actually more liquid than the world's richest man.

If you forgo your meal and lend Bill Gates the P100, he promises to pay you P200 tomorrow. Do you lend him the money? Being Filipino and out of the goodness of your heart, you might. But by capitalist logic: it depends. Is the P100 enough to compensate for your hunger? Are you sure that Bill Gates will honor his promise? Your loaning Bill Gates the P100 -- a flow of money from you to him -- will depend on how confident you feel about repayment.

The government responses to the crisis have been aimed at restoring enough confidence for the money to start flowing again. The major actions include cash infusion via bailout (to be paid for by taxpayers later) as well as lowering key interest rates (thereby making it more attractive for banks to borrow money from their central banks.) However, the situation remains so volatile that it's hard to speak of any confidence at all. Will these actions work? No one knows for sure.

The consequences of the financial crisis are quite far-reaching. In the nature of a global enterprise, many banks and companies worldwide are also invested in the financial products of Lehman et al., firms which until recently were deemed solid and safe. Overnight, even small investors have found out that their holdings in some of these companies have suddenly become worthless.

All this uncertainty has also affected the stock market. At the end of the day, the stock market is a speculative tool and sometimes not very rational. In the midst of all this turmoil, the sharp decline in valuations also affects how listed companies fare, in how much money they're able to borrow (again, the liquidity problem) and how well their products and services will sell.

Don't think that just because we're out here in the Philippines, uninvolved in big-time financial instruments, that we're insulated from these events. We live within its shadow. So far, the local banks have not been very transparent about how much they're currently invested in the troubled companies. And if the American and European economies take a sharp downward turn, what will happen to the OFW and BPO dollars that we've come to rely so much on?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What is it with vampire hairdos?

So of course Twilight -- "the hottest books since Harry Potter" -- is being turned into a movie series. Vampires as angsty romantic love objects? Haven't we been here before? Ho-hum.

Then I chanced upon the movie poster and had a big laugh. Seriously?! Is this James Dean making a comeback?

But what really got me was the hair. What is it with vampire hair? I mean, is it supposed to look cool? Tell me, please! Because I don't get it.

Methinks he needs a bit more sunlight.

When he's older, his hair will look like this. (That's the versatile Gary Oldman in the 1992's "Bram Stoker's Dracula.")

And when he's really senile, he'll look like this. (That's Leslie Nielsen in probably the best vampire movie of all time, "Dracula: Dead and Loving It.")