August 31, 2005

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Posted by TMLutas

Virginia shows how to be a sore winner. She gave a speech 6 years ago in a eulogy for socialism and a call to arms against new threats to liberty and was privately critiqued by Vaclav Klaus afterwards. The criticism must have stung because she can't be gracious about gaining a new ally and instead claws and hisses this:

Well, now he's apparently come around--at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting, no less. Turns out old-style socialism is not, in fact, the biggest threat to liberty in the 21st century. Turns out it's not heretical to say we shouldn't fight old battles--at least if you're Vaclav Klaus. Gee.

His analysis isn't as clear as mine (nor can it accommodate Islamicism, which is a virulent form of reactionary stasis). But at least he's finally grasped the general point. Better six years late than never.

Way to go in forming those new alliances you were going on about in that speech, Virginia! I'm sure that Vaclav Klaus' fans will feel all sorts of warm fuzzies at Virginia Postrel's next pronouncements.

In any case, I think both of them are significantly missing the reality of what's happening. Like a cancer that has been insufficiently excised socialism has ceased to be a single tumor bundle of malignant memes and has now metastasized with a whole host of successor movements who only share parts of the original cancerous growth. Socialism was so awful not just for its bad economics, there were Sun kings in France who were just as wrong headed. It's putrescence derived from the combination of bad economics, bad politics, bad ideas on culture and religion, even bad ideas about logic.

The old cures will not work as before, that much both have right. But the ease of alliance between such disparate movements derives from their instinctive realization that they are family, they are tribe, their common mother is socialism, whether national or international doesn't matter anymore. That family fight is pretty much over. It is not time to completely reinvent the wheel.

Stasis is one way of looking at the problem but how do you fit in animal rights terrorists with their radically innovative conception of species ordering in the stasist order? You really cannot without seriously distorting their agenda for change. The voluntary human extinction movement, the earth firsters who want to reduce human global population to 100,000, the nihilists of all stripes, are they really for stasis?

Stasis isn't the uniting meme of a new movement but rather a common trait of a large subset of the movements in this shifting alliance mass.

August 29, 2005

The Nature of Iraq

Posted by TMLutas

it seems that a federalist Constitution has passed out of the Iraqi parliament on the exact day that the leading cleric in Iraq came out against federalism. This provides a great opportunity for observers of Iraq to see the influence of Sistani, of religion in general among the Shia, of the impulse to national solidarity versus sectarian centrifugal forces.

If this constitution fails because the Sunnis vote in large numbers against the constitution and the Shia split with secularists voting for it and religiously influenced Shia joining the Sunnis to tank the thing, the neat scenarios of Iraq will all come undone on every side. This is as it should be if Iraq is going to ever survive over the long haul. Coalitions must shift, no one man will ever be guaranteed to be in a persistent majority. So when you find yourself in a majority, you will be conciliatory and moderate, knowing tomorrow it will be you in the minority position. This is a recipe for a mess. It's also a recipe for a civilized, democratic, Iraqi republic.

August 26, 2005

Saudi Political Reform Timeline

Posted by TMLutas

It appears that Crown Prince (and now king) Abdullah set out a roadmap for Saudi democracy earlier this year in conversation with State Department Secretary Rice. This is not new news (the statement was June 20), but it is severely undercovered news. I do wonder what the Religious Policeman thinks of it all or even if he's heard.

In any case, 20 years is a reasonable time line for progressive reform acts to spread the number of posts subject to election and to create a cadre of politicians capable of running the country. It's likely that Abdullah won't make it another 15 years so the big question is whether his successor will sign on to the plan.

HT: Thomas PM Barnett

August 23, 2005

The Non-Breaking Point

Posted by TMLutas

I just got through the NYT Magazine article The Breaking Point about the problem of managing an oil economy. A long article, it had a little bit of everything in it, the scary apocalyptic chicken little, the former oil executive who is quietly pessimistic, and the PR flak who smiles and assures that all is well. What it didn't have was any sort of information about what the switchover points would be to something else.

The baseline assumption of almost the entire article was that there would be no significant switching over to alternative fuels. This is economic illiteracy at its worst. The apocalyptic, Simmons, completely ignores the idea that indirect competition will lead to substitution and predicts triple digit oil prices, and not "low triple digits", either.

What if natural gas shifts to become the fuel of choice, whether burning it or using it as feedstock for fuel cells? What happens to oil demand projections? They get thrown away as the new energy demand is fulfilled by cheaper alternates, primarily natural gas, but not exclusively. A growing portion of the machinery running the global economy will be multi-fuel friendly fuel cells starting the end of the decade. Indirect competition to gasoline and other petroleum products will largely become direct competition in a hydrogen economy.

It would be extremely obtuse to think that oil executives don't closely follow their indirect competitors. The article even says that a switch to alternatives is a fear of all the oil executives. But nowhere are the questions asked, "What is your most formidable alternative energy competitor in the medium to long term? What was the price point at which switchover would happen five years ago? What is the price point today? What will it be five years from now?". All in all a long, interesting read for a Sunday that is a huge missed opportunity for those who wanted serious insight into what's going on with oil.

August 22, 2005

Why We Should Invade Iraq (A Recap)

Posted by TMLutas

While reading this Balloon Juice post and especially its subsequent commentary, it became clear that it was time to come out of my Iraq hibernation and recap why, in August, 2005, I still think that the Iraq invasion was worth doing and would, if it were to do over again with perfect foreknowledge of the cost and waste, advocate that we do it again.

1. There is a toxic nexus in the Middle East. It is complex, spans the sectarian and governing model divides, and its existence spawns the fertile support ground that has made Al Queda a global threat and worthy of a worldwide war against them. The first and foremost reason to invade Iraq is that it was the most vulnerable practical invasion site that was a member of this toxic nexus of Middle East dictatorships. You can't reduce the 4th generation network of Al Queda to irrelevance without eliminating their common support matrix which is governmental, civic, and religious. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was the dynamite explosion that broke up a very stubborn, interlocking geopolitical system and continues to have positive effects in many different ways, some expected ( like the fact that the KSA is now serious about hunting Al Queda at home as it never was when the US had troops there), others a complete surprise (the Cedar Revolution).

2. One of the major components of Al Queda's attack on the US (and the West in general) is to eliminate westphalianism and to let us kill each other, sapping our strength in internecine war. We were already at war with Iraq. This is of supreme importance if we're going to sustain the Westphalian system long enough for us to come up with a sustainable, superior, successor system. We don't have enough body bags for all the corpses that will be produced around the world if we go back to the pre-Westphalian system. It would have taken us further down the slippery slope if we had not repurposed the old war into OIF.

3. The post 1991 sanctions regime, like all sanctions regimes, was cruel. Ending it with regime change had been official US policy since 1998. The US Congress passed that for a reason. Bill Clinton signed it for a reason. Those reasons were good, just, and we did our best to do it every which way but invasion prior to OIF implemented that 1998 legislation with quick finality. Anybody who breezily says that the sanctions were working "just fine" either are ignorant of the effects on the Iraqi people or are moral lepers who don't mind the death toll.

4. The sanctions regime led to a great moral rot in national institutions across the world and in our international system. Saddam acted like Capone in Cicero. He bought influence, safety, and UN cover for himself. It wasn't going to get any better as long as the oil-for-food regime was in place. We still don't know the extent of the rot but we know enough to say that it was a huge operation and we'll be many years in cleaning it up. Nobody on the anti-war side has ever explained how they would have cleaned up the UN and the national political corruption absent Saddam's removal. The best information we've gotten is the treasure trove of documents coming out of Baghdad. We have a hope of curing the rot because of OIF.

5. Saddam had a desire for WMD and a plan to get them. At best (for us), his plan was to get rid of sanctions, be certified WMD free, and get hip deep into the business of building them as fast as possible. Tales of stockpiles spirited into the Bekaa valley would make Saddam's Iraq even worse but even taking the most optimistic construction, Saddam's ambitions could not have been tolerated. Maintaining the sanctions and inspection regime was getting more and more difficult and would have meant escalating costs to the US, forcing us to choose between getting help on Al Queda or on Saddam isolation. We just couldn't afford that neverending commitment.

6. Iraq borders three major state sources of terrorist support. There simply isn't a better place to plant the tree of liberty if you want to create an example. For those who guffaw at the idea that arabs can become democrats, I would suggest that the electoral returns will prove me right over time. After all, if the arabs cannot become democrats, why do we allow them to vote in Detroit? As long as universal suffrage is maintained, the people will eventually correct any initial false steps.

7. Iraq has a coast and has invasion staging grounds accessible to the US (Kuwait and we-had-hoped Turkey). This makes things enormously easier. Afghanistan was a miracle of inland force projection. We shouldn't count on two miracles.

8. Iraq has a large majority of arabs. While Islam is not exclusively an arab religion, the arab ethnicity is at the heart of Islam and it seems to be largely at the heart of the Islamist enterprise (which, it's safe to say, is a subset of Islam). There's an awful lot of racism/arab supremecist in Islamist practice and it is unlikely that any efforts in, say Sudan (with its large black population), would affect those arab Islamists as much as the takedown of an unabashadly arab nation. Afghanistan certainly didn't do the trick.

9. Iraq was a state sponsor terrorist innovator. Saddam was growing more bold, openly creating a bounty market for terrorist acts in Israel. Just like the Central Asian muslim terrorist practice of beheading victims spread far beyond its modern Chechen genesis, a state-sponsored bounty market in dead infidels was an idea which needed to be strangled in its crib. Post-OIF, nobody has stepped into Saddam's role as the primary issuer of suicide bombing bounties.

10. Iraq's regime was an evil tyranny. There's something to be said for killing off tyrants, destroying their regimes on general principles. We can't afford to do it everywhere but we should not pass up the opportunity to do it when it is in our national interest.

The Better Beer Prayer

Posted by TMLutas

The Better Beer Prayer

There is no occasion that cannot be improved by prayer. Any serious Catholic knows that we've got some odd ones in the backs of the prayer books. Here's one that's very good and born, appropriately, out of Marine Corps dissatisfaction with the brews available in Iraq. A master sergant asked a chaplain for a "better beer prayer". Here's what he got.

Dear God, Maker of the heavens and the earth: We know you are the creator of all good things. For that reason we come now before you to ask for a better beer. We request it have a taste like unto the sweet nectars of the Garden of Eden. May the blend of its flavor pour gently over our tongues and satisfy not only the thirst of our mouths, but the longings of our souls. Make this beer so good all who drink it will no longer drink the present beers which often lead people to bring injury to children, other drivers or themselves. Make it a beer that multiplies wisdom, instead of killing brain cells. Lord, you know we human beings really cannot afford to sacrifice many brain cells anyway.

Finally, Lord we ask this beer would be so good its consumption would never cause us to jeopardize or sacrifice our relationship with others or you. May the camaraderie generated by this beer make the celebrations and special occasions of our lives even more special by helping us to fully appreciate one of the most sacred dimensions of life-fellowship with our friends, loved ones and you.

Hear our prayer, oh Lord. Improve our lives with a better beer such as we have described and if you can think of any further improvements, by all means please act on our behalf.

By Your Leave, Sir
Written for U. S. Marines
Semper Fi

HT: One Hand Clapping

August 19, 2005

An Opportunity For Profit

Posted by TMLutas

Here's an Austin Bay guest blog for Glen Reynolds that got me thinking:

"What's the biggest problem plaguing corporate America?" he asked rhetorically. “Weak corporate boards that fail to protect shareholders rights."

One of his indicators of weakness: the prevalence of “golden parachutes” for executives.

“There's no penalty for executive failure,” he said. “The board members think it’s easier to cave in and pay off a failed CEO. Shareholders lose.”

So if shareholders financially lose by irresponsible corporate behavior in pay and perks, why isn't the behavior measured and corporations ranked on it? It seems that if shareholders pay for it and lose out in unrealized profits, investment money would be wise to steer itself towards companies that do a bit better in compensating for performance, not for mere presence in the executive suite.

August 17, 2005

Quick Observation on Land for Peace

Posted by TMLutas

It is a matter of both history and reality that if you pick a fight with a country that is militarily superior and you lose the resulting war, territory loss will occur. The winner might take your entire country or just a little bit like France and Germany swapping Alsace and Lorraine back and forth.

Has anybody ever run the famous Middle East "land for peace" equation backwards? It's an interesting variant. For each rocket launched out of Gaza, take a square meter. If it hits something valuable, take 5. If it hurts somebody, make it 10. If it kills someone make it 20. A suicide bomber will cost per victim in similar proportions.

But don't take the land back as occupied territory subject to future negotiations. Take the meter, 10 meters or 20 and annex it. Push all non-Israeli citizens out of the new Israeli territory and level what is there. Take little bits of land for every act of war and keep them as arab free as Palestinians want their country of Palestine to be jew free.

Let the Prime Minister of Israel have the right, on his own authority, to certify that a particular attack was carried out despite the best efforts of Palestine's authority and that no territory should be taken for that attack. Let the PM of Palestine sweat whether the certification will be given.

Until now, territory has always been acquired by Israel in defensive war and negotiated away to secure peace. After 30 years, it's not too far fetched to try a new variant.

Science in jeapordy

Posted by TMLutas

One of the worst things you can do as an authority as play favorites with rule breakers. If Johnny nerd is late for class, he should get the same punishment as Jimmy football star does and vice versa. When you raise up favored classes who are not held to account the same way, you breed contempt across the entire system. If you do it long enough, the system will fail.

Science is undergoing exactly this sort of trouble. Health promotion experts play fast and loose with the rules and it's out and out tolerated by the scientific establishment. Compare and contrast with the debate over ID, abstinence education, and global warming skepticism where you have to be very careful to document and prove your every statement lest you ruin your career and even when you're credentialed and you're adhering to the method, the accusations of quackery still fly fast and furious.

The same passion and fire should erupt from the defenders of the scientific method wherever the scientific method is not adhered to either strictly or at all. Irrespective of the actual truth of any of these propositions in the real world, the gatekeepers of science do the field (and all of us) a grave disservice by playing favorites. Shame on them.

August 13, 2005

America's Gangster Auxiliaries

Posted by TMLutas

From the important StrategyPage comes an intriguing August 12th tidbit on US homeland defense:

The Intel agencies have spread the word around the criminal underground that pursuit will be relentless, and punishment harsh and certain for anyone who gets too cozy with Islamic terrorists. It's understood that the criminal gangs will do business with just about anyone (including intel agencies from just about anywhere). But even in this amoral atmosphere, the Western intel agencies have drawn a line of death for the players. At the other extreme, the word is out that valuable favors can be had for any gangsters who pass on valuable info about terrorist operations. Such deals are fairly common, although not given much publicity for obvious reasons (the resulting headlines cause major political headaches.)

This explains a major mystery. Why hasn't Al Queda been going through notoriously corrupt Mexico with their well established illegal immigration system and launched attacks on the US? Such an obvious attack route has led to calls on the right for the militarization of our southern border. The militarization didn't happen but the attacks didn't come either. Al Queda didn't show other evidence of being that kind of stupid so why not exploit a gaping hole in US defenses?

Now the mystery is solved. The coyotes and drug barons who carry on illegal cross border trade have been warned in a manner that has scared them into being US allies on the issue of US homeland defense in much the same way that the Mafia was recruited into our forces for WW II duty as black hat auxiliaries.

The safety of the US southern border is thus now under indirect, and not direct, US control. This is tenable, for now, but we might not understand impending failure of the arrangement until two late. Two important failure modes come to mind. First, that Al Queda could inspire greater terror and flip these forces to become their auxiliaries. Second, our own tales of unendurable retribution could no longer be believed and commercial avarice could carry the day.

The first seems unlikely, though tales of Al Queda going after latin american people smugglers and drug kingpins should be watched for and sound an important alarm if they happen. The second threat is much more likely. Every change in the executive will lead to a reassessment by our forced southern auxiliaries. Will this new president have the guts to enforce those grisly promises of retribution? The first president that we elect that is generally viewed by mexican gangsters as light in the cojones will undo a major component of our domestic safety and force a pull back of our world-wide commitments in order to militarize our border as the only reasonable plan B alternative security arrangement. Plan C is to absorb a major attack and reshuffle the deck.

August 08, 2005

Straight Guys Getting Married

Posted by TMLutas

Of course nobody in the legislature saw this coming.

Bill Dalrymple, 56, and best friend Bryan Pinn, 65, have decided to take the plunge and try out the new same-sex marriage legislation with a twist -- they're straight men.

The tax preferences aren't there to facilitate progeny, so says the Canadian (and Massachusetts) courts. They're not there to facilitate sex. So what are they there for? It's just another proof of the insanity of gay marriage.

August 07, 2005

Letter to the Paper ILIX

Posted by TMLutas

I just posted this to Winds of Change on a thread proclaiming gloom and doom regarding Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia may very well be as corrupt as advertised. In fact, it likely is. That doesn't mean that we're up a creek without a paddle.

Since the article was published in the Atlantic in 2003, Fahd has died, and the Crown Prince is now king. The succession went smoothly and the new king will be given some time by even the most radical of the royal family's enemies to see whether his more austere personal style will translate into changes that they want in whatever direction they are pushing things to move. While that goes on, quietly, quietly, the West prepares for the hydrogen age. This will not be an age where the oil sheiks are left penniless. It will, however be one where they do not have the same stranglehold on the world economy. My comment on the thread is below.

The effect on the US economy of a Saudi shutoff is less devastating this year than last and will be less devastating still next year. The reason for this is that the cost for the next energy system, in the form of hydrogen fuel cells and the multiple feedstocks that will provide that hydrogen (including, but not limited to natural gas and oil) is becoming cheaper and more practical by the year. 2010 is the best guess at which point the two systems (fuel cell and petroleum burning internal combustion engines) will hit parity at which time, we'll be weaning ourselves off the oil age and into the hydrogen age.

A saudi collapse would still hurt, but it would be less painful every year thereafter because a large number of new sources of energy would be coming on line that are now wasted because the energy you get out of them doesn't justify a separate infrastructure of different engines to burn each of these sources. With fuel cells, they all feed into the same energy carrier, the fuel cell which powers electric motors.

The key points are not to panic, not to cause a panic, and to put off the day of Saudi reckoning until new technology shrinks Saudi importance to the point where we can survive the shock without major disruption of our way of life. I'd give us good odds of doing so.

August 06, 2005

Using Nukes

Posted by TMLutas

Recently, we passed the 60th anniversary of the use of the atomic bomb in WW II. I've been thinking about that usage and today's situation where people do talk about "nuking Mecca" and other nuclear weapons uses.

It's become clear that the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was largely based on communications intercepts which demonstrated that Japan would not surrender and were prepared to fight to the finish. That fight would have created huge casualties and might well have caused a repeat of Germany's WW I situation, where the war was ended in a negotiated settlement with the loser in control of their own territory. That would have been a terrible and bloody solution and set us up for WW III around 1970 as the cycle of war and peace repeated again. The decision to drop the bomb was justified.

I would expect that, at a bare minimum, if the jihadists were to gain the power to create mass casualty events that exceeded the death toll of small nuclear weapons that nuclear warfare would once again be on the list of realistic policy responses. We're a long way away from that but I expect that within my lifetime we'll get there. I just hope that we have a significant gene pool off this planet when we do.

August 05, 2005

The Cell Phone that Doesn't Ring

Posted by TMLutas

Like Holmes' famous dog that didn't bark, Tom Friedman's cellphone that doesn't ring is interesting because of what isn't happening. What isn't happening in the NYC subways is that small, innovative upstarts aren't jumping in to provide service in little patches. It's not like there isn't space down there. I'm sure the magazine seller in xyz station wouldn't mind at all if somebody provided a regular, stable income for him by renting out a small portion of his kiosk. So why isn't it happening?

I would guess that microtowers don't happen because the regulatory environment doesn't let it happen. The FCC would have to approve as well as the various transport bureaucracies in the NYC subway. Somewhere along the line is a group of bureaucrats who don't look kindly on upstarts and is adept at squashing them, so adept that people have stopped bothering to try.

So, is a government program the answer? Only if you want increased inefficiency and poor service. The real solution is to identify the blocking government action, remove it, and let the free market fix the problem.

August 04, 2005

An Odd Walk

Posted by TMLutas

My lowered blogging output is, in part, due to exiting the independent consulting field and going back to wage slave status. It's not a bad job but it certainly isn't as flexible as my prior working arrangements. It does get me to downtown Chicago though. I drive in and park a bit south of the loop and walk my way into the center of the city.

You think of Chicago as a regular big city, filled to bursting at the center with tall buildings, gradually tapering off to wider spaces. It's not true here though. If you walk down Wacker Drive from the Sears tower, it's not ten minutes until Wacker stops and Ts right at a huge field with nothing on it. I'm not talking about an empty city block but 8 acres of absolutely empty, for sale land, right on the edge of one of the largest urban downtowns in the Midwest. I can't even imagine what I'd do with that much land. There is no point to the story except watch your assumptions. I wonder what David Sucher would do with it?

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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