April 30, 2006
The Troop Fairy
I was looking over this article where Colin Powell knocked Secretary Rice off message by publicly airing his doubts that there were enough troops for Iraqi operations. In the same article is Paul Bremer quoted as saying that we should have had 500,000 troops in Iraq. From what I can tell, there really aren't any more troops to be had in today's military (the same was just as true on the eve of Afghanistan and Iraq).
500,000 troops on the ground means 1.5M troops in the rotation to sustain that troop level for as long as is needed. We don't have a 1.5M army. We have a 500,000 person army and some of it has to stay in Korea to be a tripwire. Some of it needed to be in Afghanistan. There are other commitments that could not be stripped bare.
As far as I can tell, to say that we needed 1.5M in troop rotation and 500k on the ground is a fancy way of saying that we have to go to selective service and reinstate the draft. There is no troop fairy and we're not going to triple the Army in size as a volunteer force. Even we can't afford that. Yet the more troops dissenters never seem to get called on this. It's like the media can't do basic mathematics or haven't taken the couple of hours in research time to do the math on troop logistics.
I really do wish that we'd have that debate, that the press would get up and do their jobs asking these "more troops" advocates how, exactly, the US was going to come up with those troops. Does more troops mean Saddam Hussein's still in power? Does more troops mean there's a draft? What, exactly, were they advocating? What were the consequences?
April 24, 2006
I just tripped across an almost textbook case of lying through statistics. This one's from the PRC and it's a brazen attempt at minimizing how the PRC is a major contributor to the world's oil crisis.
Oil is usally measured in barrels (32 barrels to the US gallon) and priced in dollars, the PRC raised the allowable sell price on gasoline 300 yuan per ton (most likely metric ton) at the retail level. It sounds impressive but let's move that back into the currency that oil gets traded in and it's $37.50. How many barrels in a metric ton? It depends on the specific gravity of gasoline. here's how to do the calculation for crude oil and plugging in this page's figure for vehicle gasoline (0.74 instead of 0.88) you get 8.5 barrels of gasoline per metric ton. Divide the price increase of $37.50/8.5 and you get $4.111 rise per barrel and $0.129 per gallon increase.
Prior to the hike, gasoline was $43 a barrel which translates to $1.344 per gallon ($0.355 per liter). After the price hike we're all the way up to $1.473/gallon ($0.389 per liter) at a price set by the State. Great gasoline prices, if you can get them.
So who can get them? Certainly the people of the PRC can get them and so can the businesses relocating to the PRC. The energy subsidy is an important factor in relocation considerations, especially as labor costs in the PRC are rising.
Now it's obvious that the PRC government can't subsidize gasoline costs to this extent forever. It's also obvious why the market for gasoline isn't reacting normally. There's at least one huge, inefficient, market participant that is choosing to subsidize the price of gasoline to the point where there is greatly reduced pressure to improve efficiency and cut demand.
Now here is a WTO complaint I can really get behind. 40%-50% retail gasoline subsidies supplied by the state is a huge government subsidy that distorts economic relationships across the board and makes economically profitable operations that should simply not be in business. The longer that it goes on, the worse the eventual crash is going to become. The PRC is now large enough that we're going to feel that crash when it comes. The only question is when and how.
April 21, 2006
I pride myself on being fairly sure footed on most issues. I read, think through a position, and don't very often have to change my mind much. Very rarely do I find myself whipsawed into taking a different stand.
Charles Krauthammer's Washington Post article is a remarkable exception. I admit it freely. I was asleep at the switch and didn't much see how dangerous the generals' revolt is. Throughout the world, generals are saying "oh, the US military is not so different after all". The consequences of this are likely never going to be tabulated. They are real, though, and tragic.
April 16, 2006
For those many christians who celebrate the sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord on the Gregorian calendar. I wish you all a heartfelt and happy Easter.
Can you imagine if you could engage people, have them sign a petition, film their reasons why and send them a clip of themselves a week prior to the election? I think that it's obvious that there is an entire class of applications for politics to take events and make sort of a political time capsule for them to open up in the month or three prior to the election when it's time to remember. Of course somebody's going to try to patent this so consider this post "prior art".
Currently, politicians have established a cycle. They do the hard stuff early, let the outrage flow freely, knowing that most will forget by the next election. It's just a basic fact of democracy. There's no reason why modern technology shouldn't leave that little politician's trick alone.
April 14, 2006
Something of a relief
From The Cafeteria is Closed, a very reassuring picture that the worst is over on the Catholic priestly abuse scandal.
There's going to be an awful lot more pain and suffering exposed before we put this one to bed but the measures put in place *do* seem to be working.
April 11, 2006
Iran's Enrichment in Context
Iran is starting to reprocess its 110 tons of uranium hexafluoride (HF6). So assuming they're keeping everything metric, That translates into a potential of 782.1 kg of U235F6. With Flourine having an atomic weight of about 19 the molecule would have an atomic weight of 349, 114 or 32.67% of which is fluorine which means that after you get rid of the flourine, you're left with ~525kg of U235.
Depending on design you can make a nuclear bomb from as little as 15kg of uranium with the use of neutron reflectors to 56kg if you go for the simple bare sphere approach. This means that once the 110 tons of UF6 is processed fully, Iran will have sufficient U235 to make somewhere between 9 and 35 small nuclear weapons.
Scammed? Not on your life
Either I've won the lottery or... well, I very well didn't win the lottery. I just got an actual physical mail version of the standard "you've won the lottery" e-mail scam. This time there's a twist. They included a "partial disbursment" of my "winnings" in the sum of $4,450.00 in order for me to pay "Non Resident Government Service Tax (GST) in the sum of $2750.00. The check looks negotiable, it's got a legitimate account and routing number. The only problem with it is that it's as fake as a $3 bill. The account is marked with notations to not cash these checks as an international mail fraud scam is using a perfectly legitimate account.
The trick, I'm guessing, is that people are depositing the checks to their own accounts, sending Western Union / Money Gram to the scammers to "pay the tax" and waiting for their winning bank draft. What they'll get in reality is a bounced check fee and a feeling of outrage as they get burned for the 2 3/4 grand they sent off to the "tax agent" in order to free up their winnings.
April 08, 2006
SOF Fuel Cells
Special Operations Forces are making the move from batteries to fuel cells with weight savings over batteries, being quieter than generators while giving off no fumes being important factors leading to the switch.
The usual progression is from SOF to general military use and then to civilian use as soldiers don't see why they can't have the same gear on the construction zone that they had in the battle zone (as appropriate).
Note to Self
Do not fly into Frankfurt with my three small children:
I can't imagine that Der Spiegel has many fans at the the Frankfurt Airport authorities after this article.
April 07, 2006
Maybe Not so Craven After All
The EU is suspending direct aid to the Hamas run PA until Hamas recognizes Israel and otherwise undertakes to fulfill past PA agreements. It's been touch and go for awhile with some predicting that the EU would fold and fold relatively quickly, unwilling to stop payments to the PA.
It's a small bit of hope that they have not. Perhaps this will be a positive and significant component in the project of forcing Hamas to choose beetween the welfare of the palestinian people and fidelity to its maximalist demands.
April 04, 2006
China Peak II
A year ago today, I wrote about the PRC's coming labor shortage, linking to a story in the NY Times a day before. Here I am, exactly 1 year later, linking to another NY Times story, itself a year after the prior one, examining how the PRC's labor shortage is growing. They're starting to have to recruit for labor, increase wages, provide better working conditions, offer improved benefits, and are still having trouble meeting their labor force needs.
This is an economy that is moving into the frothy part of the business cycle. A year or two of labor shortage, businesses making worse and worse decisions in order to keep the labor pipeline going, and the inevitable crash will start.
The government is terrified of this, of course. In fact, all governments are terrified of this. When the PRC crashes, it's very likely to land hard. The PRC government will want to avoid the creation of all those angry, newly unemployed workers that a recession would cause so they're very likely to worsen the crash by trying to delay it, making the eventual dislocation even worse.
If you can, save. If you can't, save anyway. It's going to be bad.
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