April 30, 2007
It's just a single line in this Business Week article on Peabody Energy Corp but it is key to understanding our likely near-mid term energy future. "Boyce also hopes to build cutting-edge plants to turn coal into a liquid and a gas—a move that has the potential to open up big new markets." Liquid coal is another way of saying Fischer-Tropsch conversion and that means that petroleum's major potential competition, coal is taking a major leap forward into reality.
Tanking up with domestic coal instead of imported oil is an attractive proposition, one that's going to set major political impulses (Domestic energy! Clean energy!) against each other. Bring on the popcorn and three cheers for Peabody Energy.
April 27, 2007
Liar, Liar II
Twice in one day catching the Economist in basic factual errors. This time it's oil and gas pipelines. This time it's a case of "the dog that didn't bark" or, more specifically, the pipeline not discussed in the map below:
What's missing? The good old Constanta-Trieste pipeline (CTPL), now renamed the "Pan-European Oil Pipeline" (PEOP). The Transcaspian line is drawn in but PEOP, which has actually signed a ministerial agreement to proceed. Even more interesting the ministerial agreement apparently specifies that PEOP can actually be used to pipe gas which could reduce Russia's ability to coerce SE Europe with threats of gas cutoffs by allowing rich EU nations to relieve shortages further east. The inclusion of Croatia and Serbia in the route means that former Yugoslavia is starting to get integrated with new energy transport investment.
It's not a good sign when a major pipeline in the preconstruction phase is not penciled in. but the Economist map (and attached article) is worse. Baku-Ceyhan doesn't terminate in the Mediterranean, giving the impression that there isn't a viable exit route for Caspian oil there. Then there is the omission of Burgas-Vlore, a less ambitious pipeline that will go from Bulgaria to Greece that similarly recently got the go ahead (this time with Russia's blessing). What's going on with the Economist?
HT: TPM Barnett
Who Should Go at the World Bank?
Wolfowitz 'Must Go' reads the headline and it's a reasonably common one these days. But I wonder if that's enough. Let's say that all the Wolfowitz detractors are correct and Wolfowitz has acted improperly. What does that say about the Ethics Committee that twice approved his actions? Shouldn't they go as well? Isn't their position just as compromised as Wolfowitz? But that consistent position appears to be held by exactly zero people out there. The ethics reviewers are never called to account for their actions, only Wolfowitz must go.
Liar, Liar I
It's pretty sad when you see one of the few journalistic outfits you usually respect get basic facts wrong This Economist editorial does it twice.
Over the counter purchases do not have any controls whatsoever beyond an ability to pay. Every state has an instant background check for all firearms purchases, requires you to fill out a government form under pain of perjury, and regularly turns away purchasers who fail the checks. This cannot be reasonably called over the counter purchases whether or not you agree that the system is tight enough.
The assault-weapons ban should be renewed, with its egregious loopholes removed. No civilian needs an AK-47 for a legitimate purpose, but you can buy one online for $379.99.
No doubt they meant legal sales of scary looking semi-automatic rifles like this that look like military weapons but fire as fast and with the same effects as any hunting style rifle (I don't think that they're protesting the bayonet's extra killing ability). While it bears the label, it certainly is not the killing weapon issued to so many armed forces around the world. It is certainly less deadly than the weapon issued to every adult male in Switzerland's army that they take home with them as part of their effective universal service system.
The proportion of crimes committed with legally acquired (as opposed to illegally acquired) guns is rather small. Cho fell through the cracks not as a flaw of the gun control system but as a flaw in the US system for registering mentally dangerous individuals, a situation that has many ill effects both for the mentally ill themselves as well as the public at large. America has a serious reform problem on its hands but european editorials that misstate the issues aren't helpful.
April 25, 2007
Letter to the Paper LV
Something I just submitted to Transterrestrial Musings
An Iraq where they're either begging us to be a tripwire against renewed war (a la our mission in Sinai) or we've successfully turned over a majority of the country and continuing to turn more over every month or two is a situation that can easily be shown to be a win. The Democrat party political investment in losing Iraq is so heavy that they can't reverse course in time for 2008. Iraq has to still look bad by then or they're in trouble which is why you see Harry Reid saying such imprudent things.
April 23, 2007
Let 'em Bleed: Left v Right
I've written plenty about the need for Iraq to have its own foundational myths, often borrowing the concept of planting liberty trees. In practical terms, this translates to Iraq being supported while it evolves but not coddled so they shed little or no blood. Well Iraqi blood is flowing, rivers of it, and the progress is appearing. The end state will be a state that people have fought for, bled for, governors whose family members have died for that state. In the end game, Iraq won't just be a bunch of tribes with a flag but a real nation that will stand on its own, capable of starting to reverse the multi-century decline of Islam and the Middle East.
You can certainly argue that this sanguine attitude on my part is less then laudable. After all, what happens if the blood flows and the liberty trees don't take. A shrug of the shoulders and turning our backs on our friends is too easy from halfway around the world.
That may be, but at least there's a "world worth creating" at the end of the process, a goal worth fighting for. When the left does a "let them bleed", there often isn't even that.
Where's the "world worth creating" when you force Colombia to let up the pressure on armed geurrillas? Where's the worthy goal when the successes to date have made the country both safer and more prosperous?
Right-wing death squads disarming, left-wing violent revolutionaries being driven out of the country, what's not to like? Apparently Pat Leahy would rather have a longer war and more dead colombians than accept the moral compromise that people who have worked with the now-disarmed AUC are in government.
But virtually all well-ended civil wars end up with governments that have members who have had connections with all sorts of violent players in the war. If having friends in the AUC is out of bounds as far as the US is concerned, friendly contacts with the FARC and ELN should be just as out of bounds. You couldn't staff a government with the politicians and bureaucrats left in Colombia if those were the rules of the game. No, the stated reason for the aid cutoff is a pretext but for what legitimate cause of US interest? I frankly can't see a one.
April 20, 2007
Russia Without Opposition
The US was supposed to be the country that couldn't get along without enemies. But every time missile defense is offered to the Russians the US shows that it can get along without a hostile Russia just fine. Russia, on the other hand, seems to have real psychological problems accepting the fact that we don't think that they're some mad ravening beast but rather a potential partner that we can work with.
Until the underlying source of the gulf between us (the Great Schism of 1054) is resolved, this is likely to be a continuing theme.
Edging up to Virtue
Peggy Noonan does yoeman's work talking about Virginia Tech saying all sorts of common sense. The close is worth exerpting
People are starting to feel the spiritual emptiness, starting to look for a way to fill it. We are sidling up to virtue because we recoil from the horrors unleashed by its lack in the public square.
Indicting the West
Sometimes the worst indictments come from fans. Today's day by day disrespects the entirety of western religion. I suspect that Chris Muir didn't even mean to but he perfectly captured the reality for all too many people. For them, the west is science and religion is the outsider, the other, the mysterious east.
It's an alarming sign when even your friends kick you.
April 17, 2007
Uncivilized Daily News
The Daily News has never been a great paper and they've reinforced their 2nd rate status with a horrible editorial on gun control. I was going to lay into them on policy grounds originally but came to my senses. After the dead are buried it'll be time to change the laws and to go after those who enabled the shooter in his quest to hit the record books. They haven't even identified all the bodies yet.
A lot of people talk about how we need to have a more civil society. Shutting up and admitting that there is something more important than policy when there's blood on the ground is where it needs to start. Bury the dead, console the living, and only then fix the system is a basic priority that all americans should share.
Shame on you Daily News.
Update: To my great disgust I could have used an awful lot of other examples beyond the Daily News, some on the left, others on the right. Shame on them all.
Just War and Westphalia
A small note:
I was reading the comments on a catholic analysis of the Iraq war when it just floored me how limited the discussion was regarding the nature of warfare. It was all, but all, laid out and argued in westphalian terms, pro and contra. But the pro side of the argument is much enhanced if one does not limit oneself to westphalian warfare. Iraq did not declare war or act in westphalian war terms but it certainly was at war with a good portion of the rest of the world if one takes any reasonable definition from pre-westphalian days.
When one paid mercenary companies to burn ones' enemies crops, kill their people, and generally make nuisances of themselves, this was an act of war. Since Saddam did this openly, the whole conversation about "pre-emptive war" disappears and the Iraq war turns into a more conventional discussion on a defensive war.
Enlarging the circumstances to be considered in war analysis isn't something new for me though. What was new is the insight on how internalized catholicism has made westphalianism as a moral argument on war. So far as I can tell, the Peace of Westphalia has almost no moral force. It was a political solution to the religious wars of Europe. It imposed political blinders and the acceptance of a number of polite fictions that were useful to keep the peace. When a country rejects its strictures, Catholic moral thought should put aside westphalianism and look at the war's justness without those blinders. But we just don't do it. The prospect of perpetual and growing mercenary war (under cover of islamic religious zealotry) just doesn't get its due and you can see it in the comments, especially on the opportunities that the pro-just war side repeatedly misses.
Saddam was at war with Israel via Hamas, with the Philippines via Abu Sayyef, with a dozen other nations via his support of terrorists, many of which had defense treaties with the US. Since the political entity called the USA is full on committed to the polite fictions of westphalianism, its moral justifications for its actions can only be confused. It does not follow that Catholicism need maintain those polite fictions though it's somewhat understandable that flesh and blood catholics may fall prey to those errors. That doesn't change the fact that it's a mistake.
The Catholic Church is 2000 years old. Westphalia was signed in 1648. The wars that confront us going forward are mostly going to be non-westphalian wars. It behooves the Church to do better.
April 13, 2007
Technorati has an interesting "claim this blog" service. To use it, you just post and include a string. Here's mine:
And off we go.
Means over Motivation
Tom Barnett has an intellectual gem of an article on India that provoked two completely seperate riffs on my part. Here's the second.
I've noticed that a great deal of anti-americanism goes through the exact same process, the persistent discounting of american intention and motivation in favor of an analysis of America's means (great) and a fearful reaction to the potential threat completely disconnected from the robust governing aparatus of our political system.
I believe the problem is largely one of poor connectivity in the media sphere. The world is woefully underinformed as to the actual state of american politics (as we're underinformed about the rest of the world's take on things). Go read the international press and you will find the most fantastic stories about how the US runs its countries and not just in far off Bangladesh or Zaire. A good deal of Canadian and UK coverage is downright clueless despite the shared language (and in Canada's case, shared border).
That leaves the depressing question of how to right the global media sphere so that it is possible for free polities to make realistic judgments of foreign intentions and relegate the means over motivation crowd to the dustbin of history. It's a tough job.
The only thing that I can come up with is a radical improvement in freely available tools for analysis and volunteer and professional open databases at least at the sophistication level of Wikipedia that assemble the raw data into something that can build enough confidence that we will bet our country's future on it. Couple that with much improved automatic translation software and you have the ability to view not only the dominant media that somebody is willing to pay to professionally translate but the underground media that may be highly influential and informative regarding the question of national motivation/intention without ever making it outside the border of a country.
Conceptually it's not that hard to do. The practicalities are going to take years but when it happens, we're going to gain a big jump in our ability to process states from the Gap and into the Core.
Global Gun Control
Tom Barnett has an intellectual gem of an article on India that provoked two completely seperate riffs on my part. Here's the first.
Why would anybody think that gun control on the national level is bad while gun control on the international level is not bad? First of all, it's a misnomer because nuclear weapons aren't guns but rather ordnance which doesn't really have 2nd amendment protection. You've never had the right to bear bombs or rockets as a 2nd amendment right (though you can make a 9th/10th amendment argument for it). But individual rights and rights of states are an inexact mapping at the best of times so let's just go with the flow on that distinction.
Let's look at the full text of the amendment to see whether it's worth agreeing or disagreeing with Barnett on this one because taken literally, he seems to be advocating not only for an Indian bomb but also a North Korean one (to be clear, Tom's advocating regime change for the Norks so he's not really advocating for a Nork bomb).
Going back to the original text is always useful:
But how would we rewrite this as part of a political ruleset for an international right to bear arms?
I think that the key entry is one that is not usually analyzed in terms of US political discourse, "free state". We don't really want tyrants to be well armed and it would be a worthwhile exercise to formalize that sentiment into a diplomatic position and let it permeate into the collective subconscious of the global power elite. Because India is a free state, our concern with the state of India's military should be that they maintain a reasonable level of protections so that their arms do not end up in the wrong hands under any circumstances.
North Korea, on the other hand, is decidedly not a free state and we should work whatever influence we can handle to defang the North Korean military to enable them to become a free state as soon as possible, by the best method possible. That they are also a proliferation nightmare, willing to strengthen the militaries of other non-free states is a separate, though equally disturbing, issue.
The realist fetish for arms control and balance of terror calculations in the US does not totally discount the distinction. Nobody calculates how many missiles we should have to deter the UK. Probably nobody calculates the nuclear deterrance of France either. But India is not in that club and there seems to be disagreement inside the US' halls of power as to whether they should be.
This internationalist restatement of the 2nd amendment is utterly alien to the UN system as well, with their polite/pernicious fiction that free states and tyrannies are equal in the international system. The UN has so far been incapable of intellectually dealing with the commonsense idea of bringing on new world powers like India into the 1st rank of powers by not standing in the way of their nuclear ambitions.
In the end Barnett's shot from the hip on India is right, though I think that he's getting there by a suboptimal path which leads to our continuing disagreements on Iran policy. But that's for another post.
April 12, 2007
The Foolish Economics of Conservation
Two of the silliest things that one can do in looking at the world is to assume that a particular factor is a variable when in reality it is a constant and vice versa. It is especially bad in the prediction business as Victor Davis Hanson shows in his recent analysis on oil. It's quite poor.
First the good:
Then the bad:
If the United States could curb its voracious purchases of foreign oil by using conservation, additional petroleum production, nuclear power, alternate fuels, coal gasification and new technologies, the world price might return to below $40 a barrel.
The ugly truth is that the US is a mature economy and conservation is really only going to affect the marginal demand on petroleum. It might slow down the increase. But there are literally billions of new sources of demand in the form of the chinese and indian consumer out there and their basic needs for a high energy lifestyle have not been met. High petroleum prices have been and will continue to slow their entry into the market but conservation that lowers western consumption will allow marginal asian consumers to enter into the market and the demand overhang is huge. No reasonable level of conservation of 300 million americans will offset the demand of 2 billion indians and chinese (leaving off the vietnamese et al who are also coming on-line). High prices will remain until the overhang of consumers is settled.
Shifting to a multi-fuel economy where energy inputs like bio-fuels, petroleum, wind, solar, et al. go through an energy middleware transformation (electricity and hydrogen are the two major contenders) would have a much more profound effect as the barrier to entry of new producers all over the world would dilute OPEC producer power. The increase in possible energy sources and overall usable energy will reduce the potential consumer overhang much more rapidly than any possible conservation measures could.
But beyond speeding up the day when energy prices can start coming down again, enlarging the producer pie reduces OPEC influence by making the removal of any particular OPEC member from the markets a sustainable enterprise. Right now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia produces so much of the world's transport energy that a regime change would be catastrophic. If the percentage of world supply satisfied by KSA drops below a certain level, they lose their "get out of jail free card" and their behavior in supporting terrorism through the madrassas they fund will end, one way or another.
Worldwide demand outside of the US is not a constant. It is a variable and one that is significantly changing year to year, mostly in Asia. The very good changes in India and the PRC, liberating the free market in both countries will put (in fact are already putting) huge pressure upwards on prices. All we can do is figure out how to increase the supply pie in like fashion. Conservation will simply not get us there.
April 11, 2007
1st Secretary of Everything Else
3 Generals Spurn the Position of War 'Czar' is an interesting article and reminds me of something I read in early-mid 2000. The Republican nominee George W Bush was having just as much trouble, perhaps even more than today in filling a slot but that time it was looking for a running mate that was tripping him up. He'd picked a trusted Washington figure to lead the search, Dick Cheney. Eventually he picked Cheney for running mate. I wonder if he might not do it again.
One of the problems of Tom Barnett's "Department of Everything Else" (DoEE) is that it takes an episodic problem that has a sure end date (the day that the Gap disappears and we've all "made it" into the Core) and builds a permanent bureaucracy around the task. It took us better than 100 years to dismantle an "emergency" tax originally levied to fund the Spanish American war and we're to believe that a DoEE will go quietly into that good night? Men are men and not angels. It's hard to believe that those people building their ccareers at DoEE will go elsewhere any more readily than those maintaining our strategic stockpiles of helium (for our nonexistant military dirigible fleet) and mohair (in case we ever decide to start making uniforms out of the stuff again). A Democrat might have less trouble with that objection but Bush is still Republican enough that it's got to bug him on some level.
It is thus much more likely that the 1st Secretary of Everything Else will already have a chair at cabinet meetings, will already have a power base, and will thus not have to get confirmed or set up that permanent power base. So why not Cheney?
Cheney has a powerbase. Cheney's powerbase transcends departments. The precedent for the DoEE would become someone who was elected by the people and that's important because the DoEE is dangerous.
Fundamentally the DoEE is a government in waiting. when there is a breakdown in governance sufficient to form a Gap, the DoEE will come in and build up institutions, essentially serve as a stopgap government, a sort of cellular scaffold for government until Gap conditions recede and regular governance can resume. The DoEE would be chartered to function only outside the US, just like the US military but it doesn't take a genius to see how posse comitatus is breaking down and how a DoEE might subvert democratic governance in a future administration.
But a Vice President already transcends the stovepipe authorities of the cabinet secretaries. You wouldn't be creating anything novel there. Why not pick Cheney and make the DoEE a vice presidential function? Why not indeed.
HT: Tom Barnett
April 09, 2007
Israel's Pipeline Revisited
In 2003 I wrote about Israel's potential as a transshipment point from the Mediterranean oil market to the Asian oil market. I viewed it as a potential for Russia to arbitrage away the up to $3/bl "Asia premium". Today, it seems that the project still lives but the rationale and players have changed. Russia has stepped back and Turkey has stepped up. Now it's not just an anti-OPEC move but also an anti-Russia move.
The appeal of the Israeli pipeline is obvious. It's just a matter of who is going to take advantage of the geographic facts.
Something lighter, there's a "which pope are you" quiz (20th century popes only), my results below:
Which Twentieth Century Pope Are You?
Wrote about my Easter over at Chicago Boyz. Suffice it to say that finding a dead body after easter services will just throw your life right off. I may go more quirky than usual for awhile. I may not.
April 07, 2007
Never in the US
For the romanians among my readership, Spovedanie cu grade - SPP-ul, sub sutana. For the rest of my readership, the Romanian version of the US' Secret Service that were working over Easter got sent (SENT!) to confession. When asked whether there was any worry that something that shouldn't might come out during confession, the simple response was that of course not, the priest works for us, has for 10 years.
Just amazing, on so many levels.
April 05, 2007
Ridding Ourselves of Ann Coulter
An excellent suggestion from Hot Ambercrombie Chick on ridding ourselves of the political firebombers that infest modern US politics. She picks on Ann Coulter but the same advice (which boils down to ignore her and she'll go away) applies just as well elsewhere.
I agree with her as well that it's just not going to work. There's a great deal of entertainment value in sinking down into these slugfests and it really is hard to resist. Enough succumb that Ann Coulter's career is probably safe. Oh well, back to the drawing board...
The tragedy of Left-Wing Christianity
Andrew Martin writes as good a description of where religious belief is among the Left today, in the closet, ashamed of itself, and under attack from the secular faction that largely controls the Left these days. The attacks persist even as the come to a growing realization that they need religion to fight off attacks from truly anti-progressive militants like the islamists but they can't quite seem to let go of the church bashing. Even Mr. Martin is not able to personally invite people to Christ in his article. All that he can do is silently admire someone who is brave enough to give public witness to her own faith early on.
This is tragedy. Christ needs to be proclaimed to all and the left-religious seem to have largely given up the task.
HT: MadPriest (truly mad and not to my taste but he uncovered a gem)
April 04, 2007
I was looking for a way to upgrade my current email to a .mac family pack. Surprisingly, there are certain restrictions on converting accounts but even more surprisingly to me, the service is highly discounted. It appears that discounts go up to 50% if you go through one of Amazon's associated resellers. You can only find Amazon's price if you start going through the motions of buying it.
Apparently there's agreement that Amazon can sell for what it likes but it can't advertise what it likes. There's some sort of "minimum advertside price" (MAP) that they get around by simply teasing you with the idea that you have to put it in your cart to find out the price. Odd, a timewaster, and it must increase the number of abandoned carts that Amazon's software has to deal with.
OMB Earmarks Database
Glenn Reynolds notes the availability of OMB's earmark database. He also complains that one cannot search by member. What he doesn't note is that OMB has generously made screen scraping unnecessary by putting the data into CSV file and allowing private entities to do the datacrunching themselves. I don't have the $$ to put up a server to do this though if push came to shove I'd probably have the skills. No doubt somebody will. It would even be possible to create a community around the earmarks to get at the ultimate achilles heel of congressional attempts to obfuscate whose feeding at the trough. For members to get the benefit of earmarks they have to tell their constituents about them, to brag that this or that project was "brought home" by the member. In order to gain the advantage of the franking privilege, such communication really needs to be district-wide. Once you have porkbuster volunteers (preferrably multiple ones) covering every congressional district, the congressmen and senators themselves will spill the beans.
These methods can be evaded by the member using his own money for postage in bragging but that dilutes pork's positive effect on reelection and even paid communications are going to be unreliable at maintaining anonymity. For all my present problems with the Bush administration's competence, this is certainly good work and well thought through. Nobody can protest that the data's being released in CSV format and all the deadly analysis work (so far as porkers are concerned) is going to be done outside the political system. Nice.
April 03, 2007
I'm headed back to my old habit of trolling the bottom of the TTLB ecosystem and I found this gem talking about an open source car. I found the car conceptually interesting but impractical but the one comment to the story at the time talked about open source cola which seemed a little more possible. Googling found PDF instructions. Even for something as simple as cola, you end up with danger warnings that are downright scary. Do not try this at home with the kids as you may lose one or two of them. As the instructions note "Cola is a harsh mistress, and she is quick to anger."
I suspect from these two examples that the fears of Open Source taking over manufacturing are largely overblown. Fortunately, I'll probably live to see whether I'm right.
April 02, 2007
Change the Time
Strategy Page notes time is on Iran's side when it comes to the hostage situation. This is a familiar metaphor that I've always found best answered by changing the timing and pacing of the crisis.
If a slow bleed is in Iran's interest, the UK might be best served by simply announcing a date by which they would be marked down as KIA and proceeding with a response on that basis. Do not negotiate for the hostages release after that deadline with the current regime. Yes, it's really cold, awful to just write them off as dead but it radically alters the timing and changes their execution date from something Iran controls to something the UK controls from a geopolitic/diplomatic perspective. It ruins Iran's strategy and thus paradoxically makes it less likely that they will actually be physically executed. After all, what's the point? Somebody else might come to power later in the UK that would negotiate for their release so why kill them?
The US could best serve its ally by releasing a statement the same day honoring the UK's decision and acting on that basis, asking all other allies to keep to the same line. Win or lose the entire dynamic of islamist attempts to humiliate the West change. Hostages lose their death value when we "kill" them first. The only value they have left is being returned alive and in good shape and that is exactly as we should want 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.