November 27, 2007

Lawsuit Bait

Posted by TMLutas

I don't think Glen Reynolds could hint any more strongly if he tried:

IF I WERE A SHAREHOLDER, I THINK I'D COMPLAIN: "Dismal returns for politically themed films in 2007 won’t stop the genre from continuing well into next year."

It's as if they don't care about shareholder returns at all in Hollywood.

It seems patently obvious to me that there's a big payday for a law firm willing to launch a class action lawsuit against Hollywood for pumping money into obvious bombs, year after year, based on political considerations. I tend to agree, though IANAL (I am not a lawyer). Since law professor Reynolds is, I wonder if professional ethics prevent him from saying so straight out.

Well, consider me baited. If I owned stock in Hollywood, I'd sign up for the lawsuit.

November 23, 2007

Big Oil Being Squeezed?

Posted by TMLutas

Tom Barnett makes this interesting observation:

NOCs, or national oil companies, directly control less than 40% of global reserves currently, but by 2030, according to the IEA, they’ll directly account for 75% of all production, meaning “big oil” companies are being slowly squeezed out of the picture, with investors increasingly looking at the NOCs and bypassing the remnants of the so-called seven sisters.

If the IEA has gotten this right (and I have my doubts about them as an organization due to their oil price predictions) it's in the fiduciary duty for Big Oil to do two things, muscle out the NOCS by eliminating as many national oil monopolies as possible (allowing Big Oil entry into more fields) and seriously adding alternative sources of energy to their portfolio so that their shareholders can escape the effects of the NOCs squeezing them out of oil market influence.

Big Oil has long been exhibit A in the amoral tendency of big companies to enter into corrupt bargains with national governments to limit competition. They have been implicit villains for quite some time. We're now entering the predictable long-term end game with Big Oil itself so excluded that it's losing influence in its core market. There's always somebody's cousin who's going to be able to out corrupt the foreigner. If Big Oil has finally figured this out, that turns them into a long-term friend of capitalism. If they haven't, isn't it time some shareholders taught them?

The 2nd implication is also interesting. It provides a very real motivation why Big Oil is really going whole hog on alternative fuels. They want to expand the energy pie so that they can control enough of the market no matter how many NOCS there are and how many oil fields they are excluded from. This provides stock price stability and a safe long-term path to corporate growth isolated from political risk. That's a rationale that will make sense in the boardroom but not one that has penetrated into the general public's consciousness.

November 16, 2007

The Military Political Solution

Posted by TMLutas

Just was reading about how Ramadi is now and the following section struck me:

As I was sitting atop a sand bag wall interviewing a sergeant, a Marine 1st Lieutenant approached me. He explained that he was going to confront an Iraqi Policeman (who we’ll call Mohammad to protect his true identity) who was suspected of being involved in the insurgency during 2005. The situation was all the more extraordinary since Mohammad and the lieutenant are friends. As the Lt. casually mentioned that I would be able to ask some questions, I jumped off the wall, quickly gathered my gear, and wondered about what I would be witnessing.

Sitting in a small room lined with cots and gear, the lieutenant talked to Mohammed through an Iraqi interpreter. “We know you were an insurgent during the fighting – you’re in no trouble – I just want you to tell me the truth.” Mohammad was now visibly shaking and appeared nervous before he quietly answered “yes.” “Did you ever fire on any Marines,” was the lieutenant’s first question. Mohammad was clearly concerned and replied with a long answer, but ultimately ended with a simple yes. “I was in Ramadi during the same time, so you could have possibly been shooting at me,” stated the lieutenant. “It’s okay Mohammad - if you were shooting at me then I was firing back at you,” joked the lieutenant. The rest of the session involved the lieutenant and Mohammad exchanging promises to never fight again, and to work together to protect the city of Ramadi. Furthermore, pledges were exchanged that this new understanding, between friends, would not affect their friendship.

I've heard that uniforms sometimes don't matter in Iraq, that institutions are heavily infiltrated by insurgents and militia. I've heard that the tribal allies, the insurgent allies are all allies of convenience. I've heard that there is no military solution to Iraq. And all that is likely true. But it's not the only truth.

Small, very personal conversations like this are happening all over Iraq. Personal pledges between new friends are being made. It is a very retail form of politics, written in blood and the intimate, uniquely close bonds that combat seems to forge. It is largely (though likely not only) being committed by our uniformed armed forces. The big bosses may have started this as alliances of convenience with the Americans and the government but I suspect that it's not turning out that way on the ground.

Our military studies Clauswitz, studies him seriously and have fully internalized his famous statement that "politics is war by other means". So politics, a very limited, circumscribed form of politics, is well within their bailiwick. And our uniformed politicians are winning the peace, one insurgent at a time.

And our media is missing it, as it is missing so many other things.

As so many other optimists, I'm very aware that we can still foul this up, undo all those personal pledges won by our uniformed politicians. The biggest danger is that all these political efforts will be undone by some sort of spectacular clowning by anti-war Democrats on the Senate floor. Sen. Reid call your office.

November 13, 2007

Future v Future I

Posted by TMLutas

One of the hot new techniques of getting things done is using technology to harness the power of openness and transparency to make things happen that would have been either prohibitively expensive or flat out impossible in the past. Two manifestations of this are the wikimedia constellation of efforts and the open source movement in all its manifestations including open source peer review. But open source peer review does not get a very friendly reception over at wikipedia, at least in the english version, at least when the subject under discussion impacts global warming, and I've got the scars to prove it.

One of the key instrument sets that determine our understanding of global temperatures is a world-wide network of surface temperature stations that use fairly low-tech ways to measure the temperature. The US is generally considered the best of the best in the quality of its network. Like the US' credit rating, nobody ever actually went and checked. So how good is that instrumental temperature record? Anthony Watts decided to find out. Watts is chief meteorologist for KPAY-AM radio and has his own company that sells weather forecasts and various tools. He uses these weather stations professionally and has for many years. He decided to start with the USHCN network, a limited network of "high quality" stations, 1221 in all, resolving to survey them all to determine whether they've fallen victim to poor maintenance or the urban heat island effect.

He had the funds to register a domain and maintain a website but not enough to send paid data gatherers across the US to physically survey those 1221 sites. So he took a look at the NOAA's site information handbook (PDF) and used their 1 through 5 classification system (page 7), designed survey forms, set up rules of conduct, and put out a call for volunteers. And the volunteers came. Currently there are 421 sites already surveyed and published on his website And here is where things get interesting. Applying the standard temperature classification categories in the siting handbook there are two categories (4 and 5) whose error ratings exceed the amount of detected global warming in the 20th century. So how much of the 421 stations (an admittedly urban biased sample) are in those two categories? It's 68% of the sample and 23% of the total network.

That's a pretty eye popping result. At least it seems eye popping until you try to get it included in the relevant articles in Wikipedia. Then it just gets ugly. The standards for reliable sources are theoretically flexible and merely require that it's not just self-published pap that has no independent editorial oversight but the community that camps on the pages won't budge on its own, unwritten set of standards that it's got to be peer reviewed in a "good" publication.

What isn't on the list is an open source scientific effort to gather data. Peer review can only be done by professional referees, the great unwashed are welcome to submit to wikipedia but if they attempt to engage in open source peer review, that simply won't do. It's one version of the future (Wikipedia) rejecting another (open source peer review).

And Watt's data? I gave up getting the data in when a Wikipedia admin casually libeled Watts' reputation by saying that a veteran weather man couldn't be trusted to ensure that his own effort is run by the rules he laid out on the project website. It was going to go downhill from there, and fast.

November 06, 2007

tap, tap, is this thing still live

Posted by TMLutas

I'm coming out of a long, long dive and starting to feel the urge to blog again, more soon I think.

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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