Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailing on the Bailout - Follow the Money?

Dog Bites Man - Speaker Pelosi blames the Republicans for the defeat of the bail-out bill, despite the fact that 95 of her Democratic colleagues voted it down, a number that would have easily ensured passage of the bill had they sided with her. Unable to leave partisan politics aside, she could not resist making a speech thought to have driven away Republicans likely to vote for passage.

Some are claiming that she did so intentionally in order to give political advantage to Obama in the coming election. I have an additional hypothesis.

The Dow dropped over 700 points on the news. Wouldn't it be interesting to see who among those associated with Democratic bigwigs were selling the market short lately? It was widely considered a done deal until the Pelosi speech

Insult to Injury Dept. - Barney Frank also blames the Republicans, and once again studiously avoids mention of his role in the legislation that created this mess, and his obstruction of efforts to reform Fannie and Freddie championed by both the White House and John McCain in recent years.

Republican Minority Leader Boehner stated "These are the votes that separate the men from the boys, and the girls from the women."

I guess that made it difficult to see where Frank would stand on the bill.

"Shale Wars"

Well, it seems as though our Dear Leaderstm are ready to put us on the hook for $700 billion to get us out of the mess they got us into. This was $700 billion we could ill afford, what with the budget already looking like a disaster with the entitlement programs, (SS, Medicare, Medicaid) and interest on the national debt preventing politicians from being able to make any significant cuts in spending. Whacking earmarks is fine, and a good start, but the reality of the situation is that if every single earmark disappeared today, we'd still be in a fiscal crisis.

We could whack items such as most foreign aid, (every single buck we send to Africa is a waste, to include the $ 65+ billion we've dumped on Egypt over the years), and agricultural subsidies to include ethanol, but still the only effective long term solution is to increase revenue.

That means taxes. I am no economist, but it seems to me that we should be able to locate the sweet spot on the Laffer Curve, and set the rates accordingly. There are a host of other tax issues to be addressed, but they are fodder for another day.

No, what we need are brand new sources of revenue. Allow me to propose one. There are others, but this would seem to be both the most lucrative, and simplest to implement.

Drill like hell, mine domestic oil shale, and tax it. I call it a tax, though it will most likely be referred to as a "royalty." I recommend that the royalty rate be a fixed amount per barrel, not a percentage, as it will remove uncertainty on the producers' part, and I do not want to see the government having an interest in raising the price of oil to increase revenues. The rate can be adjusted for inflation if needed.

Known oil shale deposits in the U.S. are thought to amount to over 1.5 trillion barrels of oil. That is as great as the known global reserves of crude oil, and about five times what the Saudis have.

Let's say the Feds tax it at only $20/bbl. That is $30 trillion dollars. Collect those revenues over 30 years, just to make the math easy, and we're looking at a cool trillion a year. Last year the Federal government spent roughly $2.7 trillion. More than a third of our current expenses could be brand new, previously uncollected, revenue.

The only problem with this dream scenario is that we don't use nearly that much oil annually. We currently use only about 8 billion bbls. annually, so at current rates of consumption, we wouldn't suck up all that oil shale (and gather that tax revenue) for 187 years! What oil crisis? Sell a bunch of it to China and India, and we've still got 50 years to transition to a nuclear power based economy.

This is why T. Boone Pickens is completely full of it when he starts touting wind with this "we've only got 3% of the global oil reserve" sleight-of-hand. Sure we may only have that much oil, but we've got all the fossil fuel we need for a good long time.

Oilmen believe that after getting up the learning curve a bit, oil shale could be produced profitably at $40/bbl. to include the expense of land reclamation. If the Powers That Be decide that the economy can live with $75 oil, we can tax it at $35/bbl., and the numbers start looking crazy good.

There are two further benefits to shale oil production. First, it is typically found alongside significant, marketable quantities of natural gas, the cleanest, most eco-friendly fossil fuel. Second, the oil derived from shale is best suited to the production of diesel and aviation fuel. This will have the benefit of encouraging passenger diesel in the US, an area in which we lag.

Fewer than 3 percent of passenger vehicles in the United States are diesel, one-tenth of the European ratio. Last year, that percentage increased to half. Performance conscious BMW sold 70% diesels in England last year.

Offshore oil reserves are conservatively estimated at about 85 billion, but this is almost certainly low, as the bans on drilling have prevented even exploration. Let's call it 90 (again, to make the math easy, assume a 30 year extraction) we're looking at $60 billion a year from offshore.

Toss in a few spare billions from natural gas, clean coal, and ANWR just for giggles, and we are talking an incredible amount of wealth.

There are so many beneficial synergistic effects, it's hard to imagine, much less list, them all. The Middle East can go hang, and Russia will find it's power severely curtailed. The Straits of Hormuz don't matter anymore. The trade deficit goes away, and King Dollar rules once again. The resurgent fossil fuel industry here will generate tens of thousands of quality jobs, jobs that cannot be outsourced.

If, humongous if here, we can keep the politicians from going absolutely insane with this new revenue stream, we can generate budget surpluses, pay down the almost ten trillion dollar national debt, and quit robbing Social Security. And guess where we'd get the capital to build all those nuke plants, and upgrade our electrical transmission infrastructure to support all those electric cars?

We could even do things like adequately fund X-Prizes for space exploration, nanotech, medical research, robotics, materials science, and other tech endeavors that will lead to future productivity increases.

There are issues to be addressed. Oil shale extraction requires some pretty heroic efforts to prevent environmental damage, but solutions exist. Furthermore, this policy would require a tariff on imported oil. The Saudis have some oil that can be pumped at about $5/bbl. The laws of supply and demand still stand, and you best believe they'll drop the price in an effort to keep market share, and thus prevent the investment required for oil shale extraction. So, we'd need to set the tariff on foreign oil at a level to keep the domestic supplies competitive. I am not normally a protectionist, but I could make an exception in this case.

I expect more challenging will be dealing with the politics of the effort, that I am now officially naming The Shale Wars. There will be battalions, regiments, divisions, of mercenaries in the fray. OPEC will be throwing supertankers of cash at every politician for sale in Washington, and forming and funding environmental groups opposed to domestic fossil fuels. Kids will be able to pay for college with part time jobs astroturfing blogs. One need only look at Bill Clinton's executive order to prevent the mining of the clean coal in the Kaiparowits Plateau to see how easy it is, with a well-placed donation, to place the needs of a special interest ahead of those of the people.

We, in what might be one of the most striking examples of American Exceptionalism, have the good fortune to be sitting on the largest concentration of an increasingly scarce global resource. If we are prudent, we will not simply squander this fortune. Chance, Providence, The Man Upstairs, whichever term you prefer, has gifted us with this easy to use energy source that will allow us to bootstrap to the next level of technological development. Vast as it is, though, it is still finite, and we must invest that finite wealth for our long term benefit, and not for short term political largesse.

Further Reading:

"Oil From A Stone" - Money Magazine
Oil Shale: Toward a Strategic Unconventional Fuels Supply Policy
Oil Shale: History, Incentives, and Policy

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Funny Story, and A Not So Funny One.

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." -- Cicero --

When I first got in the nightclub business, I was a bouncer at a Tejano bar. It was pretty wild and woolly. (As luck would have it, at 5'8" and not quite 170, I was by far the smallest bouncer, so I was always the one some drunk Texican would get froggy with, but that's another story. :-) Besides, I was still in the Active Reserves of the Corps, so I considered it all just Good Training)

Anyway, the manager was this, this, no other word serves as well as, maniac. He carried a Browning Hi-Power. (9mm automatic, to any of you non-gun lovers that are still reading) His idea of the proper way to carry it was one round up the spout, safety off, and on *half-cock*!!!!

Well, every Sunday night was Drink & Drown. (They were still legal then. No longer) Five bucks to get in, all the well whiskey, wine and beer you could suck down from eight until midnight.

The club held about three hundred people, and every single fucking Sunday night a brawl would commence with about two hundred of them. You could just about set a clock to it- the festivities would get underway two minutes either side of 12:15, when all the happy campers finished chugging their last free drinks.

Typically, some dude would get mad when he saw an ex-GF dancing with some other dude, and start some crap, shoving and shouting, a wild haymaker or two, yatta-yatta-yatta. We'd charge in, with overwhelming force, (there were about three of us, plus two managers, two off-duty cops, about half the bartenders (i.e.the male ones,) and the barbacks), break everything up, and toss the malefactors out of the club.

Since most guys don't really know how to fight, most especially when they're wasted, in most cases, no real harm was done. Simple, eh?

No. That place had an unbelievably regular customer base, and Tejanos tend to got out partying in groups of friends and relations. It wasn't uncommon to be breaking up a quarrel between Dad and son-in-law. Just about everybody knew everybody else, (yes, to include the biblical sense), and a lot of the patrons were loosely aligned in coalitions.

Think Afghanistan.

So you'd be running this guy outta the bar with his elbow up between his shoulder blades, in control, dog's in his heaven and all's right with the world, have him halfway to the front door, when all of the sudden some drunk boyfriend of his sister's best friend from junior high would come flying out of the woodwork to try and take you down. Then his friends would pile on, people that didn't like the pile-oners would pile on them, and all the sudden you have a world class fracas going down - to include regulars that we were friendly with, doing their besotted best to help us.

Of course, in nearly all the cases, we couldn't have told the players even if we had a program, so that lent itself to, what would, under other circumstances, have been comic relief, both the Good Guys and Bad fighting each other, etc. ("Goddammit, Rusty, that's my arm you're yanking on. Lemme go, you dumbfuck!")

So, whattya do when there's a riot goin' on in Cell Block #9? Like all riot police, you break out the chemical weapons. This one bouncer Rusty was the Mace-usin-est mo-fo on the planet.

If/When the brawl would reach critical mass, say 10-12 folks, Rusty would wade in with his Mace, spraying loddy-doddy-everbody. Of course, that was not his aim, but his aim was usually hindered by all the Crown and Michelob he'd drank. He would usually manage to get most of it on the primary perps. That would usually get things broken up purty quick, as it gave all the macho men an excuse to disengage with honor intact, perhaps bloody, but unbowed. We'd toss out whoever we could figure out was a quarreler and not a queller, then run to the bathroom to wash off the Mace.

The Macing of the Place pretty well served to clean out the rest of the club, too, as it wasn't that big, so just about everyone packed up and left when the gentle aroma of the gas circulated through the club. The show was over, anyway, and everybody'd gotten to enjoy Sunday Night at the Fights. We didn't care that much, as we didn't sell much whiskey between midnight and closing anyway, so as the number of patrons dropped down from the hundreds to fifty or so, most of the staff could officially get off-duty, get on the outside of some whiskey ourselves, and get down to the serious bidniss of figuring out who was gonna zoom who that night.

Life was purty interesting at that place. One of the owners was a little bitty guy known all over Houston as Fast Eddy. He was one of the guys that started the Crystal Pistol, one of the first and most legendary topless bars in Houston. Anyway, he knew lotsa shady Characters, and several nights a week these characters would show up after-hours, and there'd be a dozen or more dancers, bookies, pimps, dealers, etc., sitting around the bar, along with the staff and whomever we'd harvested from the customer crop to join in the party.

One of these characters was a bookie named Frank, who owned a topless club called the 5757. I used to go there on my night off, as I was sweet on this one dancer of his named Sherri. An absolute showpony, intelligent, funny, sexy, sweet as can be. She was a marvelous dancer, with a boodle of athletic moves, like doing back flips on the stage.

I took her out a few times, but never could seem to break through her shell. She had a drug problem, coke, I think. She eventually quit working at the 5757, and I lost touch with her.

In the course of my life then, I somehow, for some undoubtedly moronic reason, had mentioned that I went to the 5757 to my mom. I don't recall why on earth I would or should have, but I did.

A year or so later I was living in Florida, talking to her on the phone, when she asked me about the place, didn't you used to hang out there? Yea, I did. Well, there's this big story on the front page of the Sunday paper about that place. Really? UmmHmm, it was raided, the police describe it as a notorious den of drugs and prostitution, and claim to have broken up a gambling ring that operated out of there. Well, gee, Mom, I didn't see any of that.

They say it was a topless place. Didja see any of that? Well, uhhh, uhh, mostly I went just on Tuesday afternoons, 'cause they have a free steak buffet, and the staff there, they're good customers at my bar, so it's sorta like PR, and uhhh...

UmmHmm, she says.

I'm afraid she knows me all too well.

But I digress, as I am wont to do. Back to the story.

One night, there was this guy that gave us hell. He wasn't much to look at, just a raggedy wetback looking guy, not much English. I forget why we were tossing him out, but he was giving three of us fits, as we generally tried not to use excessive force, wrestling guys instead of punching, etc. He was strong like a bull. We finally get him out the front door, but a few minutes later he tries to come back into the club. He's standing there trying to tell me why he needs to come back in, to get a friend or something, not really doing much else, when Rusty gets frustrated and just whips out the Mace and gives him a good three second burst right smack dab in the kisser, enough to take down *anybody*.

He was completely unaffected. The guy just stands there, wipes it off his face and onto his shirt, and says something like, "You shouldn't a done that."

Then he proceeds to try and kill Rusty. I jump on him and try to pull him off, while the cavalry comes in person of Don the Hi-Power Maniac and a coupla barbacks. The guy is chokin' Rusty to death, I'm trying to pry his hands free so I can get him is a wristlock or something, to absolutely no avail. The other guys join me, with little more success. So Don pulls out his loaded, unlocked, half-cocked Hi-Power and starts beating the guy over the head with it. It glances off his skull and hits me on the elbow.

That hurt.

My arm goes about half-numb, and the Mace rubbing off the guy has already been killin' me, and the light bulb goes off in my head about the safety concerns involved with pistol-whipping somebody with Don's gun. Time to disengage. So I say fuckit, you want him, you got him, let go of the guy, roll out of the dogpile, and head for the restroom, cussing Don the entire way.

They finally managed to get the guy outta there, I'm sure not in very good shape. When I see them later, Don, Rusty and the other guys involved are all splattered with blood, not theirs. We're sitting around about an hour after the bar closed, drinking and rehashing the day's events, when I start ragging Don about carrying his weapon as he did.

Actually, I called him a fucking idiot. He is pulling it out of his shoulder holster to show me something in an attempt to defend himself, when he stops and says, "Goddamit, look what that motherfucker did to my pistol!" He turned it around to show me. The rear sight was broken. He had actually busted it on that guys head.

That guy was probably the toughest guy I ever ran into in the course of my bouncing career.

A few months later, Sherri was at a party at someone's house. Don was there, and ended up passing out on the couch. Several other people crashed there, to include Sherri. He sat his pistol down on the coffee table as he fell asleep.

He awoke early that morning to the sound of a gunshot coming from the bathroom. Sherri, feeling bad, no doubt crashing from who knows what sort of high, had shot herself in the stomach with that Browning. She died in his arms while they waited for the ambulance.

I sometimes wonder why might have happened if I had ever gotten through her shell. I never knew what flavor of demon she wrestled with in her life, that made her resort so heavily to drugs - she wouldn't talk about it.

Chalk it up as another episode in what has been an interesting, if not always enjoyable, life. It bothers me that a woman that sweet was so tortured, and that by now, she's not even much of a memory, just another Forgotten One.

So far as the world is concerned, she left no more of a hole than your hand does when you pull it out of a bucket of water. No child, not any family that she ever mentioned, no lover to mourn her passing or put a flower on her grave, maybe just a few lonely guys that used to like to watch her dance.

Well, here's to ya, Sherri lass. I hope you found the peace that eluded you in this life. Wish I'd have been better at being your friend.

The Mess II

A bit more on The Mess, with clips from the involved parties...

The Mess Explained

The Mess explained so a child can understand it. Production values area little rough, but what do you want for nothing?

Update: Sorry, kids, the video got yanked. I can't imagine why.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Shy One

I've taken thousands upon thousands of pics in my life, but this is one of my very favorites.

Pyramids, Epitaphs, and Apologies In Amber

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing."

Benjamin Franklin

There are many different sorts of blogs - political, special interests, online diaries, and the omnipresent catblogging. :-)

I cannot speak for all, but as for me...

I'll blog on many things, and even have different blogs for different reasons.

But, what I like best is just telling stories. Some of them are even true. :-)

While most of the stuff you're reading here is completely true, some of it is completely made up, and some of it is an amalgam of fact and imagination, with the proportions depending on my mood, and estimation of what makes a better story.

I'm not going to let the facts get in the way of a good story. Some stories are too good not to be true, and create their own reality.

In some of his later novels, Robert Heinlein wrote of a theory concerning the author as a creative force in the universe; that as stories were written, universes were created in which that story was "real."

This is not as outlandish as it may seem at the first glance.

Which person is more "real," any of the nameless billions that have gone to their graves, unheralded, unremembered, as lost to us today as if they had in fact never existed, or, say, Captain Ahab, Romeo, or Odysseus?

In one sense, an anonymous 11th century peasant is more real, as we can be sure that she did in fact share in the same sort of fleshly existence we now do. We most certainly wish to believe that we are real, do we not?

But we can know no more than that about her, or any of those lost ones. We are forced to, like an author of fiction, to imagine the details of her life; her plot and her character, even her very name, are as much a creative work as any of Homer's. (Or perhaps even more so, as we can reasonably surmise that there was a Helen and a Paris and the whole rest of that crew)

As your imagination of her will be different from mine, or the next person's, and so on, her "reality" is not fixed, but amorphous. She becomes no more than a tabula rasa for our imagination.

So in what way is her existence real? She has no way of now influencing us; she is as irretrievably barred from affecting today's news as if she were on the other side of the event horizon of a black hole. (I know Hawking now claims that some stuff does in fact escape, but allow me my metaphor, OK? Thanks.)

Meanwhile, we are moved to weep for Romeo, rejoice with Odysseus as he triumphs over his foes and reclaims his home, and marvel at Ahab's iron will. Their stories, their characters, and those of the thousands of other people that never "lived," save in the life of the mind, first of their creator, then in his readers, continue to move and instruct us, shaping our way of thinking, and thus our way of life.

One of my favorite passages in all of literature is from Ahab as he challenges the gods, and mocks them in their inability to influence him, because as a man, he possesses free will...

"Swerve me? Ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! Man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run."

The first time I read that, as a teen, I was still too young to fully appreciate all the layers of meaning in those lines and the complete passage in which they are found, but even then it inspired me to live my life in accordance with my will, not that of a god I had already ceased to believe existed, or a culture that, given free rein, would be happy to dictate my life's path.

Some will argue that it is in actuality Melville, and not Ahab, that continues to have real power to move us today. That seems reasonable.

But if we are to argue that a creation, be it Ahab, or you, or me, has no independent intrinsic existence, but is just an artifact, a secondhand manifestation of the creator, where, in fact, does that leave us? For if that is true, then we ourselves have no more reality than Ahab does, for we must be the product of some creative force, whichever label your personal beliefs may want to pin upon it, so once again, Ahab's "realness" is as valid as our own.

This leads us to an uneasy conclusion. For our lives, our reality, to continue after we have shuffled off this mortal coil, we must somehow have the ability for our existence to have mattered, or, at the very least, to have it be remembered.

This is the force that motivates wealthy men to donate millions of dollars to charitable foundations, with their name attached to it, that caused ancient kings and causes modern men to erect great civic monuments with their names and deeds engraved upon them, and why, on a much smaller scale, we put names on the headstones of our graves. So that we will not become one of Orwell's "unpersons," erased from history, our lives washed away by the passage of time.

To return at last, like Odysseus after decades of wandering, to our subject, I think that is why we write our blogs, and why, more than anything else, we fill them with the details of our lives.

It's been said that once something has been put on the internet, it is impossible to remove. This is true. Were I to completely erase this this blog, it would till be around in search engine caches, on the backup tapes of the web servers, and, since you're reading this, on your machine, too.

There is every reason to believe that it will be around as long as our species is alive and kicking. Given that we finally get up off our lazy duffs and colonize space, so that when Ellie comes around to give the planet a mortal conk on the noggin, she misses some of us, that could very well prove to be, for all practical purposes, eternity.

This is an entirely new thing in the human experience; the average Joe now has a chance to commit his thoughts and his life to paper, err... electrons, and have a reasonable assurance that they will be around for many generations to come. Even my pets will have the chance to have a durable epitath that will far outlast the pyramids of even the mightiest Pharaoh.

We are the mayflies of the universe. As long as life may seem to us in a subjective sense, we are here and gone again in less than a blink on a galactic timescale. We know this in our hearts, and there is in humans some primordial need to shout "Hey, look at me! Remember me! I was here once! This is what I was like!" out into the eternal void, and hope that someone eons down the road will hear our faint voices.

I confess it to be one of my primary motivations. I don't expect I'll be making millions of dollars to endow an university or charitable trust. These entries, and maybe a few pictures will most likely be all that remain of me a century from now.

I don't think that's the prime reason, though. There is another that spurs me each day to write.

As my life has turned out, I have a daughter that does not live with me, and has not for years. It is unlikely that we will ever even live in the same state before she is an adult.

I sometimes think of this site as an extended letter to her, something for her to read after she is grown, an explanation, perhaps even an apology, for the way the twists and turns of life have taken us away from each other, and a way for her to come to know me in a way that few of us ever get to know our parents.

I had so many dreams about my fatherhood, of being there to help with her homework, to teach, to make her laugh, to play games, to help her through those tough adolescent years, to sing with her and watch over her at night.

The reality is different. I watch her life as through a telescope, from afar, and our time together is telescoped into a few days each year around holidays and such, and talks on the phone that do more to drive home the vastness of the gulf that divides us than they do to bridge it.

Perhaps someday this can be that bridge, and I can become more real to her, so that she will not have to resort, as we do in contemplating that long dead and forgotten peasant woman, to clothing the bare bones of my life with the fanciful flesh of her dreams.

The More You Drink...

...the better I look.

Researchers have verified that getting a good buzz on makes other people look better.

No screamin' eagle shit. Any bartender on the planet coulda verified this. So could Mickey Gilley. (He wrote "The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time," one of the finest Do-A-Shot-Of-Jack-And-Take-A-Pasadena-Snuff-Queen-Home honky-tonk anthems of all freakin' time.) Lawd knows I've woken up a few times wondering where the hell the woman I took home went to, and what her fugly sister was doing in my bed.

I've joked that I was the kinda guy that would start out the night looking for a ten, and end up settling for five twos. :-)

'Course, that was in my younger days. I'm older and wiser now. Or, maybe, just more tired...

"But if you used to want to see a commotion
You shoulda seen the man that I used to be
I was trouble in perpetual motion

Trouble with a capital "T"
Stayin' out late, havin' fun
And shot off every single shot in my gun
Yeah I used to be a terror but
Now I am a tired man
Yeah I used to be a terror but
Now I am a tired man"

Jim Croce - "Careful Man"

I'm sure this is not a new idea. I think it was Socrates that mentioned the increasing freedom he felt as aged from the tyranny of his fleshly desires. I'm not that old yet, but I've certainly grown out of my youthful weakness for boinking anybody that would hold still for a few minutes. :-)

I think an experiment is in order. I think I ought to go to a Bourbon St. topless club, slam some whiskey, pop a couple Viagra, (just to simulate those late teen testosterone levels) and see if I get really stoopid - like handing over my wallet to some airhead psycho titty dancer stoopid. I think a passing grade is spending less than $200.

If I can pass that test, I can report to my mom that I have finally Grown Up. :-)

Debate Questions

I have three questions for the candidates, and I would happily vote for for the candidate with the correct answer.

1) How many active aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy?

2) How many active Army divisions are there?

3) What, plus or minus 10K, is the end strength of the Marine Corps?

Philosophical Bents

I saw this survey on a blog somewhere, forget eggzackly, and decided to take a swing at it, just to see where I fell amongst the various schools of philosophical thought.

Amazingly enough, I don't know all that much about Rand. Read The Fountainhead as a teen, and liked it well enough, but that's it.

On the other hand, was not at all surprised to see Plato near the bottom of the list, and Augustine at the very bottom.

I bitch about those two all the damn time.

Plato invented the concept of the things of the spiritual realm as being somehow more Good than those of the physical world, and Augustine shoehorned that shit into Xianity, with all the sorry consequences that has had on Western thought.

You wanna know why we get our brains bound with the idea that we're inherently evil, that life here on earth is somehow inferior compared to what some imagine comes after, that Sex is Bad, or why a philosopher is held in a higher status than, say, a good auto mechanic, here are the two men you can blame.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - gimme a time machine and a sniper rifle, and Augustine is toast.

My results:

1. Ayn Rand (100%)
2. John Stuart Mill (82%)
3. Jean-Paul Sartre (70%)
4. Aristotle (67%)
5. Thomas Hobbes (65%)
6. Epicureans (62%)
7. Kant (59%)
8. Jeremy Bentham (58%)
9. Cynics (52%)
10. David Hume (51%)
11. Prescriptivism (48%)
12. Nietzsche (45%)
13. Aquinas (45%)
14. Stoics (41%)
15. Plato (36%)
16. Ockham (34%)
17. Spinoza (34%)
18. Nel Noddings (25%)
19. St. Augustine (23%)

Try it yourself.

My Other Car Is A Broom

It's been awhile since I thought about this story, but all the latest news about the regime change, and cross border operations in Pakistan reminded me of this conversation.

I had stopped to eat in one of the local seafood joints - had some boiled shrimp, a dozen oysters and a coupla beers.

Sitting next to me was a young clean-cut guy talking to his buddy. I couldn't help but overhear the conversation. As it happens, he was an Air Force C-130 crew chief, an E-4. He'd just gotten back from Afghanistan, Kandahar to be exact.

So, I struck up a conversation with him, and conducted a low-level interrogation. :-)

"Still suck over there?"

"Oh yeah, that's one fucked-up country. You never hear shit about it since Iraq, but there's a bomb or two going off almost every day."

Don't recall the rest of the conversation well enough to quote it, but he was of the opinion that it'd be a long damn time before anything like a democracy could work there, as most of the people can't read and write, don't know why we came over there to occupy the country, and don't have the faintest idea what a political party or a platform of ideas is - to them, it boils down to would you rather have your tribal chief be in charge, so your dad and uncles and stuff can get the best jobs, or let the other tribe's chief have the job, with all the pork and largesse flowing to his family and cronies?

Makes me think maybe they do have the democratic process distilled down to its finest essence, so far as it operates without the rule of law, a judiciary, and all the other checks and balances we use over here in the Republic, but that's a 'hol 'nother essay.

Finally, I got this tidbit from him - when Hillary was over there, she was shuttled around the region in a BlackHawk helicopter, which was known by the troops concerned with her transport and security as, get this...

"Broomstick One"


Funny thing, though, is this - had that chopper come under some sort of attack, those very same troops that used that term would, I've no doubt in my mind, fought like lions to defend it, and therein lies a tale about what makes America great.

Obama and the First

Obama doesn't want this ad to air, despite its demonstrable truth. Doesn't want it to air to the point that he is threatening the license of stations that air it.

Good enough for me. Someday maybe he'll learn that interfering with First Amendment rights is not really a good solution to his opposition to the Second.

Let's start a meme here. Let's see how many blogs we can get to feature this ad.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bandar Abbas

Bandar Abbas is a city that you have probably never heard of, but I wager long odds that you will.

Bandar Abbas is the closest Iranian city to the Straits of Hormuz, which is the most critical of the seven choke points vital to global shipping. It is the home of Iran's main naval base, and also the port for most of Iran's imports and exports.

Every single oil tanker leaving the Persian Gulf must pass within range of Iranian shore-based cruise missiles, such as the Soviet S-22 Sunburn, based on the heavily fortrified islands just off the Iranian coast. The shipping lanes are only miles wide.

Iran has no answer to the US navy, so the Iranian gunboats and submarines are not much of a factor. However, those missile installations are emplaced on rock cliffs and in caves, and as such, are not easily countered.

Any attack on oil shipping, successful or not, will cause the price of oil to skyrocket, as the insurance premiums for the tankers would increase to astronomical levels.

Sounds bad, doesn't it?

I'll offer one small sliver of comfort. My USMC unit was wargaming the seizure of Bandar Abbas way back in 1981. I won't go into the details of how it was to go down for obvious reasons. We have had our eyes on this plum for decades, and I am certain the Pentagon has a trick or two up their sleeve.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sister Cities

I have a solution to the War on Terror.

There are not many things you can count on as immutable in life, but, with very few exceptions, people will act in their own self interests.

So, if I were President/King/Dear Leader/whatever, I would choose an emissary. If I were Bush, Condi Rice would do, if I were McCain, I could not WAIT to send SarahCuda (more on that later), and if I were Obama, I would pray for a pair, and ask Hillary to do the job.

She, (notice that they are all female, and that is by design) would travel on Air Force Two to to all the global hot spots - Riyadh, Tehran, Cairo, Islamabad, Pyongyang, etc. to meet very briefly with the local despot/mullah/Prez4Life/whatever, and recite the following verbiage:

"We the people of the United States are the dearest of friends to your country. We wish for the very best of fortune, not only for your citizens, but especially your leaders. In fact, we want to assure your prosperity by linking your fate with ours, so that you too can share in all of the wonderful things that happen in the United States. So, we are going to implement what we call the "Sister Cities Plan."

At that point, she reaches into her briefcase and pulls out a list of paired cities, and presents it to the PooBah. It will read something like this:

Washington D.C. - Mecca
NYC - Medina
London - Riyadh
Los Angeles - Tehran
Paris - Cairo
Chicago - Moscow
Houston - Islamabad
Berlin - Karachi
Sydney - Pyongyang
Tel Aviv - Mecca AND Tehran AND Damascus
San Francisco - Some deserted oasis in the Sahara

and so on. You get the idea.

She then continues:

"As our cities prosper, so will yours. However, should anything on the scale of a 9/11 attack happen in one of the Western cities on this list, there will be a whole bunch of Bad JuJu come raining down on the sister city."

Then, without saying another word, she reaches into her jacket, pulls out a sheet of paper with a picture on it. It is a picture of an Ohio class SSBN. After having assured that the Poobah and any of his advisers present see the photo, she folds it up, puts it back into her jacket, spins on her heel, and leaves the room without another word.

This is where the Sarah part gets good. The very last thing she does is stop, turn back to the Poobah, and blow him a kiss. :-)

THAT would be the icing on the cake. Islam is a culture that is all about face, and male dominance. Can you imagine the Poobahs in question having to take this from a woman? In the presence of their closest confidantes? One of Sarah's aides would have to get that on video. :-)

So, the policy of the Western World would no longer be the prevention of terror attacks, but retribution for them. The PooBahs know who the the terrorists are - the attendance rolls at the madrassas are available to them, and they will not be constrained by all the niceties of the rule of law that we are. If they want to be able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca without wearing a lead-lined jebellah, anti-terrorism is their new favorite hobby. They will muzzle the mullahs calling for Death to the West and Holy Jihad.

They will not be able to stop attacks by individuals and small groups, but attacks from dirty weapons and the like are simply not possible without state support. The small stuff we can live with.

An added benefit of this is a built in early warning system of an attack. If, for example, all the Saudi princes leave Riyadh at the same time, London is about to get hammered. Of course, the bad guys could game this, but we could state that evacuating all the important folks from any city of interest will be considered as tantamount to an attack.

Many have wondered just how we have been able to avoid another 9/11 for so long now. I'm not convinced that Bush has not already communicated something like the Sister Cities Program to Dar al-Islam. It seems more likely than our intelligence and law enforcement agencies suddenly becoming several more orders of magnitude competent than history would predict.

Some will protest that this policy is entirely too barbaric. I do not agree and here is why.

I know my people.

If a nuke goes off in a major Western city, the gloves will come off. It will not matter who is sitting in the White House. Pacifists that currently are preaching unicorns and pony rides in the May sunshine will be storming the White House with pitchforks and torches demanding vengeance. Muslims, tens of thousands of them, perhaps millions, will die.

That much is certain.

Another certainty is that we cannot play defense forever. Sooner or later, some mad mullah will be able to slide one past the goalies. The only viable solution is to permanently remove their will to conduct such an attack.

But, "they don't care about their people, or even themselves," you say. True enough. But they care about the Kaaba, and the Hajj. Holding them hostage is the most humanitarian of our options.


Some have compared Sarah Palin to Margaret Thatcher.

I don't think so. Different styles.

This anecdote I first read in an article by Peggy Noonan, discussing, among other things, Hillary and her use of the victim gambit. It's one of my favorite Thatcher stories.

Maggie, after a long day of meetings, took her staff to dinner. At the restaurant, she informed the waiter, "I will have the beef."

The waiter asked, "And for the vegetables?"

Thatcher replied, "They will have the beef as well."

Friday, September 19, 2008


"I am sometimes wrong, but never uncertain"

Much is being made of the importance of experience in this election.

Well, Joe Biden is one of the more experienced members of Congress. I won't go over his entire 36 year record, and I'm sure that there must be somewhere, a vote or two he got right. But this is off the top of my recollection:

Biden voted against the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Biden voted against placing Pershing II missiles in Europe.

Biden opposed Reagan's military build-up.

Biden voted against the First Gulf War.

Biden voted against the surge.

Biden's initial reaction to the 9/11 attacks was to send Iran a gift of $200 million dollars.

Biden has consistently voted against SDI from his earliest days in Congress to the present.

Some people have 36 years experience, and some have one year of experience 36 times in a row.

If I were SarahCuda, I'd be using that last line in the debate

A Note on Reposts

Any post tagged as such is most likely a somewhat reworked version of something I have written and posted on other blogs.

The American Empire

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

-William Shakespeare-

I studied history in school. Ancient history. The Roman Republic from the end of the Third Punic War to the birth of the Empire under Augustus, to be precise.

My thesis was on the cultural origins of violence in Republican politics, but that's an entirely different essay.

One of the major things that drew me to study that period were the striking similarities between where they were then, in 161 BCE, after the final defeat of Carthage, and our situation in the United States today.

In both cases, the nations found themselves the overwhelming superpower. In both cases, they became so after three major wars, and numerous smaller ones. In both cases, how to deal with the transformation from backwater to regional force to superpower became the most important issue the nations faced.

Having said all that, the differences are important, especially as they impact on our ability to maintain and properly use the "Empire."

Most important of these differences is the relative abilty to move on a strategic level, communicate, and project force. Despite its size, there were whole sections of the globe where the Romans could not trade, or project force. There is nowhere that the US cannot. I would also argue that the military and economic superiority we currently have is even greater than that of the Romans at the peak of their power.

The most important social factor is the reluctance of the American people to build an Empire in the traditional sense, that of physically occupying or colonizing the land outside our current boundaries. The Roman's territorial aggression can be largely explained by the need for the Men On Horseback, the Sullas and Marius' of the world to get loot and land to pay off their armies. I don't see too many enlistees in the Army hopin' they're gonna get 40 acres and an oil well in northern Iraq at the end of GWII.

We simply don't need to go occupy the liberated nation. We don't need their people as slaves for our latifundia, we don't need their land, and we don't in most cases, need their resources. All we need is for them to do is treat their folks humanely and be peaceable. Some trade would be nice, but it will help them more than it helps us.

Finally, the Romans as a culture were much more violent and militaristic that we are today, but that's that other essay.

There are few practical limits on our power. The gigantic trump card that the US has is the Navy. All maritime trade today moves only with our permission. If every single nation in the world combined against us, in an effort to control the seas, the effort would still be about as successful as a Little League team playing the Yankees.

Several years back, I owned what was then the most realistic simulator of naval warfare that a civilian could own, and I am fairly confident that the classified stuff was not much better. It had everything, surface combatants, subs, land based patrol and attack aircraft, along with the ability to create your own scenarios in addition to the pre-packaged ones that were bundled with the simulation.

Just for fun, I created a scenario. On one side, a standard U.S. Carrier Battle Group - Nimitz class carrier, Ticonderoga class Aegis cruiser, two Los Angeles attack subs, a few Arleigh Burkes, fast frigates, destroyers, and the rest of auxilaries typical of such a formation.

On the other team, - every single hull on the globe that a) was a combat ship, b) had legitimate blue water capability, c) was flying a non - U.S. flag, and d) was listed in the current edition of Jane's.

I then took this task force, Russian, French, English, Chinese, everybody, a real polyglot dog's breakfast, it was, and set it after that single carrier battle group. It took me a week to do the math required to coordinate the attack, working backwards from the desired Time on Target to get all the different times for the various platforms to launch their missiles.

(Lessee, the Backfire bombers shoot this missile, with range x at speed y for a time of flight of z seconds, while the Kilo class subs shoot this missile at this speed, so they need to lauch three minutes and 14 seconds before the Backfires, so on and on...) I created this attack so perfectly synchronized, so tactically beautiful, that you could NEVER pull it off in the real world. Well, we might be able to now, but nobody could have then. The only thing I ruled out were fission warheads on the missiles.

The result? The carrier took a few hits, but nothing serious, as did the Tico. The FFs got ate up like potato chips, dying gallantly in their assigned role out there on picket duty. A few other ships went down. But the battle group lived on.

Was it totally realistic? Almost certainly not. I did stuff no commander would do, like launching every single Tomcat and Hornet on the carrier, leaving nothing in reserve. But this was the world navy against ONE carrier. At the time, I think we had 14 of them, though I think we're down to twelve now.

The moral of the story? If we truly were imperials, if our overseas adventures were about blood for oil, we could simply tell the world producers that they're selling us all the oil we can drink for twenty bucks a barrel, and they can sell whatever is left to wherever at whatever price they can gouge, but ONLY after we've had our fill.

In the modern world, if you control the seas, you control the economy. Not a Toyota leaves Japan, not a Beanie Baby leaves China, not a pound of coffee leaves Brazil, without a hall pass from the U.S. Navy. Hey Hugo, see how long you last after the good people of Venezuela discover that your head on a pike is our non-negotiable requirement for international trade to resume.

No oil could leave the Middle East, save through the few existing pipelines, which are themselves easily destroyed. Until such time that the other nations of the world garner the political will to build larger navies, which I don't see happening, then this situation will not change.

Not that I see how it could ever come to a military confrontation - even economic sanctions against the US could never work, as it would hurt the sanctioners much more that it would hurt us. There is no one important that can afford not to be our trading partner.

Now, note well, I am NOT stating that this course of action would be a moral, or even advisable, one. I am saying that if we wanted to be ruthless hegemons, it is well within our capability. The world should be extremely grateful that it is simply not in the American character to take advantage of our economic and military dominance.

So, what does this mean to the tin-pot despots of the world? Only bad things. They are doomed, if we only generate the selfless will to make it so.

I am well aware that we cannot be everywhere, doing everything. To topple North Korea, for example, at this point would probably cost more than we are willing to pay. Some rotten fruits will of necessity have to be left hanging on the tree, to eventually succumb to natural entropy, as Cuba continues to do. But that should not then mean we should not intervene where the task is relatively easy, the price low, and people are dying every day we delay - such as the situation today in Darfur.

We need not fix the whole damn planet before the decade is out. Every regime change where a new liberal democracy can be planted is one less to worry about, a job well done, and worth doing for simple goodness' sake. Eventually, though it take a generation or two, the task will be completed.

There's little doubt that the various peoples involved will welcome the transition to liberal little-r republican rule, once the mechanisms are set in place. In the meantime, the various hand-wringers, negotiators, and worrywarts here and abroad might best occupy themselves by designing a default gov't, a template, if you will, for good governance in the newly liberated countries.

This is my idea of one way this might come about. We can establish a constitution with independent branches of government, and a default civil and criminal code, under the auspices of a governor of near-dictatorial power. He would be given the mission of designing things such as electoral districts, coordinating humanitarian relief, etc. This government would be initially staffed with a multinational group of experienced outsiders, perhaps retired statesmen, (paging Bill Clinton, it'll keep him out of trouble and out of the country), Senators and MPs and such, holding the offices that will eventually be filled by citizens of that country.

Allow those outsiders a single, fairly long term of office, say, six years. During the last four years of that term, they will have as an understudy someone that they identify and choose during the first two years. That understudy will then take office for a term. They will be the last unelected officeholders that country will ever have. The hand-picked incumbent would be allowed to run for re-election, though subject to subsequent term limits. (An exception might be made for the judiciary, where the judges would be appointed for life.)

Of course, this plan would be accompanied by liberal doses of economic aid, perhaps encouraged by allowing Stateside corporations ample incentive to invest there, say by allowing any such profits legitimately generated there to be untaxed for a decade or two.

After a few successes of this type, the remaining nations of the world will end up begging for us to come in and straighten their messes out.

We are well on the way to completing the creation of a free and democratic nation is what will prove to be the most difficult situation on the planet. There is nowhere that the deck will be stacked as harshly against us as it was in Iraq. We have taken Islam's best shot and beat them, discredited them, ate their lunch, drank their milkshake, and their bases all belong to us.

In the process, our military has learned lessons that make it the most experienced, combat-hardened force on the planet. Our junior officers and NCOs have earned Ph.D.s in counter-insurgency, and will competently lead for at least another generation. Both Iraq and our military are in better shape for our experience there.

As is America itself.

"...'tis a consumation devoutly to be wished."

Deny me if you will.
It might be wise
To cage the lust that stalks my heart.
That two-backed beast
Could rend our lives
(Kamikazi head-on rendevous
with the little death,
The hereafter be damned)

Deny me if you can.
I can't deny
The catch in my throat
When you first pass me by.
(Perfect red cupids' bow smiling
Like a whipcrack sear across my crotch,
Hips rolling with a sultry grace
That speaks of softer pleasure)

Deny me if you must.
It might be wise
To bank the blaze that burns us both.
Love like fire sometimes sears
That meant only to warm
And so consumes what fed it.
(If we dove into each other,
Would either ever surface?)

Deny me if you want.
Our minds have met
The way bodies rarely do,
My lover in all but deed.
You can't deny me my blue dreams.
(Long supple flanks, the lovers' clasp,
My tongue deep inside your mouth
As we climax on each other)

Deny me if you will.
The days grow short
While we thrust and parry,
Fencing with the fated.

Your virtue mocks your wants,
My longing mocks my dreams

"Sometimes Gunpowder Smells Good"

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that war can "educate the senses, call into action the will, and perfect the physical constitution."

I'm sure this horrified many of the abolitionists, at least those that thought that slavery could and should be ended without a clash of arms.

He was quoted soon after the first battles of the Civil War as saying, "Ah! Sometimes gunpowder smells good."

This also brings to mind the story of the lady that once said to a famous concert pianist, "What beautiful music! I'd give my life to be able to play the way you do."

The musician smiled, and replied, " I did."

To really and truly want something means also wanting to pay the price it takes to get it. If you're not willing to spend the time, the "blood, sweat, and tears," to actually earn your goal, be it that new car, that trim, fit, bod, your own business, or world peace, then you just would like to have it.

If you truly wish to have a peaceful, progressive, free, world, then you also have to be willing to pay the price that requires.

Political History

It never fails. Every election cycle, it seems, requires that both the candidates and the media bemoan the lack of civility, mudslinging, dirty tricks, and the alleged unprecedented level of vitriol in the campaigns.

This election is no different. Sarahcuda gets her Yahoo account hacked (somebody REALLY needs to school her on the basics of password security) Rush gets his statements misquoted, McCain lies about Obama, on and on. That's just today.

Same as it ever was...

Except it used to be worse. I'll name two examples.

In the runup to the Civil War, in 1856, to be exact, Sen. Charles Sumner was severely beaten on the very floor of the Senate by one Preston Brooks, beaten with a cane so severely he did not return to the Senate for years. Mr. Brooks was incensed over insults to his uncle, Andrew Butler. Sumner, in a famous speech entitled "The Crime Against Kansas" had insulted Butler severely, to include mocking Butler mannerisms that were the result of having suffered a stroke.

In the election of 1828, Jackson named his opponent, John Quincy Adams, as a monarchist, spendthrift, sybarite, and a procurer. (In modern terms, a pimp). Jackson was called a gambler, cockfighter, drunkard, and insane. The Democrats today use a donkey as their mascot after Jackson was called a jackass, and proudly adopted the animal as the party symbol.

Jackson eventually shot and killed a man in a duel (one of the many duels in his life) after his political opponents had the man insult Jackson's wife.

So, are the campaigns of today negative? Certainly. Will this incivility endanger the Republic? I don't think so. There are many potential dooms in our future, but, if history is to be our guide, Palin Derangement Syndrome, the JSM and BHO camps calling each other names, and spinning fact into fiction, don't even quiver the DoomMeterTM needle.

The End is Near

We are approaching the final days of ancient history. Fifty years from now, the gulf between us and those living then will dwarf the gap between us and Bronze Age tribes. We are seeing the birth of Modern Man.

Certainly, there will be subsets of the global culture that will hang on to the "old ways"; isolated tribes in the Amazon and New Guinea currently live in a Stone Age culture. The majority of our species, though, will live in a manner that we will not accurately imagine, a manner that we cannot accurately imagine.

The task we face is choosing among the many possible futures. We are undoubtedly going to change, and change at a frightening and ever-accelerating rate. The choices we make now will have irreversible effects.

We are surfing a tsunami of technology; every nano-shift of weight and balance will shoot us blindly into a different future. We desperately need two things - some way to see into the various futures, and methods to guide our culture into the "best" of these outcomes.

Neither task will be easy, nor, I suspect, possible. I cannot help but think, though, that even our feeble efforts are preferable to clinging in terror and ignorance to our surfboard and getting flung willy-nilly into the future.