Monday, August 16, 2004

Recommendation for the day (so far)

The Brains Thing

Liberals unanimously believed that Bush was not up to the intellectual challenges of the job. But fearful of re-enforcing a stereotype of left-wing elitism, they time and again shied away from pressing the argument....
Three-plus years later we know better, or at least we should. Intelligence matters. The job of the president of the United States is not to love his wife; it’s to manage a wide range of complicated issues. That requires character, yes, but not the kind of character measured by private virtues like fidelity to spouse and frequency of quotations from Scripture. Yet it also requires intelligence. It requires intellectual curiosity, an ability to familiarize oneself with a broad range of views, the capacity -- yes -- to grasp nuances, to foresee the potential ramifications of one’s decisions, and, simply, to think things through. Four years ago, these were not considered necessary pieces of presidential equipment. Today, they have to be....
Reviewing Clinton’s My Life in the June 24, 2004, Los Angeles Times, neoconservative Max Boot happily concluded that “conservatives like character, liberals like cleverness.” He’s right. But to state what should be obvious, the president is not your father, your husband, your drinking buddy, or your minister. These are important roles, but they are not the president’s. He has a job to do, and it’s a difficult one, involving a wide array of complicated issues. His responsibility to manage these issues is a public one, and the capacity to do so in a competent and moral manner is fundamentally unrelated to the private virtues of family, friendship, fidelity, charity, compassion, and all the rest....
But Bush’s bungling has gotten people killed in Iraq, saddled the nation with enormous debts, and created long-term security problems with which the country has not yet begun to grapple....
And if we are to [succeed], the question of intelligence must be put back on the table. The issue is not “cleverness” -- some kind of parlor trick or showy mastery of trivia -- but a basic ability to make sense of a complicated, fast-changing world and decide how to confront it. Any leader will depend on the work of his subordinates, but counting on advisers to do the president’s heavy lifting for him simply will not do. Unless the chief executive can understand what people are telling him and follow the complicated arguments they may need to make, he will find himself paralyzed at every point of disagreement, or he will adopt the views of the slickest salesman rather than the one who’s gotten things right.
The price to be paid for such errors is a high one -- it is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. Already we’ve paid too much, and the problems confronting the country are growing harder with time. Unless the media, the electorate, and the political culture at large can shift their focus off of trivia and on to things that actually matter, it’s a price we may pay again and again.

Friday, August 13, 2004

On the oil peak and its relative irrelevance

I wrote a rather lengthy comment over at the former Calpundit's Washington Monthly, and thought it was worth copying over to here (slightly edited):

Robear wrote: I believe that when we look back at how petroleum was used the 20th and early 21st century the greatest shame will be that we burned most of it, considering the other uses that hydrocarbons could have been put to: plastics, medicines, fertilizers and the like.

After wading through more than half the posts [in that thread], I was starting to think I'd have to bring this point up here, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one here thinking of it. Nonetheless, indulge me while I expand on this slightly:
Doing my own extrapolation of curves (hyperbolic functions and such, in keeping with my blog name), I'm much more concerned about what happens when we start running out of oil, than what happens when it isn't cheap anymore. I'm guessing 2040-2070ish for this (ob grain of salt warning here). Remember that oil is used for more than just private transportation fuel and electrical generation. Aircraft fuel, shipping fuel, lubrication of just about everything, and the plastics, medicines, and fertilizers Robear mentioned. A hypothetical alternative fuel source might do for shipping, but many of them would be useless for the speedy jet aircraft travel we've become accustomed to. Hybrid technology and other increases of efficiency are even more useless; a ship doesn't do much stopping and starting during a transoceanic voyage, and I dare you to bring a jet to a complete stop in flight.
It's even worse for the other products, for which petroleum is a raw material rather than 'just' an energy source. There are many other possible/conceivable sources of energy which are relatively easily interchangeable, but synthesizing these from scratch would be terribly cost-prohibitive.
If we do find an alternative energy source, or improve efficiency of petroleum-burning remarkably, we might be in the odd case of finding the costs of these petroleum-as-raw-material good rising, because if there are less and less oil wells and refineries running, economies of scales will be lost, and these goods will have to bear most of the cost of extraction of each barrel of oil, instead of being indirectly 'subsidized' by the money gained from the part of the crude useful for gasoline and fuel oil. I'd guess we'd feel the impact of this most in the prices of lubricants, plastics (which are in just about everything these days, of course), and perhaps fertilizer (I'm rather unknowledgeable about its use in fertilizers). Even if we're running all electrical motors or something like that (leaving the source of the electricity as an exercise for the reader), those motors still need to be lubricated by something, and the wires have to be insulated, and what will you make the tires out of? These cost increases would impact almost every segment of the economy, in much the way that fuel price increases do now.
And, also much like what Robear said, I fear that sometime after that point, our grandkids will be cursing us for having burned up all that wonderful raw material into the atmosphere, when it could have been turned into durable goods or used sparingly for lubrication, when all we really needed was the energy from it, which (I hope from their point of view) is so freely available from so many other sources.
The real irony would be if we burned up the last few drops of cheap, easy oil for energy before we managed to find some other source of energy. After all, research into new energy sources takes energy itself, and usually plastics and lubricants too. If we got to that point and hadn't found a seriously long-term solution by then (fusion, or 50%-plus efficient solar, or something similarly SFish), that's when we'd really be screwed, society would collapse (assuming it'd survived the peak), and it would be time for those grandkids to seriously curse us.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Bush lies, surprise surprise

You know, I thought we were going to find stockpiles [of WMDs or chemical weapons, context not clear], everybody did....

I didn't think so. As I am, indeed, a subset of "everybody", therefore Bush lied (probably again). And I strongly suspect there were others who did not think so, e.g. after a certain date, one Hans Blix.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Hesitation and uncertainty

Cheney also charged that Kerry's pattern of "hesitation and uncertainty" makes him an unacceptable choice for the White House in November.

Hesitation and uncertaintly? How about sitting around reading "My/The Pet Goat" with the kiddies for seven minutes after being told the nation is under attack? Does that qualify as "hesitation and uncertainty" in Mr. Dick Cheney's book? If not, I'd very much like to know specifics as to just what Mr. Kerry has done that's so egregiously worse than that.

"We don't want to turn that responsibility over to somebody who doesn't have deeply held convictions about right and wrong," Cheney told a town hall meeting in Joplin.

Oh, I see. What Cheney really means is that that guy doesn't necessarily try to impose his religious views on the rest of the country. Cheney just wants to disguise it under the cover of talking about "hesitation and uncertainty". Well, gee, that uncertain bastard.

Appearing with her husband, Cheney's wife, Lynne, also went after Kerry's comment to a minority journalists' convention last week that he could fight a "more sensitive war on terror."
"With all due respect to the senator, it just sounded so foolish," she said. "I can't imagine that al Qaeda will be impressed by sensitivity."

Oh, I'm so sorry, I must have missed the part where al Qaeda was part of your constituency now. Yeah, of course Kerry must have meant sensitivity towards al Qaeda. He couldn't possibly be concerned with sensitivity towards, say, citizens of the United States, could he? After all, he "doesn't have deeply held convictions about right and wrong." Nogoodnik agnostic-leaning bastard!

Friday, August 06, 2004


Been offline due to power supply problems at home since Wednesday morning. And now I'm off for the weekend, at which time I'll probably be spending something like six hours just catching up with everything. Ç'est la vie.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Going public

John's Bright Idea

This is a suggestion I originally had with Gen. Clark in mind, but I'd dearly love to see Kerry take it up now.

I feel that a campaign promise to take the oath "to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth"¹ before delivering each State of the Union Address would be an excellent move. I realize that this may make him vulnerable to impeachment if he were ever misinformed prior to a SotU address, but think of the distinction it would make between him and the incumbent with his infamous "sixteen words".
And after the acceptance speech, which included these excerpts, it could easily be tied in with existing themes:
"We have it in our power to change the world again. But only if we're true to our ideals – and that starts by telling the truth to the American people. That is my first pledge to you tonight. As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House."
"As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system – so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics."
"We need a President who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, and reduce the risk to American soldiers."
"As President, I will not evade or equivocate;..."

The State of the Union address is only very vaguely defined in the Constitution, and almost all of what we consider essential to it is precedent and tradition. Here's what the Constitution itself has to say about it:

Article II
Section 3
[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient....
So, much like we now consider it to be standard that "from time to time" means once a year, and usually during the last week in January (unless you want to time it to steal the opposition's thunder), John Kerry, if elected President, could set a precedent for years, or even centuries, to come, by taking that oath before each Address. That might be a legacy worth leaving in and of itself.

And of course, consider the contrast this would give with recent history. While President Clinton's evasion about Monica Lewinsky was impeachable because (and only because) he was under oath, President Bush could get away with those "sixteen words" in his 2003 State of the Union Address without fear of impeachment, because he was not under any oath to tell any part of the truth. If John Kerry made a promise to take the oath before each Address, it would be an excellent way to emphasize his intent to "restore trust and credibility to the White House," and to differentiate himself from his opponent.

1) Due to national security considerations, he probably couldn't swear "to tell the whole truth." However, it may be that the legal interpretation of the phrase is loose enough to let him say that. Not being a lawyer, I don't know just how it's interpreted in court.

Mister Boffo

Mr. Boffo cartoon

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Iraqis on tour banned from Memphis hall

Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.
The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Iraqis were scheduled to meet with a city council member, but Joe Brown, the council chair, said he feared the group was dangerous.
"We don't know exactly what's going on. Who knows about the delegation, and has the FBI been informed?" Brown said. "We must secure and protect all the employees in that building."
Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered.
"They are in charge of setting up processes in their country. They have to educate themselves about how it works in this country," Silverman said.
Silverman did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday seeking comment, and it was not clear whether the group had run into trouble elsewhere on their tour.
But the delegates seemed in good spirits Monday, after they were able meet with Carol Chumney, the city council member, elsewhere. Shahla Waliy, a 31-year-old native of Baghdad, said she was intrigued by the city's civil rights history.
"I heard there was a kind of majority-minority conflict in Memphis, especially in history," she said. "We have these smaller provinces, and we have majority-minority conflicts in these places."

That'll teach 'em about civil rights, and how to run a proper democracy!

And this is how you let freedom reign...

Al-Hayat: Marines have arrested Dr. Muthanna Harith al-Dhari, son of the leader of the Board of Muslim Clergy, a fundamentalist Sunni organization. Muthanna was interviewed on the Lebanese Broadcasting Co. harshly critiquing the way the delegates were chosen for the national congress to be held in mid-August. He later discovered 5 humvees heading toward his living quarters at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in Baghdad. He was taken into custody.
If Muthanna committed a crime, for which he was being arrested, it should have been announced to the press. Otherwise, the Allawi government looks as though it is sending the rather thug-like signal that political figures who refuse to cooperate in the national congress and who are critical of him will be arrested. If that is what is going on, it is sad to see the US Marines deployed for the purpose of these political arrests. It is also a shame that the US ban on the military arresting civilians hasn't been extended to Iraq.