April 2008


Just to set the scene: dreaming last night, I was informed that Christopher Hitchens had written an outrageous article in a major Dreamland newsweekly purporting to expose my central role in Spygate, but I was unable to respond because I was visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame with my new pet monkey. (More of a baby chimpanzee, on waking reflection, but a monkey in the dream. And the Pro Football Hall of Fame seemed more geared towards the interests of baby chimps/monkeys and their owners than I would, on waking reflection, expect, not having visited.  Bananas, things to swing on, that sort of thing – no football at all, actually.  In any case, it was awesome.) Background, then, for this:

It seems the AP has fallen for the McCain campaign’s and the RNC’s effort to prevent anyone from using McCain’s own words against him during the 2008 presidential campaign. As noted earlier, what the McCain campaign is pushing for here is a standard in which any negative ad targeting McCain must be delivered with the McCain camp’s own spin included in order to be within bounds — a standard few politicians, to say the least, have ever been granted. And even though the political press has been highly indulgent of the McCain campaign on this issue, I don’t think I’ve seen any news organization so egregiously buy into McCain’s false statements as the Associated Press.

And for this:

It has now been more than ten days since the New York Times exposed the Pentagon’s domestic propaganda program involving retired generals and, still, not a single major news network has even mentioned the story to their viewers, let alone responded to the numerous questions surrounding their own behavior. This steadfast blackout occurs despite the fact that the Pentagon propaganda program almost certainly violates numerous federal laws; both Democratic presidential candidates sternly denounced the Pentagon’s conduct; and Congressional inquiries are already underway, all of which forced the Pentagon to announce that it suspended its program.

Still, there has not been a peep from the major news networks at the center of the storm, the integrity of whose reporting on the Iraq war is directly implicated by this story. Even establishment media defender Howard Kurtz called their ongoing failure to cover this storypathetic.”

Like Fox and CBS, NBC News outright refused to answer any questions about the allegations when asked by the NYT‘s David Bartsow, and its prime time anchor, Brian Williams, has delivered seven broadcasts since the story was published and has not uttered a word to NBC’s viewers about any of it. Yesterday, I wrote about an entry on Williams’ blog — which he calls “The Daily Nightly” — in which Williams found the time to mock one frivolous cultural puff piece after the next in the Sunday edition of the NYT, even as he still had refused even to acknowledge the expose in last Sunday’s NYT that calls into serious question the truthfulness and reliability of his “journalism.”

It appears that the rules of journalism for 2008 dictate that discussions of policy and the working of our democracy are completely beyond the pale, an insult to the integrity of the system which keeps us up-to-date on what Obama’s crazy ex-minister recently said, who got attacked by a bear, who got attacked by a shark, where Lindsay Lohan and friends were spotted, and other burning issues of the day.  Or, optionally, they are completely in the tank.  If I want this sort of journalism, I’ll just go to sleep, where I will also have a fucking pet monkey.

Getting out of bed in the morning is always a mistake.

Good thing we’re in Iraq to protect innocent Iraqis from themselves

On Monday, 30 Iraqi lawmakers from various political parties urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to end the monthlong confrontation, saying innocent civilians and children were the main victims of the fighting.

“Yes, you can do it if you remember your own children,” said a joint statement read by Mustafa al-Heeti, a Sunni member of parliament. “Your people (are) are demanding of you to intervene and solve the crisis peacefully.”

Their appeal came after U.S. forces, backed by Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers, fired on insurgents positions in Sadr City. The military said 38 militants were killed. Iraqi health officials said 58 people, including five children and eight women, were injured.

Just think about the poor Iraqi children, who have been our priority from day one.  Who do you think “shock and awe” was aimed at, eh?  Like fireworx, only X-tremier!

A member of the Iraqi Accord Front (biggest Sunni bloc in parliament) Ahmed Radhi, who was in Sadr City on Sunday as part of the multi-party sit-in, repeated yesterday the call to implement the group’s demands for an end to the crisis, and he said: “The majority of those who are being killed are civilians, and not armed persons.”

If we leave, what will happen to all the progress from Teh Surge of humanitarian relief?   

Shiite militants ambushed a U.S. patrol in Baghdad’s embattled Sadr City district on Tuesday and more than two dozen people were killed in the fighting, a U.S. military spokesman and Iraqi officials said. Six American soldiers were wounded.

Officials at the Imam Ali and al-Sadr general hospitals said about 25 people had died, with several dozen wounded. The officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release the information, said most of the victims were civilians.

AP Television News footage showed children running for cover behind blast walls amid gunshots. Men helped carry several blood-soaked injured people onto stretchers to a local emergency hospital. Outside the hospital, the dead were placed inside plain wooden coffins.

And yet, at this late juncture, we are blessed with leaders like John McCain who have the clear vision to realize that we can only save the Iraqi people by rolling tanks and launching airstrikes into densely populated, walled-in urban areas.  For the next 100 years.

I can’t wait for the thank yous! 

Ezra Klein makes a popular point:

If we insist on inefficiently subsidizing massive quantities of corn-based ethanol, hundreds of millions of people will go hungry. As populations grow pained and restless, productivity will suffer, development will slow, stability will erode, governments will be overthrown (there are already food riots wordlwide), and we can expect an increase in civil wars and regional conflicts, which will kill millions more. All because Congress doesn’t want to piss off corn farmers.

Look – corn ethanol is basically dumb, and subsidizing it is subsidized dumb. But this isn’t really the problem here:

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa, Jan. 11 [2006] – Early every winter here, farmers make their best guesses about how much food the world will demand in the coming year, and then decide how many acres of corn to plant, and how many of soybeans.

But this year is different. Now it is not just the demand for food that is driving the decision, it is also the demand for ethanol, the fuel that is made from corn.

Some states are requiring that ethanol be blended in small amounts with gasoline to comply with anti-pollution laws. High oil prices are dragging corn prices up with them, as the value of ethanol is pushed up by the value of the fuel it replaces.

This was in early 2006, when oil prices were half what they are now. Gas prices drive up the cost of farming and food transport, which contributes to the problem. Poor harvests worldwide are a problem as well. But the fundamental issue isn’t lack of food production capacity. It never is. Michael Tobis makes this point directly:

It’s really an absurd travesty when starvation gets blamed on “global warming do-gooders,” and we haven’t seen the last of that. The problem is miscast, though. There isn’t a food shortage, at least not yet. There is a food price crisis, which is a very different beast. [...]

What’s going on? It isn’t that there isn’t enough food. It’s that the ability to fill up a gas tank with gasoline is, in the “wisdom” of the marketplace, the highest value use of the food crop.

Admittedly, what we’re seeing now is a consequence of some distorted subsidies, but consider this. If the price of liquid fuel goes up further because of reduced supply and inflexible demand, then even if the subsidy goes away, it might well become more lucrative to produce biofuel for rich people than to provide food for poor people.

Indeed, something like this is already going on. Most of the land in production in the U.S. goes to produce animal feed, which produces a small fraction as many calories in a luxury crop (meat) as the same land would in producing directly for human consumption. While cereal crops worldwide set new records, some people have been going hungry even before this year’s price rises.

How is this possible? Is the demand for one luxury meat meal really bigger than the demand for ten subsistence grain meals? This is true only if the wealthy person’s desires are valued more than the poor person’s desires. A starving Haitian’s desire for a scrap of bread exceeds your desire for your favorite meal by a considerable amount, but his ability to pay is constrained by your desire for steak.

Or, equivalently, the problem is poverty. Federal subsidies for corn ethanol stand at $7 billion/year, generously. World food trade is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars annually, pre-price boom. I’m certainly no economist, but I fail to see how the one can have such an astounding impact on the other. On the other hand, as tens of millions of Chinese and Indians annually join Americans and Europeans in wanting their steaks and wines – and perhaps a bit of $4 gasohol from food crops to get them to the supermarket and back – the orders of magnitude start agreeing. What we are looking at is not an example of government meddling ruining a free market, as this is generally characterized. What we are seeing is a fundamental principal of any market at work – when you don’t have money, no one wants to sell you shit.

I’ve said my bit on biofuels, so I’m not going over that again. Corn ethanol subsidies are an inefficient boondoggle, much like a program to prepare every school child in America for the high-tech economy of the 21st century by buying them a brand new Commodore 64 would be – stupid, of profoundly limited practical benefit, based on 20-year-old technology, but unlikely to starve anyone to death. The failure of the Great Government Commodore 64 giveaway of ’08 (brought to you by your friends at the Commodore surplus vendors lobby) does not actually prove the uselessness of computer technology generally. Nonetheless, much as Al Gore causes global warming, or Rachael Carson was worse than 100 Hitlers, or how windmills will wipe out the majestic Apocryphal Eagle, carbon-reducing biofuels will now be the cause of global famine. Meanwhile, carbon emissions continue unchecked:

By the end of this century, if current trends continue, world agriculture will be in serious trouble, according to economist William Cline, senior fellow with the Center for Global Development and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. His new study, Global Warming and Agriculture finds that global agriculture potential could fall by about five to 15 or 20 percent as a result of global warming, if nothing is done by the 2080s. But, he says, that would mask a much deeper loss, “Something like 30 to 40 percent in India, and something like 20 percent or more in Africa and Latin America, because there would be some countries that could actually [experience] some gain.”

Al Gore grew a beard.

Heh.

In a defiant appearance before the Washington media, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright said Monday that criticism surrounding his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and rejected those who have labeled him unpatriotic.

“I served six years in the military,” Barack Obama’s longtime pastor said. “Does that make me patriotic? How many years did (Vice President Dick) Cheney serve?

Indeed.

He said his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has a long history of liberating the oppressed by feeding the hungry, supporting recovery for the addicted and helping senior citizens in need. He said congregants have fought in the military, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“My goddaughter’s unit just arrived in Iraq this week while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls to die over a lie,” he said.

My life was full and complete before I ever suspected that Rev. Jeremiah Wright even existed, so I’d be just as happy if he went into hibernation for the next 6 months or so.  However, I do see two strong arguments in favor of him taking this rather novel “fuck you” approach:

1. Heh.

2. Indeed.

While it is very bad form to use a Dan Riehl post as a jumping-off point for a serious question, you blog with the jumping-off points you have, not the jumping-off points you wish you had. So, then:

Each year about this time, as many of us supplement our paycheck-to-paycheck giving unto Caesar, I raise this question. This year, let’s start with the following observation from a reader, sent in the wake of the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. He notes that “terrorism” is defined, in Webster’s, as “the systematic use of terror, esp. as a means of coercion,” and provides a long list of examples, past and present, where the U.S. government has done exactly that. He then notes that under the current Patriot Act, it is now illegal to provide money to organizations that practice terrorism, and therefore concludes that as a matter of national security he must refuse to pay his federal taxes.

Now, it’s unlikely that any IRS or federal court will agree with that novel conclusion, but our reader has a point. Why do we continue to willingly pay for programs and policies that put ourselves and our country (not to mention countless people in other lands) in greater danger? The bloodshed and corporate welfare in our name and with our money — and our kids’ money, and their kids’, and their kids’ — raises an obvious but seldom-asked question: why do so many of us pay our income taxes?

It’s not a rhetorical question, with the obvious answer: “Because they make us.”

There’s a less obvious answer, too, and either of these could equally well answer the question “why do so many of us not mug old ladies?” At some point, of course, this no longer works, and the perceived cost of this social contract outweigh the perceived benefits. If you’ve got Wesley Snipes money, you may reach this point sooner.

Dan Riehl:

In a case that’s more instructive in government power and control than most anything a liberal, or civil libertarian might opine upon, Wesley Snipes received the maximum sentence, 36 months in prison for not paying his taxes.

While I personally believe too much is made of alleged civil liberty encroachments under Bush and in the so-called war on terror – there is no greater threat to freedom in a capitalist society than that of the government to tax and regulate activity.

I’m not suggesting Snipes isn’t guilty, or shouldn’t go to jail, but you never hear a peep from the supposed freedom loving liberals when it comes to how government taxes and spends, thereby controlling our lives, as well as our livelihoods.

Paying for the services one takes for granted is the truest tyranny, my friends. Will not the Invisible Hand collect our empty snack food wrappers and soda cans while we sleep? Will not Elves creep into our workshops in the dead of night and make wondrous Shoes for us to sell? No? Are you sure? Well, they would, my friends, they surely would, if only people would stop bashing Bush and whining about unlimited executive power and pre-9/11 civil liberties and join in Operation Libertarian PonyTrain to Freelunchistan! (Note: a related strategy will guarantee success in Iraq.)

With another pointless letter to Jonah:

2. A while ago, you mentioned that a reader had urged you to see the sci-fi flick Zardoz (staring Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, written and directed by John Boorman [!]). At the core of the story is an almost perfect society with ageless beautiful people . . . living off the labor of miserable wretches outside of the magic circle (literally). I have always thought of this conceit as a fairly imaginative but still standard commentary of the us-versus-them, privileged-elite-verses-the-exploited-masses sort of tale. But I was struck by the parallels between Zardoz and Staudenmaier’s description the Third Reich’s environmentalist-infused “expansionist politics of Lebensraum (the plan of conquering ‘living space’ in Eastern Europe for the German people).” In his telling, the tool of ruthless state control was deployed in the service of the despicable goal of elevating the environment and lives of one Volk at the expense of the rest of humanity. I’m not sure I’ve seen you discuss that aspect of German fascism.

Jonah:

2. Good point. Will ponder and discuss.

Oh good. The Zardoz angle. How very … very. Excuse me while a go buy a dildo so I can trade it in for a gun with which I might shoot myself. The gun is good and the penis bad, after all.

Awesome:

Awesomer:

I’ve been getting a flood of e-mails and phone calls, some of which include death threats, about my attempt to raise awareness of how the great porn dragon inspires Jews into pornography and prostitution and then, like the snake he is, turns the public against the Jews. Some have questioned whether there is any link to Jews and porn-prostitution. I guess I’ll have to start showing the evidence [...]

(In one of those “stranger than fiction”-type coincidences, Great Porn Dragon is my rap name.) Awesomest:

[Zirkle] says he’s not for segregation in terms of oppression or crime. Rather, he says it’s something voters should consider with crime rates and out of wedlock births high among African Americans. “The segregation, when you use that word, it’s a loaded term and many people think about oppressing a people and denying the right to vote. And no one is calling for that type of segregation because that was wrong and I even said that was criminal,” says Zirkle. “We could have six states that are African American, 44 states white and Hispanic, because I don’t really see much of a difference between the two cultures. Let people vote and let them decide.”

Which puts him to the left of respected political thinkers Michelle Malkin, Victor Davis Hanson, and Michael Savage. I think I’m starting to understand this Liberal Fascism deal.

Dispatches from WWIV, the defining conflict of our generation:

Next week’s much anticipated final report by a bipartisan commission on the origins of the 9/11 attacks will contain new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran—just weeks after the Administration has come under fire for overstating its claims of contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Further:

Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader issued a new audiotape Tuesday accusing Shiite Iran of spreading a conspiracy theory about who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks to discredit the power of the Sunni terrorist network.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, has stepped up his denunciations of Iran in recent messages in part to depict al Qaeda as the Arabs’ top defense against the Persian nation’s rising power in the Middle East.

Indeed:

Admiral Mullen says insurgent weapons found recently provide evidence that Iranian operatives are continuing, and increasing, their support for Iraqi Shiite insurgents, directly contradicting a promise Iran’s president reportedly made late last year to Iraq’s prime minister.

So, for those keeping score at home we are currently at war with … somebody … for the very simple reason of … because. Or something. In any case we can’t stop, or point out that it’s retarded, because that would show weakness and even possible nerdiness, and then Miss Freedom Rising won’t let us take her to the prom and Zombie Saddam will lock us in our lockers and give us a swirly in front of all the cool kids at the UN. Or something. Anyway, we’ll just keep fighting whoever until we win something.

I LOVE THIS WAR SO MUCH.

Via Jim Henley, we learn that Virginia Postrel has solved the energy crisis:

In the real world, barring a massive buildup of nuclear plants, reducing carbon dioxide emissions means consuming less energy and that means raising prices a lot, either directly with a tax or indirectly with a cap-and-trade permitting system.

Elsewhere, Sean Carrol determines that biofuels are a crappy source of solar energy, and that nuclear fission is the way to go:

As an uneducated guess, I would imagine that in the medium run the world will have to turn to (Earth-based!) nuclear power for its energy needs. In the longer run, solar will be the way to go, although the amount of solar power we can reasonably collect here on Earth is somewhat limited. We’ll likely have to solve the problem of how to efficiently beam power down from orbit, after which we can build big million-square-kilometer solar power collectors in space. Not in my lifetime, I would bet.

Biofuels have been getting a bad rap recently, generally because – in the US, at least – “biofuel” is a synonym for “corn ethanol”, which has long been considered a technology with very limited promise, and is the only “alternative fuel” (aside from, one could argue, nuclear) which has ever received any significant federal investment. Compare to, for example, biodiesel from algae:

“If you replaced all the diesel in the U.S. with soy biodiesel, it would take half the land mass of the U.S. to grow those soybeans,” says Matt Caspari, chief executive of Aurora Biofuels, a Berkeley, Calif.-based private firm that specializes in algae oil technology. On the other hand, the Energy Department estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles, which is a few thousand miles larger than Maryland.

Which sounds like a lot of real estate, but is only 1/7th the land area used for corn production in 2000 (last two links and 1/7th stat via Wikipedia. And could this 15,000 mi^2 be on the ocean? The ocean doesn’t vote.) Biofuels can also be extracted from agricultural and industrial waste. In practice, none of these technologies are actually ‘carbon neutral’, but they are tremendous improvements over fossil fuels, and there is no fundamental reason why, as the technology matures, it couldn’t be brought arbitrarily close to carbon neutrality. In addition, it is designed to work with our current fossil fuel infrastructure, which is an often-overlooked point when discussing alternative fuel options. The electric motor is a wonderful thing with endless advantages over internal combustion, but replacing every V-6 on the road with an all-electric engine would cost a great deal of money and energy, and would probably be a very hard sell to the world’s #1 CO2 producer, where per capita income is less than $2000/year.

All bio/fossil fuels are stored solar energy. Solar energy is, on any non-astronomical timescale, constant and inexhaustible. My namesakes at Scientific American gives us a sense of how much energy we’re talking about:

Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

That 2.5% is 10,000 mi^2 at 100% efficiency, comparable to the estimated 15,000 mi^2 needed for domestic petroleum replacement. In addition to this unimaginably huge natural supply of solar energy (which includes wind, bio/fossil fuels, etc.), there is energy from nuclear fission, hydroelectric/geothermal energy (a combination of Earth’s gravitational and naturally-occurring fission), tidal energy (essentially derived from the Earth’s rotational momentum), and eventually perhaps controlled nuclear fusion. None of these are without drawbacks – some create waste, some require large land areas, and so on. But the potential energy available is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. And extracting it is, fundamentally, not a very difficult problem. So a couple of things:

1. All non-fossil fuel technologies are, at this point, immature, so judging classes of them as failures at this point is very, very premature. (As would be judging them successes – all 15,000mi^2 figures are to be viewed with considerable skepticism until actually delivered.) If you were handicapping the technologies available to the horseless carriages 100 years ago, you would be fully justified in favoring the simpler electric or the proven coal-powered steam engine over the newfangled gas-o-leen that the Chardonnay-sipping elitists in Detroit were trying to foist on you. Now, however, you’d look like a mustache-waxing prick in amusing period dress for saying this, but do you ever learn? No you never do, you mustache-twirling, stovepipe hat-wearing ass. It is remarkable what a good idea and a few trillion R&D dollars can do towards making you look the fool.

2. There is no answer, and there is no end state. We have always used a mix of energy sources, and that mix has always varied over time, in response to economic and technological circumstance. That’s history fact. Fundamentally, there is no limit to available energy, nor is there any essential connection between energy and carbon dioxide, or any form of pollution. That’s science fact. As technologies mature, some will show more promise in certain applications, others will disappear, and still more will be discovered. If anyone knew any of the particulars of how this process will play out over the next 10-20 years, they’d be trillionaires already.

3. This evolution can be greatly expedited by broad and deep public spending on R&D, and not very much by cooing sweet libertarian nothings about the Invisible Hand while generously subsidizing corn ethanol and oil drilling. Rather than prove this in the conventional way, I will merely note that Ron Bailey has already written an opinion to the contrary, and then ask you to remind me of the last time Ron Bailey was remotely right about anything. Exactly. Indeed, I will suggest to you that the only way to fully appreciate the magnitude of my Rightness here, you have to read the entire Ron Bailey article, for only then will you truly know. Better you than me, anyway.

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