30th June 2005

Diagnosis: It’s bad.

Worthwhile guest editorial on Juan Cole’s bleg. Check out THIS load of cynicism:

It seems to me that even “pessimists” are actually “optimists”: they assume that there exists in Iraq and the Gulf some “solution”, some course of action which can actually lead to an outcome other than widespread, prolonged violence, with devastating economic, political, and social consequences.

I regret to say that I think this is wrong. There is no “solution” to this mess; it is sometimes not possible to “fix” things which have been broken.

And here you thought I was a cynic. Ha! It is to laugh!

ADDENDUM: Another great quote. Read this thing, I tell ya:

After all, no one, from either party, in the political arena is saying anything even remotely commensurate with the threat which most scientists see to the future of the planet. No one with any power is talking sensibly about energy use, global poverty, and their interrelationships. No one at all.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

30th June 2005

Running out

Some interesting happenings in the Oil department, further indicating that “peak oil” has come in out of the cold.

First, there’s a book out by Matthew Simmons, the head of an old and respected oil investment company, called “Twilight in the Desert”. Therein Simmons lays out the case that Saudi Arabia is, contrary to conventional wisdom, reaching the end of its tether, and its main supergiant fields will soon pass their peak of production. Though Saudi officials have vehemently denied the claims made, Simmons responds simply and powerfully: prove it. Provide some convincing documentary evidence for your reserve numbers; otherwise no one has any reason to believe you.

Second, a study was just performed by the National Commission on Energy Policy. They projected results from removing just 3.5 Mbd of production out of 83 Mbd global production. Some of their fearsome news:

  • Gasoline prices of $5.74 per gallon
  • Global oil price of $161 per barrel
  • Heating oil prices of $5.14 per gallon
  • Fall of gross domestic product for two consecutive quarters
  • Drop in consumer confidence by 30 percent
  • Spike in the consumer price index to 12.6 percent
  • Ballooning of the current accounts deficit to $1.087 trillion
  • Decline of 28 percent in the S&P 500
  • Aggressive pressure on the U.S. from China to end arm sales to Taiwan
  • Demands from Saudi Arabia for changes to U.S. policy regarding the Mid-East peace process

Fortunately, both of these were recently featured on On Point. You can take a brief half hour out of your life and edify yourself greatly. Despite On Point’s tag-line of “worst-case scenario”, Jason Grumet, the NCEP director, is careful to point out that their scenario is not a “Robert Ludlum” worst-case, but an eminently reasonable one drawn from the legitimate and rather unsurprising concerns of experts in the field – a bit of minor, low-tech terrorism here, some civil unrest there. As I say, 3.5 Mbd is not a huge production drop.

Also pay attention to Matthew Simmons’ final comments: “The most important provision in the energy bill is the most contentious provision, and that’s at the very least doing a scientific survey of our outer continental shelf to see what energy we might have. If the Senators are so haughty about that that they say ‘We won’t do that,’ then we should start today dismantling the U.S. economy.” I.e., when push comes to shove, the environment may have to take a back seat to vital energy considerations. (Meanwhile, Grumet says that before we do anything so rash as offshore drilling and exploration, we should be revising CAFE standards.)

Simmons also has some interesting things to say about what the decline side of an oil production curve looks like (and the influence of technological advance on it), and the real need to have a better understanding of it in this era of depletion.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

30th June 2005

Oh, man, please don’t call it that

Not content with making a building that looks like the headquarters for Team Depeche Mode, the planners behind the new World Trade Center-replacement continue to insist on calling the building the “Freedom Tower”.

Now, one must give them credit: they had the good sense to trash their previous design, which might have given unsuspecting tourists the mistaken impression that the city had suffered an abortive attack by some sort of giant robot, one of whose limbs (complete with trapezoidal metallic faux-biceps and pulverizing laser-cannon attachment) had been severed and left behind.

However, the new design really isn’t THAT much better, and it still features the pulverizing laser-cannon attachment, along with pulverizing laser. I was a fan of the short-lived ghostly light sculpture (“Tribute in Light”) put up a few years back to mark Ground Zero. This laser-cannon attachment, though, doesn’t pull it off nearly as well and just ends up looking hokey.

Hokey is, I have to conclude, what they’re going for; why else would they have dubbed it the “Freedom Tower”? My god, can you imagine the embarassment of its inhabitants describing their place of employment?

ROGER: I work in the Freedom Tower.

BELINDA: I’m sorry, where?

ROGER: The Freedom Tower.

[BELINDA laughs explosively, sending a piece of pimento flying from her mouth onto ROGER’s tie.]

BELINDA: Oh, I’m sorry… hmmm… Freedom Tower! (Giggles.)

And moreover I fear the word “Freedom” is starting to suffer from that phenomenon of overuse, where you repeat a word so many times that it begins to feel rubbery and unfamiliar, as if part of your brain has become fatigued and refuses to acknowledge its meaning anymore. And the men who are fond of overapplying it so clearly misapprehend that meaning that I’m starting to despise the word itself. Its constant application is meant to reassure us of some great Value, no doubt, but as the word erodes I’m finding that the Value itself is becoming increasingly slippery, until, perhaps, I will cynically doubt whether it exists at all, whether it was ever anything other than the blubbery syllable floating off the lips of disgusting demagogues.

posted by saurabh in Galloping idiocy, Zeitgeist | 1 Comment

29th June 2005

Presidential address wrap-up

First, check out the NY Times editorial penned by John Kerry (or, ghost-written for him, anyway), from yesterday morning, about what Bush should have said.* It’s full of stuff that even I can recognize as bad advice, e.g., “Iraq, of course, badly needs a unified national army, but until it has one – something that our generals now say could take two more years – it should make use of its tribal, religious and ethnic militias like the Kurdish pesh merga and the Shi’ite Badr Brigade to provide protection and help with reconstruction.” No. No. That’s hardly going to encourage any promotion of unity, allowing sectarian groups to accumulate power. Also, Kerry still seems to be running on that technocratic “We can win if we do things right” path. E.g. his needlessly phallic statement, “We’re doing our part: our huge military presence stands between the Iraqi people and chaos, and our special forces protect Iraqi leaders,” belies the fact that most of the chaos is a result of the American occupation (and, err, we don’t appear to be doing a good job of protecting Iraqi leaders).

For some light entertainment, read the angry screeds written in response to Kerry’s editorial. This one seems to have been written by a monkey with a typewriter.

Finish off with Juan Cole‘s, err, fisking of Bush’s speech.

Don’t bother with the speech itself. He doesn’t say anything you haven’t heard before.

* I apologize. The tense I want to use here doesn’t seem to exist in English.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

28th June 2005

What is ‘Funny’?

It is alleged that this Jonah Goldberg column is hi-larious. However, I find it only to be hi-lariously badly written. Aside from the clumsy style and the parade of mixed metaphors (which, honestly, I probably can’t complain about without removing the soot from my own face), and the fact that he delivers the punchline at the very outset of his column, there’s simple incompetence. For example:

“It was nothing more than a kind gesture,” she explained with false modesty, “but at that moment Mr. Gore’s act represented all that I yearned for — acceptance and acknowledgment.”

False modesty on someone else’s behalf? Egad! One might even say that was… misplaced modesty.* And this! THIS is a sentence only Thomas Friedman could love:

The cart’s one wobbly wheel — going chapocketa, chapocketa, chapocketa — was onomatopoetically tapping out a small drumbeat for the forced march to oblivion of all we hold dear.

The real shame is, he’s working with comic gold, here, a story about a tall wooden boy that actually moves and attempts to vocalize.

This, on the other hand, is actually funny.

* [Rimshot.]

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

28th June 2005

Presidential Address rehearsal

MR. McCLELLAN: So the President looks forward to speaking to the American people tomorrow night. You will hear from him in much greater detail, but I wanted to give you a little bit of a preview to begin with. And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, are there new details in the strategy for success? Is there a new direction, or is the President basically summing up what he has said before?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, this is a new speech. And the President will be talking in a very specific way about the strategy for succeeding in Iraq. [record skips] ... the President will be talking in a very specific way about the strategy for succeeding in Iraq.

Q Well, I guess what I'm asking is, are people going to hear things they haven't heard the President say before? Are there new details?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think many Americans have not heard much of what the President has to say tomorrow night... The American people want to see our troops return home, but I think they understand the importance of succeeding in Iraq.... succeeding in Iraq... *whzzt* succeeding in Iraq. And the President will talk about that in his remarks. I think we all want to see the troops come home sooner than later, and the way to get our troops home is to complete the mission... complete the mission... complete the mission... compl--

[Needle scratches. Sound of record being changed.]

Q The question is, is there a new direction, though, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: [Cabana muzak plays]

Q Isn't the message really more patience? Isn't that really what the President is going to be requesting, something he's --

[Record is stopped. Old tape begins to play.]

MR. McCLELLAN: (crackling noises) Well, I think if you go back to September 11th -- remember, on September 11th the threats of the 21st century were brought to our shores. We saw in a very clear way the threats that we face on that day.

And the President said shortly after the attacks of September 11th that this is a long struggle that we're going to be in, that this is a different kind of war, one which we have never seen before. And we do face a determined and ruthless enemy, an enemy that has no regard for innocent human life. That's the nature of the enemy that we're up against. That's the nature of the enemy that the President will be talking about in his remarks tomorrow night.

And the President made it clear after September 11th that some will want us to grow complacent and forget about, or put the attacks off as a distant memory. But it does require patience and resolve to see this struggle through to the end. We have no option but to defeat the terrorists, and the terrorists will be defeated.

[REPORTER gets up and leaves, disgusted. In her place is a cardboard facsimile with an iPod taped to its chest.]

iPOD: Why do you build me up, Buttercup baby, just to let me down? You spin me around and then worst of all... worst of all.. you never call baby when you say you will...

[McCLELLAN's record is changed again.]

MR. McCLELLAN: In the Navy! Come on and protect your motherland, in the Navy! Come on and join your fellow man, in the Navy! Come on, people, make a stand! In the Navy! In the Navy! THEY WANT YOU! THEY WANT YOU! THEY WANT YOU AS A NEW RECRUIT!

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

28th June 2005

Hulk Hogan’s arm is bigger than my leg

I was reading The Poorman instead of working, and I happened to see an ad for some VH1 reality TV show featuring Hulk Hogan*. In this ad, it appears that Mr. Hogan’s arms are roughly the size of two hammerhead sharks. At first I thought that they actually WERE hammerhead sharks, which had somehow gobbled up his regular, normal-sized arms as a result of some zany bid to get high ratings. Through careful inspection, however, I was able to determine that Mr. Hogan is simply a disgusting freak of some sort.

I’d like to point out that the aforementioned leg (i.e., mine) is not strictly speaking within one standard deviation of normal. It is what is best described, technically, as a “chicken-leg”. Still, I hadn’t to date encountered any individuals whose arms are actually bigger than my legs. I find this rather intimidating. Fortunately, Mr. Hogan also has that ridiculous handle-bar mustache, which I think makes us even.

* Note: this marks the official death of reality television. It’s over, people. You can come out of your bunkers.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

27th June 2005

The liberal m…ilitary?

This is a neat little blog.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

24th June 2005

It’s hard work avoiding answering questions

June 15:

Q Scott, more official British documents are seeming to indicate that the Bush administration was trying to justify an invasion of Iraq as early as March, 2002. And tomorrow, Representative John Conyers, as you know, is holding some Democratic hearings to get testimony about this. Is the President concerned that as more documents come out seeming to indicate a decision very early on to invade Iraq and possible manipulating —

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you’ve asked these questions, the President has been asked these questions, and I think it’s been addressed.

June 16:

Q Scott, on another topic, has the President or anyone else from the administration responded to the letter sent last month by Congressman John Conyers and signed by dozens of members of the House of Representatives, regarding the Downing Street memo? Has the President or anyone else responded?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I’m aware of.

Q Why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Why not? Because I think that this is an individual who voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed. And our focus is not on the past. It’s on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq.

These matters have been addressed, Elaine. I think you know that very well. The press —

Q Scott, 88 members of Congress signed that letter.

MR. McCLELLAN: The press — the press have covered it, as well.

Q What do you say about them?

Q But, Scott, don’t they deserve the courtesy of a response back?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this has been addressed. Go ahead.

Q Scott, on John Conyers, John Conyers is walking here with that letter again, as you have acknowledged from Elaine’s comment. But 88 leaders on Capitol Hill signed that letter. Now, I understand what you’re saying about him, but what about the other 88 who signed this letter, wanting information, answers to these five questions?

MR. McCLELLAN: How did they vote on the war — the decision to go to war in Iraq?

Q Well, you have two — well, if that’s the case, you have two Republicans who are looking for a timetable. How do you justify that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I already talked about that.

Q I understand, but let’s talk about this.

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said —

Q Well, just because — I understand — but wait a minute, that’s not — if leaders from Congress — if you’re talking about unifying and asking for everyone to come together, why not answer, whether they wanted the war or not, answer a letter where John Conyers wrote to the President and then 88 congressional leaders signed? Why not answer that?

MR. McCLELLAN: For the reasons I stated earlier. This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed.

June 20:

Q All right, Scott. At their joint news conference, both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair denied the major assumptions out of the so-called Downing Street memo. We’ve had other revelations, I guess, since then. But is the President wondering how the intelligence operatives and diplomatic operatives of the key ally in this mission came to these assumptions, came to these conclusions? Isn’t he wondering how this happened?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Prime Minister Blair addressed this very issue. They were memos relating to the United Kingdom and he addressed the issue in a news conference.

Go ahead, Ken.

Get that man a glass of water!

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

23rd June 2005

A walking pine-cone

The distinction between the mundane and the utterly fantastic is often rather slippery. What we come to accept as the domain of the possible is not a sphere with a well-defined radius; on the contrary, it’s an agglomeration populated by hundreds of discordant species and held together by the best glue of them all: confabulation and rationalization.

As an illustrative example, consider the triumvirate that rules the menagerie of Chinese monsters: the dragon, the phoenix and the tiger. The modern student considers the first pair of these not to be actual creatures but the creation of art and fable; flights of fancy, as it were. On the other hand, the tiger is something one can directly ascertain with the eyes (for the moment). The phoenix and dragon, being residents of the realm of the fanciful, take on an aspect of improbability, a magical quality that the unfortunate tiger is not accorded. But really, the tiger isn’t any less fantastic or worthy of disbelief – it’s an original monster, fanged, muscled and clawed, painted in vibrant colors. We simply won’t allow it to live in the same space as the phoenix and the dragon, since we must carefully maintain that tenuous boundary between fantasy and reality.

However, I detest that boundary, and I would very much like to take a bit of a sledge-hammer to it. So I give you the pangolin, a resident of the African continent, sometimes also called the scaly anteater. (Although, in truth, anteaters are Xenartha, along with armadillos, while the pangolin is one of the Laurasiatheria, and closely related to the dog and the cat.) The pangolin is a creature we would easily place in the domain of fantasy if we did not know otherwise. But I think that, even knowing that it is real, if you look at it the right way it forms a rather nice bridge between the two.

posted by saurabh in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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