Monday, January 29, 2007

Long-term costs of meddling in other countries

Compared to most other countries, America is very rich. A modest amount of our money spent in a third world country can bring about big changes.

But even if toppling a dictator or backing a rebel group looks like a good idea in the short-term, should we do it?

What else should we consider?

1. The enemy of our enemy isn't always worth backing.

Some consideration should be given to what will happen if the group we back does win. (Taliban, etc.)

2. Where will the bad guys go if our guys do win?

If our guys win, will the bad guys flee to another country and destabilize it or at least cause problems? (Taliban in Pakistan, Janjaweed in Chad)

3. What happens to the guys we back if they lose?

Will they flee to other countries and cause problems? (MS-13 fleeing to L.A.)

4. How will neighboring countries react if our guys do win?

Will they become more militaristic or anti-American? (Iran, Venezuala)

5. Will any gains be erased when America's involvement comes out?


6. Will America get blamed for things we didn't do when our meddling is revealed?

(Death squads in Iraq)

7. What are the chances the group we back will turn anti-American?

(Viet Minh during WWII)

A few things to ponder before we try to topple Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin or ????

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The right tool for the job

I'm having a rather unproductive weekend.

I have two tasks I'm trying to complete, one home repair and one programming, and I don't have the right tool to complete either of them. I figure my options are either:

1. Muddle through with the tools I have.
2. Scrap the projects entirely.
3. Fork over the bucks for the right tool.

I tried the "going with the army I have" approach to both tasks today and made very little progress on either.

In fact, I think I actually made them both worse.

For the home repair job, I can rent the tool I need, but it's expensive and there's a nontrivial chance I'll kill or maim myself with it.

For the software task, the right tool is expensive, but I can order it through work at no cost, but I might not get it until the deadline for project completion has passed.

Some sympathy for our rather unloved president this evening...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Innovation vs. Repetition

There's a great little hamburger drive-in by my house that I'd eat at every day if I could convince my family to join me. Sadly, I can only talk them into it about once a month.

There isn't enough money in the world to bribe me into seeing yet another movie about a plucky underdog sports team that somehow manages to defy the odds and win the big game, though. Yet there must be an audience that wants to see these things because Hollywood cranks one out about every couple weeks.

Some couples manage to stay married to each other their whole lives. Other people will get married many times and probably have affairs even while they are married.

Lifelong Republicans and Democrats vs. Independents who can vote either way.

Live in one place your whole life or always on the move?

One career or a new job every few years?

Food, movies, partner(s), politics, home, job, etc.

Where do you have the tendency to be satisfied with with the tried and true?

Where do you have an insatiable desire for something new?

How do they mesh with modern society?

Do you think your particular needs could have been better met in another place or time?

If you're an explorer type, always wanting to be the first to see new lands, you're out of luck these days...

Friday, January 19, 2007

If we shrank the U.S. military down far enough...

...would our opponents renounce IEDs and sniper rifles and agree to meet us in "stand up" fights?

We'd probably have to cut back pretty far to get them onto the field.

Of the 174 countries the CIA says has actual defense expenditures, only 5 could be called our "enemies:"

North Korea $5,217,400,000
Iran $4,300,000,000
Syria $858,000,000
Cuba $694,000,000
Somalia $22,340,000

Total military spending by America's "enemies" last year = $11,091,740,000

America spent $518,100,000,000 on its military last year.

Even if you don't count the military spending of America's 168 allies, partners, friend and protectorates, we still spent 47 times what our "enemies" spent last year...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Say you were dragged before the king...

...thousands of years ago...and he told you to entertain him or with your head!

What could you do?

No props:

Tell a story
Tell some jokes

Throw in a prop and you could also:

Play Music
Do magic tricks
Create some art

Add a few people and you could:

Put on a play
Stage an athletic contest
Stage a talent contest

Not much has changed in the entertainment field since...the start of humanity.

Wonder why?

Rejecting the premise

Say you work for a software company whose management has decided to increase sales by going into the doughnut business. You don't think it's a good idea, but you don't have the power to kill the expansion.

What do you do?

1. Continue to point out that the doughnut idea is doomed to fail?
2. Drink the Kool-Aid and work towards the best doughnut/software fusion ever?

Sadly, number 2 is probably your best choice.

Team players get promoted and cynics are fired.

Now suppose your are a pundit working in a country that thinks it can impose democracy on another country by force...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Were the blog wars inevitable?

While doing some research I came across this passage in a cable sent by Edward Corry, America's Ambassador to Chile in September of 1970, during our failed attempt to keep Salvador Allende from winning that country's presidency:

I have confessed repeatedly in these communications my equal distrust of a right that blindly and greedily pursued its interests, wandering in a myopia of arrogant stupidity.

They disdained organization and deliberately scorned the one element of their forces that has some semblance of structure, The National Party, they preached vengeance against the Christian Democrats whom they regarded as a more justifiable enemy because of its betrayal of class than their class enemy, the Communists.

They fought the First Rule of nature, of change, and insolently believed that time stands still.

They only tolerated the few modernists in their midsts, men who were certainly no less rich, no less self-interested, but who at least understood the flux in which we are all caught.

Ignoring the obvious comparisons to modern politics in this well-written missive, the bolded passage made me wonder if the current habit of many well-known bloggers on the left and right spending most of their time just trading insults with each other was bound to happen.

Do people naturally seek out and attack those who they feel are their equals?

By attacking someone, are you declaring them your equal?

Most competitions held divide contestants into classes of relatively equal talent, why not blogs, too?

Things I don't know

Where my car keys are.

How a toilet works.

What we're still doing in Iraq.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Ratings for Fear & Hatred continue to slide

Once America's top TV program, Fear & Hatred is now struggling to stay in the Top Ten behind recent hits like Accountability!, Real Estate Bubble and What the Hell Were We Thinking?

The producers of F&H have tried all the usual gimmicks this season to buoy their flagship show's sinking ratings, including:

The controversial killing off of two main characters (Though the door was left open for a guest appearance by Rummy later this year in a flashback).

The hiring of a lovable child actor, The People of Iraq.

A vacation special, F&H Goes Somalian.

And the just-aired very special episode entitled: Poor Condi's Womb.

Yet these gimmicks have failed to keep the ratings high enough to justify F&H's enormous production costs. Producers are now said to be focusing on keeping the show on the air long enough to have enough episodes for the lucrative syndication market.

Calls to confirm the rumored cancelling of a spinoff show, F&H:Iran, were not returned.

What kind of philosophy...

...allows people to believe:

It's okay to falsely accuse an entire country, try it and convict it.

But causes the same people to get up in arms when three college boys are (possibly) falsely accused of sexual assault?

Is it really just garden-variety racism?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bad Juju

In the civil wars of Western Africa, the combatants render themselves bulletproof by wearing wigs and woman's dresses, fetishes made of hair and spells cast on them by jujumen.

The even try covering themselves with urine.

Of course none of these things work...but it's the belief that they will that's important.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Oily Mystery

Checking out the handy stat sheet on U.S. oil production and consumption the Energy Information Administration puts out, I came upon a bit of a mystery:

U.S. crude oil production - 5,178,000 barrels/day
U.S. petroleum consumption - 20,802,000 barrels/day

Dependence on net petroleum imports - 60.3%


5,178,000/20,802,000 = about 25% or about a 75% dependence on imported oil.

The answer probably lies in the fact that petroleum doesn't exactly equal crude oil.

"Petroleum products" can be made with imputs besides crude oil and you can get more than a barrel of petroleum from a barrel of crude oil.

The raw data shows America is well past its peak oil production.

And imports of crude oil and petroleum products continue to grow at a steady pace.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In Defense of the Dursleys

Just finished a bedtime routine reading of the second Harry Potter book with my youngest.

The Dursleys are portrayed as quite the villans, but are they really such bad people? To be sure, they didn't really provide Harry with enough emotional support, but they did take him in and raise him.

What are they accused of?

1. They tried to suppress Harry's magical side.

Not a bad move considering both of Harry's parents died of magical causes.

2. They didn't provide Harry with any material comfort beyond basic food, clothing and shelter.

Harry is rich...his parents left him a fortune. Couldn't the magical folks who left Harry with the Dursleys have left a few Galleons with them to help defray the cost of his upbringing?

3. They tried to stop him going to Hogwarts.

They are his legal guardians. Shouldn't they decide where he goes to school?

While the Dursleys aren't the Huxtables, they did an okay job raising Harry. They certainly treated Harry better than Dumbledore and the magic community treated them...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Band of Rich Brothers

It's one of Hollywood's most tired cliches: A group of upper class medocrities tries to keep a talented lower class contender down by excluding them from some competition. In the end, the lower class star always thwarts the schemes of the band of snobbish thugs and wins.

But is that how things work in real life? Not really. The "bad" guys usually win.

Are the upper class thugs really doing anything wrong, though?

Banding together with people who want to succeed is one of the surest ways to win yourself.

Banding together with a group that wants to succeed and has easy access to the tools needed for for success (money, political power, connections in the business world, etc.) is even better.

And if this groups is willing to make it hard for talented newcomers to compete against them, better still.

This phenomemom can readily be seen in action with blogs.

Two interlocking groups, one right-leaning and one left-leaning politically, have risen to the top of the blog world by linking to each other's blogs, praising each other's brilliance, reposting each other's posts and even giving each other awards.

Some of them are very generous in providing links to "talented newcomers," but many have blogrolls that haven't been updated in years...the most generous bloggers tend to be the ones who have successful careers already outside of blogging.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Is Admitting to Mistakes UnAmerican?

We've had a rash of hit and run accidents around my town lately.

When the drivers are caught, they frequently turn out to be average citizens, not the heartless sociopaths many had predicted.

Then we have the case of the Bush administration being accused of failing to admit mistakes with the assumption that this failing is an impeachable offense.

Yet we have have enshrined in the Constitution the right not to have to admit our mistakes.

While the Fifth Amendment was likely put into the Constitution to protect citizens against toture...I think it is also an admission of our true nature.

Few Americans readily admit to mistakes unless the admission gains them something more than the admission costs them.

Trying to get politicians to admit to their mistakes is a fool's errand...and a touch unAmerican to boot.