Sunday, April 30, 2006

Oil Bet Update: the storm clouds gather

Storm clouds on the political and meteorological front are starting to spook the markets, says the Observer:

The growing international crisis over Iran's nuclear programme could trigger a catastrophic oil price spike, sending crude prices over $100 a barrel, senior Wall Street analysts are warning.

With prices already at around $72 a barrel, such an increase could mean drivers facing prices of 110p a litre on forecourts, according the the Petrol Retailers Association. Last week Lord Browne, chief executive of BP, warned that prices could rise to £1 as he unveiled bumper $5.27bn profits for the first quarter.

Shell is also expected to announce close to record numbers next week, with analysts expecting profits around $5.57bn, driven largely by the oil price.

A single political shock could be enough to send oil markets into panic, said Adam Sieminski, senior energy economist at Deutsche Bank in New York. 'If we have one more big problem we are going to have triple-digit oil prices.' Sieminski points to confrontation with Iran, a worsening of the situation in Iraq or a recurrence of devastating hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico as potential catalysts for a major rise.

When supplies are plentiful, such politial mischief-making by oil producers will only hurt themselves. But when they are tight, every oil state dictator with an axe to grind can command the attention of the world. In such times the fear multiplier will go off the charts. Never underestimate the fear factor.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The "Book of Discombobulations" of Brother Duck

I must confess that I have been a little disingenuous with my recent posts disparaging the apocalyptic obsessions of others. Disingenuous because I too have received visions of doom which I don't truly understand. I have remained silent on these visions for many years, fearing ridicule and condemnation. But I think that I owe it to the world to share them, in the hopes that others may help me to decipher their meaning and to hopefully be prepared for the end times.

I had my visions over a weekend in 1994, after drinking a twelve-pack of an obscure Mexican beer that I found at the local liquor store. It was the only case of it's kind, and I've never been able to find the brand again. It was labeled "Tres Seises". I take this as a sign that I was chosen to receive these visions.

As Peter has earlier pointed out, my obsession with $100 oil may be a sign of the impending Discombobulation. I began transcribing my visions last night, and will publish it in a series of installments. I categorize the visions as follows: first are the Three Signs. These are the first indicators that we are approaching the end times. I believe that all three signs have already become manifest. Next are the Four Messengers, which I believe are soon to become known. The last chapter will be the arrival of the Anti-Duck.

Here is the first chapter of the Three Signs.

Sign 1: Things on top of other Things unput.

I saw in the world many things which rested not upon other things,
but lay singly, side by side, upon the ground.
And multiplied were the things which rested not on other things,
For men had forsaken their duty.
Once men strove mightily to take things,
which rested not upon other things,
but lie singly upon the ground,
(which counteth not as a thing)
and put them onto other things,
so that all things were on top of other things.
And they kept count of things that had been put
on top of other things,
and things that yet had to be put on top of other things.
So that the progress of Mankind could be measured,
and the virtue of every age might be judged.

Yet I saw men, shameless in their shiftlessness,
dare question Sacred Wisdom, and the Gods,
who commandeth that Men should strive to put all things upon other things.
Verily they complained that the putting of things
on top of other things served no purpose,
but was in contradiction with their Manly senses and reasoning,
which they valued highly, yea, even above that divine Wisdom which they understood not.
For hath not Nature, in Her Grandness,
not made any thing but that it should be on top of, or below, another thing?
Doth not the Ground itself stand upon a Turtle,
and that Turtle upon another,
and that upon another, all the way down?

And so Men forsook their solemn duty,
and all manner of things unput upon other things multiplied,
and there was a great clutter upon the land.
And things were misplaced, and things were lost.
And Man could not find his keys, nor findeth he his tax receipts.
Then a great confusion descended upon Man,
and his sorrows multiplied.

Apocalypse.. Not!

In keeping with our recent discussion on doom-mongering, this article by Alison Stein Wellner puts paid to the notion that we are increasingly mobilizing ourselves toward the Apocalypse.

It’s one of the most durable perceptions about America: The United States is a nation on the move. From the days of “manifest destiny,” when pioneers forged their way westward, to today, as technology loosens the geographic tether, the American people appear congenitally restless. Unlike other stodgy countries, we’re a young nation, modern cowboys and cowgirls, lonely but rugged, isolated and independent, charting our own course. We’re entrepreneurial, pursuing opportunities wherever they take us. What could be more quintessentially American?

An article in the July 14, 2005, Economist describes “restlessness in the midst of plenty” as one of our nation’s “most remarkable features.” Since people often relocate to find better jobs, the story suggests, geographic mobility fosters economic mobility. Except when it has the opposite effect: “The wider worry is that America’s great sorting-out could damage the country by producing a stratified land of haves and have-nots, and creating more class divisions.”

The ills allegedly caused by rising mobility don’t stop there. In his 2000 book Restless Nation, the independent scholar James Jasper blames increased mobility for everything from environmental degradation to lack of respect for the government to high divorce rates. He suggests broad changes in federal housing policy, among other measures, to encourage people to stay put. The Rutgers sociologist David Popenoe, co-director of the National Marriage Project, blames mobility for the unraveling of the American family, the decline of urban neighborhoods, and the destructive influence of the mass media. Without strong social ties, he writes in his 2001 book Private Pleasure, Public Plight, “the dominant force…becomes the mass media, especially television, and whatever meanings and values these media impart. Far from maximizing human choice, this situation [of mobility] represents an apogee of cultural coercion in which [a] citizen is every bit as much a puppet as under a doctrinaire political totalitarianism.”

All this might be very troubling, if not for the fact that increasing geographic mobility is a myth. If anything, Americans are more likely than ever to stay put. You might think that basic fact would give the social critics and policy makers pause. But it hasn’t stopped them from asserting that rampant mobility is destroying the environment, undermining the family, and increasing anomie. More important, it hasn’t stopped them from proposing intrusive, coercive, and expensive measures to curb a problem that doesn’t exist.

You may wonder why so many of us have a penchant for seeing doom in our future, and decline from a Golden Age in our present. You may look at it as a nefarious scheme by the "Nanny" professions, both secular and religious, to justify their intrusive apparati of social control. Yet why are these beliefs so widely held by people? And why today, with all of the benefits of material and social progress that we enjoy over our ancestors?

Wellner offers a few thoughts:

One reason the mobility myth persists, Fischer argues, is that it jibes with the widely held idea that we’re in the midst of “a fall from grace.” (You’d think we’d have landed by now—we’ve been falling for centuries.) If we’re increasingly mobile, we’re a less stable society than we once were, which fits nicely with the fall-from-grace theme. This sort of anxiety is epitomized by Vance Packard’s oft-cited 1972 book A Nation of Strangers, which describes “a society coming apart at the seams” thanks to mobility. Packard connects increasing mobility with the disruption of male-female relationships, the unraveling of traditional religious beliefs, and the crushing speed of technological change. Mobility is an easy scapegoat for complex changes in the American social fabric.

Related to this habit is the common tendency to pine for the good old days. “When people think back,” says Fischer, “they often interpret the past in terms of their own personal biographies, so the past was innocent and fun and stable, like childhood. They remember the past through rose-colored glasses, and an image of stability is part of it.”
Above all, the mobility myth is politically expedient. Conservatives can use the notion that our society is becoming less stable because of increasing mobility to advocate programs that encourage traditional families and to push for taxpayer funding of faith-based social service organizations. Liberals can cite increasing mobility to justify funding for various social programs, including elder care and family care initiatives. Neither the right nor the left has an interest in debunking it, and so the myth endures.

Ah, the Good Old Days! Stephanie Coontz did an excellent job of debunking them in her book "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap". Yet this isn't a recent obsession. All civilizations had a myth of a Golden Age of the past, whether it was the Greeks, the Hebrews, or the Hindus. Why is such pessimism about the future so widely held across times and cultures?

My own explanation, for what it is worth, is that civilization, or large scale settled life, put mankind in social groups vastly larger and more complex than the small clans in which he had evolved. Man's social "software" allowed him to keep track of every relationship that he held with the members of his band, and his social rank with respect to them. So he could always precisely identify his rightful place in the group. Large groups, which spanned familial clans or even ethnic groups, blew away his ability to understand his place in the society. Thus was born the age of free-floating, unfocused anxiety. Man's social calculator continually returned a red , flashing "register overflow" message. He needed a reason to explain this anxiety, this sense of things not being quite right. And thus mythology was born, and it's handmaiden, religion. And we all became pessimists.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oil Bet Update

We are inclined to stay clear of the oil market for a while.

Crude oil has become one very hot commodity - enticingly hot.
U.S. crude oil inventories are a hefty 11% above the five-year average for this time of year. Natural gas inventories are also ample. Nevertheless, the price of crude continues to soar and the bullish speculators continue to pile into the market.

According to the CFTC's Commitment of Traders report, the so-called "large speculators" hold a record-high long position in crude oil.
The commercial traders hold a record-high net short position in crude oil.

As we have noted in several prior columns, the "Commercials" are considered "the smart money," based on their tendency to position themselves correctly at important inflexion points. The Commercials' massive short position, therefore, bodes ill for the price of crude, and for all those speculators who are betting on it to go higher still.

The Marketvane survey of commodity futures advisors validates the bearish implications of the Commitment of Traders report. According to the Marketvane, 76% of futures advisors are bullish on crude oil. This extreme reading is very close to the two-year high reading of 84%, and raises the likelihood that the overly popular crude oil market will become somewhat less popular very soon. All of these warning signs inspire us to turn our back on this red-hot commodity - and we'd suggest that you do the same for a short while.

~ Eric J. Fry

"Turn your back" to going long, at least.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Pot, Kettle. Kettle, Pot.

For those of you at home in the blogging audience with those cheap, knock-off, brass irony meters, you better stop reading until you invest in a titanium model.

Becuase the Religious right is protesting tolerance.

You say that I'm an alarmist, because your meter is scarcely twitching?

Wait, there's more. The tolerance so exercising the "Religious Right" (sic) is Georgia Institute of Technology's conduct code banning speech critical of certain sexual orientations.

So the famously intolerant are protesting the famously tolerant for their tolerance that is intolerant orthodoxy codified.

According to the article:

The religious right aims to overturn common tolerance programs: diversity training that promotes acceptance of gays and lesbians, speech codes that ban harsh words against homosexuality and anti-discrimination policies that require college clubs to open membership to all.

And it isn't just at GIT (an acronym that just begs to be followed by "darnnit") where the intolerant are fed up with the intolerance of the tolerant. At Cal State University, Long Beach (full disclosure: I attended CSU LB), students are demanding the school recognize Every Nation Campus Ministries, which intends to explicitly exclude "anyone who considers homosexuality 'a natural part of God's order'."

The students say denying them recognition -- and its attendant benefits, such as funding -- violates their free-speech rights and discriminates against their conservative theology. Christian groups at public colleges in other states have sued using similar arguments. Several of those lawsuits were settled out of court, with the groups prevailing.

In California, however, the university may have a strong defense in court. The California Supreme Court recently ruled that the city of Berkeley was justified in denying subsidies to the Boy Scouts because of that group's exclusionary policies. Eddie L. Washington, the lawyer representing Cal State, argues the same standard should apply to the university.

"We're certainly not going to fund discrimination," Washington said.

In this particular indoor-outdoor freestyle repellance contest, university speech codes and their attendant funding policies win hands down. If there is one institution that should study, understand, and assiduously adhere to the tenets of free speech, academia is it.

Darn. There goes another irony meter.

I hope the universities get thrown to the lions.

I also hope, but, given irony's awesome power, seriously doubt, that the aforementioned Christians are just as devoted to free speech when someone pens a cartoon depicting certain parts of their Scripture as immoral, anti-human, nonsense.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Self-Loathing for Dummies, or, Who are we to judge the animals?

It seems that the modern Green movement has raised self-loathing to a level only dreamt about by Medieval flagellants. Or so one would gather from the litany of woes flowing out from the high priests of the movement, as documented by Frank Furedi:

Discussions about the future increasingly tend to focus on whether humans will survive. According to green author and Gaia theorist James Lovelock, 'before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be kept in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable' (1).

More and more books predict there will be an unavoidable global catastrophe; there is James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, and Eugene Linden's The Winds of Change: Weather and the Destruction of Civilisations. Kunstler's book warns that 'this is a much darker time than 1938, the eve of World War II' (2). In the media there are alarming stories about a mass 'die-off' in the near future and of cities engulfed by rising oceans as a consequence of climate change.

Today we don't just have Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but an entire cavalry regiment of doom-mongers. It is like a secular version of St John's Revelations, except it is even worse - apparently there is no future for humanity after this predicted apocalypse. Instead of being redeemed, human beings will, it seems, disappear without a trace.

Anxieties about human survival are as old as human history itself. Through catastrophes such as the Deluge or Sodom and Gomorrah, the religious imagination fantasised about the end of the world. More recently, apocalyptic ideas once rooted in magic and theology have been recast as allegedly scientific statements about human destructiveness and irresponsibility. Elbowing aside the mystical St John, Lovelock poses as a prophet-scientist when he states: 'I take my profession seriously, and now I, too, have to bring bad news….' (3) Today, the future of the Earth is said to be jeopardised by human consumption, technological development or by 'man playing God'. And instead of original sin leading to the Fall of Man, we fear the degradation of Nature by an apparently malevolent human species.

All of today's various doomsday scenarios - whether it's the millennium bug, oil depletion, global warming, avian flu or the destruction of biodiversity - emphasise human culpability. Their premise is that the human species is essentially destructive and morally bankrupt. 'With breathtaking insolence', warns Lovelock in his book The Revenge of Gaia, 'humans have taken the stores of carbon that Gaia buried to keep oxygen at its proper level and burnt them'.

You know we've reached a new low when people won't even stand up for their own species. The reasoning behind Lovelock and Diamond's theories are specious in the extreme, so you have to wonder whether these obviously intelligent people are beholden to a bizarre theology of nature worship that they can't even bring themselves to admit to. At least Biblical theology places Man above the animals and plants. Gaia worship seems to invert the hierarchy. Fragile species rank higher on the list precisely because of their helplesness and lack of sentient will.

Sometimes I wonder if this "God-shaped hole in the soul" is true. These Green loonies seem to have some need to prostrate themselves before an anthropomorphized Nature. I don't get it. The only organism in Nature that cares about Nature is Man. There is no sacred Order of Species, no natural law that says a species, once it comes into existence, is destined to exist for eternity by command of Mother Gaia. Just the opposite is the case. Nature, to the extent that you can say it cares, cares only about what is adaptable enough to survive. A species will get a far more sympathetic hearing in the court of Man than it will ever get in the court of Nature.

No matter what impact we have on this planet, we will survive for quite a long time to come. And Nature would have it no other way.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Logic for Dummies, or, My God designed the Universe and all I got were these faulty eyeballs!

"Intelligent Design is the logic of ignorance", says Steve Jones:

As I sat down to write this piece, I put on my glasses. They were designed by an intelligent optician to correct my eyesight, which, acute as it once was, is now - like that of most elderly academics - blurred at best. The lens has become less elastic with time and no longer focuses properly. My specs help, but soon I will need a stronger pair.

Well, as we evolutionists say, that's life. Or, to be brutally frank, that's a hint of impending death, for in the good old days of nuts, berries, and sabre-toothed tigers, I would have starved or been eaten by now. It makes perfect sense: evolution cares only about the next generation; I am too old to pass on genes to that unborn tribe and my failing eyesight is hence of no interest to the Darwinian machine.

That thought is not of much comfort, but at least I have nobody to blame for my plight. But what about advocates of Intelligent Design, the notion that the eye is so complicated that it needed a Designer (quite who is best not to inquire) to do the job? Some of them wear glasses. Do they never have doubts about their astral engineer, who could surely have given them a BMW of a visual organ rather than the Austin Allegro they are stuck with?

Jones goes on to explain how well evolution explains the development of blood clotting, and how the various ways that clotting works in different animals confounds the ID notion that only a "finished" item can be of any use to a biological organism. Read the whole thing.

You have to wonder if the high status that ID carries with Americans has anything to do with their innate optimism. After all, ID has been the preferred explanation of choice for natural phenomena from the earliest civilizations on, but it's stock has been in retreat from the birth of empirical philosophy in ancient Greece to the present day. ID once explained every thunderbolt, the motion of every pebble, planet and star, and the outcome of every war, game or romantic endeavor. Now science can explain all of these things, and the gaps that a designer is asked to fill are measured in nanometers. Only a true optimist would place a bet on such a tired old nag.

My Brother

Sailor breaks world record

Story and photo by
Senior Airman Mark Woodbury
Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq — At 5 feet 9 inches and 190 pounds. U.S. Navy Lt. Buck Herdegen is built more like an Abrams tank than a Ferrari, but his stocky frame broke a world speed record, covering 50 kilometers on a treadmill in 3 hours, 38 minutes and 6 seconds.

Herdegen, who has worked with the Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq for the past six months, got the idea from his younger brother, also assigned to the command.

“(My brother) was reading an article on the Internet one day about Geoff Weber, a Navy lieutenant, who had set a new world record by running 50K on a treadmill in 3:41:53,” said Herdegen. “So, he turned to me and said, ‘You can do that can’t you?’”

Being the older brother, Herdegen said he couldn’t let his little brother down. Two weeks later he was running for the record.
“I really wasn’t at all sure that I could do it, but I had been doing a lot of running on the treadmill so it seemed at least possible,” said Herdegen.

The Utah native, had already been training during his free time for the Salt Lake City Marathon to help raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute - a goal he set to pay tribute to his mother who is a cancer survivor. After contacting Guinness World Records, Herdegen ran head-first toward his new mark.

During the record-setting run, the first 42 kilometers went smoothly, covering the marathon distance in a little less than three hours, said Herdegen. But after that milestone things began getting a little more difficult.

“I hit the wall at 43K,” Herdegen recalls. “I was well ahead of the record at that point, but I had started out too fast and I needed a break to catch my breath. It’s one of those moments when even though there’s plenty of air around you, you feel like you can’t get enough oxygen.”

After a short break, Herdegen stepped back onto the treadmill, at a little slower pace this time.
“It felt like it took forever to cover those last seven kilometers,” he said. “I wanted to stop with literally every step, but I could see that the record was still within reach if I just kept moving.”

During the run the gym began to fill up with spectators who came to see if he would actually break the record.

“I wasn’t aware of how many people had come until I finished and turned around,” Herdegen said. “Many people had stopped by during my run to offer encouragement, and I could see out of the corner of my eye there were a few people off to the side as I was grinding out those last few kilometers.”

As it got down to the last kilometer, he said he could see that the record was his if he could just keep the pace for another five minutes.

“I was conscious of how quiet it had become,” he said. “I was half expecting someone to say something encouraging but dreading it at the same time because I knew I didn’t have any more to give.”

He said crowd must have sensed just how weary he was because they were absolutely silent until he had broken the record. Once broken, the crowd erupted into cheering and clapping all around him.

“It was very gratifying,” he said.

Utah native in Iraq sets treadmill record

Navy man runs for 3 hours 38 minutes to complete 50K
By Stephen Speckman
Deseret Morning News

Navy Lt. Siddhartha "Buck" Herdegen doesn't look like the type of guy who could break a world running record on a treadmill.
But at 5 feet, 9 inches, and 190 pounds, the 37-year-old Utah native won the battle of willpower March 25 by running in place for 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) in a time of 3 hours, 38 minutes and six seconds.

"I really had to push myself," Herdegen said Tuesday on the phone from Baghdad.
After hitting "the wall" at 43 kilometers, it became more of a mental feat than a physical test.
"I had to tell myself not to stop," he said.

The accomplishment has earned him recognition — for now — from the people who publish the Guinness Book of World Records. Navy Lt. Geoff Weber may want to reclaim his record, beaten by less than four minutes.
If Weber makes his move, Herdegen will be ready.
"You gotta defend the title," he said. "I expect he's going to try to break my record."

Growing up, Herdegen wasn't much of a runner.
In fact, the running bug didn't bite until 2004 while he was deployed for six months in Afghanistan, where he logged 1,500 miles.
He hasn't stopped running since.

In October 2005, Herdegen was sent to Baghdad. Although he's in a relatively safe area of Iraq, running outside in certain places still has its hazards, like being shot at. So, he runs inside, 60 miles a week during his lunch breaks with Sundays and Thursdays off.
When he's not running, Herdegen's job in Baghdad with the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq is to do "paperwork," or so he tells his family in order to simplify the explanation.
Herdegen is scheduled to return later this month to his base in Pensacola, Fla., where his wife and four daughters are waiting for him.

While in Iraq, he has been content training for the Salt Lake City Marathon, to be held in June, and raising money for cancer research by taking pledges for his involvement in the race. (His mother is a cancer survivor.)
There were no thoughts of breaking any records until his little brother came along.

Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Nolayan Herdegen, 28, also in Baghdad, describes his brother this way: "He doesn't have that stereotypical long-distance runner physique," he said after his brother handed him the phone.
The brothers are both currently in Baghdad. The younger Herdegen has the more dangerous job of providing security for convoys — bullets have hit his vehicle.

As for physique, the two are about the same. Sometimes they run side-by-side on two of the three treadmills at the gym they use.
Stamina, however, is a different story, with the edge going to brother Buck.
But there was no "I dare you," no teasing or prodding or boiling competitive juices typical among brothers. There was just this record out there and Buck Herdegen seemed like the guy to break it.
"He said, 'Well, you can do that, can't you?' " Herdegen said of his younger sibling. "His assumption was that I could do it — he has a lot more confidence in me than I did."

But he did it, gave it all he had one Saturday and broke a record in front of a small crowd of cheering fans.
"I had nothing more to give," Herdegen said. "I was just completely exhausted."
Is he sick of the treadmill?
"I've come to find my peace with the treadmill," he said. "We get along fine."
Herdegen rested on Sunday and was back at it on Monday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

$100 Oil Bet Update

Summer driving season has yet to commence, but oil is already threatening to surpass its all time high price on the NYMEX:

Light sweet crude for May delivery was trading up 15 cents at $70.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose as high as $70.88 a barrel in electronic trading overnight, surpassing the previous record of $70.85 reached August 30, in the midst of a record hurricane season in the U.S.
"Iran is still the main driver," said Tobias Merath, an analyst for Credit Suisse in Zurich, which is forecasting oil prices between $65 and $72 in three months, with a level of $75 a barrel seen as the top.
The oil market is worried about the increasing tensions between Iran and Western governments seeking to pressure Tehran into halting its nuclear program.

The Iranian situation will not resolve itself very quickly. Look for escalating rhetoric on both sides to keep the market jittery for the rest of the year. Add to that the normal summer demand spike, and memories of Hurricane Katrina as hurricane season cranks up, and we could see $100 before Labor day.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Susan's Husband's Heaven?

Or: Maybe this is what happens when they drown all the lawyers.

Orbital mechanics and kinetic energy being what they are, launching payloads into orbit on an easterly heading from, or near, the equator makes good sense. The Earth's rotational velocity of roughly 1,000 mph means the launch vehicle needs roughly five percent less energy to get into orbit than if launched from, say, the North Pole.

In light of this, NASA conducts most launches from Cape Canaveral (Vandenburg is used primarily for polar orbital tracks, which don't benefit from the Earth's rotation), and France uses Guyana. An additional benefit of those launch sites is that the inevitable launch debris -- primarily spent stages and strap on boosters -- hits open ocean. Fish have neither phones, nor lawyers.

Kazakhstan is about as southerly as Russian gets, but without he benefit of beachfron property. So their launch detritus is going to land on terra very firma. Including some terra that is quite literally in the backyard.

From the looks of things, Kazakh's don't have phones, or lawyers, either. [shameless pop reference]Nor guns and money, for that matter.[/shameless pop reference]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"China’s outlook for population aging, in sum, can in some respects be likened to a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy already underway."

Growing Old the Hard Way: China, Russia, India, via BrosJudd.

A superb article about the demographics/projected economics of the named nations.
I VERY highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Censorship alert!!

Sorry, false alarm. Brendan O'Neill takes on Isaac Hayes' "supression" of free speech in the Spectator blog:

Speech - it's either free or it isn't

Brendan O'Neill

Isaac Hayes - the American singer who provides the voice for the Barry White-esque chef and love doctor in the not-for-kids cartoon South Park - has been rightly ridiculed for bolting from the show because it dared to criticise Scientology. To make matters worse, Hayes - who is a Scientologist, funnily enough - tried to tart up his exit as a principled protest against bigotry. 'There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends, and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begin', he said. 'As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices....'

Pull the other one. Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with South Park will know that it takes the mick mercilessly out of Christians, Muslims, Jews (especially Jews) and Canadians. Yet Hayes, apparently a selfless warrior against intolerance, didn't protest about any of that. It is only now that his own religious beliefs are being ridiculed that he's got a sudden attack of the principles. As Matt Stone, co-creator of South Park, said: 'This has nothing to do with intolerance and bigotry and everything to do with the fact that Hayes is a Scientologist.'

And yet, as transparent as Hayes' stance might be, he is only doing what pretty much everyone does these days: going along with free speech until that free speech is wielded against him or anything he holds dear.

Hayes may be a hypocrite, but his refusal to participate in a program that ridicules his personal beliefs is totally in keeping with free speech: his. Is there some kind of consistency clause attached to free speech, that would require someone who ridicules one person or group must ridicule all groups? Hayes' voluntary departure from the show in no way hampers the show producer's right to continue to lampoon whoever they wish. There is no free speech issue at stake here.

Free speech is such an easy concept to grasp, how is it that so many people continue to get it so wrong?

Irresponsible Headline Watch

I came upon this shocking headline on the Spectator's home page:

"Iran succeeds in developing nuclear weapons"

Wow! They have the bomb!! This is a major story! I had no idea they were that close. So I follow the link to the story:

Iran has missiles to carry nuclear warheads
By Con Coughlin
(Filed: 07/04/2006)

Iran has successfully developed ballistic missiles with the capability to carry nuclear warheads.

Detailed analysis of recent test firings of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile by military experts has concluded that Iran has been able to modify the nose cone to carry a basic nuclear bomb. The discovery will intensify international pressure on Teheran to provide a comprehensive breakdown of its nuclear research programme.


Now what do most of you think that the term "nuclear weapons" refers to? The actual warheads, of course. Does a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead constitute a nuclear weapon? Of course not.

Does anyone edit the Spectator?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Hothouse Fleurs de Lis

Heres' to those brave French students putting it all on the line once again in the service of cradle to grave coddleage (triple word score). How dare the French state put two years of their young lives at risk to termination by an arbitrary merits system ! They are brave, oui? Non! Le Duck drops turds in their general direction!

Will noone come to the defense of these brave poetic souls in their hour of need? Amazingly, oui! Serial looner Barbara Ehrenreich rushes to the barricades with words of encouragement:

Was it only three years ago that some of our puffed up patriots were denouncing the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” too fattened on Camembert to stub out their Gaulois and get down with the war on Iraq? Well, take another look at the folks who invented the word liberté. Throughout the month of March and beyond, they were demonstrating, rioting, and burning up cars to preserve a right Americans can only dream of: the right not to be fired at an employer’s whim.

The French government’s rationale for its new labor law was impeccable from an economist’s standpoint: Make it easier for employers to fire people and they will be more willing to hire people. So why was Paris burning?

What corporations call “flexibility”—the right to dispose of workers at will—is what workers experience as disposability, not to mention insecurity and poverty. The French students who were tossing Molotov cocktails didn’t want to become what they call “a Kleenex generation”—used and tossed away when the employer decides he needs a fresh one.

You may recognize in the French government’s reasoning the same arguments Americans hear whenever we raise a timid plea for a higher minimum wage or a halt to the steady erosion of pensions and health benefits: “What?” scream the economists who flack for the employing class. “If you do anything, anything at all, to offend or discomfit the employers, they will respond by churlishly failing to employ you! Unemployment will rise, and you—lacking, of course, the health care and other benefits provided by the French welfare state—will quickly spiral down into starvation.”

I would post more of her article, but I fear that too large a dose of such stirring words will stir your stomachs to revolt all over your keyboards, and the Duck does not want to face the liability. It is part of the DD's insurance policy. I'm sorry, you will have to follow the link and read the rest for yourselves, after you e-mail me an electronically signed waiver of liability form absolving the DD of any damages done to your computer equipment, clothing and tastebuds.

I would pick this apart according to the usual anal-ytical DD method, but it is too easy, like overdone BBQ that just drips from the bone. I must raise the degree of difficulty, or it's just like shooting beached whales with a Tow missile. So, I challenge the Daily Duck denizens to once again take to verse, to honor this Ehenreichian effluence with a fitting paean.

Update: OK, so I'm rescinding the poetry requirement, please have at it. Dreck like this is too good(bad) to let go unfisked.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bad science watch

Minnesota Public Radio ran a story this morning detailing the findings of a Mayo Clinic study on the prevalence of cognitive imparments among a sampling of older people in Olmstead county, Minnesota (scroll down):
Study links lack of education to Alzheimers
The preliminary findings of a Mayo Clinic study sshow seniors with lower levels of education have a greater chance of getting Alzheimer's Disease.

The study was a random sample of 70 to 90 year olds in Olmsted County. Those with eighth grade education levels were three times as likely to have mild cognitive impairment, that is the pre-cursor to Alzheimer's.

Dr. Ron Petersen conducted the study. He said he can't say people with more education are less likely to get the disease.

"But that would be consistent with what we're seeing in the field of Alzheimer's Disease research in general. Those individuals who remain cognitively active earlier in life have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's in the future," he said.

Overall about 15 percent of the 4,000 people observed had mild cognitive impairment.

Now, maybe I'm just cognitively challenged in my senescence, but I would think that even a high school junior varsity debate team member can detect the flawed logic in Dr Petersen's conclusion. Coincidence does not denote causality. Could it be that both the lack of primary school success and the later onset of cognitive impairment result from some inherent underlying deficiency in cognitive capacity on the part of the subjects? Hmmmm.....

I thought we could plant the spleens over there, next to the pancreas bush and behind the shrubbery

From the BBC:

US scientists have successfully implanted bladders grown in the laboratory from patients' own cells into people with bladder disease.

The researchers, from North Carolina's Wake Forest University, have carried out seven transplants, and in some the organ is working well years later.

The achievement, details of which have been published online by The Lancet, is being described as a "milestone".

The team is now working to grow organs including hearts using the technique.

I don’t think mine needs replacing yet, but I reckon a second one would be really useful for getting through long movies without missing a key plot twist.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Orrin hits the big time!

Well, not the really big time. If you haven't been reading BrothersJudd recently, you may have missed this on air interview of Orrin Judd discussing his new book Redefining Sovereignty. Give it a listen.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bare Branch culture

Today's vocabulary phrase is "bare branch". As this article by Johnathan Rauch explains, a bare branch is an unmarried male who will leave no descendants:

Two political scientists, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer, ponder those consequences in their 2004 book Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. Summarizing their findings in a Washington Post article, they write: "Scarcity of women leads to a situation in which men with advantages — money, skills, education — will marry, but men without such advantages — poor, unskilled, illiterate — will not. A permanent subclass of bare branches [unmarriageable men] from the lowest socioeconomic classes is created. In China and India, for example, by the year 2020 bare branches will make up 12 to 15 percent of the young adult male population."

The problem in China and India is sex-selective abortion (and sometimes infanticide), not polygamy; where the marriage market is concerned, however, the two are functional equivalents. In their book, Hudson and den Boer note that "bare branches are more likely than other males to turn to vice and violence." To get ahead, they "may turn to appropriation of resources, using force if necessary." Such men are ripe for recruitment by gangs, and in groups they "exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior." The result is "a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."

Crime rates, according to the authors, tend to be higher in polygynous societies. Worse, "high-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through colonization or war." In medieval Portugal, "the regime would send bare branches on foreign adventures of conquest and colonization." (An equivalent today may be jihad.) In 19th-century China, where as many as 25 percent of men were unable to marry, "these young men became natural recruits for bandit gangs and local militia," which nearly toppled the government. In what is now Taiwan, unattached males fomented regular revolts and became "entrepreneurs of violence."

Hudson and den Boer suggest that societies become inherently unstable when sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females: in other words, when one-sixth of men are surplus goods on the marriage market. The United States as a whole would reach that ratio if, for example, 5 percent of men took two wives, 3 percent took three wives, and 2 percent took four wives — numbers that are quite imaginable, if polygamy were legal for a while. In particular communities — inner cities, for example — polygamy could take a toll much more quickly. Even a handful of "Solomons" (high-status men taking multiple wives) could create brigades of new recruits for street gangs and drug lords, the last thing those communities need.

Such problems are not merely theoretical. In northern Arizona, a polygamous Mormon sect has managed its surplus males by dumping them on the street --
literally. The sect, reports The Arizona Republic, "has orphaned more than 400 teenagers ... in order to leave young women for marriage to the older men." The paper goes on to say that the boys "are dropped off in neighboring towns, facing hunger, homelessness, and homesickness, and most cripplingly, a belief in a future of suffering and darkness."

Such dynamics put paid to the notion that a social regime based on radical individual autonomy governed by no taboos is possible, or that it would maximise the distribution of freedoms and options among a population. As the author points out, the distribution of marriage partners is a zero sum game. Social relations cannot be subjected to the sort of laissez faire free market treatment that economic resources are given in our capitalist system. This is one of the main reasons that I do not call myself a Libertarian.

The key factor that will hopefully help prevent polygamous marriages from proliferating, should they become legal in the US, is the growing economic status of women, and the increased autonomy that said status affords them in society. The main benefit that women gain from being a partner to a polygynous marriage in those societies that still practice it are economic and personal security. Where women are not allowed to participate freely in the economy, they out of necessity become dependents upon men. And in primitive economies governed by authoritarian rule and the spoils system, the concentration of wives follows the concentration of wealth.

But if men in the US increasingly avoid the responsibilities of marriage and child rearing, economically challenged single mothers may just see joining a polygamous marriage as a way to avoid the overwhelming burdens of being the sole provider and caregiver for their children. All boats have not risen equally in the high tide of economic emancipation for women in the last 30 years. The unfortunate rise in single motherhood has countered many of the gains that other women have made. Indeed, single motherhood is the primary predictor of poverty status in the US.

It is ironic that the monogamous marriage could be considered a taboo, or an unfair personal restriction imposed by society, since compared to the historical alternative of polygynous marriages it represents a liberation for the common man, who can now afford to enjoy the benefits of matrimony previously hoarded by the wealthy and powerful. Such enjoyment goes beyond the mere physical benefits of sexual gratification. Married men are happier, healthier, wealthier, and live longer than single men. So, to use a Skipper-ism, if the "Good" is determened by what works, then the monogamous marriage taboo is the case of a socially imposed restriction that actually facilitates greater individual benefits than a radically autonomous, individualized, no taboos regime could deliver.

This discussion segues nicely to this discussion about reactionary Islam and the status of women by blogger Pat Santy (via Instapundit):

Enormous effort goes into veiling women, dressing women modestly, silencing women, covering women's bodies, punishing women, controlling women, reviling women, humiliating women, beating women, subjugating women, avoiding the dishonor of women, keeping women uneducated, policing women, infantilizing women--in short, dehumanizing women -- all under the guise of "protecting" and "honoring" them as they relegate them to animal-like status.

The women in this misogynistic Islam are brainwashed from birth into thinking that this cultural preoccupation somehow is necessary and that it "liberates" them in some bizarre manner.

Amazingly, this medieval culture has grasped the fundamentals of both Orwellian and postmodern rhetorical rationalizations, that are so prominent in certain intellectual quarters within our own culture! I have heard the canned rationalizations coming from their lips of muslim women myself; and they all claim that it frees them from having to be "sexual objects."

On the contrary, in Islamic society that is apparently the only role open to women. That, and breeders for the jihad.

This societal psychopathology poisons all interactions between the genders; takes up an incredible amount of time and effort in so-called "intellectual" circles and is the subject of religious edicts and innumerable rules and strictures on women's behavior and in the religious and social life; and causes the pseudoscientific rantings of arrogantly pathetic men (like the one above) who try to justify their misogyny so that they don't have to deal with the reality of their frightened and impotent masculinity.

Women become mere possessions-vessels/repositories of the impotent male's honor. That men and women could relate equally in every sphere of human endeavor is a concept that is so alien and so threatening; I suspect it is what partly drives the rage the males feel toward western culture in general.

Without the subjugated woman, the entire house of cards of Islam and Arab culture will come tumbling down.

I have said it before and I will say it again here: the treatment of women under Islam is not only the key to understanding the pathology of the culture, but also the key to developing an antidote to its most poisonous and toxic elements. Unveiling the women of Islam and eliminating their second-class status; empowering them in the oppressive Islamic countries where their individuality and self-expression has been crushed-- may cause a ripple effect that could eventually alter a family structure that currently encourages the development of generation after generation of dysfunctional and pathological men and women.

It should be noted that the repression of women under such hyper-patriarchal regimes is also very repressive to men. It necessarily generates the conditions which generate the aforementioned bare branches, disenfranchised men with no healthy outlet for their sexual needs, no better way to find a meaningful role in society than as cannon fodder in a colonial war or jihad. For the sake of men and women everywhere, lets give up on the misguided application of "open-mindedness" where it applies to our most valued human relationship, marriage, and accept the hard-earned lessons of history, for once.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Target is Obvious; Whether They're Rational Enough to Pay Heed is As Yet Unknown

Pentagon Plans Explosion at Nevada Site

The Pentagon plans to detonate 700 tons [1,400,000 lbs. !!] of conventional high explosives in Nevada in a June 2 test designed to gauge the effectiveness of weapons against deeply buried targets, officials said on March 30.
"I don’t want to sound glib here, but it’s the first time in Nevada that you’ll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons," James Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, told a small group of reporters.

The test, dubbed "Divine Strake," is sponsored by Tegnelia’s agency and is set to be conducted at the Energy Department’s Nevada Test Site in Nye County, about 65 miles (105 km) northwest of Las Vegas.
"All explosives, given the right thermal characteristics, will create a cloud that may resemble a mushroom cloud," the Defense Threat Reduction Agency said in a statement. "The dust cloud from Divine Strake may reach an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and is not expected to be visible off the Nevada Test Site."
Nuclear tests at the site sent mushroom clouds billowing high into the air and became tourist attractions in the 1950s, but surface tests ended in the early 1960s.

Pentagon leaders have expressed concern about potential U.S. adversaries building deeply buried bunkers containing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons stockpiles or command-and-control structures that are difficult to destroy with existing weapons.

The agency said the test will involve detonating 700 tons of the Ammonium Nitrate-Fuel Oil, or ANFO, a commonly used agent in commercial blasting operations. [Also used by Timothy McVeigh in OKC].
Officials said the test’s primary purpose is to examine ground shock effects on deeply buried tunnel structures, and the explosion will take place above an existing structure.
Tegnelia said because of the power of the explosion, officials will notify Russia and make sure authorities in Las Vegas understand the test. He noted the Pentagon is currently developing several very large weapons intended to penetrate the ground to get at deeply buried and hardened targets.
Tegnelia said the "Divine Strake" test represents the largest conventional explosion Pentagon officials could imagine triggering to address the issue.

A strake is part of a ship’s hull. [Specifically, armor plating].

As reported at, via Elephants in Academia, who notes that:

[F]or anyone with half a brain the purpose of Divine Strake is crystal clear. This is the new class of bunker-buster designed to penetrate targets such as the deeply buried Iranian nuclear production and storage facilities, notably Natanz, without causing the same kind of civilian casualties and environmental impact that a nuclear weapon would. Because Divine Strake has been developed over a period of years, it is now ready for testing at, imagine that, the very moment when the Iranian nuclear crisis has reached the boiling point--otherwise we would now be struggling at the design table while they merrily enriched away.

Coincidence? I think not.

Plus, a guy whose life must have been quite rough before he crossed the path of America:

Abdul Hakim Bukhary, from Saudi Arabia, denied joining al-Qaida but said he met bin Laden 14 or 15 years ago while fighting a jihad against Russian forces in Afghanistan. He traveled to Afghanistan to participate in jihad against the United States after Sept. 11, 2001, but was jailed by the Taliban before he could fight any Americans. The Taliban suspected him of being a spy after he said he liked Ahmed Shah Massood. After the United States invaded, he was sent to Guantanamo, where he said conditions were much improved. "Prisoners here are in paradise. American people are very good. Really. They give us three meals. Fruit juice and everything!"

The full article details more Gitmo inmates, from released prisoner interviews with the DoD, carrying an AP byline, as reported in the Las Vegas Sun.

A rather irrelevant sidenote: I really, really like Las Vegas.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

The Taj Mahal is indescribable. You must see it, hulking in front of you, for you to grasp its sheer beauty. No other man-made thing, except the Great Wall, has inflamed me with such wonder. When I first gazed at the Taj, the wind slowly drew from my lungs as the heavy beauty of this wonder pressed the breath right out of me. I'm not exaggerating.

Huge blocks of white marble form the Taj. 20,000 craftsmen toiled for 12 years to build her. She cost 41 million rupees, or the rough equivalent of $500 million dollars today. 1,000 elephants transported all of that white marble from Rajasthan. Her dome stands 144 feet high.

The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled India from 1628 to 1658, built the Taj Mahal in memory of his second and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died in 1631, and the Taj is her tomb.
Legend says that Shah Jahan intended to build a black Taj even more magnificent than the white one. Thinking Islamic conquest a better use of that much treasure, Shah Jahan's third son Aurangzeb imprisoned him in Agra Fort. Aurangzeb then killed two of his brothers to take the throne of India.

We walked along the bank of the Yamuna river, which flows right behind the Taj. You can see the Taj in the top right corner. As we approached this festering bog of feces, trash and animal corpses, our friendly guide pulled out a handkerchief and covered his nose. "Dang," I thought, "this is gonna be bad..." The smell was unbearably foul. We could barely stand it long enough to shoot this picture. It became painfully obvious that India's got a long way to go in the water infrastructure sphere before she can rightly start the climb to first-world status.

In fact, this picture paints a pretty accurate pastiche of India. Repulsive filth within clear sight of one of the most impressive and beautiful structures in the world.

~ Greg Grillot

To see some decent tourist photos of the Taj Mahal, and the two outbuildings, a mosque and a royal guest house, which are impressive in their own right, go here.