25 June 2008

Tough love about Petroleum

The life blood of our civilization. Without it, we die, at least as a civilization as we understand it. Yet ... we are going to have to adjust. Consequently for all the suffering it will cause to the deserving and undeserving, I agree with this post from Andrew Sullivan:

Megan notes greater efficiency from costly energy:

"If the price of oil does come down, we'll emerge from this substantially more productive - good for us, good for our descendants, good for the planet."

$4 a gallon is the best news this country has had in a very long time. Here's to $5. It's the only way Americans will ever learn.

On a brighter note, it does seem as if the public at least is rapidly adjusting its driving habits and at least some of its expectations. Now, could our political elites do the same, please?

Update: I suppose I should note that Sullivan does not drive. Does not know how, in fact. I would point out this is positively un-American but he is not an American.

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Privatized Warfare: or let's return to the Feudal System

So-called "Feudalism" was simply the extreme privatization of virtually all government services, including justice and defense. It was in the hands of nobles and to an extent not often appreciated, private entrepreneurs. Here's an example:

In 1141 King Stephen of England was facing serious problems maintaining control of the country. One nobleman, Ranulf of Chester, seized the city of Lincoln in a bid to extend his private control, assuming that since the king had no standing army there was nothing he could do about it. King Stephen fooled him by immediately raising what forces he could and marching to the relief of the citizens of Lincoln.

The force Stephen raised shows just how privatized national defense was. It consisted of Stephen's personal household guards, a force of powerful nobles and their household knights (answerable only to their lords, not the king), and a powerful force of mercenaries (the closest thing to professional soldiers in the army). When they arrived at Lincoln the city militia marched out to join them. Note that the militia was the closest thing to what we would understand as a national "army."

In the ensuing battle Stephen's mercenaries, by far the most effective of Stephen's troops, charged forward on one flank and smashed right through the enemy force in front of them. Turning around they saw their king (and employer) in the center battling a huge mass of Ranulf's men. Instantly making the decision that they had earned their pay for the day and it didn't extend to getting themselves killed, the mercenaries kept right on riding, clear out of the battlefield.

Stephen was in so much trouble because the nobles and their private warriors on the other flank had taken one look at Ranulf's men charging straight towards them with blood in their eyes, suddenly remembered they had other priorities and turned their horses and ran.

Poor old Stephen was left stranded with both his flanks gone and the enemy closing in on three sides. The only troops willing to stand firm were the Lincoln militia who, after all, were literally fighting for their homes. Most were slaughtered and Stephen was taken prisoner.

When he was finally released in a prisoner exchange Stephen decided that relying on private forces was not the way to go.

Well, as Seller and Yeatman would say, that's history as I remember it.

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Fighting gov't waste by contracting it out

The waste, that is, not the government work (which for some odd reason citizens seem to like*). The mantra of conservatives has been for years that the private sector can do it quicker, cheaper and better. Having worked for the Feds and the state, as well as small businesses and a large corporation I can tell you that this is nonsense.

If you don't believe me, consider this column by the token liberal over on The Wall Street Journal. Here's a taste of it:

In the Bush era, the idea was pushed to a sort of extreme, with each of our great national initiatives – the Iraq occupation, Katrina reconstruction and the Department of Homeland Security – largely entrusted to private contractors. We now often read about federal employees quitting to work for private contractors to do the same job as before for twice** the pay. ...

One fact about government outsourcing is settled: It sure doesn't save money. A Washington Post reporter who scrutinized Katrina reconstruction contracts in 2006 found that "the difference between the job's actual price and the fee charged to taxpayers ranged from 40 percent to as high as 1,700 percent." To cover damaged roofs with tarps, certain contractors billed the government $1.50 per square foot of roof covered; some of the people who actually did the work got under 10 cents per square foot. Guess who kept the difference.

Privatization also constitutes a fundamental change in the constituency to which government answers. Journalist Tim Weiner estimates that, by 2006, about half of the people working for the CIA in Iraq and the National Counterterrorism Center were contractors, former CIA personnel accountable not to the American public but to their employers. "The spectacle of jumping ship in the middle of a war to make a killing was unremarkable in twenty-first century Washington," he writes in his book, "Legacy of Ashes." Among the CIA's new hires, he reported, the saying is, "Get in, get out, get paid."

The best government money can buy. And willing to pay any price for it.*** Government funded services are provided to meet a perceived societal need and no matter how poorly it is done, that is the goal of the government entity in theory. The only goal of a private firm by necessity is to make money. As much as possible. If not, the company ceases to exist. That's it: you figure it out.

Stay Tuned: the next post will be a brilliant example of the effects of small, privatized government on the battlefield (in AD 1141)!

UPDATE: Carmen this morning is furious with Wall-Mart, for screwing up her prescriptions, and her local doctor's office for sloppy work and unresponsive service: having worked for the Feds for 25 years she is walking around the house muttering about those idiots who think private industry is more efficient than government workers. She has a point. My point, in fact.

*Remember the government shut-down in the Clinton years? Repubs like Phil Graham were crowing about it until they realized that it was REALLY pissing people off. Then they tried to blame it on the Demos.

**For ex-military hired as mercenaries in Iraq the multiple is many times twice. See, among others, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an infuriating and depressing read.

***How this is going to play with the OTHER great conservative mantra, "Lower taxes means more tax revenue" we shall leave to our children and grandchildren to deal with.

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17 June 2008

A Perfect World

Just check out these headlines!

Of course, there is always one fusspot who would never be satisfied. My brother the Confederate nut for example, just to pick someone at random.

and I hear I am getting a pony for Christmas


11 June 2008

Iraq and an academic fiasco

Only my high respect for the decision making process in high ranking academic hires causes me to believe every word of this story: the America University of Iraq hired its chancellor without even checking out his past employment record:

The university’s lofty aspirations, as espoused on its Web site, make the selection of its first chancellor all the more puzzling. Owen Cargol, who took the helm at AU-Iraq in 2007 and resigned in late April of this year, had a checkered past that could have been revealed to university organizers with a simple Google search. The sexual harassment scandal that brought down Cargol at Northern Arizona University in 2001 was well publicized, in all of its explicit detail, but apparently never came to the attention of the U.S. officials who trusted Cargol to help reshape the Middle East.

Well, he did last a whole four months at that Arizona job (which, btw, paid $180k per annum).

I won't go into the nature of the scandal, since you can read them here. As for the mind numbing stupidity of the original hire as chancellor at Northern Arizona U, check this out.

I'll content myself with Cargol's own assessment of himself:

"I have overcome most, if not all, of my inhibitions and self-doubts. For sure, I am a rub-your-belly, grab-your-balls, give-you-a-hug, slap-your-back, pull-your-dick, squeeze-your-han, cheek-your-face, and pat-your-thigh kind of guy. I am optimistic, outgoing, physical, affectionate ... and sensual kind of guy.

I have said it over and over: anyone, and I mean any.one., who comes within the baleful shadow of the Bush administration ends up looking like a fool if not actively malevolent.

Well, there is an opening for a university administrator in Kurdistan if anyone is interested. I'd apply myself except that I don't think I can talk Carmen into living in an Islamic country in the middle of a civil war. And, I might not be what they are looking for anyway.

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World's Earliest Church?

Jordanian archaeologists have reported an intriguing discovery:

"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," the head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said.

"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians -- the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ," Husan said.

These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine," are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.

Not the least interesting fact here is that it was made in a Muslim country by that country's own archaeologists who are fully aware of the import of their discovery and are clearly proud of it.

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10 June 2008

Nobility of Spirit

Adel des Geistes, a title of a book of essays by Thomas Mann. After 9/11 a German born American composer borrowed the title for a cantata, 'a paean to freedom and democracy based loosely on Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."' When the composer died before finishing the work Rob Riemen continued the work as a prose essay, Nobility of Spirit, a Forgotten Ideal. It is reviewed in today's Wall Street Journal by Darrin McMahon, a professor at Florida State, my alma mater.

Here's part of what he says:

The originality of Mr. Riemen's argument resides less in its defense of universal values than in its analysis of the assault they have suffered for so long. If so many intellectuals today find it difficult to utter words like "truth," "beauty," "piety" or "goodness" without mockery or ironic derision, the cause may be traced, in large part, to the abuse of those terms by philosophers and social critics since the 19th century. Over time, various forms of relativism and nihilism took hold in elite circles, as Mr. Riemen shows, especially in the wake of Nietzsche's savage attack on the West's moral underpinnings. The would-be guardians of culture became its destroyers.

It is a depressing story – from the intellectual justifications of fascism and communist totalitarianism to the perverted idea that the mass murder of 9/11 was a "courageous" act of the "oppressed." And yet Mr. Riemen's tough-minded narrative is not without its heroes: He notes that thinkers such Raymond Aron and Arthur Koestler, Albert Camus and André Malraux, defended universal values in the face of ferocious opposition. Their likes, he implies, are badly needed today. What is required is more than a little courage and the reassertion of values that have endured despite repeated attempts to destroy them.

09 June 2008

WHERE we spend the most on gas

The high cost of gas is hitting everyone and I am doing my best to conserve, but the real pain is not how much the gas costs at the pump, but how much of your daily income goes to pay for it. On that principle folks in the poorer parts of the rural south are hurting the worst. People in the big urban areas: not so much. Californians, who pay the highest prices in the country, seem to be doing fine. I assume this is because so many are turning to public transport and car pools.

To help visualize the problem, check out this map from the New York Times.

I love a good map. It can tell you so much. My first permanent job was drawing maps for an unnamed state to our south.

Update: I should have pointed out the obvious. The main reason the Californians are paying a smaller percentage of their income is because compared to the poorer folks in the south and west, they are making a LOT more money.


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08 June 2008

The Designated Adult comes through!

Every now and then when he can break through the blizzard of inane K Lo posts on National Review's "The Corner" Rich Lowry makes some sense. For example, on Barack Obama:

The Three M's [Rich Lowry]

Andrew, I think of Obama in terms of the three M's—he's not Muslim, a Marxist, or the Messiah.

True on all counts.

shouldn't that be "nor the Messiah"?


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"This beautiful little projectile"

Derbyshire over on NRO goes ecstatic over a new toy. Follow his link, watch, and notice the narrator's tone of voice.

every boy should have one


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