25 February 2007
Another Fine Mess
Seymour Hersh confirms what ought to be most Americans' nightmares. The numskulls behind the invasion of Iraq are hard at work at destabilizing Iran.
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia's government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration's perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country's right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that "realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region."
The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney's office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.")
What Cheney and his ilk present is a classic political dilemma for anyone on the Left. The good news is that the Bush-Cheney administration has besmirched the entire conservative Grand Dream for a subservient Middle East. The bad news is that soi-disant moderates can point to the gross incompetence of the administration to trumpet their solutions, which will be gradual in their scope of change. One should be able to tie the incompetence of the neoconservatives to their basic philosophy of government—if most government is bad for business and bad for people, why bother trying to do your job right, and therefore disprove your stated philosophy, when in power—but the left wing of the American Democratic party has never been very good with systemic analysis of its political enemies.
With luck, the next administration will realize that it was not just the incompetence, but also the ideology that made Bush and Cheney so pernicious on so many issues. The problem is that we are not always lucky.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The editors at Business Week can still surprise their readers, sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in bad ways. Take the 19 February 2007 issue.
The Good: an article by actual leftist Max Sawicky, who shines a torch on the stupidity behind the tax breaks attached to the minimum wage bill. (Note to Business Week editors: Max is probably available for regular work.)
The Bad: Yet another page of potential content is wasted on Robert Parker's weekly wine column. Don't wine enthusiasts have magazines devoted to this sort of thing?
More of the bad: The Welches explain (shock of the week) that managers have to balance short-term gains against long term needs, and, yes, some customers are not worth having around. For this they get paid?
The Ugly: The Question of the Week. This week, it is—and I am not making this up— a question about global warming asked only to three skeptics of global climate change.
A new U.N. report on global warming states with 90% certainty that human activity is the culprit. As a skeptic about policies to cut CO2 emissions, what's your response?
"The report had nothing to lead me to change my view that global warming cannot, at this stage, be distinguished from natural, unforced internal variability. These 'certainties' are bogus." — Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"Saying that humans have a significant role in the warming is like saying there's gambling in Las Vegas. What can you do about it? A lot of politically possible solutions will do less than nothing." — Patrick Michaels, environmental sciences professor, University of Virginia
"Yes, humans have caused the earth to be slightly warmer, but much less than the report says. Many natural forces are not accounted for. I'd make a big bet that in the next 5 to 10 years the globe will start to cool." — William Gray, emeritus professor, atmospheric science, Colorado State University
It is not for nothing, I am sure, that Michaels received a heap of funding from energy companies over the years, that Lindzen routinely consulted for the oil and coal industry, and that Gray has been featured in "news" clips from oil companies' public relations firms.
(As a side note, Doctor Gray, I bet 5 bucks that there will be no systematic cooling before 2017.)
The Pink Menace
Pity the poor insular parents who don't want their kids knowing that gay relationships can be healthy. Fortunately for society and the kids, a state court judge has dismissed a suit by two couples who wanted the Lexington, Massachusetts public schools not to teach about same-sex couples in class.
The best part is how the lawyer for the plaintiffs described them:
Jeffrey A. Denner, who represented the couples described in the suit as devout Judeo-Christians, said they will appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and to the US Supreme Court, if necessary.
"Judeo-Christians"? That is akin to saying that one is of Indo-European ancestry. And it is awfully inclusive a self-description for folks who are trying to be very exclusive about the ideas they entertain.
23 February 2007
Circling the Drain
It had been a subject of rumor for weeks, but now it is apparently a done deal: The New Republic, a weekly fixture since 1914, is going bi-weekly.
Once upon a time, it was a real left-leaning magazine. By the time that I went to college, it was effectively cleft in two: liberal on economics and slavishly anti-Communist on foreign policy. If there was a bad foreign policy idea, TNR usually had someone backing it up. And every so often, it would have something so knackered on domestic policy that one wondered what was in the editorial water cooler that let, say, Charles Murray write for a magazine that considered itself to the left of the John Birchers.
Magazines that are going concerns do not radically cut their publication frequency. I put the last-issue dead pool at May 2010, 7 months after switching to a monthly format.
18 February 2007
101st Fighting Keyboarders
The inimitable Jeff Jacoby claims that there are only two responsible positions regarding the Iraq War—all-in behind Dear Leader Bush, or defund the whole thing. What> No third option, to nuke the country into the Stone Age? Where are your conservative principles?
But nuance, for example the nuance held by thousands of troops who are happy to serve their country but very, very unhappy to be in the middle of a political science experiment gone horribly wrong, is not what the Boston Globe pays for what Jacoby cashes his paycheck. No, they get a card-pcarryiong member of the Fighting 101st.
America is a free country, but it is not the Michael Moores or the ROTC-banners or the senatorial loudmouths who keep it free. They merely enjoy the freedom that others are prepared to defend with their lives. It is the men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform to whom we owe our liberty. Surely they deserve better than pious claims of "support" from those who are working for their defeat.
With words like that, one would expect Jacoby to lament his superannuated status and find some way to convince the Army to take him in to fight for our liberty in ways that two print columns a week plus a third, bonus, on-line column will never do. But let us assume that the Army just had no room for a 47-year-old. Then why not go to the Young Americans for Freedom conventions, or the Townhall.com web site, and urge your younger readers to go sign up for this wonderful war? Where are the actual calls to arms? Or are your pious claims of "support" for the troops just a wee bit hollow?
15 February 2007
Easy Answers to Stupid Questions
A hair dye commercial asks, "What's worse than roots?"
Most men can tell you, "No roots!"
14 February 2007
For God and Country
Atrios writes on Willard Mitt:
Frankly, I think Mitt can survive the Mormon issue as long as our media continues its tradition of not actually scrutinizing religious beliefs. Meaningless identification with a religion (church attendance optional), sprinkled with a few religious phrases and a nod to some conservative social causes makes you "religious" in our public discourse and otherwise the details are happily ignored. While there are big differences of believe and tradition within mainstream Christianity, cosmetically there are enough surface commonalities that people can easily ignore these differences. Mormonism is different enough and has some beliefs and traditions which will likely seem goofy to nonbelievers. But there's no reason for the media to delve deeply into what it means to be a Mormon, as they never delve deeply into what it means to be a Methodist or an Episcopalian, and as long as they don't Mitt'll be mostly fine.
His complete lack of consistency is another issue.
To a certain extent, Atrios is right. The media do not delve very much into what religions actually mean. If they did, for Dawkins's sake, the Shi'a-Sunni split would be Topic One on the nightly news when the Iraqi War came up. And if they did, Bush would not have been able to get away, as he did in late 2001, with something that let slip how shallow his supposedly deep reglious roots are. I wrote the following in 2003.
Bush could not recall any particular sermon by the Methodist minister whose church he attends when he stayed at Camp David. Bush did know that "he's just down to earth and doesn't try to get too fancy." Perhaps, for President Bush, Jesus really is the figure who outshines all political philosophers and thinkers. I would hope, however, that Bush would remember more about the weekly seminars on his teachings than the fact that the professor is unpretentious.
But Atrios is wrong on another level. To Christian fundamentalists, Mormonism is quite the heresy. What is worst depends on the eye of the beholder—the possible deification of men (file under God of Your Own Planet Someday), baptism of the dead (file under Font of, um, Life), extra authorities claiming equality with the Old and New Testament (file under Extra Credit), perhaps the various claims that Mormonism is the one true religion (file under My God is Better than Your God), or perhaps the idea that God lives on the planet Kolob (file under Too Many Comic Books).
But there is a truly heretical side to Mormonism. The curse of Ham mentioned in Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, in which Canaan is cursed into slavery, takes a very odd trun in the Book of Mormon. In the second book of Nephi, the Lamanites—American Indians—are punished by God for misbehavior with dark skin. Until 1981, when the supposedly divinely-inspired text was changed, the book explained that their skin would be white only when they atoned for their sins. Then there is thew whole idea of blacks being born black because they were on the wrong side of tghe war in heaven, among the spirit-babies, between good and evil. And then there was the ban on full membership in the church to blacks until 1978.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young have a lot to answer for. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney will be answering a few questions about being God of His Own Planet and not enough about the racism inherent in his religion's founding texts.
Addams Family Values
Now I know why Mitt Romney thinks he can win the Republican nomination for president. Consider his hurdles—years of moderate positions on social issues, a religion in which he gets to be God of his own planet someday, a father famed for losing a run for the same office.
Rudy Giuliani has those beat—years of out-and-out liberalism on social issues, a divorce, tales of serial adultery, and a marriage to someone who he sometimes remembered was his second cousin. And that is only what he had done through 1993. After that, he broke up with his second wife by telling the press (not her), then tried to kick her out of Gracie Mansion (the New York mayor's official residence) to move his girlfriend, now his third wife, in. To make matters worse for the Republican Right, shortly after that, Giuliani was staying in the living room of two friends. Two male friends. Two male gay friends. That's not just a red flag, that's a red-through-violet flag.
Fortunately for Americans, Romney may be even more of a fraud than Rudy.
12 February 2007
We have said it before: PowerPoint is evil, and it makes everything is touches dumber.
PowerPoint presentations obscured the insulation problems that ultimately killed the Challenger astronauts. The supposed evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which Colin Powell peddled four years ago before the United Nations, was another PowerPoint presentation. And now we have "evidence" of Iranian bad acts in Iraq. Why should we be surprised that it is yet another damned PowerPoint presentation? Enough!
Way More Fun Than a Dead Pool
Suzie Bright asks the question that I should have asked a while ago. When will Ted Haggard fall off the wagon? (Please note that her website is not for the prudish.) All money raised goes to a truly worthy cause.
07 February 2007
Now that subscribers can order a tobacco-free version of Newsweek (it is indeed very easy to switch), I wonder if Newsweek can supply me with what I really want: an edition free of ads for hucksters.
Now that the crooks who took out full-page ads promoting their Ponzi schemes are out of business, we now have folks selling "potent hoodia extract"—enough!
The Welch Way: A-B-CEO
K Marx the Spot is again sifting through the weekly Jack and Suzy Welch column in Business Week so you won't have to. This week, a concerned businessman asks how to pick a successor.
I run a small company, and it's time to pick a successor. I can make the case for any of four people. Now what? Losing someone could hurt. — M--- R---, Sioux City, Iowa
You have a rare and wondrous problem. Indeed, the exact opposite of the usual case, in which companies find themselves empty-handed at succession time, and, in desperation, are forced to back up a Brinks truck to pay for an outside hire. So, first of all, congratulations on building a leadership team with such bench strength.
But we understand your concern; you've got four stars and only one top job, plus the sinking feeling that your small company can't take an exodus of its most experienced managers. Your instinct is probably to forge some kind of compromise solution, picking one person and giving the others job titles and money to stick around in support roles. That approach can work, but if your candidates are who you think they are, the likelihood of all of them staying put is, well, low. Few real leaders are satisfied with second-tier roles or maintaining the status quo....
Not all of them have the "stuff" for the challenge ahead, meaning the kind of insight and courage that will be required to reinvent your organization when you step aside. You need to push yourself to identify the single candidate who does.
Will that move prompt the runners-up to leave? It's very possible, due to feelings of disappointment or embarrassment. But don't focus on that too much. Their departure will actually be a favor—for them and the company. For them, because it certainly sounds as if they earned the right to run their own shows, and they deserve the challenge and fun of it. And when other companies show up to "steal" them away, make sure their severance packages are generous and contain some form of noncompete clause. That will help everyone....
Yes, there may be an initial jolt to the company when one or two of the runners-up depart. But soon enough the change will open the doors of their careers and bring fresh air through your own windows, too.
Let us take a step back at a succession crisis at General Electric, where Jack Welch used to work. When it was time for Welch to name his successor, Nardelli, who had turned the Power Systems division into a profit center, was one of two losers. And, indeed, Nardelli left the company and proceeded to alienate both workers and shareholders at Home Depot while amassing tens of millions of dollars of compensation for himself. Was General Electric better off? Yes, because Nardelli felt entitled to run a public company, he would have done anything to leave.
And that is the crux of the problems in the Welches' argument. If our correspondent had four candidates to run his company, perhaps those folks are each Robert Nardeli writ small, but perhaps they are not. Companies ought to try to retain great employees, including great managers. And if only one can run the company, others will need to run new divisions or expand the company's operations. But why should anyone feel entitled to run a fairly large company? If your last name is Welch, or Nardelli, I suppose you do not consider yourself to be bound by the same constraints as anyone else.
The carefree assertion that the managers are commodities, easily replaced by underlings if they leave belies the experience of anyone who has worked for more than one or two managers. A bad manager reminds you that wage slavery is just that. A good manager lets you achieve some satisfaction and personal growth in a job, even though it is still wage slavery. Good managers are rare, and lots of good persons are not good managers.
But the best part of the answer is the assertion that "generous" severance packages are somehow the best response to competitors' poaching the company's second-best to fourth-best leaders.
06 February 2007
The old story about mining the moon for helium-3 is back, with Newsweek reporting that China is hoping to send unmanned mining rovers sometime later this century.
Three years ago, I noted the itty-bitty problems with a similar plan:
The only way that helium-3, an isotope of helium that is much more common on the Moon than on Earth, can be used as a fuel is in a deuterium-helium fusion reactor. There are only three problems with using helium-3 as fuel. First, it requires strip-mining a good chunk of the moon's surface. Second, it requires bring the helium-containing rocks back to Earth, by rocket. And that's going to be more than a little expensive. Third, it requires fusion technology that is decades off&$8212;and that's if you're an optimist.
To replace a 1000-megawatt electrical plant would require, Wikipedia's article on helium-3, 17.5 kilograms of the stuff, and probably double or triple that because of inefficiencies in electrical grids in general. And, since helium-3 represents only 10 parts per billion of the lunar soil, to replace one electrical plant would require sifting through about 4 billion kilograms of soil—or an expanse of the lunar surface one meter deep by 1.4 kilometers on each side. (That is almost a square mile for my American readers.) Getting that stuff back to Earth will not be easy. Figuring out how to make fusion energy work will not be easy. Dealing with the radioactive byproducts when some of the deuterium atoms fuse with themselves or with the helium-4 that is a normally harmless by-product of the main reaction will certainly not be easy.
But bamboolzing the press? That's easy.