Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
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    Saturday, April 29, 2006

    Which Superhero Are You?

    Your results:
    You are Green Lantern
    Green Lantern
    Iron Man
    The Flash
    Wonder Woman
    Hot-headed. You have strong
    will power and a good imagination.
    Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

    Posted by Tom, 4/29/2006 11:34:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 28, 2006

    What the...?

    My tables are showing a giant amount of whitespace in front of them, but there shouldn't be. It's that way in Firefox, IE for Windows, and Safari, but not IE for the Mac. What gives? Anybody?

    *UPDATE* Turns out Blogger was doing it to me because my table code wasn't all on one line.

    Posted by Tom, 4/28/2006 8:04:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Big Oil Election Conspiracy

    Reader Jason Spalding asks, in response to my last post:

    Have you ever looked at a map of gas prices in the United Stated based on county? Have you compared it to the results shown on a map showing the winning presidential candidate by county?

    Yes I have. I'm familiar with the various conspiracy theories regarding this idea that Bush "bought votes with low gas prices", and personally I think it's poppycock.

    I don't have access to the data of everything I want at the county level, so here's a summary of the state-level data:
    StateState TaxesAvg Price (April 2006)Normalized Price%Kerry
    Dist. Of Col.203.0342.6590.63
    New Hampshire20.62.872.4850.68
    New Jersey14.52.8722.54353.13
    New Mexico182.9522.58849.44
    New York44.53.0972.46858.82
    North Carolina27.42.9052.44743.71
    North Dakota232.852.43636.09
    Rhode Island312.9192.42560.48
    South Carolina16.82.7912.43941.3
    South Dakota242.8462.42239.09
    West Virginia272.9382.48443.56
    Corr. (%Kerry)0.30520.52860.4722
    Corr. (no DC)0.26910.49640.4441

    State tax data from here
    Gas prices from here (dynamic page, data will change with time)
    Election numbers from here, alternates that I found later but haven't used here

    OK, so what's all this mean?

    The last two items in the table are the correlation coefficients for the various columns with the % of the vote going to John Kerry. If lower gas prices = more votes for George Bush, then higher gas prices = more votes for John Kerry, and if the theory that these numbers are related is true, the coefficients should be close to or approaching 1.0 (complete correlation). If the theory is false, the coefficients should be close to or approaching 0.0. Thus, the correlation coefficient is a sort of "lie detector" for the theory that these numbers are related.

    The second row is the results minus Washington DC. Comparing state-level data with the District of Columbia is problematic, because it's not really a state and has some strange demographic characteristics. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide which number is more valid, but I'm personally inclined to go with the non-DC numbers as being more representative of America as a whole. Your mileage may vary.

    The first thing I did was check state gas taxes against Kerry votes. I was admittedly surprised by the results. I expected a much higher support among high gas tax states for John Kerry.

    The second thing I checked was the raw gas prices at the pump. This gives around 0.53 as a coefficient, but I wasn't happy with this number. My reasoning was that if in fact the conpiracy is true, and that it's the oil companies that are manipulating prices as "payback" for Bush's policies re: Big Oil, and that they're trying to go easier on his voters than Kerry's, then obviously we need to see what Big Oil itself is charging for the gas, which means we have to account for the effect of state taxes on the final price of gas. That's what I get in the next column, the "Normalized Price". And as you can see, the coefficient there is 0.47.

    I'm no statistician, but it really seems to me as though the coefficient ought to be much higher for Big Oil gas prices correlated to % of voters going for John Kerry. It's a pretty sloppy conspiracy if it actually exists, perpetrated by slackers who can't even tighten up their controls to something like 0.75, which is where I'd personally start thinking the numbers actually meant something.

    There's also a lot of missing data here. What are the average transportation costs in the various areas? Should Alaska and Hawaii be excluded, since they don't take advantage of the economies of scale the rest of us do when it comes to transportation? What other factors influence gas prices that should be accounted for? Is there reason to believe in a third factor that influences both political leanings and the price of gas?

    Anyway, that's basically why I don't put much stock into things like this. Too many unanswered questions. Insufficient data. Here's my spreadsheet (Excel format) if you care to play with the numbers.

    Posted by Tom, 4/28/2006 7:20:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    You know I can't pass this up...

    Here's the biggest government sleight-of-hand of all with regards to gas prices. First, the latest Exxon profit report:

    Thursday, Exxon Mobil announced it had earned $8 billion in profits in the first three months of this year. For outraged consumers, the staggering profit numbers boil down to this: Exxon earned 9.5 cents on every $1 of gasoline and oil sold, cashing in on skyrocketing prices at every stage of the process.

    And now the American Petroleum Institute's reportage on gas taxes:

    The nationwide average tax on gasoline is 45.9 cents per gallon as of August 2005. A summary of federal and state excise taxes and other taxes collected on gasoline is shown below. The federal tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon. The average state gasoline excise tax is 18.7 cents per gallon. Other taxes add 8.8 cents per gallon to the average tax on gasoline. These other taxes include applicable sales taxes, gross receipts taxes, oil inspection fees, underground storage tank fees and other miscellaneous environmental fees. Adding these taxes and fees to the state excise taxes results in a volume-weighted average state tax of 27.5 cents per gallon.

    Well now, isn't that special? Da gubbermint is making more per gallon than the "big oil fat cats" they want us to be pissed about. The federal government alone made as much as the oil companies at $2/gallon, and now makes 2/3 as much at $3/gallon. Maybe that's the real reason for the political outrage: companies are now making more than the government on gas.

    Hey, want to pay less for gas? Get the taxes removed! It's worth mentioning that some of the Congresscrooks are proposing a little gas tax mitigation:

    ...GOP leaders unveiled a 10-point plan aimed at soothing the growing election-year public anger over high gasoline prices.

    It included a $100 fuel-cost rebate for millions of taxpayers...


    Democrats, meanwhile, talked of suspending the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax for two months to ease Americans' pain at the pump.

    How about dumping the tax altogether? How about managing the exorbitant amounts of money you bloodsuckers leech from us every year, instead of spending it like crack whores jonesing for your next pork-barrel fix? How about cleaning up the cesspool of graft and corruption and bureaucratic waste that is our federal government's budget? How about living within your means like the rest of us?

    And don't give me any crap about "needing it for the roads". Oklahoma has miles and miles of privately managed toll road in addition to the federally-funded sections of highway. Guess which type of road is in better shape. Guess which type has less construction, and less congestion due to construction. You don't need more money. You need more competition.

    I note with no surprise whatsoever that there are no liberal protesters marching in the streets against this travesty. After all, only corporations and capitalists are evil greedy money-grubbing parasites, right?

    Props to this guy for the heads-up.

    Posted by Tom, 4/28/2006 7:16:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "Everyone wants a MacBook Pro because they are so bitchin'."
    -- Steve Jobs

    (thanks, Engadget)

    Posted by Tom, 4/28/2006 7:13:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    One of my favorite sites...

    ...for when I'm getting frustrated with forum people is the Flame Warriors. It contains a list of archetypes that you're likely to meet (or be) on discussion forums. I'm not sure, I should probably keep track, but I think I've met them all.

    I know for certain that I've met the Cyber Sisters, the Therapist, Fragile Femme, and Issues. One repeat Fragile Femme was extremely annoying to a particular board, and after several name changes eventually decided to retire and leave us alone. I wound up leaving a board due to the prodigious postings and escalating nastiness of an Issues.

    I know of at least one Ferrous Cranus, and they are truly frustrating warriors. Eventually one has to wonder why one continues to engage them.

    I have personally been accused of being a Filibuster, though in my defense I was honestly just trying to explain my position to people who didn't care. I have been half of a Duelist pair, though I try not to allow anything to become personal, with moderate success. I'm only human, after all.

    Like everyone who's seen the list, I want to be known as a Kung-Fu Master, but let's be realistic: I simply don't have the patience or serenity required. I'm pretty much a confirmed Capitalista, and proud of it. If I could find a T-shirt with that Flame Warrior on it, I'd buy it and wear it.

    Posted by Tom, 4/27/2006 6:08:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Moron Gas

    And in a followup to my rant last night, here's what the Mises Institute has to say today about the present petroleum flap:

    So, let us trace this sorry story to its most recent beginnings. (1) Congress requires new fuel mixtures during the warm weather months which are costly and disrupt available supplies, but those mixtures do not make the air any cleaner; (2) The President and Congress decide to invade Iraq and now are making threats toward Iran, thus guaranteeing political instability and violence in the largest oil-producing region of the world; (3) Congress requires even more ethanol mixtures, despite the fact that it disrupts supplies and ethanol manufacturers cannot meet the goals; (4) gasoline prices spike, and members of Congress call for arrest and imprisonment of oil executives.

    Something obviously is wrong with this picture.

    Not surprisingly, almost all of the anger from consumers — if editorial cartoons are an indication of the direction of the rage — is pointed toward oil companies and their executives. On the other hand, members of Congress, which created this current crisis, are calling for the near-destruction of oil companies, imprisonment of executives, as well as a whole new set of taxes that would further reduce available fuel supplies — all in the name, of course, of lowering gasoline prices.

    We cannot put these things into the category of bad policies made by well-meaning people. Instead, we are seeing the attempted destruction of one of the most vital industries in our country to be carried out by incompetent, venal tyrants who have no intention of telling the truth — and we have a cynical media acting as the mouthpiece.

    There is a way out of this mess — reinstitute free markets in gasoline and oil — but Congress and the President of the United States, not to mention those who are politically connected, have no intention of permitting the markets to work.

    And the only reason they're getting away with it is the economic ignorance of the general populace (not to mention Congress). If there was ever a subject that should be mandatory before high school graduation, it's economics. Of course, that would not be in the interests of the powermongers running government schools (and prosecuting this witch hunt), so don't hold your breath.


    P.J. O'Rourke said it best. Government should be against the law.

    Posted by Tom, 4/26/2006 7:14:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Here we go again

    Bush takes aim at gasoline prices.

    Let's take this point by point, shall we?

    President George W. Bush pressured profit-rich oil companies to invest in new refineries on Tuesday and announced steps against any price gouging to contain gas prices that have soared while his popularity plummets.

    Here's a little translation for ya:

    "Steps against price gouging" = "price controls"


    "Price controls" = "shortages and rationing" when the price mechanism is not allowed to do its work and signal consumers to conserve. Doesn't the President remember the 1970's? Sorry, I forgot. He was high.

    He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend federal clean-burning gasoline rules this summer that are forcing consumers to buy expensive new gasoline blends.

    Hey, he did something right! Getting government out of the market allows the market to function more smoothly. Each consumer will be able to buy whatever gasoline best meets their wants and needs, rather than what government has decreed they shall buy. Of course, he'll be killed even more in the polls because he obviously hates the environment.


    A former Texas oil man who in recent months has advocating curing America of its addiction to oil, Bush was unusually blunt with oil companies enjoying record profits. He said they should use some of their largesse to invest in new refineries and researching alternative fuel sources.

    "We expect there to be strong reinvestment to help us with our economic security needs and our national security needs," he said.

    Speak for yourself, Mr. President. I expect the companies to remain faithful to their shareholders, and try to find ways to continue making a profit. If that includes reinvestment, then so be it. But if reinvestment would hurt the companies, it's better that they don't do it.

    He also said he wanted Congress to take away from the oil companies about $2 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, such as subsidizing research into deepwater drilling. He said the tax breaks are unnecessary at a time of "record oil prices and large cash flows."

    "Taxpayers don't need to be paying for certain of these expenses on behalf of the energy companies," Bush said.

    Good deal! Getting government out of the market.

    Bush said Congress should find a way to approve permits to build new refineries a year after they are filed.

    The fact that no new refineries have been built in 30 years is frequently cited as a reason contributing to soaring gas prices.

    Better idea: rubberstamp the refineries within 24 hours of receipt. Or do away with the permit system altogether.


    The president did not, however, endorse a call from some members of Congress for consideration of a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

    That's because the tax is a stupid idea. Oil companies don't pay taxes. Their customers do. More math for ya: "Windfall profits tax" = "raise prices at the pump to cover the cost of government interference".


    Before the speech, the White House released a letter in which the federal government urged state attorneys general to vigorously enforce laws against price gouging that may have contributed to rising gasoline prices.

    And we come full circle. Price gouging does not exist. Prices fluctuate in response to market conditions, and price levels are indicators to consumers of what should be conserved and what can be used frivolously.

    Now don't get me wrong: I don't enjoy paying 3 bucks a gallon any more than the rest of you. But higher gas prices are prompting me to seriously consider a newer, more fuel-efficient car. They're prompting me to take fewer unnecessary trips into town.

    Artificially low gas prices won't do that. If you want people to conserve gasoline, let the prices move as they will. If it were to hit 10 bucks a gallon nationwide, hybrid vehicle sales would go through the roof. People would be giving their SUV's away. Leftist envirowhackies would be dancing in the streets. And yet by their rhetoric, the Democrats want the low prices in spite of these benefits. The only thing I can figure is that they're determined to see this peak oil rubbish through to the end, even if they have to make it happen themselves (not that I believe they can).

    Posted by Tom, 4/25/2006 10:50:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...


    I'm always a little hesitant to fire broadsides at such big targets, because as always, the devil is in the details. Socialism, as I use the term, refers to involuntary socialism, as a state-sponsored system would be. It's a system in which, at the time of contribution, the contributor is forced against his will to give up some portion of what he has, supposedly for the "greater good". It is the only form of socialism which the State seems to be capable of implementing.

    Some will quibble that voting and democracy allow the contributor to state his preference ahead of time, and therefore he's not being forced into anything. Of course, if the contributor is the sole dissenting voice in a crowd of thousands at the polls, his dissent doesn't mean much, does it? It's not as though he can take his ballot with him and use it to prevent the tax collector from exacting his due. After all, that would be a fair system.

    There is a form of socialism with which I have no problems, and that is voluntary socialism. One reads about it in the book of Acts, chapter 4, verses 32-35:

    32Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [ESV]

    This is a form of socialism which respects property rights. In the next chapter, we read of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a piece of property but lied about how much they received for it. Peter says:

    "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

    Ananias and Sapphira were struck down because they lied about the level of their generosity, not because they did anything wrong with respect to their property or the money which they received for it. If I were to hypothesize, I'd say they wanted to be seen as big shots in the giving circuit, violating Jesus' instruction in Matthew 6:1:

    "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

    But whatever their motivation, the fact remains that Peter specifically acknowledges their property rights even as he knows they're going to be struck down for their offense of lying. This says to me that the particular brand of socialism described in the Bible is strictly voluntary, though you'd better be sure not to overstate your contributions.

    Involuntary socialism on the other hand, is no respecter of property rights. The foundational assumption is that the property transferred into the common bucket never belonged to its contributor anyway. A worker who earns wages has no claim on those wages if the State sees fit to seize them. To believe that this is right is to believe that all wages, and by extension, all property and even all people, are owned by the State. The only way around this is to acknowledge the property rights of the individual and stipulate that the State's seizure of property is simply theft.

    Stepping beyond that particular ethical point for the moment, socialism has a bigger problem, as pointed out by the late, great Ludwig von Mises. Socialism prevents economic calculation. That is, socialism prevents rational allocations of resources because no goods can be ranked against any other goods.

    Let's say an apple-picker can pick a bushel of apples in an hour. Under capitalism, he owns the hour that he spent, and thus owns the apples that he picked (we're assuming he owns the tree and/or has an uncontested right to pick the apples). Since he probably doesn't want to eat a whole bushel of apples himself, he can trade a portion of them for other foodstuffs, like meat, eggs, vegetables, etc. Each transaction is a function of his desire for the other product, his willingness to give up a certain number of apples for it (given what they've cost him), and the other person's desire for apples vs. what they have to trade in return. If the apple-picker took an entire day to pick a bushel of apples instead of just an hour, he would be less willing to trade large numbers of apples for other goods, because the apples cost him more. This is what I mean by economic calculation. Each person brings to the trading table the products of his labor and the knowledge of what it takes to produce those products.

    Thus, if it takes 1 hour for Adam to pick a bushel of apples, but it takes Fred 8 hours to catch a bushel of fish, on the face of it fish will be more valuable than apples. In terms of a common currency, in this case "hours worked", fish are 8 times more valuable than apples. Of course Adam and Fred's preferences will determine the actual exchange rate, since one or both of them might prefer to eat more of one thing than another thing. If both of them prefer fish to apples, the price of fish, expressed in apples, will rise.

    And while all of this takes rather long to explain, Fred and Adam don't really need to know how it works to make the trade. Adam wants fish, and he has to offer Fred some amount of apples that will get Fred to agree to the exchange. Both of them, subjectively, are just sort of saying "well, I'd rather have more of this than that, and here's how much I'd like to give up for it". If they reach an agreement, the trade is made. The internal mental process each goes through is economic calculation.

    Under socialism (the involuntary kind), Greg the government agent comes to the orchard and to the dock to collect the fish and apples and transport them to the town square for redistribution "to each according to his need". Right away we have a problem, because Greg isn't doing anything productive, but he still has to eat. So some of the apples and fish don't actually make it to the town square, but wind up in Greg's refrigerator. Society has not only lost the apples and fish consumed by Greg, but has also lost whatever Greg would have produced if he wasn't seizing the products of Adam and Fred's labor and guarding them against "theft" for the benefit of "the people".

    When the day's produce has been collected, and everyone comes to the town square to get their due, it's all free because that's the socialist ideal. Unfortunately, what happens if everybody's in the mood for fish? There's a shortage of fish, which leads to arguments. Adam thinks he should get more fish than Bernice the bean-picker, because he brought more apples by volume than she did beans. Some people want apples more than beans, but others want beans more than apples, and all of them want fish more than anything else. Nobody's got a clue what their contribution is worth, but everyone is sure that their contribution was the hardest to produce and is therefore the reason they should have first pick at the goods available for distribution (except Greg, of course, because he's already got his cut), thus getting their preferred products.

    There is no disincentive for not grabbing as much of one's preference as possible, because there is no cost to doing so. Adam has no reason to take his second-favorite choice from the pile, when his favorite choice costs the same: they're both free. In a capitalist system, Adam would choose between his favorite and his second-favorite on the basis of how many apples each would cost him. Perhaps he could get more of his second-favorite for an equal or even much lower investment of apples. Adam would also automatically balance the quantities of each he could gain against the quantities of apples he could exchange. But in the socialist system, these economic calculations are impossible. Everything simply goes into a big pot to be consumed at random by whomever.

    And what of the voluntary socialists? Have they also destroyed their ability to make economic calculations? No, they have simply moved the moment of calculation. Since each person's right to his own property is respected, each person can consume or trade as he desires outside the socialist system (in this case, the church). The person can also make a value statement (an economic calculation) by donating to the socialist system and relinquishing their right to control the property so donated. In effect, they are spending their property to buy more socialism and whatever benefits they believe will come of it (spiritual, etc.). But if something comes up, and they have need of the property not already donated, they can choose not to donate it and instead use it for the emergency, or presumably since they have purchased some socialism through their donations, they could avail themselves of its benefits as well.

    What has surprised me the most in my discussions with advocates of involuntary socialism is that they generally do not seem to grasp that socialism is available to them in the voluntary form. All they have to do is start sharing their money, food, housing, clothing, etc. with other people. This is usually (but not always) dismissed and derided as "mere charity", while their vision is of something far grander and nobler. Of course, I find myself confused at how the destruction of individual choice and freedom is better than allowing or encouraging them to flourish, but then again maybe I'm just missing something. It also seems to me, from my admittedly limited perspective, that disproportionately more focus is placed on the distribution of products under socialism, at the expense of paying attention to how they are produced. Given that one of the most basic laws of economics holds that production must precede consumption, I find this rather short-sighted.

    As a Christian, I am in favor of voluntary socialism. I think it should be practiced as much as one is able, and that a person should always try to push the limits of their level of involvement. But as for the involuntary kind, I'm afraid I just can't seem to find much to recommend it.

    Posted by Tom, 4/25/2006 7:03:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Spontaneous Order

    I ran across this video the other day. It's about a minute of a busy intersection in India. I've shown this video to an Indian coworker, and he assures me that it is typical. The first time through, a typical American driver's reaction is one of horrified fascination. The scene is utter chaos. Surely there must be deaths and injuries galore.

    Look closer

    Despite any visible stop signs, traffic lights, cops, or other indications of "central control" over the traffic (at least, if there are any, everyone's cheerfully ignoring them), people get through the intersection safely, whether they are on foot, a bicycle, motorcycle, 3-wheeled taxi, car, or bus. At some points in the video, opposing traffic simply splices together, going around pedestrians with inches to spare, yet there's nobody getting killed, and no signs of injury. What's more, as you watch the video repeatedly, you can pick out a sort of informal rule set that everyone seems to abide by, though there's no evidence that any of the people involved are engaged in formal negotiations, contract, or even talking to one another. It's a scene of spontaneous order arising out of everyone's desire to meet their own needs while trying not to hurt anyone else. It's a minute or so of a microcosm of what a libertarian society might be like.

    When Michael Z. Williamson described the traffic on Grainne in Freehold, I had difficulty imagining the "organized chaos" he was trying to get me to see. Now I see it, and it's a thing of beauty. It lends credence to Ellickson's thesis, but with the added bonus of not requiring a "social account" for the balancing of negotiated favors.

    Posted by Tom, 4/21/2006 7:23:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Smoke vs. Property

    Mises has an excellent article today (more of a rant, really) about all these nonsense anti-smoking laws:

    The bottom line is that if you are a smoker, you do not have a right to smoke in my house nor in my place of business. If you want to smoke at a restaurant, bar, strip club, or casino, open your own. If you can't, stay home.

    And if you are a nonsmoker, you do not have a right to a smoke-free environment in my house or in my place of business. If you want a smoke-free restaurant, bar, strip club, or casino, then open up your own darn place. If you can't, then stay home.

    When people drop their arrogant and self-righteous attitude and realize that it is not a right to work for somebody else or that it is not a right to enter into somebody else's establishment, and when people learn the difference between the words "public" and "private," then maybe the incredible waste of time and taxpayer dollars that go toward smoking legislation will stop. Maybe then the government will stop interfering with property rights and start protecting them.

    Preach it, brother!

    Posted by Tom, 4/21/2006 7:16:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    "Security is mostly a superstition...Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all."
    -- Helen Keller

    Posted by Tom, 4/21/2006 6:54:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 20, 2006


    Dehumanization is the process of removing human qualities from a person, or more specifically, one's mental image of a person. Another word for it is objectification, but there's something more... sinister about dehumanization. Objectifying someone allows a certain emotional detachment, but not necessarily a negative emotonal association. Dehumanizing them, on the other hand, allows one to sort of "step past" one's conscience in regards to the person dehumanized. I think that, put simply, objectification permits "use", while dehumanization permits destruction. A man can objectify a woman and use her for sex, but it takes dehumanization to "allow" him to kill her. Yeah, icky stuff, but this is an icky subject.

    The reason I'm concerned with dehumanization is not necessarily on behalf of the "victim" of dehumanization, but rather out of concern for the perpetrator. Dehumanizing someone else is a venomous process. defines it as "to deprive of human qualities such as individuality, compassion, or civility". So it doesn't just take away personhood, it takes away any "good" in them. It opens the floodgates of hatred, anger, disgust, revulsion, and contempt, and justifies any action against the victim on the basis of their inhumanity. And whatever muscles that we exercise -- be they physical, mental, or emotional -- will grow stronger. So if we practice dehumanizing people, we will become good at it. It will become second nature. It may not lead to atrocity a la Rwanda et al, but it cannot lead to good relations between us and the people we dehumanize.

    Unfortunately this is all too prevalent these days, especially in political discourse. Witness the statements made by religious leaders on both the right and left. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson routinely dehumanize homosexuals, abortionists, and others they see as lacking in moral fiber. Watch the outpouring of vitriol at any of the leftist anti-war rallies. Listen to the "debates" in Congress. Dehumanizing opponents is scarily evident everywhere. It's my belief that this is evidence of a vast spiritual sickness throughout our society, nation, and world. And the only cure is to force oneself into empathy -- to desperately try to understand an issue from the other person's point of view. We need to look for the pain, anguish, fear, circumstance, history, or whatever other reason that exists which would lead a person to a viewpoint or lifestyle that opposes our own. And while we may never agree, we can at least understand, and the process protects us from inviting the venom into our souls.

    Posted by Tom, 4/20/2006 6:23:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    For the WoW Peeps

    I ran across a really great leveling guide for Alliance. I'm using it because I've been playing this stupid game for a year and a half, and STILL haven't gotten a character to level 60. I figure it's about time I stopped piddling around and got down to business.

    In other news, I've been trying to find the perfect loadout of interface mods, at least for my play style. I was a big CT_Mod fan for a while, until it corrupted my installation and I had to completely reinstall. Now my philosophy is to keep the mods as simple and light as possible, while using Blizzard's interface whenever it's an option. So anyway, here's my current loadout:

    Atlas: provides maps of instance dungeons on the fly
    Auctioneer: collects statistical data on the auction house to help you set prices when selling, and provides tooltips in the field so you know what an item is worth.
    CT_MailMod: provides an interface to open all mail and to send large quantities of items to a single other person. This is the only portion of CT_Mod I've kept
    Gatherer: places markers on the map for Herbalists and Miners whenever they gather herbs/ore. Very handy for farming raw materials.
    InventoryHawk: Configurable item counter that gives a heads-up display for how many of a particular item you have in inventory. Also handy for farming raw materials.
    MovableBags: Allows you to move your bags around, since Blizzard's auto-placement seems to get in the way sometimes.
    SelfCast: If you cast a beneficial spell while an enemy is targeted, the spell automatically gets cast on yourself.

    I haven't participated in any raids yet, so I haven't bothered to grab any of the raid-specific mods. Maybe when I have a character at level 60.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2006 8:30:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Perpetually Half a Man

    My life has been a series of failures to measure up. In high school, I was an A-B student. My friends and brother were A students, and this was constantly thrown in my face by those in authority. They knew I could do better. Hell, *I* knew I could do better. But nobody ever gave me a good reason to care, so I didn't.

    I was the first in my family to attend college, and I went on a full scholarship. Everyone had great hopes for the lawyer or doctor or something that I would become. Instead, I dropped out. I taught myself to program computers, and pursued a career doing that. Not glamorous or exciting, but at least it was briefly something I had control over setting the standards for. Now I work at what should be my dream job, but I'm not sufficiently enthused or motivated to get more than "satisfactory" job reviews.

    I'd never really been taught how to handle a gun, and when I took an interest in guns at the age of 24 or so, I had to learn it all myself. I understand the theory behind shooting well, and have read extensively on the subject. I've taught others to shoot. But my students invariably shoot better than I do, and I never seem to have the time or money to practice, so I'm a mediocre shot at best.

    I'd never been taken hunting, so I had to learn that too. I went hunting (deer) a time or two, but really had no idea what I was doing, and never shot anything during the entire time I hunted in Michigan, deer hunting capital of America. Years later, I went duck & goose hunting with a friend in Oklahoma. I killed one or two geese, and it turns out I just don't have the heart for it. No great white hunter me.

    My dad and father-in-law are whizzes at home improvement. My best friend in high school was the son of a cabinet maker. My grandfather was a bricklayer. But I was never taught how to do any of this stuff. Neither was my brother, but somehow despite having not only gone on to graduate from medical school, he's also somehow figured out this home improvement stuff as well. My projects always end at levels of quality ranging from "barely functional" to "unmitigated disaster". I thought buying a newer house would save me from this, but something as retardedly simple as changing the spray thingie on the kitchen sink without leaks simply eludes me. How hard can it be to unscrew one hose, apply teflon tape, and screw in the other one? Apparently too hard for me to do correctly. So now every pending project fills me with dread at the unspoken comparison that must inevitably happen between my efforts and those of people who know what they're doing.

    I experienced a great spiritual awakening in the form of the Walk to Emmaus. I wanted to do the Lord's work. But I was repeatedly given subtle hints that I just wasn't good enough to help out except in certain limited ways. The matters of conscience where I had to turn down opportunities due to conflicts of interest only seem to have made it worse. It's clear from the interactions I've had with my pastor that he doesn't consider me one of the anointed. So now I find my interest waning in doing anything bigger than just what involves my own individual efforts.

    I really don't know why I want or need validation in the form of appraisal as the "manly" sort. John Eldredge certainly puts a good effort into explaining it in his book Wild at Heart, but he leaves me hanging on the part where he talks about how manhood can only be conferred sort of spontaneously (ie, you can't ask for it) by a person that the man-to-be already considers a man. Of course, he could be wrong, and I'm just seeking validation to shore up my own insecurities. But like Rodney Dangerfield, I just can't seem to get any respect. I have a temper and I own guns, so I can get fear, but respect? Not so much.

    I suppose in some way all of this is part of why I'm a libertarian. Most of the stuff I've done or learned to do has been to a level that's "good enough" for me, but not good enough for those charged with determining whether I'm worthy of the mantle of manhood. Libertarianism has an emotional appeal for me -- I want to set my own standards. I want other people to keep their opinions and snarky remarks (and rules and regulations and zoning codes and so on) to themselves. I want to say "this is good enough for me" and have it actually be good enough for my critics. Not necessarily because I've met some objective standard, but because I've said that I'm satisfied, and my satisfaction should be good enough for them.

    But that's probably not going to happen anytime soon, so I guess I'd better raise my standards.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2006 7:27:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...


    I suppose maybe I ought to comment on the story of the would-be Oklahoma cannibal, since it's happening just down the road from me. But what is there to say, really? It's a sad situation for the victim's family, and an intolerably dangerous one for the rest of us if he gets off. Let's be realistic: his conviction is a foregone conclusion at this point, and even if he's innocent (unlikely) he's dead as soon as he hits the streets, because nobody is going to want to live next to someone with this crap trailing them around.

    And for those of you who love these sex offender registries so much, this story is a perfect example of why stuff like this happens and why the registry is a bad idea. Expect the vigilanteism, especially in the wake of cannibal stories like the above. Registries are a "to-do" list for the anyone who's got a sweet little relative who winds up like our victim. So let's be honest about it. Either people are a threat to society or they are not. If they are, take them out of circulation. If they're not, live and let live, without all the need for tracking and registering.

    My position is that justice would be simpler, faster, less expensive, and no more broken than our current system if we cut out the State and just handled it ourselves. The vast majority of the population just wants to live in peace with one another anyway, so the bad people are getting a disproportional share of our tax dollars and mental energy. But others don't share this view, and they are sufficiently numerous to have me overruled at the moment.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2006 7:22:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 14, 2006


    (click the picture)

    Posted by Tom, 4/14/2006 7:00:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    Honor Harrington, book 9

    With a title like Ashes of Victory, you know there's going to be a downside at the end. And while I'd stumbled on a couple of spoilers while browsing for Honor-related material, I had no idea that Weber was going to go where he did. Wow.

    Weber seems to have fully adopted the multiple-storylines perspective, and I'm getting used to it. Again he cuts Honor herself out of a major part of the action, but as a consolation prize we finally get to see the legendary White Haven turned loose on the enemy, which is pretty glorious. The end of the book is rather tense, leaving the Peeps in a crummy position militarily but better off politically, with the Manticorans just the opposite. And all this with a fragile cease-fire in place.

    The blurb on the back of the next book, War of Honor, not to mention its title, promises that the present peace will not last. It's also the thickest volume so far, weighing in at over 900 pages. Guess I'd better get started.

    Posted by Tom, 4/12/2006 11:46:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Deja Vu...

    I saw this headline at Yahoo, and was SURE that I'd seen something like it before:

    Quarter of Species Gone by 2050

    Using several models that project habitat changes, migration capabilities of various species, and related extinctions in 25 "hotspots," scientists predict that a quarter of the world's plant and vertebrate animal species would face extinction by 2050.

    A little digging, and what's this?

    In 1979, Oxford University biologist Norman Myers suggested in his book The Sinking Ark that 40,000 species per year were going extinct and that 1 million species would be gone by the year 2000. Myers suggested that the world could "lose one-quarter of all species by the year 2000."

    It's the SAME FREAKING CRAP!!! And in case you haven't noticed...

    What did happen? Most species that were alive in 1970 are still around today. "Documented animal extinctions peaked in the 1930s, and the number of extinctions has been declining since then," according to Stephen Edwards, an ecologist with the World Conservation Union, a leading international conservation organization whose members are non-governmental organizations, international agencies, and national conservation agencies.

    Environmentalism is doomsday propaganda for leftists. The Christian right has their Rapture and their End Times and their Bible Code. The lunatic left has mass extinction, global warming, and peak oil. They're all nucking futs.

    Posted by Tom, 4/12/2006 6:18:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Please God No...

    An Inconvenient Truth

    Eloquently weaves the science of global warming with Al Gore’s personal history and lifelong commitment to reversing the effects of global climate change. A longtime advocate for the environment, Gore presents a wide array of facts and information in a thoughtful and compelling way. The film is not a story of despair but rather a rallying cry.

    Alternate title: An Insufferable Bore.

    Start chewing your leg off now, and get a head start on the trap.

    Posted by Tom, 4/12/2006 5:45:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    The State and Genocide

    A new report by Human Rights Watch draws on various sources to show how the Rwandan genocide was planned and executed. I am in the process of reading the whole report, but this press release contains the most damning summary so far:

    “Genocidal violence did not just break out as a result of fear or hatred of the Tutsi minority,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “It was launched by military, administrative, and political authorities using the machinery of the state.”

    The paper relates how officials and propagandists defined Tutsi civilians as the “enemy” to be targeted by “self-defense” efforts. It also summarizes the context of the genocide, which began in early April 1994, including poverty, land scarcity, colonial rule, the introduction of multi-party politics and the war.

    I wonder... has there ever been a genocide which did not involve the State's participation, either actively or by looking the other way? I'm sure there must have been, but at the moment I can't think of any.

    Posted by Tom, 4/10/2006 9:58:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    And now, Nebraska

    Nebraska's governor has signed concealed carry into law. They still have a problem in that they did not include a pre-emption clause, which allows local governments to continue to ban concealed carry (anti's call this "local control"). It appears that some are already trying to fix this.

    Here's the scoreboard:

    2nd AmendmentShall-IssueMay-IssueNo-Issue
    New Hampshire
    New Mexico
    North Carolina
    North Dakota
    South Carolina
    South Dakota
    West Virginia
    New Jersey
    New York
    Rhode Island

    Put another way:

    See Packing.Org for detailed info on the various laws, including reciprocity.

    Posted by Tom, 4/10/2006 9:46:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Once again...

    ...the gun-to-Mom's-head test.

    The latest at Mises is about the harsh realities of law and law enforcement:

    People who criticize government as nothing but beating, killing, and hanging — to use Mises's phrase — are sometime accused of using exaggerated and hyperbolic language. Surely government is more than that and is not always that. Something as simple as a stop sign doesn't beat you or kill you!

    And yet, what the critics of government mean is that all law, even that which appears to be a mere guideline and a help, must ultimately be enforced at the point of a gun. It represents a threat to obey or lose all freedom.

    This insight applies to all law, whether it results from a Constitution, legislation, or appears out of nothing more than a regulatory body. Every regulation, no matter how small is enforced at the point of the gun. Every tax can result in handcuffing and jailing and even killing those who fail to fork over. Hidden behind each mandate is an armed tough in jackboots and a bulletproof vest who is prepared to beat and kill to serve the state and its laws.

    Or, as P.J. O'Rourke put it:

    The secret to balancing the budget is to remember that all tax revenue is the result of holding a gun to somebody's head. Not paying taxes is against the law. If you don't pay your taxes you'll be fined. If you don't pay the fine you'll be jailed. If you try to escape from jail, you'll be shot. Thus, I - in my role as citizen and voter - am going to shoot you - in your role as taxpayer and ripe suck - if you don't pay your share of the national tab. Therefore, every time the govt spends money on anything, I have to ask myself, ‘Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?’

    And for all you "pro law-enforcement" types out there...

    We tend to think of the law as some sort of oiled machine that works according to the regulations. The truth is that the law is administered by people with a great deal of discretion over how others are treated. The wardens and correctional officials can choose to humiliate a person in whatever way they want. They can put you in prison clothes that fit or in some that are way too tight. They can tell you the time or not. Leave you to languish or make a call for you. They can insult you and lie about your status or be kind.

    The only sure way to elicit something approaching humane behavior from them is to crawl and beg like a dog. You are worse than a slave, because you have nothing of value to offer your new owners. You are worse than an animal in a zoo because you are of no value to your captors. They really don't care if you live or die. Those who do care cannot help.

    Or, as Robert Heinlein put it:

    It may be necessary to kill a man, but to incarcerate him destroys both his dignity and yours.

    Some days, words cannot equal the disgust I feel toward our society. I'm left with only H.L. Mencken:

    Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

    Posted by Tom, 4/10/2006 7:15:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, April 8, 2006

    OK, small props to Dell

    After all the fuss and bother, they did actually manage by some miracle to deliver my sweet new monitor the very next day. I had it shipped ground because they paid for it, but apparently their warehouse is in Texas or somewhere similarly close by, because that bad boy was in my hands yesterday, and was hooked up in the home office last night. Nice going, Dell!

    Your website still sucks.

    Posted by Tom, 4/8/2006 6:56:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 6, 2006

    Dell's Website SUCKS!!!

    So I go to order my brand-spankin-new Dell 20" widescreen LCD monitor. I already have one at work, and I love it so much I decided to grab one for the home office. Thus begins the craptastic odyssey that is the Dell web experience.

    First, at the opening page of, there's no obvious way to see a list of products or product categories. Instead, you're supposed to identify what kind of customer you are. Why not at least show me something up front, a la the Apple Store, and give me an option to click in to a discounted product listing if that applies to me? I'm not sure what kind of customer I am, but I see they've got a handy search bar, and since I have one at work I know the model number. So I type in "2005FPW" and click the search button. BING! That takes me to this page, and the first item listed is the bad boy I'm after. I'm in business. So I click the item and get this crap:

    We're sorry that we could not find anything that matched your search.

    What the hell? Click browser back button. Click item again.

    We're sorry that we could not find anything that matched your search.

    Now I'm getting frustrated. I look at the rest of the page, and while there's no place to choose a "product category" ('cuz that would be too easy), there's a box titled "Essentials Links":

    Basic Desktops
    Entertainment Desktops
    XPS Desktops
    Basic Notebooks
    Entertainment Notebooks
    XPS Notebooks
    Dell TVs
    Dell Printers
    Electronics & Accessories
    Days Of Deals
    Windows Vista

    Where the heck are the monitors? Well, a TV is like a monitor, so click... back button... Hmm...

    I decide to try the "Electronics & Accessories". Finally!!! A picture of a damn monitor! Click... At the time, the one I wanted was not listed on the monitor page, but it is now. Apparently they run a nondeterministic web server over there at Dell.

    Anyway, I select my bad boy, add it to the shopping cart, go to check out, and create my account. Now, I want this shipped to my office, since I work 30 miles from my house and don't want $500 worth of monitor sitting unattended on my front porch all day. So I type in my shipping address, assuming that since every other webstore on the face of the planet does it, Dell will give me the opportunity at credit card time to put in a different billing address. And it does, but not well.

    See, if you go to Dell and place an order, every single page you navigate to is absolutely covered in crap. It's the web equivalent of a restaurant where they keep trying to up-sell you on other stuff. "You want this to go with that? How about some of these? Don't forget those!"

    The pages are so busy that after about the 4th click, you're subconsciously beginning to filter out information and ignore parts of the page. By the time you get to the form that lets you enter in your credit card number and such, you've been trained to ignore everything but the form itself. And that page is what killed me. I entered my number, failing to notice that hidden in my "clutter blind spot" was the shipping address, with a little hyperlink that said "click here to change this address".

    At this point, I'm expecting to see the billing address simply be part of the credit card form, but it's not. Why do I expect this? Because every other store I've dealt with does it that way!!! I get to the end of the form, and hmph... that was awful short. Maybe the billing address will be on the next page. Click...

    And it tells me my order has been submitted and to wait for an email confirmation. Thoughts of billing addresses get overridden by dreams of having my new monitor, and I blithely go back to what I was doing.

    Then the credit card rejection notice shows up in my email. What the hell? I call Dell. They say call the bank. I call the bank. They say it's just a security precaution because I recently changed my address, and to go ahead and resubmit. I call Dell. They resubmit. Declined. I call the bank again. They tell me I'm on fraud alert because somebody's been trying to ram my card through. I say yeah, that's me. I want my freakin' monitor! They ask me a billion questions, seem satisfied with the answers, and tell me to get Dell to call them. I call Dell. Tell Dell to call bank. Hang on the line while all sorts of messing around goes on, can barely hear anyone talking because the 3-way isn't working so hot, sit on hold for 20 minutes, and FINALLY get my monitor paid for.

    Now don't get me wrong. I think Dell makes a decent product. In the case of this monitor, they make an excellent product. But their web page SUCKS. I shop regularly at the Apple Store, NewEgg, and of course Amazon. I have NEVER had this kind of issue with them, because their interfaces are uncluttered, they make it very easy to enter separate billing and shipping addresses -- even assume that you will -- and they make it easy to find the stuff you want in the first place. Next time, I think I'll pay a little more and get it from a 3rd party vendor. If there is a next time.

    Posted by Tom, 4/6/2006 5:38:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Hold your horses...

    Yes, I'm watching Nebraska. No, I'm not ready to post it yet. I'm waiting for news that the governor has signed their new concealed carry bill. As we said when I was part of the fight in Michigan, it ain't over till it's over.

    Posted by Tom, 4/6/2006 6:47:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 4, 2006


    The Mises Institute has a great article today on the subject of homesteading. For those who still have questions about this peculiar piece of the praxaeological puzzle (I love alliteration), I believe this article will explain a whole lot. I especially dug the reference at the end to the profound beauty of emergence:

    To watch a town be transformed in a matter of hours, from unoccupied to completely occupied, and do so in an orderly fashion, without any titles to property being issued, and conflict kept to a minimum, is a thing of enormous beauty, a testament to the capacity of people to organize themselves in the absence of central planner, formalized rules, formal title, or even the opportunity to trade their property at a profit.

    Posted by Tom, 4/4/2006 5:51:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Let's take this a little slower

    I am the commentator who brought up the oil issue. I have a couple of comments on your post.

    1. The lack of patience with "doomsayers" is a bit odd coming from a christian, considering how many of them believe in biblical literalism.

    This blog has been up for two and a half years. In no post will you find me subscribing to any form of biblical literalism. I have just as little patience with fundamentalist Christians as I do with fundamentalist liberals. I'm also aware of the irony that Christ preached patience and love towards our opponents. It's a personal failing of mine.

    2. I assume the crack about "Heaven's Gate" is directed to me and others who ask the same questions.

    Nope. It's directed at the people who waste their lives creating sites like the ones you directed me to, in order to lure the ignorant into their paranoid little cults. Liberals and Conservatives both have a serious problem with not taking the time to understand an issue before they go off half-cocked with ideas about how to fix it. It's amazing to me how often the "fix" involves more government intervention -- it's at least 99% of the time. NEVER have I seen a group with a website about the latest calamity suggest that it's government's fault for screwing around too much in the market. Peak oil theorists remind me of certain of my fundamentalist relatives who are convinced that the End Times are upon us. Their research is about as well done, their recommendations follow the same scary lines, and the only rational thing to do is dismiss them as kooks.

    I notice you give no consideration to anyone who dares question the almighty "free market," as if it is some sort of deity.

    I give no consideration to those who obviously don't understand what they're questioning. The free market is not a deity. It's not even an entity. It's as simple as me offering to sell my lawnmower to my neighbor for 50 bucks. As long as nobody else horns in on the deal, we have a free market. The instant some disinterested third party shows up with a gun and forces the terms of the deal to satisfy some desire of theirs, the market becomes unfree.

    That's it in a nutshell, but the implications of same are far-reaching and worthy of a great deal of study. If any of these doomsayers gave any indication of having read something as simple as Gene Callahan's Economics for Real People, I might be inclined to listen to what they have to say. But their assertions clearly indicate that they have not. And that is why you, dear reader, should not pay attention to them.

    At any rate, such a flippant attitude solves no problems and only serves to inflame and shows intolerance.

    Well, this isn't the huggy-kissy-fuzzy-bunny blog. See title. It's a place for me to rant. I find it therapeutic.

    It also turns away readers, as it has in this case. In the time I have spent considering christianity, I have found christians are actually some of the least thoughtful and concerned. The secular critics who dismiss christianity as a selfish, outdated relic appear to be right.

    There's a lot of truth in that. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it has to do with my post.

    I am presently Agnotic and feel as if I am moving toward Atheism as being the most rational choice. Each "libertarian christian" I have found, starting with Vox Day, was a jerk, so far without exception.

    Vox Day is a jerk. And so am I. The title of the blog should have tipped you off.

    Oh well, have fun, I'm off to visit someplace else where honest questions aren't met with snide remarks and derision.

    In all of this ranting about your hurt feelings, I note that you took absolutely zero time to address my points about the economic argument against the validity of the peak oil theory, which sort of belies your assertion that you're just asking honest questions, and flags you as a candidate for the Troll category.

    Look, I'm truly sorry if I hurt your feelings. It should be obvious that I'm not a nice man -- I thought I made that perfectly clear in the title bar of this page. In all honesty, I do feel bad for coming down on you so hard and for being so caustic. Just don't let that lead you to the erroneous belief that I agree or will agree with any of this peak oil business. It's junk science, plain and simple.

    Besides, if you think I'm harsh, spend some time over at Grouchy Old Cripple.


    The "free market" is a delusion.

    The assertions at that page may be true of mainstream or Keynesian economics. Unfortunately, Keynesian economics is to economics what nuclear bombs are to physics: a destructive force that uses and perverts science as a means to an end. None of the arguments at that page even remotely apply to praxaeology, the science of economics, or more colloquially, Austrian economics.

    Posted by Tom, 4/4/2006 5:48:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 3, 2006


    I just now got around to noticing that the May 2006 issue of Reason includes a cover story on the peak oil hysteria. If/when they get around to posting it online, I'll post a link.

    Posted by Tom, 4/3/2006 7:27:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Peak Oil

    Well, a commenter has decided that the very next thing I need to discuss is the supposedly impending Book of Revelations-style apocalypse that will devour us all because we're going to run out of oil someday. I really have very little patience for doomsdayers, and personally would take it as a great favor if they'd just join Heaven's Gate or something like it.

    Anyway... this article has a lot of background information that is essential to understanding the oil problem. Pay particular attention to the discussion of light, sweet crude versus "sour" crude:

    However, As Nymex and Brent prices were bid up past the $50 mark last autumn [2004], producers were pumping about 1 million barrels per day more than consumers were using, though it is clear that some of that "surplus" can be accounted for by undocumented use in China and Russia. The price rise was not the result of an overall shortage of crude, but a lack of light, sweet crude for gasoline in China. There's a lot of sour crude in the world, more than anyone can use. More than anyone wants right now.


    ...while synthetic crude, whether made from bitumen or natural gas, makes great diesel fuel, kerosene and fuel oil (some buses in Washington, D.C., for example, are powered by diesel synthesized from natural gas), it tends to make really lousy gasoline. Or very little gasoline. And I cannot emphasize enough – right now, gasoline is what everyone wants. Gasoline is what makes the world go round.

    So let's start with that as a basis. We have more sour crude than we know what to do with, because everybody uses and wants gasoline, not other forms of fuel. But we know that diesel fuel is an alternative, it's just not cost effective at the moment. Gasoline produces X amount of energy per gallon, diesel produces Y, and other fuels (ethanol, etc.) produce their own measures. But we have to factor in how much each of those gallons cost, so what we're really looking for is something that does as well as gasoline on a measure of dollars per unit of energy.

    Knowing just the basics of economics, it's easy to see why peak oil is nothing but a bogeyman. As the supply of light sweet crude shrinks, the price of gasoline must rise. As the price rises relative to fuels that do not require light sweet crude, those fuels become economical in the sense that gasoline costs more per unit of energy than its alternatives. As soon as that happens and the trend sustains itself, some entrepreneur will see an opportunity to sell people energy at a lower cost than gasoline, and the world will shift away from gasoline. As anyone who's ever engaged in the great Wal-Mart debate knows, the one thing you can count on from consumers is jumping on cheaper. All that's required then, is for the price of gas to rise significantly above the price of the next best alternative, and stay there. The market will do the rest.

    The same mechanism is at work in the extraction industry. Right now, we get oil out of the ground mostly from places where it wants to come out of the ground anyway (due to intense pressure and so forth). Extracting oil from shale and sand is expensive and -- here it is again -- not presently cost effective. However, as the price of oil rises relative to the cost of these more expensive extraction processes, these processes will become viable, and someone will begin making a profit by pulling oil out of more difficult sources, thus increasing capacity.

    Note that none of this requires any new technology. This is what will inevitably happen simply due to the laws of economics, with present tech. Any new, relevant technology that gets developed in the next 10 to 20 years will only enhance the effect.

    Granted, this discussion doesn't take into account government idiocy, as when the morons in post-hurricane Florida and Louisiana decided to put price caps on gasoline, or when President Bush pounded the pulpit over so-called "price gouging", despite the fact that Austrians repeatedly tried to explain how the price mechanism was helping the situation. And it doesn't account for the legions of neo-Luddites who will invariably show up to protest the adoption of new technologies in the name of their religion, the Precautionary Principle (think nuclear power). And so, with regards to the "peak oil" "issue", as with everything else, the more government tries to control the market, the worse the problem will be. That of course will not stop the doomsdayers from demanding that the government do exactly that, but people who won't take responsibility for their own lives and futures can generally be counted on to screw things up for the rest of us.

    I also have not addressed the fact that gasoline has maintained a relatively steady price, possibly even a declining price, for 90 years or so, when measured in inflation-adjusted dollars. This should not be possible if in fact the supplies are drying up as rapidly as the doomsdayers claim. It's possible that this is due to government interference in the market (price controls/supports, industry subsidization), which makes it even stupider that the doomsdayers are demanding more such interference. Obviously, the solution to problems posed by government interference is *gasp* less interference. But you'll never hear that from someone who believes government exists to protect them from reality, which is exactly my estimation of the groups promoting the peak oil bugaboo.

    Posted by Tom, 4/3/2006 7:19:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 2, 2006


    The gamer in me has locked on to a fun new target. It'll probably be a while before I can get it, but it appears someone has made a pencil-and-paper wargame for the Honorverse! Yum...

    Posted by Tom, 4/2/2006 11:46:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Honor Harrington, books 5 - 8

    It's been a while, but I've been so caught up in these books (as well as other activities) that I haven't stopped to blog them. So here's the short version: if you're not reading this series, you're missing out. Each book is like a feast, and you can't help but end them feeling intensely satisfied.

    The long version:

    Flag in Exile picks up as Honor is shuffled off to "doing nothing" duty as a result of her politically incorrect actions in Field of Dishonor. She spends the whole book dealing with the people and military of Grayson, since Manticore has seen fit to ignore her for the time being. It looks as though her participation in the growing hostilities between Manticore and Haven is at an end, until the Havenites launch their latest dastardly attack. In the meantime, trouble is brewing on the surface of Grayson as the more conservative elements of that planet's government hatch a plot to get rid of Honor and the cultural shift she represents. I liked the fact that this book as well as the one before it spend some time on Honor's abilities in personal combat, adding a new level to her butt-kicking persona.

    Honor Among Enemies ties up some loose ends from the first two books, as some of the enemies she made among her own people come back to haunt her. We've started seeing real chinks in Honor's armor, and Weber makes it clear to us that she is not infallible. Her victories come at greater and greater cost, and she starts questioning her role in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people aboard her ships and the enemy's. This is also the first time we see one of Weber's "clueless" characters get a clue before it was necessary to just have him killed.

    In Enemy Hands introduces a Peep admiral (3 of them, actually) who can win battles for a change. Honor winds up getting captured and sent to a prison planet affectionately called Hell. Again, Weber keeps up the tension and suspense throughout, never failing to deliver his realistic-seeming body counts, no matter how much we may love the characters being killed.

    Echoes of Honor details Honor's escape from Hell, but the book actually has very little Honor in it. Weber spends most of his time telling us what's happening in the rest of the galaxy as she escapes. I was not as unequivocally pleased by this book, because there are so many different perspectives and story lines going on that it's kind of hard to track. At the same time, however, this book feels like it fleshes out the rest of the galaxy far better than any of the others. It turns the Peoples' Republic of Haven into a real enemy as the chains come off their officer corps, and puts a face on what's happening in the non-Honor parts of the Manticoran navy. The problem is that there's just so much to follow. I like the book for all the extra information, and as usual the action and suspense sequences are well done, but the tension-building that Weber usually does so well is kind of hamstrung by the jumping around to different points of view. And of course I would have liked more Honor. So maybe this book winds up with 4 stars instead of 5. It's still well worth the trouble.

    And now, I'm off to book 9, Ashes of Victory

    Posted by Tom, 4/2/2006 11:10:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, April 1, 2006

    So Freakin' Cool

    My wife and I just moved, and rather than mess around with U-Haul or Ryder, who have not impressed us in the past, we decided to give this new Pods thing a try. Essentially, a Pod is an 8' x 8' x 16' cargo container that the company drops off at your old house, gives you a few weeks to load up, then takes to your new house and gives you some more time to unload.

    All in all, the loading and unloading is much like a truck, only without the ramp. The overall experience is a little nicer, since you don't have to empty your entire house in one day. And that might be the end of the story, if I hadn't been around to see the guy come and pick up the empty container.

    Techno-geeks everywhere, know this: you have GOT to see this apparatus in action. This monstrous lifting frame rides on the truck, then lowers its wheels, clambers over to the pod and wraps itself around it. The driver hooks up a few chains, then the pod is lifted into the air high enough for the truck to back in under it. Pod gets dropped on the bed of the truck, the big bad frame closes in around the truck's bed and lifts its wheels off the ground, and the whole thing gets carted off. It is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time. Don't tell the company, but this is the sort of thing they should charge admission to see.

    Me (to driver, with ear-to-ear grin): "Tell me the truth... is this the coolest job you've ever had?"
    Driver, with equally huge grin: "Yes it is."

    Posted by Tom, 4/1/2006 1:12:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...