In case you missed my last article detailing my passionate hatred for the latest bit of consumer stupidity, known as hybrid automobiles, I’m back with a sequel piece. Here I’ll be employing the mighty power known as algebra to explain why buying a hybrid automobile makes no economic sense, except in what would be best classified as a nightmare scenario. To illustrate this, I want to compare the Toyota Prius with (in my opinion at least) one of the best inexpensive cars on the market, the Toyota Corolla. The cars are of a similar size and equal seating capacity (5). So what makes the humble Corolla more than a match for the mighty Prius from an economic perspective? The answer is simple: cost.

Consider the following vital stats about the two automobiles:

Car City MPG Highway MPG MSRP Range
2008 Prius 48 45 $21,100 — $23,370
2008 Corolla 28 37 $14,405 — $16,415

According to Uncle Sam, it’s plausible to assume that the average driver puts about 15k miles on a car every year. Likewise, according to the DOT, the average American keeps their car about 4.5 years. That’s not a whole lot of time to recover the cost of the vastly more expensive Prius. But with the price of gas these days, it has to be a good deal, right? Wrong.

Assuming that the cars depreciate at an equal rate (or you just crash them into a tree and get nothing from your insurance company) and that inflation (now pushing 4% per year) drops to zero, here’s where the Prius becomes cheaper as determined by the price of gas (here we only consider the lowest end model of each car):

When the Prius Price of Gasoline (per gallon)
Costs Less $2.00 $3.26 $5.00 $8.00 $10.00
Years 22.8 14.1 9.1 5.7 4.6

So for a Prius to be more economically sensible for the “average” American, gas has to cost $10.00 a gallon. And this is assuming 0% inflation. The numbers get worse when you factor in a 3% inflation rate. Assume that the gas price listed is the price today and that the cost of gas increases inline with the 3% inflation rate (Ben Bernanke and I are both being hopeful). Then the crossover point looks like:

When the Prius Price of Gasoline (per gallon)
Costs Less $2.00 $3.26 $5.00 $8.00 $10.00
Years 36 18 11 6 5

So unless we assume that gas prices are going to head up significantly faster than the inflation rate, it’ll still take $10.00 per gallon gasoline to make the mightly Prius cost-competitive with the humble Corolla. Perhaps that’s something to think about the next time you head to visit the Toyota dealer…

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but April Fool’s is over, and you still deserve a few laughs… For those new to the HoS series, the first episode is here.

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It’s about 9:30 in the morning when I roll into the office (so sue me, the sun woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep), when to my shock and horror I see the department’s two morbidly obese systems administrators (I’ll call them Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum) leaning on our lab table.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I lie, oozing charm. “What seems to be the cataclysmic event which has caused you two troglodytes to risk exposure to the dreaded day star?” Oh well, no charm after all. Drat.

“Very funny,” snorts Tweedle Dee. His cheese-it devouring PLP continues, “You know why we’re here.”

“No, I don’t,” I respond, because I honestly have no idea whatsoever.

“Yes you do,” responds Tweedle Dee, tapping his softball bat against his empty palm. When the last time he could run to first base without having a coronary was, I don’t know. But I don’t like the mafioso-style intimidation.

“Listen, here junior hitmen. Either you tell me why you’re here, or I’m on the phone to the university EEO to complain about the ‘hostile and abusive’ workplace environment you’re creating,” I snip back.

“We’re here about your Nessus activities,” counters Tweedle Dee.

“I don’t know anything about…”

“Save your lies for the expulsion committee. We know you ran Nessus against the departmental servers.”

“And you know this how?”

“It was coming from your server.”

“Which anyone in the research group has access too.”

“Yes, but it was running scans that require root access.”

“…”

“Pretty damning, isn’t it?” adds Tweedle Dum, obviously salivating over the thought of finally getting the best of me.

“No. It wasn’t me, but I’ll find out who it is. Nobody roots my server and gets away with it.”

I storm out of the lab and head for The Love Nest, dialing my old college roommate on my cell phone. By the time I get down there, I’ve got him on the hands-free as I’m busy sifting through the server logs.

“Well, it looks like I got myself rooted,” I gripe, staring at what looks like Martian poetry in what should be my /var/log/messages file.

“What great joy,” says the disembodied voice over the phone. “Local or remote exploit?” the voice continues.

“Well, assuming the logs haven’t been doctored, there were three users on. One of which was me.”

“And the other two?” the voice asks.

“One was Amy, and there’s no way she’d know enough to root my box, and the other….”

My face darkens.

“Li.”

“And this should mean what to me?” inquires the voice.

“He’s the cowboy who cracked my memory chip in half a few weeks back.”

“Well, that’s pretty damning. Any router traffic logs?”

“I can’t get those without the cooperation of the very admins who are trying to get me kicked out of school in the first place.”

“True. But it is unlikely they’d fake those just to get you thrown out. If they’re even half-competent, they would have checked those to rule out external penetration before coming after you.”

“You give them too much credit.”

“Perhaps,” notes the voice. “But if they want to get you, a smoking gun pointing to an external source won’t be good enough. Even so, they have you where they want you.”

“Come again?”

“Think. Since there was no external penetration, someone with root access did the dirty deed. You have a log that strongly suggests Li did it, but they can claim you doctored it to save your own tail. Your historical animosity towards Li will aid their case.”

“So? They’ve got no proof. I get off scott free.”

“No. They can’t get you expelled, but they can question your competence as an admin, and make a compelling argument that you’re a security risk…”

“Bloody hell! What they really want is root on my machine for themselves,” I exclaim.

“Correct,” the voice responds. “Which means that unless you can give them an ironclad case against this Li fellow, you’re hosed.”

“Bugger all! How the heck do I do that? As you said, any evidence I present will be suspect.”

“Correct. Consider this thought exercise. Say you wanted to invade a country.”

“You mean, like Iraq?”

“Precisely. You need casus belli, otherwise nobody will buy it. How do you get a reason for war, if the other party isn’t going to give it to you?”

“Get someone else to manufacture one, like WMDs!”

“But who? Someone like…”

“George Tenet,” I exclaim, knowing full well the price of a Presidential Medal of Freedom these days.

“Who has…”

“The credibility I lack. After all, why would he be making this crap up?”

“Back to your case: Who has the credibility to condemn Li which you lack?”

“The Advisor?”

“But would he really back you over his Chinese slave labor?” the voice questions.

“Uh, no.”

“Right, so the only other person who could condemn Li would be….”

“Li himself!”

“Correct again. You need a confession.”

“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver, man,” I say as I hang up, grab my coat and head to Hellalatte, a coffee bar who’s only redeeming quality is that it’s not in the building. If I’m going to get Li to turn himself in, I’m going to need one heck of a plan…

To be continued…
Thanks to longtime reader, Angry Sysadmin for providing the inspiration for this story

John McCain needs to write Hillary Clinton a thank-you letter, and he might as well start working on it right now. At this point, there’s nothing he can do to help himself win this year’s presidential election more than what Senator Clinton has already done.

First and foremost, Clinton is trying to get herself (s)elected as the Democratic nominee. Considering that she might be the most passionately hated person in America (not counting terrorists, who presumably do not live in America), there is nothing McCain could do to gain the support of the far right more than having her as an opponent. They’re still convinced that she is just biding her time and plotting her way to creating a socialist state, no matter how lamely centrist she might actually be in reality. The Clinton-haters may be delusional, but they happen to be exactly the same Republicans who are disappointed with McCain. So, McCain can count on getting the moderates on his own merits, and he can count on Hillary to deliver the right-wing votes to him as well. One McCain presidency, courtesy of Clinton.

Second, Clinton keeps praising McCain in her efforts to tear down Obama. People are becoming genuinely concerned that Clinton’s do-anything-to-win strategy is guaranteeing that even if she loses, she will have raised enough doubts about Obama to keep him from winning as well. “If I can’t have the White House, then you can’t either!” says both the toddler and the junior senator from New York. All McCain will need to do is to take the Clinton ads out of the trash, change a couple names, and start running them on TV. Again, a McCain presidency, courtesy of Clinton.

Speaking of doing anything to win, Clinton’s efforts to get delegates any way she can is doing a great job of damaging the Democratic Party’s credibility. I was a little worried back when it was announced that Clinton was the only candidate remaining on the disqualified Michigan ballot. Sure enough, she’s now trying to get the delegates from Michigan and Florida to count. Once again, the only comparison that comes to mind is little kids cheating by changing the rules in the middle of their games. This is politics, not Calvinball, and any attempt to treat it as such will only make the Democrats look like crooks. In turn, this will help McCain win the presidency.

Now there are even rumors that the Clinton campaign will try to get pledged delegates (not the superdelegates!) to switch sides at the convention. Such a strategy is so unlikely to work that I doubt the rumors. However, given everything else we’ve seen from Senator Clinton, perhaps I shouldn’t be so skeptical.

In the end, Senator Clinton just doesn’t get it. She talks about a joint ticket with Obama, which is great if all you want is to get one or both of these people into the White House at some point. However, a backroom deal to settle the nomination is not going to please voters who support Obama specifically because they’re fed up with the current crowd of politicians (including Clinton) and their backroom dealings. The joint ticket idea just seems like yet another way for Clinton to put herself in the White House in spite of losing most of the primaries; and it’s exactly that kind of cynical ambition that will turn off voters in the general election.

So, whether she wins or loses, Clinton’s doing all she can to make McCain the president in 2009. She might lose in August or she might lose in November, but her seemingly limitless drive to win guarantees that sooner or later, she will lose.

You’ve seen them around, you know, the greener-than-thou yuppies-cum-hippies who own their shiny new $25,000 hybrid automobile and insist on castigating everyone about how they should be more green — you know, by buying a hybrid like they did. Nevermind the cost arguments — $25k is too much to spend on a car that doesn’t carry little Johnny’s soccer team and can’t go from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds (like Tata Motor’s Electric Car, say)— it’s all about the planet man. Didn’t you see Al Gore’s movie?

Now, I’m all for making the planet a better place for the grand-kids to live in, but thinking that your hybrid is going to do that means that you’ve succumbed to Toyota’s marketing machine. You know, Prius == Green (not Prius == Lunchbox as Jeff Dunham might have you believe. In a sense, that’s right… Toyota is getting lots of your green for that Prius. The planet, on the other hand, might not be feeling as good. There are a few serious problems with hybrid automobiles — first, the environmental impact of the batteries, second, that they have batteries at all and third that the better gas mileage advertised for hybrid was largely an illusion. I’ll deal with each of these points in turn.

First off, making batteries, especially the quantity of batteries needed for your average hybrid, is an environmentally nasty process. Mining the lead or nickel needed to make the current generation of batteries creates an environmental mess worthy of
Black Diamonds, not to mention all the copper for the added wiring or that creating batteries is a very energy intensive process that involves taking a ton of electricity from the grid (yay for coal). And the newer batteries are even worse — the old lead ones are merely an environmental disaster, the NiCAD’s and Lithiums have the added danger of being highly chemically reactive. Yum! Overall, this is a negative environmental impact that good old non-hybrid just doesn’t have. Score one for gasoline.

Second, adding an additional drive mechanism (aka the electric motor, batteries and the like) adds additional weight. Automobile manufacturers (from my quick googling) don’t seem to like listing curb weights for the hybrids because of the fact that they’re much heavier than a comparable single-fuel car (howstuffworks.com explains this quite well). The best estimates I’ve seen are somewhere in the realm of 10-30% weight increase if nothing else is done to drop the weight of the car. While regenerative breaking will mask this in city driving, on highway driving where your electric motor is just dead weight, you’ll see your hybrid doing worse than a single-fuel car on the same chassis. Another often missed point is the comparison of energy density. Gasoline is 45 MJ/kg, while the lead acid battery is somewhere in the range of 90-162 KJ/kg. Just moving around the “fuel” takes substantially more energy for a hybrid than for a good old gas guzzler. Score another one for gasoline.

Finally, the initially advertised ultra-awesome gas mileage for hybrids is largely an illusion. This is due to an artifact in how the EPA mileage tests were conducted and this artifact favored hybrids immensely. The EPA has since revised their numbers turning your 2007 Prius from 60/51 to a 48/45. That would be a 20% decrease in estimated city gas mileage (which is still higher than what you actually get in practice. Wired has a nice bit on this phenomenon, noting that Consumer Reports was routinely getting less than 60% of the EPA numbers on their real-life road testing.

But 48/45 on that ’07 Prius is still green-good, right? Yeah, it beats the heck out of the mammoth SUV, but still pales in comparison with the real-world 72 MPG you’ll get out of an ’05 Kawasaki Ninja EX250R. Behold the power of the crotch rocket! You see, the big difference between the Prius and a standard gasoline car is not so much the battery, but the shape and engineering. If we ripped out the hybrid stuff from a Prius it would still get better gas mileage than most normal cars — because the car is engineered to be light weight (to make up for the secondary drive system) and aerodynamic. Hence why the Ninja eats any automobile for lunch when it comes to gas mileage.

As our longtime reader, the Angry Diesel Engineer will attest, this gives you a much better bang for the buck than the fancy schmancy electric drive. Why this is not obvious to consumers is largely due to Toyota’s impressively successful marketing machine and their alliance with yuppy pseudo-greens (who believe that you can save the planet with no effort beyond writing a check). I mean, we’ve always known that driving smaller (lighter) cars gives better gas mileage. Even in the hybrid era, this is still true — a shiny gasoline-only ’07 Corolla does better on the highway (and not so much worse in the city) than the larger (and much heavier) ’08 Camry Hybrid even with all that extra hybrid engineering. So instead of banging their heads to make better batteries, perhaps the car industry could take some of that advanced engineering, currently the province of the Prius and put it to use on old-fashioned gasoline cars… a 40 MPG (highway) Corolla would be really nice… and with an MSRP starting around $15k or so for the ’09 it’ll be a lot less expensive too.

Special thanks to Angry Political Optimist and loyal reader Angry Diesel Engineer for some really good suggestions for this article..

The Soviets loved their “five year plans,” much imitated by other Communist nations back in the day, though often with slight variations like the “seven year plan”. (ObFascism: Five years was too long for Germany: The Nazis had four year plans.) It seems that some Democratic primary voters are touting the “sixteen year plan.” This is a plan dreamed up by people who say things like:

Imagine the possibilities…

  • A generation of progressive leadership in the White House
  • A new era of global cooperation to combat poverty, hunger, and AIDS
  • A lasting commitment to protecting the environment and combating global climate change
  • A new progressive balance of power on the Supreme Court
  • Enough time to begin undoing the damage caused by 8 years of George Bush

In other words, people who are blowing as much sugary sunshine the back door way as a delusional modern progressive can stand without going into insulin shock, in a nice way that makes Barack Obama look Rush Limbaugh-mean.

In a nutshell—which is about all there is here, and it’s one of those disappointing empty peanuts—the Sixteen Year Plan is:

  1. In 2008, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  2. In 2012, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.
  3. In 2016, HRC runs for President, BHO runs for Vice-President.
  4. In 2020, HRC runs for Vice-President, BHO runs for President.

This plan, therefore, neatly side-steps that 22nd Amendment, which states that a person is eligible for two terms as President, c’est tout, you’re done. I admit that it sounds “hinky” to me (thanks Abby) and probably violates some constitutional thing or another, but it’s on the edge of plausible, legally. I recall seeing this touted on the Washington Post forum by a poster (not one of the columnists) and thought it was ridiculous then but, it has taken on a life of its own on the intarweb much like other dumbass ideas. It’s the sort of plan that a smart high school civics student might dream up, with no notion of just how amazingly damaging to the all-too-fragile system and the norms that hold the entire electoral edifice up it would be. Such an idea was bandied about on the Republican side in 1976 when they were facing a split convention… Ronald Reagan wisely rejected such a deal, and waited four years to win a legitimate victory. We don’t need plans like this, not after the 2000 election, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, invented notes about George W. Bush’s service record (thin as the real one was), Karl Rove’s shenanigans such as accusing John McCain of fathering a black child out of wedlock in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and whatever other sleazy shit from the pile of digested Alpo from the last several years you want to pick up. No, right now what we need is a nice, clean “by the book” election, not this is freakin’ stupid and profoundly anti-”little d” democratic idea.

It’s wrong but not close to wrong enough to be “so wrong, it’s so right.” No, it’s just plain wrong.

W-R-O-N-G.

W-R-O-N-G.

Never mind the fact that this would be a clear case of “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” (two too many, given the unelected presence of Bill Clinton throughout the whole process).

Never mind the fact that it’s ludicrous to believe it would be a “credible commitment” for whomever went first—Hillary, obviously, given that this is a cheesedick way for wavering HRC supporters to get Obama to back down. Sure, I believe that you’re going to step down after being president, sure. It’s with that property in Florida and the Brooklyn Bridge….

It makes a total mockery of the electoral system and is, in essence, a throwback to the smoke filled room in the worst sort way. And I’m somewhat a fan of the old days of the smoke filled room, but this is pathetic.

It’s the kind of scheme that elected dictators of the likes of Vladimir Putin dream up when political pressure gets high enough that they need to step out of the office. Wait… Vladimir Putin IS ENACTING it!

It’s the kind of thing that shows up in Latin America, cf. Puntofijismo. It might have been OK for a while but lead to the inevitable stagnation down the road that gave the world my buddy Hugo Chavez.

I’m sure Karl Rove got semi-hard when he was hanging in Dick’s secure, undisclosed location thinking about this sort of thing, but then laughed when he realized that one’s never going to the altar with him….

This is America. We can, and should, do better than this pathetic scheme.

As someone who grew up in Wisconsin, I have a hard time taking Iowa seriously. Naturally we had lots of Iowa jokes, many of which do not bear repeating but the most memorable involved finding backronyms for Iowa: Idiots Out Wandering Around, I Owe the World an Apology, etc. Of course, this is the narcissism of small differences talking. You would be hard-pressed to tell the area of Iowa closest to my hometown apart. But at least we could comfort ourselves with the fact that we had a once-great football team, a never-great baseball team, cheese curds and beef sticks (on the interstate, not really elsewhere), and, most importantly, cheap, shitty industrial beer, made in Milwaukee! All Iowa had was corn, corn, and more corn and the Iowa Tests.

But once every four years, it forces itself into the national consciousness in a long standing tradition (since 1972, even).

It’s mouseness roars on Jan. 3, 2008.

Soon, someone’s going to take home the Iowa Caucuses Brass Ring (well, one for each party). Sure, the brass ring came out of a bull’s nose several decades back, when they still had bulls on farms rather than the much safer but less… satisfying and profoundly unnatural modern option. And its predictive ability of who wins the nomination is not all that great, but it does have a certain theatrical je ne sais quoi? Remember, Pat Robertson shot to the national consciousness due to his showing in the Iowa Caucuses in 1988 and Howard Dean famously melted down in the Iowa Caucuses of 2004. Some questions:

  • Is Huckabee going to win? How can he miss with Chuck Norris’ endorsement?
  • Obama set to upset HRC?
  • Who’s going to get the hook exit stage right by Iowa?
  • Any juicy meltdowns?

Time to make your predictions. (Note: Iowa does have the honor of bringing us a good source of information which you may find useful.)

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ObFascism Tag: Iowa is 96% white. If that’s not fascist, I don’t know what is…. ;)

If you read Slashdot frequently, you’ll find that in the midst of the Windows bashing and Me > You flame fests, the name of Ron Paul is often mentioned in hushed tones as the Republican Libertarian messiah who will rescue Amerika America from The Great Satan (aka George W. Bush). From reading the comments of the barely literate masses, you’d think that Ron Paul inspires more interest than Natalie Portman, naked and petrified. His die-had partisans wet themselves off the fact that he raised $4 million off the internet. Combining that with the $4 million he raised in “meatspace,” that puts him on par with Joe Biden, and behind Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson in the fund raising race. Real impressive, Ron… you’re running neck-a-neck with three candidates who combine for less than 10% of likely primary voters. I’m impressed… NOT!

If I may for a moment piggy-back on the elitist sentiments often displayed by my colleagues, the “masses,” much like Mr. Paul’s partisans, who are rumored to groan “Brains!” during campaign rallies, are dead wrong. Ron Paul, though he has some attractive viewpoints, like being against the war in Iraq (though this is because he’s a rank isolationist, excuse me, noninterventionist) and pro-life (because even children in the womb have a right to property), Ron Paul firmly falls in to the ranks of the bat-shit insane. For those who’ve drunk the libertarian Kool-Aid, I’d like to convict Mr. Paul, not on so-called libertarian positions as espoused by the crazies, but on his own words and positions. “Real Libertarians” might not believe X, Y or Z, but Mr. Paul does, and a just condemnation will be his.

The Environment
Libertarianism, as a philosophy stands behind the oppression of the weak by the strong in the name of private property. The classic libertarian position on the environment falls along the lines — “It’s my f#@*ing property and I’ll do with it as I please.” Mr. Paul states his opposition to any sort of environmental protection law such as when he proposed a bill to repeal the clean water act. But Mr. Paul, unlike many of his libertarian counterparts, has left the pre-Sumerian age, and realized that what I do with my property can cause environmental harm to someone else’s. Thus, Mr. Paul, inherently distrustful of the evils of Big Government[TM] proposes his solution, which I quote: “If your property is being damaged, you have every right to sue the polluter.” That’s right, the answer to evil Big Government[TM] environmental law is lawyers, lots and lots of lawyers. Forget our elected representatives in Congress, the correct people to decide on the cost of the damage you cause to me by your polluting ways are the unelected judges in the judiciary. Mr. Paul’s stinging critiques of the UN and NAFTA for being “unelected” start to ring hollow. Imagine the look in the eyes of John Edwards’ trial lawyer buddies should this bit of Ron Paul insanity to come to pass — they’ll be seeing big, big, big bucks from all the litigation. Forget an honest day’s work, in Mr. Paul’s America, being an ambulance-chasing lawyer is the way to make it big… and you can help the environment too.

The Gold Standard
Mr. Paul’s long-standing dislike of the federal reserve is well noted in his diatribe on the gold standard. Mr. Paul rants about the evils of so-called “fiat currency” and sees the only solution in the gold standard. Unfortunately for Mr. Paul, all of his fancy education has left him educated stupid on the issue. There are two fundamental problems with Mr. Paul’s logic: a fundamental misunderstanding of currency exchange and a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of gold.

First, we must understand that money is subject to the same laws of economics as anything else, from soup to nuts. This means that if more people want to sell dollars than want to buy dollars, the price of dollars go down. This is why the current account balance is one of the two major contributors to the underlying value of a currency. The United States has a large negative current account balance, aka we import much more than we export. The importers want to sell dollars, to buy the local currencies where they produce goods, while exporters want to buy dollars and get rid of the local currencies where they sell goods. Since there’s more importing and exporting, more people want to sell dollars than buy them. This means that the price of the US dollar decreases. This problem is (in the long term) self-correcting (imports cost more and exports cost less) but that doesn’t mean a negative current-account balance won’t wreck havoc in the short term.

The second major contributor to the underlying value of a currency is the money supply. The more money there is, the less it’s worth in a certain sense. This “cheapening” of money can be crudely approximated using the inflation rate (more sophisticated measures, like M1 are available, but for our purposes today, inflation suffices). If the money supply is being printed to the point of worthlessness (like Robert Mugabe‘s Zimbabwe), inflation number should be high. In the US inflation numbers are low (and have been in the 1-5% range since the early 1980′s). This means that the money supply, about the Fed’s control of which Mr. Paul complains constantly, isn’t the cause of the weakness of the US Dollar. The cause is the current account balance, which the Fed has no control over.

Second, Mr. Paul’s understanding of gold is fundamentally flawed. Unlike wheat (which is edible), gold has almost no inherent value to a human person. Barring a few uses in high-end electronics, gold is exclusively used in jewelry. Translation: We don’t really need gold, we want it because it is pretty. It has a high value because the demand for pretty exceeds the supply of it. If I could perform alchemy and turn lead into gold, gold would be worthless. This means that the big difference between gold and a “fiat currency” like the dollar is in supply. Neither has any (meaningful) intrinsic value. The scarier problem with gold is who control’s the supply. Unlike the Fed, which is part of the US gov’t, the supply of gold is controlled by mining companies, like Anglo-American, historically the gold arm of the DeBeers cartel. In Mr. Paul’s opinion, allowing a foreign cartel to control America’s money supply is the superior choice for America. This seems to clash mightily with Mr. Paul’s isolationist non-interventionist tendencies. But Mr. Paul doesn’t need to double-think this one, because he hasn’t bothered to think things through in the first place. History is pretty damning. If you look at the 1850′s the gold rush in America (which then had a gold/silver standard) caused a 30% increase in wholesale prices in five years. A switch to a strict gold standard in the “Crime of 1873″ lead to a depression so great its like would not be seen again until 1932. But Mr. Paul’s short-sighted version of history neglects both of these calamities.

Conclusions
I could go on and on about Mr. Paul being a few cards short of 52, if you catch my drift, but these sites have done the job pretty well. My favorite gems from Mr. Paul’s legislative record include trying to ban flag burning (what a libertarian proposal!) and abolishing basically every form of federal tax (which would allow us to pay for our military, how exactly?). All told, Mr. Paul is the latest example of the sorry mental state of America’s Libertarian movement. It’s a shame they have to take civil liberties down with them.

“I call petroleum the devil’s excrement. It brings trouble…Look at this locura—waste, corruption, consumption, our public services falling apart. And debt, debt we shall have for years.” —JUAN PABLO PEREZ ALFONSO, a founder of OPEC, in 1975

Venezuela—owner of a very large pool of oil and, thus, the curse of an oil economy—is set to choose whether Hugo Chavez gets to be President for Life or not come December 2. Chavez, for those of you who don’t know, is El Presidente of Venezuela, petro-dollar fueled caudillo and current object of bootlicking by dipshit celebrity leftists like Sean Penn and Naomi Campbell, along with tepid support from the likes of Noam Chomsky (whom Chavez seems to think is dead).

“He who draws his sword against his prince should throw away the scabbard.” —ALESSANDRO FARNESE, Third Duke of Parma

TORANAGA: There is no mitigating factor for rebellion against your liege lord.
BLACKTHORNE: Unless you win.
TORANAGA: Very well, you may have named the one mitigating factor. —JAMES CLAVELL, Shogun

All this could have been avoided. Back in 1992, then Teniente Coronel (Lieutenant Colonel) Hugo Chavez led a failed “colonel’s” coup against the government of Venezuela. The government of Venezuela, led by then-President Carlos Andres Perez, didn’t listen to the corollary of the advice of the Duke of Parma. I’m sure that the good Duke would have thought it was so obvious it went without saying. Updated for modern times, the reward due to all who attempt a coup and fail is, in order:

  1. A night to make peace with the maker of your choice (optional);
  2. A nice meal (optional);
  3. A cigarette (optional);
  4. A blindfold (optional);
  5. Several high velocity rifle rounds to the chest (not optional, though a stout length of rope around the neck or a sharp blade are acceptable substitutions);
  6. A hollow point to the head (if needed).

Failure to follow this obvious advice is not a recipe for long-term survival of a government and, indeed, a profound sign of its weakness. Think, for instance, of the savings had Adolf Hitler received his justified reward for the Beer Hall Putsch rather than several months in jail, which he used to write Mein Kampf and catch up on his sleep for his soon-to-come European tour.

Given the nature of Venezuela as a petro-state, weakness is almost guaranteed, which is why Chavez has been able to win in slow motion since 1992. Post-World War II, Venezuela developed an odd system of planned party alternation known as puntofijismo, in which two political parties agreed, starting in 1958, to swap back and forth who got the presidency. Venezuela was beset by outsiders wanting to intervene, e.g., Cuban-backed revolutionaries and rightwingers financed by Dominican dictator Trujillo, and had recently come out of its own caudillo past. So at the time getting some political stability probably made sense, but as time went on, the system got more and more corrupt, creakier and creakier, until Chavez made his move in 1992, pushing himself up from nobody in the army to the center stage, kicking down the puntofijismo to allow in third parties. By that he meant, of course, his party.

While many like to think that petroleum (or any other expensive commodity) is a Godsend to a poor country, petro-states are widely known to have severe weaknesses, corruption, serious lack of broad-based economic development, and the accompanying political corrosion. They rarely do well over the long term, instead going through major boom-and-bust cycles as oil prices go up and down. Right now, oil is up. In the ’80s, oil was down, way down, which is why Chavez was able to stage his coup. It won’t be up forever, most likely being replaced as a diverse basket of bio-fuels, solar, etc. While Venezuela could be a participant in the development of modern energy (and hence a modern economy), rather than spending the money on future investments, Chavez is busy spending it on a giant planned city in currently uninhabited hills, oil subsidies to the Mid-Atlantic states and New England, petro-swaps to Cuba for doctors (rather than, oh, trying to grow some of your own), lots more guns to protect against a coming “Yanqui” invasion, six hour workdays, etc. And, of course, he buys off the legions of Venezuelan poor—those who don’t benefit from the oil bucks that are stolen by Bolivarian apparatchik cronies, competed away, or diverted into the coffers of international companies, just like in basically any other petro-state, but have to suffer through the boom-and-bust of a commodity economy. Chavez’ behavior, in short, reminds me of the kind of thing I’d expect of a lottery winner elevated up from the trailer park to the realm of multi-millionaire, only writ large. Sure, he’s putting his friends’ kids through college and paying mom’s medical bills, but he’s also supporting a deadbeat uncle with six kids and doesn’t realize his stash is, in fact, limited, and needs to be grown for the future.

“All great historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice … the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” —KARL MARX, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

In 1994, Chavez was let out of jail. In 1998 he ran for President, running as a “Bolivarian,” more or less meaning “socialist.” Over the last decade, he’s been gradually undermining the democratic state of Venezuela—flawed as it was—using the playbook of dictators such as Louis Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, etc., a playbook first written by the original “man on horseback”, Gaius Julius Caesar. These include:

  • Widespread use of rule by decree and emergency powers of highly dubious legal grounds.
  • Ignoring international bodies (in this case the OAS) when it suits his purposes.
  • Whipping up populist fury by constantly playing the nationalist and the xenophobic “they’re out to get us!” card, e.g., by conveniently cutting ties with Colombia right before an election.
  • Engaging in a my way or the highway foreign policy based on chumming up with lackwits like Mahmood Ahmadinijad.
  • Siccing jackbooted thugs on his Jewish countrymen (where have we heard that one before?)

Since being elected president in 1998, Chavez is busy actually doing a lot of the stuff that gives Dick Cheney major wood when he’s in his undisclosed location and not busy shooting hunting companions in the face. Add to that plenty of stuff that Cheney wouldn’t ever countenance, too. If Hugo wasn’t constantly giving Uncle Sam the middle finger and, let’s face it, they weren’t so f—ing stupid, Hollywood Leftists and my home boy Radical Jack would be slamming him for what he really is. Now, he’s completing the process of autogolpe, “self-coup,” or so he hopes. He may well have over-played his hand.

Why, may you ask, has the US done nothing? Well, first of all, the US does not have the power that the wildest dreams of Latin American conspiracy theorists believe it to have in general and certainly not in the case of Venezuela. Simply put, Chavez has us—mutually—by the cojones. The US obtains 15%+ of its oil from Venezuela. Remember all those refineries forced to shut down by Hurricane Katrina? They’re set up to refine the very tarry Venezuelan oil. Oil, you see, is only fungible up to a point, since it varies greatly in its characteristics. US refineries are set up to receive Venezuelan oil. Most other refineries aren’t. Refineries are not easy or quick to build. You do the math.

Unfortunately, Chavez is very, very good at playing the anti-American populist card. Also unfortunately, much of American foreign policy is designed for domestic consumption (or as bureaucratic grandstanding). Backroom channels, supporting the locals, letting the locals own initiatives, etc., don’t look sexy to the American voter and thus often lose out to more active policies that often breed long-term resentment. So it is with Chavez. Two examples spring to mind:

  • Pat Robertson’s loose lips calling for Chavez’ assassination. While most people in the US think Robertson is a lunatic (not enough, however, to keep him off the air entirely), abroad he’s perceived as a non-governmental figure who is close to the current administration.
  • In 2002 there was a coup attempt to overthrow Chavez, who by that time was a democratically-elected president. Whatever really happened, the US government was seen to be giving tacit support to the coup. While Chavez himself attempted a coup, he doesn’t much like the notion of it happening to him (duh) and, more importantly, is quite willing to use the event rhetorically forever.

Chavez’ idol Simon Bolivar ended his life as a dictator and was about to go into exile, but he died of consumption first. The people of Venezuela will, alas, probably not be so fortunate since I’m quite sure that Chavez has the best Cuban doctors his petro-dollars can buy…. Morphing from “leftist hero” to “right wing oppressor” is really not at all hard to manage. Mussolini started as a socialist “man of the people.” Juan Peron was similar. Indeed, we should not forget that the “socialism” in National Socialism was there for a reason.

Let’s hope the people of Venezuela on Sunday finally realize that giving ultimate power to one man is a road best not traveled… though, of course, it may be too late.

Update: It looks like Venezuelans decided that Chavez for life was too much for them. Let’s see if Chavez actually has any democratic bones in his body and actually accepts the verdict of a loss, which is, in my view, the key test. Of course, just because Chavez himself won’t be in office doesn’t mean he won’t pull a Vladimir Putin, unarguably the most successful of the petro-state presidents. Lest we forget, the fall of the Soviet Union was, in no small part, due to the drop in the price of oil in the late ’80s, and chaos in Russia in the ’90s was also maintained by the drop in oil price. Next time the price goes down….

Update (02/12/08): Hugo’s regime seems to be unraveling. It seems that even large amounts of oil money can’t balance the unicycle.

John C. Dvorak, a long time main stay of technology magazines, has proven that he is so absolutely out of touch with modern technology and its uses that his future opinions are all now cast into doubt. His recent statements are so off base, that I seriously wonder if he has suddenly suffered permanent mental damage. In a recent column for PC Magazine he declared that the as of yet unreleased Google Phone is already doomed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Google Phone is going to be a huge success either. It could really go either way. Plenty of good ideas, and big promises have been canceled or utterly flopped. The Google Phone may go that way, but given Google’s track record, I’m inclined to bet that they have something neat up their sleeves. Even some of their less well known products are amazingly useful, albeit less popular.

What really sets Dvorak’s statements from simply short sighted to down right moronic, however, is why he thinks the Google Phone is doomed:

So what is Google trying to do with a phone? First of all, it wants to put Google search on a phone. It wants to do this because it is obvious to the folks at Google that people need to do Web searches from their phone, so they can, uh, get directions to the restaurant? Of course, they can simply use the phone itself to call the restaurant and ask!

Right…, because people only do web searches to get directions to a restaurant, and of course always have the phone number for every location they might want to visit on hand? Obviously Dvorak has been asleep for the past few years and has thus missed Google SMS, which allows you to conduct Google searches with any SMS enabled phone by simply texting the search to GOOGL. Personally I can vouch for the fact that my friends and family all use Google SMS quite a bit. Whether it is searching for a Sports score when you can’t get to a TV or computer, searching for the nearest Asian restaurant in a certain zipcode, or using it as a text based 411, it works beautifully and is amazingly useful. It’s been so useful and so popular in fact, that Google debuted a new voice recognition version of it called Google 411, which works brilliantly, and is completely free (compared to the $1.99 most cell companies will charge for their 411 services).

In fact, Google’s new 411 service highlights an important point. Search engines for phones actually pre-date search engines on the web. So, yes, Dvorak, people DO in fact want to have search capabilities for their phones, and have actually wanted such capabilities long before the World Wide Web had even been a pipe dream. But you don’t have to speculate on the demand for mobile phone search capabilities, studies have shown that the demand is sky rocketing for these features (with mobile phone access to maps and directions topping the list).

Finally, Dvorak needs to realize that mobile phones are changing radically. Between roll up displays, compact virtual keyboards, and unbeliveably small projectors, it may not be long before the phone in your pocket is every bit as powerful and usable as a computer. Based on this information, I think Google is making a pretty safe bet by designing their phone around search capabilities. I’m really not sure where Dvorak is getting his ideas, but I think it is clear from his column that he has grown dangerously out of touch with modern technology.

-Angry Midwesterner


Anyone who’s been reading the news knows that Hillary Clinton is currently running circles around both John Edwards and Barack Obama. What’s amazing is the number of people in complete denial about that. I mean, from the perspective of the lunatics on the radical left, Hillary is in the same equivalence class as Bush. Most of the time they just whine and cry about the whole affair, but today I saw a new one — sticking their heads in the sand and claiming it ain’t so. The recent opinion piece by Drew Cline is a perfect example of the ostrich behavior. Despite the fact that Mr. Obama doesn’t have enough experience to qualify for the Governor’s mansion in Springfield, Mr. Cline finds himself enamored with the the diet Senator (nice and hopeful but devoid of substance) who is currently serving as Senator Clinton’s chew toy. Instead of being willing to admit that the Obama campaign is floundering, he’s put on his rose-colored glasses and claimed that Obama is really ahead despite all evidence to the contrary. Let’s look at his poor excuse for logic to allow his conclusions to defeat themselves:

Fact #1: Obama is doing well in the money race. Well, having the wealthy liberal elite on your side is always a big bonus with respect to cash, but Obama has been doing relatively well with individual contributors as well.
Fact #2: The fundraising numbers are hard data, whereas polls have an error bar.
Fact #3: Mr. Cline doesn’t understand statistics.

Stupid Conclusion #1: The polls must be incorrect. Obama must really be ahead.

Illogical Reasoning: People are sending Obama money, but are telling pollsters they are undecided. To allow Mr. Cline to use his own words, “The ones who will support Obama in the end, including many who gave him $20 or $50, are telling pollsters that they are still undecided.”

For the life of me, I can’t imagine what would possess a person who’s not a member of the upper class to send money to a politician they don’t support (the wealthy generally hedge their bets and rightly so). Evidently, the “Audacity of Hope”, leads to embracing fanatically stupid assumptions in order to back their floundering candidate. Perhaps Mr. Cline hasn’t realized that the number Obama contributors (258,000, according to Mr. Cline) is infinitessimal compared to the number of likely primary voters, and that while there generous to Obama, there are a ton of non-donors who prefer Hillary. After all, as David Brooks (a columnist for a real newspaper) noted, she’s commanding a dominating lead among working class Americans (not generally people who send out checks before the primaries), while Obama’s support concentrates amongst the (largely white) liberal elite. Overall, Mr.Cline’s conclusion have a lot of hope and no substance…. much like Obama’s campaign. And people wonder why Hillary’s ahead in the polls.

Breaking news: Hillary is now ahead in the money game in the 3rd quarter by a cool $7 million. This puts her about on par with Mr. Obama overall. I imagine that Mr. Cline will have to resort to astrology to explain why Obama will still win (Mars has eclipsed Venus presaging an Obama victory)! Well, I for one welcome our new pink dress wearing overlords! It is a shame that Mr. Cline’s brain has been reduced to jelly so long before the dawning of that glorious day!

Special thanks to Chris Sullentrop of the New York Times for bringing this logic-impaired gentleman national news attention.

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