November 2007


“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.

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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


We’ve covered abuse committed by police and private law enforcement before, but today we have a story that is really going to shock you. A man in Utah has not only been tased for speeding, and then requesting to know what the cop was pulling him over for (with almost no warning before the taseing), but to top it all off, the Cop refused to read him his rights.

The victim of police brutality was a motorist named Jared Massey. Mr. Massey was pulled over on a Utah highway for allegedly speeding. When Mr. Massey asked the officer why he was being pulled over, and then to help him understand why he was accused of speeding before he signed the ticket, the officer ordered him to exit the vehicle. Mr. Massey was then asked to turn around and put his hands behind his back. Mr. Massey began walking back towards the car, obviously confused as to why he was being ordered to put his hands behind his back, and less than 10 seconds later was tased. While Mr. Massey was definitely acting a bit like an ass, I think we can all agree the cop was abusing his power. The Mr. Massey was neither violent, nor belligerent, so why did the cop feel so threatened that he had to tase this guy? Furthermore, why did the cop repeatedly refuse to:


  1. Read the Mr. Massey his rights.
  2. Tell the Mr. Massey the crime he was accused of, when it was requested.

Both of these are rights guaranteed to all American citizens. What is perhaps most alarming, however, is that despite the fact that the police officer accused of abuse is currently under an investigation by internal affairs, he is still on duty.

The first responsibility of a police officer is the safety of the community, including those individuals he suspects of a crime. Taseing an unarmed man who is accused of speeding is a breach of the social contract between police and the citizens they are supposed to protect. Police should use tasers as a weapon of last resort, not as a tool of personal convenience.

What can we do to prevent things like this in the future? Discuss.

Update: Mr. Massey discusses the incident, and his decision to post the video online.

-Angry Midwesterner


Fellow blogger Pascal has an interesting story running today about how WordPress is using Google Adsense to display advertisements, without annoying its users. From the article:

If you’re a regular reader (let alone poster) on WordPress.com, cookies will prevent you from seeing ads. Regular readers don’t click ads anyway, they’re there for the content. Ads would be off-putting and keep readers from becoming contributors.

But it turns out it is far more clever than just keeping ads out of view of regular users. WordPress also pays attention to how you found out about a specific blog:

Chances are you never visited Kris Hoet’s blog* – Kris is EMEA Marcom man for Msn/Windows Live. Although he has it mapped on his own domain crossthebreeze.com, the blog is hosted by wordpress.com. Yet if I refer you to his holiday report, you won’t see any ads either, even as a first time visitor, even if you delete your crossthebreeze.wordpress.com or crossthebreeze.com cookies (this cookie-killing Firefox extension will save you time).

However, if you land there by accident after a Google search, things are different. You’re quite likely not to be interested by his blog, but more by bars in Kota Kinabalu… The served ads (fitting your search terms even more than the content of the post) offer a convenient click away.

It’s quite an interesting model, and an incredibly smart way to show advertisements, make a little money, and yet still be a good net citizen. Read more at Pascal’s Blog, and from the WordPress Staff on this interesting and innovative idea.

-Angry Midwesterner


Every now and then I see something in a news report too stupid to believe. Today’s quote comes from the Chicago Tribune. The gang banger and defendant in question is was found guilty of taking some pot shots at some of Chicago’s finest.

“It comes down to who do you believe, honest cops or a gang banger,” said Assistant State’s Atty. Joseph Ruggiero. “What is this guy doing carrying around a loaded weapon in a high-crime gang area?”

Now, granted, the defendant is probably a scum-bag gang banger who was dumb enough to take pot shots at Chicago cops. But, let’s think about what the Assistant State Attorney said for a bit. His logic is a bit weak.If I was to carry around a gun for personal protection, where would I carry it? The nice safe neighborhoods, where I would never need it? Or, maybe, just maybe, the bad neighborhoods.And there isn’t much point to carrying around an unloaded gun. So the fact that the gun was loaded doesn’t mean much either.So it basically comes down to believing the Chicago cops. Which is real easy these days.

I’m going to counterpose two relatively conflicting views that have been floating around among the chattering class(es) recently:

  • Andrew Sullivan’s recent Atlantic Monthly cover story “Goodbye to All That” (subscription required, I think), which argues that Barack Obama’s candidacy represents an opportunity to drop a lot of the paralyzing debates which have infected US politics: Stuff about the Vietnam War (think the election of 2004), the whole “free love” thing, etc.
  • A recent Article in the Washington Post “Boomer In Chief”, which essentially argues that Obama’s candidacy is a continuation of Boomerism.

As an illustration of the ugliness, consider the whole “Woodstock Museum” spat of late between Senators Clinton and McCain. Or better yet, forget it, it’s pretty stupid, but it’s an illustration of the general issue. Given that at least one of us has argued here in the past that Boomer politics leaves much to be desired (and another argued that The Greatest Generation wasn’t so great either), what gives? Obama is definitely a Boomer but he’s a late Boomer, not old enough to have gone to Vietnam, not old enough to have been doing much besides riding a skateboard during the Summer of Love, etc. Still, he’s got some Boomer style. I largely go with Sullivan on this one, but can see merit in the other argument. It’s a pity there’s no one on the Republican side who really parallels Obama, which would let us make some really interesting comparisons.

Thoughts?

Aside: Turns out Tom Brokaw is up to it again….

So on this day when Angry (and not-so-Angry) Americans of all sorts gather together to share food, family, and thanks, we Angry Men here wish everyone a Happy, Healthy, and Thankful Thanksgiving!

But, never content to simply wish you well, we also want to ask you: What do you give thanks for this year?

Answer however you wish: be partisan or pluralistic, secular or sectarian, serious or frivolous as you choose. Only share with us your thoughts and thanks this season.

To start things out, I’ll share my thanks this year:

  • For living in the greatest nation on earth, where we can all celebrate Thanksgiving in whatever way feels best to us, even if it’s no way at all!
  • For a 2008 Election season which promises to be fun and bloody, if not terribly edifying about the character of many of our leaders.
  • For our troops, especially those in peril abroad, who give us a loyalty and service we frequently don’t deserve as a culture.
  • For all those, throughout the world, who risk life, health, family, and property to oppose injustice, oppression, ignorance, and poverty: from Iraqis trying to rebuild their country in the face of terror and barbarism to Pakistanis trying to find a middle way between military dictatorship and rule by gangs, and everyone in between. May God bless them and their work.
  • For all of you who read our words, whether you agree with them or not, and especially for you who take the time to leave words of your own. Thanks for caring enough to read what we think and share what you think!

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