What is it about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics that attracts the socially inept? I’m not just talking about the lack of hygiene issues some dorks have, the tendency of geeks not to bathe, or even the very disturbing lack of respect for personal space some open source weenies display. Specifically I’m talking about the inability of many dweebs, especially in technology, to understand when and where certain types of jokes or behaviours are appropriate. It has lately come to my attention that the cadre of foul smelling basement trolls, behind the (incredibly useful) open source plotting tool gnuplot, have decided it’s perfectly professional to throw up a pornographic picture on their tool’s manual. Sure it’s “just a line drawing”, but it’s the kind of line drawing that if you used as your background at work would get you sued for sexual harassment, and rightly so.

Evidently the nerds behind gnuplot don’t get out of their filth ridden cave very often, or if they do, rarely see beyond their bristly neck beards, because otherwise you’d think they would realize that this sort of objectification of women, *especially* in a field where women are under represented, and often intimidated by the chauvinistic exclusionism which pervades the field, is not cool in a professional context. I’ve talked to many people who are angry about this particular infantile prank, and the worst part is, it seems the folks at gnuplot have been asked several times to take down the image, or move it off of the professional portion of the site. A quick Google search turns up a lot of irate messages from people who have been trying to get the gnuplot folks to have shred of adult conscience with no avail.

I’d like to ask our readers to write to the gnuplot dev team (, and ask them to move this image off of their tool’s site. It’s degrading to women, disrespectful to professionals in the field, and utterly unprofessional. I’ve sent my own message, and if I don’t see some change, will likely be reporting their behaviour to the IEEE and ACM, both of which have codes of conduct which prohibit this sort of behaviour in professional contexts.

Hopefully this is a very poor representation of the men in the field. I’d like to believe professionals in technology have grown up a bit, but displays like this one make me doubt the maturity of anyone who works with computers. Left unanswered, stunts like this reinforce the unfortunate opinion that behavior like this acceptable in a professional context. Its no secret that the field of CS is currently lacking in raw talent, there simply aren’t enough Computer Scientists at the present as evidenced by the current trend of outsourcing amongst top companies. The field needs more creativity, diversity, and skilled professionals. By behaving in a way that excludes women, the socially ept, and men with an adult sense of humor these bozos are pretty much ensuring CS won’t be recruiting the kinds of people it needs.

In a recent NY Times piece, noted imperial advisor Nicolas Kristof points out that the Emperor’s Advisers Have No Clothes:

The expert on experts is Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His 2005 book, “Expert Political Judgment,” is based on two decades of tracking some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. The experts’ forecasts were tracked both on the subjects of their specialties and on subjects that they knew little about.

The result? The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses — the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.

I salute Kristof for having the courage to declare that his profession (along with pretty much everyone else) has no clothes (or at least far fewer clothes than we think—perhaps a German speedo!) I have sometimes disagreed vehemently with Kristof over various issues, but I have to admire anyone who has the moral courage to turn the harsh light on his own profession, and even himself:

The marketplace of ideas for now doesn’t clear out bad pundits and bad ideas partly because there’s no accountability. We trumpet our successes and ignore failures — or else attempt to explain that the failure doesn’t count because the situation changed or that we were basically right but the timing was off.

For example, I boast about having warned in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq would be a violent mess after we invaded. But I tend to make excuses for my own incorrect forecast in early 2007 that the troop “surge” would fail.

As Kristof notes, the greatest problem is with extremely self-confident experts who are morally certain that they’re right:

Mr. Tetlock called experts such as these the “hedgehogs,” after a famous distinction by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (my favorite philosopher) between hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.

Perhaps the problem is that expertise grants enormous ability to describe details about the present state of things in a field or area. There’s no absolute logical requirement for that to translate into better prediction in that area, but we’re basically hard-wired to think that there is. Combine that with our hard-wired response to confidence and we’ll follow a knowledgeable hedgehog anywhere, even to Hell itself.

Contrast that with the ability of markets,in general, to outperform experts. The best example is the stock market, whose simple average generally outperforms 2/3 of managed mutual funds each year (an example from last year: and another: Over time, the results are even more staggering, as very few mutual funds repeat winning performance from year to year. Experts simply cannot complete with the “wisdom” of the market as a whole.

An important thing to keep in mind, especially today as we’re urged to put more and more confidence in expert management of the financial sector by government regulators, expert allocation of money by government bureaucrats, and the most massive transfer of money from the private market-driven economy to government experts in recent history. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the government is relying upon the least-regulated part of the financial sector (which has been least affected by the recent woes) to bail out the most-regulated part:

Democrats like Barack Obama and Barney Frank, at least on the campaign trail or in sound bites, have portrayed the financial crisis as the product of deregulation. The solution, they say, is more regulation. In that vein Frank, one of the brainiest members of Congress, is proposing that the Federal Reserve become a regulator of systemic risk, with the power to regulate firms that because of their size or strategic position are of systemic importance.

My American Enterprise colleague Peter Wallison has argued powerfully that this is a bad idea. Neither the Federal Reserve or other regulators identified the systemic risk which caused this crisis. Neither did most financial institutions or investors. Systemic risk is hard to identify for the very reason that it is systemic.

If experts are as unreliable as Kristof argues, can expert risk assessment (which is what regulation is) be expected to outperform market-based risk assessment (which is what an unregulated market does)? Certainly not all the time, which is precisely the lesson that we should learn from the recent crisis originating in the heavily-regulated mortgage industry…and precisely the lesson our leaders seem determined not to learn.

(Hat tip to Angry New Mexican for the Kristof link and article!)

In the past year or so, I’ve gotten pretty serious about photography. One of the things I’ve discovered both through my own experimenting, and by reading a number of excellent books on the subject, is that there is this magical device called a “polarizing filter” which, believe it or not, will make a good 95% of your outdoor pictures worlds better, just by slapping it on, and rotating it until the sky turns a deep and magical blue. While just about every photographer knows this little trick, I’d bet they don’t know the history of this incredible device. It’s a tale of war, of invention, and most of all, dog piss.

The polarizing filter was invented by Dr. Edwin Land, of Polaroid fame (hence the name), who had been studying the problem of making a polarizing filter for civil and military applications during his time as a student at Harvard, when he ran across work by Dr. William Herapath whose pupil, one Mr. Phelps, discovered that feeding a dog iodine and quinine caused it’s urine to form strange green crystals which polarized light, called herapathite. Dr. Herapath had spent years trying to grow a single large crystal of herapathite, to no avail, and had given up on the project. Land, inspired by these antics with dog urine, decided to go the opposite direction, and invented a process for forming many small crystals of herapathite, and lining them up properly so they would function as a single large crystal by forcing the, *ahem* crystalizing substance through narrow slits. His experiments were successful, and Harvard invited him back and provided him with space to continue his research.

World War II had several profound effects on Land’s invention. Reflections on the water made it difficult to spot submarines and other naval vessels, thus polarizing sunglasses were used to cut down on the reflected light, making it easier for scouts to spot ships at a distance. However while this increased the demand for polarizing filters, World War II also saw US soldiers coming face to face with the terror of malaria in the South Pacific. Large amounts of quinine were needed to treat these men, limiting the supply for polarizing filters. Land, ever the inventor, took this challenge as an opportunity and developed a new process for creating polarizing filters using sheets of polyvinyl alcohol stretched so as to pull the molecules into alignment.

This new method did not require quinine, and was actually found to create better quality filters than the older iodoquinine sulfate methods, and continued to be the dominate method for producing polarizing filters. Thus died the dog piss polarizer.

-Angry Midwesterner

    The Wall Street meltdown might have a silver lining.

    No I’m not talking about the schadenfreude that many are experiencing now that the investment bankers are falling from their lofty heights. That might be fun, but it’s not a silver lining. No, I’m talking about the large amount of highly talented people who became “quants” aka mathematical modelers in the finance sector now having to seek employment elsewhere.

    Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for finance, but we as a society over-invested in it. One of the really sad things was that the greed led a lot of people to put deep and abiding faith in the models. Those of us involved in mathematical models for any length of time know from bitter personal experience: The last thing you should do is believe a model, especially if it’s your model. Models are useful, not true, and should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism, always. While I suspect that the “quants” knew this, the greedy, myopic twenty five year olds doing the trading—the ones with the right hair and a nice liberal arts degree from an Ivy or Duke—didn’t (they’re certainly not trained to evaluate such things), and given the almighty dollar coming their way I suspect a good number of the quants started believing too.

    If you want a case in point, I offer up Doctors Merton and Scholes, Nobel laureates in economics, 1997, and principals of Long Term Capital Management. LTCM was a hedge fund founded by the smartest guys in the room. Unfortunately, their model was predicated on some assumptions that turned out not to be true, most importantly one about lack of correlation in various investments. This assumed other people weren’t copycats on what LTCM were doing. Whoops, funny how when the smartest cats in the room seem to have found a burrow of endless mice every other cat starts copying.

    One of the giant market distortions engendered by the rise of Wall Street has been the shortage of scientists, broadly defined: Fewer Americans going to engineering, chemistry, math, statistics, economics (besides finance, that is), etc. Instead, far too many of the best and brightest young people go into finance and investment banking. Something like 20% of the graduating class of Harvard in recent years goes directly to investment banking. That’s right, a 22 year old is managing your money, hoping to retire by 35 or 40 to a house in the Hamptons, another house in Bermuda, and a third one in Tahoe, with a nice trophy wife on his arm, and the surplus of young ladies living in finance capitals are there hoping to be said trophy wife. One of the reasons to chase the Ivy degree so hard was the hope—not unreasonable—that an in would be available for Junior into a hedge fund, Lehman, etc. So this massively distorted the college admissions market, too, making otherwise solid schools seem like poor buys and encouraging many families to run up piles of debt on undergraduate educations, mostly in the hope that Junior would get the right contacts in Duke that he wouldn’t get at, say, Illinois.

    I recall taking real analysis back in the mid ’90s. Hands down the smartest guy in the class was a Cal Tech educated engineer getting a PhD in Finance. Now this was just before the big model finance mania. He’d worked for a big aerospace company but with the defense budgets going down, he realized that his future lay elsewhere. This is, of course, why so many physicists ended up on Wall Street, too. I’m sure he did well but you know, finance doesn’t actually produce anything, whereas airplanes are something. It was getting so bad near the end of my tenure in grad school that I’d see students trying to “stealth” their way into finance by applying to programs in one area but taking finance classes. Getting into an actual PhD finance program was tricky and often costly but most schools will let you take a few courses in another department….

    So if there is a silver lining, I hope it is this: Smart kids with math skilz considering careers in finance, please come back. The rest of the world needs you to help deal with things like, oh, climate change, looming mass extinctions, energy shortages, world hunger, transit and infrastructure, finding productive things to do now that we won’t make piles of dough on houses nobody wants, to say nothing of good old “basic science.”

    As for the Ivy league liberal arts major turned investment banker who ran my admittedly modest portfolio into the ground with $200K in student loans breathing down his neck… thanks but I don’t want aioli, arugula, sprouts, grape tomatoes or olive tapenade, I’ll enjoy my schadenfreude plain and unadulterated.

    For further reading:

    • Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money. Excellent and very lucid writing. I read this on a plane to Vegas (for business!), which seemed appropriate.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. Rather more personal pique than is really necessary and some excessively broad statements, but generally he’s right on, particularly about the excessive faith in the Gaussian error distribution when modeling extreme events, the so-called “tail risk” being too low. We’ve seen this in other areas as well.
    • Any others?

The LA times is flabbergasted that amongst large numbers of entries in a database:

  1. There are similar entries
  2. People who have been banking on people’s bad understanding of the statistics of large numbers are reluctant to have them re-educated about the reality of the situation.

Here is the story.

The FBI DNA database has some close matches (strangers matching at 9 points of the DNA profile). Defense attorneys are jumping on this trying to make DNA not be the nail in the coffin for their clients. Prosecutors have been lazily overstating the uniqueness of a 9-point match. The FBI, rather than just acknowledge that a higher match level might be necessary to ensure uniqueness, is seeking court orders to stop wide match searching in its database. This to me seems retarded from the FBI. Wouldn’t you rather crawl the database once, find all of your close matches, then resolve those cases (a few hundred out of 65,000+) so that you can be aware that any of the people involved in those matches will require 11 or 12 point matches if they are on trial. The FBI should just crawl their own database (Google iFBI !) once, and publish the numerical results to DA’s offices nation-wide.

It would seem that you’d want to eliminate the uncertainties that you can, so they don’t bite you in the butt unexpectedly.

The complaints about tying up the database or violating the right to privacy are ludicrous. My laptop could do billions of comparisons in a day. Depending on how hard a comparison is, this shouldn’t take more than overnight, unless the FBI database is running on a TI-85 graphing calculator. Borrow time on a DoE supercomputer overnight and get it done. Doing numerical compilation of the results while havingthe names stripped off the numbers would be sufficient to not violate someone’s privacy. Yes, the whole DNA strand is mostly unique (twins being the outliers), and the profile is apparently less, but still significantly unique. But the counts of comparisons between profiles aren’t unique. It’s analogous to comparing the names of the people in the database and returning the amount of matches among the letters of the names. The names might be private, but the match numbers won’t be.

I generally avoid the diet and food hyperbole, but my daughter is studying nutrition so I get an earful of terms like trans-fats and the like. Recently, I decided to get a general physical. I learned that my glucose was a little high and my LDL was high. Strangely my HDL levels were good and the triglycerides were excellent. Regardless of my suspicion that the results were skewed by a late meal the night before, I did my homework and adjusted my diet. I have a fairly exhaustive exercise routine which probably accounts for the triglyceride levels so I know that diet was the only variable factor. My weight over the past six years has been 200 lbs plus or minus 3 pounds.

I used to consume Dr. Pepper and Peach Snapple — both quite tasty, as well as various juices. I cut these from my diet as well as any other source of HFCS I could identify. Basically, I restrict myself to boring ice tea and water. My weight for the past two months has been 193 lbs plus or minus 2 lbs — with a loss of 7 lbs. in the initial week. These are my facts.


Sugars in the body are metabolized via the Kegg Pathway. Sugars, specifically sucrose, are disaccharides consisting of a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule coupled by an α1→2-glycosidic bond. In nature, most available sugars occur in this form and it’s not surprising that a pathway evolved to process them. The first process in the metabolism of sucrose is the cleaving of the glucose from the fructose. Glucose can be metabolized anywhere in the body at the cellular level. Fructose is metabolized in the liver.
fructose metabolism

Hepatic fructose metabolism: A highly lipogenic pathway. Fructose is readily absorbed from the diet and rapidly metabolized principally in the liver. Fructose can provide carbon atoms for both the glycerol and the acyl portions of triglyceride. Fructose is thus a highly efficient inducer of de novo lipogenesis. High concentrations of fructose can serve as a relatively unregulated source of acetyl CoA. In contrast to glucose, dietary fructose does NOT stimulate insulin or leptin (which are both important regulators of energy intake and body adiposity). Stimulated triglyceride synthesis is likely to lead to hepatic accumulation of triglyceride, which has been shown to reduce hepatic insulin sensitivity, as well as increased formation of VLDL particles due to higher substrate availability, increased apoB stability, and higher MTP, the critical factor in VLDL assembly.

Since sugars arrive in the body in these paired units, and glucose is the principle energy source, it is understandable that the evolved regulatory mechanisms are associated with the glucose metabolism. The fructose metabolism has essentially no independent regulation and feedback loop, depending upon the glucose component’s parallel metabolism.

This was all well and good when the principle source of free fructose was fruits consumed in sparse quantities. With fructose now saturating food products, via the HFCS component, there is essentially no feedback for the body to say “Whoa there sport, I’m saturated with sugar and really don’t need any more.” So the metabolism process continues. The result is the depletion of enzymes in the liver and the concentration of low density lipids.

Four companies control 85 percent of the $2.6 billion HFCS business–Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Staley Manufacturing Co. and CPC International. Recently the Corn Refiners Association has been issuing statements in an attempt to persuade the consuming public that HFCS is not the root of all evil. The association has obtained some support from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

We respectfully urge that the proposal be revised as soon as possible to reflect the scientific evidence that demonstrates no material differences in the health effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sugar…The real issue is that excessive consumption of any sugars may lead to health problems. ……The Center for Science in the Public Interest

This is an interesting statement. Many are arguing that it is deceptive. True, HFSC is not detrimental per se, although its manufacture has some interesting components, and true obesity does have as a contributory factor the increased intake of sugars. In the interest of accurate science, the CSPI is correct.

What is missing or ignored is mention of the lack of a regulatory feedback loop in the fructose metabolism. Without such a mechanism, self control of fructose intake is difficult to impossible. This asymmetrical regulation of the two sides of the sucrose metabolism is the real danger. Since there is no inherent control mechanism, it is irresponsible to use fructose based sweeteners in literally every food product.

Perhaps in a few thousand years, given a constant diet of HFCS, we will evolve a new regulatory mechanism. Until then, I will continue to attempt to limit my intake of HFCS.

You’re in the wrong line of work. I know this because there is a fabulous career in research waiting for you in Antarctica where the sun stays hidden below the horizon in a night that lasts from June until September. Wait! Wait! There’s more! Just yesterday the base at McMurdo received part of its last shipment of supplies for about 90 days, which included 16,500 condoms. Did I mention only 125 people will occupy the base for the next 90 days?

Thats right, 16,500 condoms are being delivered to a base in Antarctica populated by a mere 125 scientists. There are less than 90 days until the next resupply. Given those numbers that’s 132 condoms per individual. Given the use of these… ahem, items, this number is more like 264 per person. So the suppliers are estimating these scientists will be getting laid about three times per day.

That’s an awful lot of “science” going on…

A difference of opinion between intelligent design and evolution is ongoing — anyone who looks into the structure of the cell and sees the myriad of operations occurring has to stop and wonder: How can evolution account for this? And if evolution is a culling process, what generated the initial set of entities to be culled? On the other hand, intelligent design advocates have to answer some questions also: Why does the mitochondria structure in the cell exist? How does one account for adaptations? Where did that pesky reverse transcriptase come from?

Anyone looking at a system as complex as the cell is inclined to make statements that such complexity could never have evolved. One would do well, however, to look into the phase space of a very simple coupled polynomial system. The phase space solution set of these polynomials become chaotic in the mathematical sense of the word. An incredible complexity exists in even the simplest equations. Steven Wolfram has show that simple generators can produce the complex patterns on a mollusk shell. So complexity in itself is not an indicator of intelligent design.

Consider the mitochondria structure in the cell. This is a structure which provides cellular energy. Current thinking is that, at some point, a cellular organism ingested a bacterium of similar structure to the mitochondria, and instead of the bacterium’s proteins being digested, as usually happens, the bacterium instead survived as a symbiote within the cellular organism. The fact that the structure exists indicates a fortuitous occurrence rather than a structured design — unless one wants to argue that this ingestion was part of the design.

Also adaptations clearly occur. Man has been adapting domestic animals and grains for millennia. MRSA is a bacterium which has adapted to the human immune system, much as AIDS has adapted to the human T cell. And clearly these adaptations have passed beyond the somatic. The existence of reverse transcriptase throws a monkey wrench into the orderly intelligent design process. No electrical engineer would design a control system with a pole in the left hand plane, which is what a molecular design with reverse transcriptase amounts to.

So if God exists as an intelligent designer, are we to believe that it is as Woody Allen quips: ” …the worst you can say about Him is that basically He’s an underachiever.”

Evolution theorists have to do a little introspection also. Evolution in its strictest sense is the process by which adaptations make the transition from the somatic to the germ line. That is to say, adaptations that are passed along to offspring. Organisms with the adaptation, in the sense that they are more suited to the environment, survive to procreate. Less well adapted to the environment, they do not survive and eventually they are eliminated (rendered extinct). Thus evolution is a culling process — the fittest are those organisms which survive, with continued existence being the only criteria. But this begs the questions of the adaptations in the first place. Where did they come from and what was the source of the original pool from which viable processes were ‘selected’? Evolution is a backwards acting process, a culling of options. Somewhere in the process there is a need for new adaptations, new structures. There is some support for the hypotheses that radiological mutations provides such a pool. Other thought suggests that matter is endowed with self-organizing properties.

The physical world is described by the laws of thermodynamics. The second law, which states that entropy tends to increase, leads to the ultimate final state being the heat death of the universe. Evolutionists are constrained by this law. There is a preferred direction for processes. Combining things together into a higher energy state seems to violate the second law. If, as Ben Stein notes, life evolved from lightning striking the mud puddle, there are a lot of missing links, most of which violate the second law.

Note that the fact that they are missing is not surprising: Why shouldn’t they be missing. Millions of years could have passed under identical geological conditions which produced our fossils without proteins and amino acids being preserved — they are just too fragile. Only after life adapted and generated shells, bones and mineral inclusions could there be a preserved slice of the process to study.

But life itself seems to violate the second law. The significant factor, the one spark that distinguishes life from all other matter seems to be the ability to self-organize. The question is whether self-organization is another natural law which we have overlooked or the result of some prime mover or intelligent designer. Certain nanostructures are known to self organize — the so-called self-assembly process. So it is conceivable that all that electrified mud self organized into amino acids, complex phosphate chains, proteins and that the sieve of selection gave us the foundations of cellular metabolism.

Is self-organization a result of a process that has been overlooked and is responsible for that initial pool of selectees we evolved from? Or is this process the indicator that there is some higher intelligence guiding the development of life, but in a way that is far more clever and inscrutable than either side in the debate supposes?

There seems to be a bit of national security camaraderie in the Nuclear Club. The United States, in the early years, worked out a number of procedures, like the two-man rule and emergency action messages (EAMs) to make the control and handling of nuclear weapons safer (presumably for the issuer, not the receiver). But alas, various events over the era of the Cold War showed that even the best of intentions are usually insufficient to overcome a really determined foe, especially if it’s your own military. This entire set of procedures was generated to insure that nuclear weapon release was under civilian control. In at least one instance, launch codes, established to insure that the National Command Authority was the only authority able to release weapons, were set to 00000000 for extended periods of time. The military did this because they were concerned that release authority would not be granted expeditiously in a real crisis.

So clever people got together and developed some clever techniques. Buried deep within US nuclear weapons is a system that enables “a significant yield”. Which essentially means that, yes—you can blow up the warhead, but without the system enabled, you can’t get a nuclear yield. At best you get a small explosion (and a lot of radioactive debris blown all over). This system is called a PAL or permissive action link. Its operation involves cryptology and interesting tricks to insure that a significant nuclear yield cannot occur unless NCA has authorized release.

Now the really interesting part is that when the Soviet Union clearly demonstrated that they were capable of designing and exploding nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, the United States designers met with and offered their USSR pals information as to how these things worked so that each country would have a high confidence that the warheads were under civilian control and that release could not be compromised. Similarly with the other Club members.

So the argument might apply to Iran, who seems actively engaged in developing such a weapon. Should the US or other countries exchange these techniques with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The answer is a resounding NO! No PALs for our pal Mahmoud. First of all, assuming that Iran does in fact develop a viable weapon, who is likely to control that weapon? (The Mullahs would be the equivalent of civilian control). The Iranian Revolutionary Guard will likely be tasked with actual release coordination. But one may ask — who is it that the Mullahs are most likely to fear? Aside from the usual suspect, it is the Iranian people. And anything the US can do to enable the Iranian people against the ruling regime should be considered. Let the Mullahs find out that owning weapons in Iran is like having a glass house with a $100,000 stereo system in Chicago’s south side. Maybe having a nuclear weapon will turn out to be a nice sharp two edge sword that keeps them looking inwards. So the US should only consider this technology transfer AFTER a intercontinental delivery system is developed . Until then the greatest threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons system will be to itself.

In an earlier missive I addressed some physical constraints to actually constructing a Jedi lightsaber. The task was formidable, not to say impossible. Perhaps some new physics will intervene to assist in the future, but for the moment, I am going to take the challenge to construct a lightsaber metaphorically. I will define the Dark Side of the Force and create a weapon to defend against that Dark Side. And strangely enough, I will be using bosons and fermions.

First we need to discover the lair of the Sith Lord and the Dark Side of the Force. Fortunately, one only needs to look at a few interesting correlations. My two axes are the Economic Freedom Ranking and crude oil production provided by the United States Department of Energy. With a little judicious editing, an abreviated table appears as follows. The economic index ranges from 1 being most free to 157 (North Korea). (For those interested, the top seven are Hong Kong (1), Singapore (2), Australia (3), United States (4), New Zealand (5), UK (6), and Ireland (7)).

Correlation Between Oil Revenue and Economic Freedom
Country Crude Production Ranking Ranking in Index of Economic Freedom Characteristics
Saudi Arabia 10.4 M bbl/day 85/157 Wahabi Islamic Fundamentalism
Russia 9.5 M bbl/day 120/157 Resurgent KGB, Socialist Power Elite
Venezuela 3.4 M bbl/day 144/157 Chavez, Totalitarian, Communist
Iran 2.7 M bbl/day 150/157 Islamic Fundamentalism
Nigeria 2.5 M bbl/day 124/157 Choppa offa your hands

While the correlation is not particularly inverse linear, e.g., Saudi Arabia ranks number one in oil production and revenue but is not the worst Economic Freedom ranking (after all, Kim Il Jung doesn’t produce any oil), when additional factors, such as the Saudi’s urban redevelopment plans are added to the mix, clusters definitely form. Clearly there seems to be a correlation to the use of oil revenues to prop up totalitarian despot regimes. Each of these producers represent the worst elements of the Dark Side of the Force. These are governments which deplete their natural resources on the backs of their populations to further narrow nationalistic aims benefitting only the power elite. “Let’s see: fear, anger, hate, suffering — yup all there.” The difference between these regimes and those listed at the top of the index is that free society governments, where their people are economically free, view their populations as resources, not impediments. And because of the requirements for energy, those free countries must make a pact with the Dark Side to secure that freedom.

So what if we had a weapon that would directly attack these Dark Forces at their most vulnerable point. Without oil revenues, these regimes would collapse overnight. Iran must actually import gasoline. Without petrodollars to spend, Iran would be reduced to selling crappy carpets to fund their Islamic Jihad. Russia, which experienced a brief surge of freedom before Putin, would deteriorate into pure organized crime verses the state sponsored kind.

What weapon is this? Energy independence! By all means, let’s continue with wind power and solar power, and even allow the playing with sawgrass and synthetic fuels; but the paramount effort should be placed in developing an energy source that can replace petroleum. Start with home heating. That is a straightforward application which affects non-discretionary fuel usage. Then let’s adapt that new source to transportation. We probably will not be able to do this directly and will have to convert to electricity first, suffering some loss of efficiency in the conversion, but when we are finished with this effort, petroleum will be reduced to feedstock status for plastics and the chemical industry — which we can supply domestically.

We did the Manhattan project, and the Moon Project. The United States can accomplish remarkable things with the application of the national will. Surely, these despot states are more of a threat than the chimera of a Nazi atomic bomb which started the Mahattan project, of the launch of Sputnik, which started the Space Age. We need to focus. The technologies are out there withering on the vine from inadaequate funding and attention.

When we have these developed, I suggest the entire scientific and political leadership of the United States gather and collectively flip the bird to Abdullah al-Saud, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Olusegun Obasanjo. And afterwards, as much as it pains me, convey and deliver the technology to our European (choke) and Asian allies. And oh, by the way, we do all of this AFTER we have all of our new generators and engines in production. [Might want to short oil futures also as a way to pay for the development.]

The lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi, an elegant armament of a more civilized time

What could be more elegant that using their own petro-greed against them. Now that is a light saber!