Piracy, like most disasters, is much more interesting when it happens to someone else. While schadenfreude here at 12 Angry Men is usually limited to individuals, seeing it on an international level (where the U.S. is -not- on the receiving end) makes for plenty of nice copy.

Piracy in the modern age has yet to really conquer the image of 17-19th century pirates that dominates the American mind. Modern headlines colored by movie images and Internet memes make for interesting juxtapositions, such as the pirate vs. ninja showdowns whenever Japanese ships are taken for ransom.

However, lately two instances of the theme have so many juicy bits to them that they might finally wrench the image of a pirate into the modern consciousness. But a good deal of modern silliness comes along for the ride.

The first one is a fairly straightforward ship, but the cargo’s final destination was in doubt: Ukranian ship (MV Faina) carrying 33 T-72 Soviet-era tanks to Kenya (on behalf of raiders in the Sundan). Kenya denies that they were for the Sudan, but tanks keep appearing in the Sudan, and they didn’t arrive overland to the land-locked south Sudan…

That ship is surrounded by warships, and pirates are still asking for $20m ransom.

The second one sounds like something from an action movie. The Iran Deyant (also spelled Iran Deyanat is owned by the Iranian government. It left China in late July and was bound for Germany through the Suez Canal to deliver 43 tons of iron ore and ‘industrial products’. On August 21st Somali pirates decided that this was a ship they wanted to take and hold for ransom. Bad for them, interesting for everyone else.

The cargo was an enormous amount of -something-, but it’s not clear that it was iron ore. The reports are spotty and changing, ranging from “gritty oily sand” to “crude oil” to “minerals”. The pirates who opened the cargo developed severe skin burns and hair loss in the following days, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ironically, the latest conspiracy theory surrounding the Iran Deyant comes closer to that movie than I thought possible.

The symptoms experienced by the pirates seem consistent with massive radiation exposure. A ship full of radioactive sand would make a huge mess if it were to spill. Or if it were to detonate…

An Iranian ship, a floating dirty-bomb full of Chinese radioactive waste, wouldn’t really be of much use in Germany, but delivery to Germany makes a good excuse to float it through the Suez Canal, and next to Tel-Aviv in Israel. Depending on its travel schedule, it would have hit right about October 9th… Happy Yom Kippur.

Iran was hoping not to be captured, and even happy to pay the ransom on this ship straight away before anyone looked at it too closely. But now things seem to be bogging down as the U.S. and others are taking a real interest in what the cargo here actually is. If Somali pirates have actually managed to block Iran’s long-talked about attack on Israel, that would certainly establish modern piracy as a force for change in world events.

And a worth a dang good laugh at Iran for not managing to bribe their way through Somalia properly…

So while we wait to hear what the facts actually are about the Iran Deyant, it’s certainly fun to watch the theories abound. This year might be the tipping point for Somali piracy where the big players suddenly don’t tolerate them anymore and just sink every ship on the Somali coast out of spite.

But until then, we will still get lovely implied headlines out of it:

Japan Executes Surprise Raid Against Pirates
Russia/US Form Joint Piracy Squad
Somali Pirates Save Israel and Prevent World War IV

Yay for the Somalis. They put the “piracy” back into conspiracy!

On a personal note, this will officially become my favorite conspiracy theory once someone completes the circle and finds a way to blame Bush, Bin Laden, and/or Palin for it.

The National Review Online also reported this (and also linked the US presidential campaign into its post, kudos), and now has sources saying most of this is bogus (no surprise here), but I’m still munching popcorn and waiting to see how Iran maneuvers through its explanation of this…

After the big kerfuffle at Columbia over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program has once again come to the fore of media attention (though it hasn’t seemed to make in onto Mr. Ahmadinejad’s blog recently). Besides the utterly bankrupt position of hiding your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t so (much like Mr. Cline on Obama’s run for the presidency), the number of options remaining on Iran have dwindled tremendously. Here they are, as I see them and why they’re all bad. In our long standing tradition of multi-part series on complicated issues, I’ll be looking at America’s options in four parts. Unfortunately for us in America, they range from bad to worse…

Option #2: Invade Iran.

The neo-conservative blowhards like Norman Podhoretz have their own solution for Iran: invasion. We can repeat invasion of Iraq, only this time Iran really has WMDs! Wait a minute, the National Intelligence Estimate says they probably don’t. Nevermind. As the Angry Political Optimist pointed out, the NIE can be conveniently ignored because we know Iran’s history as a bunch of very bad people.

The irony is that the neo-conservatives aren’t the only one to be rattling their sabers. Even Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister and avoid socialist (and founder of Doctors Without Borders) has come out in favor of preparing for war with Iran. Mr. Kouchner said, “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.” His boss French president Nicholas “Look-at-my-supermodel-mistress” Sarkozy, noted that the world faces a choice between “an Iranian bomb or the bombardment of Iran.” You know, when Mr. Sarkozy isn’t hitting the bottle at the G8 summit. Over in London, the ex-prime minister Tony Blair has refused to take the option of invasion off the table.

The problem is that this option is a non-starter. Since it’s suspected that Iran has a secret nuclear program and we have no idea where those facilities are (assuming they exist at all), there’s no way a Israeli-style air campaign could eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Likewise, no matter how bad-ass the British SAS is compared to those pussies in the US Army Rangers (so the Brits’ claim), without accurate intelligence on the location of Iranian SNM (that’s special nuclear material), all of the Richard Marcinko’s in the world aren’t worth a hill of beans.

This means that any invasion of Iran would need to involve lots and lots of ground troops. According to our friends over at globalsecurity.org Iran has about 350k troops in their army. Now granted, 200k of those are conscripts who probably can’t fight for shit, but that leaves them with about 150k serious professional soldiers. This is no third world bunch of thugs with guns like in Somalia, the Iranians are well-trained and outfit with *lots* of kit — medium tanks, main battle tanks, sophisticated anti-tank weapons, missiles combat helicopters and aircraft. Most frightening is that the upper ranks of the Iranian officer corps knows how to conduct a serious fight — after all, they were all junior officers in the war against Iraq. Any ground invasion of Iran will be very, very messy, and lots of young men will be coming home in flag-draped coffins.

So, despite the saber rattling that’s been coming out of London and Paris, the UK and France cannot credibly threaten Iran by themselves (especially with the British forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan). US involvement is required to invade Iran. And with the US Army and Marine Corps also tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the only way the US can invade Iran is to abandon Iraq to the militias, insurgents and al-Qaeda. While the irony of the neo-conservative Iraq hawks endorsing “cut and run” for the purpose of throwing down with Iran is amusing, the utter chaos that would be unleashed on Iraq as a result of such a policy would not be.

After the big kerfuffle at Columbia over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program has once again come to the fore of media attention (though it hasn’t seemed to make in onto Mr. Ahmadinejad’s blog recently). Besides the utterly bankrupt position of hiding your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t so (much like Mr. Cline on Obama’s run for the presidency), the number of options remaining on Iran have dwindled tremendously. Here they are, as I see them and why they’re all bad. In our long standing tradition of multi-part series on complicated issues, I’ll be looking at America’s options in four parts. Unfortunately for us in America, they range from bad to worse…

Option #1: Accept the inevitability of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state.

This is, largely, the position of Gen. John Abizaid [ret]. The argument here is that we’ve dealt with nuclear states who don’t like America before (the USSR and China) come to mind, and things have worked out alright. Like the Soviets and Chinese, the Iranian regime doesn’t desire it’s own annihilation, and would be incredibly unlikely to use the weapon unless directly threatened with their own destruction. The big problem with Gen. Abizaid’s approach is that it will tear a very large hole in the non-proliferation regime (though after Bush’s devil’s deal with India, there might not be much worth saving).

You see, a Persian bomb gives Iran the #1 spot in the middle east and will exacerbate the Arab world’s already overgrown inferiority complex (because, you see, the hated Persians, who also happen to be Shiite heretics, are now provably “better” than Arabs). This means that there will be serious pressure to develop an Arab-controlled nuclear weapon. My money is on Egypt doing the dirty deed, since they actually have the technical expertise for it, though I’d wager that the Saudis’ would be quietly helping to foot the bill. Syria, who has never been Iran’s patsy (no matter what the news media and the Bush administration would have you believe), would also need a weapon to rebalance their relationship with Iran (witness the recent Israeli airstrike inside Syria shortly after a North Korean ship off-loaded it’s cargo). They’d probably try to buy a weapon off Pakistan or North Korea (good luck with that) or try to buy they’re way into the Egyptian/Saudi project. Either way this puts us at 2-3 new weapons states in addition to Iran, all run by non-Democratic strongmen. This will not end well. To make matter worse, all these bombs will have the nasty side effect of increasing the price of oil even more. This is bad for everyone (now even the House of Saud has to worry about getting nuked), except perhaps Hugo Chavez (where the increased oil prices might give him a better shot at staying in power).

You might wonder why I don’t mention the possibility of Iran selling the bomb to the likes of al Qaida. I feel this is unlikely because the Iranians know that should al Qaida get the bomb, Persian Shiites are up on their hit list right after the US and Israel (witness the sectarian killings perpetrated by al Qaida in Iraq). From my perspective, this makes Iran very unlikely to share the technology with al Qaida. Besides, if you’ve got the biggest bomb on the block, the last thing you do is give it to your neighbors.

Without debating whether the Central Intelligence Agency has become a bastion of mush-brained liberalism, politicized to a fare-thee-well, it is instructive to consider a maxim of operational intelligence:

In the absence of knowledge of an enemy’s intent, one must plan based on his capability.

There are several points of concern about this maxim. Is Iran an enemy of the United States? Do we have knowledge, or absence thereof, of Iran’s intent? Do we have an understanding of Iran’s capabilities?

The ‘people’ of Iran not withstanding the hyperbole of its rulers, Mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seem to be decent people trapped in a overbearing, self-destructive and intolerant political system. The ongoing efforts of the reformists, the continuing saga of student political prisoners, and the jailed media representatives suggest that the ‘enemy’, if in fact it is an enemy, consists solely of the Mullahs, the government and its direct representatives [Iranian Revolutionary Guards]. Any people will, from time to time, express nationalistic pride, and one can hardly hold that against a population— the fact that Ahmadinejad stands up against the US and postures has some component of this. The fact that Ahmadinejad was directly responsible, in that he participated in the 1979 hostage situation at the American Embassy, is of more concern. As are his continual tirades against the US, comments advocating the extinction of Israel, and his participation in conferences with Hugo Chavez — participation which brings potential consequences of an alliance much closer to home. Given Ahmadinejad’s public stance, his history with the US, and the general antipathy of the Mullahs for western civilization, categorization of Iran’s ruling class as ‘enemies’ is certainly warranted. And since the ruling class is in control of its military, weapons program and a delivery means, caution is warranted.

Do we have knowledge of Iran’s intent? Iran has publically supported Hezbollah and delivered arms and ammunition to them in Gaza. Iran has publicly stated that the destruction of Israel is on the agenda. Hezbollah has initiated attacks, using Iranian provided weapons, including advanced missiles, on Israel displaying a general pattern of consistency: I say X, I do Y in support of X. This pattern is repeated in Iraq where advanced IED and self-forging projectile weapons were provided by the IRG for use against American troops. The pattern is repeated again with regard to the Persian Gulf and the capture of a British patrol boat.

Iran has repeatedly stated its intent to obtain nuclear weapons, has demonstrated before the IAEA the capability to produce weapons grade material, has increased its capacity to produce that same material, and has tested complex explosive devices and detonators whose only purpose can be to trigger a nuclear weapon. Again the consistent pattern: I say X, and I do Y in support of X.

Consequently, overt intent appears to be in place. Now consider the absence of intent. We have an bureacuracy of the United States, tasked with the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence stating that it appears that Iran has suspended (not given up) its weapons program in 2003 in the face of international pressure. If, in fact this is the case, why would Iran not make statements in an international venue designed to reduce pressure on the trade and financial restrictions already imposed. Further, given the decision was made in 2003, why maintain the hyperbole through the last several years? The CIA’s finding doesn’t state that the intent is not to obtain weapons — just to suspend the attempt to do so. The CIA’s finding in its NIE doesn’t establish absence of intent.

But even so, say that it did. The maxim states that in the absence of intent, use capability. What are Iran’s capabilities? Iran has already obtained fissionable materials. They have already obtained designs and working models of separation centrifuges. They have already designed and tested critical explosive components. The only thing that hasn’t been mentioned is any attempt to obtain tritium. [No modern weapons designer would forgo the yield improvements a boosted core would provide.] A quick Google search reveals an attempt to do just that with their ARAK heavy water facility.

Add to these specific components the general component of physics and engineering education. Iran has certainly produced its share of PhDs, some at American Universities. Iranian designers are clearly as capable as other national designers, especially augmented with information from Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan.

Finally, Iran as demonstrated the capability to deliver weapons with their 2000 km range Shahab-4 missiles. Delivery is most often neglected in the analysis of nuclear weapon systems overshadowed by the physics package of the bomb itself. Iran has tested a trans-stage bus design. This is the component that allows a (heavy) payload to be successfully launched. In short, Iran has the capability to design, manufacture, and deliver a nuclear weapon. The only thing missing is the weapons test, which would be a dead giveaway.

As such, given the maxim, the only prudent thing any administration can do is to assume based on the capability, and plan accordingly. Many political pundits and international optimists have fixated on the poorly written NIE and it’s assertion that Iran has stopped WMD fabrication and have pushed for policy to reflect that misguided belief. Our allies in the region are waiting to see how the administration will respond in policy statements (often in bewilderment as to how an administration could even allow such a document to be released). Our only reasonable reaction is to continue to assess Iran as the threat that it is. Deriding this administration, or any administration for that matter, for proceeding in accordance with a capability assessment, is policy suicide.

“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.

“Sir, what were you thinking? The World Trade Center site is the most sensitive place in the American heart, and you must have known that visiting there would be insulting to many, many Americans,” Pelley [asked].

 

“Why should it be insulting?” Ahmadinejad [replied].

Interview with 60 Minutes

Many innocent people were killed there. Some of those people were American citizens obviously. We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. And also we are very much against any plots to sow the seeds of discord among nations.

Ahmadinejad later in the Interview

Pity poor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, puzzled President of Iran. He’s awfully confused about what all the fuss is about. All he wanted to do is visit Ground Zero in New York City, pay his respects to the victims of the 9/11 attack, and, just possibly, make some sort of statement about how bad terrorism is and how tragic 9/11 was. Of course, just whom he believes is responsible for 9/11 might be a question, given his penchant for odd revisionist theories about other historical events. But charity compels us to accept that he really isn’t sure why his presence there should be so disturbing. In fact, he’s sure it’s all just a misunderstanding.

And, doubtless, there could be some misunderstandings, so let’s take a moment and clear them up. Here’s a list of things Iran isn’t responsible for:

  • 9/11 – that was al Qaeda, a fanatic Sunni Muslim group not Iran, a fanatic Shia Muslim country
  • al Qaeda – that was Pakistan’s creation, in part with American funds sent to help fight the Soviets not Iran’s, which supported different vicious fanatics with other funds
  • Saddam Hussein – really, Iran did its best to get rid of this jerk in the 1980s, and sadly their best just wasn’t good enough
  • the Gulf War – Iran sat this one out, happy to see the Sunni nations beat themselves up, and even got a few fine Iraqi planes out of it

So, if anybody is mad at Mahmoud for this stuff, you should drop it, because it’s not really his fault.

On the other hand, there are a few small things that Iran is responsible for, and I’m thinking these might just have some bearing on why we just don’t like poor Mahmoud. These minor things include:

So, quite a legacy of support for terror and violence, frequently against American interests or allies. (I guess that’s why they’ve been on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism every year since 1984.) But all of this is dwarfed, of course, by the piece de resistance:

Since these insurgents are, after all, killing and maiming American soldiers (not to mention droves of Iraqi civilians), well, Mahmoud, you can pardon our suspicion that your tears for the victims of 9/11 are not exactly heartfelt. Especially when we recall your governments various working agreements with al Qaeda in years past. Call us sensitive, but we feel that if you’re actively trying to kill our soldiers, maybe you don’t have our best interests at heart. Let’s face it, there’s a term for countries like yours, and that term is: enemy nation.

And let us not forget Iran’s ongoing quest to develop the biggest bomb of all. That also makes us just a tad bit nervous, and makes us worry a bit that perhaps your stop by New York is for more than just sightseeing. A little pre-target recon, perhaps? Surely not, but you can see why we might be a little nervous, Mahmoud. Perhaps you and the nation you lead might consider actually acting like you want peace and stability instead of sowing chaos and terror in your neighbors and region.

And maybe, one day, you might consider apologizing for sacking our embassy, kidnapping its staff, blowing up a bunch of our other embassies, sponsoring hijacking and murder around the world, and taking an active interest in killing our soldiers in Iraq. In other words, before you start tooling around our cities, you might want to take some action to move your country out of its well-deserved doghouse.

As I was walking my dog this morning, I walked past a day care center. Every morning I have to dodge cars making rapid blind turns into this establishment. It is located across a field from a local fire station. This morning, as I walked past, the fire alarm went off. Now this is a loud abrasive buzzing accompanied by several bright xenon strobes flashing. Day care operators dutifully herded their charges out the west doors onto the playground and across the field you could watch the firemen don their heavy rubberized coats and climb into their trucks. Let’s stipulate that there was a large amount of ‘optical and aural input’ available.

Yet as I watched (after dodging their turns), several moms exited the cars and led their children INTO the building. Into the loud buzzing, strobe flashing, entrance, which was in plain view of the playground where most of the children were gathered. Into a probable burning building. And not just one parent, either, but several—one after another, as I watched.

I was contemplating the stupidity and total recklessness of this behavior as the fire trucks arrived. One mom even walked her child around the fire truck and into the building. Now it was true that there were no visible flames, and no smoke that I could see, however, a prudent person usually allows the fire inspector/fire chief to make the determination that the building is, in fact, not on fire. Fires are tricky things.

Bursting through my consideration of the intellectual capacity of people who apparently try to set the record for the minimum time to detatch a young child from their busy and highly scheduled life, came the glint of an understanding. Americans are addicted to convenience , and investigating the possibility that your child might not be safe in a potentially burning building would be —well, inconvenient. Moms, after all, have to get to work on time, and bosses are so inconsiderate about leeway for tardiness for such things as making sure your children are safe. Best get the child to the caregiver where she can handle the situation.

Americans tolerate high gas prices. We are a mobile society. Good public transportation is available at a fractional ( and subsidized) cost of owning a car. But, you know, it’s so … inconvenient. The bus only comes around every 20 minutes, and the trips are at least 40 minutes long with those inconvenient stops to pick up other people.

Most supermarkets have a fresh food section. Raw broccoli stacked on iced shelves has given way to microwavable bags of cut broccoli. Fresh fruit and vegetables, and raw ingredients such as flour, and fresh meat comprise perhaps 15% of the store’s floor area. The rest is given over to bagged food, frozen prepared meals, sliced and prepared meats (even the fresh meat section has pre-marinated chickens, stuffed fish, peppered filets), and cans and cans of highly processed food. All very convenient.

Internet sex sites? Very convenient — avoids the problems of building a relationship. Everything you dated to find out is strewn out in explicit detail.

Americans are the most productive people in the world. The gross state product of even a medium state exceeds that of say Russia. Americans can do this because they are absolved of the inconveniences of preparing foods, riding transportation to work, having romantic relationships with people in the real world, or even exhibiting concern about the safety of their children.

The 9/11 attack in New York irritated people because it was highly inconvenient —for Mayor Guillani, — disrupting the nicely flowing pattern of lives with inconvenient items such as falling concrete, flames, choking dust and mounds of debris, not to mention having to consider that “someone doesn’t like America’ which doesn’t fit in to the convenient conceptual framework established by the media, Madison Avenue and the barrage of stimuli that directs your drinking, buying, selling, eating and sleeping habits.

Fortunately, we had a convenient resource available—the US Military, which we could send out to tidy up all of this nasty inconvenience in the form of radical Taliban governments and genocidal Baathist dictators. But sadly we had forgotten how inconvenient some of these things—like obtaining democracy—could be. We actually have to make sacrifices.

Fortunately, for most of us, this war on inconvenience, is not itself a source of inconvenience. Aside from the annoying increases in the cost of gasoline, and the continual barrage of combat KIA statistics in the media, our lives haven’t changed much. The sacrifices made are limited — scarcely a fraction of those who are killed by our use of the convenient automobile.

In World War II, we fought another war on inconvenience. In the 1940’s however, we weren’t so productive, and as a result, fighting that war required us to substantially alter our lifestyles. We allowed, even pushed, women into the work force; voluntarily limited our consumption of meat, sugar, rope, and a plethora of other materials, all rationed in the effort to support the military; and accepted a significant curtailment of our rights. And as a result of this, everyone was affected by the war. Everyone had a stake in the outcome.

With our productivity level today, in order to subject the population to the 1940’s level of sacrifice and commitment, we would have to broaden the war on inconvenience to significantly stress our economy. To ensure that every child toting mom at the daycare understood that the United States was making a committment to democracy and freedom, one that would curtail her addiction to convenience, we would have to simultaneously declare war on Iran, Syria, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Somalia while rendering assistance to Darfur, Kosovo, the rest of the Balkans, with the occasional side trip to Sumatra to provide earthquake and tsunami relief.

Hmmmm.

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!

How would you like to make small untraceable donations to Al-Qaeda? Interested in supporting Terrorism and helping America’s enemies win? Then you’re in luck my friend! All you have to do is buy an SUV. That’s right, by purchasing a Sports Utility Vehicle, you too can be a terrorist. In the spirit of Regan’s Trickle-down economics, soulless American consumerism has brought you Trickle-down terrorism. Sure everyone needs to drive, and so some money from US oil purchases will end up in the hands of unsavory types, but by buying an SUV, you can ensure that you are funneling your hard earned dollars into terrorist hands even faster!

Before we really begin to dig into the issues here, I want to preface my argument by pointing out that some people need SUVs, or big trucks. Farmers in particular, who use SUVs and trucks as actual workhorses, are blameless, as are disabled individuals for whom sitting in a car causes discomfort or pain. These people are forced into using SUVs because of their jobs, or personal injuries. But these people are the minority. Most of the individuals who drive SUVs do so because they are hip, shiny and cool, and to help them keep up with the Joneses. After all, if your car isn’t as new and pointless as the one Chad and Buffy Jones just parked next door to your coastal McMansion, you might not be invited to the next shallow cocktail party they throw!

Given that over 25% of our daily oil imports come from countries with known or suspected ties to terrorism (and an additional 13% comes from Venezuela, a country none too fond of Western governments), we should be weighing our consciences to see if driving that new Ford Valdez is really worth the price. The average SUV uses 169% of the gas of a sedan does to move the same distance, and 281% of the gas a hybridized car uses. The cost of this useless inefficiency isn’t just to your wallet. The cost is paid by your children too. By wasting money on SUVs instead of the passenger car you really need, more money ends up in the hands of people who hate freedom.

But how much money ends up in the hands of terrorists each time you fuel up your good old SUV? It’s easy to ignore the costs when they’re just abstractions so I am going to tear away the curtain and force you to pay attention to the terrorist behind it. With the current US gas price of $2.87 and roughly 20 gallons in the tank of an average SUV, we’re talking about $57.40 for a full tank. Of that, roughly 45% of your money goes towards the oil producing countries, or $25.83, and of the money that ends up back at the sources 25% of it goes to nations with known or suspected terrorist ties, giving us the final amount of $6.45. Every time you fill up your SUV, you donate $6.45 to Al Qaeda. Based on DOE average yearly gas consumption, the average SUV driver donates more than $240 to Al Qaeda every year.

But $240 isn’t a lot of money right? Wrong. Your yearly donation to Al Qaeda helps to outfit 24 terrorists in Afghanistan with assault rifles. Or perhaps it will be used to buy 10 Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq? Either way that SUV parked outside of your house right now means more innocent people dead every year. It is time to do our patriotic duty as Americans, and get rid of our SUVs, replacing them with fuel efficient alternatives. Stop trickle-down terrorism today!

-Angry Midwesterner