Sunday, April 30, 2006

Building pressure for a world war to secure oil supplies?

What are we fighting in Iraq for? What are we fighting in Afghanistan for? Why are we threatening Iran?

Think it's about ephemeral things such as establishing democracy and freedom? Think again. There are dozens of freedom-hating countries around the world that we don't threaten with our military. Some of those freedom hating countries had their leaders installed by the U.S. We aren't threatening those countries, only the ones in the Middle East.

This article outlines the growing danger of a world war fought to secure oil supplies: A battle for oil could set the world aflame International powers will do everything to protect their access to dwindling resources. We are mad not to have an alternative strategy (Will Hutton, Sunday April 30, 2006, The Observer)

The key piece is twofold. First is the incontrovertible fact that the U.S. and China both have very little domestic oil supplies. What has allowed our modern societies to flourish isn't technology, it's that the technology has cheap energy to drive it. We could have the same dazzling array of technology, but if the energy to drive the technology wasn't available the technology would be useless. And, this is a situation we all may be facing in a few years.

The U.S. imports over 60% of its oil needs. In the 1970's there were two oil embargo crisis, at a time when the U.S. imported only 35% of its oil needs, and which drove the U.S. into a recession. What would happen today if the supply of oil to the U.S. were to dry up?

At the same time China is experiencing rapid economic growth, which is in turn causing rapid growth in its energy demands.

The article discusses China's role in both the Sudan/Darfur fiasco, and the showdown against Iran. In both cases China has made oil deals with the countries in question, and at the same time are expected to veto any UN Security Council actions against those countries. Further, Iran and China have an oil deal, part of which is shipping oil from Iran to China via a pipeline through Central Asia. Such a pipeline is a strategic move that would keep the U.S. from enforcing anything against that oil, because our Navy is useless in reaching Central Asia.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bush Administration proposes labeling for web sites with sexually explicit content

Attorney General Gonzales is proposing a mandatory labeling requirement for web sites publishing sexually explicit material. A web site operator not labeling their sexually explicit web site would face imprisonment.

See Gonzales calls for mandatory Web labeling law and U.S. attorney general calls for 'reasonable' data retention

This kind of discussion is not new, and the articles above give a history of the previous efforts along these lines. The big bugaboo that has people scared, of course, is will their children accidentally stumble across these sites. I've looked at some of those sites, and the raunch people engage in and look at it simply astonishing. Some of that stuff is clearly not for children, and it's quite possible to stumble across it.

e.g. "A second new crime would threaten with imprisonment Web site operators who mislead visitors about sex with deceptive "words or digital images" in their source code--for instance, a site that might pop up in searches for Barbie dolls or Teletubbies but actually features sexually explicit photographs."

One issue mentioned in the article is concerns by search engines. For example the government might decide to make a law requiring that search engines correctly index sexually explicit sites, and then correctly return results based on the sexually explicitness of the query. But, as the search engines pointed out, it's rather difficult to determine whether something is sexually explicit or not. And, in some cases, the raunchy crowd will reuse innocent words to have raunchy meanings.

The whole issue raises a whole range of freedom of speech considerations.

The people who publish and read/view the raunchy material certainly have a right to do so. That's called freedom of speech, but there's a principle I heard a few years ago that's very apropos. Your freedom to swing your fists stops at my nose.

Should their freedom to publish raunch stop somewhere before it reaches childrens eyes?

But, wait, there's more ..

For example, how can this preserve the right of medical researchers to discuss Breast Cancer?

For example, the Dirty Old Mens Association Intermational (DOMAI) exists to publish photographs of naked women. You might think, oh, they'll fall directly into this sexually explicit category. But, I challenge you to look through their site and find sexual explicitness. The purpose for that site is the celebration of beauty, specifically the beauty of the feminine form. They don't publish sexual pictures, but instead the pictures are of naked women in their beauty. Often the sexually explicit pictures are, to my eye, very degrading as it presents a naked woman purely as a sexual object. On the DOMAI site their pictures are very affirming of beauty and femininity.

I will say the proposed law is interesting by explicitly naming the kind of content which must be labeled.

In the past there was always a question over whether something is, or is not, pornographic. Like I said about the DOMAI site, there's a long tradition of non-pornographic artwork depicting naked women as beauty.

They are borrowing definitions from existing federal law: sexual intercourse of all types; bestiality; masturbation; sadistic or masochistic abuse; or lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person. Clearly those categories are easy to verify and enforce, unlike prior standards which.

The second article linked above is a little more chilling. It concerns requirements proposed to be placed on "internet service providers" requiring that "data" be retained for 90 days. They are claiming that the "failure" of ISP's to retain data is hampering investigations into criminal activity, including "gruesome sex crimes".

This may be very innocent and above board, but it also may be coming from the existing government plans to create a ubiquitous spying apparatus akin to Big Brother.

Again, there is a privacy consideration. In this case the "data" is our activities on various web sites, email we send and receive, even chatroom transcripts. The requirement is for that "data" to be retained, so that it can be handed over to government investigators.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"You can be a victor without having victims"

"You can be a victor without having victims" is what surfaced in my fortune cookie today. This presents an odd conundrum.

To be the victor, well, that implies "winning". Whenever you "win" that means someone else "lost". At least that's how it typically goes.

My first pondering about this goes ... can you be a victor without being the "winner"? Let's set aside the question of whether winning means there's a loser, and the loser has to be a victim.

What's come to mind is a way of being strong, of having power, but not using that power or strength to dominate others. That's a way of living I've been exploring for awhile. It's very clear this is a different way of having power than typical.

The stereotype for a powerful person is one who easily dominates or kills their opponents, and revels in the strength. But it seems to me the standing warrior pose, to pick an example, is meant to train one in a different kind of strength/power.

The standing warrior pose is all about presencing yourself right here, right now, being you in this moment in all that means to be you. This presencing of yourself is the you which cannot be destroyed. It's the you which can withstand the crashing of ocean waves and not be moved.

If you cannot be defeated, aren't you a victor?

Which gets us back to the other half of this. If you are a victor, does that make someone into a loser/victim?

So, if you cannot be defeated, and your victorhood came through not being defeated, then what happens to the person who wanted to defeat you? It seems they would not have been vanquished, because all you did was to be the part of yourself that you cannot be defeated. Being undefeated does not require that the other lose.

Being undefeated simply means you weren't defeated. No victims or losers are needed in this picture.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

The coming world oil disruptions

I was in my young teens in the early 1970's when the oil embargo was used against the U.S. In the second oil embargo I was in college. Those two events really affected me and is what's driving me today to study energy supplies.

Stanford EMF: 80% Probability of Major Oil Disruption in Next Ten Years covers a study done by Hillard Huntington, Executive Director Energy Modeling Forum (EMF), Stanford University, which discusses the probabilities of another oil disruption.

Thinking about it now, this shouldn't be surprising. For example we are threatening Iran right now which could easily turn into a major oil disruption. And generally speaking, OPEC did it before (staging oil disruptions) so why wouldn't they do it again?

The thing that's really alarming is what the effect would be.

In the 1970's the recessions we had then were likely triggered by the oil embargo's. Those oil embargo's caused the price of oil to rise pretty high. Remember Carter's Windfall Profits Tax? President Enron nor Vice President Halliburton nor Secretary of State Chevron are likely to push for such a tax, but we have the same conditions today that occurred in the 1970's that prompted that tax.

In the 1970's the U.S. imported 35% of its' oil needs. Today we import 70% of our oil needs. If there were another oil disruption today, the effect on the U.S. would be far more dramatic than the effect in the 1970's.

Should Donald Rumsfeld be charged with Genocide alongside Saddam Hussein?

Will Any Americans Be Charged As Accomplices in Saddam's Genocide Trial? raises an interesting point. Saddam Hussein has been charged for Genocide based on stuff done in the early 1980's. At that time the U.S. government was actively supporting the Iraq government, U.S. officials knew all about the Iraqi use of chemical weapons, the U.S. officials knew Iraq was violating the treaty against chemical weapon use, and despite that those same U.S. officials continued supplying money, armaments, intelligence, etc in Iraq's war against Iran.

That makes Rumsfeld just as culpable in the "Genocide" as is Hussein.

Or, that's what the article says. Like I said, that's an interesting thought.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Utopia? Maybe...

I just listened to an National Public Radio piece that presents one mans concept of utopia. Namely, individuals or small scale organizations working on small scale work projects.

The guy is a University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, also happens to oversee a blog, a music label and a microbrewery. He's written a book An Army of Davids : How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, which I haven't read. But I am living what he's talking about, so with that let me write a few things.

In the NPR piece the situation is described thusly.

Up until the Industrial Revolution humans did most things on a small scale. A few people running a farm, or running a mill, etc. These were very human scaled organizations, he claims.

Then the Industrial Revolution happened and suddenly the scale of organizations had to expand dramatically. A cost effective factory for that time was huge, and employed thousands of people. To go along with it was the rise of huge corporations.

But, today, technology has come full circle to being able to enable individuals to work on small scale organizations.

An example is what I do with my web sites. I have a "day job" in a large corporation, but I also am a web site publisher and earn a tidy side income at that. Additionally I see a way to totally divorce myself from the large corporation, and instead operate several small operations each of which would provide part of my income.

In the interview they gave some more examples.

For example all the people making a living (partial or not) via sales through eBay.COM. He exemplified eBay as a wave of future business style. Another example was someone making custom guitars at home, and he uses for parts production.

The way eBay makes their money is through taking advantage of others doing what they want to do. This is drastically different from the large corporate style organization, where the organization exists to tell thousands of people what to do. There are dozens of companies making money through enabling others to do what they want. Google, for example, makes a lot of money from individuals like me who run AdSense advertising on their web sites.

I think, though, he's selling a bit of a pipe dream.

These individuals making their small organizations are riding on the back of some very large organizations. An individual selling stuff through eBay is absolutely dependant on eBay, as well as the package delivery industry (FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc). These are all very large companies who operate in the top-down style of telling their employees what to do.

Let's take another example. Suppose you have a great salsa recipe and you want to make and sell salsa. Go to any farmers market and you'll find several people living a similar dream. It's relatively simple, you need to pass health inspections, be able to operate a healthy kitchen and production facility, find FDA certified packaging, get a FDA certified label made showing the ingredients, etc. One could launch a salsa business with a small group of people, and then go to farmers markets or local Whole Foods stores to sell your product. If you keep working at it, you might eventually have national distribution and so on.

But, let's get back to the beginning. Where does your packaging come from? Are you going to make the packaging, or are you going to buy that? How big is the company who makes the packaging? Where do you buy the ingredients? The local farmer, or from an agribusiness?

What I'm getting at is that this utopia Glenn Reynolds holds out in front of us won't be there for all of us. Some of us will have to work in large organizations like UPS so that others of us can run our humanely-sized home businesses. And that's probably okay, because not everybody is inspired to do this. Many people seem content to go to work and be told what to do with their lives. If that's what they want to do, then more power to them.