Thebastidge: 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007
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    Thursday, May 31, 2007


    Gonna do some maintenance on the ol' blog this evening- fix some things that ave been messed up for a while, and clean some stuff up.

    You may see some wierdness while I work it out.

    I've got back-ups, so I shouldn't have any problems restoring to the semi-messed up version if necessary. :)

    "Institutional" Racism

    In comments in response to my post of yesterday I see some disagreement with my position on class mobility in America:

    "I would however challenge the notion that your experience equates to one that all Americans enjoy."

    And I believe, that this one statement encompasses so much defeatism and victim orientation as to be worse than racism.

    "The level of institutional racism in an high functioning system"

    This just doesn't make sense. The level of racism in any high functioning system is much less than in low functioning systems. In zero-sum economic systems, fear of outsiders is much more prevalent and valid. Look at any example you can think of in both categories of wealthy, and poor, and take a good hard look at racism in those societies. Some societies are benefit from being so racially homogeneous you have to look at their intersections with other societies to find much racism- for example Korea or Japan; they're doing pretty well. But they could be doing better if they were more open about their labor market- they're dreadfully xenophobic, so typically outside labor is limited to VERY specialized technical fields they cannot fill with domestic employees, and manual laborers. Neither of these categories of foreign workers will ever be integrated into either of those societies or advance beyond being employees- and it is virtually impossible to gain citizenship. This racism is one reason why manufacturing jobs are increasingly being outsourced from both countries to places where labor is cheaper- the South East Asian "Tigers".

    If I'm wrong here, then your statement would make a good argument for racism being a positive force. But what you're talking about when you say institutional racism, really is about culture, not race.

    In any other context than laws that discriminate on the basis of race, I don't believe in institutional racism. Racism is personal. Cultural imperialism can be institutional, but there's nothing inherently morally wrong about preferring your own culture (though it can bite you in the ass if your cultural practices aren't as great as you think they are) or in preferring specific cultural practices over others.

    "they eventually help enact the barriers for a great many people to secure their hegemony. "

    Yes, incumbents always act to preserve their position. Inevitably. You can call it privilege, you can call it conservatism. Whether they are successful or not is another question. The good news is this- success breeds a desire for repetition, which leads people to value the qualities that led to success (and therefore incumbency at the top). Unfortunately, people tend to stick to their backgrounds no matter whether that background is successful or not, because habit is probably the most powerful human quality. This is because of several psychological tendencies, including the fact that early conditioning is stronger and more subtle than things learned consciously later in life, and tends to influence attitudes on a variety of subjects disproportionately.

    This tendency to stick to habit competes with the tendency to emulate success, and the extent that this struggle (with a small dash of innovation thrown in) goes one way or the other, determines the success of the society in general.

    For example, good communication skills are a cultural and individual success factor. (I'll use language as a proxy for various cultural practices through out this discussion because it is a subject I am very familiar with, having been a professional linguist.) Introduce some silly concept like Ebonics into the equation, and you institutionalize a disadvantage. It's not the same as doing business in educated Spanish. Educated Spanish would be equivalent to educated English, but "Ebonics", or even Caribbean Patois are limited subsets of languages, that lack the precision and tools necessary to quality communication. You cannot express complicated philosophy or technical knowledge in gutter vernacular. Lest this is also called racism, consider that the everyday vocabulary of Appalachian hillbillies likewise suffers from the same limitations. Vernacular dialects work for every day, informal and unimportant communication, but advances come from efficient, structured use of language, whether that is English, German, or Hindu.

    Some cultures' languages are more static than others. For example, Arabic is mostly stabilized by adherence to the Koran. Modern Standard Arabic, is a flowery, God-oriented linguistic pattern that corresponds highly to the Koran, but is not used in actual conversation: each sub-culture of Arabs have their own dialect, largely mutually intelligible, but not perfectly. English and Russian have lent themselves to more technical and technology- related subjects much better than some others- I don't think the best language for communicating about computers would be Irish Gaelic, for example.

    Language, and the cultural assumptions inherent in language, shape the way we think. And arguably, the efficiency with which we think. Whether that is gutter patois or educated vocabulary within the same nominal language. Education in the use of your own native language allows you to think more effectively than the relatively unstructured vocabulary you learned as a child.

    This is not 'institutional racism', this is an advantageous ability that a subset of people possess, because they prioritized it as an important cultural value. It's also achievable by anyone. It takes more effort for some than others, because it requires abandoning cultural norms from your own personal context that don't work and embracing cultural practices with demonstrated success, and that's just not comfortable.

    Then, important cultural assets such as "proper English" come to be shorthand for other superior cultural attributes like education level, work ethic, polite behaviour, etc., because human beings primarily use inductive logic, learning through a heuristic information processing model. I.E. "good enough, most of the time."

    "we cannot claim a level playing field when we know it to be skewed."

    I'm not claiming that at all. There never will be a "level playing field." I didn't have a level playing field- some people had it better than I did, some had it worse. It's always an up-hill slog, if you're not already 'in the groove' through accident of birth into a culture and economic bracket that promotes success. Those relative positions only vaguely correlate to race, if at all. Fairness is a human concept that the physical laws of the universe don't care about. I even acknowledged in my post:

    "When you get far enough off the track, no path is easy- it takes more energy and effort to get back on track than it ever would have to stay on track. Any rocket scientist or reformed criminal can tell you this."

    Culture has inertia just like mass. The greater the number of people believing in and doing erroneous things, the harder it is to change direction. We do not even have a simple majority of the human race free from superstition and possessing a logical, cause-and-effect, responsible mindset. What portion of us do posses these attributes tend to be cluster in geographically and ethnically significant concentrations.

    Note: It's not my intention to be self-referential as a source of *authority* above, merely as amplification of my current points with those earlier articles serving better than repetition of all those ideas here.

    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    When I enlisted...

    Lo these many years ago, I didn't have much idea what it meant to be of service. I mean, I knew what customer service was- because up until that point I had mostly held food-service jobs. I had a vague inkling that doing something nice for people not only paid but was sort of emotionally satisfying on occasion, even if the majority of the job sucked.

    I joined the Air Force because I had no prospects and was tired of working as a night cook at Denny's, basically.

    Now, the reason I had no prospects can mostly be laid at my own feet. Sure, sure- the man sort of kept me down too. The man being my family and socio-economic peers. The thing is, I could probably have gone on to university without having to scrape up the money, because I was good enough that I actually got a tiny music scholarship to Eastern Washington University without even applying.

    And that's where we come down to why I didn't go to college: I didn't apply for any scholarships, financial aid, student loans, any of it. Oh, belatedly, as I was graduating, I mailed off a couple forms. But I never understood, and no one made it a priority to explain to me, how much was avilable for the asking.

    My family was never much for using the system- more like throwing ourselves in front of the train theatrically and jumping off the tracks just in time to only lose a toe- and then blaming the system. My band teacher was the only one who worked on me to do anything along these lines, (Thanks, Mr. C) and thick-headedly, I ignored and failed to understand what he was talking about. I had no kind of future orientation, because I came from a sub-culture that lacked it. There was no barrier to my leaving that sub-culture, except for ignorance, lack of self-confidence, and laziness.

    That's where the military came into my life. I never had much use for the idea of military service. I was vaguely aware that some members of my family had served, but I didn't think of it in those terms. When I finally realized I wasn't going anywhere and decided to do something about it, the military was the easiest route- not the only one, but the easiest. When you get far enough off the track, no path is easy- it takes more energy and effort to get back on track than it ever would have to stay on track. any rocket scientist or reformed criminal can tell you this.

    I credit my current success in life almost entirely to my time in the military. It eliminated the nascent racism I had started to absorb at home (note: I'm STILL a cultural imperialist: never more so than now), taught me the value of understanding and following the rules, taught me about consistency, reinforced how important honour is (which had been a somewhat slippery and flexible concept up until that point) the value of planning for the future, and even (embarassingly now) better hygiene. Enlisting in the Air Force changed me from a trailer park brat to a citizen.

    The only thing which I can claim as a major advantage that I didn't achieve through the military is a deep and abiding love of reading. I do thank my folks for that one.

    In another country I might have been relegated to the trailer park forever, and people probably would have put barriers in my way deliberately, since I was trying to climbout of my class background. Some will point to the benign neglect we often see in America as proof that class warfare still exists. But I know better- I've seen true class and racial division in my travels around the world. I know that in America, the largest barriers to overcome are within each individual, and there are plenty of people willing and eager to show you how to overcome those barriers.

    Take advantage of this gift.

    Tag: Patriot's Journey (with JimK, Scott, Lil, Doug, and our fearless leader Drumwaster

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    Sometimes the little things make you happy

    So, there was water in the self-service laundry finally tonight. So clean underwear and socks- whoo hoo!

    Not only that, but when the washing machines and dryers are all full, and because the dryers take longer than the wash, you get clothes piled up on top of every machine when nobody has been able to do laundry for three days.

    Yet when I politely pulled my clothes out of the washer and put them on top of the dryer with someone else's clothes inside- they were kind enough to put mine in when they were done, rather than just leaving them. Very cool. I hadn't missed the timing by more than a couple minutes, but sometimes that is enough to be ass-out for another cycle.

    Then I got back to find my dry clothes on top of the same machine, still warm from the dryer. and folded them before they wrinkled.

    Timing is everything.

    Things I love about my homeland

    I like that the laws aren't exactly the same everywhere. That we don't interfere with people moving around to take advantage of different philosophies on the details of how one should behave.

    I like the different cultures of the US- I like that the pace of life is different in the south than it is in New England, that Southern California culture hasn't completely taken over my beloved Pacific NorthWest. :)

    Tag: Patriot's Journey (with JimK, Scott, Lil, Doug, and our fearless leader Drumwaster

    Sunday, May 27, 2007

    The longest Journey starts with a single step

    So, this is the first step on my Patriot's Journey for this year.

    On May 16th, 1990, I raised my hand and swore an oath:

    "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. "

    Although I have been released from active service twice since then, that oath has never been revoked or foresworn.

    One of the things that a lot of folks back home don't seem to understand about the war effort, is that everyone involved is a volunteer. They made a positive decision at some point, to participate in the defense of our nation and our way of life. Regardless of their individual opinions on individual topics, they made a decision that they would subsume their personal interests in favour of the public good, temporarily giving up some measure of control over their personal circumstances and lifestyle for the greater good.

    Most of our Reservist and National Guardsmen lose considerable income when called to active duty. Yet even the majority of them take multiple tours and re-enlist, knowing that chances are good they will not only be sent away from their families, into harm's way, and all for less pay than they normally make at their civilian jobs. Knowing that even though federal protections exist for their civilian jobs when they're called to duty, there are myriad ways around that protection, and that they may well be sacrificing in their civilian careers in order to do their duty.

    We haven't had a draft in many years. The modern military is a professional fighting force- meaning they make a career out of it, train for it, and consistently give a lot of effort- at least as much as any non-military group of professionals. In aid of that, recruitment standards have gone up so much that any other military force in history would not have had raw material this good in their officer corps, much less in its first-term enlisted ranks. Much has been made of the Army recently "relaxing" their standards and "failing to meet recruitment and retention goals". What people don't seem to realize is that these standards are far higher than college admissions; not always in academics, but definitely in work ethic and moral character. It's very difficult to get into the military with any kind of legal record more serious than a traffic ticket. Other things that will keep you out of the military are not completing high school (over 96% of service members complete high school, and only limited numbers of GEDs are allowed), drug use, mental health issues, or bad debt. If the Army has lowered standards, they are still consistently higher standards than those of society in general.The civilian population has about 83% of high school kids achieving HS diplomas.

    Indeed enlistees are often characterized as those who have no other choices in life due to economic straits, if not as sub-normal imbeciles with disturbing tendencies towards violence and a limited grasp on intellectual pursuits, even though actual demographics show a higher rate of education in even the enlisted ranks, than in the general population. In my old service, the Air Force, nearly 100% have a high school education, over half of the officers have advanced degrees, 85% of upper level officers have advanced degrees, and 74% of enlisted have at least some college.

    Even those who do recognize that our military is a professionally recruited and career oriented group, they may characterize them as "Mercenaries", never acknowledging the largely patriotic motivations of the majority. Most of the contractors here in Iraq are prior military, and some serious discussions I've had since I've been here indicate that, though we're far better paid than our counterparts still in the military, we largely would not be here without a sense of the importance of this mission, no matter how much they paid us.

    MANY of the military folks I work with are on their 2nd, 3rd, and some few even a 4th voluntary tour here in Iraq. Many expect and plan to come back- very little talk of getting out of the military to avoid follow-on tours.

    Yes, this is anecdotal. But in over 17 years of being in and around the military, I believe that military folks overwhelmingly believe in the importance of what they do- if not in all details, then at least in the larger sense of protecting our country. Far more than most civilians I know believe in the importance of their jobs. Which,as a side note, may account for some of the unhappiness that many people feel about their lives.

    I'm no advocate of Hallmark card sentimentality, but this Memorial Day, it wouldn't hurt to take a bit of time from the hectic "3-day weekend" entertainment to reflect on the real meaning of this holiday. Maybe, instead of heading out of town with all the other traffic, you go to the local cemetery where they're holding services for those soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines who have paid the ultimate price for the rest of us. A good explanation to the kids wouldn't go wrong either. You can't expect them to automatically absorb all the meaning of something they've never had much experience with, but they'll eventually be better adults for having started understanding it younger. You might ask one of those sad-eyed Veterans at such a memorial service to tell you some stories about their comrades who didn't make it home. It's not always easy or comfortable to hear these things. But you could consider it character-building.

    Tag: Patriot's Journey (with JimK, Scott, Lil, Doug, and our fearless leader Drumwaster

    Saturday, May 26, 2007

    A Nation of Laws: Introduction

    Going commando...

    ... is one option.

    Whoops- too much information?

    Well, when your trailer park laundromat closes down due to "severe water shortage" you have to do something. Wearing your drawers two days in a row is not an option when it's 85 at night and 111 during the day.

    Of course, the real problem comes when I run out of socks in a day or two. At that point I'll probably end up washing some skivvies and socks in the sink and letting them dry on the handrail outside- that shouldn't take more than about 15-20 minutes even at night.

    I wonder how long this will last. The palace DFAC has been missing some of the staple foods from the line for several days now.

    Welcom to the ghetto, y'all.

    Friday, May 25, 2007

    One more down...

    So another week has passed, here in the Garden of Eden. It's gotten hot enough for the guys to be reluctant to stir outside midday, even in the air-conditioned pickup truck we have. fortunately, it cools off all the way down the the low 80's at night. Nearly a 30 degree temperature difference, day to night.

    This week passed quickly, sort of in a haze, almost. My buddy Pedro came back to work here for a while, that's cool.

    Watched a National Geographic production last night that had me really missing home. It was about Alaska, but for looks, it could have been anywhere in the temperate rain forest along the Cascades. Then we watched another one on whales that spent a lot of time in Puget Sound.

    Haven't had too many rocket or mortar attacks this week, which means slightly better sleep. We see some sad things in the news, however, about the missing GIs (at least one of them) being found.

    For some reason the embassy chow hall has hadsome supply problem. As much as KBR gets paid per meal served, one hardly expects them to run out of basics like vegetables and cheese. I hear a rumour they may start serving MRE's until the problem is solved. If they do, they should close the place down- no way KBR deserves to be paid for handing out MREs. Shut it down and stop paying them until it is resolved. I can grab an MRE out of a box as well as anybody can hand it to me. Somebody floated a conspiracy theory about it today at lunch- that maybe Dept of State is manipulating the situation because of a tiff with DoD. I hate conspriacy theories, but I can't quite put this one totally out of mind. There always seems to be some sort of squabble between the philosophies of the two. State doesn't seem to play well with others who don't espouse their "kinder, gentler" approach. Likewise with us potentially being moved out of the Embassy compound soon.

    I'm looking forward with great anticipation, going home in a few months. It's really too soon to be lokoing forward to it this much.

    Thursday, May 24, 2007


    We don't have to be as "Blue State" as we are...

    It's corruption, not idiocy.

    Bumper sticker madness

    I ordered my "Thompson '08" bumper stickers today, using the template you see at the top of the blog there.

    I ordered them from:

    Wednesday, May 23, 2007


    Dizzy, over in Bobvis' comments said:
    "I really don't think there are guys who are inherently better than the rest out there."

    If you're right, then Mr Darwin must be wrong.

    Now, our generally accepted perceptions of which are superior may be skewed.

    But completely aside from the issue of whether a given person is a natural-born leader (Alpha), individuals can improve themselves and their society. Again, if that were not true, we'd all still be living in caves.

    Some people will always be naturally stonger or bigger than others. Some personality characteristics are largely determined genetically (how our genes express is a combined product with environment, of course.) Some combinations of personality traits and physicality will be dominant and more desirable; it's hard to dispute such an intuitively obvious conclusion.

    But the range of physical strength that can result from a given genetic legacy varies widely. You can obviously improve on the average, because people largely waste their potential.

    The effectiveness of one's intellect is improved by education. Note that intellectual capacity is genetically determined- it doesn't matter what exercises you do, you will not improve your IQ. But you can improve how effectively you use your potential, and again, you can be better than the average. IQ is largely wasted potential- environmental factors only detract from or enable (but not improve)genetic potential. If you're very lucky, and multiple generations of your family work to achieve the best environment possible, then you can come close to your absolute genetic potential.

    Striving for your personal best will be effective. But many (most?) of us get hung up and waste our potential. I believe "Alpha" status is relative and situational- a physically fit, determined, and educated person X with only 80% of the natural advantages of person Y, will still be dominant if Y hasn't done the homework. An expert will take the lead in their area, football players follow coaches, etc.

    Comparative advantage, is more important than absolute advantage.

    [cross-posted in comments over there, edited here]

    I think that they're on to something with the common theme they have over there lately, about alphas and others in the dating scene. I just think they're too hung up on the 'pre-ordained order' idea.

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    My reasons

    Morning Glory asks, "Why John Bolton?"

    Let me start with my reasons for Fred:

    Thompson has impressed me as not needing to be president. That is, he looks like he kinda wants it, and seems to make noises in the right direction for my endorsement, but doesn’t seem to need it as some kind of ego boost or self-validation, like most of them seem to.

    I see no difference in McCain’s reasons for running as opposed to Edwards or Hillary- personal aggrandizement.

    Thompson, I could plausibly see his motivation as trying to do something good for the country more so than the kick in the pants of being the most powerful man in the world.

    Why would I like to see John Bolton as Thompson's VP?

    Bolton is a bad-ass who wasn't afraid to talk straight to the corrupt kleptocrats at the UN, and doesn't take any nonsense from reporters trying to frame discussions in Marxist talking points etc. He'd be the guy that Thompson could send out to make a point and expect that point to made succinctly and without apology. He's not afraid to call an interviewer on that interviewer's demonstrated bias, and he can do it without losing his audience, or his point. Since the Veep is primarily a puppet in practical terms, and a hot spare in constitutional terms, I'd see leftist whackos as even less willing to take a pot shot at the Prez if the Veep might be worse (from their point of view).

    Although I have no doubts that Thompson can talk tough too, he could play the thing as having his 'attack dog' Bolton on a leash- it'd probably be easy to play good cop/bad cop.

    Mostly, I'd just like to see the executive branch being presidential- have some balls, kick ass, and take names. Nuance and legal finagling are for off-line activities like congress and the courts- the executive should be action-oriented.

    Morning glory also suggests Tancredo as Veep- I'd have to do some more research on him, but he strikes me a single-issue politican. Not that his issue is a bad one to be concerned about, just that I don't know about his ability to handle a broad range of issues on the fly.

    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    Please Please Please!

    I haven't seen this anywhere in the blogosphere or legacy media, but:

    I'd so love to see Fred Thompson officially announce his candidacy for Prez and publicly name John Bolton as his early VP pick.

    Fred Thompson/John Bolton '08


    Blocked Sites

    I've essentially posted this to a couple of different places, but might as well include it here:

    So, the military has blocked access to certain band-width intensive sites. This has people up in arms about milbloggers being censored when they're the "only good source of news coming out of Iraq," or because it just doesn't seem fair to troops who are far from home to cut them off even further. this is all well and good, but it doesn't take into account some very basic facts on the groud. Also, many people seem not to be aware that many corporations do the same thing back home.

    As an IT professional myself, I can tell you that many sites expose the corporation to problems: sites that clandestinely download malware to your computer, as well as questionable content that can get an organization sued under blanket responsibilities to "provide a harassment-free workplace".

    IT policies are formulated and promulgated with the dual purposes of increasing productivity and decreasing liability. The default position should acknowledge that the mission comes first.

    MySpace is a crap interface and people's accounts are constantly being hacked. However, it’s popular because of its easy “push-button” publishing. It is specifically designed to be a sharing portal, and it was designed by a 15 year old with no concept of security. Then it was taken over by Google to be another advertising business, and very little in the way of improvements have been made to it. YouTube is a bandwidth HOG.

    Internet access here is via satellite. It is NOT cheap. A limited amount is set aside for MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) activities. MySpace etc is available through these MWR networks and commercially available Internet Cafes- available at just about every fixed base. MWR nets have a time limit, and commercial cafes require you to pay- so what?

    Official military networks are just that: official. They are government property (meaning paid for by you and me through our taxes) and are meant for the purpose of fighting the war.

    Just like any network provided to an employee by an employer, network access comes with a user agreement and acceptable use policy. Incidental use of web browsing and email alongside the primary, work-related use is fine, IF it doesn’t impact the mission. Employees everywhere nowadays take too much of an entitlement attitude towards using their employer's resources for personal reasons. I wouldn't go so far as to say that using an employer's network for your own purposes is necessarily STEALING, but too much personal use could have much the same effect as taking home office supplies- a net loss to the company.

    The networks here are saturated with traffic. The “hoochnet” provided (free) in the trailers is all but unusable between 5 and 10pm local time (a lot of people including me are “MySpacing” during that time). The Palace MWR net likewise. I have it on good authority that the (official) embassy network AVERAGES 85% saturization- a normal corporate network in the states might average 30-50% and peak at 75% before they consider buying more bandwidth or limiting what employees have access to, particularly if they look at their traffic stats (yes, most workplaces keep stats on usage!) and see that a large portion of it was going to something obviously non-work-related like MySpace.

    Nothing prevents a GI from buying a card and paying for commercial Internet time. This is exactly analagous to making phone calls from military telephones- if it doesn't cost anything extra, it's fine. Once you start racking up long distance charges, you have to use your phone card.

    Hmmph. Kids these days, always complaining!

    Saturday, May 19, 2007

    Not exactly high-tech

    Maybe this one should be a Partiot's Journey post, but I don't feel like waiting, and I'm sure I can find more significant Patriot posts to make, :)

    The building I work in had golden toilets when I got here. Not solid gold, but the ceramic had gold trace-work on it. I'm not sure exactly what it's called, but it's like the gold striping on some ceramic/China dishes.

    The funny thing is, they didn't work very well. We still have a little bit of this ceramic work in our 'facilities' but the main plumbing had to be replaced because it just didn't work. I've written and commented about the phenomena before, but it amazes me that such basic techology, well within the reach of any country in the world, still manages to fail to reach market in so much of the world. This is technology that can be created by hand, from basic materials, anywhere, and is mature technology- well over 100 years old. This is in what is essentially an annex to a freakin' Palace, where money was not an object, but the toilets didn't work.

    Most of the world cannot seem to make a toilet flush properly.

    We have new commodes now- the golden crappers are gone, the only reminder being the toilet paper holders and towel racks. The new toilets work much better, but still don't work quite right. For one thing, they break constantly. One of them, when it broke most recently, the guys replaced the flushing mechanism with some odd vacuum-pumped cock-ball mechanism. Even more strange, it has a little vent hole in the top, so you not only have to pump the button to generate vacuum to flush the toilet, you have to make sure to cover the vent hole with your thumb or you end up pumping several times. Which makes a "courtesy flush" pretty much impossible, since this pump button is square in the middle of the water tank behind you and takes more than a single finger's pressure to depress.

    And for some reason, the concept of the P-trap, a cheap, easy solution to sewer gas smell, just seems impossible for most of the world to grasp.

    One of the things you notice about the Western World, but America in particular, when you spend time somewhere else, is that many minor, tiny, little elements of life just work well together. We engineer for lifestyle as well as basic function. The polished, well-integrated technology e use on a daily basis is not always flashy, but the subtle harmony in whihc it typically works is more impressive than the flashy stuff, when you get right down to it.

    Friday, May 18, 2007

    Patriot's Journey: a challenge

    This one's for my American friends:

    The challenge is to contemplate your patriotism. This is not one of those partisan political opportunities, where we claim one political stance or another is superior, it's much easier and (should be) less contentious than that.

    Every day between Memorial Day and Independance Day, express one unequivocably positive thing about our country. That's it. That's the challenge.

    The original idea was created by Drumwaster, I'm modifying it a little bit. The original idea is to post to one's blog. I would throw the loop wider, and challenge you all to create a blog post, comment on someone else's blog or website (in appropriate forums and manner of course), write an email to anyone, or even just express verbally (to another person- bonus points for strangers) at some point during your day, something that you appreciate about the land that shelters you.

    It shouldn't be too hard. It doesn't have to be especially profound. But the exercise of actually expressing it is an opportunity to reflect, and discover some things about ourselves and our homeland. It's a sort of spiritual pilgrimmage where you don't have to actually go anywhere!

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    Stormy tonight

    It's sprinkled off and on today just enough to be really humid and leave dust drops on everything.

    But it looks like it may rain more seriously tonight. It's starting now, and it has cooled off quite nicely (still kinda moist and warm tho.)

    The sky has a really ugly dirty/bruised look even as the rain drops scatter across the ground, dust is flying enough to grit up your eyes painfully and make you squint against it. I travel in all four of the cardinal directions to get from work to 'home', and I had a headwind against my bicycle in 3 of those directions.

    Maybe it will keep those aforementioned goatfuckers in their homes tonight as well, and we can all get some sleep to the soothing sound of rain on a tin roof.

    Some excitement here this afternoon

    So, several of us have pieces of metal as souvenirs to take home. Still warm when we got'em. Fortunately no one here got hurt. Our water tank pissed itself in fear tho.

    More than that, I won't post here because it wouldn't do to give the filthy goatfuckers any constructive feedback.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    The Ant and the Grasshopper

    I got this in email this morning- it was put together by my buddy Geoff- and it's right on target:


    The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs, while he dances and plays the summer away.

    Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

    MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself.



    The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

    The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool; and laughs, dances and plays the summer away.

    Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

    CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide footage of the shivering grasshopper alongside a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

    America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

    How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing, "It's Not Easy Being Green."

    Jesse Jackson stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, "We shall overcome." Jesse then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

    Nancy Pelosi & John Kerry exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

    Finally the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity and Anti-Ant Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the government.

    Hillary gets her old law firm (the Legal Services Corporation) to represent the grasshopper in a defamation suit against the ant, and the case is tried before a panel of federal judges that Bill Clinton appointed from a list of single-parent welfare recipients. The ant loses the case.

    The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant's old house, crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it. The ant has disappeared in the snow. The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.

    MORAL OF THE STORY: What are morals?

    Sunday, May 13, 2007


    Does anyone have any info on whether it's true that the DNC instructed the (Democrat) governor of Kansas on how to politicize the natural disaster there?

    We already know that her claims that there is no assistance available from the National Guard are just not ture, and we know she never requested assistance from the Fed, so her complaints about lack of help are completely bogus.

    But did they actually, deliberately conspire to make it a political issue or is she just a lone idiot?

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    I'm lonely

    You who read this are casual witnesses to my social/mental decline.

    I am lonely and bored. Please write to me. Respond to my sad postings. Just let me know you exist.

    I'm going fucking crazy here.

    (I'm only half-kidding.)


    It occurred to me yesterday that it had been two full weeks since I had a face-to-face conversation with a woman. It's been on my mind all day for some reason.

    It's easy to go days here without interacting with a female. More or less the default. Society definitely lacks without the gentle influence of the fair sex.


    It's funny, in a way that leaves a sour, sick taste in the back of my throat. The Palestinians have been using children's television to preach hate, death, and destruction to Israel and the West for years.

    But now that they have infringed upon Disney's should-have-been-expired copyright, the mainstream media deigns to take notice.

    Wednesday, May 09, 2007


    The air's been a bit harsh the last few days as the temperature has shot up. There's been a brown cloud on the horizon, and I'm definitely noticing some coughing in my co-workers and a bt of sore throat in myself. This is a phenomena I haven't seen in the states for a long time, and then only in SoCal.

    One more anecdote on the pile for the idea that people don't tend to care much for the environment and even more, don't have the ability to improve it until they reach a certain level of affluence.

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    Response to comments...

    Lil comments:

    "I'm fascinated by all that you write about the culture there. It seems so vastly different than what I'm used to. What you said about making stuff yourself being looked down upon really startled me -- I'm so used to a culture where handmade things are prized. It's so easy to just go buy a blanket here, so a blanket that was quilted or crocheted by hand is such a treasure because so many hours of love have been put into it."

    I'm not sure that they don't prize handmade things- they KNOW how many thousands of woman-hours go into a handmade rug, and they recognize the quality of handmade over machine made in that arena.

    But that's women's work- men don't do that. Women get paid a pittance because their labour is not valued. They're stuck in purdah anyway, might as well do something. They have nothing 'better' to do with their time. I hear that Afghan women might get paid $50 for a rug that took a group of women literally ten thousand person hours to create. Then the Iranian rug merchant who buys it carts it home to sell for $500. Then an Iraqi brings it here, and sells it to one of us for about $2-3k. Then we take it home and it's appraised at $10,000. (Side note- I have seen some really amazing rugs here. More artistry is involved in these things than I ever could have imagined. Literally.)

    So- women's work. Men don't clean, or cook, or make crafts. Iraqi soldiers in basic training have filthy parade grounds and barracks areas. Because it's beneath their dignity to police up cigarette butts or trash. Doing labour for someone else (hauling, digging, building) means that you admit lower status. Doing things for youself is unusual too. If you had high status, you would make someone else do it for you. Some people will live in horrible conidtions rather than demean themselves to do something about it. Then there's the "If God wills it, it will happen," philosophy- that way there's no personal responsibility involved. (I'm trying to understand some of this myself, so I won't say that I have all this 100%- I'm not an expert, I'm an observer attempting to educate myself and interpret what is going on.)

    In rich, Western society, we put a premium on handmade goods because an individual's time is considered important. That's why our workers make more money, and we relegate mindless, repetitive tasks to machines. While in most poor societies, a lot of pride is involved in buying new, machine-manufactured western goods. It takes cash rather than bartering, so it's a bit of a status symbol. It was this way in the American Old West too. "Eastern" clothes that weren't really durable enough or suitable for Western conditions still made their way west and were purchased.

    I believe I read somewhere that back in the day, silver smiths and coppersmiths had a bit of social status. So artisans had a bit of social staus, but they were still mostly looked down on as city dwellers. But manual labour- the guys who dig ditches, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, truck drivers, none of these occupations seem to be especially well thought-of.

    I've read a bit about how the Saudi petro-industry works. General consensus is that if all the foreign oil workers were to leave Saudi Arabia, the whole industry there would grind to a complete stop in a week. Saudi 'engineers' don't get their hands dirty.

    Saudi pilots barely learn to fly their airplanes- because being a fighter pilot is a military status symbol, Saudi 'princes' get to pick the prime slots regardless of aptitude and they don't do more than the minimum because it interferes with their social life.

    I've pointed these out before, but it bears repetition. Read these articles: Why Arabs Lose Wars and Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States. I also highly recommend the book: The Pentagon's New Map by Thomas Barnett, The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai, and A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani. This last one also comes highly recommended by an American lady I met here a while back who is married to a Kuwaiti Bedouin. We both found it invaluable in gaining insights.

    Mobile again

    It's been a rough couple days- not only has the temperature shot up this week, but I had a flat the other day.

    Being in a war zone, and largely cut off from normal human interactions like going shopping out in public, makes everything more difficult. Getting a simple bicycle inner tube is not always guaranteed. My bike is my primary means of transportation. Not that I have to do a whole lot of traveling, but I live a good fraction of amile from where I work. it's easily a 20, 25 minutes walk, while it takes me less than half of that to ride there, and makes it much easier to carry a rucksack with whatever I might need for the day- gym clothes, laptop, book, whatever.

    I also travel from one compound to another to eat, to go to the PX, whatever. It's not horrible, but it adds up to several miles of walking per day, which is admittedly good for me, but also time consuming and getting into the really hot time of year when you just don't want to be outside in direct sunlight any longer than you have to- especially the melanin-deficient like me.

    So being down for a couple days while I acquired a new tube wasn't all that fun. Fortunately today my co-worker (who became aware of my predicament last night), graciously donated a spare to me, and I've got wheels again this afternoon. With the able assistance of one of our Iraqi colleagues, that is.

    Which brings me to another random topic. Some of these guys are really cool. there are vast gulfs between most of them and most of us, but as I've always believed, there is more in common between human beings than there is different. I've also written here and in other places that I believe some of those differences are irreconcilable, but that's not my point today.

    Some guys here I can relate to very well- working guys, trying to get along in the world, trying to make things better for themselves and their families. It's really a humanizing experience to talk to these guys when you travel together under threat of death, eat out of the same MRE packages, bathe and shit and sleep in the same places for days on end. You hear some of the hardships that they have undergone and still see everyday, in some cases, and it makes you rather contemptuous of petty whining back home.

    Some guys I have a very colleague-like relationship; we're just guys who work together, but even then it's usually clear that I am in charge, or at least senior to them. without a word being said, and without my asserting that, it just seems to be expected. there's really no jockeying for control between those guys and us Americans. there's status posturing between them, and sometimes between us, but the relationship seems clearly accepted. which is a bit odd to me at times.

    With other guys (who I'm largely not as comfortable with, to be honest) there's an unsettling tendency toward deference that can only be described as 'colonial obsequiousness." Our Iraqis try to make sure that we don't carry equipment, or they jump in if we're getting dirty doing something, and sometimes we have to tell them that we're fine doing the work. It's kind of a "yes, bwana" attitude like you would see in some 50's or 60's movie about African safaris or something.

    Some of us Americans have discussed this, and it really weirds us out at times. Whatever people may think from outside the US, and what certain academics/leftists within our society may claim, the average American is not comfortable with obvious inegalitarian displays. Whatever our vaunted 'American exceptionalism' or 'arrogance', we really do believe that being an American is an attitude and philosophy, not a race, that men should not kowtow to each other, that authority should be awarded on a meritocratic basis, and therefore we listen to the boss out of respect for his experience and judgement rather than for his titular authority.

    I don't know how much of this deference is really a vestigial colonial social artifact, or how much of it is Iraqi culture. I suspect not much is directly Iraqi, because Arabs in general don't have the 'work ethic' of pride in manual labour that that America has.

    As a side note, Arab culture seems to have 3 traditionally honourable occupations; raiding, trading, and herding. In other words, 1: it's cool to steal and rob stuff to sell, or 2: pay for goods in one place and sell them elsewhere if you can't steal them, but actually making stuff yourself is looked down upon. And the third, raising horses, sheep, goats, and camels demonstrates your connection to the noble heritage of the pure, unsullied Bedouin warrior from the golden age before cities steeped the world in sin.

    I also sometimes wonder if this deferential behaviour is a result of our having conquered them militarily- extremely macho cultures tend to invest a lot of their pride in martial prowess and therefore when they lose, they sometimes flip completely to emulation of their conqueror, or lose their identity in that of their conquerors.

    I don't think we'd be so lucky as to have that result in Iraq.

    Where ever it comes from, it's not really a comfortable fit.

    Saturday, May 05, 2007

    book recommendation

    I just finished David coppoerfield's book Wasting Police Time: The Crazy World of the War on Crime

    I recommend it as an education in a model of "policing" and social nanny state that we should learn from and avoid at all costs.

    Bjørn Lomborg's pretty smart

    I like Bjørn Lomborg- he's a smart guy with some simple policy prescriptions. His contribution to the Foreign Policy article 21 Ways to Save the World is titled; "Take your Vitamins"

    "By Bjørn Lomborg May/June 2007

    Malnutrition is one of the world’s biggest challenges, afflicting 1 of every 6 of us. Although we are moving in the right direction—despite adding more than 70 million people to the global population each year, the number of those suffering from malnutrition has been falling—more than 3 million people will die this year from poor nutrition. Some 800 million are chronically undernourished.

    The most wellknown form of malnutrition is a lack of calories. But there is another, more prevalent form. It isn’t obvious or easily photographed, and so it attracts scant attention. Yet it could be solved with remarkable ease. It is the unsexy-sounding “micronutrient deficiency”—a lack of iodine, vitamin A, and iron.

    Children lacking iodine do not develop properly, either physically or intellectually. All they need is salt fortified with iodine. An absence of vitamin A increases the risks of blindness. The nutrient could easily be made more readily available in staple food items, such as genetically modified golden rice.

    Iron deficiency affects as many as 3.5 billion people—more than half the world’s population. An iron deficit stunts growth and impedes mental abilities—stealing up to 15 IQ points from the average child. It reduces a person’s ability to perform manual labor by as much as 17 percent. Today, it’s battering the health and energy of half a billion women and stunting the growth of 40 percent of the developing world’s children. Yet we already know how to solve this problem: The fortification of flour, rice, and salt is cheap and simple. In other cases, iron cooking pots, which slowly emit iron, could be distributed in poor countries.

    Dealing with micronutrient deficiency would quickly and cheaply improve the lot of billions of people."

    Read the rest at Like I said, he's pretty smart.

    On another note, HIV/AIDS in Africa. It's almost never diagnosed by a DNA test of the virus. Typically, it's assumed you ave AIDS if you have several of the symptoms. Since HIV/AIDS has no visible symptoms, this means symptoms of secondary infections, notably fevers, diarrhea etc. Well, Africa was known for fevers and Diarrhea LONG before AIDS- there are some voices in the wilderness out there saying that the AIDS crisis in Africa may be vastly overblown. This is not to say that the 40% of children left orphaned in some areas is not a problem, just that it's not all AIDS that is causing it. Shipping free or cheap AIDS drugs to Africa just seems to mean that they don't get allocated rationally (i.e. market-based medicine). some people who probably DON'T have AIDS are getting these drugs, and many people who probably DO have it are not, and we have no idea which are which or how many of each.

    If we really wanted to save potentially *millions* of lives in Africa this year, we'd be better off sending them anti-diarrhea drugs, because most people who "die of AIDS" there are actually dying of dehydration caused by diarrhea. And that's not a pretty way to go.

    But diarrhea doesn't command the attention of the Western world, because it's so simple to treat. We've forgotten what it is like to live close to nature- nasty, brutish, and short.

    Sad moment of disbelief

    I've just been informed that a former colleague (Oregon Air National Guard)and casual friend of mine has taken his own life a few days ago. He was a full timer at PANG.

    It's a total "WTF?" moment for me- I never suspected he would do something like that. He's always been a very even-keel kind of guy in my experience. I am truly sorry none of us (well, to be fair to myself, I haven't seen him in quite a while, since I'm no longer in the Guard) noticed something was this seriously wrong.

    He was a good guy, and moreover, took his work in the military seriously.

    My best wishes and condolences for Mark's family, fiancee, and friends.


    More on petroleum

    I had an elaborate post with charts and sources, but apparently it failed to post.

    The other thing I forgot about was that nukes not only compensate for fuel in cars, they also compensate to some extent for heating homes with oil (in 7-10% of American homes) and natural gas (Over 50% of homes). Oil is particularly significant in the New England area and in some of the more densely populated older cities around the country. (The places with higher pollution, in other words.)

    Natural gas is probably a better alternative for transportation than electric cars- Particularly in the short term. It can be retro-fitted fairly cheaply, the technology for converting new car production to natural gas is mature and reliable, it burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, and there's an infrastructure in large parts of the country that could be converted more easily than a hydrogen infrastructure could be built. It's more efficient to use natural gas directly in your car than to convert it to hydrogen for fuel cells, and probably less volatile too.

    I bet most of you didn't realize that all the nebulous plans for fuel cell or hydrogen usage currently rely on a complicated theoretical infrastructure to inefficiently extract hydrogen from petrochemicals. Not the neat, clean vision of 'cracking seawater' into hydrogen and oxygen that you hear all the time in SciFi books and movies.

    With a couple hundred dollars per house, you could set up a 'tap' off your existing natural gas line to fill the tank on your car, and eliminate lines at the filling station. You get the same kind of performance hit as burning ethanol, but hey, TANSTAAFL. At least you're not sacrificing nearly as much distance capability as batteries do. and you get a consolidated bill with your home heating costs. A few bucks extra could separate the costs out with a second meter if road usage taxes are an issue- a one-time expense and a digitally-readable meter simplifies billing.

    With nuclear power running the vast majority of electrical generation, electricity taking over the majority of home heating, then coal (currently about half of domestic power generation, remember- the dirtier half) becomes available for gasification processes, which increases the supply of cleaner natural gas/propane/liquid petroleum gas (LPG) type products available for use in cars. Since domestic production of petroleum (and what the hell, throw Canada under that umbrella as well) is about 60% of our total current usage, we can cut our purchases from nasty places like the Middle East (the Saudi Princes can eat their damn Rolls Royce's for all I care) and the new People's Republic of Venezuela, and we don't even have to sacrifice those high-grade petrochemical feed stocks for making plastics in favour of other, more expensive options.

    The problem is that there aren't any nuclear plants in the pipeline. If we started today, it would be years before the first one came online. Many more years, before a simple plan such as the one I've outlined (in its barest bones) above could be effective. We've sacrificed decades of practical experience and improvements because of fear, most of it irrational.

    Here's an interesting site.

    Correction: gas prices

    My bad- a couple days ago I said: "The majority of petroleum burned in this country is for generating electricity. "

    That's not true. Half our electricity is generated from coal, about 8% (estimates vary) from petroleum.

    However, less than half of the petroleum we use is in transportation, and a large chunk of it goes to industry, particularly as feedstocks for manufacturing.

    Friday, May 04, 2007

    Conversational gambits

    I think one of the more stultifying aspects of being here in Iraq, is that we all experience pretty much the same (lack of) events, day in and day out. That is, we experience them together.

    In normal life, your co-workers may have very similar experiences of home, family life, work, maybe stopping into the local watering hole for a beer after wrork, and re-hash the winning pass aginst the high school rivals lo so many years ago. That can be pretty boring. But imagine if everybody you worked with, lived right next door, or even in the same apartment building, and never traveled anywhere. It's kind of like Gilligan's island- the only interest is generated by occasional outside stimulus.

    We eat in the same chow hall, live in the same trailers, and see the same (few!)people every day. Anything that happens to me, is experienced by pretty much everybody I work with. Our conversation has devolved to a stale combination of faux-homosexuality and "mom" jokes, peppered with enough profanity to obscure the point of the sentence, if you're not paying close enough attention.

    Then there's tv shows and movies downloaded from the web. Any outsider walking into out insular little world had better have seen every movie in history if he's going to interpret the wierd phrases that keep popping up in conversation. One might wonder why, for example, everybody interjects the wierd monotone "robot" voice if they haven't seen "Grandma's Boy." (Thankfully, I have felt no urge what-so-ever to engage in this. So far.) Movie quotes are strewn heavily into even serious conversation (just to make it seem like a unique moment, I guess.)

    Some of the guys leaving are trying to remind themselves not to talk like this when they get home. Constant, casual f-bombs and wierd in-jokes tend to raise eyebrows in polite society and the corporate workplace.

    We watch the news and something out of the ordinary will occasion a few minutes of discussion, or a particularly loud or damaging rocket or mortar attack. When the Prime Minister's building was attacked by a suicicde bomber a little while back, that was occasion for maybe a couple hours more talk about 'bastard terrorists'. But it's not so unusual as to keep things buzzing.

    I think that's the main reason why I read blogs obsessively while I'm here. It's an "outside conversation" substitute.

    Thursday, May 03, 2007

    20 Minutes of "Google Research" on Gas Prices

    The nationwide average tax on gasoline is 45.8 cents per gallon.


    More "money" quotes:

    "Regionally, motorists in Western states pay the most in gasoline taxes, an average of 53.9 cents per gallon."

    Washington State: 52.4 cents/gallon
    Oregon State: 43.3 cents/gallon

    “Prices on the West Coast are typically higher than the national average because of taxes and higher refining costs associated with regional environmental requirements.”

    Conoco Phillips on regional price differences

    “Some of the major factors that drive crude oil prices include:

    Geopolitical Uncertainties
    Approach of Driving Season
    Refinery and Pipeline Issues
    Growing Demand
    Lack of Spare Production Capacity
    Lower Alaskan Oil Production
    Fuel Specifications”

    Read the whole thing- they include links to other resources.

    If you have voted for, or even applauded, conservation efforts that block or resist drilling in Alaska, if you don’t want refineries on your skyline, then you don’t deserve to complain about gasoline or other energy prices. If you plan to take a vacation anywhere this summer that requires driving or flying, if you're even driving to the lake or the park for the day, you're adding to the seasonal price swing.

    Your choices and your priorities are your own, and I’m not criticizing them. But you cannot claim the moral high ground and then complain about the cost.

    Gas Price Watch

    Minnesota legislature:

    “Inclusion of all these taxes is necessary to show the entire picture of the tax burden placed on users of motor fuel…. The true tax burden on motor fuel can be accurately shown only by including all these taxes and fees.”

    CRS Report for Congress: “Boutique Fuels” and Reformulated Gasoline:

    “The current system of gasoline standards in the United States is complex.
    Because of federal and state programs to improve air quality, and local refining and marketing decisions, suppliers of gasoline face many different standards for fuel quality. As a result, fuels are formulated to meet varying standards. State and local decisions overlap with federal requirements, leading to situations where adjacent or nearby areas may have significantly different standards. These various fuel formulations are often referred to as “boutique fuels.” In this system, supply disruptions can result if fuel from one area cannot be used to supply another area.”

    In other words, fuel shortages in a given region can result even when fuel is available, because it doesn’t meet local standards. When demand exceeds supply, prices rise.

    ” the industry moved quickly to eliminate MTBE from the gasoline supply in spring 2006. This increased pressure on already tight refining capacity. The loss in volume and energy* from eliminating MTBE increased demand for gasoline, as well as ethanol. Exacerbating the supply problem was the fact that the industry was making the transition from winter gasoline to more stringent summertime air quality specifications, which adds competition for the highest-quality gasoline components. These pressures, along with historically high crude oil prices, led to historically high gasoline prices. Further, some localized areas faced short-term supply disruptions as refineries made the transition.”

    *Note: adding ethanol to gasoline ALSO reduces energy content of the fuel, what you might think of as “octane”; and therefore reduces “gas mileage”. Which means you buy more for the same distance, which means you pay more, increase demand (which increases supply, etc. in a bit of a spiral.)

    Anyway, anyone who is interested in solutions should probably read up on this stuff. Thos who just want to whine probably will not. The information is not that hard to find.

    Wednesday, May 02, 2007

    Gasoline folly

    I see the stupid "Don't buy gas for a day" meme is making its way around MySpace.

    Before we go through with some futile attempt to "hurt the gas companies" by boycotting gas one day this year (which just means you'll see a spike before and after, because people aren't going to change their consumption), let's think about this a little bit.

    -Gas prices are higher because environmental and air quality standards require special processing. This is not a judgement, but it is a fact.

    -There are different standards for different geographical regions in the US. In the Pacific NW, we often get gas from California, which has the highest standards, and therefore the highest price.

    -Prices are far more affected by lack of refining capacity than by supply of crude. Environmental concerns have prevented any significant new refining capacity in the United States in many years.

    -Green movements are opposed to nuclear power, and again, no new nuclear plants have come on line for a long time. *The majority of petroleum burned in this country is for generating electricity. (*Correction: I was wrong about this.)

    -There are technologies for gasification of coal which are proven to be cheap, effective, and cleaner than burning coal in electricity-generating power stations.

    -A significant portion of price at the pump is federal and state taxes. This varies state to state.

    -Gas prices in most countries are FAR higher than in the United States. In many cases, 3 times as much. This is due to even more taxes, less refinery capacity, and transportation costs (most countries don't pump and refine their own petrol- they pay a premium for transporting the finished product.)

    -Our commie buddy Hugo Chaves just siezed the majority of the petroleum industry in Venezuela (America's 4 largest supplier of crude) to 'nationalize' the industry. He intends to sign sweetheart deals with his commie buddies in China, and cut off supplying North America in favour of increasing Venezuela's influence in South america. This is not paranoia, it's what he says openly. His crazy 'revolutionary' talk has been destabilizing the oil market for several years now. Risk is a cost. It's basic economics.