Monday, November 17, 2008


Sundry panels, editorialists, and a seemingly endless parade of shirt-tail pundits are busily whiffing the "Future of the GOP" shuttlecock back and forth over the net. One sober commentator after another declares that the party must appeal to a broader voter base if it expects to remain a viable political power. A rather smaller subset maintains that the path back to power must have the potholes of creeping GOP liberalism paved over with core conservative principles before any electoral success is achieved. Most of this rather misses the point. The point is that if in fact a person has developed what they consider to be a set of personal cultural and economic principles, describable as conservative, centrist, progressive, libertarian, or whatever the heck else, then that person should live, act, and vote on those principles and resist swaying with the winds of the political moment. If you do not have any solid base of principle then it may well be that the urge to craft policies that will cultivate the supposedly malleable middle is the way to power fame and glory. How very--progressive.

The main thrust of argument seems to be that if you are a conservative well then just cut it out already! Those annoying inconvenient bedrock conservatives are just getting in the way of the GOP being more "inclusive" and cultivating the biggish chunk of the electorate styling themselves Independents. Can't have all those "idealogues" mucking up the party's chances in the next election cycle. In current media parlance the term ideologue is merely code for "extreme right winger" which is further code for anyone a half notch less liberal than Barney Frank. The media are helpfully redefining just what is "right wing". For instance John McCain was redefined from party "maverick" to panting Bush lap dog in mere weeks by the Grey Lady as a contingency plan to reduce any possible threat to the Triumph Of The Will, oh pardon me, The One.

I, as a self-described radical centrist, don't really give two and half hoots in Hades about the GOP. That does not mean that I loath the bottom-feeders across the aisle any less. I am certainly not so puerile as to assert that the absolutely smallest government that is at all possible is automatically best but by no means should that infer I have sympathy for the progressive attitude that there is really no such thing as too much government. If this sounds like wanting to snarf some cake and possess it as well then too bad. It is hardly an outre' principle to hold that government may be necessary but that government "action" should the very last resort as opposed to the progressive attitude that it is the always the first and best response to all "problems". Any government's ability to solve economic and social problems is extremely limited but their ability to make things worse is essentially infinite. Politicians of all stripes but especially modern liberal ones simply do not admit to the existence of the iron law of unintended consequences. As far as the concept of the cost/benefit analysis is concerned progressives, hard core environmentalists especially, would sooner disembowel themselves than admit it even exists.

This this then is my guiding principle. You may or may not have one but I do and it owes loyalty to no party. So why should I mourn the tribulations of the GOP? I voted for McCain to no one's surprise I'm sure. The venerable black economist Thomas Sowell, when asked why he was voting for McCain when he had previously been so critical of him, replied, "I prefer a disaster to a catastrophe." I suspect the bulk of the conservative base felt the same way. It was either vote for McCain or stay home because third party candidates are pointlessly Quixotic and voting for The One was not a sane option for any proponent of any limitations on gummint. So McCain lost and the the big O won. Que sera blah blah. I voted on principle and not because of a failure to parse which party was more "inclusive." The principle in this case means simply voting for whatever candidate is less enthusiastic about statist intervention--in anything. So despite the fact that the McCainster was the least conservative GOP candidate in living memory he got my vote but only due to The One's near infinitely statist proclivities.

The bulk of the electorate is not greatly "ideological". That is to say that they have little in the way of thoughtful economic or political principles to get in the way of being swayed by whatever direction the media wind is blowing. Perhaps this is not so much a flaw as a feature of the modern zeitgeist but nevertheless it has clearly borne fruit. He who most convincingly promised the most goodies and the most government action to fix, well, everything, was the winner. That combined with the near priceless cultural cachet of a smooth talking candidate being a member of a historically repressed and eternally aggrieved minority helped matters along nicely.

The Republic will survive B.H.O. even if it takes a generation to undo his economic and social meddling. This centrist, lately redefined by the media as a conservative, will stay the course whatever the electoral fortunes of the GOP and whatever feckless calls for "unity" are thundered from the progressive pulpit. And bugger the relentless whining from progressives that this that or the other pol, pundit or blogger is being "divisive" when in actual fact the complaint is merely code for not showing approval of the standard prog. line. The audience for this blog, which admittedly could fit in a small closet, can rest assured that the sundry lunacies of the left and right will not escape whatever rhetorical horsepower I can bring to bear. Creationist nitwits and re-distributionist bird-brains can expect equal time. If being no one's lap dog means being no one's friend then so let it be written and so let it be done.

No better comment on the conservative philosophical bent (centrist or otherwise) is available than one from the Man.

"When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth."

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Friday, November 14, 2008

Battery Powered Adult Toys

Lithium sweet lithium. Lovely soft silvery metal it is which vies with Prozac as boon companion for the artisanal neurotic who has failed to find balm in Gilead, or Tribeca, Dumbo, Nolita, or God forbid--the Bronx. In analogous fashion loverly lithium has become a psychic emollient and revered Icon for the overheated postulants of the High Church of Environmentalism. Our Lady of Lithium is not some demure chaste long-skirt hoarding her gifts against the day of husbandly embrace but rather an elemental strumpet giving freely of her fast and loose electrons for a sly chemical wink and the tender of substantial sums of cash. In other words batteries people batteries.

Most current battery technologies touted for present and future use involve the element lithium, a soft silvery white metal, with several unusual properties but the one with the most relevance is that in various chemical combinations it allows the storage of large amounts of electrical energy in relatively small volumes. It's primary disadvantage is that it is expensive as hell and getting pricier by the week. Some lithium production occurs in the U.S but the dirty little secret of the battery industry is that such production will have to skyrocket to supply even a portion of the grandiose plans of the auto industry. The upcoming Chevy Volt uses a lithium battery of some 16 kilowatts and the rumor is that it will cost the consumer 15,000 dollars to replace. These high price levels will only escalate because the element represents a large fraction of the chemical makeup of these battery systems.

The Volt and the multitude of similar concepts issuing from manufacturers world-wide are causing the environmental establishment to practically fibrillate with joy. Any effort to reduce the use of the evil internal combustion engine is greeted with hosannas of encouragement and complaints about affordability are dismissed as the irrelevant maunderings of ignorant boobs or paid oil industry stooges. Here we come to the point of this screed. The precipitous lunge towards alternative automotive power sources threatens to starve the lower end of the market of product that is touted to advance the holy crusade of lowering society's carbon footprint.

Joe Hoi and Mary Polloi will be poop out of luck. In no current or projected scenario will pure electric or hybrid vehicles be produced for prices remotely near the bottom of the market--period. The technology is just too complex and expensive for vehicles that cost under 15,000 dollars. Small size will not help the situation. The Prius is a small car as is the Volt, neither larger than a Toyota Corolla, and shrinking them further will only affect prices minimally. One can buy a fairly nice efficient small sedan for less than what the battery in the Volt will cost and even though the Prius has a much smaller battery it is much more mechanically complex and so will be resistant to price reductions. No other pending hybrid or pure electric technology promises any product for the low end of the market. The technology exists now to make small conventional vehicles that get extremely good mileage, and at reasonable prices, but the ICE has been demonized to the point that the E-Church considers them grubby apostates, unfit to participate in the jihad against AGW.

The current low end of the electric market is around 10-15 thousand dollars. That kind of money will get you an vehicle which is little more than a glorified golf cart with all the utility and convenience that implies. They are known as NEVs, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, useful in sunbelt senior communities perhaps but entirely worthless for real world commutes in problematic weather. Promoters and shysters abound in the limited production electric vehicle world with some efforts resembling start-ups that are long on cash requirements and short on product. These contraptions and even much higher performance vehicles like the Tesla are all ridiculously expensive, impractical, and are available in extremely limited numbers.

To these sorts of grumbles the yea-sayers respond that it's early days yet. Just wait till electrics get into mass production and prices will tumble just as they did in the early days of the automobile. To which this grumbler responds if you think a Prius, a Tesla, or a Volt can be in any wise compared to a Model T then you are, well, an idiot. In the early 1900s there was no product, consumer or otherwise, a tiny fraction as complicated as the average modern car much less a hybrid. Henry Ford may have been a mass production pioneer but he was working with thoroughly familiar steel and wood not aluminum, titanium, carbon composites, high-power electronics and exotic battery chemistrys. The Model T was a paragon of design simplicity whereas modern cars are by a wide margin the most complex devices encountered daily by the average person. The point is that really useful electric vehicles may prove subject to economies of scale to some degree but to think that in the fullness of time we can all be driving electric cars as cheap as the current bottom of the market scarcely qualifies as a pipe-dream.

If I weren't a meanie I would forbear to mention that the number of pages of federal regulation that burdened ol' Henry was zero as was the consequent cost to the consumer who was thrilled that he could buy a car, any car, for a price that working folks could afford. The Model T became ridiculously cheap but it was hardly a technological wonder. In fact it was a primitive, albeit fairly reliable, device that greatly helped put the country on wheels but was unsophisticated even by the standards of the day. Adjusted for inflation the cheapest Model T would sell for about four grand in current bucks. It is a demonstrable miracle of manufacturing cleverness that in today's truly bizarre regulatory environment the cheapest vehicle sold is only three times that expensive.

In its usual ham-fisted social engineering style the gummint offers "tax-credits" for those buying from a favored subset of allegedly efficient vehicles. These of course are simply consumer bribes that supposedly ease the pain of spending money on vehicles that are not otherwise economically viable in pursuit of larger green policy objectives. It is reported that the "credit" for the Volt will be in the well-to-do neighborhood of $7500 which simply means that Chevrolet can charge at least that much more for a vehicle that will hit the market pathetically uncompetitive in any measure of that quality you care to address. Expect to fork over close to 40K for the Volt, even with the credit, for a vehicle that will be rather more efficient than a Chevy Cobalt but will be well over twice as expensive. Where pray tell is the "mass" in this market?

The Volt will exhibit a 20 to 25 thousand dollar premium over vehicles of similar size and transport capability. Even at the recent peak of four dollars per gallon for fuel that twenty thousand dollar difference represents about 150,000 miles of travel for a Cobalt. At current October '08 prices it's more like 300,000 miles. Of course the Volt will use less fuel but far from zero. Additionally in the case of the Cobalt the consumer will only have to pay for fuel twenty bucks at a time over the course of many years instead of 20 large, with interest, in the first four or five years of Volt ownership. There are undoubtedly a few who will pay twenty grand for a can of green credential polish but there are millions more who will sanely refuse or simply be unable to do it.

In this, and so many other cases, the policy proscriptions of the enviro-left will have the effect of "saving the planet" by making it much more expensive to live on it. Any you, you ignorant prole, are expected to cheerily support becoming ever more destitute so that the manifold environmental hysterias of progressives might triumph over anything even remotely resembling a sober cost-benefit analysis. The irony is positively sludge-like that after decades of progressives styling themselves as champions of the working-class their current message seems to be "Up yours red state jack-legs. You rubes are expendable and doomed to be collateral damage in our noble quest to save the planet from, well, people like you. Suck it up." For the bulk of the Volk battery powered cars may have the same effect as a battery powered vibrator. In both cases you can expect to be well and truly screwed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Flanders Tears

It being Veterans Day I tried once again to read "In Flanders Fields". I failed-again. I have rarely been able to get through the thing without choking up, pathetic sentimental slob that I am. Now I yield to no one in my cynical outlook on life and have been accused from time to time of not showing enough emotion when it might be well called for. This area is a major chink in the dam of my surly grinchy politico-philosophical demeanor.

I suppose I am simply not "sophisticated" enough to be able to sneer in modern deconstructionist fashion at all things military. And this from a boomer who was of draft age in the thick of the conflict in Vietnam when aluminum coffins were unloading from transport planes in the States at the rate of some 300 per week. Although perhaps not comparable to the 1940s it was still a tectonically frightening time to be 18 or 19 years old. It was little comfort, even to a history buff such as myself, that a casualty rate of 1200 per month would have been considered very light indeed in, say, 1944. We boomers were, by far, the most spoiled generation of young people up to that time and to suggest that we should risk our over-educated pampered hides in some stinking jungle for a cause as philosophically shaky as stopping the advance of communism seemed wildly, spectacularly, wrong-headed.

I am convinced that despite the huge mass of protests that essentially defended the right of the North Vietnamese to subjugate the south, and millions of words of queasily reasoned verbiage in defense of this proposition, that our unwillingness to fight was based substantially on fear of our own deaths. In other words--cowardice. If our parents' cohort was the Greatest Generation (a characterization over which they would snicker in amusement) then the 60s cohort might easily be called the Chickenshit Generation.

The middle-class kids of the drug and sex-soaked "liberated" 60s made the flappers and swells of the free-wheeling 20s look like a convention of Amish clerics. Of course getting loaded and screwing everything in sight has been a goal of young men for countless generations but in the 60s the floodgates of this longed-for behavior were flung gleefully wide. Our parents, children of depression and world war, were intent on making sure their children had everthing they didn't. Be careful what you wish for.

This sweet and nurturing impulse, combined with technological advances in birth-control, engendered heretofore unseen sexual permissiveness that by the late 60s had rendered the frequent and casual rogering of a random hippie chick stranger far less consequential and potentially involving than holding the hand of the girl next door. As typical horny males we were highly approving of the advent of not only the "pill" but also the lowering of the drinking age in many regions and the nearly universal easy access to weed. Why on earth would we have wanted to abandon this unparalled hedonism to risk getting our asses shot off?

For women the pill, in a pre-HIV age, allowed them to explore their own long suppressed horniness with far fewer consequences. Combine that factor with abundant alchohol and drugs and soon millions of pairs of nubile thighs angled smartly open and 30 million dainty mouths gaped to cheerfully encourage and abet the emissons of millions of perpetual young erections. Unrestricted fornication became the casual result of the first few hours, or even minutes, of personal contact with the opposite sex in contrast to our grandparents' tortuous months or years long campaigns of seduction towards the same end. Women were instantly relieved of the fear of unwanted pregnancy and although they may have been no inherently more sexualized than their mothers they could now "enjoy" whatever level of copulatory exploration their personalities would countenance. It turned out to be a lot. A whole lot. So much that we live with the repercussions yet today but who could have known then what effects the wholesale sexualization of society would have? And frankly who would have cared even if they had known? Individual raging hormones take no notice of future social consequences.

Such irony. The baby boomers' very existence was owed in large part to the sexual liscense engendered by the frightening exigencies and heartbreaking separations of the 40s war years. Soldiers on leave or about to ship out, facing the high prospect of battlefield death or maiming, exploited equally intense female emotions to bed girlfriends and new wives with near maniacal zeal which scarcely abated after the war. Voila--the Baby Boomers.

If the age-old fear of unrestricted coupling was rendered moot by the emotional tumult of a whole world at war then the effect was exponentially higher for young people frightened by war and far less inhibited by the prospect of unwanted pregnancy. If the couplings of war were uninhibited by the near certainty of getting your squeeze knocked-up then the less than single digit odds of the 60s had only vanishingly small effect. Not that there weren't plenty of unplanned pregnancies but the pill ensured that hundreds of unrestricted couplings resulted in fewer pregnancies than even a single "bareback" tryst of only a decade earlier.

So what healthy young male in his right mind would voluntarily leave this Valhalla of easy drugs and easier pussy to tramp through foreign jungles in pursuit of an obsessed ruthless enemy? Of course few would actually admit to this at the time which made the "anti-war" movement so attractive. The movement, among other things, provided cover in the form of high intellectual dudgeon over our supposed mistreatment of the poor helpless North Vietnamese and the enforced slavery of the miltary draft which enabled this mistreatment.

Alternative press and radio, black armbands, the peace sign, mass marches, Kent State blah blah blah. All very high-minded don'tcha know. Naturally we preferred to think of it as principled objection by the "people" rather than having to abandon pop's money, eschew free-flowing poontang, and stop passing fifty cent doobies for the dangerous and dubious privilege of "defending democracy." A goodly number of people decided that this principle could be divorced from selfish hedonistic imperatives and should stand on its own. Hence the rise of the anti-war left that to this day is convinced that "War is not the Answer" and that "Violence never solves anything." As operationally risible and philosophically bankrupt as these puerile concepts are in the modern world they still have a solid hold on a goodly chunk of boomer weltanshaung and on those they have influenced. This has evolved into the facile and self-serving concept of "Dissent is the highest form of Patriotism." Yeah screw self-sacrifice and bugger love of country. Dissent is the real deal homie, sure to make you a fully nuanced self-actualized intellectually mature human bean unlike those slobbering knuckle-dragging brain-dead admirers of the military.

War is damned well sometimes the answer. Violence frequently solves problems immune to sweet reason. Just ask John Adams, or Frederick Douglas, or Anne Frank, or the citizens of Coventry, or the victims of Dachau if war is never the answer. Just sweetly and non-violently reason with the Confederate States of America, or Der Fuehrer, or Uncle Joe, or Pol Pot, or Saddam, or any Islamist fanatic. Let me know how that works out for you.

Which all in all is why I tear up at "Flanders Fields". Millions of young men, perhaps blindly, perhaps ignorantly, and undoubtedly without the nuanced contemplations of academe, have defended not merely democracy but our unique version of it which, intentionally or not, makes them true exemplars of the concept of civic duty. Which should be worth a tear or three and a healthy snort of derision for some twit swathed in pink waving a crudely lettered "No Blood For Oil" placard. May their hydrogen powered car explode due to a spark from a wind turbine.

Find a vet. Shake his hand. Imagine the poppies blooming in the shattered soil of the Ypres Salient "between the crosses row on row." Shed a tear.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama Of The Capitol Hill People

40 years ago M.L.K. said these immortal words. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their sonorous yet empty rhetoric."

Say what? That's not how you remember it? Well if the quote is amiss I hope to be forgiven due to the peculiar and disconcerting events surrounding the recent election. Even the truly saintly Martin might squinch his brows in confusion over the fact that 90 plus percent of African-Americans voted for the orotund O-man. This is the post-racial era we've been hearing about? Anyhoo the One is slated in a few months to take up residence behind the massive concrete security bollards on Pennsylvania Avenue having triumphed in Park Place, Marvin Gardens, and on Baltic Avenue. I note, not merely in passing, that the 2008 revised Monopoly game increased the income tax from 75 to 200 dollars. Whether this reduces investment in hotels on Atlantic Avenue remains to be seen.

It was a rather intense season of alarm in conservative circles as Obama's Chi-Town connections were more and more illuminated. Reaction to this was the expected dissembling and denial by the campaign and extensive yawning and exxagerated eye-rolling by much of the main-stream press. That young Barry did in fact truckle with sundry fading 60's radicals and Black Liberation Theology firebrands was not particularly in question. What was in question is to what extent his ideological synthesis was formed by his associations with this putrid brigade of cultural bomb throwers.

If it did it rarely showed in his senatorial performance which was standard issue Democratic partisan water-carrying throughout his short tenure and it's not hard to see why this was so. There was little or no political need to vote with any remotely controversial majority Republican supported initiative and every reason to stick with the Dems on virtually all issues so as to not abrade the sensitivities of any potential support for his White House run. Political need is the key.

I'm fairly sure that he isn't an advocate of Bill's or Bernadine's antiquarian anarchist histrionics nor Rev. Wright's conspiratical frothing race hatred. What is becoming clear is that Obama simply used these folks to jumpstart his political career. He then had the forbearance to sit through years of Wright's sewer mouthed ravings to establish his sincerity and cultivate the profitable ideo-electoral bona-fides seen as desirable in the relevant Chicago districts. Ayers and Wright were hardly the only individuals curried in this single-minded quest but they rather stand out in the crowd. He cynically exploited a goodly chunk of the Chicagoland radical political scene in his effort to insert himself into ever higher positions of political authority and it worked beautifully. That he may be a cynical manipulator of the body politic is obvious but it equally obvious that he does subscribe to any of that rash radicalism or anything much contrary to standard progressive political tropes. Not that to many, myself included, that isn't cause for genuine alarm. Someone in the White House who is a near perfect exemplar of what Thomas Sowell calls "the unconstrained vision" of goverment interventionism is a depressing enough prospect on its own even if we ignore sundry cynical and tawdry past associations.

The further criticism that he has not had any meaningful executive experience isn't exactly true. For upwards of two decades he has been CEO of Obama Inc., an organization dedicated to establishing a viable political brand and which used whatever resources were available, regardless of ideological bent, to push the product towards ever higher political retail sales. Manipulative and cynical as it may have been a more spectacular success for a corporate strategy is hard to imagine than what has just happened.

It is hardly an original observation that since the beginning of the last century, with the tendency accellerating in the past 50 years, that the Establishment Left has become less uncomfortable co-existing with its radical fringes while the opposite tendency has obtained for the Establishment Right. Progressive intellectuals have edged ever closer in tone to the fever swamps of the Socialist antiwar radical left while conservative intellectuals have edged steadily away from the equally putrid swamps of the Klan Bircher White-Supremacist radical right. This has had the effect of dragging the center of political intellectual discourse sharply left and has distinctly redefined the "center" of the overall political discussion.

There is still a sharp divide to be sure however one of the results is that the left tends to characterize many current convervative political tropes, which would have been deemed quite mild and centrist half a century ago, as examples of "right wing extremism." Conservatives have become somewhat constrained in their ability to essay nuanced characterizations of Progressives due to the bunching up of the political spectrum therefore accusing a Progressive of being a Socialist is rather like accusing water of being wet. The line between current progressive orthodoxy and outright textbook Socialism has shrunk near to the point of invisibility and successful denial of this situation depends entirely on an advocate's fancy rhetorical footwork.

The POTUS-elect prooved to be non-pareil in this regard. He successfully swaddled economic redistributionism and statist cultural interventionism in the warm fluffy comforting robes of "fairness" and "economic justice." This is sleight-of-hand worthy of David Copperfield but Obama Inc.'s advertising campaign of soothing measured rhetoric was up to the task. Mis-direction is the stock in trade of political campaigns of course but clearly a new standard has been set. So we have elected what is clearly the most left-of-center chief executive in history, Wilson and FDR included, and now we will wait and see what maturing effects, if any, are conferred by getting to sit in the Oval Office's big chair.

I would like to be a fly on the wall when the newby POTUS receives his first serious and comprehensive security briefings from the NSA and the CIA. I cannot think that he will be sobered by the level of antipathy that exists toward the U.S. regardless of who sits in the White House at any given time. Further he will perforce discover that he isn't the only master of misdirectional rhetoric and that the world's abundant thugocrats are experts in dissembling, dodging, stalling, and outright lying about their true intentions. All the good intentions and understanding in the universe are insufficient to dealing with that motley crew. Many of them, most probably, understand only one thing--power. It's what they wield most enthusiastically and what they respect most thoroughly. It's not just in the Middle-East that the Strong Horse is respected but also by sundry tin-pots around the globe and all the coalition building efforts and heartfelt diplomacy imaginable have an infinitesimal fraction of the impressiveness of a locked and loaded carrier battle group.

On the home front it is sincerely to be hoped that he will soon run up against enough stark economic reality to be forced to shelve some of his interventionist fantasies. It is my Hope that much of his misguided Change will be held in check by the parlous state of the country's checkbook. This faint Hope is the only leaven of my depression in the face of the incoming Change in leadership. Pass the Prozac please.