Saturday, March 18, 2006

Oil For Hysteria: The New Meme


Well, blaming him for Katrina didn’t take.

Neither did predicting a civil war in Iraq.

Turns out President Bush is pretty responsive and competent on most of the issues, so what’s an MSM hit man to do?

Make up a crisis, of course, which brings us to the ‘Oil Shortage Scare’ poll from CNN/USA Today/Gallup, complete with blame game and worst case scare tactics.

The CNN story was big on noise, but thin on facts, so I paid a visit to the Gallup site to see what the hubbub was all about. No mention of the oil poll on the front page, which twitched the old antennae. You see, I generally have a lot of respect for Gallup and its methods, but not so for the Hairpiece Media at USA Today and the Contemptible News Network. I began to suspect Gallup was not all that proud of this latest offering. I did find a poll with the title “Energy”, but it’s locked up as “Premium Content”, which is also a way to keep cheapskate nosey bloggers like me from peeking at the poll. Being a sneaky sort, I used their search function under “Oil” and found the following questions:

Have recent price increases in gasoline caused any financial hardship for you or your household? Now, thinking about the cost of gasoline, do you think the current rise in gas prices represents – [ROTATED: a temporary fluctuation in prices, or a more permanent change in prices]?” Question from the March 17 2006 poll

Do you think Congress should hold an investigation into the profits that oil companies have made in the past few months, or do you think an investigation is not necessary?” Question #15 from an October 2005 poll

How much do you blame - Oil companies in the U.S. - for the recent increase in gasoline prices - A great deal, A moderate amount, Not much, or Not at all?” Question #24 from an August 2005 poll

On another subject, for each of the following business sectors in the United States, please say whether your overall view of it is Very positive, Somewhat positive, Neutral, Somewhat negative, or Very negative. How about - Oil and gas industry?” Question #38 from an August 2005 poll

How much do you blame each of the following for the recent increase in gasoline prices -- Oil companies in the U.S. -- A great deal, A moderate amount, Not much, or Not at all?” Question 38 from an April 2005 poll

How much do you blame each of the following for the recent increase in gasoline prices -- Foreign countries that produce oil -- A great deal, A moderate amount, Not much, or Not at all?” Question 38 from a May 2005 poll

There were literally dozens of simlar questions in the Search results, and a lot of them focused on blame and displeasure. I did not see a single question which asked respondents whether they understood the oil & gas markets, knew how much oil was available or how it was processed and delivered. I did not see a single question which presented the present situation in historical context, which examined the possibility that last year’s hurricanes or this year’s geopolitical situation might be factors in the supply or price of oil.

I can’t speak conclusively, since I don’t have all the data. But what I saw leads me to the preliminary conclusion, that someone allowed a troll to choose the questions and wording, and if the ingredients are trash, the results are predictable.

(ht Joseph Somsel)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Blood and Bigotry – The Coming Civil War In Islam Part 2


“The path of fear – isolationism and protectionism, retreat and retrenchment – appeals to those who find our challenges too great and fail to see our opportunities. Yet history teaches that every time American leaders have taken this path, the challenges have only increased and the missed opportunities have left future generations less secure.”

- President George W. Bush, The National Security Strategy of the United States, March 16 2006

In Part 1 I observed that Islam is divided against itself, a contention which was not met with broad agreement. Comments from the readers included strong doubt that Islam is peaceful or that the majority of Muslims are peaceable. There was also a strong opinion that the West is going to be attacked by an Islamic war of conquest, a point with which I actually agree. But the misconceptions about Islam and about the Jihadists must be corrected, or we will be doing the villains’ work for them.

According to the Terrorism Knowledge Base, since the September 11th attacks 45.6% of all terrorist attacks have happened in the Middle East and 57.7% of all fatalities from such attacks. North America has only received 0.5% of the attacks and 0.04% of the fatalities. Even Western Europe has only suffered 10.6% of the attacks, and only 1.4% of the fatalities. Only 2.17% of terrorist attacks have been against military targets in that time, while 2.53% of the attacks have been terrorists attacking other terrorist groups. 17.69% of the attacks have been attempts to destabilize governments, with 12.27% against private businesses, 7.34% against police and 6.02% against transportation, like buses and trains.

What this means in plain English, is that the terrorists are attacking Arabs more often than Americans, and civilians much more often than police. The terrorists are trying to destabilize Iraq and Lebanon and Egypt, far more than they are doing anything in France or England or Spain, no matter what we see on TV. The terrorists are worried about the Iraqi Army and Police, and about regular people. One must consider the import of that fact.

There are many different kinds of Muslims. This should have been obvious simply from the fact that there are roughly 1.4 Billion practicing Muslims in the world; it is ridiculous to believe that so many people would agree to the same interpretation of a faith, especially since it should be patently obvious that with about thirteen thousand acts of terrorism since September 11, 2001, the pace per person would appear to be rather pale if the average Muslim was the blood-thirsty lout so often believed. In fact, it can be said with great confidence that Muslims in Afghanistan, most of Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates are essentially non-violent. Yes, even Saudi Arabia with some of the worst groups recruiting there – the reader might consider that such groups always end up leaving Saudi Arabia, because the government and the people have no love for the likes of Al-Jihad and Hezbollah.

Looking at it another way, it should be understood that one reason the Jihadists are so violent, is that they lack a legitimate means by which to claim power. I had compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before, for good reason; like the fascists of Hitler’s day, the Jihadists understand that they are a minority, so they gain what they gain through the system and then attack and kill anyone who presents a challenge to them. If you stop and think about it, there is no reason for the Jihadists to march and riot as they do, except that they do not enjoy majority support in those nations where they do these things. It is necessary for them to intimidate and attack their opponents, precisely because they are opposed.

Besides the Jihadists, there are Muslims which focus on business. The DP World ports deal was actually a good thing for the United States if Congress had bothered to look through the matter before pitching a hissy fit, because that company represented a significant commitment to improved commerce between the U.A.E. and the United States, which would have given the United States more influence in the U.A.E. while lowering not even one security measure. Other Arab companies have shown interest in cooperation with the United States, not least because a contract with a company like Haliburton is a win-win for them; profits in their pockets and a stronger development for their countries’ Infrastructure. There are some Muslims who focus on their family and country. Ever wonder why Arab families send their kids to college in the United States? It’s not just the quality education (Yale and Harvard are sorry exceptions) or an abundance of good Madressas here, but the open culture and virtues of Democracy. There are Muslims who love their country and are willing to defend it against the likes of the Jihadists. For instance, consider the police forces in Iraq. The job is high-risk and low-stability, yet the numbers are growing and a number of Iraq cities have been able to lower the necessary troop levels because the police are on the job. Just whom do you think the Jihadists in Baghdad and Kirkuk have been targeting, and why? The answer is that the Jihadists are a distinct minority, but their ruthless violence is a force multiplier.

(to be continued)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I AM BACK!!!!!!

My neighbor came by this afternoon, with my underfed blog in tow. The poor guy was weak and scruffy, and smelled like he had spent time in Hyannisport, but he's back.

By the way, for those interested, I took my GMAT Tuesday, and while the results won't be official for another 18 days or so, I got a 730, which hits the 97th percentile. Yeah baby, back to Bischool!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Blood and Bigotry – The Coming Civil War In Islam


The advantage of every great religion comes from the momentum of its growth. Yet that same growth inevitably leads to a crisis of identity, often more than once. Christianity for instance, despite modeling itself after the “Prince of Peace”, who is quoted as having forgiven His murderers even as they were in the act, was prone in its time of temporal power to sponsoring wars and conquests, and of coercing kings to its obedience. So it should be no surprise that Islam has found its way to excess and violence at times.

I have written more than once that most Muslims, the overwhelming majority, are humble and peace-loving, decent folk who simply want to obey God and live quietly and in justice. The present wave of malicious hatred sweeping Islam is not supported by the majority of Muslims, yet no great effort has been made to stand against it, and the Jihadists take this impetus to press forward in bloodlust. At some point the Jihadists will be opposed by an effective counterforce, and when this happens a great many innocents will die. Sadly, it is increasingly difficult to see how to stop this.

Part of the problem comes from Islam’s own history. At the age of 41 the Prophet Mohammed took part in the War of Fijar. Five years after his initial revelation from Allah, Mohammed and his followers were attacked by the Quaraish, who attempted to kill the new sect at its origin. Between 613 AD and 624 AD the Muslim movement was forced to flee three times from enemies intent on killing them for their beliefs. In 624 AD Mohammed and the Muslims seized Medina by force at the Battle of Badr. A series of battles and ongoing war was the theme of life until 630 AD and decisive battles at Hunsin, Auras, and Taif. As a result, the Quran focuses on a holy duty to fight for the faith, quite literally commanding Muslims to kill unbelievers. This is the birthstory of Islam.

After the death of Mohammed, the evangelism of Islam was simple and direct – submit or die. The war expanded in all directions, seizing Syria in 637 AD, as well as Jerusalem. The Muslims then advanced in Egypt (639 AD) , Persia (642 AD), and so into Asia Minor (646 AD) and North Africa (647 AD). In 666 AD Muslims were raiding Sicily, and laid siege to Constantinople in 677 AD. Conquest, pillaging and plunder became the way of the Crescent for many generations, as the bloody Caliphs surged across North Africa to the Atlantic, then North into Spain and then France. For all the talk about the violence of the Crusades, it must be understood that the long war began with an extensive invasion of Southern Europe by men dedicated to the proposition that everything and everyone before them would be taken as convert, property, or victim.

The Muslim empire after Tours (732 AD) backed off somewhat, as the Caliphs and Sultans sat back to consolidate their gains, in much the same way that third-generation Mafiasos tried to go “legitimate” on their ill-gotten wealth. But the empire did not hold, and Islam fell from temporal power, especially as men discovered they could hold power with only token tribute to the Mosque and the Mullah. Also, as often happens when a faith matures, Muslim scholars studied the Quran and the hadiths of the Prophet much more closely, and discovered lessons that many of the earlier Muslims had ignored. So there came to be four main classes of Muslim; the politician who played at Islam to his own benefit, the Jihadist who feared Islam had lost its way and become complacent, the scholars who studied the deeper teachings of the Prophet, and the common Muslim, who wanted to obey Allah and please Him, but also mainly wanted to live his life with as little suffering and trouble as possible. These classes are very much like what one finds in any major religion, though the proportionate memberships shifts over the years and according to what is going on.

The second half of the Twentieth Century saw the Middle East rise sharply in world prominence, wealth, and importance, and the first three groups all saw their chance to advance their cause, and too often at the cost of the ordinary Muslim. OPEC, the PLO, and countless militant groups which sought to “represent” Islam and the Arab world through violence and organized hatred, all demonstrate the force of Islam moving once again in conquest, but this time pursuing disparate goals of nationalism, commerce, and the forced evangelism of the Middle East back to Islam. What the West has not yet seen, is that Islam is divided against itself this time, and must either resolve the internal conflict or devolve into regional conflagration.

(to be continued)

Sunday, March 12, 2006



A great many people still do not understand why turning down the DP World deal was a bad step for the United States. The issue actually has several levels of significance, and most people never saw beyond one or two of them. I won’t go into a prolonged discussion about why DP World did not threaten National Security, or why the policies of the U.A.E. post-9/11 are so much more important than their pre-9/11 policies. For this article, I will simply present a real-world example of the limits of paranoid security concerns: The Stasi.

East Germany was not a fun place. The Communists suspected pretty much everybody of everything, and they set up a security network on that basic principle. Employers and employees spying on each other, any unusual conduct in public was investigated, and even children were taught to report to the authorities on what their parents did and said. And on top of that was the Stasi, a secret police agency with broad powers and no accountability. Sounds like the dream set-up for catching conspirators, hmm? Yet the CIA ran operations in and through East Germany all the time, and arranged for many defectors to escape to the West through East Germany. The problem was this; even with all the resources and laws made to support the security forces, the Stasi found itself unable to address all the information provided to it. Imagine for instance a room with an array of monitors, say a hundred monitors, each of which rotates its attention between a dozen cameras. That gives you a theoretical eye on 120 locations at once. However, it’s human nature to focus on one thing at a time, and to ignore anything which appears routine. The 9/11 hijackers, for example, spent time in the United States in order to not only familiarize themselves with their targets and operational preparation, but also to learn how to act unobstrusively, to blend in as it were. Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer, was also carefully ordinary in his appearance and behavior, as were other cold-blooded monsters like Ted Bundy. So even with programs designed to pick out certain behavior and anomalies, security services can find out only a certain amount of what is planned against them, and see only what they know to watch for. The lesson is that planning and focus matter in security matters.

No one is claiming that we do not need to do a much better job in securiing our borders and ports. But as I have noted before, the United States has many ways to enter, and most smugglers and illegal entry is not through major ports. A revisit of CFIUS is necessary, but that problem in no way meant that DP World represented a threat, and if you want proof that Congress was hamming it up instead of seriously addressing the issue, ask yourself why no one in Congress submitted a bill to get Communist China out of the ports it already controls in the United States. The need to address security issues is vital, but the proper allocation of time, attention, and resources to threat potential must take into consideration a balance of responsibilities and proportionate authority. That is, at some point a person must be willing to let the proper authorities do their job, and Congress should not micro-manage the DHS, various Port Authorities, or on-the-scene officials. Even though this is an election year, Americans should understand that we are made safer by the regular guys doing the job, not some suit making a speech and blowing holes into strategic alliances just so he can feel he has "done his part" in playing watchdog. The difference right now between a true watchdog for National Security and Congress, is the same as between a trained German Shepherd which neither barks nor attacks without cause, and a self-deluded Chihuahua which feels the need to frantically defend the home against dust bunnies.

FDR screwed the pooch in some major ways, but at least he had it right in March 1933, when he said “All we have to fear, is Fear itself”. When thinking about National Security for the United States in the Twenty-First Century, it would behoove us well to avoid putting every scare and rumor on the same shelf as a true threat to our security, and to give just a little credit to the leaders in the White House and Pentagon who have considered this matter for a while and in some detail. Panic cloaked as Protection is just plain stupid.