Monday, June 30, 2014

Airport Security

Every time I fly, I am struck by how inconsistent our airport security has become. This is not to say that I have a better answer. I have some ideas -- a few which would probably dismay some readers -- but just looking at what security we have in place, it seems we have some real problems with our approach to security. In a large part, it is because security is in the hands of government, rather than private enterprise, and thus driven more by thoughts of public relations than cost-benefit.

There is an old saying that generals are always planning to fight the last war*, and that statement is doubly true, though for very different reasons, for airport security. For example, why do we remove our shoes? Because of a single highly publicized effort by the "shoe bomber". Why can't we carry lighters? Because that same bomber was thwarted by his inability to get matches to light his makeshift bomb. Of course, that is but a single example, but by and large our efforts at security -- form banning any even vaguely sharp object after 9-11 to barefoot screenings -- were implemented to deal with the last attack. Which is one of the problems with out security policy, that we react to the last attack, implementing measures to deal with it, even though, most likely the next attack will take a completely different form.

The other problem is the see-saw approach caused by the aforementioned public relations approach. When there is a crisis, an attack, a failed attack, or even a public figure putting forth warnings about a potential risk, the state will implement extreme measures to deal with it. However, when those measures prove unpopular, or when a long period without incidents make the public less patient with security measures, those solutions will be weakened by exceptions, or even reduced to token efforts. And thus, we end up with a multitude of measures existing more for show than providing any real security.

Two examples come to mind of the latter. First, the limiting of liquids to 1.5 ounce containers. Second, the ban on lighters. I shall explain why I find each rather absurd.

The liquid restriction follows the pattern I described almost exactly. Following 9-11, the government had support for extreme measures, and the public was prohibited from carrying many things on planes, including liquids in bottles. After a while, when the public was no longer so afraid, complaints began to be heard, and politicians, ever worried about bad publicity, decided to reduce the restrictions. Thus, they decided to allow various shampoos, lotions and the like, provided they were in 1.5 ounce containers, and were examined by the TSA staff. Of course, that second requirement has largely vanished, and for good reason. A sealed container of liquid is pretty hard to identify, so unless they were going to open and sniff each container, the search requirement was entirely for show, not to be taken seriously. However, the other half is also largely for show. Think about what liquids are potential risks. We are discussing either explosives or gasses. And most explosives that come in liquid forms -- except the most primitive such as gasoline -- are powerful enough that two or three 1.5 ounce containers could still seriously damage a plane. Likewise, any liquid which can form a toxic gas -- again excepting such truly primitive attacks as mixing bleach and ammonia -- is concentrated enough that 1.5 ounces of the liquid form will be sufficient to kill or incapacitate the occupants of even the largest plane. Which means, while seeming to be "tough" by placing a size limit, the law actually allows through more than enough liquid to do serious harm. Thus, as with the meaningless search requirement, the size limit makes the law worthless.

The lighter restriction is equally absurd. A lighter is no more efficient than a match. I know that sometimes matches fail to light, and that they give off a tell-tale odor, but, under normal circumstances, an individual lighting a bomb will be able to do so with lighter or match, and have it detonate before anyone could reach to the sulfur smell of the match. As with the liquid rule, it makes it seem the government is doing something while at the same time making little difference**.

For that matter, the shoe rule seems to be going through a similar change. While I personally think the shoe removal rule is somewhat silly, as hiding anything in a shoe is quite difficult without producing a noticeably aberrant stride, and anything small enough to not effect walking could be hidden in several other ways, but whether useful or not, it seems the state is slowly eroding even that protection. Once this year, when flying, two of the four security gates through which I passed did not require removing shoes. And those that did require it exempted children under 12. And more recently, when flying to my current vacation, I was told not only children under 12, but also those over 70, did not have to remove shoes. Now, assuming terrorists have children and elderly family members, this provides a rather convenient exemption, does it not? By exempting these groups, the rules now provide a convenient way to eliminate whatever security the rule provides.

Basically, the government creates its own problems in these cases. Often the initial rule is implemented with excessive zeal, such as the confiscation of nail clippers and toy guns as potential threats to security, which results, in short order, in calls for a relaxing of the policy. Even when not implemented in such an over the top way, as the public begins to worry less and less about security, even the more moderate rules will begin to be seen as a burden. And thus, the state feels the need to move in the opposite direction and gut the initial rules. However, as the state hates to confess anything was a mistake, most often they leave behind some part of the original policy, leaving us with minor inconveniences which serve no security purpose.

I am sure many are skeptical of my claims that private enterprise would do better, and would most likely argue that private firms are even more dependent on public opinion and goodwill, and thus would be even more responsive to complaints, making the see-saw effect even worse.

And there is some truth, at least in part of the statement. Businesses do depend upon the public, but they also do not have to save face by refusing to admit a mistake, thus, even if we do have a see-saw with a private firm, at least it would be a "pure" see-saw, and when they eliminated a policy, it would go away, not leave behind minor annoyances with no benefit.

However, there is a second concern on the part of private firms that is balanced against public complaints. unlike the state, private firms must pay for their losses. And thus, as they are interested in both not losing planes, and not losing business as would happen should security prove inadequate, they will balance the potential for real loss against the loss of public goodwill. And so, unlike the government, they would have an interest, not in showy measures that appear to be "doing something", but measures which provide the greatest security at the lowest cost, both financially and in terms of inconvenience to the public. To do otherwise would invite their competitors to do so, and they would lose business.

Which points out the other reason private security would be more efficient. With a single government solution imposed from above, that is all we have. However, with each airline, for example, securing its own concourse, there would be competition, in terms of both convenience and security. Of course, for the public, convenience would be the only obvious aspect, and would be paramount, but that would not mean security would slip. After all, each airline would be watching competitors, and if one made a change weakening real security, that could easily become a marketing point for every competitor.

To those who doubt this would work, let me ask what is securing your bank account? Is it a single government solution or a solution decided upon by the individual bank***? Similarly, internet security, home security and a host of other protections have been implemented by competing private firms with pretty good results. obviously, they are not perfect, but neither is airport security. Perfection is simply not to be found in this world, so it should not be our standard. I would suggest, instead, that we look at private and public security and ask ourselves if a single solution, driven by public opinion is likely to be more secure than the result of multiple competing solutions based upon real cost-benefit analysis.

==================================================

* I wrote about this comment in "The Virtue of Novelty and the Value of Tradition".

** I do not recall, as I didn't fly much around 9-11, but I think at one time both lighters and matches were banned, with complaints resulting in the new, and absurdly inconsistent, situation. But, I may be wrong, as I did not have a lot of personal experience of airport security at the time and can't recall the specific prohibitions implemented after 9-11.

*** Granted, there are some government rules about various aspects of banking, so it is not entirely private, but by and large security decisions are private and vary from bank to bank, even from branch to branch.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Peak Oil Re-Run

It is interesting to see people repeat the same error again and again. I pointed out several times ("Why I Doubt Peak Oil Predictions", "Rejecting "Peak Oil"", "Why Peak Oil is Laughable", "A Thought on Oil Reserves", "Greed and the Price of Oil", "Bad Economics Part 1"), time and again, from the 1960s to present, doomsayers have said "We are running out of oil! Only 30 years left!" The number is important, as it seems to come up time after time. Sometimes it goes up or down 5 or 10 years, but it is remarkably close to 30 in all doomsday predictions.

Well, today, I was reading about the proposed Tesla "gigafactory" and seeing the doomsayers nay saying the electric car, pointing out we have only limited lithium supplies, likely at projected use to run out in 30 years. That number struck me as interesting, and so I checked the numbers.

And not so surprising, I found the same error in the lithium doom myths as in peak oil myths. In both cases, the merchants of doom have used proven reserves as if they were all that would ever be available. And, as with oil, it seems that magic 30 year figure appears once more.

So, why 30 years? Well, it appears, just judging from how often I see it, that mineral prospectors don't bother looking for more when there is a reserve of about 30 years at present consumption. Or they may find possible reserves, but don't spend money fully surveying them when there are plenty of other proven reserves.

And that is the origin of both the "peak oil" scare and the new lithium scare, the fact that, once we have adequate proven reserves, we tend to not spend much time or effort looking for more. Only when some proven reserves become too difficult to exploit do we start looking for more, or fully examining those we found but did not exploit. And thus, we inevitably seem to have a 30 year reserve.

Think of it this way. You probably have a normal level of food in your house. It may be a few days, it may be a week. If you are truly disaster ready, you may have a month or more. Whatever the amount, you eat some of that food, the amount declines, and you go buy more. In general, the level stays pretty constant. Does that mean your food will run out in a week or month? No, it means you will obtain more.

Similarly, when known reserves dwindle, we begin to search for more. And almost always find it. And when we don't, we begin to invest in economizing in our use of that mineral. Or we invest in alternatives. Or some combination of the two. In short, we don't run out, we see the supply still remain relatively constant.

Yes, in a few cases the shortage has failed to produce an adequate technological surge and we have suffered through some harsh economization, but in the end, we still found a way to maintain the services provided by the mineral. And those were unusual cases, most caused either by war (natural rubber) or excessive exploitation of a material without proper ownership rights (whale oil) or else excessive government involvement (oil crises of the 70's, British wood shortages of the 17th and 18th centuries, etc.)

However, when we see a constant series of articles for 50 years or more decrying that we "only" have a 30 year reserve, that does not foretell disaster as the peak oil crowd would suggest, but rather a stable and healthy market. When the numbers begin to swing up and down crazily, then I would worry, but when numbers remain as stable as both oil and lithium have, they are a reason for confidence, not fear.

POSTSCRIPT

Some would argue that sudden increases in use would lead to shortages as well, and thus would argue a lithium crisis is likely. And, perhaps under some circumstances that might be possible. If a good were easy to obtain, and working it required little capital, and the good remained relatively cheap right up to the shortage, then perhaps it would be possible. But in the case of lithium, we are talking about an industry requiring massive capital outlay and where converting to alternate minerals is time consuming and costly. So, if a company is investing in large scale lithium use, odds are very good they have guaranteed one or more sources of supply, and are comfortable with the future prospects. And so, it seems unlikely there will be a sudden shortage due to increased demand.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Upcoming Posts

I am scheduled to leave Friday, so not a lot of time left to get new material posted. I have four unfinished essays which I may be able to complete, at least complete one or two of them, and I have one other idea that struck me today which I may try to write. However, I don't believe I will get anything like all five finished, much less anything beyond that.

On the other hand, I am sure while I am away for two weeks I will get a number of ideas, and so after I return, there should be a number of new posts, so, if nothing else, please check back the third and fourth weeks in July.

And to all my readers, see you when I get back.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Clinton Mark II?

NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

I know that many are arguing that Hillary would prove to be a repeat of the first Clinton co-presidency, but I have to say, in terms of policy, it appears that Obama is far more likely to be another Clinton than Mrs. Clinton is.

Let us look at the facts. Both were adept at running content free campaigns, both had ideologies far to the left of their platforms, both promised "change", and both ran on charisma rather than any coherent platform. Even in terms of trivialities they seem quite similar. They both seemed unable to avoid scandals, even doing things that prolonged scandals they could have avoided. And Obama is trying to make this even more similar by campaigning against an unpopular Bush rather than McCain.

However, there is one major difference, Clinton ran on domestic policy during a time of relative peace, while Obama is running largely on domestic policy during a time of huge threat. And that is where the danger of another "feel good" Clinton-type presidency lies. Even during the relatively peaceful 1990's, Clinton's willful ignorance of foreign affairs set the stage for 9/11, a nuclear North Korea, Putin's expansionism, and China's as well. By ignoring foreign policy, Clinton gave the impression that the US was uninterested in the rest of the world, allowing foreign leaders to carry on as they wished, creating many of the threats we see today.

Were we to elect Obama, with his fondness for talk, we would be setting the stage for much, much worse. Foreign nations were temporarily confused by Bush's foreign policy, unsure if the US was breaking with its weak foreign policy of the Clinton years. The endless congressional bickering and Bush weakness in face of public disapproval made them think that perhaps Iraq and Afghanistan were flukes, and the US really is no longer a player in international affairs. An Obama presidency would confirm that. Which means the US would no longer be able to reign in any of these rogue states.

It may not cause any direct harm immediately. Far more likely we would be left alone for a time while states around the globe carried out their plans for consolidation. Instead of any attacks on US interests, we would see Russian power quietly expanding into eastern Europe and Central Asia. China would absorb Taiwan and try to exert influence over Southeast Asia and Japan. Chavez would export revolution to the Caribbean and South and Central America. Israel would suffer an unprecedented wave of attacks, openly sponsored by neighboring states. Iran would try to exercise control over the Middle East, and maybe parts of Central Asia. Even North Korea may try to enter the fray, using its willingness to export technology to establish some client states among the smaller dictatorships in which the other powers are not interested. Only once these foreign states were confident in their power would we start to see attacks on American interests. Maybe not until after Obama left office.

The problem is, by them it would be too late. Just as the Clinton presidency allowed al Qaida and others to establish networks and set up massive support networks, an Obama presidency would give foreign aggressors time to establish strong power bases around the world, as well as establish terrorist networks of their own. By the time someone struck, we would no longer be in a position to defend ourselves.

Of course, the US is a strong, wealthy nation. Even with eight years in which to prepare, other nations may still not be strong enough to attack us with impunity, we would likely survive. But what if rather than direct attacks, they attacked us through terrorist proxies? With no one at whom to strike, what would we do? 

Do we really want to start the war on terror anew in eight years? Or do we want to finish it now?

We just cannot afford another presidency which turns a blind eye to international affairs. Or which has infinite faith in the power of negotiations.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/05/26.



The Second Coming (Of Howard Dean)


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

I had a bit of a revelation today. I was thinking about Obama. About his massive support among usually apathetic college age students. About his successful fund raising. His ability to defeat established politicians who should have won. His grassroots support. His internet presence. His image as a "different kind" of politician.

It all started to sound a little familiar.

Does anyone else recall a guy named Howard Dean? He too was a candidate out of left field, who tapped into a "youth revolution". Who had massive fund raising and exploited the internet. Except for the racial angle, Howard Dean and Barrack Obama could be twins.

Except that Obama won Iowa and so he never had to mimic the Dean Scream. And by the time his real idiocies took place, whether Reverend Wright or the proposal to invade Pakistan, he was safely inside a media bubble, preventing most of the public form hearing enough about his blunders to realize what a dolt he really is.

It is funny when you think about it. Had Howard Dean won Iowa, he may have been giving speeches in Berlin about being a citizen fo the world.

So, next time someone insists Obama is unique, something new, a completely different phenomenon, remind them of the Deaniacs who preceded the Obamaniacs.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/08/03.



How The Media Will Kill Obama


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

I have recently read a few columns suggesting McCain needs to take what little time in the spotlight he gets during the convention and use it to highlight media bias. But I think that would be a mistake. Outside of paid ads, McCain will have very limited neutral or positive media time, and he should use it to build himself up, not attack Obama or the media. An attack would play into the image of McCain as cranky and angry. He needs to play the Reagan card and be positive and optimistic, to steal Obama's "change" thunder a little bit. And if he does it with some specifics, he will not only steal Obama's thunder, but show up how hollow Obama's platitudes are.

Even if McCain never mentions media bias, it is hardly going to go unnoticed. After the Obama love-in over the past few days, even left wing sites are beginning to question if the press isn't just a bit obsequious when it comes to the messiah from Chicago. And if the left is noticing, that may actually give permission for a few comedians to start broaching the subject. Of course, they will be pilloried by cranky Obama fanatics, but that actually works in McCain's favor. The humorless supporters of Obama just serve to make their candidate look worse, and coming down hard on comedians does nothing to improve their image.

But the main source of coverage about media bias will be the biased media itself. If one thing is true today it is that the media is both self-absorbed and self-obsessed. They believe that nothing is more important than news, and nothing is important unless the news covers it, and, as a corollary, they imagine there is no more interesting topic than how the news is covered. Think of how often you have heard the media navel-gazing and asking whether they cover something too much or not enough. And with Obama their new favorite topic, it is inevitable that they will begin more and more frequently to "address charges" that they are biased in favor of Obama.

Of course, they will certainly find that their coverage is fair and impartial, but that won't matter. People will have heard that even the press is asking whether they might be biased, and the people will draw their own conclusions. The press' self-serving exoneration will be meaningless, what will matter in the end is what people see, and they will see what is clearly there, a press which is simply in love with Obama.

So no need for McCain to even mention the topic, the press will raise and dismiss the charges themselves. He should instead take the high road, stick to concrete, positive proposals, mixed with big, upbeat messages. Leave the criticism of the press to the press itself, and leave the generalities to Obama. Be positive, present a big picture, but fill in the details, and he will have no problem taking Obama.

POSTSCRIPT
I have mentioned it several times before, but I feel I need to mention it one last time. Press coverage gives the impression Obama is enjoying mass appeal, but the numbers tell a different story. Obama is not even enjoying the full support of his own party, much less the independents or cross-over voters. He is a niche candidate with good PR. Basically, he is a photogenic mixed-race McGovern or Carter. He has a solid left voting record, limited experience, and, when he does present a concrete proposal, it is inevitably more of the same from the far left wing of the Democrat Party. 

Worse for him, his base contains a large percentage of college age voters, who, though they puff up poll numbers and provide volunteers, and maybe even some money, very rarely vote in significant numbers, so his poll numbers may actually be still too optimistic as well.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/07/28.



Captain Kirk Returns


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

Does everyone recall those episodes of the original Star Trek where Captain Kirk would ramble on and on until he literally talked a computer to death? Apparently, that is the Obama campaign's model for foreign policy.

While he supports invading allies such as Pakistan, and thinks that sanctions worked for Iraq, he thinks sanctions are a bad idea for Cuba, and he will instead talk Castro into "libertad".

I won't go into this in detail, as I think I need to write a much longer post on the follies of the Obama foreign policy positions, such as they are. However, I do have one question. Obama has offered to allow remittances to family, but won't lift trade embargoes, so what exactly are the relatives going to spend those US dollars on? 

Well, as I said, I think I will write at greater length on the ever-shifting, inconsistent sound bites which form the Obama foreign policy. So, for now, I will just ask Obama boosters precisely what Obama is going to say that will suddenly turn Cuba and Iran into model democracies? 

POSTSCRIPT

It is a shame Doc Steech isn't drawing his cartoons any longer, this just calls out for a cartoon. Obama in a Star Trek pull over, Raul Castro as NOMAD. 
Raul-Nomad: I am Communist, I am perfect.
Obama-Kirk: No, you are in error.
Raul-Nomad: Who are you say that?
Obama-Kirk: I am the Obama, the savior.
Raul-Nomad: You are post racial, yet attend a black separatist church... you are a dogmatic liberal, yet a uniter... does not compute, danger danger!
Sadly, I think some on the left really think that is going to happen. Or maybe Raul will be so overwhelmed by the awesome presence of The Obama that he will simply do whatever is asked of him.

The more I listen to Obama the farther and farther from reality he seems to be. If he really believes what his campaign is claiming, he is dangerously delusional. McCain may not be my first choice, or in the top 100, but even Hillary is better than Obama. At least she is only a corrupt socialist, she doesn't seem to have strange messianic delusions about herself.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/05/26.



Who is Obama? Part II


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

For those who did not like my earlier theory on who Obama most closely resembles, I offer an alternate theory. Again, I won't mention CarterClintonHoward Dean, or McGovern, not even Captain Kirk or the Segway, as I have argued for all of those before. Instead, I am going to revive yet another old idea, though one I did not develop at the time.

Obama is young, charismatic, has had a fine education and received early entrance into the upper echelons of his profession. Several senior practitioners helped him along, making it easier for him to break into his profession. Some claim that he succeeded entirely because of his race, while others disagree, but it is clear to everyone, though no one mentions it, that his race makes it easier for him, both drawing notice because someone of his race is succeeding so early in life, and also encouraging others to cover up his errors.

On top of that he is charismatic, and often allows that charisma to take the place of real ideas. He sometimes makes statements that are completely untrue, but others do not point it out. In short, his success is more the result of a glib tongue rather than any innate ability, and his race, along with a few powerful mentors early in his career, have helped him succeed despite some major mistakes that would have crushed anyone else, even outright lies are often blithely ignored by the media due to a fondness for him.

All of which makes Obama, not Carter or Clinton, but the Jayson Blair of politics.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/05.



One For The Geeks


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

I was thinking about the Obama campaign recently, and despite all my previous efforts, I think I have now come up with absolutely perfect description of Obama. He's Arnold Rimmer. 

For those two readers who have heard of Red Dwarf, just think about it. Think of Obama's camapign recently, trying to substitute campaigning for experience, turn every minor accomplishment into a major triumph, and then think of the Arnold Rimmer song:
If you're in trouble, he will save the day
He's brave and he's fearless, come what may
Without him, the mission would go astray
He's Arnold, Arnold, Arnold Rimmer
Without him, life would be much grimmer
He's handsome, trim, and no one's slimmer
He will never need a Zimmer
He's Arnold, Arnold, Arnold Rimmer
More reliable than a garden Strimmer
He's never been mistaken for Yul Brynner
He's not bald and his head doesn't glimmer
Master of the wit and the repartee
His command of space directives is uncanny
How come he's such a genius? Don't ask me
Ask Arnold, Arnold, Arnold Rimmer
He's also a fantastic swimmer
And if you play your cards right, then he just might come round for dinner
He's Arnold, Arnold, Arnold Rimmer
No rhymes left now apart from quimmer
He'd better fade us out before we get to schlimmer
Fade out you stupid plimmer
It could almost be Obama's campaign song, couldn't it? Though I don't know if Obama has either a bronze or silver swimming certificate.
And, now that I have puzzled 99% of my readers, I will return to my usual, slightly more comprehensible posts.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/16.



Who Does Obama Resemble?


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

In the past we have heard people describe Obama as the second coming of Carter. And I have previously argued in his tendency to surround himself with scandal ridden associates and his faith in the omnipotence of negotiation he resembles Bill Clinton. However, I think in some regards he is more like another president.

In the most recent Carol Platt Liebau article, she mentions an article which called Obama a "one man gaffe machine," and recent events tend to support that characterization. In addition, Obama shows a lack of comfort with the press outside of carefully scripted events, a senseless loyalty to friends even when they are political liabilities and a desire to control things completely, such as his move of the DNC to Chicago, but also has a tendency to become flustered when confronted with unexpected questions.

I am sorry to say this, but in his outward characteristics, Obama most resembles our current president.

POSTSCRIPT
I am not saying that, in any way, Obama's character is like that of the president, just that he seems to possess a number of superficial character traits similar to those mocked by the Democrats when Bush exhibits them.

For example: Bush's loyalty to Brown is very like Obama's loyalty to Wright. Or Bush's many "Bushisms" are much like Obama's "Obamanalities" and "Obamanations", or whatever you want to call them. Bush's much decried "secrecy" resembles Obama's "distance from the press". And so on.

Somehow I doubt any Democrat will be noticing this anytime soon, however.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/06/16.



Would You Bet Your Life on a Segway?


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

How many people recall the marketing hype surrounding "Ginger"? Back in the early part of the year 2000, there was all this talk of "Ginger", a new invention which would change the very way we lived. It was revolutionary and new and most of all, undefined. It was the best marketing pitch one could hope for, as all its claims could not be tested since no one knew what they were describing. Anything can be true when you don't know what they describe.

Unfortunately, every pitch eventually has to deliver, and the same for "Ginger". And when it did it was... the Segway. This goofy looking crossbreed of scooter and parking meter is going to change our lives?  If Moses had gathered up the shattered tablets and said "Guys, it was just a joke" it would have only been slightly more of a let down.

Move ahead seven years, and we see Ginger Mark II. Except this time instead of using vague claims to pitch an unknown product, they are using vague claims to pitch an intentionally undefined politician. Obama is the second coming of the Ginger marketing plan. Rather than a platform or political beliefs he has "change" and "hope". He won't tell us what he believes, where he is leading us, anything. He is an unknown being sold with hyperbolic hype.

And just like the Ginger, he is getting tons of favorable press, and a huge amount of word of mouth.

And just like Ginger, as we learn what is behind the hype, more and more people are feeling tremendous disappointment. And more will come to feel that disappointment, as his real beliefs become ever more clear. He won't be able to hide forever, and, when he finally comes out form behind the curtain, the disappointment about Ginger won't hold a candle to the disappointment many of his backers will feel.

As I ask in the title, would you bet your future on a Segway? Well, why wager it on an unknown like Obama?

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/08/21.



Who is Obama?


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

Many pundits, myself included, have tried to come up with an analogy for Obama. We have tried Carter, due to his belief in talking his enemies to death and his "roll over and play dead" foreign policy. We have tried Clinton due to his efforts to campaign without saying what he actually believes. I even tried Wendell Wilkie to emphasize that we have only had one contender with less political experience than Obama. Others have suggested still other analogies, such as Huey Long, but none, so far as I know, have come up with the analogy I am now going to propose.

Obama is Dan Quayle.

Oh, not the real Dan Quayle who is, by all reports, a nice, smart guy who has a deep love of country and a sharp mind. But the Democrat caricature of Dan Quayle, the idiot who really thinks Murphy Brown is a newscaster and doesn't know how to spell potato. It is that media caricature of Quayle which best fits Obama.

How so?

First, let us look at his many, many gaffes. Quayle was famed for saying the wrong thing, though most of thsoe attributed to him turn out, on farther investigation, to be false (eg. the Latin America quote). On the other hand, Obama really has said some truly bizarre things. "Dropped the bomb on Pearl Harbor", his grandfather's liberation of Auschwitz, the 57 states with one to go, sending Arabic speakers to Afghanistan, and all the rest. Obama has made so many verbal misstatements that, were he a Republican, he would have been labeled a moron by the press long ago.

Nor is that all. Like the childish naif the press created from Quayle, Obama is also prone to take people at face value, rather than truly understanding a situation. It is the only possible explanation for his belief in the power of talking. He thinks we can talk to Iran because they say we can, he appears to have never considered that they might use talks to buy time while they finish their bombs. And, perhaps, his naive faith in others even explains his many positions on Israel. He could just be lying to please his audience, but it is also possible that, in any given situation, he takes statements at face value, so to Israel boosters he thinks talking won't work, while pro-Palestinians convince him talk is a great idea.

I admit it isn't a perfect match. Obama isn't quite as innocent and guileless as the fictional Quayle was. He thinks he can put one over on people, though it often fails. But in terms of flubs and naivete, or at least the appearance of both, he really does quite a good job of mimicking the image of Quayle the press created in the 80's.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/05.



Best of the Web Imitates Me VI


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

Once again, your humble author has scooped the Wall Street Journal.

Three days ago, I suggested that Obama was best described as either Jayson Blair or Dan Quayle. And today, the Best of the Web opinion page of the Wall Street Journal writes:

So Obama concedes that the McCain campaign has not done what he accused it of doing--and in the course of doing so, he manages to refer to "my Muslim faith"!
We hasten to stipulate that Obama is not a Muslim (not that there's anything wrong with that). But he does seem to have a penchant for verbal miscues. After John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, some Democratic operative described her as "Dan Quayle in a dress." Obama is looking increasingly like Dan Quayle in a headscarf.
Now, should they also describe Obama as  CarterClintonHoward Dean,McGovernCaptain Kirk and a Segway scooter, I will know someone on their staff is reading my site.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/08.



Best of the Web Imitates Me (Almost) VIII


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

Read my last "Best of the Web Imitates Me" post. Note the part at the end where I list all the comparisons I made for Obama. Well, they didn't compare Obama to Captain Kirk, but they use the same analogy I did, Captain Kirk talking a computer to death.

Sadly, they used it to describe the illogical position of the Washington post claiming it is not a reliable source of information, while I used it to mock Obama's plans to talk tyrants into behaving, but it is still bizarre to see Best of the Web hitting all the same analogies I have used, and using them in quite similar contexts.

Now, if they mention the pre-release advertising of the Segway, I am certain one of their staff has been reading my site.

CORRECTION
Oops. That wasn't my last post, but the post before last. My last was about the press preemptively excusing Obama's loss.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/22.



Best of the Web Imitates Me IX (But Get A Point I Missed)


NOTE: These essays are all reproduced from my defunct blog "Random Notes". All are cited in "The Return of Malaise", mentioning my many analogies between Obama and various individuals, all made during his first presidential race (mostly during the primaries). I confess I underestimated his chances, and anticipated too much press scrutiny (easy to do as he received absolutely none), but looking back, my criticisms still seem quite valid after one and one half terms as president. I may have called the race wrong, but my descriptions still ring true to me.

No, they didn't compare Obama to a Segway, so no confirmation yet that they read my posts, but they did bring up the same topic as my post from the middle of last night, that delusions about hidden racism in ads linking Obama to the Fannie Mae CEO is absurd.

However, they added one point I am amazed I overlooked. If someone is a racist already, why would Republicans have to appeal to racism? They might have to link a Dukakis or Clinton to blacks in order to appeal to racism, but Obama IS black. If you're racist, you aren't voting for him anyway, so why would Republicans need to tie him to other blacks?

I am kicking myself for missing such an obvious point.

POSTSCRIPT

They also mentioned my two favorite liberal non sequiturs, the "southern strategy" and Reagan's supposed covertly racist speech in 1980. It seems whenever race and politics come up, they must mention these two, the same way anti-Semites can link the USS Liberty to any topic whatsoever. I still don't know what either topic has to do with 90% of the contexts in which they are mentioned, but apparently invoking them makes liberals feel better, so perhaps they are part of some liberal catechism of which I am unaware.

UPDATE

In my postscript I said antisemites love to bring up the USS Liberty. I forgot that those who think evil Jews are behind all the  ills of the world like to be called anti-zionists and often claim that they don't hate Jews, just Israelis, and the "Israel Lobby", and their fellow travelers, and... Well, eventually the list includes every Jew but George Soros, so I don't really get the distinction, but, for the sake of those who care about names I will correct myself and call them "anti-Zionists". 

For similar reasons I try to remember to call isolations "anti-interventionists", yet another distinction without a difference. I do draw the line at calling liberals "progressives" or, worse yet, "moderates". I have my limits.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/09/23.



Welcome to the 70's

NOTE: These essays were reproduced from my now defunct blog "Random Notes" as I mentioned them in my essay "A Question of Perspective", but did not copy them. Now that they are available, I shall add links to that essay.

I just realized why the past few years feel so familiar. We are living through the seventies again.

I have already spoken about Obama's similarity to Carter. His tendency to spend and inflate. His almost "malaise" speeches about how things will just get worse. Even his expansion of power are similar to Carter;s tendency to create large federal bureaucracies, like the Department of Education. 

On top f that, we have an unpopular war that ius dragging on, just as we did in the early seventies. And it even appears our government's reluctance to pursue things with any energy is leading the enemy to seize upon a chance to turn loss into victory. (I know flower children hate to hear this, but Vietnam could easily have been won after Tet had we showed any determination.)

Even our pop culture reminds me of the seventies. We have a strange combination of nostalgia and futurism, arguing simultaneously all our best days are behind us or ahead. In the seventies it was a combination of nostalgia of the fifites, mixed with bicentennial period historical fetishism. In our era, it is the tendency to make a trend of every past decade, be it the eighties, the seventies or the sixties. And then we have the future. In the seventies, it was the space age, the promise of exploration of the universe. In ours, it is "technology" and anything electronic. Computers hold the promise of some vaguely defined bright new future, the way space did in the seventies.

Oh, there is a lot more, the environmentalist movement, the revival of sixties style protests, and more. But more than anything, it is just a vague feeling, something indescribable. But something about the past few years just brings to mind what I can recall of an early childhood that coincided pretty precisely with the seventies. I can't put a finger on it, but there is something that makes the two feel quite similar.
  
Update (2012/05/17): I forgot to link to my earlier post "The Return of Malaise", which seems quite relevant.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2012/04/10.

The Return of Malaise


NOTE: These essays were reproduced from my now defunct blog "Random Notes" as I mentioned them in my essay "A Question of Perspective", but did not copy them. Now that they are available, I shall add links to that essay.


I repeatedly predicted prior to the general election of 2008 that Obama would be another Jimmy Carter. ("The Carter Analogy", "Making the Best of a Bad Situation", "Is It For The Best?", "Memories of Jimmy", "Some Brief Thoughts on the Bailout", "Some Questions from the Obama Speech", "Proving Critics True", "One Last Comment On Obama", "How The Media Will Kill Obama", "At last") I am not certain why he struck me as such, perhaps it was his intent to talk all world leaders into submission, or his bland, idea and content free platforms, maybe it was the way he seemed dead set on inflating us into prosperity. I am not sure, but something about him screamed "James Earl Carter Mark II", and, sure enough, that is exactly what he has been. 

In a way, this is a good thing, as had he been another FDR or Wilson, we would have had much more harm to undo. Not that Carter didn't do enough damage, but his harm was the sort that could be remedied, though Reagan did much more to correct the economic ("The Reagan Lesson", though see also "Still Convinced?") than the foreign relations damage ("Lebanon and Saint Reagan", "The Carter Analogy"). On the other hand, Carter did a lot to demoralize us as well. Thanks to Carter we got used to inflation as an everyday occurrence, thankful only that it was staying in the single digits. We completely forgot that 5% inflation cuts our savings in half about every 14 years. Carter also made us more comfortable with becoming a nonentity on the world stage, so much so that many sided with Europeans who insisted on calling Reagan a "cowboy", even as his policies bore fruit.

Still, I think, in the long run, Obama may prove more of a nonentity than a creator of new paradigms. His bailouts and stimulus plans will do harm, will probably kill off GM more swiftly than the UAW and market already were, and removing, or neutralizing the atrocity of ObamaCare will probably preoccupy us for the next decade, but in the end, I think history books, looking to puff up his significance, will tend to stress his symbolic importance much more than his accomplishments, and to my grandchildren and great grandchildren he will seem more like Chester A. Arthur, Millard Fillmore and (unfortunately my ancestor) Benjamin Harrison, all those presidents who had some accomplishments, but whose specific deeds are hard for the general public to recall, rather than another Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, FDR or even a Woodrow Wilson.

POSTSCRIPT


In the interest of honesty, I will admit to once also comparing Obama to Allende ("A Thought on Analogies"), a comparison which, fortunately, has not stood up thanks to his largely inept reign. Not that Allende was not equally inept, but the Chilean system of the time granted even inept leaders much more leeway than our present system grants inept presidents, so he has been unable to live up to this description.

In addition, at times I compared him to Bill ClintonHoward Dean, George McGovernCaptain James T. KirkJayson BlairArnold Rimmer, the second President George Bush,  the Segway scooter and the popular image of Dan Quayle.  (Cf "Best of the Web Imitates Me VI", "Best of the Web Imitates Me (Almost) VIII" and "Best of the Web Imitates Me IX (But Get A Point I Missed)".)

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2011/12/29.