Friday, May 30, 2008

You can't stop him, pt II

At the Corner, Rich Lowry suggests that the Republicans should campaign on cheap energy (tied in with other family-based cost of living issues). This is an excellent idea, and I would heartily recommend it, except for the fact that it is completely beyond our power to deliver on. And given that GOP credibility is already at a low, it's not a good idea to push it even lower.

Let's all say it together now, you can't stop high energy prices, you can only hope to contain them. This is something that both the Right and Left (as well as the people at large) have to appreciate and adapt to. We've made some progress on that front, but clearly there's still a long way to go.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Conservatives, the good news

This thumbsucker piece from George Packer in The New Yorker has been all the rage in the blogosphere over the last couple of weeks or so. Let's stipulate that the share price of American conservatism is as low right now as it's ever been in my lifetime. Still I'm less than impressed. I could quibble with this or that meme of Packer's argument, but let's look at the big picture instead.

In terms of any real integrity liberalism (and any other variant further Left) in America has been a spent force since the time Jimmy Carter Administration. It seems a bit odd now, but intelligent people of good will used to believe that the government could take money out of the private sector and solve poverty or other big-ticket societal problems. It looked good for a time, but in the Seventies that bumped up against reality, and in that respect nothing has really changed since then.

We should expect that the voters can and likely will send the GOP out to the wilderness for a while. But whether it's about energy, demographics, health care or Islamic radicalism ultimately the body politic will want answers instead of excuses and liberalism doesn't have any.

Oil, the good news

The big unknown in the oil market is the price elasticity of demand for the industrializing nations. In plain English, there is a price where China, India, and smaller countries which are transitioning out of the third world cannot afford the cost of the oil required for this transition, and if no substitutes are available, such transition will have to stop.

For those cheerleading for the price of oil to go down, this is a hopeful sign. Even here, things are still not simple. The demand for oil among industrializing nations is inflated by subsidies, but not created by them. If the market price per barrel of oil is $200, how many barrels does the Chinese or Malaysian consumer want, assuming he has to pay full price? Nobody knows exactly, but there is one fact that is very ominous, for me at least. Per capita consumption of oil in China could triple, and it would still be less than Mexico. My guess is that there is a lot more pain to be felt before this beast is back in the cage.

The Wire, RIP

It's been a few months now that The Wire concluded its run on HBO, and I meant to write something sooner, but better late than never I guess. It's a five-season epic about modern Baltimore and its corruptions, including (just for starters) drug dealers, cops, dockworkers, lawyers, newspapers, politicians, and the education system. If you haven't seen it, go out and get the DVDs. Otherwise, it's pretty difficult to describe the narrative immensity of the show. Critics like to throw off parenthetical comments like, "Obviously The Wire is best show ever made for television but....." I don't know if I agree with that or not, but at the minimum it's not a ridiculous idea.

There's too much in it to rehash here, but for now I'll just mention that the show sometimes succeeds in spite of itself. David Simon, one of the major creative forces behind the show, is a notoriously bitter and angry man. And he freely admits to using the show as a vehicle to settle scores, both personal and ideological. But for me at least, the show isn't compelling because of the failures of capitalism in modern urban America, but rather because we care, very much, about the characters in it, whether cops or criminals. And we care, in spite of the fact that their lives are much different than ours in bourgeois America, or maybe even because of it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

State of the Arsenal

I haven't updated this blog with any football (soccer) commentary for a while. For a moment it looked as though my football team was looking much better than my political party, but for the last two months of the season Arsenal FC went on a tailspin to make Alan Keyes proud. From first in the League and sitting in the catbird seat, the Gunners went on a stretch where the earned a whole eight out of 24 League table points (and got dumped out of the FA Cup and the Champions League for good measure). Even so, their eventual third place finish was higher than most pundits predicted before the start of the season, so some supporters see the glass half full on that score.

I personally am less optimistic, at least as with respect to the team as it currently stands. If I thought last year's relative success was a stepping stone to bigger and better things, the disappointment at the end would be tempered. But, the team's current needs are such that addressing them will require team management to do things which are outside their comfort zone. We are about to enter the summer transfer season, and the events that occur then will determine, to a substantial extent, the competitiveness of the team for next season and probably longer. For the 11 years that Frenchman Arsene Wenger has been manager, the team has preferred to buy exceptional, young, raw largely foreign talents and mold them into all-around players over the course of a couple seasons. The current squad has too few players for number of games that the team is expected to play over a season, therefore they need to acquire more immediate contributors and fewer prospects.

This is to say nothing of putting a group of individual talents together as cohesive team, or the difficulties any new acquisitions may face, in some cases adjusting to a new team, new League, new country, and new language. My fear is that Arsenal's unofficial motto will be the reverse of the Chicago Cubs', "Wait till last year."

Friday, May 23, 2008

You can't stop him....... can only hope to contain him.

Among the various things that came out of the basketball career of Michael Jordan, one of them was the introduction of this particular cliche to the sporting world. As it happens, it also describes the current oil market. The important point is that oil prices are high because of a real supply-demand imbalance that has been coming for five years or so and is likely to continue for at least another few years more. This isn't to say that there aren't lots of oil speculators around, but in the end they are not responsible for $135/bbl oil.

I've changed my my mind on this a little bit, largely because of two things.

1. The political sclerosis, NIMBYism, anti-Americanism and other bugaboos surrounding energy production are very real, to the point where we might as well consider them just as real as geological survey results. Oil exploration demands a great deal of energy _and_ time. If we had done certain things differently five or ten years ago, things would be different.

2. The limiting factor in oil production isn't the amount of oil available, but the rate at which it can be extracted. This is obvious in context, but has important consequences for time frame. A new oil field might have X billion bbls of oil there, and as technology improves the percentage that is recoverable goes up. But, the amount that can satisfy the immediate demand in the market might be marginal and in any case is determined by the extraction rate.

The world oil market won't be in equilibrium until we know the point where the price is too high for China and other countries in the early stages of industrialization to continue on that road. If we can look into the future far enough there is reason to be optimistic. Unlike the rest of the developed world, America likes to solve its problems instead of pretending that they don't exist. There's no reason why this has to be an exception. But for that to happen, the American people have to come to full appreciation of the scope of the problem and that hasn't happened yet, though it probably will soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Barack's supporters would like..... thank all the little people.....

.....for getting out of his way.

For the moment let's stipulate that, by now, Barack Obama has the Democratic nomination. It's been clear for a while that this race would be a victory for somebody's identity politics, it was just a matter of whose. And in Obama's case, I don't think it's exclusively, or even primarily, a racial thing. It's more that Obama represents the ever-burgeoning army of lawyers, traders, academics, and other manipulators of information that characterize the New Economy. In particular, he represents them in an identity politics, class-interest way, Presidential affirmative action for those who could care less about which NASCAR driver is switching his racing team.

A few years ago Minneapolis attorney David Lebedoff wrote a short book called _The Uncivil War_. He calls such people the New Elite, and contrasts them to the Left Behinds. The Left Behinds aren't necessarily the present-day Joads, (though clearly Obama is having big problems with those people as well). No, the Left Behinds are those who, no matter how successful they are, have allowed themselves to be defined in the context of family and local community, with all the constraints that come with it. The New Elites, in their own minds, trandscend all of that, which IMO is why so many of them are genuinely angry that to find out that the controversy over some circus clown like Rev. Jeremiah Wright is actually important to voters.

I don't intend to support Obama for President, but I'd like to have some sympathy for him on that score. The problem is, in the United States the President is the head of state as well as the head of government. Obama is just fine as head of state but is woefully unprepared as head of government. I think a fair number of Obama's supporters would see that for themselves if they willing to take a critical look at him, which unfortunately they're not.

Barack Obama just came out in favor of the most recent Farm Bill, now headed for a veto by President Bush. Even by Washington standards this was bloated, special-interest serving don't-look-at-the-sausage-making legislation. I don't think there are too many disinterested people who support this bill with a straight face. Apparently Barack Obama is one of them. There's at least a decent chance we'll have a President Obama in our future, and for me at least, the reality of a President Obama is much less appealing than the fairy tales of the Obama campaign.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Whistling Past the Graveyard, pt. II

For reasons I don't completely understand, the Democratic race is thought by many to be effectively over as of yesterday's primaries. I don't know if I believe that or not, but for the moment let's take that as a given, and that Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee.

Barack Obama has had a bad month, but we shouldn't view this as a revival of the GOP. Jeremiah Wright, Bittergate, Rezko, and lapel pins might be reasons not to vote for Obama, but they will never be positive reasons to support the GOP. The GOP is in urgent need of rebranding, and this isn't it. You could say there isn't much to do right now anyway, but the first thing to do is regain credibility on domestic spending. The GOP has prominent figures who have fought the good fight on this, especially Sen. McCain and Sen. Coburn.

If I had to choose the between a GOP Congress and a Democratic President or the other way around, I'd rather have the Republicans hold Congress. Unfortunately, that's a total pipe dream at this point. Even if John McCain does win in November, the GOP will still have to clean out its stables to be a viable party going forward. We might as well start now.