All posts by Raywat

Economy Shmeconomy

This website is a ranking of the world’s economies by GDP. It’s a useful resource for keeping the world in perspective. The next time you hear a news report about the “faltering” US economy, for example, remember that the American economy (ranked top in the world at over $10 trillion) is bigger than the next four combined (Japan, Germany, UK and France). What’s really interesting is that both Luxembourg and Norway have larger per capita GDPs than the USA!

Also interesting is that poor little Tuvalu, with a GDP worth a mere $14 million, is actually poorer than the Vatican!

Canada, meanwhile, has the world’s 8th largest economy, but in terms of per capita GDP is barely richer than either Qatar or the Vatican.

What does all this mean? Who the fuck knows.

Iraqi Elections and the Asses of Dogs

“Let’s not forget that for all the president’s soaring

rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy, free

elections were the administration’s fallback position.

More Plan D than guiding principle. We were initially

going to install Ahmed Chalabi as our man in Baghdad,

remember? Then that shifted to the abruptly

foreshortened reign of ‘Bremer of Arabia.’ The White

House only consented to holding open elections after

Grand Ayatollah Sistani sent his followers into the

streets to demand them — and even then Bush refused

to allow the elections until after our presidential

campaign was done, just in case more suicide bombers

than voters turned up at Iraqi polling places.”

Arianna Huffington

Iraqi elections. Big freakin’ deal. Sure, it’s great that Saddam is gone and it’s great that Iraqis finally have a say (or at least so it seems) in who governs them. But at what price? If one more flipflopping talking head mutters, “maybe Bush was right,” I’m going to slap someone hard. Let me break it down for you: if tomorrow US rangers start handing out bricks of gold and all the goats start shitting hummus and pissing vodka, none of it would be worth what this war has cost: 100,000 corpses. Nothing short of the dead rising from their graves can possibly make Bush “right.” (Ironically, as a believer in the rapture, that’s exactly what he expects to happen.)

This past week I was lucky to attend the 2nd regional meeting of the Canada-USA Clinical Epidemiology Network in Montebello, Quebec. I somehow managed to squeeze in regular gym workouts, swims, hikes, cross-country skiing, broomball and –best of all– dogsledding! This is a photo of the the pooches’ asses, taken on my trusty Treo 600:

Here’s some interesting news. I was recently contacted by Thomson-Gale Publishing regarding one of my very old wrestling columns. It seems they want to republish the article in a textbook on “alternative views.” The question that I, ever the mercenary, must ask myself: what do I charge them?

What’s This Got to Do With the Price of Oil in China?

I am one of many who are guilty of promoting energy panic, the fear that the world’s diminishing supply of renewable energy sources poses a threat, not only to continued economic growth, but to civilization itself. But some pause must be taken when supporting such extreme platforms.

Slate points out that only 40% of Western energy usage depends upon oil. The rest comes from gas, uranium and coal. Now, clearly there are environmental and health consequences to having such great dependence on such sources, but at least things like uranium have the potential to sustain civilization for centuries to come, assuming care can be taken to safely dispose of nuclear waste. Hydroelectric power also continues to grow as a source of societal energy. The role of oil, then, is mostly in keeping our cars running.

This is not a small thing, as the running of vehicles, primarily trucks and ships, is what makes our modern industrial economy possible. If North America’s truck fleet were grounded for two days, cities would begin to starve. I suppose it’s possible to gradually shift transportation demands to less convenient but more oil efficient methods, such as via train. But that would be costly over the short-term; one of the reasons we presently enjoy comparatively cheap prices for our goods is that the cost of transporting them from areas of cheap production has declined over the past few decades –though threaten to rise again with the rise in oil prices.

And why are oil prices rising? Because there is a limited supply of the stuff and an accelerating demand, due in large part to the voracious expanding economies of China and India.

But wait… Respected astronomer and geologist Thomas Gold (1920-2004) expounded a revolutionary theory for years: that oil and other so-called “fossil fuels” (which include natural gas and coal) are not made by dead organic matter, like vegetation and dinosaurs, but rather are continuously produced by the planet. If true, this means that there is no long-term oil shortage crisis, though it’s possible that human demand may still outstrip the Earth’s ability to produce the stuff.

Does this mean I will abandon my crusade to get the world to become less dependent on oil? Not at all. Until more evidence is obtained and a scientific concensus is achieved, we must proceed on the assumption that the old “fossil fuel” model holds; best to err on the side of conservatism in this case, much like erring on the side of preventing global warming. There is also the political dimension to consider, that there is leverage and advantage to be gained in diversifying one’s energy portfolio.

But while we stay the conservation course, we should remain open to the possibility that current scientific belief is wrong. As Michael Crichton said, we must be led by the data.

Elections in a US-occupied Country

Thanks to Mischa for drawing my attention to the following. From the New York Times archives:

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote:

Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times — Sept. 4, 1967

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3– United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government.