The long game vs the short game.

I was looking over some old posts I made, back when. Among them was one about when Mr. McCain corrected Mr. Obama in one of the debates in 2008 — and got it wrong. That led to some of the links I cited at the time. This one’s from Jim Fallows, and I think sums up the way Mr. Obama has been criticized ever since. He’s always playing the long game, and a lot of people want him to do something right now that doesn’t really work in those terms. Fallows’ point was that McCain failed to think strategically in his own campaign, while Obama clearly did think that way.

It’s striking how Mr. Obama has shown over the years that tendency to think strategically, and how his critics rarely match him.

Peak oil demand?


The graph shows US consumption of oil, not in barrels, but in quadrillions of BTUs (“quads”).

Topline figures: Consumption in 2005 – a little over 40. And the peak. Consumption in 2015: Just under 35.

Call it decline of 5.5 — or about 13%.

That’s part of why the Saudis keep pumping — demand really has dropped off that much. Even as US GDP has grown from $13.1 trillion to today’s $16.8 trillion.

Let’s say that again — oil use in energy terms has fallen 13% while GDP has grown by 28%. It took roughly 3 quads of energy from oil to make a trillion dollars of GDP in 2005. Today it takes roughly 2 quads.

So it isn’t just the US is producing more oil of our own. It’s also we’ve become much more efficient at using it.


Last night I started reading Hank Paulson’s book, Dealing With China. I’m still in the Introduction, and distracted by the howlers.

For example, Mr. Paulson to the contrary, China is not the largest holder of US debt — the US is. There’s slightly over $18 trillion of US debt. Foreign holders have only $6 trillion of that, or about one-third. The other two-thirds Americans owe to each other. Even among foreign holders, Japan is the largest holder, although that just happened in February of this year, and given long lead times for books Mr. Paulson may be forgiven for that specific oversight.

He also claims the US relationship with China is “our most important bilateral relationship.” Given who our largest trading partner is, and that we share a 5500 mile peaceful border with them, I’m fairly sure our most important bilateral relationship is with Canada, not China. Especially on a military basis — the fact our border hardly needs protecting because we’re so secure with Canada as a neighbor gives us a huge advantage over states not so fortunate.

And while it’s not a howler as such… In over 100 visits, Mr. Paulson says he’s learned no Chinese. Even I recognize 中国, and 你好. No intellectual curiosity at all, eh, Hank?


My wife and I were eating in our local taquería. They had the television tuned to Univision, as they usually do.

I saw a commercial for Microsoft Windows. From Microsoft, en Español.

Which was very strange to me, because when I was most familiar with Microsoft’s internal structure, I knew they had no Spanish-language product support.

According to this phone list at their web site, they still don’t. Moreover, Microsoft’s Spanish-language website isn’t based in the Western Hemisphere, but in Spain.

It continues to confound me how Microsoft can show such contempt to a large segment of the US market — one they’re advertising to, no less.

Don’t Fence Me In

Americans seem to get twitchy when their Executive has very mild instances of trespass. It seems like only yesterday when the White House had to deal with party crashers. Now it’s a man with a knife. Did he intend to use the knife? Hey, who knows… Although, if he meant Mr. Obama harm, it’s tough to see why he would have left “800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete in his car,” when he went on his fence climb. Now, reportedly, the Secret Service wants to screen “tourists and other visitors at checkpoints before they enter the public areas in front of the White House.” Not that such a method would have had any effect on the intruder, but in these kinds of circumstances the syllogism is frequently, “We need to do something; this is something; therefore let’s do it.”

Like last time, Leopold Kohr hangs heavy in the air, writing in 1957 in The Breakdown of Nations:

A citizen of the Principality of Liechtenstein, whose population numbers less than fourteen thousand, (in 1957 when Kohr was writing) desirous to see His Serene Highness the Prince and Sovereign, Bearer of many exalted orders and Defender of many exalted things, can do so by ringing the bell at his castle gate. However serene His Highness may be, he is never an inaccessible stranger. A citizen of the massive American republic, on the other hand, encounters untold obstacles in a similar enterprise. Trying to see his fellow citizen President, whose function is to be his servant, not his master, he may be sent to an insane asylum for observation or, if found sane, to a court on charges of disorderly conduct. Both happened in 1950… You will say that in a large power such as the United States informal relationships such as exist between government and citizen in small countries are technically unfeasible. This is quite true. But this is exactly it. Democracy in its full meaning is impossible in a large state which, as Aristotle already observed, is ‘almost incapable of constitutional government’. (pg. 99-100)

What’s very strange is how, this time, many people (up to and including Congress) seem to want even more distance between the President and the people he serves, even more of a bubble cutting him (or her) off.

Of course, we’re a bigger country than we were even in 2009, so I suppose Kohr would not be surprised.

Well, there you have it:

According to Mr. Bush’s speech last night, Iraq is anywhere from one to five years before being capable of launching a strike against us. Which is why it’s so desperately urgent we hit them… um, tomorrow. {cough}

But the most disturbing thing about this whole scenario is how it plays out if you look at it logically.

There’re two axes here: Either Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), or it doesn’t. And Iraq will either use them, or they won’t.

That means there’re four outcomes, one of which is impossible:

Iraq doesn’t have WMD, and won’t use them. For me, this is the most likely outcome. You can see it all over the place in our own planning, with the devil-may-care attitude we’re showing both about how long this war will last (over quickly enough for Tony Blair to stay PM a day or two, we hope), and the possibilities about retaliation. Then again, that means we’re about to send 300,000 combined troops over to a country looking for weapons that don’t exist. According to some polling data released during today’s Talk of the Nation call-in show, 80% of Americans think Iraq has WMD, and that disarming Iraq is a major criterion for “victory”. (Dear 80% of the US: Iraq is likely already unarmed, and you’re likely to get a massive disappointment.) Either that, or I would look really carfeully at the serial numbers of whatever WMD we “find” — especially after the fiasco of the forgery of the documents purporting to show Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. Also, this is the scenario most likely to generate the previously predicted 1-14 vote in the Security Council calling for sanctions against the US (and maybe the UK, if they’re still in the game).

Iraq has WMD, and uses them. But if that’s true… then we’re sending 300,000 soldiers good and true to basically be burnt to a crisp so the Administration can then justify massive retaliation. And the Administration is doing this knowingly, with malice aforethought. Oddly, this doesn’t comfort me. (Marshmallows at the Reichstag, anyone?)

Iraq has WMD, but won’t use them. This appears to be the Officially Approved Plan. I hope Mr. Hussein has been properly briefed, and he sticks to the script. But it’s the only way to explain the combination of no obvious contingencies for the use of WMD against our trops, intertwined with no apparent hesitation about the fact that months of concentrated effort through inspection, espionage, satellite flybys, and surreptitious signals listening has turned up… radio chatter with nothing else to back it up. {ooh! aah!} Ruel Marc Gerecht appears to have gotten it right in The Atlantic back in July 2001 — our intelligence agencies appear to have about zero assets in the Near East region. Almost every breakthrough we’ve had appears to have been done by either the Israelis or the Pakistanis, with Our Boys brought in at the last minute for the photo op.

Iraq doesn’t have WMD, but will somehow use them. This is the outcome that’s logically impossible. Unless Mr. Hussein just rang up a massive credit card bill tonight. Or unless he just cut a deal with the North Koreans — who almost certainly do have WMD at this point, which is why the Cowardly Lion treats them with such shyness — to bomb us on his behalf.

This post originally appeared in my Livejournal, on the date shown. It’s not 20/20 hindsight.