Thursday, June 28, 2007

The kind of war we can win

Did you notice the story yesterday about unrest in Tehran? You see these stories pop up occasionally, and I'm always disappointed by the lack of fanfare that accompanies them.

Everyone frets about war with Iran, myself included, and such dire predictions of global conflict always receive great media coverage. But when the possibility of avoiding such a conflict arises, it passes without analysis. We have a real opportunity to win the war against Iran without ever firing a missile.

A couple of hard facts about Iran: the $70/barrel price of oil has the government swimming in money. They've chosen to spend this money unwisely...building up their military, funding terrorism, and subsidizing gasoline...instead of expanding their oil-refining capacity and building their economy. Despite being one of the world's largest oil producers, they are forced to import 40% of the gasoline they consume from other countries. In addition, thanks to the subsidies and other restrictive goverment policies, inflation is skyrocketing in Iran: it's at 17% and climbing.

As knuckleheads tend to do, the Ahmadinejad government is quickly enacting laws that will make the problem even worse. By rationing gasoline, they'll not only drive up the price of illegal gasoline, but they'll stall the Iranian economy at the same time by limiting consumption. This delicious mix of stagflation is already causing riots in the capital.

If we play our diplomatic cards correctly, putting the economic screws to Iran with the support of the U.N., without provoking military action, the Iranian people just may take care of this problem for us. Whether the downfall comes through legitimate elections or open revolution, the Ahmadinejad government isn't long for this world. If Bush can just keep his missiles in his pants long enough, we might win a war without a single American casualty, and without losing even more credibility with the rest of the world.

Now if we instead attack Iran, the people are more likely to unify against an aggressor. They are more likely to overlook hardship in the name of defending their country. Let's hope that Georgie does the right thing for once.

Just imagine what kind of trouble the Iranian economy will suffer when oil prices come down. At $40 oil, Iran won't be able to subsidize terrorism or gasoline.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Book Rant: Phantom

Phantom is the penultimate installment of Terry Goodkind's long-running Sword of Truth series.

Just like the rest of the books, I was able to pick it up and get involved with the characters quickly. I read all 600 pages in a couple of days. Sounds like I really enjoyed it, right?

Goodkind is the friend you once welcomed into your home, but his constant presence long ago wore thin. He seemed funny and fresh at that first dinner party, but after the fourth or fifth visit you were sick of cleaning up the empty soda cans he left all over your house. You started to feel uncomfortable about the writhing anger that bubbles underneath his charming wit. You stopped inviting other friends over when he's there, because of the awkward and embarrassing moments he orchestrates. You anticipate his visits, but shortly after he arrives you begin to aniticipate his departure. You keep inviting him over, because you have this fond picture of what you thought he was, even though he keeps coming up short when measured against that image.

First, he's cruel. I was wide-eyed reading Wizard's First Rule, as the graphic and endless depictions of torture (of the main character, no less) in a fantasy novel surprised me. In addition, the torture served to underscore both the undeniable evil of the bad guys as well as the strength and heroism of the good guy. (Of course, the torturer was an exquisitely beautiful, athletic, and battle-trained woman who wore an outfit of skin-tight leather; dark red leather so the blood wouldn't show. This probably made the torture a bit easier to swallow.)

But after ten books of graphic torture and violence, I'm not wide-eyed anymore. I rotate between numb and disgusted as I read about yet another city mercilessly laid to waste by the evil invaders. The bad guys are now I get it.

Second, he's preachy. He's an Ayn Rand disciple, but he's even less subtle and more repetitive. His rants against self-sacrifice, socialism, and religion are recycled over and over again. His depiction of a society that quickly descends into barbarism as a result of these beliefs would be chilling if it wasn't completely overdone. Did you miss the implication that this facet of society was directly caused by the abandonment of rationality? Don't worry, just read the rest of the book and he'll explicitly explain the connection three times.

Third, he's formulaic. Look, I've tried to write and it's really hard. I'd be happy to be formulaic if I could only finish something that I started. But if you're going to write a 10+ book series, then you better be prepared to mix up your style a little bit if you want to keep readers interested. He's got certain characters that are inviolate, but he continues to attempt to create suspense by pretending he's going to cross the barriers with those characters that he's spent ten books defining. I don't think it takes a stunning intellect to understand when the author is simply yanking your chain, and it's neither suspenseful nor entertaining.

This should have been a relatively solid seven-book series instead of wordy eleven-book one. I've become attached to the main characters and their fiery passion, but I only continue to read this series to see how it ends. I'm sure Goodkind doesn't care, as long as he gets my $7, but I couldn't seriously recommend this series to someone else because the time invested is not worth the payoff. I don't care what the ending is (I'll find out in November), but no way will I suggest to a friend that they should read 11 books of over 500 pages to get there.

I've already started reading another book, The Engines of God. It seemed like a promising mix of sci-fi and archaeology, so I thought I'd give this author a try. The book is about finding the ruins of an advanced alien civilization (but no aliens), but just as a throw-in, the author notes that everyone on Earth is living in domes because of the constant hurricanes, storms, and famine caused by...unchecked global warming.

Awesome. I can't wait to see what other brilliant ideas he might have about the future. Maybe I'll just re-read Phantom.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Man, I don't know anything

For those of you who actually remember your science classes, or have been using that part of your brain actively since college, I'll probably sound like a babbling idiot in this post.

I'm reading The God Effect now, and while it's a completely crappy book, it has inspired me to think about and research topics beyond the everyday banalities of work, child-rearing, and my golf game.

And I'm amazed, really. Amazed at how little I remember from my academic years (I actually passed a quantum physics course at PSU) and at how little I actually understood the bits I do remember.

But for all the cool weirdness about quantum entanglement, I'm enjoying more the other bits of pieces of scientific knowledge I'm picking up from from this book. Stuff like Einstein's thought experiements with simultaneity and its implications on time travel. Or that pushing one end of metal beam doesn't cause the other end to move instanteously...the molecules of the beam compress together in a rippling effect that travels through the beam at the speed of light (that's a force, not light, travelling at the speed of light. Why?) Or how light can only theoretically exist if it moves at 186,000 miles/second, because only at that speed can the magnetism of the wave generate just enough electricy to generate the magnetism (huh?) And finally, what the hell is the deal with gravity?

That last topic led me to do a little Googling, and I uncovered this interesting hypothesis: the Big Spin Theory of Gravity. I can't explain it as well as the website itself, but it basically offers a theory on the cause of the curvature of space-time, as specified in Einstein's general relativity. And yes, that's the same theory of general relativity which may or may not have been disproven by quantum physics.

It's fun stuff, and basically gives us a little peak at the vast wealth of knowledge we've yet to uncover. We just don't know very much at all. At least I don't.