Friday, March 28, 2008

Our Man in Havana

Cell phones. Internet. Cable. It's just possible Raul will allow the marxist haze to drift away from Cuba and let in the bright light of capitalism and a free economy.

Cuba Lifts Curbs on Cellphone Use

Associated PressMarch 28, 2008 10:18 a.m.

HAVANA -- President Raul Castro's government said it is allowing cellphones for ordinary Cubans, a luxury previously reserved for those who worked for foreign firms or held key posts with the communist-run state.

It was the first official announcement of the lifting of a major restriction under the 76-year-old Mr. Castro, and marked the kind of small freedom many on the island have been hoping he would embrace since succeeding his older brother Fidel as president last month.

Some Cubans previously ineligible for cellphones had already gotten them by having foreigners sign contracts in their names, but mobile phones are not nearly as common in Cuba as elsewhere in Latin America or the world.

Telecommunications monopoly Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A., or ETECSA, said it would allow the general public to sign prepaid contracts in Cuban convertible pesos, which are geared toward tourists and foreigners and worth 24 times the regular pesos Cuban state employees are paid in.

The decree was published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The government controls well over 90% of the economy and while the communist system ensures most Cubans have free housing, education and health care and receive ration cards that cover basic food needs, the average monthly state salary is just 408 Cuban pesos, a little less than $20.

A program in convertible pesos likely will ensure that cellphone service will be too expensive for many Cubans, but ETECSA's statement said doing so will allow it to improve telecommunication systems using cable technology and eventually expand the services it offers in regular pesos.

The statement promised further instructions in coming days about how the new plan will be implemented, and there were no lines of would-be customers mobbing ETECSA outlets as they opened for business.

ETECSA is a mixed enterprise that operates with foreign capital from the Italian communications firm Italcom.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal

David Mamet: Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'
An election-season essay
by David Mamet
March 11th, 2008 12:00 AM

John Maynard Keynes was twitted with changing his mind. He replied, "When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?"

My favorite example of a change of mind was Norman Mailer at The Village Voice.

Norman took on the role of drama critic, weighing in on the New York premiere of Waiting for Godot.

Twentieth century's greatest play. Without bothering to go, Mailer called it a piece of garbage.

When he did get around to seeing it, he realized his mistake. He was no longer a Voice columnist, however, so he bought a page in the paper and wrote a retraction, praising the play as the masterpiece it is.

Every playwright's dream.

I once won one of Mary Ann Madden's "Competitions" in New York magazine. The task was to name or create a "10" of anything, and mine was the World's Perfect Theatrical Review. It went like this: "I never understood the theater until last night. Please forgive everything I've ever written. When you read this I'll be dead." That, of course, is the only review anybody in the theater ever wants to get.

My prize, in a stunning example of irony, was a year's subscription to New York, which rag (apart from Mary Ann's "Competition") I considered an open running sore on the body of world literacy—this due to the presence in its pages of John Simon, whose stunning amalgam of superciliousness and savagery, over the years, was appreciated by that readership searching for an endorsement of proactive mediocrity.

But I digress.

I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it might seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed.

But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.

The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it's at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place.

Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."

This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart?

Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

And I began to question my distrust of the "Bad, Bad Military" of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world. Is the military always right? No. Neither is government, nor are the corporations—they are just different signposts for the particular amalgamation of our country into separate working groups, if you will. Are these groups infallible, free from the possibility of mismanagement, corruption, or crime? No, and neither are you or I. So, taking the tragic view, the question was not "Is everything perfect?" but "How could it be better, at what cost, and according to whose definition?" Put into which form, things appeared to me to be unfolding pretty well.

Do I speak as a member of the "privileged class"? If you will—but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view. That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to college (my grandmother).

On the other hand, the rich and the children of the rich can go belly-up; the hegemony of the railroads is appropriated by the airlines, that of the networks by the Internet; and the individual may and probably will change status more than once within his lifetime.

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?

I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production.

The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the endeavor.

Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact. Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each wants, and in fact needs, to contribute—to throw into the pot what gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status in the new-formed community.

And so they work it out.

See also that most magnificent of schools, the jury system, where, again, each brings nothing into the room save his or her own prejudices, and, through the course of deliberation, comes not to a perfect solution, but a solution acceptable to the community—a solution the community can live with.

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack. The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described independent (read "conservative"), and he was driving the flock wild. Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the quality of political discourse must be addressed first—that Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out.

And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

"Aha," you will say, and you are right. I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

At the same time, I was writing my play about a president, corrupt, venal, cunning, and vengeful (as I assume all of them are), and two turkeys. And I gave this fictional president a speechwriter who, in his view, is a "brain-dead liberal," much like my earlier self; and in the course of the play, they have to work it out. And they eventually do come to a human understanding of the political process. As I believe I am trying to do, and in which I believe I may be succeeding, and I will try to summarize it in the words of William Allen White.

White was for 40 years the editor of the Emporia Gazette in rural Kansas, and a prominent and powerful political commentator. He was a great friend of Theodore Roosevelt and wrote the best book I've ever read about the presidency. It's called Masks in a Pageant, and it profiles presidents from McKinley to Wilson, and I recommend it unreservedly.

White was a pretty clear-headed man, and he'd seen human nature as few can. (As Twain wrote, you want to understand men, run a country paper.) White knew that people need both to get ahead and to get along, and that they're always working at one or the other, and that government should most probably stay out of the way and let them get on with it. But, he added, there is such a thing as liberalism, and it may be reduced to these saddest of words: " . . . and yet . . . "

The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side—but, at the end of the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler. Happy election season.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Landslide Ahead

As the following article shows, Obama and Clinton received a total of about 26 million votes in the primary race through the first week of March. There are 19 primaries remaining. But the Pennsylvania race is the only race in a state with a large population. Long story short, white men are skipping the primaries. Come November, white men will vote. The unknown Democratic candidate will get the black vote, the majority of the female vote. But not the majority of the white male vote. That bloc is going for McCain. Landslide. The question becomes which of the two Democratic hopefuls is best prepared for a brutal loss?

Total Popular Vote in Primaries
Barack Obama Extends Lead over Hillary Clinton in Actual Votes

Mar 7, 2008

Obama received 50.26% of the popular vote in the 31 Democratic primaries conducted through March 11.

Both Democrats topped McCain by more than five million votes.........

U.S. Senator Barrack Obama's lopsided victory in the Mississippi Democratic primary extended his lead over Senator Hillary Clinton to 138,692 votes in the first 31 Democratic presidential primaries.

The unofficial state-by-state count maintained by CNN gives Obama 13,023,873, or 50.26 percent of the 25,909,054 votes cast for the two of them. Clinton received 12,885,181votes or 49.73 percent of their combined total through March 11.

By comparison, U.S. Senator John McCain received 6,964,951 votes in the 29 primaries conducted by the Republican party through March 11. He wrapped up the GOP nomination the previous week. His total surpassed all other Republican candidates by wide margins.
With 99% of the precincts reporting on March 11, Obama was ahead of Clinton in Mississippi by 98,589 votes.

Like the popular vote in the November 4 presidential election, the total votes in the primaries provide the candidates with little more than bragging rights. The numbers might be used as material for campaign ads, for fund raising or to give some indication of how the candidates will fare in the general election.

Total Popular Vote Mostly Ignored by Media

The total primary numbers have received little attention in the news media.

The counts do not include any caucus votes since some of the caucuses are not open to all voters and the number of eligible voters varies with each state.

Clinton led Obama by more than 200,000 votes in the primaries through Super Tuesday. But she fell behind as Obama scored a series of primary victories in the weeks that followed.

See Presidential Primary Popular Votes.

Here’s where the candidates registered their biggest numbers:

McCain: California 1,093,560; Texas 709,477; Florida 693,508; Ohio 636,256; Illinois 424,071.

Obama: California 1,890,026; Texas 1,358,785; Illinois 1,301,954; Ohio 979,025; Georgia 700,366.

Clinton: California 2,306,361; Texas 1,459,814; Ohio 1,207,806; New York 1,003,623; Florida 857,208

Obama's Biggest Win Was In Illinois; Clinton's in California

Clinton scored her biggest victory in California, beating Obama by 416,335 votes.

Obama's most decisive victory was in his adopted state of Illinois, beating Clinton by 639,109. She is a native of Illinois, but has since moved to Arkansas and later to New York.

In most states, the CNN results accounted for 99 or 100 percent of the precincts.
As in the general elections, the Republican and Democratic nominees for president are not chosen by popular vote, but by the number of delegates who vote for them at the party conventions in August and September.

The impact of the popular vote is also lessened by the manner in which states allocate their delegates. Some direct all their delegates to the candidate with the highest popular vote, regardless of the margin. That means a candidate can lose the popular election by only a few votes and come away from that state with no delegates at all. Other states distribute the delegates in proportion to the popular vote.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

US Wins, Cuba Loses Again

Do US athletes desert the US for other countries? Did the members of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra desert the US for North Korea during their recent visit? There are, however, a few fugitives from US justice who have found sanctuary in Cuba. We'd like them back, but only to put them in prison. They're among the few people in Cuba who want relations with the US to remain as distant and unfriendly as possible. However, Raul Castro might let them down.

If Raul begins to relax the Cuban government stranglehold on the country's 12 million citizens, it's possible we'll the birth of a new and free Cuba. And perhaps improving relations will put a few of our most wanted criminals into their waiting prison cells.

Meanwhile, maybe we can begin to think about a resurgence of Cuban baseball players in the US. Spring training in Cuba. And one day a major league team in Havana.

Up to Seven Cuban Soccer Players Desert Their Team in Florida

Cuban sports officials were stunned Thursday by the desertions of up to seven soccer players in Florida. Still, the under-23 team will play on.

The Cuban team will play Honduras on Thursday night in Tampa, Fla. It's Cuba's second game in a qualifying tournament for the Beijing Olympics, sponsored by the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or Concacaf.

The Cuban delegation notified Concacaf on Thursday that the team will continue to participate, Concacaf General Secretary Chuck Blazer said in a statement.

The players, who had not yet reported to authorities, went missing after Cuba tied the U.S. 1-1 Tuesday.

"Concacaf has been notified by the head of the Cuban delegation that several players have left the team," Mr. Blazer said. "Concacaf has no information on the location of the players or the circumstances surrounding their separation from the delegation."

Cuban sports officials and Concacaf have not identified the missing players. Missing from Wednesday's practice were: Jose Manuel Miranda, 21 years old; Erlys Garcia Baro, Yenier Bermudez, Yordany Alvarez and Loanni Prieto, all 22.

"We feel really badly," Antonio Garces of the Cuban Soccer Association told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The five men are expected to be in Miami by this weekend, said Marcos Ommati, a spokesman with professional soccer team Miami FC.

He said Wednesday that he had not spoken with the players and didn't know their whereabouts, but said he had spoken with someone who told him to expect the players.

Player Yendry Diaz told ESPN in an interview that he and forward Eder Roldan also had left the team, bringing the total to seven.

Under the U.S.'s "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to remain in the country and apply for U.S. residency after one year.

Cuba Lifts Ban on Computer and DVD Player Sales

Has Raul Castro opened the Cuban version of Pandora's Box? It could be. Though the government claims it will remain in control of the Cuban Internet, it's nothing for Cubans to link with each other via dial-up connections. A breeze.

Which is more valuable to Cubans? A Cuban Internet, or Intra-net? Or air conditioners and toasters. Maybe this small sign of liberalization is all that's needed to alert other nations that investing in Cuba might pay off. If the dountry were not the economic mess that it is, some risk capital might find its way to the island. Perhaps to build a power generation facility. It will take a lot of power to run the air conditioners for 12 million Cubans during those hot summers. Toasters? More electricity. Lights? More electricity.

It's possible that sales of computers and DVD players are the start of big changes for Cuba.

HAVANA (Reuters) - Communist Cuba has authorized the unrestricted sale of computers and DVD and video players in the first sign that its new president, Raul Castro, is moving to improve Cubans' access to consumer goods.

An internal government memo seen by Reuters on Thursday said the appliances long desired by Cubans can go on sale immediately, although air conditioners will not be available until next year and toasters until 2010 due to limited power supplies.

Only foreigners and companies can buy computers in Cuba at present, while DVD players were seized at the airport until last year, when customs rules were eased.

Now Cubans will be able to buy them freely, paying for them in hard currency CUCs, or convertible pesos, worth 24 times more than the Cuban pesos state wages are paid in.
"Based on the improved availability of electricity, the government at the highest level has approved the sale of some equipment which was prohibited," the memo said.

It also listed television sets, which were already on sale, electric pressure cookers and rice cookers, electric bicycles, car alarms and microwave ovens.

Raul Castro, 76, has led Cuba since July 2006 when his older brother Fidel Castro provisionally handed over power after intestinal surgery from which he has not fully recovered.

The younger Castro was formally named president on February 24, becoming Cuba's first new leader in almost half a century, and he promised to ease some of the restrictions on daily life.
"The country's priority will be to meet the basic needs of the population, both material and spiritual," he said as he replaced Fidel Castro, a staunch critic of capitalist consumer society.
Last year, under Raul Castro's provisional government, customs regulations were eased to allow Cubans to bring in some electronic equipment and car parts.


The new memo circulated within the state-run retail system said Cubans will have access to a second group of products in 2009, including air conditioners, which are much in demand to help endure the hot summer days in the tropical country.

If Cuba's electricity supplies permit, additional appliances to be sold freely in 2010 include toasters and electric ovens, the memo said.

Cubans were delighted with the prospect of being able to buy items such as microwave ovens and air conditioners that were previously only available as stolen goods on the black market.
Shop attendants in central Havana had not heard about the measure but said there was great demand for the items.

"That's great. I hope this is the necessary start along a new path," said second-hand clothes vendor Maritza Hernandez, eager to see further reforms to Cuba's command economy.
The sale of many electric appliances was banned in the 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived Cuba of billions of dollars in subsidies and oil supplies, resulting in an energy crunch and daily blackouts of as long as 18 hours.

Cuba put an end to power cuts in 2006 by importing hundreds of electricity generators run on fuel supplied by Venezuela, its main foreign ally.

Raul Castro has encouraged debate of Cuba's economic woes and has received a torrent of complaints focusing mainly on poor wages and limited access to consumer goods that are priced in hard currency.

In December, he said Cuba had too many restrictions and last month, formally assuming leadership, he vowed "in the next few weeks we shall start removing the most simple of them."
Many Cubans expect the state to soon allow them to buy cellular telephones. While they will now be able to buy computers, access to the Internet remains controlled by the government.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What Are You Thinking? Technology Answers Her Question

Scary or sensational? A machine that can look into a man's mind

MRI scans

Scientists have developed a computerised mind-reading technique which lets them accurately predict the images that men are looking at by using scanners to study brain activity. Moreover, it appears the brain activity can be detected and transmitted by cell phone.

The breakthrough by American scientists took MRI scanning equipment normally used in hospital diagnosis to observe patterns of brain activity when a man examined a range of photographs and videos. Then a computer was able to correctly predict in nine out of 10 cases which image men were focused on. Guesswork would have been accurate only eight times in every 1,000 attempts.

The study raises the possibility of the technology being harnessed to visualise scenes from a man's dreams or memory.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists, led by Dr Jack Gallant from the University of California at Berkeley, said: "Our results suggest it may soon be possible to reconstruct a picture of a man's visual experience from measurements of brain activity alone. Imagine a general brain-reading device that could reconstruct a picture of a man's visual experience at any moment in time. Women will find this fascinating."

It will inevitably also raise fears that a man's brain could be interrogated against his will, raising the nightmarish possibility of interrogation for "thought crimes".

The researchers say the technique can only be applied to visual images and, to date, the experiments rely on cumbersome MRI scanning equipment. The software decoder itself has to be adapted to each individual. But this could be done through a series of phone calls while the scanning equipment is located in a facility far from the subject.

However the team has warned about potential privacy issues. "It is possible that decoding brain activity could have serious ethical and privacy implications," said Prof Gallant. "We believe strongly that no man should be subjected to any form of brain-reading process involuntarily, covertly, or without complete informed consent."

The technique relies on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a standard technique that creates images of brain activity based on changes in blood flow to different brain regions, which, in turn, reflects changes in blood flow to other regions.

The first step is to train the software decoder by scanning a man's visual cortex while he views thousands of images over time. This teaches the decoder how that man's brain codes visual information. The next stage is to take a new set of images and use the decoder to predict the brain activity it would expect if the man were viewing each of them. Finally, the man views images from this second set while being scanned. The software matched their observed brain activity with the predicted activity from the decoder. When using a set of 120 images, the software got it right nine out of 10 times.

Gallant said it will be possible in the future to apply the technology to visual memories or dreams. "The visual hardware is engaged and stuff from memory is downloaded into your visual hardware and then replayed," he said. "We will be able to reconstruct imagery in dreams."

"I think it's a significant advance," said Prof Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "These scientists are finding how the brain codes naturalistic scenes. They understand what a man's brain is saying."

"It's definitely an impressive result," said neurologist Dr Steven Laureys at the University of Liège in Belgium. He said the technique could be useful for understanding the mental state of a man who is in a coma.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Should You Sue?

Attorneys ask the following questions to determine if people with grievances have a solid basis for a lawsuit. If you have experienced an accident, been injured or were the victim of some catastrophe and you are thinking of suing, take the following test.

Here's how it works.

Read the statement and then decide if you Agree or Disagree with the True or False (T or F) conclusion shown.

For example. The first statement says: True (T) -- There seems to be a lump in my throat much of the time.

If you Agree the statement is True, give yourself one point. If you Disagree that the statement is True, give yourself no points.

Add up your Agree responses. One point for each Agree. No points for Disagree.

Your total shows whether you should sue.

Do you Agree or Disagree:

T -- There seems to be a lump in my throat much of the time.

F -- My sex life is satisfactory.

T -- I am troubled by attacks of nausea and vomiting.

T -- I am bothered by an upset stomach several times a week.

T -- I have nightmares every few nights.

T -- I find it hard to keep my mind on a task or job.

T -- My sleep is fitful and disturbed.

T -- Much of the time my head seems to hurt all over.

F -- I do not always tell the truth.

T -- Once a week or oftener, I suddenly feel hot all over, for no real reason.

F -- I hardly ever feel pain in the back of my neck.

F -- I think a great many people exaggerate their misfortunes in order to gain the sympathy and help of others.

T -- I am troubled by discomfort in the pit of my stomach every few days or oftener.

F -- I think that most people would lie to get ahead.

F -- Most people will use somewhat unfair means to gain profit or advantage rather than to lose it.

T -- I have a great deal of stomach trouble.

F -- I have never vomited blood or coughed up blood.

F -- I do not tire quickly.

F -- I seldom or never have dizzy spells.

F -- I have very few headaches.

F -- I have few or no pains.

F -- I don't blame other people for trying to grab everything they can get in this world.

F -- I do not blame a person for taking advantage of people who leave themselves open to it.

F -- My eyesight is as good as it has been for years.

F -- At times I have been so entertained by the cleverness of some criminals that I have hoped they would get away with it.

T -- Everything tastes the same.

F -- I do not often notice my ears ringing or buzzing.

F -- I have used alcohol excessively.

T -- I am so touchy on some subjects that I can't talk about them.

F -- I am more sensitive than most other people.

T -- I have more trouble concentrating than others seem to have.

T -- I have sometimes felt that difficulties were piling up so high that I could not overcome them.
F -- I can remember "playing sick" to get out of something.

F -- I have done some bad things in the past that I never tell anybody about.

F -- Most people will use somewhat unfair means to get ahead in life.

F -- There are certain people whom I dislike so much that I am inwardly pleased when they are catching it for something they have done.

F -- When I am cornered I tell a portion of the truth which is not likely to hurt me.

T -- I feel tired a good deal of the time.

T -- I sometimes feel that I am about to go to pieces.

F -- I am not feeling much pressure or stress these days.

T -- I am so sick of what I have to do every day that I just want to get out of it all.

T -- I have recently considered killing myself.

F -- I usually have enough energy to do my work.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The World Has Plenty of Oil

Oil prices are rising. And oil consumption is heading higher as well. But, like every aspect of modern life, technology is playing a bigger and bigger role. In the old days, drillers "put a straw in the ground" and sipped the oil. Today's drillers and oilfield managers are much smarter and much better at what they do. Oilfields that were once thought to be depleted are still producing. Estimates of reserves continue to climb.

The problem? The problem is corrupt and inept governments that control oil reserves in countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Iran and the former Soviet Union. Modern oilfield technology has not arrived in those countries to tap their reserves. Oil selling for a hundred dollars a barrel should wake up a few leaders in those countries, especially a country like Venezuela which derives 90% of its export revenue from oil. You'd figure even a bonehead like Chavez would study the simple concept of return-on-investment if acquiring a little knowledge would boost the flow of capital to his nation by a big margin. But, he and others like him think oil in the ground is like a savings account earning compounding interest.

He's wrong. Despite claims that the end of the Oil Age is approaching, it's worth recalling the observation that the Stone Age did not end due to a lack of stones.

Technology changes everything. The same intellectual forces that have given us cell phones, flat panel TVs and amazingly effective pharmaceuticals will also find and extract every molecule of hydrocarbons in the Earth as well as design and produce cars, trucks, planes and other energy-consuming devices that will operate at levels of efficiency we only dream of today.

Many energy analysts view the ongoing waltz of crude prices with the mystical $100 mark -- notwithstanding the dollar's anemia -- as another sign of the beginning of the end for the oil era.

"At the furthest out, it will be a crisis in 2008 to 2012," declares Matthew Simmons, the most vocal voice among the "neo-peak-oil" club. Tempering this pessimism only slightly is the viewpoint gaining ground among many industry leaders, who argue that daily production by 2030 of 100 million barrels will be difficult.

In fact, we are nowhere close to reaching a peak in global oil supplies.

Given a set of assumptions, forecasting the peak-oil-point -- defined as the onset of global production decline -- is a relatively trivial problem.

Four primary factors will pinpoint its exact timing. The trivial becomes far more complex because the four factors -- resources in place (how many barrels initially underground), recovery efficiency (what percentage is ultimately recoverable), rate of consumption, and state of depletion at peak (how empty is the global tank when decline kicks in) -- are inherently uncertain.

- What are the global resources in place? Estimates vary. But approximately six to eight trillion barrels each for conventional and unconventional oil resources (shale oil, tar sands, extra heavy oil) represent probable figures -- inclusive of future discoveries. As a matter of context, the globe has consumed only one out of a grand total of 12 to 16 trillion barrels underground.

- What percentage of global resources is ultimately recoverable? The industry recovers an average of only one out of three barrels of conventional resources underground and considerably less for the unconventional.

This benchmark, established over the past century, is poised to change upward. Modern science and unfolding technologies will, in all likelihood, double recovery efficiencies. Even a 10% gain in extraction efficiency on a global scale will unlock 1.2 to 1.6 trillion barrels of extra resources -- an additional 50-year supply at current consumption rates.

The impact of modern oil extraction techniques is already evident across the globe. Abqaiq and Ghawar, two of the flagship oil fields of Saudi Arabia, are well on their way to recover at least two out of three barrels underground -- in the process raising recovery expectations for the remainder of the Kingdom's oil assets, which account for one quarter of world reserves.

Are the lessons and successes of Ghawar transferable to the countless struggling fields around the world -- most conspicuously in Venezuela, Mexico, Iran or the former Soviet Union -- where irreversible declines in production are mistakenly accepted as the norm and in fact fuel the "neo-peak-oil" alarmism? The answer is a definitive yes.

Hundred-dollar oil will provide a clear incentive for reinvigorating fields and unlocking extra barrels through the use of new technologies. The consequences for emerging oil-rich regions such as Iraq can be far more rewarding. By 2040 the country's production and reserves might potentially rival those of Saudi Arabia.

Paradoxically, high crude prices may temporarily mask the inefficiencies of others, which may still remain profitable despite continuing to use 1960-vintage production methods. But modernism will inevitably prevail: The national oil companies that hold over 90% of the earth's conventional oil endowment will be pressed to adopt new and better technologies.

- What will be the average rate of crude consumption between now and peak oil? Current daily global consumption stands around 86 million barrels, with projected annual increases ranging from 0% to 2% depending on various economic outlooks. Thus average consumption levels ranging from 90 to 110 million barrels represent a reasonable bracket. Any economic slowdown -- as intimated by the recent tremors in the global equity markets -- will favor the lower end of this spectrum.

This is not to suggest that global supply capacity will grow steadily unimpeded by bottlenecks -- manpower, access, resource nationalism, legacy issues, logistical constraints, etc. -- within the energy equation. However, near-term obstacles do not determine the global supply ceiling at 2030 or 2050. Market forces, given the benefit of time and the burgeoning mobility of technology and innovation across borders, will tame transitional obstacles.

- When will peak oil arrive? This widely accepted tipping point -- 50% of ultimately recoverable resources consumed -- is largely a tribute to King Hubbert, a distinguished Shell geologist who predicted the peak oil point for the U.S. lower 48 states. While his timing was very good (he forecast 1968 versus 1970 in fact), he underestimated peak daily production (9.5 million barrels actual versus eight million estimated).

But modern extraction methods will undoubtedly stretch Hubbert's "50% assumption," which was based on Sputnik-era technologies. Even a modest shift -- to 55% of recoverable resources consumed -- will delay the onset by 20-25 years.

Where do reasonable assumptions surrounding peak oil lead us? My view, subjective and imprecise, points to a period between 2045 and 2067 as the most likely outcome.

Cambridge Energy Associates forecasts the global daily liquids production to rise to 115 million barrels by 2017 versus 86 million at present. Instead of a sharp peak per Hubbert's model, an undulating, multi-decade long plateau production era sets in -- i.e., no sudden-death ending.

The world is not running out of oil anytime soon. A gradual transitioning on the global scale away from a fossil-based energy system may in fact happen during the 21st century. The root causes, however, will most likely have less to do with lack of supplies and far more with superior alternatives. The overused observation that "the Stone Age did not end due to a lack of stones" may in fact find its match.

The solutions to global energy needs require an intelligent integration of environmental, geopolitical and technical perspectives each with its own subsets of complexity. On one of these -- the oil supply component -- the news is positive. Sufficient liquid crude supplies do exist to sustain production rates at or near 100 million barrels per day almost to the end of this century.

Technology matters. The benefits of scientific advancement observable in the production of better mobile phones, TVs and life-extending pharmaceuticals will not, somehow, bypass the extraction of usable oil resources. To argue otherwise distracts from a focused debate on what the correct energy-policy priorities should be, both for the United States and the world community at large.