Tag Archives: Suez

Ideology, technology, and – coming up a poor third – common sense

Nowhere is the struggle fiercer between half-aspiring ideology and good old common sense than in the Obama Administration’s energy strategy – or lack thereof.
Having been ambushed by intrepid technology in the exploitation of natural gas — – “the shale revolution” — the country’s energy markets are in partial abeyance. The shale gas has blocked the initial Obama drive to raise fuel and energy prices to force consumers to higher [if heavily subsidized even when facing bankruptcy] “alternative energy sources”. At the moment, the U.S. energy economy is poised between the fact that the new technology has brought abundance, even a temporary surplus, of natural gas, and the risk a falling price might inhibit further exploitation of increasingly greater estimated reserves.
The door is still closed for maximum exploitation of gas, the least polluting by far of all the fossil fuels, government fiat [refusal to lease public lands, pipeline certification, etc.]. But there is growing pressure on the Obama Administration’s despite its leftwing base and the problem of “face” for an obvious strategy to bolster a stagnant economy and the worst employment situation since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, not only is the shale revolution building toward the vaunted calls from every recent president for “energy independence”, but it is creating additional revenues for those states who have defied the Obama Administration and its handmaiden the Environmental Protection Agency’s harassment. Pennsylvania’s more than six thousand unconventional wells, either producing gas or under development, lifted $224.5 million in fees off the state’s taxpayers backs last year. More than $2 billion in state tax revenue has been generated since 2008.
Despite the logic of giving shale gas free rein, the enviromentalistas continue to rant about the possible impacts of fracking – the method of reaching the gas — although there has been no significant pollution episode. That’s not only because of caution and superior technology of the drillers but the fact that the shale deposits generally lay hundreds of feet below water aquifers. Fracking skirts them and then drills horizontally to get at the gas [and sometimes oil]. On the contrary, there have been several disastrous train wrecks in the U.S. and Canada, with the rapidly increasing movement of new found American oil by rail rather than through more efficient pipelines.
Nor do the enviromentalistas concede that the movement from coal to gas turbines for producing electricity has reduced the overall levels of pollution. Nor is there recognition that the cost of failure to authorize pipelines – the most dramatic example, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline which would carry Canadian crude, picking up Dakota oil enroute, to the Houston refineries and a portion, perhaps as much as 15%, into export. A part of that tragedy is that millions of cubic feet of gas are being “flared” – allowed to burn off in the air – in the Dakota oilfields because there are no pipelines or liquefying facilities to carry it to market. Not only do 1500 wells flare an estimated $100 million worth of gas each month, but the resulting pollution represents an unnecessary additional pollution hazard.
In one of the most curious misplaced arguments making the rounds of the talking heads spewing out nonsense on energy is the advocacy of government subsidized electric cars. Until there is a revolutionary breakthrough in battery science, there is no efficient way to store electricity. Recharging the car batteries at their current level of efficiency in electric engines is after all based on the nation’s creaking electricity grid, about half of which is now produced by the devil incarnate of the enviromentalistas, coal. Imagine what would happen in the unlikely event there were millions of electric cars that needed overnight recharging.
Chris Faulkner, Breitling Energy, one of the leading lights in the fracking industry and as much of a mavim on world energy as you will find, argues that $5-6 billion would set up LNG pumps in the nation’s filling stations. Relatively modest changes in 1960s car engines –  at a cost of less than $1,000 a car, $30,000 for contemporary models – would permit them to use liquefied natural gas [LNG]. In fact, LNG is being used by some city bus lines already [e.g., Washington, D.C.]. And imported Indonesian LNG has been in common use in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan for almost 50 years. [A French company has just signed a contract to export U.S. LNG to Taiwan.] Faulkner points out that if the large transcontinental trucking companies went to LNG at current costs, the saving would be about the tab of current purchases of foreign oil.
Perhaps someone will whisper the dirty little secret that LNG at the pumps would reduce the average motorist’s fuel tab by up to two-thirds. Is that going to happen before the elections this fall – or will we have to wait for 2016?


Egypt: “mind” or “mouth’?

It’s impossible to tell whether it is infection from the hysterical Mideast Arabic and English commentaries on radio and TV. Or is it twaddle the result of misunderstanding of the complexity of the issues? Whatever, our talking heads are more than usually befuddled about events in Egypt. And they are lending further confusion to an already impossibly muddled situation with Obama Administration attempts to straddle the unstraddable.

No, “democracy” was not overthrown in Egypt, nor can it be restored with the ouster of the present puppet government established by the military. “Democracy” is not simply elections, however fairly they may be managed – and we in the U.S. know something about the difficulties of that. It requires a whole set of values, not the least, the concept of the individual and his right to his own thoughts and, in so far as he does not harm others, actions. That has rarely if ever existed anywhere in the Arab-Muslim world – except perhaps for a brief glimpse of it, ironically, under what is now Pakistan in late British colonial days. [Now, for example, in Pakistan proselytizing for a religion other than Islam, and that is often interpreted in exaggerated ways, brings the death sentence. A leading political figure was not only assassinated for advocating its amendment two years ago but his confessed murderer was cheered in courtroom scenes — by lawyers!]

Nor is it likely democracy will come any time soon to any Arab country. Even in Malaysia and Indonesia, far distant from Islam’s Arab origins, whatever exists by way of progress toward it hangs by a thread. Nor notwithstanding Pres. Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, never did widespread tolerance exist in Islamic history — certainly not in the supposed halcyon years of al Andalus, the Berber kingdoms of southern Spain There pogroms against Jews and Christians [despite extensive intermarriage and the use of minority members as court ministers] dot its relatively short history. That’s why Moses Maimonedes, one of the world’s most renowned philosophers and physicians, a Jewish scholar writing in Arabic, in the 12th century fled his native Cordoba – eventually landing in Egypt, no less – to save his life.

But Mohammed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian president, would not have welcomed Maimonedes, given his expressed hatred for non-Muslims. Despite his followers’ claims, he was not “democratically elected” [as wikipedia would have it]. He won a minority victory as the best organized political force in hastily arranged elections after a half century of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship.. Nor is he a democrat despite the claims of his followers – many of whom have been attending “peaceful demonstrations” with Kalashnikovs for attacks on their opponents and police stations. He is a leader of a longtime secret society – kept underground by successive Egyptian regimes for three  generations. It is dedicated to establishing a monolithic Islamic state in a country with more claim to “multiculturalism” than any in history.

The trail of Morsi’s Brotherhood is a long history of assasinations and attacks, for example, on Egypt’s 15 to 18 million Coptic Christians and destruction of their churches. [Ask former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a Christian married to a Jew, whose grandfather, Boutros Ghali, as prime minister of Egypt under the British “protectorate”, was assassinated in 1910 by a member of a pan-Islamic party, ancestor of the Brotherhood.]

Must one excuse the excesses of the military regime in its effort to return Cairo, Alexandria and Suez [on the Canal, critically sensitive to world trade, by the way] to some sort of stability? Anyone who knows Cairo knows that is a relative term in the best of times. No, but there are “mitigating circumstances” by Mideast standards: the whole country was headed for immediate economic collapse, even famine with 70% of its food imported. The military’s effort to disassemble Brotherhood encampments in strategic areas and neuter opposition to the succeeding [called an interim] regime was absolutely necessary to avoid total chaos.

Never mind Morsi’s vile, vituperative public pronouncements [only in Arabic] cursing Jews and other “infidels”. [As Anwar Sadat, the martyred Egyptian leader, assassinated by an offshoot of the Brotherhood in 1981, once said in reply to a question about some outrageous statement by another Arab leader, “Oh! You know how we Arabs talk!”] But Morsi thorough manipulation of a “constitution” almost instantly arrived at was steering the country toward “sharia”, rule under Islamic religious law.

Now with sharia as with so many Islamic concepts, you can have your pick. It has been defined and runs the gamut from the “tolerant” ways of the late Ottoman Empire which generally only imposed fines and other legal restrictions on its vast non-Muslim population. The name for those non-Muslims to whom this whole set of Islamic “values” is applied is dhimmis. But just like everything else in Islam, it has been differently interpreted from Dakar to Zamboanga. But whatever else it means, it is second class citizenship – a concept that simply does not square with democracy. In more “effective” enforcement, Yemeni Jews were required to observe special obeisant movements whenever encountering Muslims despite their industriousness which was essential to the impoverished south Arabian region functioning.

Sharia often includes treating women as chattel, permitting divorce without the wife’s consent by simply uttering the words, “I divorce thee”, three times. Sharia often includes punishments long outlawed in more civilized societies – more than 200 years ago by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as “cruel and unusual punishment”. Where Muslims rule with sharia, as in Saudi Arabia, chopping off a hand, or fingers instead, for theft is a subject worthy of intense religious speculation. Christians in their worst arguments talked of how many angels danced on the head of a pin or who was a witch to be burned at the stake, but that is now centuries past. Israeli Orthodox Jews still do argue against drafting yeshiva students of “the law” for military service.. That is not to say that there has not been Islamic jurisprudence as studied and as sage as any in the world, particularly in the old Persia and in India, but it is not what Morsi was about.

Or take “jihad”. Central Intelligence Director John O. Brennan publicly has defined it as the search in Islam for salvation. Yes, in the Arabist scholarly circles he navigates, Brennan – known in some circles as Brennan of Arabia – is correct. But it also has been the battle cry for more than 15 centuries in the Islamicists’ efforts to conquer the world, and subject it to a “caliphate” – again a word with a dozen meanings but generally a unified Islamic political state under an absolute Muslim ruler. The fact is that neither the historical Zoroaster, Abraham, Mosses, Jesus, Gautama nor Confucius, founders of the great mass religions, were soldiers. Mohammed according to the holy book of Islam, the Koran, apparently was and a very bloody and successful one..

All of this was in the quiver of Morsi as “the duly elected” chief executive of Egypt. It turned out that most Egyptians, perhaps, for we will never know, but seemingly the bulk of those politically active, did not endorse this program. And then the head of the military, originally chosen by Morsi, apparently because he once wrote a thesis with Islamicist overtones when he was studying under the auspices of  the American military at Leavenworth, overthrew the Morsi Administration. His action appeared to have, even by the most critical observers, the assent of the majority of Cairenes, if not that of the American State Department again left out in the cold.

Morsi and his followers refused to bow out for hadn’t they, they said, supported by the anti-anti-anti-Islamic spokesmen in the U.S. and Europe, acting as an echo chamber, stood for “democracy” The answer is obviously “no”.

So we have come full circle: are the talking heads and a couple of Senators confusing the issues? Are the analyses on the hour by National Public Radio, The New York Times, along with the White House statements, just contaminated with the incredibly paranoid and hysterical rhetoric of the Middle East? Or have they, like so many increasingly ill-educated young Americans, lost touch with the English language and its definitions?