Random thoughts, 02 April 2009

2009/04/02

It appears that North Korea is preparing to launch their rocket (missile), [1] despite immediate international pressure against them, not to mention a toothless U.N. resolution that supposedly forbids them from developing technologies that could be used for nuclear proliferation. [2] In an ideal world, I’d like to believe that the North Koreans are simply trying to develop space technology, as they claim. Unfortunately, in our real and dirty world, rocket technology falls under the category of “dual-use” technologies, i.e., civilian technologies that have obvious military applications. Effectively, the U.S. and Soviet Union both did the same thing during the heady days of the Space Race, though strictly speaking, both nations did this in the reverse, i.e., both nations adapted technologies that were already being developed for ICBMs, [3] basically by replacing the military payload (the nuke) with a satellite payload, and later, a manned capsule. I’m not too worried about a war breaking out here, though; both Japan and the U.S. have indicated that they will shoot down the rocket only if its course appears to threaten their respective interests. Even a nation as irrational as North Korea can hardly argue against measures taken in self-defense. [4] OTOH, the North Korean government is just crazy enough that they might not care, in which case, I’d be happy to see the Japanese bitch-slap them.

In other world news, apparently, there have been some results from the G-20 summit (or, at the very least, everyone is saying that there have been results). [5] Hopefully, there will be some balance in their resolutions. On the one hand, I agree with the U.S. and U.K. position, that money is needed, if for no other reason, than to supplant the private lending that, so far, has not restarted yet. On the other hand, I also find myself agreeing with the French/German position (yeah, I know…I’m agreeing with the French; hey, anything is possible, and sometimes, they get something right), in that we do need more transparency and regulation in the financial products market; after all, the lack of both contributed heavily to the meltdown, and we need to reform that system if we are to prevent such a crisis from happening again. Of course, G-20 resolutions are really more like guidelines than anything else, so it remains to be seen what, if anything, is actually done as a result of this meeting. Sidenote: I also hope that we’re not contributing the lion’s share of the 1 trillion USD that is going towards supporting the IMF; haven’t we already enough of the money we don’t have?

On a related note, I was a little amused (and also saddened) to see all the protests taking place in London during the G-20 meetings. I’m used to seeing such things happen in France, for example, but I had thought that the Brits were a little more sensible. On the other hand, its also quite possible that many of the protesters were not British natives, so this does give me some hope. Regarding their claims that we (America) are to blame for the global economic crisis, my response: PAGH! [6] Granted, our mortgage-backed financial products were the cause of a great deal of turmoil throughout the world economic markets, but nobody forced the various foreign investors to buy into these products. They did so of their own free will, so while the actions of our financial executives may be an underlying cause of the problem, there was no coercion involved when it came to foreign investment. As the saying goes, you reap what you sow. [7]

On a domestic note, the Dow has just rallied above 8000 for the first time since the start of the downward spiral. [8] While it is a little comforting to see this, we need to be mindful of becoming too optimistic – yet. I won’t consider this a win until the gains are sustained over the course of weeks and months. Still, its nice to hear.

Two notes in domestic budgetary news: the GOP has finally released a detailed plan for their budget alternative, [9] and the Senate Democrats may be considering fast-track “reconciliation” to pass their budget while effectively bypassing what might otherwise be a challenging debate on the issue. [10] Currently, I don’t have any thoughts WRT the GOP alternative budget, since I haven’t read it yet (I might later today, so I may have some comments then), but I am fairly certain that no matter how reasonable it might be, it will not survive a vote of the full House or Senate, if for no other reason than that the Democrats now control the bludgeon, and they are clearly not afraid to abuse it. WRT the “reconciliation” of the Democrat budget, I’m not really all that shocked that they’d resort to such tactics. That they are considering such a move only serves to reinforce my belief that the President’s much-vaunted claims of fervently supporting bipartisanship were merely campaign tactics intended to make him seem more non-partisan than he really is. One does not become the poster boy of one’s political party by being non-partisan, after all.

Finally, on an entirely unrelated note, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot appears to be shrinking. [11] I’m not sure that this has any bearing on anything at all, but I was always amazed by the enormous scale of this cyclonic storm, which, at its largest, could have swallowed the entire planet Earth several times over. Other than that, I’ve never seen it (and likely never will), and unless the storm itself has implications for our harvesting hydrogen from Jupiter’s atmosphere, I’m not too concerned about it disappearing, either. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as we do not now have any plans for said hydrogen harveting. Pity.

Notes:

[1]: CNN article, 01 April 2009.

[2]: U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 (2006). List of resolutions here (PDF warning: full text of resolutions is only available via linked PDFs). As is typical for the UNSC, the primary deterrent listed in the resolution is a restriction on imported and exported good (trade embargo). We all know how well these work.

[3]: ICBM = InterContinental Ballistic Missile. My brother apparently encountered individuals who have no idea what this acronym stood for, so I’m just pointing it out, in case someone gets confused. Both the R-7 Semyorka (Soviet) and PGM-11 Redstone (American) rockets were originally developed as ICBMs, then modified for use as civilian launch vehicles. See histories of the R-7 and Redstone rockets here and here, respectively. (Wikipedia articles)

[4]: This should be especially evident in the case of the Japanese; Japan has not had an offensively oriented military since the end of World War II. The Japanese military, of course, is nothing to laugh at, but their numbers are small enough to warrant the title of “Self-Defense Forces” that the Japanese apply to them. For example, the Japanese Navy is officially named the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).

[5]: CNN article, 02 April 2009.

[6]: For those of you who are not aware of the connection here, this (and other such gutteral sounds) is an exclamation of disgust used by the Centauri ambassador, Londo Mollari, in the SF TV show, Babylon 5.

[7]: Galations 6:7 (King James version): “…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

[8]: CNN Money article, 02 April 2009.

[9]: CNN article, 01 April 2009. Hopefully, the fact that it was revealed on April Fool’s Day isn’t significant.

[10]: CNN article, 02 April 2009.

[11]: CNN article, 02 April 2009.

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