Thursday, May 31, 2007

Energy Reduction

As I’ve argued elsewhere, I believe we must scale back our overall energy use (and therefore production). An annual reduction in consumption (by mass) of 14 percent per year over 50 years would result in world energy production that is less than a tenth of a percent of its current value (a final average value of about 29 thousand Btu per person per year for a population of 6.9 billion people). The annual reduction in production would be at roughly the same rate. According to my consumption model, this reduction would be required to avoid both the crash of other species and any human population loss.

How much energy is 29 thousand Btu (British thermal units)? There are 100 thousand Btu in one therm, which is a common unit used by utility companies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the average U.S. household consumed over three thousand times this much energy in 2001.

It is tempting to think of any reduction as a voluntary measure, until we recall that, if we survive to continue our profligate energy use, by the end of this century ALL FOSSIL FUELS WILL BE GONE. In 2004, fossil fuels accounted for 86 percent of world energy production, with the rest taken up by such alternatives as hydroelectric (six percent), nuclear (six percent), and other renewable sources for the remaining two percent (solar, wind, and bio-fuels among them). Of the alternatives, nuclear energy has the best chance of long-term growth; but it can only be applied to generation of electricity and has well known issues (such as waste disposal and use for weapons proliferation) that may in practice be very restrictive.

We will be forced to choose the energy sources of the next century to offset the losses of this one, and whatever we choose must have zero or less than zero (that is, beneficial) environmental impact to help Earth’s natural systems recover from the damage we have done so far.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Energy Benchmarks

I re-ran my world energy predictions with higher resolution production data from 1980 to 2004. The new projections show growth rates dropping for fossil fuels, with depletion of petroleum reserves by 2024, natural gas reserves by 2041, and coal reserves by 2099.

Using my projections of ecological footprint (from the 2006 Living Planet Report), I calculated how much energy would need to come from fuels that are not fossil-based. Last year, we would have gotten 20 percent of our energy from these other sources (hydroelectric, nuclear, solar, wind, bio-fuels, and so on). By 2020, that fraction should be 40 percent; and by 2040 it should be 80 percent.

Basing projections on each current type of fuel, the numbers look a little different. Last year’s ratio of non-fossil fuels would have been 15 percent, with the 20 percent mark reached in 2017. The 40 percent mark would be reached by 2029, and the 80 percent mark by 2048.

My projections beyond 2046 depend, of course, on the world population not crashing due to pollution and loss of other, critical species.

Monday, May 28, 2007


By the time he was 17 years old, my father Arthur “Art” Jarvis had already bought and run a gas station, learned to fly an airplane, and graduated from high school. He graduated early so he could enlist in the navy to fight the Japanese, who had just attacked Pearl Harbor.

He served throughout the rest of World War II, spending much of it in Naval Intelligence at a direction finder station on a nearly deserted atoll in the middle of the Pacific. He had three main jobs: intercepting and interpreting Japanese communications, relaying allied radio communications to Hawaii, and locating airplanes using radio triangulation, the air traffic control technology of the day. He proudly boasted of having helped locate famed pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, assisting during the Battle of Midway, and relaying the Japanese surrender directly to Hawaii in 1945.

After the war, my father served with the air force as an intelligence officer in Okinawa, and then joined the newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency. While at the CIA, he developed the first laboratory that used tape recorders to teach foreign languages, and toured Europe on a “research yacht” collecting signal intelligence.

After leaving the CIA, my father went to work for RCA, where he invented the technology that allowed radio communications to pass un-attenuated through undersea cable; helped develop the first computer communications system; managed the construction of communications for the Pacific Missile Range (where I was born) and the Atlantic Missile Range (where my brother was born); and coordinated the development of television technology that was used in the space program from the early satellites through Apollo. As a district manager, he continued his association with the Defense Department, routinely making trips to the Pentagon where he held a civilian rank of rear admiral.

After RCA, he applied his creative talents to the loudspeaker industry, and then consulted with the government on classified communication encryption and personnel detection technologies. In his “spare” time, Art Jarvis invented a radical new approach to teaching math and science, and with the help of some fellow engineers started a business to market his approach to schools. He died of a heart attack while working full time trying to improve elementary school education, soon after most people would have retired.

My father’s dedication to serving others has served as a model for me and many others. His life exemplified the kind of sacrifice we celebrate on this Memorial Day, and like so many who have given their lives selflessly so others could live better lives, he deserves our profound thanks.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Like the minimum wage, illegal immigration, another of the day’s hot topics, has an intimate link to the inefficiencies of our economics. If an economy’s main purpose is to optimize the survival and attainment of happiness in a population through coordination of human labor in the creation and distribution of goods and services, then we should expect people to favor more effective economies than the ones they find themselves in.

At least in the case of Mexican immigration into the United States, the flow seems to be going the other way; because Mexicans are actually about three percent HAPPIER than citizens of the United States. The statistical correlation between consumption (ecological footprint) and happiness, coupled with our anomalously high consumption, may explain this. We appear to be much happier, because our per capita consumption is between three and four times theirs. Also, like us, they don’t realize that our consumption is unsustainable (we are in what physicists call a condition of unstable equilibrium, the equivalent of balancing on a pin and very likely to fall), so they assume they are coming to a better life.

The thing that will push us off our perch, and possibly drive immigration in the correct direction, is related to the fundamental economic law of supply and demand. Price, the value we place on a good or service, is proportional to the ratio of demand to supply. Our main supply of energy, which drives the entire economy, is literally drying up while demand continues to climb; leading to an inexorable increase in the price of everything. This worldwide phenomenon will be felt especially hard here since we are consuming so much more than our fair share due to the rampant waste we have built into our variant of capitalism. Those countries like Mexico which are already adapted to lower use of resources are the most likely to survive, and perhaps even thrive, at least until the development and adoption of alternative energy sources and production methods that are not environmentally destructive.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Minimum Wage

One good thing to come out of Congress’s surrender to the president on Iraq funding was a long overdue increase in the minimum wage. I was disgusted that Republicans were willing to suffer one of their pet peeves to support a failed strategy (and more death) in Iraq.

It is fascinating that the concept of a minimum wage is so fundamentally repugnant to conservatives. I see it as a variant of the “no one should get anything for free” philosophy that comes from a value system based on the objectifying of people (what I have elsewhere argued is the cause of most evil in the world).

From a purely economic viewpoint, it makes good sense to let “the market” decide the fair value of a person’s labor. Long (and falsely) considered the only thing of true value, labor thus has the best chance of being efficiently allocated to provide the products and services that people want and need. If the pay is less to do one kind of work, people will train themselves to do something else that pays more and has more value to the economy. In a well-functioning market, underpaying jobs would disappear, and no one would miss them.

Unfortunately, the underpaying jobs still exist, and keep being created. The reason why is based on human nature (people want something for nothing) and the complexity of the economic system (peripheral jobs are unintended consequences of demanding products and services that weren’t adequately planned for, along with their interdependencies). When a price is set, the market tends to react unfavorably when it is increased, even if justified, and so the producer must cheat to maintain the expected price and profit. Because of the distortion, the inefficiencies have a ripple effect: other producers are inclined to cheat just to be competitive, and eventually someone else (or some other species, providing services considered by the market to be free) has to pay. Meanwhile, the people who were brought in to perform the peripheral jobs must settle for lower wages, and are hamstrung if the required skills are not transferable to other work; this has a particularly crushing effect since most people depend on their jobs for survival.

A minimum wage raises the prices of products and services dependent on low-priced labor, with two significant effects. The most obvious of these is that workers performing peripheral jobs have a better chance of survival and perhaps even expanding their skill sets. Less obvious but perhaps as important, producers have a harder time hiding the costs of their products and services from the market, increasing the chances that they will no longer be rewarded for bad planning or cheating. Initially, workers who depended on the peripheral jobs may become unemployed; but a healthier system, in the long term, will benefit everyone.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Energy Crisis

With gas prices rising, it is tempting to think of the present situation as an anomaly brought on by refinery maintenance, corporate greed, and other factors that may soon resolve themselves. In the near term, this explanation may hold, but the future looks far bleaker.

In 2000, known reserves of the world’s fossil fuels (petroleum, dry natural gas, and coal) had an energy equivalent of about 33 thousand energy units (quadrillion Btu), which we were depleting (producing) at a rate of about 340 per year. Simple curve fits to fossil fuel production indicate that we will either deplete all of these reserves in 30 years or level out production in 20 years. The top remaining energy sources, hydroelectric and nuclear, contributed an additional 53 energy units per year, or about one-seventh of the total annual world production.

The consequences of these numbers are staggering, and consistent with my projections of population based on global ecological footprint (that the population will crash by 2046) if, as expected, we discover a bit more fossil fuel than we already know about. Since renewable energy is our only hope of forestalling ecological disaster, we will need to use it to provide all of our energy needs as soon as possible.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The Democrats in Congress appeared to have caved in to Bully Bush on funding the Iraq war without any timelines for withdrawal (or any other meaningful provisions for accountability). In a game of chicken that Bush is an expert at playing, the people we elected to slow down, if not stop, his deadly delusion-driven obsession GAVE UP (though I heard they spun it as merely a delay). And it makes me sick.

As the Republican leaders continue to chant the absurd notion that timelines equal surrender, I can’t help but wonder what they really expect to win, and what by surrendering to them the Democrats are allowing them to get. By invading Iraq, we took a country from a partial dictatorship to almost total anarchy in a matter of months (anyone that thinks anarchy is good should take a look at the news some time). This left several factions struggling to regain some control over their lives, fighting anyone who threatened whatever sense of identity they had left. The argument for us leaving should be clear to any rational person: we would be removing one more (and perhaps the largest) threat the people face. The argument for staying implies that imposing more order, any order, would bring the Iraqis back from the brink (and keep others from imposing a kind of order we don’t like); it neglects, however, the fact that they are already past “the brink,” and will only accept order that they impose themselves.

Meanwhile, our military is at or past the breaking point, unable to deal effectively with any real and direct threats to us, both from other people who would harm us, and from natural disasters that pose an increasing and comparable direct threat to us. We need to be especially strengthening our National Guard, not squandering (if not decimating) it.

We’re pretty much out of time, people! Giving up or delaying until a better day is NOT an option. This may have been the last of the “better days.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

Left, Right, and Best Cases

Plotting a curve fit to the death rate confirmed my worst-case explanation: that as a population’s power and intelligence reaches its maximum, the death rate soars (to roughly double the rate found at the minimum adjusted power).

This analysis appears to justify the fears on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. In fact, both political extremes must be avoided (too much individual power, and too much government power). Of the two, too much individual power is to be feared the most, since it can lead to double the deaths as well as the crash of the resource base.

From an ecological perspective, it appears that an average world adjusted power of less than 20 percent is necessary for sustainability (divide the 80 percent U.S. per capita footprint by more than four to get the sustainable value). This would correspond to roughly 70 percent of the maximum freedom (the U.S. is currently at 90 percent). Happiness would drop to under 40 percent and violence would be at a minimum.

For those of us who fear such a draconian world, we can take heart from the fact that I am describing statistical trends here; individual cases that include the best of all possibilities may offer useful lessons to avoid what we don’t want (namely, dramatically lower freedom and satisfaction with life).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Power and Alternative Futures

After removing one country from my sample and entering new data for life span (from a more applicable year, 2002), I also identified an apparent correlation between adjusted power and the difference between birth and death rates in a population. The curve fit for lifespan now takes a steep dive after the last transition, throwing into question the basis for my cautious hope that conditions could improve after that transition. The only consoling impact of the new projections is that happiness and population growth increase.

As populations approach maximum power over their fate (apparently never getting closer than about 90 percent), one of two possible explanations for the projections comes to mind. The first is optimistic (the one I suggested in the last post): there is no longer any need for using resources, hurting others, and maintaining a free government, because everyone is close enough to their comfort zones. The second explanation is pessimistic: the population uses up its resource base to the point where people can exercise maximum control over what’s left.

I was also hopeful in my assessment of the life path of populations; that power would always increase. While this may be the preferred path, some real countries have tended to reduce happiness (and therefore power) over time. Presently, the United States is increasing power at a rate that it will reach the last transition (the 75 percent peak) by 2054. It is hopefully a coincidence that this closely corresponds to the time that my other model, projecting consumption, indicates that the world population will crash.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Power and Populations

When I was actively involved in studying astronomy, I was amazed by a simple picture called the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram that depicts the life and death of every star in the Universe based on one single variable: the color of light emitted by those stars. I had a similar reaction when I completed the latest phase of my research into populations of people.

My simple statistical model of how simulated people approach their favored states of being, originally created to help predict the behavior of characters in the novel I’m writing, appears to be showing how constraints on people’s power and perceptions may determine how much resources they use, how long they live, how much they hurt each other, how free their societies are, and how satisfied they are with their lives.

Additionally, the model projects that as people become more aware and empowered, things get really bad right before they become as good as they can get. By my count, at least eight countries have reached or moved past that “bad” peak. There may be some hope that the rest of us might before our most critical resources become severely limited.

One of the most interesting aspects of the model is a set of transitions, of which the one I discussed is the last. The first transition occurs when some people in the population gain an accurate awareness of where they should apply their energy to attain their goals (even if they don’t know quite how much to use); notably at this transition, violence begins to rise. The second transition occurs just beyond the point where half the population has this awareness, and is also marked by violence, except in this case a drop in it, just before it begins rising to the point of the third transition. The third transition is where violence peaks and everyone in the population is finally aware of where their lives are relative to their goals. After that, they just need to apply enough energy to reach their favored state, until the end: when they do.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Happiness and Power

If a person’s “happiness” is mathematically modeled as the ratio of the current distance from the farthest extreme to the distance of the person’s comfort zone to the farthest extreme, then happiness ends up being almost linearly related to what I’ve been calling “adjusted power,” which combines power and perception. The minimum happiness, corresponding to no power and a totally inaccurate perception of direction and distance to one’s comfort zone, is 30 percent (in my sample of 44 countries, the minimum is 33 percent).

Ranked in terms of decreasing adjusted power, the top ten countries are Denmark (at 83 percent), Colombia, Finland, Australia, Mexico, Ireland, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, and the United States (at 72 percent). At the bottom of the list of 44 is Zimbabwe, at 5 percent.

In the United States, if we each had full power over our lives (we could reach our comfort zone in a given unit of time), our “intelligence” (perception of distance and direction) would range from a negative 20 percent to a positive 100 percent. That is, some of us would perceive our target in the wrong direction and only 20 percent of its correct distance away. For comparison, only those populations with both adjusted power and happiness values of 75 percent or greater (corresponding to the top nine countries in my sample) would have an accurate perception of direction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Leadership and Security

While the collective behavior of groups is important to understand when talking about security, the role of leaders is perhaps just as important.

Many of us don’t have the time to deal with issues beyond those in our daily lives, which is why we appoint leaders and give them some fraction of our resources to handle those issues. Every one of us has some small cadre of leaders we depend on, dealing with issues involving, among other things: spirituality (meaning of life), economics, and physical security. We typically keep those leaders that match our general “feel” for how those issues should be handled, and replace them only when their actions make us too uncomfortable and we have to handle more of the decisions ourselves.

The more power leaders are granted, the more of a role their individual personalities, intelligence, and experiences will play in determining the fates of the groups they represent. The specificity of that power is also important: whether it applies to ad hoc situations (such as crises or well-defined tasks) or a wide range of issues over a long period of time.

For example, ad hoc leaders such as military generals are assigned very specific goals, such as overcoming a well-defined enemy as soon as possible. National leaders such as presidents can determine and coordinate policy in areas that range from economic (such as trade and money supply) to social (setting and enforcing laws regarding how people interact with each other), military (starting an managing wars), and the environment (regulation of pollution, management of land use). Since ad hoc leaders are held accountable for meeting identifiable objectives, personal characteristics have their principal effect on the resources and time taken to meet their objectives. Policy leaders try to warp the world to fit their personal comfort zones, which, to be successful, must closely approximate the comfort zones of the majority of their constituents.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Summary of Security

It would be useful at this point to summarize what I think I know regarding security. People identify themselves with distinct characteristics they have that are worth preserving and being held by more people. In open systems, clearly identifiable groups can survive and grow with minimal interference from each other; but in closed systems where they must interact with each other, they will compete for resources and membership (threatening or feeling threatened in the process), with increasing violence.

People can continue to compete, or choose to redefine their groups to include the characteristics of other groups. There are risks involved in both courses of action. Competition can result in the domination of a limited number of characteristics, which if conditions change enough, could result in the destruction of the entire population. Redefinition could result in a reduction in the ability (willingness) for the population to adapt to situations that, for survival, demand the dominance of a limited set of characteristics. I can’t resist comparing this latter option to the “heat death” associated with maximum entropy, because we might also lose any uniqueness that carries intrinsic value.

Given that biological evolution of humans has effectively stopped, the “characteristics” I’m referring to are either cultural (religious, governmental, artistic, and so on) or only superficially biological. The technologies of communication and transportation, coupled with the difficulty of settling other worlds, have made Earth effectively a closed system, and we are now seeing the consequences of different cultures competing for dominance even as their differences become fewer and fewer.

“Freedom” has been a useful way of establishing a middle road, enabling groups to coexist while partially redefining them as part of a collective whole. This is reflected in the increase in life satisfaction attendant with increases in civil liberties and minimally controlled dissemination of information. Violence also increases with freedom, but its growth is attenuated.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Ranking

Ranking the 44 countries in my sample according to just happiness (satisfaction with life), peace (fraction of a population not being assaulted), and conservation (amount of the maximum ecological resources per capita not being used), Colombia is at the top of the list, South Africa at the bottom, and the United States second-to-last. If just happiness and conservation are used, Colombia remains at the top rank, and the United States is at the bottom (these positions are preserved even if life expectancy, also linearly correlated with happiness, is included with happiness and conservation).

If the United States were to impose its entire way of life on the whole world, would it be a good thing? I think the answer is clearly no. We would at least want to be selective, cutting out what is responsible for our high level of violence, along with what induces us to create so much of the waste that is helping to overwhelm the Earth’s biosphere. In short, we should find the most harmless ways we can to increase our happiness and share them (also in the most harmless way possible) with the rest of the world, which I think is a good philosophy for everyone.

Friday, May 11, 2007


There is a loose positive correlation between happiness and per capita ecological footprint, as well as with freedom and violence. If all these factors are taken into account, then Uruguay and India come out as the best countries in my sample of 44.

How does the United States stack up? It is close to the bottom of the list, with a rank of 41. This is largely due to our high ecological footprint (81 percent of the world maximum). For this, our satisfaction with life is only 74 percent. Colombia is the best ranked country with the greatest “happiness,” at 18 in the list.

I don’t mean to imply that Colombia should be the model for all countries, any more than I expect the U.S. to be. But this exercise does highlight that we should never take for granted that our own situation is always the best.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Freedom, Happiness, and Violence

I did a more thorough analysis of the assault and freedom data and confirmed that violence does increase with freedom, though the data is very highly scattered. “Happiness,” a measure of quality of life, also increases with freedom, and is more reliably correlated with it. It should be noted that what I have been calling “stress” is the difference between 100 percent happiness and actual happiness; so as happiness increases (along with violence and freedom), stress decreases. (See my detailed analysis.)

If your goal is to decrease violence and increase happiness, then you should look for other variables to manipulate. The countries with the best scores in my sample of 44 countries are Colombia and Denmark, which would be good subjects for case studies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Violence and Freedom

A comparison of countries based on violence and political freedom throws into question the assumption that increasing violence is associated with increasing stress (resistance to movement toward personal objectives).

Based on assault statistics the U.S. ranks sixth in violence: sandwiched between Zimbabwe (more assaults than us) and New Zealand, and within a percent of both. If the assault rate is proportional to stress (and lack of freedom) then, curiously, the U.S. is less “free” than many of the former Soviet republics and Saudi Arabia. The highest ranking country for assault is South Africa, with 160 percent of the U.S. value.

A comparison of characteristics we normally associate with “freedom” (civil liberties, amount of democracy, and freedom of the press) for a handful of countries spread over the violence spectrum seems to verify the suspicion that there may be an INVERSE relationship between violence and freedom. As freedom increases, so does violence. This correlation makes some sense: as you release the controls on people, they can do more, including hurting other people.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Best of the Best?

Many people in the United States believe that we have the best of all governments, economic systems, and approaches to religion and social issues. In short, we are God’s gift to the world. Because of our greatness, we have an obligation to make the rest of the world like us. Anyone who chooses to deviate from our way of doing things is either ignorant, sick, or a criminal; and must be treated accordingly. I can’t say with certainty that they are wrong, but I believe they have an obligation to challenge their beliefs.

There is ample reason to do this. For one thing, the United States and its cultural characteristics have only existed for a tiny fraction of human history; and we are relative youngsters compared to others currently sharing the planet with us. While we may have evolved from other systems, gaining from their successes and learning from their mistakes, our present configuration has not withstood adequate testing on its own.

Also, the huge gains in human population and welfare achieved in our country’s lifetime were not achieved solely by us; they were the result of a collective effort among all peoples of the world. These gains are directly rooted the discovery of cheap energy sources, the development of science and technology (whose major groundwork was done in other countries), and industrial development that was triggered by international conflicts whose other participants were not far behind us.

Furthermore, all of the gains that have occurred in the present blip in the record of civilization could easily be erased if we do not restrain the greed-driven growth that our country has been at the forefront of facilitating. With oil running out and pollution overwhelming the biosphere and climate systems, we don’t have a lot of time left to change our way of life, the very thing we hold up as one our greatest “gifts.”

In short, we are a part of the world, and it is a part of us. If we can accept this fact of existence and acquire the humility necessary to work with others to collectively improve the lot of humanity and other species, we may yet demonstrate great value to the world. We must realize that our individual and collective importance is intrinsic in everyone, because everyone is needed to define humanity and ensure its long term survival.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Gift of Aggression

You have a powerful gift of knowledge, meaning, happiness, and fulfillment. You were either born with it, someone exposed you to it, or you discovered it on your own. It has such a strong effect on you that you can’t believe that anyone can live without it. It begins to define you.

At some point, you realize that it is wrong, perhaps evil, to deny your gift to others; that their lives are less valuable because they do not have what you have. Yet for some unacceptable reason there are some people who refuse to accept your gift, or maybe they are simply incapable of acquiring it. What’s more, these unenlightened people oppose your sharing the gift with those around them, and may even be promoting some other, lesser alternative, which is not only keeping people from receiving your gift, but using up resources that you need to perpetuate your mission. Those who oppose you must be stopped for the good of everyone else, even if it means destroying them.

This line of reasoning can, and has, been used to justify aggression throughout human history. The aggression can take relatively benign forms such as social pressure or ostracism. Extreme forms include violence and even death. Whoever is in power at the moment and has had the opportunity to write the history books gets to decide whether such behavior was truly right or wrong. Competition leading to ultimate survival becomes the real judge of values in a world of aggressors.

Not everyone feels that they are the recipients of ultimate truth and meaning. Some of us instead realize how fragile and incomplete our awareness and understanding of the Universe is, and doubt that any one of us can have the answers. If such “gifts” are to be found, they can only exist as the result of a collective enterprise where pieces are held by each of us and shared, as much as possible, among all of us (including other forms of life). To destroy ANY of us is to destroy part of that we claim to value.

Soldiers and Terrorists

In 1998, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States, and followed it up with a series of attacks, the most spectacular occurring on September 11, 2001. His organization’s explicit targeting of civilians (as opposed to state-sanctioned fighters) marked a clear delineation between what most of the world community considered “legitimate” and “illegitimate” warfare. While many people would disagree with my suggestion that soldiers are murderers if they participate in offensive (rather than defensive) taking of human life, there is likely little disagreement that terrorists like bin Laden are truly murderers. The distinction is worth exploring.

When the U.S. used nuclear bombs to decimate two Japanese cities, it had two goals: to destroy part of an aggressor’s offensive capability, and to scare that aggressor into surrender. The targets were civilians who only indirectly posed a threat by supporting Japan’s military, but because their country was engaged in trying to take over other countries, and because they knew they were potential targets, killing them was considered acceptable.

During and after the Gulf War, radical Islamic fundamentalist like bin Laden saw the U.S. as an aggressor that was defiling holy land and attempting to impose its culture there. Those with economic power in our country were seen as enablers, and like the Japanese military-industrial workers, they were considered legitimate targets. Unfortunately, relatively few people in the U.S. even knew that a war had been declared, that they were involved in it, and that they might even partially be responsible for it.

Al Qaeda’s motivations weren’t totally defensive: it also had offensive designs on the Middle East and the rest of the world, wanting to forcibly globalize its favored religion and culture. It was this latter aim that U.S. leadership seized on in making the case for a defensive “war on terror,” classifying bin Laden’s organization and others like it as aggressors who were trying to western culture and its economic underpinnings.

The tactic of terrorism is particularly unacceptable to most of the world because, like much of what we typically identify as murder, its victims cannot identify their attackers until it is too late. With war, soldiers are usually well identified, and their goals are clear; they are even given special legal status in their own countries and the international community, officially sanctioning their killing of an adequately defined enemy. With terrorism, the soldiers are unmarked and their victims largely random within a broad civilian (non-combatant) population.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Police Action

When someone kills someone who is about to kill another person, is it murder? This kind of action could be classified as “defense,” and in many societies is considered justified. Police are given guns specifically to protect and defend civilians; and through international agreement countries have militarily intervened in genocides and armed conflicts in other countries (“police actions”). A police action has legitimacy when it stops at preventing harm to other people; if it is extended to the exercise of power over a group of people, then it is no longer a defensive action and becomes an offensive action.

The war in Iraq is an excellent example of these points.

In 1990, Iraq militarily invaded its neighbor Kuwait, which it claimed was stealing oil. The U.S. convinced the international community to force Iraq’s troops out of Kuwait, which it did during the 1991 Gulf War. In the execution of the war, the U.S. set up permanent military bases in the region, ostensibly to enforce the isolation of Iraq so it could not regain an ability to threaten its neighbors. The existence of the bases and decade-long exercise of persistent power over a Middle Eastern country by mostly U.S. forces was considered an act of aggression by many in the region, who responded with what they considered defensive terrorist attacks, the most spectacular being on September 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s leadership was trying to rebuild its military strength, mainly to control its population and be able to respond to potential aggression by Iran, who it perceived as its greatest potential enemy. Iraq resisted international weapons inspections, which violated the terms of its cease-fire agreement with the United Nations. The U.S., driven by paranoia following the 9/11 attacks, urged the U.N. to apply more pressure on Iraq and was able to restore access to the country by weapons inspectors. By then, however, the U.S. was committed to the military overthrow of the Iraqi leadership, which it achieved in 2003.

The U.S. did not leave Iraq after its “victory,” but instead maintained an occupying presence in the country over the next four years. Its building of permanent bases, imposition of its own culture on the country, pilfering of the country’s assets and resources, and inability to replace basic infrastructure it had destroyed, inflamed the people who had been threatened before, sparking terrorism and alienating the people the U.S. had claimed it wanted to free.

What started out as a “police action” (protecting Kuwait) grew into aggression, which de-legitimized the entire enterprise.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

War and Murder

A coworker of mine, who is a veteran, recently challenged the contention that war involves murder. In the strictest sense, murder is the voluntary killing of one person by another, but I now realize that there should be a distinction between those who initiate war, and those who defend themselves from aggression: the “offensive” forces are murderers, and the “defensive” forces are not. Using this logic, the murder rate associated with a war will be less than its death rate.

I suspect that my coworker was actually probing my opinion about whether military personnel should be qualified as murderers. If a military action is offensive rather than defensive, then the answer is “yes.” I also believe that, to a lesser degree, civilians who politically or economically support such action are also responsible.

Roughly speaking, in the first half of last century, military action by the United States was defensive, and the second half it was offensive (and even more blatantly so in this century with the Iraq war). Regarding political support, it is interesting that the last time Congress issued an official declaration of war was for our clearly defensive part in World War II, but it has not issued such a declaration since then.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Death and Stress in the 20th Century

Estimates of the number of people killed in the last century vary from 49 million to 366 million, for a world population that varied from 1.6 billion to 5.9 billion (as of the mid-1990s) with an average life expectancy of between 41 and 66 years. This translates into an average annual death rate of between 30 and 65 per 100 thousand people.

The maximum murder rate, derived empirically from U.S. data, is expected to be 38. The theoretical maximum is 20,208 (with exponential decline) at an average equal to the maximum expected violent crime rate (1,961).

These facts complicate the derivation of population stress, since they imply that the population either extremely stressed or not very stressed at all. My guess is that the murder rate (corresponding to a stress of 3/38, or 8 percent) expresses a low stress/high energy state that drove phenomenal growth in population and consumption. The war deaths may need to be considered separately (though even 61/1961 is an even lower relative stress: 3 percent).