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Alternative boondoggles

The direct cost to the US government of the war and occupation of Iraq — counting only funds appropriated by Congress — so far runs to roughly $523Bn.

However, that's the direct cost — money directly spent on the project. There are indirect costs, too: Joseph Stiglitz estimates the true cost of the war to be $3Tn to the United States, and $3Tn to the rest of the global economy. These are indirect costs, and factor in the long-term additional expenses that the war has accrued — everything from caring for brain-damaged soldiers for the next 50 years through to loss of economic productivity attributable to instabilities in the supply of oil from Iraq.

We can tap-dance around the indirect costs, but the direct costs (that headline figure of $523Bn) are inarguable.

So. What fun boondoggles could we have bought with either $523Bn (at the low end) or $6Tn (at the high end)?

NASA have plans for a manned Mars expedition based on the Ares spacecraft they're developing as a replacement for the Space Shuttle. Price estimates vary from $20Bn (presumably for a single round-trip) to $450Bn (presumably for a single round trip plus all the externalities, like developing the spacecraft and equipment and conducting a thorough prior reconnaissance using unmanned landers).

Either way, the direct costs of the Iraq war exceed the maximum cost estimate for a manned Mars expedition, infrastructure and all, by 20%. If we take $20Bn as the cost per mission and $450Bn as the cost to develop the technology to go there, the direct cost of the Iraq war would be sufficient to develop a gold-plated Mars expeditionary capability and send six crews of astronauts to Mars (and bring them back afterwards).

Going by Stiglitz's indirect estimates, the picture is even more ludicrous; for $3Tn, assuming a crew of four per expedition, $20Bn per flight, and a basic $450 start-up price, you could send 510 astronauts to Mars. That's not a Mars exploration program, that's a battalion! It's a small colony! Regular readers will be familiar with my opinion of plans to colonize Mars ... but if you throw enough money at a scheme you can probably get something out of it, even if it's only another Darien Scheme.

Or perhaps we could tackle global warming by building nuclear reactors. Westinghouse AP1000 PWRs cost roughly $2Bn a pop and have a net output of 1117Mw (1.12Gw). For $513Bn we could probably negotiate a bulk discount of, say, 20%, in which case we're good for 320 reactors, or about 375Gw of output. Our entire planetary civilization consumes about 16Tw, but the USA accounts for about 40% of that, so we could buy, outright, the equivalent of 6% of the US's energy budget. But this stuff pays for itself (it's producing electricity, a fungible commodity) and in actual fact, 50% of the USA's energy budget is coal, burned for juice. So we could cut 12% of the USA's coal-sourced carbon emissions, enabling the USA to not only meet but exceed the Kyoto protocol requirements using a single, fiendishly expensive gambit (and treating it not as capital investment but as expenditure).

For $6Tn we could buy a lot of juice — a quarter of our global civilization's energy budget would go carbon-neutral at a stroke. (Yes, we just solved our carbon dioxide emissions problem by switching to a nuclear economy.) This probably isn't the ideal way of dealing with our environmental problems, and it's a naive treatment of the costs (has anyone done a proper treatment of the economic implications of shifting the planet over to a nuclear economy, say to the same extent as France?) but it's thought-provoking.

Finally, there's all the other little stuff we could solve by pointing $513Bn at it, never mind $6000Bn. Eliminating childhood diseases in South-East Asia? Piffle — Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to do that out of their pocket lint. Build first-world grade housing in shiny new cities for 600 million Chinese peasants, nearly a tenth of the planetary population? Yes, this budget will cover that. What else?

Yes, I'm asking you: what would you do with the cost of the Iraq war (take your pick: $513Bn or $6000Bn) in your budget? Colonise Mars? Solve our carbon emission problem and fix global warming? House half a billion people? Or something else ...?

(And what isn't going to happen now, because we pissed it all away on the desert sands?)




How about colonise the oceans, a la Aquarius in Marshall T Savage's Colonising the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps? No doubt it requires a LOT of hard cash, but you'd probably see a financial return quicker than investing in colonising Mars. While I strongly suspect much of the rest of the book doesn't stack up that well, colonising the oceans in that fashion is something that could be done if you threw enough money at it.


Increase spending on fusion research. It would guarantee the supply of energy for the coming centuries. Even if we switch to nuclear how long would the supply of Uranium or Plutonium last?


Money doesn't simply evaporate* - it changes hands. Besides thinking of what could have been done with the money spent, I think it's more important to know where it ended up/went through. A good, solid investigation would be very useful for people to wake up, and see exactly who profited from the Iraq "war". As a gedankenexperiment it would open a lot of eyes for the coming US presidential elections...

(* yes, the M3 soufflé can collapse if the oven door is banged a bit too hard and make all that "real" credit money just go kablooie)


Darn it, just 2 postings and my idea is already mentioned.

@2: just to add a few figures. A number of nations spend more than a decade quibbling over who should pay how much to built ITER where. The total cost of the reactor - including running the experiments for some 15 years - was on the order of $25 billion. With just the direct cost of the war we could have had ITER finished by now and probably have the first commercial reactors long before 2025. This, however, is not necessarily a solution to our energy problems, since it is almost impossible to predict the results of this experiment and thus the cost for bigger reactors, that might result from large required amounts of unobtainium. But at a trifling 4% of the direct cost of the war, it would have been worth a shot, as it is one of the few constant energy sources with plenty of fuel around.


Another comparison:


For the price of the Iraq war, you could instead have distributed suit cases full of 1.5 million dollars to each family living in Iraq at the time the war began.

How many hearts and minds would that win over? Isn't that what it's all about?


Buy a controlling interest in Microsoft and open source all their software.

Alternatively, pump some serious cash into basic research.


Bussard's polywell fusion reactor research was looking promising before the Navy energy budget that was funding his work was zeroed to help fund the war in Iraq.

$500Bn should have been easily enough to get the technology ready for mass deployment.

(See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell)


We could also invest it in renewable energy.

Humanity uses around 1.5e13 W, and the Earth receives around 1.366e3 W per m² from the Sun (varies with year and month).

Earth has a land area of around 1.5e8 km². Assuming 10% efficiency for photovoltaics, that means we need to cover around 1.1e5 km² with solar cells. That is around the land area of Cuba.

Not that I would advocate switching all our energy production over to solar, but it demonstrates how little is necessary to ensure all our needs are met.


@Markus And the beauty is that all the sunniest areas are deserts where there's plenty of room and few people live anyway - solar power plants in the Sahara could easily meet the world's need.


With a few $Billion, the following would be a doddle.
Algae can be grown to make bio-diesel.
Grow it in tubes to reduced contamination issues.
Put tubes in desert to not compete with food crops.
Run your SUV's forever; cheaper; CO2 neutral.
Stop fighting wars over the flammable stuff.

Not my URL below, but it's relevant.


Education, education, education.

Invest it in educating the global population up a few holons, so they won't be as keen to a) buy plasma TVs and SUVs, b) kill each other. Having sufficient awareness of one's connectedness to other beings/the planet (and therefore the consequences of action) goes hand in hand with cognitive advancement.

David Bohm got it spot on 'On Dialogue' (to paraphrase poorly) "What's the point in cleaning up the planet if we haven't cleaned up ourselves first".

Education in the broadest commonsensical sense, not SATs, what's needed in C21 is meta education. Equipping people with the tools to learn what they need to learn for themselves. And that's a sea change and to do it quickly will need plenty of resource.

Fix education and everything else will follow in just a generation or two. It's not like we don't have the technology or at least the dreaming of it.


The US could have built out a world-class medium-range rail system, something that will look more and more useful as oil reserves drop.

I have a feeling that money will be missed as climate disasters continue to grow in strength and frequency.


My top 3 would be:

1) Batteries. Or, to be more pedantic, efficient energy transportation methods and tools. The main reason we're using petrol and its derivatives is because it's the most efficient form of energy transportation we have currently at our disposal. I'd gladly replace my fuel tank with a reasonable sized ultra capacitor. And that wad of cash would just about cover the cost of converting all those petrol stations into charging outlets.

2) Nanotech research. I want a 2mm thick diamond window in my house for $2. I want solar-powered nanobots breaking down sand and carbon dioxide at the same time and turning it into oxygen and silicone (or silicone carbide) for all our computing needs. I want my self-upgradable computer and intelligent house and flying car, dammit! :)

3) Lunar base. If those money could put 500 people on Mars, I guess they could pay for a self-sustaining lunar colony in place. So who cares that it will evolve into an independent nation - undoubtedly called the Heinlein Republic. It would still be nice to know that if we Earthlings mess up our home planet big time, there's still going to be someone left to try again (aside from the cockroaches).


I would hire 100,000 of the under-employed and I would run fiber optic cable to every residence and business in the country. What a wonderful improvement in our global competitiveness that would be.


Don, you're thinking small. Hire 100,000 folks -- on a $500Bn budget -- and you'll be paying them $5M each (or expecting 'em to use the thick end of $5M of equipment each). Plus, I think you'd find it'd take closer to a million folks to build out cable to every residence in the US -- some of those residences are remote!

Laur: I take it you don't share my opinion of space colonization.

Greg: so refershing to see someone don the deep green hair shirt of puritanism again! Yes, I'm sure we could make everything work just fine if only everybody stopped thinking Wrong Thoughts and realised the sinfulness of buying SUVs and plasma TVs. But once they've seen the bright lights, how're you going to keep 'em down on the farm?

Matthew: the Sahara could indeed meet our energy needs, if only we could keep it in sunlight 24 hours a day. Until then, we're going to need an intercontinental super-grid and/or some way of turning sunlight into storable energy.


Even at $6Tn, the Iraq war pales into insignificance next to the ongoing cost to humanity of, to pick a religion at random, the catholic church. How long did it spend squatting over Europe demanding, and receiving, 10% of pretty much everything? Would the world have seen anything like the 11/9/2001 attacks if some 11th century christian dumbass hadn't invented the crusade? Hell, if there's no church, there's no "Divine Right of Kings" - what might the world look like if people had realised that earlier?

It's nice to dream...

As for the half trillion? I'd spend it on malaria research, decent sewerage and universal education. That people are still dying of cholera more than 150 years after John Snow removed the Broad Street pump handle is an affront to humanity. Heck, the effort would probably pay for itself in the unleashed economic potential of the poor buggers currently oppressed by circumstance.


Charlie: Space colonization is the stuff of science-fiction. But I believe lunar colonization isn't; we could probably do it in this century, if we wanted to. I would argue that the science advances deriving from such an endeavour would alone make it a worthwhile project. That being said, it's still third on my list. :)

It's a funny coincidence that today BBC's "World have your say" decides to talk about what else could we have done with the $500 million invested in the Mars Phoenix space mission. Maybe you should call in? :)


I don't wish to see this thread hijacked but I really must answer Mr. Cawley and his anti-Catholic bigotry.

Without the Catholic Church, there would be no music, no art, no science, no social organization, no international law - in short, no Western Civilization. We might still be living like the savage barbarians that the church molded over the centuries into law abiding civility.

Or we would all be Muslim. The crusades were a minor, local counter attack compared to the total war waged by jihad from China to Spain. it may come as a shock to the historically ignorant (such as Mr. Cawley) but Islam was not spread peacefully.

Truely it is said that anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the pseudo intellectual. Good day Mr. Cawley.


About that sharp stint of communism for the USA that you've recommended in the past... where do I sign?

(Surely 6 trillion dollars worth of research is enough to get us to a very spiffy cybernetic economy (in the original sense of the word cybernetic



And without the Catholic Church, there'd be a hell of a lot more South American Indians and a hell of a lot less molested children.

As far as "saving civilization"-- you burnt Alexandria in the first place, so don't talk to me about saving civilization.

Were the Catholic Church any institution other than a religious one, it would have gone the way of the Nazi party-- the Nuremburg trials followed by constitutional abolition of anything that even vaguely looks like it across all of Europe.


It's not anticatholic bigotry. It's antitheism. Catholicism is just the example I chose. Religious thinking is a cancer of the human spirit, whether it be christianity, judaism, islam, buddhism, hinduism or any other creed that offers final solutions.


... and Mr/Ms. atlatl , with regards to your anti-islamic remarks in your post critical of anti-catholic remarks...

If you are really unfamiliar with who started the Crusades and who saved all those pretty books your boys in the white collars spent a millenia burning, you may wish to google it...


Had there been no war, some of that money would have gone back to the taxpayer to use for private space ventures.

But why only focus on the regrets now? The war isn't quite over. There's still time to save more billions.

While it is a bit late to ask al-Sadr to stop fighting, it's definitely not too late to ask Iran to stop funding their end of the fight.


-nitpick mode ON-
The symbol for watt is a capital W.
As with every SI unit whose name is derived from the proper name of a person, the first letter of its symbol is uppercase (W).
-nitpick mode OFF-


Really spiffy pants!


Since it's not popped up here yet, let us recall Bill Hick's suggested application of funds:

"You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense each year, trillions of dollars, correct? Instead -- just play with this -- if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world -- and it would pay for it many times over, not one human being excluded -- we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever in peace."

...though I admit he probably didn't do the math in depth, the idea is still sound. But the devil would be in the details, of course.

How much money would have to go into the practical infrastructure on any of these ideas - I mean in terms of the bribes, advertising and other crass manipulations required to make people change what they're already doing and making money from)?

Anyone got a figure for what the infrastructure costs would be for feeding the world? Would it be doable (both in monetary and environmental cost) with the figures quoted if we keep eating meat, or would we have to go vegan?


I nominate the SOlar grand plan from Scientific American I read about last year:

It would cost 420 billion dollars of subsidy from 2011 to 2050, and woudl end up supplying 69% of electricity and 35% of total energy by 2050.

So, you get to stimulate the global solar economy, in ways which will benefit everyone, reduce the USA's dependence upon foreign fuels, and it will cost you less than 1 Iraq war.
Leaving plenty left over to spend on nukes.
I wonder how far 500 billion dollars would go in start up projects and leg up projects in Africa, South America and elsewhere? Probably a very long way.


RE AtlAtl comments.
How can you say there would be no art or music without the Catholic Church ? People had been drawing and painting long before the church existed.
What about the Easter Island sculptures, French cave paintings and Chinese and other Asian art.
I could be wrong but music would have been around before the church, Native American and African rituals used rhythm and dance as did other cultures that were isolated prior to exploration.
Just to be fair yes the church did promote great art but so did plenty of other organisations and people.
People have an innate desire to create and to express themselves you don't need a religion for creativity to flourish.
Also never forget all the creativity religions have tried to suppress down the centuries all those books burned
and people persecuted for the crime of independent thought or belief. I include all religions in this most of them have done their share and in some places still do or would if they got half a chance.
As far as all that wasted money goes how about a worldwide effort to deal with poverty and decent living standards and medical provision for children and communities in the third world. Were in the 21st century and people are still dying from diseases caused by unsafe water and poverty.
How about a UN led effort for research into an HIV vaccine or cure, free generic medication for HIV to help deal with the problems its causing in Africa and other places
Increased public genome and stem cell research for the benefit of everyone not just for private profit.
Decent housing and social provision do something about homelessness. Also don't forget its not just America that pays for the war in Iraq.
Finally if you send people off to fight have the decency to provide properly funded long term medical care if they need it when they come back.


Buy everyone on the planet a "$100 laptop" and a free chunk of broadband internet connection. Then provide a global education program through them. That would address several issues with one program and significantly warm up the global economy too.


Charlie: Damn this shirt is itchy. No no no! :) You missed what I said. What I'm talking about is explicitly post Green meme. Wrong thoughts is where the good shit happens, so we need plenty of those.

Toy's are fun and useful, but the better educated people are as a whole, the less chance of killing each other with them and the greater the chance they'll work out how to power them without poisoning the bathwater, as it were.

"Equipping people with the tools to learn what they need to learn for themselves". I mean that in the most anarchic sense ie http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/. They can climb the ladder of awareness (self -> tribal -> global) if they so choose, though really, in the long run, evolution ain't giving them the choice.

"Gimme those Plasma TVs & SUVs" is a completely congruent thought for a stage of development.

Unless you're so Red you think everything is flat and hierarchies of consciousness don't (or shouldn't) exist?

Going the education route will mean bringing people up through different stages of awareness and yeah at some point plasma tvs and SUVs rule man. And they do.

But even Iain Banks ditched his and I doubt it was just to hang the press release off... :)


Mr Stross (and readers),

One thing many of you are forgetting is that the money did indeed just change hands, and not simply disappear. While the U.S. did directly spend $523 Bn, much of that was towards rebuilding large portions of Iraq: schools and basic utilities, most of which we didn't destroy in the first place, as the neglect of Saddam's regime had already done that. The $6Tn figure (and there have been plenty of critiques of that number), as "indirect" costs, are in many cases costs that we would have spent anyways, regardless of whether we were in Iraq or not, and again, many of them are costs that end up investing in various places in the development of useful infrastructure (and not necessarily in Iraq, for the indirect costs).

Now, I know most of you opposed going into Iraq in the first place. But try to put that aside as you consider this: Iraq has been going incredibly well since the surge, and the Iraqis think they may be able to completely take over the security of their country by the end of the year (keeping U.S. forces around for logistics and support a while longer). In other words, we're pretty close to winning this fight. Also, the Iraq GDP has been growing phenomenally, well past what it ever was during Saddam's reign, ever since he was deposed.

Now, if Iraq succeeds, and if Iraq grows like some of the other countries we've rebuilt such as Japan or South Korea, ask yourselves several questions:

First, how much is it worth, the lives we've saved from Saddam's tyranny (he was killing about 100,000 a year, far more than the terrorists have managed to kill while we've been fighting them throughout Iraq), and the quality of life that we've given the Iraqi populace? Could we have matched a similar number of lives saved/quality of life improved for less money anywhere else? I'm thinking only a couple of investments - most notably clean drinking water worldwide, a couple diseases, and perhaps a couple other tyrannical regimes deposed, such as perhaps North Korea, could have such a positive impact on the world for the price we paid.

Also, how quickly would having a stable, successful, Democratically run country in the middle east pay back the world economy the costs spent making it so?



"How much money would have to go into the practical infrastructure on any of these ideas - I mean in terms of the bribes, advertising and other crass manipulations required to make people change what they're already doing and making money from)?"

Or, more to the point, how many bastards would the world have to kill off to get them out of the way so they wouldn't screw things up like they've been doing for, oh, all of history?

For the last half-century, at least, there have been no natural famines in the Earth. None. Every single time a population group has been starving, it's been because some other group had enough guns and/or political clout to MAKE them starve and die.

Education? Education is easy and cheap, to get people from "don't know anything" to "hey, I can read and do enough math to bootstrap myself." The problem is that, for the most part, a lot of folks think that "those people" don't need to learn anything useful, because they're just peasants (or "untouchables," or ).

...and no, bribes don't work. A huge part of that starvation is because of hatred, not a lack of cash in some jerk's bank account. They want their tribe to run things, and in most cases that means getting rid of all other tribes (political groups, people with different skin colors, et bloody cetera).

The amount of money involved in the sort of undertaking mentioned at the top of this reply would make the Iraq war look like an impulse buy - and would have less of a guarantee of working.


cirby: ... or women. Their brains overheat you know.


Good point, taoist.

The cost of doing nothing could have been extremely high. We can talk about indirect costs but a false peace had indirect costs as well.

Not going into Iraq would have kept Afghanistan as the focus, calling the jihadis there instead, which is tougher for U.S. troops to get to. We'd likely still need a base in Saudi Arabia, and that was a big part of Bin Laden's agit-prop.

Military spending overall is actually now over $600B. Not all of the increase is because of the war. Bush was going to raise the defense budget anyway, just as Clinton had done in his final budget.

It's all here:

It may seem like a lot, but as a percentage of GDP, total U.S. defense spending isn't even where it was in the Reagan era, which was still a drop in the bucket compared to the '50s and '60s.


I'd spend the money on nice, wide freeways all over Africa. With 6 trillion I could probably build those freeways partially out of solar cells and solve two problems. The results of everyone in Africa being able to easily ship their products to the coast/to Europe (through Turkey or a Gibraltar Bridge) would be a bit more interesting than a colony on the moon, IMO.


That's a nice figure to work with. My rule for fantasizing about vast wealth used to be "assume your personal fortune equals the US national debt," but this is a comparable figure in magnitude and makes a stronger rhetorical point.

Unfortunately, I'm currently getting over a nasty respiratory thing that's triggered a migraine, so I'm not feeling very creative. If I think of anything I'll come back. But good premise!


You know, if we just had a benevolent dictatorship of the scientific elite, like they had on Krypton, we wouldn't be in this mess :-)

I mean it to be funny, but it really isn't as facetious as it sounds. The one venue that the government has uncontested authority over is the ability to wage war, and insofar as it has managed to commandeer resources, however poorly its managed them, it has done a fantastic job. But this sort of authority doesn't extend elsewhere, and I think it is legitimate to ask whether this is a necessarily a good thing, in the light of recent troubles.

Plus, if we had a scientific dictatorship, the Ruling Council and their lackeys would probably have a much snappier dress sense, like those tabards Kal-El wore.


Taoist at #30
As to the quality of life in Iraq, check out Ana Badkhen's posts from Iraq, particularly her recent Has life in Iraq improved?, which begins:

Trash pickup in most of Baghdad ended with the rule of Saddam Hussein. Now the garbage chokes the capital's streets and clogs the sewage pipes and canals, which overflow and burst. The sewage that leaks out of broken pipes seeps through the dirt of roads that were once paved, but now have mostly turned to dirt because the tracks of American tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles have destroyed the asphalt over five years of war.


GENERAL ANNOUNCEMENT: while anti-clericalism sometimes amuses, this is Not the thread for it. Further posts on the subject of whether or not the Catholic Church/Islam/J. Random Cult is the root of all Evil will therefore be deleted without warning.

taoist @30: your agenda is showing, and your propaganda talking points don't convince anyone. Piss off back to Little Green Turdballs before I spank you publicly (and ban you). Randy: this goes for you, too. Neocon apologists are no longer welcome on this blog.

ScentOfViolets: aha, I see you're a closet Platonist, yes?

FURTHER GENERAL ANNOUNCEMENT: This thread is for the discussion of what you'd spend $513Bn or $3-6Tn on, given your druthers. Apologias for the policy decisions that incurred the sums in question are verboten. And please, can we try to keep our desires realistic? (Diamond window panes would be great -- and I suspect we could develop the engineering processes for manufacturing them in due course for a lot less than $0.5Tn -- but they're not exactly something we can assume is feasible, or feasible at a reasonable price. Ditto mature molecular nanotech, or other magic wand technologies.)


i think it cost only a trifling amount of money (twenty billion or so) to vaccinate everybody in the world against various diseases.


Martin: of course, you'd then be up against the anti-vaccination idiots, not to mention stuff like this (which would make me want to tear my hair out -- if I had any).


Here's a radical idea for you. How about giving that money back to the people who actually earned it?


Zeph: you mean, the Chinese and European institutional lenders?

(Hint: there is a reason the US government is running a record deficit ...)


I'm thinking solar panels on every house! Let's take energy production AWAY from centralized, for-profit sources that have no interest but to exploit - who's still making money on all this expensive oil? - and put on your roof. Sell back into the grid on sunny days, take only when you need. Bingo!


Ha. I'm feeling kind of smug.. I brought up the calculation about reactors several months ago at certain other writer's forum)..

Myself, I would settle for the reactors.. and research into them and battery technology.. There really is no choice. Either we invent long-range electric cars, or the car civilization is going to croak and stink mightily as it decomposes..

Unfortunately, it's easier to steal from war contracts and war has a better image than nuclear reactors.. so war it was. Besides, it was good for Isreal..(how much less trouble would there be if Jews instead got some part of Germany... there was plenty of space considering all the war dead..)


I like the idea of spending money on education. What would it cost to give everyone in the world a laptop like the OLPC and plumb every inhabited area on the planet for broadband wireless internet (plus beefing up the backbone to handle the traffic)? The computers would cost less than $600 Bn, probably less than $200 Bn given economies of scale in manufacturing and the fact that not everyone needs to get one. I'm more hazy on the infrastructure, but I doubt it would cost more than a $1 Tn or so, so there's still enough money left over to build several open online universities, with staff, infrastructure, and curricula.

I'm less concerned about evolving people's consciousness than about leveling the playing field between the average citizen of the first and third worlds and getting a lot more motivated and educated people into the world economy. The additional capability certainly wouldn't cost as much carbon load as building everyone a car, and would probably on average raise everyone's standard of living more.


Scott R: one problem with solar: until recently, the dirty little secret of the photovoltaic industry was that it takes more energy to make a photovoltaic cell than the thing will produce before it dies of old age. I gather we now have solar cells that (gasp!) are actually net energy positive, but only in the past few years.

Another problem with solar is: it only works when the sun's shining. I might be an easier sell if I lived in New Mexico instead of, oh, Scotland (fifty miles north of Moscow) where at midwinter we get less than six hours' daylight in every 24.

Finally, it's not compatible with high-density housing. (I live in an apartment that shares a single roof with five other dwellings. That's an improvement: I used to share a roof with ten.)

This isn't to say that distributed solar doesn't have a role to play ... but it ain't going to help me, or most anyone else in my country, or a huge number of other people outside it.

Stirlitz: we have a problem with batteries: the more energy they can store, the more they tend to deflagrate violently if something goes wrong. At least petrol-powered cars don't explode on impact or electrocute the guy wielding the jaws of life after a crash. Now this might be a way out of the quandry ...

NB: note that your last comment about Israel is somewhat, ahem, liable to prove controversial. As you're new around here I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt this time, but I strongly suggest you avoid trolling on that topic. If you want to stick around, that is.


*Checks globe*
So we are.

As far as I have read, solar cells in the UK are pointless. Solar water heating though, is a good idea, as is building glass porches and other passive methods of allowing heat into a building. None of this is rocket science, it has been known about for 30, 40, 50 years.

George Monbiot has what sounds a plausible enough plan for Europe that involves wave power in the north, energy conservation measures of the sort we already know about, and solar power in the South of Europe and the Sahara, connecting everything in a large DC electricity networked grid. WE've done it with gas, we already transfer electricity around by AC, so I don't see any technical problems with it. Its more a matter of deciding to spend the money.

I wonder what different 100 million dollars in superconductor research would make?

When I get back to work I'll pester the salesman for information about our customers, and find out more about what solar panel processes they are working on.
One of them, Evergreen, has a natty new way of making the cells:

Instead of using the CZ process, of pulling out a single crystal of silicon, say a foot thick, then sawing it into thin wafers, their process produces the thin sheets of silicon straight away. I suppose they'll be polymorphic, but anyway, it is a vast improvement in terms of energy efficiency of manufacture.



(I warned you not to go off on that tangent, and you had to do it. Take it elsewhere. -- Charlie.)


For principle: I'd return the money to the its previous owners.

For fun: I'd hold a giant world lottery. I can't decide which would be better: mint six thousand new billionaires or six million new millionaires. (The numbers could be higher if lottery tickets cost money, and the money from the tickets went into the award pool.)


I'd like to pass out lots of those cute little Canadian self-contained reactors.

I'd like to feed and water everybody on the planet, but in many cases, that would mean becoming Iraq-like with the dictators and people probably would still starve.

I'd like to set up broadband everywhere and give out cheap computers (like the OLPC) so everybody has access to information (and give them a brief lesson in learning who to trust). If they're cheap enough and everybody has them, they can't be taken by the ruling gangs.


I`d put that money into developing killer sats and clean fusion bombs. Then I`d nuke the hell out of anything except USA and close allies and build an utopia.

See, Charlie, worst things can be done than just invading one third world country... 8-)


"that would mean becoming Iraq-like with the dictators and people probably would still starve."

...in the short run. Is it better to leave the bad guys in charge? Look at Myanmar. The people running that hellhole have already caused more deaths this MONTH than died in Iraq, total, since 2003. Is inaction better?

"If they're cheap enough and everybody has them, they can't be taken by the ruling gangs."

They used to say that about food shipments to places like Somalia, and it was overly optimistic then, too.

You'd have to get orders-of-magnitude improvements in things like power (built-in solar cells and batteries that could run them), networking efficiency (the distributed web), size (iPhone sized, small enough to hide from the people who would want to confiscate or destroy them), and electronic countermeasures (to obscure their location when the bad guys show up with correspondingly-sized network sniffers - check the history of the USSR for references).

A lot of the "energy advances" we're going to see over the next few decades will be in the manner of effective power, not total power. Heating and cooling homes with 1/10 the energy, running computers for days off of a small, not-dense battery, and getting around on 1/3 the fuel in whatever vehicle ends up being popular. That sort of thing.

...and the big advance that could make human life more tolerable for more than half of the planet would be less people to share it with. Birth control is the big one, and it tends to sort itself out when you give a population a high enough standard of living. Less-demanding devices would go a long way to do that for us.


Whether $513Bn or $6000Bn, spend it on the basic research needed to slay Nick Bostrom's Dragon-Tyrant:

Searching for a cure for aging is not just a nice thing that we should perhaps one day get around to. It is an urgent, screaming moral imperative. The sooner we start a focused research program, the sooner we will get results. It matters if we get the cure in 25 years rather than in 24 years: a population greater than that of Canada would die as a result. In this matter, time equals life, at a rate of approximately 70 lives per minute.


Developing manned space tech. That would likely include a Mars mission, larger space station, and moonbase. Investigate ways of living and working in space -- manufacturing, agriculture, asteroid mining.

The spin-off techs should be good, compact and safe nuclear reactors would be one that comes to mind.


Anatoly, you probably shouldn't consider me to be a close ally. (More like the worried-looking guy in the back row, alternately staring between the back of the lunatic's head and the way to the emergency exit.)

Cirby: we have no way of knowing whether anything that replaced the Myanmar junta would be better -- or not. That's the fun dilemma of international intervention, in a nutshell. (One might hope than Aung Sung Suu Kyi would do a better job, but right now she's under house arrest, and her very legitimacy as a nucleus of opposition relies on her having won an election; mount an invasion and put her on the throne and you actually undermine that legitimacy. See? Another happy fun paradox!)

You want a metaphor for why the rest of the world shouldn't intervene in Myanmar? Imagine this scenario: it's late 2000, in the aftermath of a tightly-contested presidential election, and the Galactic Federation shows up in Earth orbit. They believe in freedom'n'democracy'n'apple pie, and they look at your election results, and unilaterally declare that (a) George W. Bush lost the election, and (b) stick Al Gore in the White House. How do you feel about this? And do you consider Al Gore, at this point, to be your legitimate President (if he's been installed by alien fiat, after conceding the election some months earlier)?

Climbing up on my soapbox yet again, I think one of the big problems you Americans have got in engaging with the real world is that no foreign army has put its boots on your soil since, oh, 1812 or thereabouts. Consequently, your visions of military action abroad are bloodless daydreams of adventure, with no potential for blowback, no threat of retaliation leading to rape and pillage in the ruins of your cities. The lack of any understanding that actions have consequences led directly to 9/11. And you know what? I'm not seeing any signs of progress here.

Jocelyn: I agree wholeheartedly.


How about clean water and sanitation?

As it happens, it's the International Year Of Sanitation, and one page says

The estimated $10 billion annual cost to halve the proportion of people without basic sanitation by 2015 (this is the sanitation MDG target) is modest and affordable. If sustained, the same investment could achieve basic sanitation for the entire world within one or two decades. This sum is less than 1% of world military spending in 2005, one-third of the estimated global spending on bottled water, or about as much as Europeans spend on ice cream each year.
But that's only $170 to $270bn, and is expected to have huge economic returns as a side effect of vastly reducing misery. Let's just double that for cleaning up and improving access water, so now I've managed to spend the immediate sum in question by 2035.

Blog software comment: BTW, each time I hit preview I get another layer of rel="nofollow nofollow nofollow". Good that you're using a real HTML generator instead of a heap of regexps though.


Searching for a cure for aging is not just a nice thing that we should perhaps one day get around to. It is an urgent, screaming moral imperative.

So...where are all these people going to live once they, you know, stop dying? You really want an expanding Heinlein-style universe beloved of space-cadets for the lebensraum before you get immortality. Though admittedly people might breed a bit less once they started to see their offspring more as competitors.


"If they're cheap enough and everybody has them, they can't be taken by the ruling gangs."

>They used to say that about food shipments to places >like Somalia, and it was overly optimistic then, too.

I've quoted Cirby because I'm rather amused by his take on the Somali issue. I'm not sure how the laptop plan connects with the persistence of warfare in Somalia - I do know that cirby is not the most well-informed of people when it comes to African or Somali issues.

In the early 1990s, it was indeed proposed that the country be flooded with aid in order to end the (artificially induced) famine. I know of no evidence that this was even attempted. Certainly Alex de Waal doesn't mention it in his excellent work _Famine Crimes_, which includes a compelling critique of 'humanitarian intervention' in Somalia.

If cirby knows better, I'd be very interested to hear *his* evidence.

As for the wider stuff about African infrastructure above, I'd say they're not too far off target. I'd remind anyone interested in those issues that Africa is a far more complex place than it might look from behind a VDU in some western suburb - and that the first task of anyone proposing new developments is to learn a bit of humility. The second task is to read up on what is actually involved in the problem of 'African complexity' - and how Africans themselves deal with it.

>>>You'd have to get orders-of-magnitude improvements in things like power (built-in solar cells and batteries that could run them), networking efficiency (the distributed web), size (iPhone sized, small enough to hide from the people who would want to confiscate or destroy them), and electronic countermeasures (to obscure their location when the bad guys show up with correspondingly-sized network sniffers - check the history of the USSR for references).

For example, if cirby knew anything about Africa today, he'd know that mobile/cell phone technology is taking off in Africa in a BIG way, and often in surprising ways too. The latest issue of the Guardian Weekly to reach me here in Auckland (nb, I read the Guardian, but I am not a 'Guardian reader')includes a report from the town of Gisenye, on the shores of lake Kivu. Amonghts other things it states that the central bus station is filled 'with kids wandering round clutching office telephones. They've somehow reconfigured desktop phones to work as mobiles, and use them to offer roaming calls from the middle of the street. There's stiff competition, as passers-by and bus passengers are approached to select their favourite handset, often fielding calls through the window of buses as they wait to depart'.


Ahhh, Africa.
Funnily enough it has come up several times already today, so I'll blether on about my recollections of what it was that came up.
Firstly, an extract from a book looking at the terrible place that Johannesburg is, and how divided it is, and the effects of privatising water supplies and suchlike.

So, we could spend a few tens of billions on decent water supplies.
Then Radio 4 had something about food, and food in Africa, well, the people they had on generally agreed that the World bank/ neo-liberal policy of no government aid or intervnetion was a pile of shite, and actually giving away some seeds, fertiliser and advice worked quite well in terms of boosting crop output.
So thats another few billion spent...

And on other occaisions I have read news reports and suchlike showing the effect that properly targeted aid can have, from clean water from a well, to educating the locals on how to farm better, and giving them a cow. Even better, in one part of Sub-Saharan Africa, they found that the locals had worked out themselves over the past decade or so, how to farm better. Now they have trees, mixed crops, water storage, etc etc, in place of the near desert they tried to farm 10 and 20 years ago.

There is more than enough knowledge out there now, it just needs spread around.
So I guess all of that would cost 500 billion dollars.


Charlie @ 55:

Climbing up on my soapbox yet again, I think one of the big problems you Americans have got in engaging with the real world is that no foreign army has put its boots on your soil since, oh, 1812 or thereabouts.
Wasn't it 1746 there in Scotland?

In the US it is considered outside the mainstream discourse to consider the possible creation of legitimate grievances abroad by US government action. Trying to fight this here in an even-numbered year is grander folly.


Adrian: the question isn't about stopping people from dying; it's about stopping people from dying of a particular disease state that we generally term 'old age' (and which is progressive, crippling, and hideously debilitating -- I'm getting an eyeful right now thanks to some older relatives). Senescence is a particularly cruel killer and it degrades and violates its victims horribly. Finding a cure for it does not imply immortality; even in the total absence of old age or disease people would tend to die of other causes over time (including accidents, violence, and suicide). I find your response interesting, insofar as it represents a rather milder version of thanatophiliac dingbats like Leon Kass.


Jay: 1746 for boots and armies; considerably more recently -- indeed, within living memory -- if you count being bombed by the Luftwaffe.


I find your response interesting, insofar as it represents a rather milder version of thanatophiliac dingbats like Leon Kass.

Well, death has historically been part of life, you know? You got a way to advance beyond that, or even just change the equilibrium drastically, I'm all ears. Blithe assertions that it isn't a problem worthy of consideration, OTOH...


Adrian: the fact that death ends all lives does not mean that one should hurry it on, much less enthusiastically embrace leprosy. The aging process isn't inevitable; we know of many species that don't undergo it in quite the same way that we do. And it has horrible and unpleasant side-effects. I'm all in favour of mitigating them, and the best means of mitigation would appear to be to look at the underlying cause of the pathology rather than treating the symptoms with ear-trumpets and artificial hip joints.

As long as our total fertility rate doesn't go above 2.1, and we manage to get our environmental footprint under control, I don't see any major drawback to abolishing senescence; a civilization of SUV-driving immortal baby factories would of course be another matter.


If they're driving SUVs, they're more likely to drive them into trees etc, so it's a net carbon win for the world!

One thing that's been bugging me about all this talk of buying discoveries is that we're not playing Civ. How much does it cost to steal one quantum chemist back from finance, and what's the marginal cost of growing a new one, and not just a warm body in it for the cash?

In the short term all we can do is a) redirect research away from other areas in a field and b) pay for conferences, gear, and clerical help. After that there are inelasticities in the labor supplied graph---maybe it's better to think of it as the careers supplied graph.


I'm not sure if this is against the rules, at least in principle, but -

Find the five smartest people with philanthropic ideas you can.

Give them $10 billion each.

Tell them that if they have demonstrable results worth the money, there's another $90 billion waiting for each of them.


38: By Platonist, do you mean TOST, or 'The Republic'?

Here's a nice illustrative doomsday scenario: its found sometime in the spring of 2009 that the temperature is going up 1 degree C above average every two months, and that this will continue for at least the next two years. What is the role of government then? Would this still be a case of just letting the good ol' free market relatively unconstrained by democratic institutions roll on down to a local optimum?

50: Two words - Grail Slavers. Admittedly fictional, but depressingly true to life. Not that there aren't plenty of real-life examples.


"I'm all in favour of mitigating them, and the best means of mitigation would appear to be to look at the underlying cause of the pathology rather than treating the symptoms with ear-trumpets and artificial hip joints."

Isn't this the current thought, though? That 'aging' is the sum total of wear and tear plus imperfect repair mechanisms? No death genes, no generalized Hayflick limit, no 'programmed for death' etiology?


I'll back D.J.P O'Kane's point; the last figure I heard is that there are currently 3 billion (as in 10^9) cell phones in operation in the world today. That means that there are a lot more cell phones outside the "industrialized world" than in it. If someone's taking them all away there's a hell of a big pile of old phones somewhere.

And I'll second Charlie about old age; senescence is a terrible way to go; I just watched my father-in-law go out that way a couple of years ago, and my mother-in-law is heading down the pike fast. As far as breeding ourselves into a sardine can, notice that the world birth rate has been going down pretty steadily since the mid-20th century; the population growth prediction in 1950 based on contemporary rates was that population in 2000 would be well over 8 billion, possibly as high as 10. Oddly enough, making people's lives better off seems to make them less interested in having lots and lots of children.

Back to the phones for a second; giving everyone in the world a smartphone with a screen the size of an iPhone would cost little more than giving everyone an OLPC, and the wireless infrastructure would be pretty much the same. So our peace dividend could give everyone a computer with wideband net that they could hold in one hand and get the same benefits as a laptop, while also giving convenient location services, emergency services, and day-to-day communications. So let me change my vote to that.


I guess this discussion had a bad start. Having read through it, I think the main problem is, that people think they should take $BIGNUM, put it into ONE project that is presumably intended to safe humanity or whatever.

If you really want to spend a large sum, you shouldn't say "on which project should we spend $BIGNUM". But rather "What would be a project that you would like to see realized, what would the benefits be, what are the drawbacks, what are possible interactions with other projects, what do you think would happen in case of mass adoption (think: car->traffic jam), what is your cost estimate? Don't repeat suggestions by others."

Next someone biased in an agreeable way (usually termed "unbiased") gets to select those projects that offer the greatest benefits for the given cost estimate in such a way that one third to half the budget gets spend. The rest will fall prey to cost overruns anyway.


Boondoggles aside, the much more sensible thing to do with the money spent on the war is not to take it in the first place. Much of it is borrowed, since the GOP is tax-phobic. We never really had the money to begin with...

Better to continue to run a surplus and pay down the national debt. Without the debt we'd have a couple hundred billion extra each year to play with...


Charlie, I really like your nuclear reactor plan (it is one of the few methods we have that are suitable for supplying the base load of the grid). I would modify it though, as we have non-base-load needs that aren't being currently supplied, the largest of which is going to be the creation of clean water. Due to climate change, water is going to be the new oil pretty soon.

I'd spend a shitload of money (up to ~20% of the total budget) on building pilot desalination plants intended to supply the American Southwest. There are crossover opportunities with concentrating solar power-generation (ie. non-PV) and desalination, with sewage treatment, as well as with thermal 'cracking' of water, and a few other opportunities. There are a whole bunch of ideas on mixing and matching these, so I'd fund pilot programs for all of them just to find out what works best and then standardizing on it for deployment in the US (example: concentrated solar sterilization of sewage for use as algae feedstock for biodiesel)

The commercial opportunities for deploying the debugged designs worldwide are going to be pretty interesting within less than 20 years, but few are investing now on that basis.



I'd blow the entire $500-6000×109 on AI research, in a vain attempt to immanentize the eschaton or whatever.

Probably, I'd just end up blowing most of the money on useless waste, by creating a new bureaucratic class of "AI Researchers" who don't actually do any research—just push papers around and try to justify their own expenses. There are, after all, only so many smart people around who have any ability to do useful research.

But hey, something good would probably come out of it. Particularly if I earmark a measly $100×109 or so for the development of a robot housekeeper. We seem particularly bad at research into robots, too, but it would lead to some really amusing demonstrations.

And after all, this is the Iraq War we're talking about. Creating a new useless bureaucratic class of Faux Researchers can hardly be a worse boondoggle...


$500 billion? Pump it all into advancing the Singularity and then let The Machine figure the world's problems out.

No, seriously. We're talk about spending billions (trillions?) on long-term research of something that an exponentially increasing AI could figure out in no time once it reaches the tipping point. Building hundreds of nuclear reactors would take a long time using today's methods. Educating the world would take a long time using today's methods.

Perhaps The Machine figures out a cure for cancer, instant education and a way to power an SUV by smiling. Perhaps because its so damn concerned for our welfare that it dismantles all the weapons with its nanotech and turns them into swingsets and mechanical puppies.

Could someone just make sure it doesn't see humans as some sort of energy source?

Sounds a bit crazy? Blame Charlie. I'm just the acolyte.


>then let The Machine figure the world's problems out.

'All humans are as vermin in the eyes of MORBO'.


How much would a prototype orbital solar-power satellite and base-station cost? Often mooted, never tested. First person to build one could open up a world market in clean electricity: pay us $MONEY a year, build a rectenna, and we'll point electricity at you...


Actually solar makes sense even in the UK, a typical house, obviously not flats, with a battery set up could be pretty much electrically self sufficient with current PV technology anywhere in England.

The thing is, PV is just part of an overall solution.

In terms of what to spend that money on... hmmm... a chunk into capacity and super conductor research would be handy too.


Chris @ 76:

The big problem (well, one of the big problems) with space solar power is that launch costs are outrageous. For something like that to make sense, you'd either have to have a ridiculously light powersat, space-based construction (read: factories on the moon), or, well, cheap launches.

So, if you want powersats, the thing to do is to blow the money on cheap launch systems and moon or asteroid mining.

Of course, there are other problems. For one thing, people might complain about you ruining the night sky with your titanic mirror platforms...

And lest you think that $500-6000×109 is plenty, keep in mind that we're talking outrageous here.


Charlie: could you please step down off your soapbox?

The epithet that the US has not seen a foreign invasion force on its lands since whenever, is cheap, dismissive and not particularly constructive. 20th century events didn't deter Mr. Blair from being rather cooperative with the US' deceitful plans. As for the vision of bloodless adventure known as US military action, I don't know about that. I for one can remember any number of films about US military action that was anything less than bloodless, so I would say that not even our "visions" meet the basic criteria we are being accused of. Also, I can pull-up at a moments notice (and occasionally do) international coverage of various bad things happening around the world, military and not, and actually see what is going on. I don't own a television, and I generally get a limited amount of my "news" from "mainstream" US news sources because they tend to be woefully watered down, and often the analysis is simply wrong. Not to mention that US news sources are, well, US centric.

Although I cannot make this claim with any scientific authority, my personal experience, among my friends is similar: people in America are diversifying their information sources. At least some of them are ;-) . It's probably not a good idea to assume that all Americans are isolationist or immature or "importantly" inexperienced.


>Oddly enough, making people's lives better off seems to make them less interested in having lots and lots of children.

I'll return the favour by backing up Bruce here. The pattern he points to here has certainly been the case in Ireland; no longer would you find people having double-digit families (my grandfather came from a family of 16 for example).

This is the point that was hammered home to me when I was an undergraduate and the question 'was Malthus right' came up. I hammer it home to my kids today; it's just a pity it has yet to filter out into the wider world, where the thought of 'all those brown people' keeps too many people awake at night. If you're going to stay up at night worrying, there are far more credible threats out there.


There are? The differential in birth rates (and I'm focused on..oh..a difference of belief rather than skin colour) for immigrant groups into the West has not dropped, and indeed has risen, even while the source countries has dropped. This...is a concern, especially when certain groups are repeatedly seen in certain catagories of vicious crime. Anyway..

(Erk. You're making me sound Right Wing, and that's bad)

Anyway, the uranium wouldn't last if you built that many reactors without also spending on the far, far more expensive breeder reactors. Or cracked the thorium cycle.


I'm all for curing senescence, but you're not being realistic if you think overpopulation won't be a problem. It's true that fertility rates in the west are now below 2.1, implying negative population growth, but --

  • -In evolutionary or even historical time this is a brief trend which should not be taken as a law of nature.

  • -If you segment the population, you see that some of it has an abysmally low TFR, while other segments still have a high TFR. There are at least a million people like the Amish, Hasidim, Hutterites, FLDS, quiverful movement followers, and old-school Catholics who still have 8 or so children each, and they alone could max out any resources you have, regardless of any technological advances. Exponential growth is a bitch. here's a calculation that shows how many of these people there would be in a thousand years at a 3% annual growth rate, which is about what it is currently. That's too far away for most people to care about now, but if you get rid of senescence it suddenly becomes more relevant.

    (I would also like to note that high TFRs are not exclusive to religious nuts, but they alone are sufficient to make this point).

  • -Finally, if you beat senescence you probably extend a woman's window of time to have a baby from age 40 or so to $AGE_SHE_GETS_HIT_BY_BUS. Women will no longer have to choose between career and children, lonely empty nesters will be able to have babies - as a father of a young child who has seen how old ladies react to babies I would be happy to bet anybody that they would make more of them if it were physically possible. Therefore, this technology would increase TFR.

Of course, there's a simple solution to this problem - Chinese-style regulation of reproduction. For a modern Westerner, to contemplate this idea is to go way off the reservation, but no more so than it would have been for, say, one of Cromwell's subjects to envision a multicultural secular society. The alternative would be rather Malthusian.

Anyway, as for what to do with the money, I would balance the budget. Maybe I didn't read carefully enough, but if anybody has already mentioned the fact that the US govt has been bleeding red ink this whole time, and that the low end figure wouldn't even balance the budget, I missed it.


Well, I have just been going over this rather good discussion (except where in went on weird tangents) and I am surprised no one brought up this website


It's by on of those left progressive groups, and you just 'shop' and see how much of that money you can spend. And big scale projects are included. WARNING: Site is American-centric, and also leans heavily left. But they did include worldwide vaccination as an option.

Also curing old age would be nice; but does that mean the end would be like going out 'as an old one horse shay'. And lets see who gets THAT reference.


charles @83 "Also curing old age would be nice; but does that mean the end would be like going out 'as an old one horse shay'. And lets see who gets THAT reference."

Well, Randall Garrett did, in The Sixteen Keys.

And I'd take it, in preference to many long years of painful physical and mental incapacity. I would like having the part of my life that's worth living extended, but the worth living bit is important.

And to get back to other concerns, life in a world crammed with immortal SUV-wielding baby factories is unlikely to be worth living. So one way or another, we all die, and that's not a bad thing. But we should not have to be miserable while waiting for it.



There are? The differential in birth rates (and I'm focused on..oh..a difference of belief rather than skin colour) for immigrant groups into the West has not dropped, and indeed has risen, even while the source countries has dropped. This...is a concern, especially when certain groups are repeatedly seen in certain catagories of vicious crime. Anyway..

Andrew, dear boy - could you tell me which specific cases (if any), you're thinking of?

I ask because I'd say that if certain immigrant groups are carrying on high birth rates even when the birth rate in their home countries have dropped, that proves the point about birth rates being an epiphenomenon of other social factors, not (as Malthus saw it) an independent variable in its own right.

And if certain groups (again, which groups?) are overrepresented for some sorts of crime (btw, do you mean political crimes, or those committed by what is known in Northern Ireland as 'Ordinary Decent Criminals'?) then again that is, IMO, a product of the social environment rather than anything inherent in whatever specific immigrant groups we may be talking about.


This just in: new study appears to show that the Muslim fertility in Europe is beginning to decline, indicating that the neocons were wrong when they painted our Muslim friends as a ticking time bomb in our midst.

See here: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2008/muslimsineurope.aspx

When my mum was completing her medical training in Cork city in the late 1960s, she had to deal with a case of a woman whose uterus failed after having her 12th child. My mum tells me that when she and the nurses pulled back this woman's bedclothes they found that the whole bed was sodden with blood from this woman's haemorrhaging. It took 24 hours (and stealing blood from other parts of the hospital) to staunch the flow.

Once Ireland started to close the development gap, you found that people very rapidly abandoned both the practice of having superlarge families and also the wider religious belief systems that encouraged that practice.

Interestingly enough, while condoms were illegal in Ireland until 1987, the contraceptive was never banned, so long as you could persuade your doctor that you needed it to regularise your periods. Irish women, for some years, posted the world's highest incidence of dysmennorhea.


'Contraceptive' in the above post should be followed by 'pill' as in 'contraceptive pill'.


It's fascinating, in the way a slow-motion movie of a train-wreck might be, to see what comes out of the woodwork.

Allowing for inflation, the Iraq war expenditure is about five times what the Marshall Plan cost.

It's four Apollo programs, and that includes duplicating the design, the devolopment, and the infrastructure.

And these fed money back into the American economy. The Marshall Plan gave European countries, short of foreign exchange, the dollars to buy goods from the USA. When a Saturn V was "thrown away" the money had already been paid to American industry and American workers.

Where has the money spent on Iraq gone?

To be honest, I wonder where some of the money which went into the craziness of mortgage derivatives, and current weirdnesses of commodity futures, has come from.

Still, that much money could buy a lot of assassinations. You might have to work through a certain sort of politician a few times, and where would a new Nye Bevan come from anyway?




Charlie, I was kidding about nuking the hell out of everybody. Seriously. 8-)

I`d like to point that while costs of Iraq war are enormous, there are even bigger expences happening every year that probably could be avoided. USA budget for 2008 was 2.66 trillion (wiki, may be wrong). Just by reforming health insurance and welfare and cutting on military research a bit, USA could probably trim 0.5 trillion EVERY YEAR. This is not even Martian colony, this is TERRAFORMATION budget.

Ultimately, they could rise taxes a bit and get 0.5 trillion while cutting on nothing. Of course, taxpayers would love that. As much as Martian base, are assume... 8-)


Chris L: we have a technical term for gigawatt-scale orbital power stations with directional microwave power transmitters: we call them "death rays".

Jim @79: no, I will not step down off my soapbox. You're welcome to find your own (however: not here).


Space Elevators + super conducting cable + orbital power might be interesting. Bloody expensive and horribly speculative, but definitely interesting.

I'm still far more in favour of bottom up schemes though. Carl Sagan used to say that the way to solve the looming population crisis was to educate women.


Charlie, there are people you just couldn't trust with a death ray, and some of the most vocal examples seem to be Americans.

One the other hand, you could trust me. I only have a little list, and they really wouldn't be missed, I assure you. Indeed, out of the goodness of my heart, I shall even refrain from presenting to you my list (set to a certain well-known piece of music) so as to allow you the pleasure of anticipation.


Dave: Yes, but when did you acquire the fluffy white cat and the monocle?


we have a technical term for gigawatt-scale orbital power stations with directional microwave power transmitters: we call them "death rays".

Doesn't worry me. I've got my tinfoil hat...


Jim Powers @80: Back in 2001, somebody attacked the United States, killing about 3000 people. The US population went crazy because it had never happened to them before.

That number of dead is about 3 months casualties in the ongoing mess in Iraq, and has been for the past five years. The USAF is, to this day, dropping bombs in Baghdad and causing property destruction on a scale that dwarfs what happened in New York and Washington in 2001.

But the stuff going on endlessly in Iraq and Afghanistan you only see if the US media bothers to show you it (and it's rarely "news" any more), otherwise it's life as normal, Memorial Day barbeques and basketball games. As for the blood you see in films, you're talking about works of fiction. There is a difference.

Spending the money on water and sewage systems and telecoms and Internet in the Third World: great idea, but who's going to keep them running after they are built? It's not the initial cost, it's the upkeep and sad to say it takes a non-Third-World way of thinking to keep sophisticated infrastructure running.


Hmm. All the good ones seem to be gone. The smart thing to do is invest your money in people and infrastructure so they can fix their own problems as noted multiple times above. But for an idea not previously discussed, you could spend the money on training and employing artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers* and subsidizing their output. A flood of new creators distributing their art cheaply across the world - well the odds are it wouldn't change anything, but it might transform everything forever in ways we can't begin to imagine. Plus I'm sure we could find $100M for a film of The Atrocity Archives (which we'll be able to get round to watching once we've finished this script for the TV series of Perdido Street Station**.)

For $513B I'd want not just a Moonbase, but a space intruder detector, three UFO interceptors, a submersible aircraft carrier, tracked APVs and a secret base disguised as a film studio. Purple wigs and string vests optional.

* Add in your actors set designers, etc.etc. and your own favourite allied profession I've forgotten - there's plenty of money for it!
** It stays pretty close to the original, but the studio wanted a more upbeat ending


at the standard contractor price of $6 per square foot of concrete paved the entire country over 17 times


I believe somethign liek $25 million would by anti-malarial netting that would save several million lives - a paltry sum. I blogged about this in 2005, back then $7.4 billion was projected to be able to save 10 million lives. So, having spent $10 on that, I'd get to work on improving water supplies and sanitation for the half of the human specieis living in their own shit. I'd put $250 billion into that, just to make sure, and to build some pretty fountains - I'm including irrigation in that lot. So, after that, end world hunger, I know, I know, but if we could stop 36 million people (roughly) dying of starvation and starvation related diseases, think of all the work they could do and ideas they could have. Lets allocate $200 billion to that one. After that, we've got about 2 million annual deaths (according to some BP report I once read) that die from lung diseases from cooking on open fires, so lets help stop that while we're at it, and throw $50 billion at that one.

All above figures inflated to buy our way round political problems through kickbacks.


Charlie @92: Well, that's disappointing, I expected better of you.

Robert @97: Assume it did happen before, people wouldn't go "crazy"? What is crazy under this circumstance? What is not crazy?

Seriously, this is childish. This opinion about Americans is really nothing more than an ill-informed bitter, dismissive stereotype. Sad really. I can (and do) also read the Iraq Body Count site, I have no illusions about the number of dead in Iraq. Feel free to hold on to your petty stereotypes of American if you will, you'll find that they will not serve you well.

RE: systems, telecoms, Internet vs the Third World - I don't know where you are going with this one. A system is not a point in time, it grows and develops with the population. Inserting any persistent system anywhere requires upkeep and upgrades. What are you trying to illustrate?

As for Carlie's original post subject, obviously there is a lot that can be done with 0.5-6 trillion dollars that is far more beneficial than invading, rebuilding (or failing to rebuild if that be the case), and continuing our dependency on fossil fuels.

How about this: using that money (or some of it at least) to set up a school system to compete with proliferation of the madras schools all over the Middle east. And before you accuse me of some sort of American Christian orthodoxy and a sense of crusade-like "moral duty" - I am a hard-core atheist. I simply worry a great deal about a large population with a dark-ages world view living in a world with profoundly destructive technology. Education, not eradication is the key.



(Chuck: you don't need to both email me and post here. Nor do I appreciate being ranted at and spoon-fed a second-hand regurgitation of the White Man's Burden as re-engineered for a contemporary American audience. -- Charlie)


Charlie, with regard to #43, wouldn't it have been great if all those lending institutions had invested in something other than our war in Iraq? The horrible reality is that the money "spent" on Iraq was borrowed, not saved and then squandered, so what is the real loss of opportunity cost of the interest that needs to be paid back on the war? But to get back to the fun--hovercars, when do we get the dang hovercars, it's 2008 for heaven's sake? We have to keep up 1950's SF's timetable for our future and we are failing miserably.


If you go nuclear, you should earmark a good chunk of that money to pay for the relocation of every damn person living in Nevada and moving them to some other state so we can finally get the Yucca Mountain repository opened.


I think you're rather missing the point, Chuck @102. Ethnocentric and jingoistic these alternatives might be, but they wouldn't be as big a waste of human life and capital as burning money in Iraq has proven to be. And however much you approve of the way Dick Cheney and his Halliburton cohort are spending your tax dollars on cheap HDTVs and the rest, it's not actually doing a lot for you personally, is it?


@102 "Does he think that money being spent in Iraq is being loaded on a rocket and launched into the sun, never to circulate in global markets again?"

Does money spend on space missions get spent in space? No.

Does sending people to be maimed or killed has negative economic impacts? Yes.

The fact remains we're spending congress is approving BILLIONS. Congress could spends those BILLIONS else where.

Then on TOP of that we're causing negative economic effects.

NASA on the other hand tends to have positive economic effects.

What if instead of the IRAQ war we took the same money, and the same people and did basic science. You can get a lot of research done for 500 Bn.

Or eliminated copy writes, and just payed artists.


Jim @101: this is my soapbox, and I'm the one who's paying for it in cold cash. You may have noticed that I don't carry ads on my blog, other than the buy 'em now links to my own books. This is a significant point: this is not a public space, it is my space.

I am of the opinion that (a) it would be unethical to inflict ads on my readers when I, myself, routinely surf the web with a browser buttoned up to the eyeballs to keep said spam out of my neocortex, and furthermore (b) my willingness to call a spade a bloody shovel might be called into question if I was in the position of having to avoid offending the advertisers, and finally (c) insofar as this whole website is one honking great big advertisement for Charlie Stross, Writer, and his opinions, why dilute it?

You are very welcome to express your opinions freely -- all you have to do is rent your own soapbox, or printing press, or colocated server. In the meantime, I'm willing to put up with quite a lot here: but there are limits.

Over the past couple of years this blog appears to have acquired a native culture; I seem to have accidentally evolved a watering hole for a small-scale online community. And from time to time it has unfortunately attracted wingnuts whose opinions I find repulsive and who I am not willing to provide a platform for, at (I repeat) my own expense.

I'm currently having a re-think about what the limits to acceptable discourse here should be, in view of this. I actually quite like having a bijou internet salon, but as Teresa Nielsen Hayden points out, all it takes is a couple of fuckwits to spoil the tea party for everyone else. Tolerating trolls spoils the atmosphere and, more importantly, drives away people who aren't willing to engage in a perpetual flame fest with them. In the ruthless, thrusting, advertising-driven jungle of competition that is the fight for eyeball counts on the web, if you tolerate trolls, you lose. So I'm getting ready to clean house around here, and a preliminary phase of that operation involves serving notice on the bad apples that they're not wanted here.

(See all the CENSORED BY MODERATOR posts? Yes, them.)

Finally: I may be in Great Dictator mode, but I'm not entirely arbitrary. Later this week I'm going to post an explicit moderation policy. Thereafter, I'll be enforcing it rigorously. The goal of the policy will be to make a safe space for civilized discourse. You don't need to check your ideology at the door to participate in said civilized discourse: all you need to do is bear in mind Oliver Cromwell's plea to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."


Jim @101: The US population is still crazy after an incident that cost a mere 3000 lives and that five years ago. The pols haven't helped, peddling fear and xenophobia to the populace which has absorbed the idea that 9/11 was The Worst Thing That Ever Happened Anywhere and that justifies all the stupid things the US is doing with its big sticks around the world, punishing brown-skinned people for no real reason.

I really truly believed that when 9/11 happened that the US would go crazy for a time, but I expected it to get its shit together within a few months like it did after Pearl Harbor. I'm still waiting.



We had Pancho Villa raiding into the US in the last century, German saboteurs blowing things up before we were at war with them, and corpses and oil coming ashore during that wonderful time when our Navy decided to ignore everything they'd learned from the UK about the values of convoy because they were sure that unescorted convoys were more dangerous than sending ships out one by one. Then there was the whole "large chunk of fleet sunk in US territory" attack on December 7, 1941.

We haven't had large scale destruction, for the most part, but we've had some. Pretty much every veteran who served in Europe in World War II who I've spoken too mentions how weird it seemed to them to see big cities like the ones they'd seen at home blasted and wrecked. (The ones who served in the Pacific, like my grandfather, do not, in my experience, say the same thing-though I've never spoken to anyone who helped to liberate Manila, and they might have similar opinions to the ones who fought in Europe.)

we have a pretty large body of people who fought in either Korea, Vietnam or World War II (the latter getting smaller by the day), we are getting large chunks who were in Iraq or Afghanistan, and it doesn't seem to have done much to make us less enthusiastic about warfare.

A big part of the reason, in my opinion, isn't the lack of destruction or death on the home front so much as the fact that we came out of World War II so much more powerful than we were before the war. The folk of the Soviet Union, who suffered destruction and death within their borders on a scale that few other peoples can even think of, had and have similar feelings.


Charlie @107: I'd be quite disturbed to do anything in the bowels of Christ, really. (I agree with the spirit of it, but 17th century expletives were... interesting. I mean I can understand 'swounds and 'sblood, but *bowels*? I can't really think of anything *less* sacred-seeming.)


Nix: I'd translate Cromwell into contemporary English as, "for fuck's sake, consider the possibility that you might sometimes be wrong."


re: "money doesn't just disappear".

Some commenters have been arguing that money never simply vanishes, it is transferred elsewhere. In the case of war, this is not true. If I put millions of dollars into constructing a building, and someone else puts millions of dollars into constructing a missile to blow up that building, the money certainly does vanish into a pile of rubble. Every bullet shot, every vehicle blown up, every life lost, it's all money vanishing.


I'm not sure if this is on or off-topic, but part of the thread is discussing US war involvement, past & present.
Well, it's well-kown that the US had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into WWII, but what isn't so well-known is why thsi was so, especially since FDR regarded war with the Nazis as inevitable.
Ever heard of a Nazi-sympathiser group called, innocously "America First"?
Or the ties between corporate BigBusinees and the Nazis?
Like THIS:

In the meantime, I think both a lot of RELIABLE nuclear reactors, plus a decent space-programme are the way to go.


G. Tingey: it's off-topic but just about forgivable, given that this whole damn thread has driven off the road and into the sand dunes some time since.

(Memo to self: must recruit co-moderators to keep the trolling down. Coyu was right ...)


Nuclear power is bad for the same reasons coal power is bad. The gird, fuel and waste.

With solar, wind and power efficiency you can eliminate the need for the power grid.

Nuclear fuel has all the potential troubles that fosil fuels pose now if nuclear was common.

And nuclear waste/polution is worth considering.

Replace all the incandescent bulbs with LEDs and you simply don't need all that power to begin with.


We could have bought a billion hookers and gotten all of Asia laid.


I wrote a post about this a while back... instead of funding the war in Iraq, we could nearly double the salaries of teachers in the US... or alternatively, you could double the teaching workforce, depending on the overhead involved.



I really truly believed that when 9/11 happened that the US would go crazy for a time, but I expected it to get its shit together within a few months like it did after Pearl Harbor.

Well, they did actually have a country to go after then, rather than an abstract noun. Most people work better with well-defined goals.




#115: you can eliminate the need for the power grid.

The grid is 90-something percent efficient. I think it's 6 or 3 percent lossy. Can't remember off the top of my head.


#119: respond in kind to the 911 attacks

If invading Iraq was responding to 9/11, we've got some lousy aim, or lousy memory, or lousy something.


This excersize of pretending we had any other choice but to respond in kind to the 911 attacks is both callous and irreverent.

It's reverence you're wanting now?





Interesting discussion, when it isn't being derailed by the wingnuts.

To me, the important thing is to wean us (meaning the US) off of burning some 12 million barrels of oil every day in cars, trucks, et al. 70% of our oil budget goes into transportation and solving that issue seems critical. Plus, having far less need for oil would make it less likely that we'd be bombing the Middle East so that we can drive to Granny's on December 25th for less than $10 a gallon (for a while, anyway).

So, at the risk of being naive and taking the lazy way out, I'd toss all $523b into primary research to replace oil for the internal combustion engine with... well, something not oil and with much less of a carbon footprint. Maybe it is electricity in the form of solar (space and terrestrial), then moving transportation from fossil fuels to electricity. Maybe it is finding a way to crack H2O inside the engine and use the hydrogen as a fuel cell. Maybe it is something else or some combination of 'esles'.


Folks, we have been BoingBoinged. Get your helmets on, it's about to rain trolls!

Jessica, I'm not sure the internal combustion engine is the problem; they're actually getting close to the limits of what you can do with the Carnot cycle these days, and I'll buy into battery power only when they find a technology that doesn't have a failure mode that involves lumps of lithium catching fire. The real issue is where the stored/transportable fuel comes from, not how we turn it back into energy. (Unless anyone is still advocating chlorine trifluouride and boron carbide as fuel :)


December 7, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. December 11, Germany and Italy declare war on America. America returns the favor.

Operation Torch lasted, count them, two days, as the Allies landed troops in French Morocco. The point was not so much to attack the French, but to attack the German troops in Tunisia.

Morocco was held by the Vichy French government, which at the time was collaborating with the Nazi government that occupied France at the time. The Allies were worried about the French forces in Morocco fighting them and worked to convince the French forces there that they were not the enemy, rather the germans were.

I'm not entirely sure if that makes them qualify as a "neutral" country, by the way.

For your comparison to hold any sort of water, when Al Queda performed the 9/11 attacks on America, Iraq would have to have declared war on America.

Instead we invaded Iraq, allegedly, because they had weapons of mass destruction. The weapons inspectors at the time said they had disarmed their programs. But we invaded anyway, only to find no WMD's. We didn't invade because Iraq had ties with Al Queda. There was no Iraq-Al Queda connection until after we invaded and began an occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the occupation has lasted five years, and there is no end in sight.

I don't think there really is a comparison between the two, at all.


my post at #127 was in response to the post at #123, which has been deleted for wingnuttery. Could probably delete 127 as well. Otherwise, I'm talking to myself again.


Actually I think we can skip the global telecoms stuff because its happening and fast too. Somebody upthread mentioned the 3 billion mobile phones out there.

I remember the celebrations at 3GSM in Cannes in 2004 for the 1 billionth GSM subscriber - so the market has trebled in 4 years.

Part of this is the same reasoning that meant that Ireland, Spain, Portugal and others leapt ahead in mobile adoption in the early 00s. Moribund wireline suppliers unable to get phones to people, compared to anybody able to throw up a cheap GSM basestation and get people online.

The BOM of a "standard" mobile phone is now down under $15 and that's not including a growing market in second hand phones.

People in Africa are already building micro-credit banks using phones and SMS which is dramatically changing money use patterns and commerce. All good stuff and happening because it's simple, cheap and effective.

It's a fun business to be in.


Greg, I just nuked the troll from orbit. You can rest easy.

(Dammit, I've got a novella to be writing! I need moderator minions!)


By my calculations, that money could buy a 50" Plasma HDTV for every household in the United States. Which would be a nice little treat for them.

It could probably be used to breed one Godzilla-level radioactive monster. But subsequent monsters of the same kind would be much cheaper to breed.

We could put a dome over three cities:
Probably all in Iowa or New Hampshire.

That money would probably be enough for 100 fully loaded Trident submarines. Not quite enough to give one to every country on Earth, but it would be a start. I'm sure there would be significant benefits to this.

It would also handsomely fund four expeditions into the Hollow Earth. Ultimately this would pay for itself from ticket receipts for an exhibition of captured dinosaurs.



it's not the power loss, it's the risk. The gird goes down all at once.

Micro power is robust.



the internal combustion engine isn't the issue. It's an efficient and practical means of travel.

Building cars out of steel on the other hand is ridiculous.

Build cars out of carbon fiber composites, lose half the weight, and since energy needed is a function of weight moved... you save half the oil used to travel.


Charlie re comment 47:
..it takes more energy to make a photovoltaic cell than the thing will produce before it dies of old age. I gather we now have solar cells that (gasp!) are actually net energy positive, but only in the past few years...
This has not been true for quite some time. Virtually all varieties of PV cells have been net energy positive for quite some time. The current energy break-even point for average PV cells is around 2 years in high sun areas in the US but even in low direct sun environments virtually all types are net energy positive at around 10 years and they have an expected 20 year lifespan. Here's one reference that goes into the detail http://www.solarbus.org/documents/pvpayback.pdf

...it only works when the sun's shining....
Not exactly true - they produce power when light falls on them and in the case of less sunny climes they do actually produce power even when there is no direct sunlight. In fact when it's cloudy and all or almost all of the light is diffuse then the orientation of the panel makes very little difference. That means that for a sufficiently cheap (in terms of input energy) PV solution you can generate power from all available surfaces.

..it's not compatible with high-density housing. (I live in an apartment that shares a single roof with five other dwellings...
See above - while a tracking solar panel on an open and unshaded roof will be the most efficient solution, it is not necessary. A PV panel on the side of a block of flats in Scotland would only generate ~ 15-20% of a sun tracking one in Colorado but even so it would eventually be net energy positive.
Storage is necessary but universally deployed PV panels configured to shunt excess power back into a grid that then used pumped storage stations as demand buffers would be a practical and effective solution today.



I like the submarine idea. The irony of all our war spending is that piracy on the high seas is on the rise. Which is silly because militarizes are actually good at solving that problem, when they're not bogged down.


Charlie @47:

I tend to see solar as a better option than nuclear, but not all (or even mostly) PV, but rather solar thermal or concentrated solar power. I liked the Solar Grand Plan mentioned by guthrie @27, but thought even that placed too much emphasis on PV.

The nice things about solar thermal are 1) it requires *much* less in the way of specialized materials and manufacturing capacity than PV - we're far less likely to run out of things that can function as mirrors and others that can serve as working fluids in a heat engine than we are to run into limits on the supply of dopants for silicon, or even high-quality silicon itself, and 2) you can even draw power at night, using stuff like molten salt that retains heat for long periods of time. *Far* more efficient than trying to store power in batteries or with compressed air.

Of course, some of the funds would have to be kept for improving the grid, and some research into both better PV and further testing of passively safe nukes would also be nice.


Henry @131: The US grid suffers large-scale failures, yes. It doesn't happen elsewhere since we insist the grid operators maintain and upgrade our grids to meet new demand for electricity instead of allowing the free market to work its will.

With grid-based systems electricity generated locally is distributed nationally. People can flick the lightswitch and assume the light will come on every time. This is not true of most non-grid power systems where the light coming on depends on whether you've fuelled up the generator recently, the wind is blowing just right or the batteries are charged up from the solar panels since it's night-time now.

@132: Nope, cars don't save energy proportional to weight, otherwise motorbikes would be capable of 300mpg. The energy sink for vehicles is air resistance which goes up as the cube of speed. Lighter bodyshells help fuel economy a bit, especially in hillier areas but carbon fibre is expensive to manufacture in energy terms and isn't a cost-effective method of improving fuel efficiency. Mostly it improves acceleration figures which is why it features in motor racing and sports cars.


"we are to run into limits on the supply of dopants for silicon, or even high-quality silicon itself"

that's why nanosolar has people excited. Their cells don't use silicon.


Transportation infrastructure, as well as other infrastructure repairs and upgrades. If infrastructures of water, power, communications and transportation were planned, and built concurrently, it would be much more cost effective than doing it piecemeal and inefficiently, as it is currently done.


I'm coming from left field/left wing here.

I do not think that using the money on more technology, of any kind, is an appropriate solution. The technology is good; the pay structures aren't.

As a specific example, consider the "Give everyone a laptop" meme. Sorry, that is meaningless without basic literacy. And one doesn't get basic literacy without better pay for teachers, instead of more technology in the classroom. There's no reason whatsoever that first-year doofus traders at financial firms should be making three times the average salary of a first-year teacher. It wouldn't even require raising taxes... since that US$523B is all in tax money spent here. Then there's the "side issue" that maybe — just maybe — our educational system would benefit from having people in the middle or top of their university cohort encouraged to go back into the classroom as role models for education, instead of a system in which an honor student is unlikely to have any teachers who were honor students themselves.

N.B. Don't try to claim that your country does it better. It doesn't, anywhere in the West, or in Japan or Korea. There may well be isolated pockets of "acceptable," but that's not the standard to which we should aspire.

Then sit back and wait fifteen years or so for the benefits to start flowing in. What will they be? How should I know? How could anyone know?

Iterate for other areas discussed above.


C. E. Petit: yes, exactly right. (I don't think anybody does education right. I don't even think we know how to do education right.)


For those who think that the money is just re-circulating, I suggest you read this:

What would I spend the money on?
Well, I'd probably try to better educate the enormous amount of people in the US who still believe in creationism, since if we could establish a more rational majority we could have quite a beneficial effect on the word.
Imagine a US citizenry better informed about science, civil rights, and global economic policy. We might actually reclaim something of our former national identity. I believe the the USA's regression into a medieval theocratic feudal society is at the root of a lot of the worlds problems.


To those proposing Nuclear Power, can anyone point to a URL of the lifetime energy cost of Nuclear power. From rocks in unstable countries to decommissioned reactors and stored waste. I have this nagging feeling that if we had invested the capital that went into the nuclear industry into renewables we would have solved the energy problem by now.

As for the original question, the trick is and is going to be persuading the relatively rich nations that supporting the poor is not altruism, its self interest. I don't know what order to put them in but it's always the same things that need doing
- Clean water
- Basic health
- Education (especially of the women in patriarchal societies)
These are not hugely difficult. They're not even hugely expensive. But they take a little will. And they take a little long term thinking. SciFi authors such as yourself are accustomed to thinking in millenia and tens of millenia. Can't we get governments to think in terms of at least decades?

Plan for 1 year, stockpile food, ship medicine, filter water. Plan for 10 years, educate. Plan for a 100 years, plant trees. Plan for 1000 years, get off the planet. Plan for 10,000 years, start a new religion or just renovate the pyramids.


Matt: "if we could just educate the enormous number of people in the USSR who don't really get the need to spread Leninism around the world, if we could get them involved in our rational program, we could have a beneficial effect on the world."

Be cautious in what you wish for: I only changed one signifier and one nation there.

(Also: from the not-in-the-USA perspective, it's not about you. There's a curiously prevalent belief that many Americans hold (and, to be fair, many other people in other lands) that events in their own country are of pivotal, critical importance to everyone else on the planet. It just ain't true. It's not about you, or me, or us, or them. It's about everyone, and we are not everyone.


Our Fine Host @ 56:

Oh, I'm more than ready to shovel shit for our Culture masters, once they ever get around to Freeing the Shit out of us in the US... not that having one's shit freed is a pleasant or painless process. (Just finished Matter the other day.)

The main difference between your countryman Banks' fictional interventions and the real mucking about the US et al. get up to is... the US almost always intervenes for some benefit of our own, regardless of the cover story. This sours the punch quite a bit.

(Incidentally, Ken MacLeod's Execution Channel has me hating myself something fierce right about now... then it'll be on to your Glasshouse so I can feel rotten about gender politics.)

Jim @ 80 and below: When you're done ruining what is also my country, let me know... I'd like to get some use out of it before they pack me off to Gitmo.

Wrt the general "all the Americans..." comments... please have some pity for those of us of like mind in their company.

Clearly, some of that 6 Trillion ought to have been spent on defanging the US before we decide we like Airstrip One sans Parliament. It seems our leaders are of the opinion that when they ‘won’ the cold war, they won the planet, that it is theirs… I’m sure the rest of you have something you’d like to say about that.

Petit @ 139: I’m not sure you’re left of where you think you’re left of.

OLPC is a –literacy program-… “talking books? are good for that sort of thing. Cuba and Venezuela have had great success with VHS recordings of teachers giving lectures.

Really… is 6 trillion dollars too little to buy the United States a real left wing? (Cointelpro –has- to have cost less…)


there was a post on this at something awful a couple years ago when the number was smaller

The suggestion of 29 Statues of Liberty that shoot laser beams out of their torch - "A laser-wielding Lady Liberty could be stationed in every US mega port as well as several of our large urban centers. What better way to ring in the dawn of this new age than by transforming the symbol of our nation's heritage of freedom into a death-spitting dark angel presiding over the time of ruin? There is no better way." was the best suggestion ever.

I think putting the money into desalinization is great but wasted - the Kuwaitis and Saudis are rolling in cash right now and they're throwing serious coin into that one already. We need to put it into stuff that there's a competitive advantage to America doing it. Since Dominos has improved on high speed pizza delivery with their 'pizza tracker' technology - the 4 M's are out...

i'd drop it on an asteroid base (Eros or some other appropriate NEO), government built and operated gasoline refineries (that'll teach em to pricefix) to operate at cost, some massive solar power generating facilities like that cool one they're building in spain... Government funded freenets in every major city (that would cost almost nothing).

We need money on repairing old infrastructure too. The weather satellites are failing, there are a going to be a LOT more fires and we havent spent any money on new firefighting planes, schools are crumbling (having had to paint and fix up a classroom for a public school teacher last fall i can tell you the environment into which we send urban kids in to learn is abominable), roads in states without powerful senators or presidents are awful etc.

Of course the whole 'realistic approach thing' is a bit of a pipedream... might as well wish for a laser wielding lady liberty.


Charlie @107: No disputing that this is your soapbox. I am trying to get my soap box up as well (also without ads), but Verizon is giving me an f-ing hard time. The point I was making is that generalized stereotyping is not particularly fruitful, nor is it welcoming. Being an American by chance and seeing stuff like that makes it seem like I individually need to pass a higher bar of rationality in order to contribute to your discussion. That's the only point I was making.

Robert @108: Yes, there are crazy Americans out there, not all of them though. Learning to put 9/11 into perspective is something that still has top be done. I too consider such obsession rather unhealthy. For instance I have relative born on 9/11, we live near NYC and every year since we go away from NYC to celebrate their birthday just to get out from under the shadow.

Again, getting back to the original point of the post: several comments have already been posted about Grids and the like. Obviously significant investment in research into energy storage should be paramount, and 0.5-6 trillion USD could be used to make significant inroads here. Ultimately, photovoltaics seem to be the way to go, whether on land or in space. (Throw in other renewables here as necessary: windows, water) Nuclear, may fill in some gaps, but, again like one of the other posters, micro-generation seems more robust overall and Nuclear, at least in the forms used today are too "big iron" for my tastes. Not to mention that waste disposal is still a rather big issue.

In the case of the .5-3 trillion associated with the US alone that money could very well be used for efficient public transportations systems. By comparison with most of the "industrialized" world our public transportation system blows.


Charlie @143 - Your retort implies that there is something rational and scientific about Leninism. I doubt you would find a consensus in the scientific community on that point anywhere near the proportions of the consensus regarding evolution.
As far as the US-centric view, I agree that the world does not revolve around us, but I disagree that our actions do not disproportionately affect the world. The US is the actor spending the $500B in Iraq, and that is already having huge global implications.
The US is 5% of the world, but our impact is much bigger than that would imply. One of the points of my statement is that better educating out own populace might get us to the point where we were more interested in being a more equal member of the global community. I do, however, realize that history is not rife with examples of nations or tribes voluntarily ceding power.


The gird goes down all at once.

Ah. Well, probably could do well to invest a big chunk o' that money into making a better grid. Mostly, the grid is the way it is because that's the way it was, and everything that hooks into has to be backward compatible. And no one wants to spend the money to re-spin the grid, because you'd have to do it from scratch.

That way, you can fill the nevada desert with with solar panels and power a good chunk of the rest of the country. And bury all the nuclear waste in yucca mountains. Turn nevada into our power generation state.

But it would be possible using today's tech to make a grid that is pretty much fail-safe. i.e. blackouts that take down the eastern seaboard would not be possible. It's just that the grid wasn't designed that way, and no one wants to spend the money for a respin. Perfect project for boondoggle money.

localized power generation would still be a good thing for worst case scenario backups, but there's no reason to not have a smart grid.

high temp superconductors would be even more awesome reason to rebuild the grid. Throw a hundred billion at that problem while we're at it. That would give you a perfect, fail safe grid, and it would also give you some really, really awesome electrical storage capacity for electric cars, and some really powerful electric motors.


B.Dewhirst @ 144: Huh? I don't follow, sorry. My request was to avoid using stereotypes, nothing more. Is that ruining something?

I guess I have to admit that like the original post there are a lot more useful ways to spend 6 trillion dollars


We need better batteries.

No, really, hear me out. We need the shipstones of heinlein's world. We need super powerful energy storage. That's our world's biggest problem (imho). We've got gobs and gobs of sun and wind and hydro, they're just often in the wrong place. If we could develop a storage device for energy, or even a method of transfer then we could power the grey northern climes with solar. Every shanty in the world could us UV water treatment on their pump. Near infinite fresh water courtesy of the sea. And electric vehicles that could really really really replace gas.

Its all about getting that joule per kg down low enough to make the difference


"Cirby: we have no way of knowing whether anything that replaced the Myanmar junta would be better -- or not."

...but the odds are that it WOULD be. It really, honestly, can't get much worse. The UN has sponsored "invasions" for much less cause, and overall, they worked out better than the status quo.

D.J.P. O'Kane:
"I know of no evidence that this was even attempted."

Have you seen the movie or read the book "Black Hawk Down?" That happened during US-sponsored beachhead in order to do this. "Operation Restore Hope," it was called. Unfortunately, President Clinton decided to pull out after the "Black Hawk Down" incident, and things went back to normal there (300,000 dead in the two years BEFORE the operation even started).

The "flood Somalia with grain" bit that you cite was a bad idea. The huge point that almost everyone misses is that (before the warlords started their campaigns) Somalia didn't NEED "flooding" with external food sources, since their internal food production was high enough that they didn't need a massive amount of food dropped on their markets (which depresses local prices to the point where farmers can't survive) - they needed supplemental food aid in a few areas, and free markets to sell what they produced in-country.

The people with guns were taking the food produced there (plus the thousands of tons brought in by aid agencies as supplements) and reselling it, at gross prices, to the few people with money (or eating it themselves) - or shipping it to other countries at a profit.

Somalia, as usual, has a whole bunch of Bad People With Guns who are creating the famine. And no, unless you start with going in and killing many or most of those people, you CAN'T "flood" the country with food. Ships loaded with food have turned back, because of internal strife AND piracy in the local waters.

"For example, if cirby knew anything about Africa today, he'd know that mobile/cell phone technology is taking off in Africa in a BIG way,"

While many of the STABLE African countries have a lot of people with cell phones (it's much easier to create a cell network than a landline network, of course), those are the countries that AREN'T like Somalia. Not to mention that the countries that have oppressive/kakistocratic governments have a fairly iron-handed control on who gets to use cell phones (they don't do you much good if the system won't recognize your handset, or if you don't have enough connections and money to bribe someone to do it).

...and that's very different from a semi-modern data/phone network, which effectively does not exist for many of the "chaos" countries, outside of a very few metro areas. The "there's a lot of phones in the world" argument doesn't hold in less-industrialized places, either, because they don't have to power or infrastructure to run the cells themselves, and certainly don't have the power to charge up the handsets.

When you get into the "small personal computer" issue, it's a pure fantasy to think that a place like Somalia (which has people running around confiscating food valued in the pennies per pound) will have any easier of a time handing out personal computers which could be resold on the international market for tens of dollars apiece... unless you send in a few thousand troops to enforce some sort of truce.

Africa is a huge place, with an incredible disparity of governments and levels of civilization. Things that work in Kenya won't work in Zimbabwe, or the other "you don't have to be a murderer to work here, but it helps" places. Pretending that Egypt and South Africa are like Somalia and Zimbabwe is just, well, insane.

If you knew anything about Africa, you'd know this already...


How much would it cost to redo the internet? The system ran into some problems once its user base grew from an isolated subculture where everyone (more or less) knew everyone to a truly mass system. If nothing else, the email infrustructure was WAAAY to trusting, hence our current spam problems.

Folks may be interested in another recent converstation, where we discussed what to do with a puny three billion dollars.


600bil would pay:

one year old age pension for every us citizen.

one month of health insurrance for every us citizens.

one week of basic food for every man on earth.

deliver twice as many f35 jets.

every man on earth could get a three stars menu in a high quality steak house.


Henry @137 - Looking it up, I see that Nanosolar's stuff (which does seem very exciting if they can get their production costs down as far as they claim) doesn't use silicon - but by the same token, I will submit that we're far more likely to run out of the constituents for copper indium gallium diselenide than stuff we can make mirrors and heat engines out of...

Charlie @143 - as a trying-not-to-be-so-ugly American (or United Statesian, out of deference to the other inhabitants of North and South America), I fully recognize that it's not all about us. On the other hand, when the initial premise of the thread centers on boondoggle expenditures made (or mostly made) by the USG, I think some degree of focus on projects within the US could be forgiven.

For the $500b figure - I would split it between massive subsidies specifically for solar (both thermal and PV), wind, and, yes, some nuclear (although there are already massive subsidies there); improving the electrical grid infrastructure; and building up the transportation infrastructure in a rational way, i.e., more emphasis on mass transport, with high-speed rail covering major metropolitan areas that need it and encouraging more efficient city living as opposed to commuting in from the suburbs. For the $3 trillion figure - well, finish up the stuff the $500b didn't quite cover, I guess.



Chill out, or I'll start moderating you. You wouldn't like that.

(PS: those UN sponsored invasions you allude to didn't work out better for the folks who died in them. Invasions are, by and large, a Bad Thing. And before you start advocating invading Burma to help the 1.5 million people affected by the typhoon, it behooves you to consider the other 54 million people there, in an area about the size of Germany ...)


The compromise figure that I've seen recently for the war is $1.2 Trillion. I'll go with that as something more realistic than $500 Billion but less worst-case than $6 Trillion.

Let's give half that money back to the US taxpayers. That's $600 billion, we've got about 300 million people, so $2,000 per person (okay, actually, use this to pay down debt, which works out to more or less the same thing as giving back to people in the long run. Or pay $300 billion to debt and give everyone a thousand bucks, whatever).

We've still got $600 billion to play with. I don't believe in our ability to do things like "cure hunger" for just huge piles of money, 'cause the problems are structural, not matters of low resources. It's the same reason why the fantasy of regime-change-followed-by-earthly-paradise is just that, a fantasy.

I'd give NASA $10 billion a year for 10 years. The deal is, inspire us. Show us that with a lot of money, you can do things that have value and are awesome. If so, you should have an easier time getting more money once this funding runs out. We've got $500 billion left.

Next up, let's throw $150 billion at the greens. They're to make an environmental city (okay, very small city), like the one in China. Again, this is "impress us" money. If the results are great, then we can see about further funding. $350 billion left.

Let's put $50 billion into fusion research. Personally, I'm pessimistic, but if we ever do make it work, the rewards are great, so let's take the long-shot gamble. $300 billion left.

Similarly, $50 billion into nanotech research. Same idea as fusion reearch. $250 billion left.

$200 billion into infrastructure improvements. The stuff that everyone agrees governments should be doing. We should be able to patch up a lot of the problems with America's information infrastructure, and do a bit of road and rail improvement as well. $50 billion left.

Take that $50 billion and plunk it into foreign aid for one African country. Again, I'm kind of dubious that the massive aid model is really workable, but it'd be nice to find out once and for all.


Compared to the current problems in the world, you might
as well buy yourself a shiny toy, like a moon colony, or
a mars mission. Personally, my shiny toy would be robots
of all sorts. Robots to mine the moon (on the backside
only: I like the durable good looks of Luna). Robots to
cruise the oceans depths, to tell us what happens there.
Robots that inhabit the forests and deserts and swamps.
Robots that circle the earth, picking up space junk and
litter, and watch the earth and sun. Robots that travel
to other planets, and help us research them.

Charlie Stross says, in post #47:
"one problem with solar: until recently, the dirty little secret of the photovoltaic industry was that it takes more energy to make a photovoltaic cell than the thing will produce before it dies of old age."

That hasn't been true for at least 8 years, and maybe
much longer. Here's an excellent paper on
EROEI for photovoltaics, funded by the NREL before the
Bush years:

The biggest problem I see with solar energy, in the
current age, is that it is diffuse. Our power distribution
system is geared to gigawatt sources, and doesn't play
well with kilowatt sources.


I'm surprised that no one has proposed a procedure for determining what to spend the money on first, and then saw where that led.

Assuming a powerful paternalistic power is spending the money, like a government, I think that it's clear that the purpose is either to A: save lives, or B: restructure the world to their citizens benefit.

In case of A, wouldn't it make sense to either take the leading causes of death, and divide the money via frequency; or run a study first to determine the most money efficient ways to save lives?

In case of B, run the same experiment, but just for your citizens, and including initiatives that harm non-citizens.

I'd have to look up numbers and do some maths, but I have a feeling either of these procedures would have surprising results.


We could have built full rapid transit systems including lots of subway for every city in the US where such a system would make sense.

The NYC system has about 229 route miles, 40% subway. The Paris Metro system has 133 miles, mostly underground. The London Underground has 250 miles of route, about half subway. [all these stats from wikipedia]

Urban area rail costs are around $200m/route mile for surface or elevated, and $400m/route mile for subways. So if we assume a 50/50 split of the two the $3T the iraq war is going to cost the US could have built 10,000 miles of world class rapid transit system in america's cities.

That is approximately 40 NYC equivalent aliquots of rail transit to spread across the land.

How much of the country that would serve used to be a tricky question, as density varies a lot. But back of the envelope calculations now indicate that we could surely serve every person for whom rail transit would make any sense. NYC's population is 8.25 million, so 40 NYC rail system equivalents would serve on the order of 330 million people. Coincidentally that is the population of the entire US, but most of the US population is less dense than NYC, so less effectively served. Still it seems pretty clear that we could have built every single rail transit network that it makes sense to build in the US, and still have a lot of money left over.


Dan L@157: True, but diffusion may be a good thing as well. That, in conjunction with greater efficiencies of energy use may be good enough. The energy out vs energy in problem as been solved for a while now (as you said).

I would think that fusion is eventually a solvable problem, although it always seems 25 years away.

As far as saving lives (re: Justin Corwin @158 [and others]), clearly yes, but population and available resources?

I'm sympathetic to Charlie's concern regarding aging and senescence, but what exactly is to be done with literally a surplus human population? Exploit more places to squeeze them onto the surface of the planet or move them out into space (satellites, ships, planets). Granted, better educated (a really good use of that money), healthy people with access to (and a reasonable expectation to use) birth control will naturally reduce their offspring rate, what what if they don't? Operation China?


I'd like to see extensive use of solar, wind and wave systems, but don't like the idea of the power grid. My suggestion would be to use these intermittent sources of electricity to separate hydrogen and oxygen from water (even dirty water); pipe the gases underground like natural gas and recombine them as needed in small fuel cells to produce electricity, heat and fresh water. Maybe even use some of the hydrogen to power efficient small cars. And I think it must be possible to convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide into a hydrocarbon suitable for my efficient car (Prius). Combine all of that with some common sense conservation measures and the energy problem would be solved. What better use for a few trillion dollars?


I am instructed by my personal feline overlord to deal with the important prblems first.

So I'm going to go feed the cat.


Fully funded health care, wiped out student loan debt, fixed our CSO, created mass transit in multiple cities, fixed our decaying highway infrastructure, with money left over to set up deep space radar to warn us of impending asteroids and other interplanetary impacts.


We could have built a new earth and a new moon. Damn that president, and all the people who vote to support his ideas, including congress! Thanks a pantload for denying us a new planet and its satellite!


M-x pander-to-moderator-mode RET

How about a global campaign for Doubt?


the US needs an entirely new infrastructure and way smarter development patterns and housing. I'd start there. anyone notice how ugly and stupid this country has been built post WW2?


Paul @161: I feel compelled to point out that the hydrogen infrastructure you describe, especially the part with lots of underground pipes, *is* a power grid of sorts, just a different sort from the electrical power grid we have now and likely to be *far* less energy efficient, even if we don't improve what we've got to deal better with peak demand.

Is there a place for turning electricity into concentrated stores of energy like hydrogen or synfuel? I'm sure there is, especially if battery technology doesn't advance in leaps and bounds soon (including in terms of safety; Charlie's comment about how well lithium can burn is a bit scary); but probably not for distributing electrical power per se, when distribution losses are *already* so low.

Is there an argument to be made for widely distributing our power generation, e.g., with PV on every rooftop and windmills in lots of yards? Sure, although I'm not sure it's too compelling in some geographical areas. However, absent some truly *major* breakthroughs in energy storage technology, that sort of development will argue even *more* for upgrading our electrical grid, so all these point sources for power can feed *into* it when in energy surplus, and not be wasted.


Ditto on more fusion-power research... better health care where needed (my wife and I just had our first baby and I thank my lucky star it was born in Scandinavia, with possibly the world's best free healthcare)... and global school programs not connected with any religion.

- Maybe spend a few billion on space-based solar-power stations too?

- And a long-term terraforming program for, say, Venus?

- And... free condoms for the whole world?

- Aaaand... a billion dollars spent only on sending Paris Hilton to Mercury? ;-P


Given a budget that big to play with the launch issue becomes quite a bit simpler, there's several cheap per/launch systems with a decent but reasonable upfront construction cost that are within current technological reach, launch loops being one of the better ones I've seen. And as for obscuring the night sky, it's not really an issue, even back in the 60's when the research for High Frontier was done (all the station research and everything else in that book was done with the goal of building an infrastructure to construct a space based solar power economy) the power generation of solar cells would have taken up a very very small area, especially with the satellites out at geosynchronous orbit so they remain stationary over ground stations. The biggest issue is that the microwave power transmission's never been tested on a large scale. The upside is it's a pretty simple and well known concept and due to the wavelengths the receiver's can be built as large sparse elevated grids over farming land and they let plenty of light through for growing crops.


144 If only you knew where I was left of... and what I used to do before I got into the knights-errant-on-paper business (Our Gracious Host knows and is probably laughing about invoking Cointelpro in relation to me)...

But more seriously, "literacy" also includes "ability to read critically" and "ability to write" — two areas that just throwing computers at the uneducated will not fix. Given the crap (defined as "bad writing and bad thinking") one finds on the 'net, even from places that are supposed to know better (I will not name names here, because some of them might turn out to be/include friends, and this is an impersonal observation), one must remember that such crap is coming from the purportedly literate...

And I don't claim to know exactly what educational systems work better; I just know that underpaying teachers so badly both exacerbates problems and masks successes. It's the same problem that the US military went through immediately post-Vietnam, when it discovered that paying soldiers poorly meant it was getting lousy soldiers, who later became barely-passable NCOs.


Microlending, anyone? Just a few billion thrown there can do a lot of good. The Grameen Bank disbursed 5 billion US$ 1976-2005.


ARY: Sending Paris Hilton to Mercury? Someone leaked you an ARC of SATURN'S CHILDREN, I take it?

CEP: Critical reading is not something that mass education systems have ever been set up to encourage. Indeed, I suspect quite the opposite: the elite has always tended to the belief that critical thinking is for the elite. And I might also speculate that the drive to shovel 50% of the breathing population through universities these days has, as a corollary, turned them into mass institutions rather than elite institutions, with an inevitable side-effect ...


As the Great Dictator is wearing his cranky pants today and is squelching the opposition. I in the spirit of sniveling cowardice will self censor all wrong thoughts and put forth the proposition that the best use of the Iraq money would be the purchase of Israel. Most problems of the middle eastern variety would vanish or at least, not be as loud. The USA has a nice resettlement area ready to go, Iowa. Disassembling Jerusalem et all and shipping it to the states would provide useful employment for the Palestinians for a time. Then using thermonuclear warheads we would collapse the entire country into the sea, it's a small country anyway. Thus solving the problem for all time. If people wish to fight over land they will have to do it elsewhere. Why a simple and pragmatic idea like this has not been put into practice by our government (US) is beyond me. Anything to end the worst, most boring, longest running reality show on TV "The Middle East Peace Process" is justified.


From the standpoint of research science - cures to the major maladies (cancer, AIDS) and the erradication of malaria, flu, rabies, yellow fever, etc. - I think prettymuch anything is possible (within physical laws). The limiting factor isn't manpower or equipment or time or human ability; it's money. Money controls all those factors.

With a few hundred billion (say 1 trillion) we could confidently wave goodbye to all of the above.

With the rest, serious progress towards viable fusion, advanced robot probes on multiple solar system planets and moons (I think we do need a manned space program - but robots are far, far cheaper) - and virtually any reasonable blue-skies project someone could dream up.

I'd suggest serious research into overpopulation solutions. We're going to erradicate those diseases anyway (it's a matter of time) - and when we do the population will be a bigger problem than it is now.

Which is were interplanetary colonisation comes in.



(This is my soapbox. This is not the thread for triumphalist gibbering about the world! beating! supremacy! of the US military mixed with Republican party talking points. If you want your own soapbox, Blogger is thataway. -- Charlie.)


I assume the host does not want the inevitable outcome of a discussion of high population scenarios, right?


Wrt Paine @ 161:

Instead of moving those clunky protons through pipes (ever hear of hydrogen embrittlement? Nasty stuff, hydrogen, as far as steel is concerned...) why not try moving sleek electrons through these special, light, thin metal structures called "wires"? (Agreement with Scott @ 167)

Bonus: they don't explode.

Ron @ 166:

That was deliberate. They call it "conspicuous consumption." We ought to take a few tens of billions and advertise against it...

Petit @170:

My apologies if you felt I was invoking Cointelpro against you specifically. I had moved on to a more general topic with regards to the political left in the United States, and I was instead suggesting that efforts to reverse its effects would be comparably expensive, not that you were a police informer sabotaging the positions of your own side.

Unfortunately, google can’t tell the difference between you and a) an evolution denier or b) French Olympic fencer. In reviewing your website or blog (not a lot of “the only war is the class war? there…), apart from learning you are a copyfighter (good for you), I can still find no suggestion you are especially leftist, so I hope you’ll forgive me for judging your position based solely on the contents of what you proposed, which didn’t seem either anarchistic or communistic to me.


Nick@174: Reasonable people may disagree as to the viability of interplanetary colonisation. However, they may not disagree as to the viability of interplanetary colonisation as a means of population control. There is just no way in the world that we're going to ship a significant surplus population to Mars or wherever.


James at 176:

I suspect he expects a good deal more evidence than you do, using the word "inevitable" as you have...

Turns out, people will voluntarily restrict their reproduction when given the means an opportunity to do so. China is not as coercive as is often thought in this regard, at least not on a national level.


James @176, what, you mean the calls to CHOP THE DARKIES' GOOLIES OFF, right?

No, I don't want any of that around here.

(I will, however, note that the traditional reason people have big families is to ensure that the spawn reach adulthood in sufficient numbers to look after the parents in their dotage. This motive becomes obsolescent if you take away the whole concept of dotage. I will also note that we seem, as a species, to have a strong drive to urbanize as rapidly as possible, and we also seem to be okay with population densities of over 10,000 individuals per square kilometre. At which density you could cram the entire current planetary population into California with room to spare. There's a lot of room for more people around here, just as long as we plan things carefully.)

B. Dewhirst: the idea of C. E. Petit as a police informer sabotaging the positions of his own side -- knowing a little bit about him and his background -- is, ahem, unintentionally amusing, and probably not for whatever reason you'll read into this.


Can we just sequence the biome already? Sorry this is so dull (because funding agencies are already quite aware of this), but there's plenty of DNA out there. Start with a million humans or so, then their bacterial symbionts, then everything else. You won't scratch the surface, actually, but you'll get a lot of data.

Alternatively, spend the entire $3 tril on DNA synthesis. That's about 6 trillion nucleotides right there, so you can synthesize all sequences of length N, for some rather large value of N (pay some mathmo five hundred bucks to come up with a nice efficient permutation algorithm to maximize N). Be a nice little synthetic biology project.

Final suggestion: pay for a moderator on this blog. Spend a trillion or so edumacatin' him/her to sound exactly like Charlie, to keep the entertaining tone of the "post deleted" messages. The result would be indistinguishable fr.... WAIT A MINUTE


Charles, sure I have an agenda, and that agenda may be different from yours, but I responded with a non-offensive comment that simply points out that when you're considering money, you should consider it as an investment, and almost anything that expensive has a capability to return that investment, whether it be medicinal investments, Iraq, or spending the money in a casino - the question is more about the chances of that investment being returned, and how quickly the investment would be returned if successful. I seem to recall much of the political left also having trouble hearing Bjorn Lomborg point out after the Copenhagen Consensus that spending money to stop global warming was a crappy investment, compared again to clean water and certain diseases.
Your intolerance for opposing viewpoints is something you have to deal with on your own.


No, I mean repeats of what happens if one suggests it is theoretically possible to sustain indefinitely populations of a few tens of billions or even a trillion or so people.


Ahem, "rather large value of N" was of course an ironic comment (I make N=21, but it will be more when we have given the mathematician a nice big cup of coffee and told him to read Knuth's latest fascicles)


C.E. Pettit @ 170

I can accept that we have no clue (as a species, not just one nation) of how to educate people effectively, let alone optimally. So let's put that $6 Tn towards finding out. Moreover, let's do it all over the planet, so we can get at least some idea of how the process has to be different for different cultures, languages, etc.

Set up large numbers of relatively small experimental educational systems, with controlled differences of small numbers of variables (preferably just one) between pairs, with some control groups. Do this separately at different age levels, say two or three groups for primary school, a couple for secondary, and one or two for post-secondary. Run them for enough years to get at least one cohort completely through each age range, then measure the result*. Go away for two years while everyone argues over the meaning of the analysis; come back when the screaming moderates a bit and try to get some insight out of the numbers. If you can do that, take the money that's left and implement the top bunch of techniques on a large scale.

Oh, and be sure to constantly weed the politicians and grifters out of the system. You won't get them all, but maybe you can keep the remainder a little more honest.

* How, you ask? The first few years of the project are going to have to be spent figuring out answers to questions like that.


OK, the DNA stuff was crap, but it gave me a better idea. By paying 1c/word we can write all posts of (roughly) ten characters or less. This can be boosted using Shannon-type Markov language models, perhaps to all posts of 30 characters or so. This is a meagre start, but nonetheless, a significant step towards the noble goal of pre-filtering all possible neoconservative rants, criticisms of nuclear power, or claims that Americans are actually a peace-loving people (OH NO YOU DITTNT)


With 0.6Tn$ i would get some land (country size), some mercs, some nukes and declare independence. I would make the country a tax paradise to get some income. Once the economy works, i would enforce a mandatory democracy: political education for every citizen since 5th grade, every political system will be taught unbiased. When someone is of full age he will automatically participate in the parliament lottery, if he wins he will have to accept a 2,5 year term in parliament(senat, whatever) or refuse it if he has a good reason (pregnancy, study, school etc.). his former employer has to reemploy him after his term. After those 2.5 years he can extend his term for 2.5 more years. After those 5 years he is allowed to stay in parliament as a professional politician. As an employer of every citizen his political actions are under constant review and everyone can see his bank account (all transactions are anonymized, only their values are open). Every citizen can apply for parliament and has to fulfill some basic criteria (certain school degree, no serious criminal record, etc.). Every 5 years elections take place, every federal minister is elected directly and every professional politician can run for a federal minister post. The propols need to have a candidate for every post otherwise the candidates will be chosen randomly. Elections can be brought forward through a referendum.

But i guess i would need more than 0.6Tn$.


Gosh, you can have all sorts of fun with Stirling's approximation. I started computing the cost of building every possible computer keyboard layout before I got bored (yes I know you could just remap the keys in software, but you would still need to pay people to type thousands of characters and carefully measure how many of them got RSI).

Jet lag can be a wonderful thing. Nothing else to do at 6am in Australia but spam this blog.

Oh, btw, those of you who are touting Aubrey de Grey-style panaceas to the aging problem; you are aware of the hypothesis that senescence is in evolutionary tension with cancer, due to the need for apoptosis in stem cells? See e.g.


Charlie, you mentioned that some species don't age like us. Which? Trees?


Martin: the "declare independence" thing doesn't work unless other countries recognize you. On the other hand I'm sure you could buy out the entire government of an existing country for a lot less than $0.6Tn.

I like the alternative democracy form, but how're you going to enforce it once they vote you out? And to make the country a tax paradise doesn't guarantee you any income at all unless you can supply a skilled labour force and enough infrastructure to attract international businesses. Even a low-end, small developed nation costs rather an eye-watering amount of money to run: Ireland, with 5 million people, has a GDP around the $0.2Tn level which in turn should tell you something about its infrastructure and sunk costs. Methinks this plan needs a little bit more thought ...


Taoist @ 182:

As near as I can tell, your much earlier comment reflected (to take the most charitable interpretation) that you are misinformed where the truth is concerned. Your suggestions that our fine host is intolerant is no doubt unwelcome, and more to the point, incorrect again... that one's tolerance has limits shouldn't shock or surprise.

As to whether your comments were offensive is perhaps a matter of question. I was certainly offended by what you had written, especially as you have given the impression that your comments reflect upon the country in which I live and those who live here.


Of course the alternative democracy needs more planning, more than 5 minutes but i did not have the impulse to write a whole diploma thesis ;).

their would be no need to enforce anything, once you write down the functionality of this democratic state into a constitution that can only be revoked by a referendum with a 2/3 majority. The political education of every citizen should make it obvious to every one why such a system is better than ie communism or a proxy democracy.

And yes buying Ireland is a great idea, otherwise add some nukes to back up your claim for independence


I'd buy a B29 and some dirigibles strategically located so that I never had to land for fuel or repairs, and then I'd broadcast the truth about the presidential candidate who wants to march the country into another dumb war, and make sure she/he doesn't get elected.

Hm, OK. the B29 is a little outdated. How about just a fleet of dirigibles, with free wifi, we'll all wear red capes and goggles, and call it the dirigiblosphere.

or something.


How about not taking it from the taxpayers in the first place? Just leave it in citizens' pockets. I'm sure they'll find something worthy to do with it.


While many of the STABLE African countries have a lot of people with cell phones (it's much easier to create a cell network than a landline network, of course), those are the countries that AREN'T like Somalia. Not to mention that the countries that have oppressive/kakistocratic governments have a fairly iron-handed control on who gets to use cell phones (they don't do you much good if the system won't recognize your handset, or if you don't have enough connections and money to bribe someone to do it).

...and that's very different from a semi-modern data/phone network, which effectively does not exist for many of the "chaos" countries, outside of a very few metro areas. The "there's a lot of phones in the world" argument doesn't hold in less-industrialized places, either, because they don't have to power or infrastructure to run the cells themselves, and certainly don't have the power to charge up the handsets.

I direct my honourable friend's attention to this story from the BBC, which dates from 2004:


It's headlined 'telecoms thrive in lawless Somalia', and regards the explosion of cell phone usage in post-civil war Somalia.

As for sending in troops to enforce a truce, the US intervention in Somalia ended up with the killing and torture of civilians by international 'humanitarian' troops, something that does not provide a good precedent for the proposed intervention in Burma (which is not going to happen, given that the imperialist powers are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan).


When you are asking "what to do with 514b" you must face the question "how much is 514b?"seven years in relation:

a ) in relation to the world GDP of 45000b?
around 0.16 percent.

b) in relation to the US GDP of 13000b?
around 0.5 percent

c) in relation to the iraq GDP of 95b?
around 90 percent

d) in relation to the saudi GDP of 370b?
around 23 percent

e) per US citizen per year?
around $244

In comparison to other wars (sorry, have no sources, just my memory):

Vietnam did consume 14 percent of the US GDP

WW2 ran around 48 percent of the US GDP and around 70 percent of the world GDP.

In fact if WW2 didn't happen the world would have been able to build a city for five million people on the moon, build working fusion reactors in the early 1960 and give every man on earth a computer with the power of a C64 in 1970. Ok, this isn't all serious but you get the point.


B.Dewhirst @ 190:

Perhaps I haven't been expressing myself as well as I should, but I'll try and clarify, as you clearly misunderstood me.

My first post mentions several main points: That Iraq has a chance to succeed, that (and this is where I think you think I am misinformed) the chances of it succeeding are currently looking good, and finally, that when discussing any investment, particularly large investments such as the war, you should consider how much of a return that investment will make. I also spent some effort trying to explain that much of the lump costs mentioned, especially the indirect costs, are going to infrastructures, not necessarily even in Iraq, and as such, some of those costs would have been spent anyways, and many infrastructure sorts of costs will also offer a return on the investment.

Now, while the possibility of success in Iraq is certainly not guaranteed, if it succeeds (and my original post clearly mentions that "if") then it will pay back the investment, the only question being, how long will it take?

I have made no mention of whether or not we were right to go into Iraq - I'm not discussing that. I'm simply pointing out simple investment logic. Whenever you discuss costs, you need to discuss benefits. Why are you, and Mr. Stross, offended by this?

My second post called Mr. Stross intolerant because of several reasons.
1. I do not ban (or threaten to ban) people who politely bring up a point that comes from a viewpoint I disagree with. Most people consider that to be fairly intolerant. If Mr. Stross was instead threatening to ban me because he felt that my post was leading the purpose of the conversation off onto a tangent, then that is fairly reasonable moderator behaviour, and I apologize.
2. I don't get offended by other people's viewpoints. I may deride them, or have a poor opinion about both the opinion and the person expressing it, but I don't get offended. If you look up the definition of intolerance, you will find that I have just quoted it. Because of the tone of the phrase Mr. Stross used when he threatened to ban me, I interpreted that he was somewhat offended by my post. If I misinterpreted the tone he wished to convey, again, I apologize.


Alternative energy sources are the obvious choice. First, start out with an efficiant means to store and distribute energy.

Then we can start with what we know about generating low carbon footprint energy. Scale up the windmill farms and solar collector fields.

Offer an X-Prize of sorts to groups who fine new and/or better ways to generate energy. By the way, the US Dept. of energy has a $40 million prize for the group who finds better ways to use hydrogen as an energy source. It's a start.


"I'd like to buy the world a Coke" and with $523 billion one could buy the world a Coke... and a Pepsi, and a 7-UP and a Dr. Pepper and about 65 more soda's at $1.25 a pop (as it were).


Rick; everyone in the world 'strung out on coke'? I think the living would envy the dead.

Now back to cirby:

Have you seen the movie or read the book "Black Hawk Down?" That happened during US-sponsored beachhead in order to do this. "Operation Restore Hope," it was called. Unfortunately, President Clinton decided to pull out after the "Black Hawk Down" incident, and things went back to normal there (300,000 dead in the two years BEFORE the operation even started).

I again refer my honourable friend to a suitable source, Alex de Waal's volume I referred to above: 'the Marines landed just as famine was abating, so that it was a straightforward task to declare victory over starvation'.

Straight question cirby: what was the author and title of the last book on African history, society or politics you read?


How about let the rightful owners of that money do with as they please?

Let me explain: That money spent in Iraq was for an illegal unconstitutional and immoral war. It is being financed with money off the backs of American taxpayers and consumers (you see the Federal Reserve prints the money that is loaned to the US Treasury at interest which is payed for in taxes and higher prices: read inflation).

So I say just don't do the war in the first place and let the Americans keep their money.

Then everyone here can do what they want with their money...maybe you can't buy everyone in the world a Coke but at least you can buy you, your friends, neighbors and family a Coke and pizza if you want.

or maybe you want to cut your own carbon footprint...
I don't care about CO2 emissions so I am not forced into believing you are right about that theory.

Or maybe you want to send your money to the victims in China from the recent earthquake. By all means. I already have.

Or maybe you want to donate to NASA so they can go live on Mars. I don't want to support that as there is plenty of room here on Earth to live. Cheaply. Safely. Morally. Ethically. Without stealing from my neighbor to fund my wishes to fly to Mars...a barren and uninhabitable planet not worth visiting.


taoist @ 196 (although it feels a little like yelling at a gravestone):

It is simply not germane to this discussion whether the current use of the money is a good use. Way back up at the top, the request was for other potential uses.

Your response is therefore Not Even Wrong.

If you'd like to be at least Wrong, I think you could suggest a military intervention to free Quebec and base peacekeeping forces there. That might get you b& too....


168 I'll agree to the last item... so long as it doesn't provide for a return trip.

172 Two propositions:
(1) The Rule of Law is an inherently liberal and leftist system, at least compared to the alternatives.
(2) So is mass education.
I'm a liberal (in the European sense), which necessarily makes me an extreme leftist on what passes for a political spectrum on the west side of the pond.

185 To a great extent, "measurement" is the fallacy of education. One can measure failures, somewhat, but one cannot really measure successes... for about twenty years. That's why I believe that rather than focus on the systems, we need to focus on the people implementing them. There's a very simple reason: The nongifted do a crappy job of recognizing the gifted, because "giftedness" is largely unmeasurable.

So yes, in a better educational system we're going to have to put money into physical and technological resources... but as a consequence of what the better people we have running the system want and need, not as an end in itself (like we have now, and like the "give everyone a laptop" meme proposes).
177 I think you've misinterpreted a couple of things:
* I am not a copyfighter. I am against abuses of it, but I am extremely pro-creators' rights. The EFF probably has a picture of me up on its dartboard for this reason.
* I'm not insulted by the Cointelpro comparison... merely amused.
* I don't put everything related to politics up on my blawg, because it's a fairly focused blawg.


Jay @ 201:

Charles asked in his top post what would be alternative ways to spend the cost of the war, and gave a certain figure that represented the cost of the war. I responded with general investment advice that you should consider not just the lump cost, but the payback time. How is that not relevant? This entire discussion is basically just a modified version of the Copenhagen Consensus: How to spend $50 Billion to make the world a better place. The first answer is you don't consider how much something costs nearly as much as you consider how quickly the return is. For example, the Copenhagen Consensus came to a figure of 300 years for a break even point of investing in preventing global warming, while clean water, I believe, paid for itself something like 7 times over in 50 years.

When you do think of spending money as investing, rather than just spending, you need to modify your original presumptions to include not just the cost, but also the potential benefits. Notice, even my original post didn't specify a time frame for how quickly Iraq would pay the world back, just my speculation that it would be fairly quick if it succeeded, so finding a project that is more cost effective would be difficult. I even specified several projects that probably would be more cost effective.


I should clarify that the Copenhagen Consensus that concluded the poor break even point of investing against climate change wasn't considering the break even point of fighting global warming via investing in lower power or cleaner power generating technologies. Those may well have a much lower break even point.


taoist@196: the possibility of success in Iraq ... if it succeeds ... will pay back the investment, the only question being, how long will it take?

faulty premise. Overthrowing a democratically elected government and installing a puppet dictator in, oh, pick any random year, say 1953, may succeed, and it may have produce some immediate benefits, but when said Dictator creates a hostile populace, is overthrown, Americans taken hostage for over a year as retaliation for installing said dictator, and an extremist theocracy is put in power in its place, that doesn't qualify as saying it will ever "pay back the investment".

You're arguing the "will to power" claim by hawks. If we just have the "will" to fight, we can win any war, any occupation, we can defeat any insurgency, any guerrilla force. And "will" doesn't mean anything other than "magical thinking" in this context, an ability to ignore the realities on the ground.

One could simply point out the fact that we gave Saddam tons of support back in the 80's, we succeeded at doing that, and that sure as hell didn't "pay back the investment".

An occupation has a nasty tendancy to create rebels faster than you can kill them, meaning that "winning" isn't always a viable concept. The Boston Massacre polarized the colonies against the British. The British captured and occupied the capital (philidelphia), and still they lost in the end.



When I say "succeed", what I mean is that Iraq becomes a stable democracy, not a puppet dictator, such as we were indeed installing around the world during the cold war. I would consider the money and blood we've spent propping up or installing various petty dictators as a bad investment, as most, if not all, of those dictators have not only oppressed their citizenship, but depressed their country's economic output and well being. On the other hand, the countries such as Japan and Korea that we've helped rebuild into successful Democracies have been massively successful on the world economy, returning at least the financial investment many times over.

I'm not discussing the "will to power" claim, whether we should stay in Iraq or not, or whether there's specific tactics we need to implement for Iraq to succeed. The closest I've come to any of that is to mention that Iraq has been going well since the surge, meaning that we have some respectable possibility of success - as I'm defining the term. I'm simply mentioning that Iraq, as an investment, seems to me to have a decent chance of being a successful investment (and I've mentioned that this part is certainly quite speculative), and if it is a successful investment, i.e. a stable, reasonably free market democracy, then I think that Iraq will return on that investment quite quickly. My main point has been that other possibilities for spending the money do not, for the most part, seem to offer as strong a return, which is how they should be viewed as well.


taoist: I find your assertion that Iraq is showing good prospects for recovery and democracy to be at odds with everything I read about the subject. (But as I've never visited Iraq, I can't say for sure that I'm right and you're wrong. I guess I'll just have to take my friend the RAF squadron leader's word for it about the incoming mortar shells he kept having to dodge while he was out there last year. And the other folks who keep reporting a corresponding surge in those pesky suicide bombers, now the troops drafted in for the "surge" have gone home again.)

(Updated -- because I get to edit my posts and you don't): incidentally, democracy in the Middle East tends not to deliver the results that are expected in the halls of power of the western powers. Could this be because the local voters are smart enough to realize that their interests are not aligned with those of the imperial hegemon?

Incidentally, if you think the surge was a good idea, you haven't been reading up on the history of Northern Ireland. Hint: from over here it looks like Operation Motorman all over again.

As for the ROI and timing on dealing with global warming versus providing potable water ... of course we need to provide potable water too. Dealing with one problem does not preclude dealing with the other. But I should also like to note that we know what the likely cost to be incurred is if we fail to provide clean drinking water: we can quantify it in terms of infant mortality from diarrhea and adult morbidity from schistostomiasis. We don't know what the cost from failing to deal with global warming will be, because we have no prior evidence on which to base our predictions ... other than that it will be dramatic, and the error bars extend all the way to species extinction. Weighing a 7 year payback time on, oh, fifty million surplus deaths per year, versus a 300 year payback time on total species extinction, suggests that we ignore the 300 year problem at our extreme peril.

Finally: don't try arguing the White Man's Burden on this blog. Funnily enough, we've heard it all before.


> if only we could keep it in sunlight 24 hours a day

Big orbiting mirrors :-)
But unless all our energy use is moved to Africa, we still
> need an intercontinental super-grid and/or some way of turning sunlight into storable energy

Continental supergrid to take the power to the sea where hydrogen is available, then use the power for Fisher-Tropsch synthesis of oil using atmospheric carbon. Then ship and use the oil using the infrastructure we have already set up for that.
I'm sure there are problems, but for $6Tn I'm sure we could solve many of them.


First, presumption of facts not in evidence, as has been noted before. That $500Bn would likely not have been borrowed without the particular rathole of war spending to pour it down. Not to mention getting nickel and dime'd into it.
However, with that out of the way, what else could we drum up enough public support for, to get the same spending effect, with cooler results.
What about another space race? A permanent Lunar base? Lagrange stations? Perhaps raise the specter of a Chinese presence in space? Get enough people out there, and defunding becomes difficult, too.


Looking back at comments on the previous post, make that "As you know Charlie, ..."


you could buy every single person in every single armed service at least 5 table dances. and after that, theyd be all happy, and no one would want to fight.

except cheney


There's been a lot of talk about solar energy already, but no one has mentioned Scientific American's Solar Grand Plan:


Key Concepts

* A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050.
* A vast area of photovoltaic cells would have to be erected in the Southwest. Excess daytime energy would be stored as compressed air in underground caverns to be tapped during nighttime hours.
* Large solar concentrator power plants would be built as well.
* A new direct-current power transmission backbone would deliver solar electricity across the country.
* But $420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive.


Lame, @27 beat me to it but ctrl-f didn't find it because I searched for small-case and not caps. *sheepish grin*


I would invest in: distributed power networks (electricity, heat too), and small scale renewable energy. if we could get lots of small distributed power generation, using all types of renewables - power problems/peak oil problems solved. this would also remove a large chunk of political power from the state (if you don't depend on central authority for power & water...).
so, small scale distributed power networks. and also wifi networks (combine the 2 - wifi wind turbines anyone?) - free worldwide wifi, or whatever would be safest/most effective alternative. methinks this, also, would remove power from the state. combine it with a bit of money thrown at Group Forming Networks (dave reed), and see what pops out.....


Charlie @92: All your death ray belong to us.

Seriously though, any high-energy technology has the potential to hurt someone. At least the death ray would be unlikley to do it by accident, unlike the nuclear power option that people here seem so keen on. And would be harder to hijack than an aeroplane 8-)



I work in energy efficiency, and know something about compressed air - it's hellish to work with (in terms of energy). for every 10 units energy input to compress the air, you get one out (in a factory setting). The system you mention would no doubt run at a better efficiency, but compressed air is inherently difficult to work with - a high pressure gas.

I recently saw an alternative in Tabernas, southern spain - concentrated solar thermal. if you store this heat (eg in thermal storage tanks, also thermal storage flow batteries), i think the overall system efficiencies would go up. this would need a fair bit of investment, but definitely do-able.

if there's any cash left over - egg whisk wind turbine water sprayers (this is not a joke). OK - take a wind turbine (daedalus type, vertical axis, looks like an egg whisk). put it 1 mile off shore, in the sea off a desert or dry area (eg palestine). when the wind blows towards the shore, the turbine spins, sucks up sea water and sprays it out the blades as a fine mist, which evaporates. the cloud then blows over the desert, where it condenses and falls as rain. the genius that thought this one up is a guy called stephen salter, used to work at edinburgh uni, and invented wave power during the oil crash in the 70s.


I apologize for having skimmed many of these comments but it looks like detecting NEO asteroids was only mentioned once here, and while it would only cost a fraction of the money we're talking about to find *all* of potentially threatening asteroids (and develop a reliable method of detecting inbound comets), it seems to me that things that realistically threaten our species ought to place fairly high on the priority list. Climate change/environmental degradation should rank up there too for similar reasons. Perhaps we could invest a few billion $ into communicable disease research and prevention.

After the list of species-threats is checked off, we can start looking at luxuries like feeding everyone and curing old age and ending poverty.


That $3,000,000,0000 putative amount is bogus beyond all bogosity; it contains absurd assumptions about the price of oil. It's pure partisan polemic, utterly divorced from reality.

One thing we discovered on taking over Iraq was that very little had been spent on infrastructure (including the oil production system) since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war and virtually nothing since 1991. Everythign leaked and was held together with baling wire and duct tape.

Given the spending priorities of the Saddam regime, nothing -would- have been spent after 2003, so it's exceedingly unlikely Iraqi oil production would be higher now without the war. Lower, if anything.

So the net effect of the Iraq war on oil prices has been... oh, somewhere between "zero" and "nothing".

The Chinese aren't going to go back to water buffalo and rickshaws, and India's following along fast. Chinese car production is going up by 25% annually. So don't expect the price of oil to drop much in the near term.

The real total figure for war costs (costs in addition to the ordinary DefDept budget) since 9/11 is around $750 billion for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Which is, in the context of the US federal budget -- in excess of three trillion annually -- peanuts.

We just voted an agriculture bill of $300 billion which is virtually -entirely- corrupt handouts to the wealthy in return for bribes to the legislators. (The only presidential candidate which objected to it was Senator McCain.)

In other words, the war costs are barley in excess of what we've paid to millionaire cotton and sugar planters in the same period.

And that, of course, is the sort of thing which would have eaten any "extra" money in the absense of the war. Unless you believe the pure, altruistic government would have spent it all for the public good. In which case I have this land deal you might be interested in... 8-).

$750 billion is also equivalent to about 1.2 year's total non-extraordinary-costs US military budget; in other words, these wars have cost us an extra 1/8th on the rather modest share of our GDP that we spend on the military annually -- around 4%, which is considerably less than the average we spent between 1945 and 1991, when something in the 6%-8% range was typical.

The US spends about 40% or a bit more of the world's total military costs but it does so out of a GDP that is around 1/3 of the global total -- and since the US has grown faster than the world average over the past 30 years, it's apparently not much of a burden.


I just thought I'd throw in this quote from a prominent USian 55 years ago, during the Cold War:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. ... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron." (Dwight D. Eisenhower "Chance for Peace" Address, April 16, 1953)
For background, that was the year Elizabeth II was crowned (& sugar rationing ceased); Stalin died & Khruschev succeeded him; Eisenhower succeeded Truman; Korean War armistice started (still going); Rosenbergs executed; North sea flood kills 1000s; Mt Everest climbed; Crick & Watson announced DNA structure; Salk polio vaccine brought out; Kinsey Report published; Piltdown Man hoax revealed; Playboy mag & colour TV both start selling.

I wonder what could have been done with 55 years time, energy, creative thought & money …?


S.M. Stirling@218

unsure on the exact figures you have used (it's late where I am, and my bed is calling), but you state

"The US spends about 40% or a bit more of the world's total military costs but it does so out of a GDP that is around 1/3 of the global total -- and since the US has grown faster than the world average over the past 30 years, it's apparently not much of a burden."

the state of the US economy really doesn't back this up. i realise there is a lot more to it than a couple of wars, the general corporate social welfare scheme has a lot to answer for. anyway, as the comments in the last blog post illustrate very well, the economy in the US is not standing up to the pressure. good example of this is the selling off of lots of US infrastructure (ports, roads, etc etc) to anyone with cash (just about).


Charlie @ 207:

Here's a question on the subject of Iraq: would you prefer that the efforts in Iraq fail? Why? Would you prefer success?

As for mortars and such the Iraq Body Count:
does at least indicate that controls over the death rate are possible. Sustainable? I certainly don't know. Perhaps Iraq will bleed the US dry.

I don't like the fact that the US is in Iraq, but we're there, I think that it would be better for us all if Iraq turned out "successful" (stable democratic nation, growing economy, progressive role-model in the region), you would prefer otherwise?

In this sense I think Taoist is trying to say that the War in Iraq can be a good use of the money. Assuming the "if" part plays out favorably why would this be wrong?

As for: "Could this be because the local voters are smart enough to realize that their interests are not aligned with those of the imperial hegemon?" I really cannot tell where you are going with that one.

RE: investments in clean water and combating climate change, obviously yes.


I follow the Iraq situation closely, and have many regular correspondents there (and in Afghanistan), including both officers and enlisted men. (My work's popular in the military.)

As for the state of the war, violent incidents are now at a 4-year low, after a modest spike in April due to the Basra and Sadr City operations; those were mostly Iraqi Army, with our air power, planning and special-ops backup, but with some US ground troop participation.

The Iraqis have done surprisingly well, with some of the shambolic Keystone Kops stuff you'd expect, but less than I anticipated.

The American forces are concentrating on getting Mosul and the surrounding area tied down.

The Iraqi government is taking over more of the routine security functions at an accelerating rate, and the theatre commanders anticipate a continued draw-down in the number of combat brigades. Some forces have already been shifted to Afghanistan.

Anbar Province has been handed over to the Iraqis and has remained relatively quiet, for instance, which frankly rather surprised me.

Tho' of course some American troops will remain in Iraq, along with advisory/training, special-ops, intelligence personnel, and so forth, on a long-term basis.

The current Pentagon plan is to increase the standing force by about 4 brigades or a little more. That indicates likely thinking as to the permanent garrisons needed there and in Afghanistan, while freeing our strategic reserve for other contingencies.

That's also the increase Obama and Clinton currently back; McCain wants to increase the total Army and Marine ground strength by another 150,000 troops on top of that, which indicates he's got rather more ambitious plans. 150,000 added to the current expansion plan would put the ground combat elements back to the 1992 level, and increase the available brigades by about 1/3.

(We haven't withdrawn from South Korea yet, either. Or from Germany or Japan, for that matter.)

The Sunni insurgency is pretty well over; most of the (surviving) former insurgents are now on our payroll. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been pushed back into a last redoubt around Mosul and is being hammered there; their current leader was killed last month, for example.

American troops are walking through the streets of Ramadi and Fallujah handing out candies to the kiddies and chatting with shopkeepers, which is quite surprising to the guys who were there when they were the worst hellholes in Iraq.

When al Qaeda tries to infiltrate snipers or bombers, the locals grass them up or kill them themselves, having come to appreciate the merits of the quiet life, and not wanting to end up in refugee camps in Syria the way a lot of their relatives did.

Word got around how the Syrians treated their Sunni Arab brethren... 8-).

Both cities also now have large areas of open, empty parking-lot-like space, about 1/4 and 1/3 of the urban areas, respectively.

As one American commander remarked when asked about that, "we took the gloves off".

This got the locals' attention and convinced them we were serious and to be taken seriously; then more benign methods could be used, such as encouraging the "Anbar Awakening", which was generously lubricated with greenbacks and patronage.

"You can have five silver dollars or five lead bullets," as the old Mexican adage runs.

It helped the other side were such lunatics and made ordinary life unbearable, of course, and that the Sunni population realized that the alternative to peace was to be ethnically cleansed into Syria and Jordan, which actually happened on a fairly large scale.

But "respect" (in the Mafia sense of the term) was an essential precondition for getting people to turn against the bad guys.

The British in Basra tried to go straight to the nicey-nice part and it didn't work so well. It's a matter of cross-cultural communications, which are often difficult. Iraqis are not the Northern Irish, and require a different 'style'.

However, "bread or the club", to quote another adage of Porfirio Diaz, is evidently a universal concept easily understood nearly anywhere. Provided the club is big and used with vigor.

The Iraqi government's recent push against the dissident Shia militias has been more successful than expected, and more rapidly so; Basra has been pacified to a surprising degree, though it was in a deplorable state.

I thought it would take rather longer and be messier to get to the present degree of progress, but it turns out few actually liked nutcases killing people for playing music or forbidding air conditioning because it isn't mentioned in the Koran, not to mention the severed-genitals-in-the-mouth mass graves. There's nothing like a dose of Islamist control to make people repent of it.

The overall political situation is (by Iraqi/Middle Eastern standards) also encouraging, and the upcoming provincial elections will probably go off well. Fingers crossed -- unanticipated events always possible, particularly in that part of the world.

Since Iraq _is_ in the Middle East, and _is_ inhabited by Arabs and Kurds, it will remain corrupt and violent. But no more than is to be expected. Iraq is _not_ the Republic of Blondistan, a mythical country located between Sweden and Denmark, which a lot of the press uses as their basis of comparison. Life in Blondistan is very nice, but immigration control is strict.

Guerrilla wars are slow and they don't end with a surrender ceremony -- the whole point of the tactic is to avoid decisive battle and try to wait other side out, which is why it's rightly forbidden by the traditional laws of war.

A typical counterinsurgency war lasts at least 6 years and often 12 or more.

When you win a counterinsurgency campain, as is apparently happening in this case, things don't come to an end; they just sort of gradually dribble to a messy, irregular, ambiguous conclusion, with occasional minor relapses.

For example, the Malayan Emergency lasted (officially) from about 1948 to 1960, but there were occasional guerrilla attacks right through into the 1970's and the communists didn't actually formally sign a peace agreement until 1989, about 39 years after the beginning. The Philippine Insurrection started in 1898 and Samar remained troublesome into the 1920's -- or today, counting the current troubles with the Moros.

I expect there will be the odd bombing in Iraq into the 2040's, unless we've all been uploaded to the Matrix in the Singularity before then, or eaten by nanobots.

Given that Iraq has about 20% of the world's total oil reserves, in the long run adding it to our hegemony/empire/whatever will probably pay handsomely.

As a bonus, it's good for the Iraqis, too, which is usually the case -- compare and contrast North and South Korea, for example, or Vietnam and Thailand, or Cuba and Puerto Rico.

We act as guarantors against their neighbors, thus freeing them from the necessity of maintaing large conventional armies, and our presence keeps the more Grand Guginol tendencies of their internal politics under control.

Some people seem to find the prospect of an American success in Iraq unpleasant -- despite the lurid Darfuresque horrors which would undoubtedly result from our failure. It's a bizzare attitude.


the point about "stable democratic nation, growing economy, progressive role-model in the region" - seems like something we should all agree on. but the US & UK are trying to impose THEIR version of this on a people who have their OWN version. generally, it doesn't work in the long term - and it has it's own price, not measured in dollars.

please have look at medialens.org. they have an excellent article, showing how low the IBC figures are compared to a number of scientifically conducted studies (notably the lancet study, estimating about 1,000,000 excess iraqi civilian casualties due to the invasion).

which leads me on to another point - is the invasion of iraq a good use of money? saddam is reckoned to have killed 130,000 odd during his reign of 25 years. 1,000,000 dead civilians in about 5 years, due to the invasion of iraq.


taoist@206: I'm simply mentioning that Iraq, as an investment, seems to me to have a decent chance of being a successful investment

Yeah, six more months and this quagmire will be turned around into a paradise, I'm telling ya. That's all we need. Just six more months. My powers of divination say six more months. Don't you have the gumption, the willpower, to go just six more months? That's all I'm asking. What's six months after six years?

Uh, unless, of course you were using something besides your Jedi mind powers to see the future, you've got bupkiss to base your prediction on. Bupkiss and wishful thinking.


A quick question- are we talking about the american numerical system, or the british one? (In the american system, a thousand million equals a billion)

If I had 3 Trillion Dollars, I would first give a million dollars each to everyone involved with the TED confrences (see WWW.Ted.Com)
(it claims it has talks by the worlds greatest thinkers and doers)
But everyone (or just about) does truly insperational stuff.
(look up all of the TED prize winners too)

Then, I would try and bring every country through it's demographic transition. This could be done with infastructure and education. More importantly, they (some scientists somewhere) that educating women actually does the most to bring down the birth rate, once the death rate has fallen.

How about setting up medical research facilities all around the world dedicated to preventing a pandemic (like the flu of 1915)

I would definatly give money to fusion research. And how about making the Aptera (a 300 mpg car currently in pre-production) free to all people. or improving on it's efficency.

Alternatively, I think that I would buy everyone a pizza and glass of orange juice. and a slice of chocolate cake.


Charlie says we could send 510 people to Mars. Based on the average American male’s weight of 190 pounts, we could instead send (based on an average of 10 pounds) 9690 cats. Why? Because I like Steve Martin. Note: this number is not counting the amount of string we’d need to send.


to avoid the large mass of string for those cats - howabout a couple of laser pointers and a mirror ball? cheaper, avoids all that string cluttering up the ship too...


Jim@221: Here's a question on the subject of Iraq: would you prefer that the efforts in Iraq fail?

Jim, here's a question for you: do you think wishing makes a damn bit of difference in war? Cause if you do, seek help and stop voting until you're healed. If you don't, then what the frick is your point other than to try and see if Charlie passes your "willpower" test?

Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams and fairy tales that's all she ever thinks about.

Meanwhile, asking folks what they would spend 3Trillion dollars on besides the Iraq war is exactly the sort of question the voting public should have been asking themselves before they hummed the national anthem, wrapped themselves in a flag, and followed President Lemming off a cliff.

Is the cost of lives, permanently wounded, and trillions of dollars worth it? Is there any point at which the war would not be worth it to you? Ever hear of a thing called a phyrric victory? Did you notice the complete lack of WMD's? Did you notice absolutely no connection existed between Iraq/Saddam and Al Queda until after we invaded?

Rather than ask moronic, chest thumping questions that can do nothing but act as a test of sufficient "will" to win, a test of the proper level of "patriotism", of the mindless following of a president over a cliff, of an infantile level of development called "wishful" or "magical" thinking, why don't you get your head in the game and answer the question that the voting public should be asking themselves every day of our occupation:

Is this war worth the cost?

Or would we have been better off not invading and spending that money, lives, and energy elsewhere?

Because the only thing we can learn from this boondoggle now, is that next time we sure as fuck better be asking that question before we send our men and women into another fucking meat grinder.

And if you aren't willing to ask that question, then you're playing games with human lives, American lives.


Joe Mansfield@133:
Storage of solar energy is actually less of a problem than you might expect, because peak electricity usage in the US tends to occur between 11 am and 3 pm in the summer months, or right at maximum insolation. This is not a coincidence: air conditioning consumes a significant proportion of grid power when the sun shines. If you do want to store solar power, plug-in hybrids are a damned good first step.

Bill Simmon@217:
I'm waiting for proposals to deflect NEO asteroids into Earth orbit. There's a paper by Don Korycanski (modesty forbids mention of the second author) which proposes using low-density media such as dust or gas instead of point masses or nukes for momentum transfer. Simulations show spherically distributed dust clouds disrupt rubble pile asteroids much less than point impactors, and I suspect modest shaping would reduce distortion even further, to the point where you could imagine moving an Apollo-class object to Near Earth Orbit. At that point all kinds of things become possible, such as solar power satellites, because even if the photovoltaics are made on Earth, the greater part of an SPS is relatively low-tech stuff such as structure, which could be made in space. Or, for that matter, the asteroid could serve as an anchor for a Beanstalk...

A smallish portion of the half-terabuck under discussion should be sent to this guy so he can spread the good word about land reclamation, since erosion is reaching critical levels. Greece, for example, was once a verdant country before domesticated goats ate the plants keeping topsoil from washing into the sea.



accelerationista @223:

"but the US & UK are trying to impose THEIR version of this on a people who have their OWN version"

What is this "version" you speak of? I am aware of at least a dozen government "proposals" for Iraq, everything from an Islamic government to several variations of a democratic republic.

Why is the figure of 1,000,000 dead Iraqi civilians a more "legitimate" number? After reading through the article you mentioned (thanks, BTW), it seems like just another estimate, it is just as likely to be criticized as the IBC numbers. As with many cases like this the truth lies somewhere between. For some they will argue that the number has to be large enough to make the whole Iraq situation seem worse than Saddam for others better. The reality is that we're talking about people who lost their lives, taken from family, friends, and loved-ones as a result of this action, what should we hope for in this context?

As for the version of government that comes out of all of this, it is not clear that there is a reason to believe that achieving some form of progressive government cannot happen. It may be flawed, but it is likely to be better than what they had. If there is going to be a terrible cost in life it is at least consoling that those who live in the shadow of this tragedy have more opportunity than they would have had before.

If this were to happen (a progressive, democratic government), even assuming the high number of 1,000,000 casualties would it be worth it? If no, then it is ethically acceptable to think of the world filled with human zoos and those born into the zoos run by the despots simply have to deal with their lot in life, a lot chosen utterly by chance? And the rest of the world, the zoos with more roaming rights, shouldn't consider action?

There is no doubt that the US is in Iraq under false-pretense, history bares this fact out with breathtaking relief, be we are there now. The world would be a better place if Iraq became a self-sustaining progressive government. Talking about the monies poured into the war as lost opportunities may not be the only way to think about this. The money has been spent, the lives have been lost, is it OK to think some good may come of this?


Charlie, next time, seriously, consider a multiple choice "direction" approach to this... i.e. "a) Education b) Energy c) Medical Research"? ;-)

Anyhow...two bits - clearly we'll need to approach all three - so split it 40 / 40 / 20 across the above items, respectively, and then let's go from there. Take the smallest number, $500bn, and devote 200 each to Education reforms and Energy research and development, with 100 getting added into an existing foundation - call it the Gates foundation to start. They're spending the money relatively wisely thus far, and I sure as hell don't trust a government - any government, to spend the money any better.

The $200bn for Education - take the bottom 25% of America's schools and commit to seriously revamping each of them. Raises for teachers based on hard but fair KPI's, on a 10 year plan (so you weed out the current crop of students and get a clean cycle to by judged on) and, and see what we can do. Nobody's going to have all the answers, but in schools where they can't afford A/C in the summer, computers built in the last decade, and staff are grossly underpaid let's see what kind of a difference we can make.

The $200bn for Energy - well, nuclear is our best bet for now. How many nuclear reactors could we build and maintain for the coming 50 years with that money???

Just a rough estimate from anyone - Wiki's got a pretty wide ranging number for the $ per Kw - between $2950 and 5000? What does it take to power a NY size city?

As a purely academic discussion - let's all forget politics for a bit?


I would spend a trillion dollars each on developing a method of cloning each human organ. Heart, kidney, and liver (and so on) because those are things people tend to need an extra one of. You could offset the coast by charging a patent fee on each one. Even only for 20 years the coast would be offset greatly. No more heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease... diabetes would be cured... the coast of maintenance health care would be reduced greatly. The work force would be more productive and live a fuller life all around. The funny thing is its not even out of reach.


re IBC/lancet
the iraq body count method is to count deaths by the number of reports in the media (generally western media, though some iraqi). the lancet methodology is to do a massive survey - go out and actually ask people, randomised clusters in randomised neighbourhoods. can't remember offhand all the details, but basically it is based on the scientific method.

I am all for an end to the fighting and the deaths in iraq, right this second if possible. I think that, when you try to impose your view of "the good life" on someone else, that "good life" is inevitably framed in your own viewpoint, in your own culture, your own society. As a result it (generally) is different to what the civilian population want (in methodology/form if not in overall goals of security/end to killing/safety etc).


O'Kane @86: I start getting accused of all sorts of things when I get more specific. But again, difference of belief. And the results of that study? I am far from convinced, given the ongoing immigration. (Complex issue I really don't want to get into here, and both the far left and far right tend to start howling when I talk soloutions)

Henry Allen-Tilford@106: No, NASA really is firing things into space and having them vanish. Most of the good space science, even, is being done outside NASA these days.

Scrap NASA, assign 10% of the funding to private space enterprises as a series of prizes and make the kittie for this thread bigger.

Charlie - The problem is finding suckers, I mean volunteers, to moderate blogs. Forums are considerably easier since blog software isn't generally even made with the considation of multi-user moderation... (but you can find comment thread plugins for forums)


GregLondon @228:

"do you think wishing makes a damn bit of difference in war?"

I do not see how this is related to my question. What are you trying to get at?

I asked the question for one simple reason: Charlie originally asked what could the 0.5-6 trillion USD could be used for. I think that there are lots of useful things that that money could be used for other than prosecuting a war in Iraq, I think you would agree. Taoist brought up the point that it is possible that the Iraq war could turn out to not be such a bad thing after all so the investment in the Iraq war might actually be a worthwhile use of the money. Now, of course this is assuming that you go back before the war, get a document that says such-and-such grillion dollars will be available to you to spend on what you deem worthwhile. Most of us would almost certainly NOT choose to spend that money on prosecuting a war in Iraq (that should be obvious), I doubt that even Taoist would have done that, but among the myriad of possible projects some nutter would go off and have the war in Iraq. Now, we have the unpleasant situation where we actually do HAVE the war and not the other fantasies we would have preferred (I'm NOT engaging in wishful thinking, wishful thinking is what was asked for by Charlie, and I think a very good question to pose). Now, given the reality that we have not spent the monies in more "useful" ways what can be said about the ways that the monies were spent. Well, I would say that most people posting here would not think that the monies were spent well at all, Taoist is challenging that view. That challenge is a tough one to accept because it is somewhat coldly opportunistic: given the whole Iraq fiasco - what would happen if things turned out OK?

This is all just a thought experiment, nothing, absolutely nothing said here has any bearing on reality at all, war or not. We don't have our hands on the money, we cannot control the outcome of the war, and you cannot know if you will wake up tomorrow. If anything Charlie gets a good return on his investment to set up and fund the site because we all donate some of our free time reading and writing stuff into it so he can formulate ideas that may or may not make it into a book.

I really don't know where you are coming from with all the "patriotic"/"flag wrapping" stuff, that just seems crazy.

The question I asked of Charlie is not a trap, it is a legitimate question, perhaps you might want to answer it as well. I started out my comment on this thread asking that stereotypes (and derogatory ones at that) not be used indiscriminately against Americans (see my other posts, I'm not an apologist, I'm asking to be judged by what I actually say rather then what you project onto me as saying). I could easily start flinging baseless stereotypes about various European reactions to the war in Iraq, but where will that get us? The question remains: would you prefer to see the war in Iraq be a failure (civil war, totalitarian Islamic government take control, add your own...).

If you say yes, why? Merely to cut down "American hubris" a couple of notches? You have to come clean. Your reaction to my post is flailing against the question, can you answer it directly? Honestly? Openly? If the answer is yes, you want the war in Iraq to be a success, by some measure, then Taoist's points need consideration. That is all I'm trying to say.

Too much to ask?


S.M.@222: Some people seem to find the prospect of an American success in Iraq unpleasant -- despite the lurid Darfuresque horrors which would undoubtedly result from our failure. It's a bizzare attitude.

You know what's bizzare? Back in the Reagan administration, NASA bureaucrats kept pushing the launch window for the shuttle for PR purposes, launching when the engineers kept saying "No launch". You know what happened? The bureaucrats launched a bunch of times, they got a successful launch, and they convinced themselves that they had empiracally proven that the launch envelope was wider than the engineers thought it was.

The people who made the decision to launch, against the advice of the people who understood the system, congratulated themselves on their wise leadership and convinced themselves they had more insight into how the system worked than the designers did.

Until the Challenger launch, that is. Some asshole pushed for a launch when all the engineers were saying "no". And that asshole pushed for launch because the president was going to make a great patriotic speech that day about teachers in space, and that asshole didn't want to disappoint his fearless leader.

Too bad it wasn't the asshole who paid the price.

This is just to point out that every thing you said in #222 is complete garbage as far as actually understanding what the design parameters of the system. If, and that's still a big if, IF we actually manage to get out of Iraq without it splitting into three countries and a full out civil war (fuller than the current civil war that is), then we did so by luck. Three trillion dollars of money, a lot of American troops killed, and a shit load of luck.

Why luck?

Because everyone who knew anything about what it would take to invade and occupy Iraq before the invasion was saying it would take years and cost thousands of lives and would still have a huge chance of failure.

I don't wish for our troops in Iraq to fail, you asshole, I don't find the prospect of an American victory to be unpleasant, you prick, what I find offensive is that you imply I wish for American defeat in the same breath you congratulate yourself on your foresight and wisdom in pulling off a successful launch, as if it were part of the original design, as if the launch were over, had succeeded, and we were safely in orbit.

If we win, if we achieve a stable Iraq and can withdraw without massive additional bloodshed, and I hope to hell we do, then we will only do that because some idiot lied us into a war that no sane man would have taken on, lied to us that the cost would be six weeks, lied to us that Iraq had WMD's, lied to us by insinuating over and over again connections between Iraq and 9/11, the experts were predicting up to 15 years of occupation, and we just got absolutely fucking lucky. And you sit there with complete blinders on and give a myopic report:

Launch may succeed. Doubters may find it unpleasant.

Kiss my ass, you arrogant cuss. I don't want Americans to die. I don't wish Americans be defeated. But I sure as fuck ain't gonna let you list off a bunch of short-sighted statistics about the possibility of success as if that was part of the design.

This wasn't the war the administration lied us into. This wasn't the enemy the administration propagandized us against. And this sure as hell isn't a simple accounting of whetehr or not we can achieve a stable Iraq, but whether the cost, the real cost inherent in the system of war, invasion, and occupation was worth it.

We've been in Iraq longer than we fought the Germans in WW2 and we still haven't gotten a victory. The hawks told us over and over again that we'd be in and out in six weeks, six months tops.

Whether we achive victory or not, the launch to war was made by some bureaucratic assholes who ignored the system experts and launched against every sane person's advice. We could very easily have lost this in the first year due to circumstances beyond our control. Just like the Challenger blew up because the weather just happened to be cold enough that morning to fuck the o-rings. That wasn't something the bureaucrat knew about. He just pulled the trigger and crossed his fingers, having convinced himself that the previous launches somehow had enlarged the envelop beyond what the experts were telling him.

About the last thing we need is yet another administration who thinks they know more about war than what history has shown us, what the experts have predicted. Or some asshole who thinks victory in Iraq changes the parameters for another launch.

By focusing solely on the immediate direction the Iraq war is heading towards victory, you've managed to not only focus only on the potential benefit of teh war (possible victory), not only ignore the possibility for losing the war, not only ignore the question of cost regarding the war (3T$, thousands of dead Americans, tens of thousands permanently wounded americans, and about a hundred thousand dead iraqi civilians), not only ignore the fact that this war was sold to us by a bunch of morons who lied to us at every step about the cost, about the threat, but most importantly, act as if victory after six years was the original bill of goods, and by default reinforce the notion of that bureacrat who thinks a successful launch against all odds actually proves it was a good decision, proves it was good leadership.

Good leaders don't close their eyes, ignore reality, ignore the facts, and play dice with other people's lives based on wishful thinking and their own propaganda.

This is the current realistic cost: 3T$, thousands dead, tens of thousands wounded, six year quagmire.

The potential cost could still be another 6 to 12 years before we get full stabilization, another 3 trillion dollars, several thousand more dead americans, another hundred thousnad dead Iraqi civilians.

You don't know.

You present the possibility of a victory within the next six months as if it were part of the original design, as if it were part of the original timeline, as if everything were going according to schedule from the beginning.

it isn't.

And then you sum up with this complete and utter bullshit that "some" (conveniently unnamed) might find the prospect of American victory to be unpleasant.

As if this discussion was saying "Hey, who wants victory? Who wants us to get our asses kicked? Raise your hands."


The question is was the cost worth it. The sort of question the voting public should ask themselves before sending troops into the meatgrinder.

The question is what sort of war were we promised by our government, and what sort of war did they deliver? The question is does launching a war against the advice of experts mean you've changed the parameters of war? Or did an idiot from Texas send us into an insane war, and by blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of luck, we just might beat the odds and get victory.

If we get victory in anotehr six months, then we got lucky. Bush senior didn't invade Iraq the first time around becaue his experts predicted an occupation that might last a decade or more. And all you can do is put the blinders on and report the most short-sighted piece of information you can come up with: Victory might be possible in six months, and present it as if that were the original plan all along.

As if questioning the possibility of victory in six months is to wish for American defeat, rather than to understand that the system has its own launch parameters and wishing for a successful launch isn't the only requirement for success.

I've had it with you six-months-and-we'll-turn-this-around yahoos who act as if six months is by design. It isn't. The design is a decade or two of occupation. If we get out in six years, we just got lucky. There was ice on the shuttle, but for some reason the o rings held that day.

So, now the shuttle is in mid takeoff, and there are icicles hanging off the tank, and it could very well blow up, and all you can do is tell me the positives and tell me that my questions mean I find the possibility of success "unpleasant"? You're telling me we haven't blown up yet, and we're getting close to orbit, so we should focus on the positives or something?

This thing could still very well blow up. I don't need your Mary Poppins status report to tell me the best possible outcome. I need to know if the cost is worth it right now, if we should abort the mission right now, because if the reality is a hundred years of occupation, I'm not sure Americans should be dying over there for this. If the reality is a decade or more of occupation like we've had so far, then I need to know that, not have some yes-man tell me everything's looking good, sir. Bush and his yes-men are exactly why we're in this boondoggle in the first place.

And any asshole who takes a thread that discusses the true cost of the war and reframes it into some bullshit about "finding success unpleasant", implying that to ask hard questions is to wish for American defeat, that sort of asshole isn't the sort of person I can trust to answer hard questions. Mary Poppins will want to sugar coat everything and challenge the loyalty of anyone who asks questions. No thanks.

If I'm going to look at the cost and benefit of some gamble and someone only wants to tell me the benefit and tell me that looking at the cost is wishing for defeat, that sort of moron isn't the sort of person I would trust to give me honest answers.



While there are a number of "cheap" launch technologies which have been proposed, most of them (for example, Big Dumb Boosters) are only cheap compared to the outrageous costs of launching things right now. A mere factor of 3 or 10 won't make power sats or space colonies practical—with that sort of price, you really need autonomous self-replicating robots on the moon to supply all your materials.

A technology like a launch loop or a space elevator might be cheap enough. That is, if such a thing (being realistic here) is even possible for a civilization at our level. For a space elevator, that's a very serious question (the answer probably being "no.")

Now, perhaps it is theoretically possible for us to build something like a launch loop. But, this is hardly something that's really within our reach in a practical sense. If we could build it, that alone is pretty much your $500-6000×109 budget.

Just sayin'. If you want to build skyhooks or launch loops or the like, you're constructing a monumental feat for the ages, a fantastic triumph of human ingenuity almost beyond belief. At that point, why bother with those piddly powersats? :-)

Anyway, as for whether it's a big nuisance in the sky, I'd like to point out that if you want to power a significant portion of the US energy grid, we're talking about a surface area that's thousands of square kilometers. Or to put it in a way more apropos to this conversation, looking up at night, you'd see solar platforms appearing to be approximately the size of a Culture General Systems Vehicle, Plate Class hovering above you. Every night.

Hey, personally I think that would be cool. But I'm all for building giant lasers to draw pictures on the moon, too.

Hey, there's an idea! I'd build giant lasers to draw pictures on the moon. Lunar eclipse coming up? All right! Pretty!


All this talk of solar and nuclear research.... how about spending on R&D for NEW types of energy ; like gravity , magnetics , and so on? Proper and successful R&D in these fields(no pun intended) would make our current paradigm obsolete ---completely . It guess I'm going back to that Bill Hicks quote near the top. Think out of the Box? The future requires we get RID of that damn box altogether!


Tim L@238:

Agreed! Tap the Vacuum!


As mentioned before, we could build a world class high speed rail system to connect 70 percent of our population, which resides in highly urbanized areas. California high speed rail is estimated at $33 billion and would be roughly 500 miles from SF to LA... That's over 80K miles of high speed rail. We could link not only all of the major cities of the US, but we could link up the continent with high speed rail. Our freight , including food from South America, could be shipped with maximum efficiency.


Jim@235: Your reaction to my post is flailing against the question, can you answer it directly?

My question to you is: Have you stopped beating your wife?

Can you answer that directly? yes or no? No flailing allowed now. Yes or no, what is your answer?

See my post at #236, regarding comments such as "some" people finding success unpleasant. That is total neocon reframing, taking a discussion of cost/benefit of a war and turning it into a discussion where asking the cost is wishing for defeat.

It's a moronic statement. It takes responsible behaviour and tries to twist it into pushing for mindless obediance to whoever made the decision to go to war. It doesn't fly in any legitimate democracy.

It takes the real system of war and occupation and turns it into a "wish" game. Even if we "wish" for victory tomorrow, the reality is an occupation of Iraq might take another 6 years, or another 10 years, or even more.

You can't simply judge "best case" outcome (victory tomorrow) against current cost. Unless you can guarantee victory tomorrow, you have to consider victory in 10 years, and consider the cost of another 10 years of occupation.

The only thing real we have right now is six years of occupation and 3T$ of cost and an ongoing occupation with no definite end in sight.

Taoists "what if" is imaginary. What if we win the war tomorrow, would that be worth it? That ignores that if we win the war tomorrow, we simply got lucky and beat the odds in the system. You don't play roulette based on the idea of "what if I win teh next roll?" you have to play based on repeated rolls over time, and in the case of roullette, the odds are stacked against you.

The thing to keep in mind about Iraq is that it isn't an unusual occupation. We were told 6 weeks and we'd be out. And yet 6 years and we're still there. That's because some guy who puts all his chips on double-zero and promises me he'll win big, doesn't actually affect the outcome with his promises. 5 to 15 years is not unusual for an occupation.

What if we won the war tomorrow? I don't know. What if I put all my money on double-zero? Should I keep playing even if the odds are against me in the long run?

In the end, what we wish for is irrelevant on the outcome. The cost is the cost, and the benefit if any is the benefit. and if the roullette wheel stops on double-zero and you happen to win big, that doesn't mean you made a wise bet in the first place.

In some gambles, like roullette, the house wins in the long run, and the only smart bet is to not play at all.

And the way I see Charlie's question, asking what would you have spent the money on instead of the Iraq war is asking people to look at the cost of the gamble they took and get people to re-evaluate the process that led them to take the gamble in the first place, when the facts were that the house would win.

That isnt the same as wishing for defeat, that's getting a gambler to look at the costs, the money he's lost, to wrap his head around what he lost, so that he can appreciate the true cost, rather than to keep buying into the sucker mentality that just one more throw, I'll break even, and then I'll quit.

Six more months, and it'll all turn around.


Two quick points before work:

1) Hmm, maybe not quick, but just a comment for those who say: "Give the money back to tax payers" - according to good old Adam Smith, the burden of taxation does not fall on waged and salaried workers (Ricardo & marx concur). The market operates on the real take home wage, and if a tax cuts into this (or increases this) the market operates to pass the debit/benefit onto the employers not the em,ployed. Any of you who is PAYE or equivilent, that income tax isn't yours, never was yours, and is in fact an employee tax paid by your employer. I'm not paying for the war, my employer is.

2) S.M. Stirling passim the point isn't whether the US can succeed eventually in iraq. Nor that its fighting a war out of its pocket change. Rather, Shirley, that by eradicating Malaria, engaging in targetted projects to eliminate other specific diseases and infrastructural problems, it could have done much more, cheaper, to protect its own security.

Right now, in Afghanistan, boys are attacking British and American troops because they've been given a new pair of shoes and a rifle. That kind of poverty breeds Darfresque conflict. Smiting with a smiting hammer is a poor way of dealing with that.


I wonder if the estimate on nuclear power includes the total costs of prospecting, mining and refining the uranium. Or the future costs of having that much depleted uranium for the US military to use polluting the world for the next few billion years.

Nuclear power itself is remarkably clean and environmentally friendly. But that isn't the case if one includes the strip-mining of carnatite. If you visit the SouthWest United States you will see hundreds of posters in government buildings offering up government money to the people poisoned by mining radioactive ores, and its really impossible to estimate how many people have cancer and such from the mining who just lived in nearby towns.

Just like coal comes from somewhere, so does uranium ore. Anything dealing with the refining process is extremely hazardous. Just the end product is less carbon and different kinds of pollution.

Anyway, surely $6tn could have been spent for something good. Perhaps we could have paid down the deficit and slashed taxes?


Charlie@125: Agreed that storage, not IC engines per se, is the problem. In the back of mind was this proposition that finding a way to transition off oil for transportation would be much easier if you didn't have to scrap 300 million vehicles in the US and start over. Thus, my internal assumption was that we'd need a way to use what we have, just without oil. What, you weren't reading my mind? :-)

Regardless, I'm going to spend some time thinking about it, rather than just tossing off an answer. Good thought exercise, by the way; thanks!

Henry@132: Excellent point re: using light-weight carbon composites in auto manufacturing to reduce oil consumption. That begs the question: why haven't we started? Not trolling, just wondering if local laws mandate steel for safety reasons or some such.



I'm the only moderator on this discussion, and I have to sleep sometimes. And I am in a different time zone from most of my readers (four hours ahead of EST).

It seems there's been a bit of an Outbreak while I was asleep.

As the discussion has rolled on overnight, I'm not going to go back and chew huge holes in the comments. HOWEVER I should like to draw several persons' attention to my comment #39. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Steve, and to a lesser extent Jim and Greg.)

I'm awake now, and further comments on the lines of "do you want to succeed in Iraq or not?" will be deleted on sight as off-topic.


There is a moderately well-known fan who is breeding cats for intelligence.

Just give her a few million dollars. The payoff can't be any worse.

Heck, funding Cold Fusion research was a better bet than invading Iraq.

These are bets a country can afford to lose.


Is Thermal Depolymerisation still a goer?


TimL #238- are you serious? We'll need a whole new physics before we have a clue how to do what you suggest. More money into basic phsysics research would always be good, but I doub't it'll pay off any time soon.


I don't think anybody does education right. I don't even think we know how to do education right.

ISTR someone wise saying that no known society has ever spent too much on it.


Take a trillion and it aside as an endowment aiming for a 5% return to fund an annual $50 Billion boondoggle grant, preferably with the winner to be selected in some sort of global Eurovision-esque competition. I want to see scientists in low-cut gowns, dammit.

Use as much of the rest as needed for pure propaganda and straight-ahead bribery to end European and US agriculture subsidies.

Blow anything left on re-bribing the same people for a more sensible (deliberately left undefined for now) copyright/patent/IP regine


Given the magic wand, a free hand, and the money -- and assuming I were a powerful US politician -- the money would be spent thusly:

30% toward wind power development and installation
20% toward solar power development and installation -- there are flexible panels now, that can go on anything
10% to medical researchers worldwide -- and this inncludes Cuban medical researchers who have done some interesting cancer research
5% toward longevity research
5% micro loans all over the world -- build good will
10% to improve communications networks worldwide, just so I could play in Second Life as much as I wanted, wherever I went -- and half of this would go to help pay for Galileo's more rapid deployment -- current satellites ARE old, and GPS should be improved.
10% to increase the salaries of US teachers, and to teach reading by phonics (I'm a REALLY powerful US politician)
5% towards prizes for various achievements in space travel
5% toward basic physics research

I don't much like the idea of nuclear power because of the problem with waste disposal. However, wind is certainly part of an answer. See Dr. Cristina Archer, wind power researcher - even more articles via Google.

Archer said that after her paper came out, people from all around the world wrote to say that the wind power potential in their own area had been underestimated by her.

Wind Power Could Generate More Than Enough Sustainable Electricity to Meet Global Energy Needs

The Germans are going toward energy self-sufficiency, in incremental steps, through a variety of methods.

This blog, run by a German engineer, is mainly political but does have good engineering stories too. The link below describes the new German wind turbine, why it will not be available in the US for a few years yet, and the role of the NSA in industrial espionage.

A New Wind Generator


I'd use the money to overthrow the USA government and replace it with a green socialist republic.


Charlie @245: Fair enough.

Velocity @251: Nice one, but as someone else said earlier on, it my be cheaper to buy enough of the political infrastructure to get your way. $6T can grease a lot of palms.

RE: exhaustive studies on education (as proposed several times in differing forms) - Is the problem of education even well-defined enough to justify exhaustive systematic study? What are the goals? How would the results of such a study be assessed? One would assume comparisons need to be made which would require some form of measurement. Seems like a tough nut to crack. I think making more educational opportunity available to students (of all ages) really ought to be enough: improve (significantly) the student teacher ratio (more, well-paid teachers), availability of more specialty study from an early age where the choice of what specialties to investigate are chosen by the student, lifetime of free, high-quality, education for those who choose it. Sending more teachers into areas of the world that need it, giving more (much more) educational opportunity to the world's impoverished population (transporting them to other countries as necessary - they have to be willing, it's not forced), my prediction is that this kind of investment would pay back handsomely, and quickly.


I have to admit I liked Greg Londons post #236, perilously off topic though it was.

As for education, yes, exactly how it is carried out will vary depending on which goals you pursue (You want more science/ more religion/ encouragement towards conformity with authority, or would you prefer more free thinking?)
but the impression I have gained over the years is that we know pretty much what we need to do to improve education anywhere in the world.
1) Ensure pupils are interested and engaged and see being educated as something they want and possibly need to do.
2) Give them lots of teachers who have been trained to teach
3) in schools with enough equipment and variety and non-leaking roofs.

Of course its more complex, thats where the cash comes in, nevertheless, I don't think we need more research, we merely need to apply what is already known.


Guthrie: Greg's response in #236 was the main reason I didn't go through the overnight comments with fire and the sword. After that, it just didn't seem necessary.

On education: you missed point (4) in an environment that is conducive to learning. Bullying is endemic in schools just about everywhere, it makes life a misery for an enormous number of kids -- a double-digit percentage -- and it's detrimental to their ability to study. To the extent that it's tolerated, it's because it's difficult for adult teachers to identify and root out and because habitual tolerance breeds a climate of pessimism about achieving change. But it's not inevitable, and I figure just taking a hard look at the social environment in schools and cracking down on abuse would have interesting consequences for outcomes.

There's also the question of what the goal of schooling is about: is it there to churn out pliable factory workers (Comprehensive/Secondary education, or imperial soldiers and governors (the elite public school system), or civil servants/managers/professions (the grammar school system), or something else (rounded human beings? Scientists? Artists?). The relentless focus on testing and performance against a rigid syllabus comes at the price of asking why we're trying to teach this stuff to children, and what it's equipping or conditioning them for.


On the topic of education, and especially relevant re bullying, there's the famous (?) Paul Graham article about schooling: http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

While I might not entirely agree with PG's arguments, it seems that he is partly right about the fact that schools all too often function like prisons ore daycare centres, and the societies which arise in them can be quite barbaric. Adult disinterest in the education of their offspring might have something to do with it too.


Yup, its the great big culture question again.
It is a big question, and some other time I might have something intelligent to say about it, but right now I'm afraid my brain doesn't feel up to it.


253: I have to admit I liked Greg Londons post #236, perilously off topic though it was.

Time spent giving SMS's jingoistic nonsense a good public kicking (and that *was* quite a good one) is never wasted IMO.

254: The relentless focus on testing and performance against a rigid syllabus comes at the price of asking why we're trying to teach this stuff to children, and what it's equipping or conditioning them for.

John Taylor Gatto's opus here has some interesting things to say about how the American system evolved (and most of the developed countries seem to have followed a similar pattern). Some very shifty people involved, and no mistake.


I'd suggest a tiered approach for my boondoggle spending.

First, a systematic study of the best ways to educate in as many cultures that are willing to cooperate in the study as possible.

Second, use the results to educate.

Third, simultaneously with steps one and two, begin taking great swings at clean water and malaria.

Fourth, take the educated folks from step 2, and try to get as many as possible to work on the power and social reform issues (I'm afraid I'd leave the decisions about social reform to the folks that would be affected).


Thebes@243: Compared to coal mining? Modern day uranium mining is of the same order of nastyness (Mining stuff out the ground is allways nasty).


As far as piping hydrogen and oxygen around Robin Hood's barn for use as fuel ...
I work at a utility which pipes natural gas around a large chunk of American landscape. We spend some millions of dollars a year in maintenance, trying to prevent leaks, fix small leaks before they become large ones, and replacing plumbing that's aged (some is more than 70 years old), not to mention adding new pipe and keeping the entire system (some 50 thousand miles) mapped so we can find the plumbing in the dark
With hydrogen and oxygen, I would expect that expense to be multiplied several times, and extra added in for additional protection from construction crews, vibration from heavy vehicles, and fools who think large-diameter pipes are good places for bungee-jumping (not a joke; it's happened).


Charlie and Greg: Just out of curiosity can you actually falsify any of the statements or claims made by SMS? Any of it factually wrong or has a wrong take on human nature and the nature of counter-insurgency warefare? Or is it just his tone you object to?


Just a comment on the "What would be 'success in Iraq,' anyway?" meme:

I am tired of hearing people with no personal experience in the geopolitical area or in leadership positions in the military spout off on what would constitute a military success in Iraq, let alone a broader, political one. So far as I know, that includes everyone who has commented in this thread purporting to define "success," and specifically includes those who claim to have Close Personal Friends and Acquaintances Who Said x. Success, at least in a military sense, really is a matter of mindset... and despite diligent search over the last quarter of a century, I have found one — and one only — nonmilitary person who has ever adequately assimilated that sense: John Keegan. The vast majority of the Cold Warrior academics (e.g., Martin van Creveld, to name the most obvious idiot) wouldn't understand success from a purely military perspective if it slid up their respective legs and bit them on their shrivelled gonads. The politico/powermonger types are worse; the less said about ideologues, the better (because it would be a constant [string of unbelievably foul and offensive expletives deleted] diatribe about their [second string of unbelievably foul and offensive expletives deleted] ancestry and probable phylum, and this isn't my blog so I won't do that).

Admittedly, it's not all that great inside of the military, either; I remember an instructor at the Air Command and Staff College claiming in the course of a lecture that "containment" of communism in Central America during the Reagan Administration was an excellent example of the use of the military threat and asymmetric military capability, as opposed to overt use of force, to create a military success. He did not take it kindly when I questioned his conclusion that the result was a "success." He took it even less kindly when a foreign exchange officer from [neighboring nation] began questioning him... in rapid-fire Spanish. However, at least it's an issue that is always in view, and that the officer community is always trying to assimilate.

Mr Stirling's posts (218, 222), among others too numerous to mention, reflect no assimilation of what success means in the military, let alone what military success means in the context of political success. I respectfully suggest that y'all need some experience leading troops and dealing with casualties* before spouting off further, and particularly before asserting positions relying on "the ends justify the means" on Our Gracious Host's blog. As a veteran and officer myself, I was offended by this... obtuseness (and I'm trying very, very hard to remain civil). In particular, nobody has paid much attention to the date of the original musings from Mr Stross... or what that date means in the US.

* NB I spent nearly a decade as a commanding officer. One of a commanding officer's duties is making death notifications within his/her unit. Until you've done it, don't claim it's easy. Remember: The operative word in "Cold War" is not "cold", particularly in asymmetric warfare.


Thebes; If you ask the question "is x counted" in the cost of nuclear power, then the answer is invariably "yes"
The primary edge nuclear power has as a clean energy source is that because it has been a political hot potato for so long, all its costs are internalised. Any and all potential or actual problems that are associated with it, the company running the reactor gets charged for. Nothing is externalised.
This is of course somewhat of a finacial disadvantage when competeing with EG; Coal, which externalises the hell out of any and all costs it can. - all that is needed to force a headlong conversion to nuclear power is to start charging the coal plants for the damage they cause the way we do nuclear.

.. so, bondoggle the first. 100 million to cost out the damage from coal power and lobby politicians to charge it to producers. >,)

Bondoggle the second: so. you want to spend large amounts of money reshaping the middle east? I think I have a more effective way than bullets. I'd buy the arabic language rights for.. well, the entire canon of western literature, philosophy, ect, ect. anything you could possibly find in a major library, basically. (shouldnt cost too much)
Here comes the expensive bit:
step 1: Have good translations to arabic done for all of it.
step 2: Publish under creative commons type licence. (if I own the rights, nothing stops me from giving it away, right?)
step 3: publish dead three versions at cost, donate collections to embassies, ect, ect.


The question is was the cost worth it. The sort of question the voting public should ask themselves before sending troops into the meatgrinder.

Meatgrinder? While we've lost 4,00 soldiers in Iraq (and each death is a tragedy), we lost 5,000 men on D-Day and 15,000 men on Okinawa. Please define what you mean by meatgrinder.


That sort of money could buy a lot of psychiatric help for the psychopaths on this planet who think it is beneficial to themselves to keep unto themselves more representative value (read: money) than they will ever be able to use in a lifetime; thereby denying it to those in dire need or to causes and research that would benefit us all. The question then is, would that much counseling be able to help them, or are they beyond help (read: evil)?


Atlatl: you know perfectly well -- if you've been following the news in depth -- that one of the interesting aspects of the Iraq war and occupation is that swift medical intervention means that nine-tenths of casualties with what would have been, in any previous war, fatal injuries actually make it to a hospital and are stabilized.

US deaths exceed 3000, but the injuries are considerably more numerous. Major amputations: over 500. Traumatic brain injuries: 2000 receiving hospital care (read: brain damaged) and an estimated 7500 with less obvious symptoms. "data provided by the Army, Navy and Department of Veterans Affairs, show that about five times as many troops sustained brain trauma as the 4,471 officially listed by the Pentagon through Sept. 30. These cases also are not reflected in the Pentagon's official tally of wounded, which stands at 30,327." (USA Today, November 2007.) And around one third of returning veterans are suffering from PTSD, psychiatric disorders, or behavioural problems.

Then there's the meatgrinder for the people of Iraq: somewhere on the order of 100,000 to 1,000,000 dead -- we don't know because Rumsfeld ordered the Pentagon not to count the dead, an illegal order -- and an estimated two million refugees.

I call bullshit on you. Implicitly comparing Iraq to World War Two -- which is what your talking points suggest -- is a vile and invidious smear. Your persistent carping is on a par with that of a holocaust revisionist, and about as welcome around here. Any further postings you make on the subject of the Iraq war will now be deleted. And if you keep trying, I'll ban you.


Don't be obtuse, Atlatl. Is it worth the 4,000 US soldiers dead (not to mention the estimated 20,000–100,000 injured) is the question, not whether the situation meets some approved criterion for being a 'meatgrinder' or a 'butcher's shop' or a 'tea party' or whatever you want to call it.


atlatl @ 264:

Flat feet, or chicken-hawk?


Please delete my above, as it was ill-advised in light of your much earlier comment wrt ad hominem and I hadn't seen your much-deserved comment about him shutting his gob. I'll be shutting my own, as well.


atlatl: Please define what you mean by meatgrinder.

Good lord. Just when you think it impossible to lower the bar any further, we get dictionary lawyers playing dumb.

can you actually falsify any of the statements or claims made by SMS?

SMS is standing in front of the roulette wheel. He's been playing for 6 years, and he's lost $6T of our money and thousands of american lives so far. ANd he tells me if he puts everything he's got on double zero, and if double-zero comes up, we could win something big.

Is that a true statement? Sure it's true. It's also a sucker bet. If he loses, he'll make the same argument six months from now. All he needs, he argues, is just to hit one number big, and then he'll quit. And you chime in playing dictionary games and defending the exact same logic used by a gambling addict.

Sometimes the odds favor the house and the best thing to do is to stop gambling.


Hey; here's a thought. Lets spend the money to clone Teresa Nielsen Hayden and have her/them (or would it be them/her) to police the Internet and utterly squash trolldom of all stripes. Or at least teach the skill set so we have virtually the same thing.

Well, I can dream.


Thomas @263 - While we're at it, we could translate arabic, farsi, urdu and so on classics into english (french german spanish and mandarin while we're at it) and give them away to schools.

Less directly practical, we could spend some money on translating untranslated ancient hieroglyphics and celtic writings - lets overturn our understanding of these cultures again!


Neil- what untranslated Celtic writings do you know of?


How about directing some money to a global real estate bubble to cushion the dot-com crash?

Given billions in loans that won't be repaid or losses eaten by investors, I fully expect we could generate a lot of stimulative malinvestment in new houses in places where nobody really wants to live, reduce the pain of eastward EU expansion through wealth effects (and Polish plumbers), screw up the coast of Spain, etc. And then look at the opportunities in the US! Integrate this graph!

"Nobody under the age of 34 expects to own a house" indeed.

Oh wait, we were looking for alternative boondoggles. Sorry, we're doing this one too.


Thomas @263:


The Global Americana Institute, set up as a charity (they take PayPal donations on the website). They want to translate Madison, Washington and a lot more of the writings about America, its history and its political system and publish them in affordable Arabic editions.


Thomas @263:

I suspect that the majority of the cost would go towards translation, rather than rights acquisition. After all, even with copyright laws what they are (and let's not digress into *that* debate here), the vast majority of the corpus of Western literature and philosophy you'd be looking to disseminate is already public domain.

It occurs to me, though, that the effort of trying to translate every English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, et al, document that seems worthwhile into Arabic (and perhaps Farsi, Pashtun, and a few others as well) would not only be worthy in itself (although you've got to specify distribution methods as well - how many dead tree versions? Does this constitute finishing Project Gutenberg so there's an online version of all of these as well?), but might have other salutary effects as well. After all, once you're sinking hundreds of millions, if not billions, into this project, you'll end up financing either a lot of Westerners learning Arabic, etc., or a lot of folks in or from the Middle East learning English, etc., in order to get their share of that money pie. There's massive cultural exchange value in those incentives right there...


Are we really arguing about a hyperbole?

One could say that all wars are meatgrinders, but as far as wars go Iraq is a relatively bloodless one, if expensive.

The cause for this is technology, of course. Our medical tech is better than ever before and our troops are probably the best armored since knights went out of style.


Dear Leather Strap That Doesn't See the Pointy End of the Spear:

In 261, you asked:

Charlie and Greg: Just out of curiosity can you actually falsify any of the statements or claims made by SMS? Any of it factually wrong or has a wrong take on human nature and the nature of counter-insurgency warefare? Or is it just his tone you object to?

My answer to that (I'm also a "Charlie") is "yes." Thanks to a nondisclosure agreement (and the fact that you don't have either clearance or need to know), the following is just a sampling of refutations.

Factually wrong
   Price of oil is not included in the US$3T figure from the Rand Corporation
   Same study asserts that the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq has increased per-barrel oil price by between $20 and $24; I think the methodology is a bit suspect and slightly understates the effect, but it is clearly not "between zero and nothing"
   US$750B, in the context of a government budget "in excess of US$3T annually" is not peanuts; it is 25%. Further, that "in excess of US$3% annually" includes certain transfer payments and payments on debt that, in all fairness and for comparison purposes, are not ordinarily analyzed as government "spending"... and certainly not when compared to other nations' governments.
   US$750B is well in excess of sugar and cotton subsidies from 2003 to 2007. It is comparable to the entire agriculture budget for that period... which also includes a helluva lot of things other than "subsidies", let alone subsidies paid to "millionaire planters"
   "Guerrilla wars are slow and they don't end with a surrender ceremony — the whole point of the tactic is to avoid decisive battle and try to wait other side out, which is why it's rightly forbidden by the traditional laws of war." Each individual clause of this is factually wrong. As just one example, uniformed troops are certainly allowed to be saboteurs, then go hide in caves between raids, without inherently offending any of the "traditional laws of war" (do you mean de Groot aka Grotius, or some other version?). Choice of target might violate the laws of war... but one can do that from an aircraft, too.

Wrong take on human nature
   "War costs" barely exceed what was spent on "extras". (Under a Republic-controlled Congress, one might add.) Really? Or are you assuming that because the government didn't pay for something, like health care, that nobody did (either directly or in lost productivity)?
   "As a bonus, [American hegemony is] good for the Iraqis, too, which is usually the case — compare and contrast North and South Korea, for example, or Vietnam and Thailand, or Cuba and Puerto Rico." This is a false comparison; one better, but still overly simplistic, comparison is the three-way match among French Colonial Vietnam, interregnum Vietnam, and current Vietnam... and it's not nearly so clear (nor is it so clear that Thailand is "under US hegemony" in the first place!).

Wrong take on the nature of counterinsurgency warfare
   (not explicitly discussed)
   Anyone surprised that Anbar has remained relatively quiet (for some value of "relatively") after its return to Iraqi control knows nothing about counterinsurgency in general, let enough to speak intelligently about the geopolitical and tribal interactions in Southwest Asia.
   The connection between support for greater strength in the ground forces and assumed greater military spending overall is a bit weak at best... and neglects that greater peacetime strength doesn't cost nearly as much as using those troope..

Already covered in my 262

I'm bored. I'm also tired of responding to research that would shame Rush Limbaugh and Lyndon LaRouche... and that's some pretty stiff competition.

* * *

One last note on "meatgrinders": It's not just total casualties that matter; one must also consider the proportion of casualties. By that measure, the casualty rate in Normandy was less than that in Iraq (admittedly, over vastly different, and ultimately noncomparable, periods of time), even excluding the consideration of better medical care and better troop training. My point is just that arguing over whether Iraq "is" or "is not" a meatgrinder is probably less relevant than arguing over the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.


Thomas @263: From a friend whos done a MA in Old Irish, about 60% of Old Irish texts remain untranslated, just down to a lack of people to translate.

In terms of what might be in them, that we would benefit to know, theres lots of Breton Law history, for example. Brehon law was much more decentralised and anarchic: instead of a feudal hierarchical legal structure, the two sides could pick a judge agreed between them, and the ruling would stand; Breton judges 'competed' on the quality of their judgments. Even the law, and not just its interpretation, could be argued by the lawyers; etc.

Brehon law was a working lega system that was supplanted by Anglo-Saxon law when Ireland was conquered. It would be worth seeing how it actually functioned in practice.
It would be worthwhile seeing


All wars are meatgrinders. Five active-duty soldiers attempt suicide every day. On average, 18 vets a day commit suicide. (Yes, I do still have my peace symbol buttons from the 60s.)


to some of us 8 years _is_ recent.


I'm wondering, with $3T, could we purchase the rights to every major copyrighted work and release it to the public domain? Maybe we could start by purchasing Disney. If we free Mickey, the push to extend copyright from the Disney corporation would disappear. Then buy out the main musical lists from the RIAA and put them on a massive public domain server. And if we still have money, buy all the movies.

The amount of works you could make with the mash-ups alone on just the works that exist up to right now would keep people busy for decades.

Then drop copyright terms to fixed 42 years, and go to town.

I can't even fathom what sort of money it would take to buy the rights to all of that. But, it'd be a fun boondoggle.


Arabic classic literature is already translated to english (and most other major languages.) the current literary output is.. not that impressive - severe regimes of censurship will do that.

The cultural exchange inherent in the translation project is one of the points of picking that particular stunt -

altough it occurs to me that once the translation is done and the rights are declared public domain.. there shouldnt be any particular need to organise distribution (and since the middle eastern governments are highly likely to be.. unanmused. trying might cause problems) It should happen automatically. Free entertainment in bulk quantities! since its almost entirely raw text, it doesnt take up much space in electronic form, and regular publishing houses will do a better job than I could of churning out dead tree versions in cheap bulk - intended for the emigre/more liberal country market, of course, but they'd travel.


"Thebes; If you ask the question "is x counted" in the cost of nuclear power, then the answer is invariably "yes"
The primary edge nuclear power has as a clean energy source is that because it has been a political hot potato for so long, all its costs are internalised. Any and all potential or actual problems that are associated with it, the company running the reactor gets charged for. Nothing is externalised."

That is incredibly incorrect.

Nuclear plants receive/recieved subsidies during construction, the government protects them from liability due to accidents for free, and the government promises to take the radioactive waste generated off their hands for what has turned out to be a nominal fee (compared to the cost of dealing with the waste for even a fraction of it's lifetime).

The big subsidies of liability protection and waste disposal appear to exist everywhere nuclear power exists.



Are you asking for personal fantasies - if so, give me all the money - or alternative, realistic expenditure?

If it is the former, you bastards never give it to me in my dreams, and, thus you are hateful and wrong. Quite obviously I'd spend it on ensuring Interzones future, Partick Thistles global domination and Charles' Stross' comments on this thread being required reading in schools.

If, as I suspect you really mean, what should we do with it altruisticaly, then it is pretty obvious that we should provide Amnesty International and/or Greenpeace and/ or the UN with that sort of budget and thus take it away from a State that thinks calling itself the Worlds Policeman makes it true.

Oh, and contrary to what you said, I can see a reasonable case for a scientific base on the far side of the moon. Paid for from Earth. Which might, in due time become more that that. At least thats' what this space cadet thinks...


Charlie @47 and backing up @133:

"I gather we now have solar cells that (gasp!) are actually net energy positive, but only in the past few years." - shame on you for repeating this hoary old canard, photovoltaics have been energy positive for at least thirty years.

This study, from 1977 doesn't seem to be on-line, but the results are in the abstract - 3 year payback period, way back then.

Here's a couple of reviews of the current literature:

Given that panels should last at least thirty years, then a one to three year payback gives a return on 10-30 times, comparable with wind turbines and non-fast breeder nukes.

While I'm feeling full of facts, here's another study that's worth casting your eyes over, the 2005 PSIRU review of everybody's studies of the economics of nuclear power. As you'd expected, there's a wide range of costs, depending upon what engineering and financial assumptions people make. When I say wide, I mean by a factor of five, which suggests to me that costing a nuclear plant is more of a black art than running one. So if you're keen on nukes, then you'll find something in that study to confirm your beliefs.

Personally, I'm not, so I'll point to the gap between promised reliability and reality. Nukes are promised to run 90% of the time, and the economics generally worked out on that basis. In reality, the UK nukes have managed 60% up-time (table 6 in the PSIRU study), only slightly better than Bulgarian nukes. If my computer/car/phone/kettle was not working two times out of five, I'd be taking it back to the shop. And that's just one reason why nukes in the UK have been a huge black hole for money.

Anyway, ObRelContent, $6T? I'd be putting it into insulation, wind, marine and geothermal power. Insulation to quietly make a difference, economies of scale for marine to be cost-effective; geothermal for renewable base power, runs 24/7, as reliable as coal; and wind just to piss off those with their heads in the sand.

Would this be more cost-effective than nukes? Who knows, no-one's ever been honest about the costs of nuclear power.

Or let's be really radical, put a tax on speculation, return the global investment sector back to it's original role of providing capital to enterprise, rather than thinking up ever-more complex ways to take a punt, attract all the rocket scientists and microbiologists back to doing science and then give them $6T for whatever bright ideas they come up with.

Or some blue-skies speculation, let's spend $6T on developing some form of troll-filter for the internet? Nah, sorry, that's just too way out there...


Guthrie @ 273 - what Alistair Mckinstry said @279. I have a feeling there's a big pile of Welsh manuscripts that have never been translated as well, but I could easily be wrong.

Thomas @ 282 - It might just be the ones I've come across, but the few Arabic translations I've read all seem to have been done in the 19th century and are very Victorian. I'd hope that in this what-if world there'd be enough money to do translations both ways (and the least I'd expect from your project is an arabic literary movement in reaction to it)

douglas clark @284 Are you asking for personal fantasies - if so, give me all the money...

Hmm... Dive into it like Scrooge McDuck? Live off caviar and champagne? Buy Belgium? Speaking for myself, that much money is too much for personal fantasies; no matter how fast I spent it personally*, I wouldn't even be able to spend all the interest. I'd have to invest it in some way in self defence.

* On things I actually want rather than just for the sake of it, which isn't one of my fantasies.


(My work's popular in the military.)

Bcs y spnd s mch tm lvngly tngng thr cllctv ss n yr fctn, hth.


Most of the interesting possibilities (aging research, nanotech, most of the forms of alternative energy, microloans, education) have already been commented on.

In the class of humanitarian applications which don't require new technologies, I'd suggest that micronutrients are a good buy. Some of this is a solved problem now: http://www.unicef.org/sowc98/fs03.htm says that all edible salt is now iodized - the cost involved is almost embarassingly low, of the order of a few million dollars a year for everyone's iodine. I don't know the figures for the other elements as well, though the web site mentions that e.g. sufficient zinc costs only a dollar per person per year. A small part of the 600B$ would be quite enough to fully solve this issue.

All of the research suggestions are interesting in that one can't tell, ahead of time, whether 600B$ actually is enough to accomplish their goals or not. Given that caveat, the one that I'd most want to see succeed is aging research. It is an interesting question whether trying to conduct it directly, or by trying to get full Drexler/Merkle nanotech first is more likely to be successful...

Re indirect paths, the idea of pushing AI research with the intent that more-intelligent-than-human AIs will then solve all of our other problems is interesting. Since we have no experience of trying to manage something smarter than humans this really rolls the dice... Frankly, my suspicion is that strong AI isn't survivable - our niche essentially relies around being the smartest species on the planet, and any tiny mistake in an AI's programming which leads it to having a subgoal of acquiring resources would make it act much like a competing

On a more pedestrian (well transport-related) topic: The limitations on battery technology for automobiles came up in Laur@13. Has anyone considered adding either electrified overhead cables or inductive charging to the main highways? Yes, there is a lot of infrastructure - but the highways themselves are very costly per mile anyway - the additional infrastructure doesn't seem like it would be a large fraction of the cost. This would reduce the energy storage requirement from needing to be sufficient for a trip of hundreds of miles to needing to be sufficient to get to the nearest on-ramp of a major highway - perhaps an order of magnitude easier.


Two topics already mentioned in this rambling thread ....

#246 Breeding CATS for intelligence?
Apart from the fact that a lot of them are well along that road already, do we really want feline overlords?
Will David Weber & Diane Duane please answer this question?
Come to that, the "thumb-equivalent" claw on a cat's front paws would not take MUCH modification to become opposable.
Who IS the breeder, anway?

What gets me is the total, arrogant, shambling incompetence shown by the US & brits - the latter trotting happily along behind.
Look, in February/March 1944 the Brit Admiralty published 4 volumes on Germany, and issued them to people who wer volunteering to be part of the Civilian Military Government (CivMilGov) AFTER we'd won!
A year and 2/3 months BEFORE the war was won.
In Iraq, the US trashed Saddam's military resistance in very short order, walked into the country, sat down and did NOTHING AT ALL for several months, other than pay a few idiot cronies.
The stupid! It burns!

To turn this round to a supposed success is a remarkable piece of "news" management, at the very least.

Personally, I think the first Gulf War was when we should have taken over, and on the second we had neither right nor justice on our side, but that is a separate argument.


to g tingey @ 288

"In Iraq, the US trashed Saddam's military resistance in very short order, walked into the country, sat down and did NOTHING AT ALL for several months, other than pay a few idiot cronies.
The stupid! It burns!"

Ah but there was a plan, it might not have been a very good plan but at least the State Dept did do some planning*, which was then ditched by Rumsfeld and the Pentagon.

*no citation i'm afraid as I am stuck at work, but ISTR one element of it was not to disband the Iraqi army immediately, but continue to employ (and, more importantly, actually pay) the soldiers rather than put lots of military trained young men on the streets with no income and nothing to do.

It makes you wonder where they have found useful employment and a creative outlet for their skills...

How about this for an alternative boondoggle? It does rather appeal to my gamer nature:

Fund a new adjunct to the Pentagon / MoD etc to help decision making by the Oval Office / No.10.

Make it an independent agency in charge of running war games / conflict simulations.

An independent agency running the simulations would prevent the burying or alteration of politically unacceptable results.

I am thinking specifically of Van Riper's 'victories' as the Bad Guy in the pre-Iraq invasion war games. It appeared that the rules were changed midway through the exercise to ensure that eventual outcome of was politically acceptable.

Excellent. DM's / GM's informing global military and political events, just what the world needs... ;)


While we are on the subject of boondoggles to buy with large sums of money; and wars and the political bull associated with them - I've got a suggestion.

A system that detects the shockfront from a gun or artillery piece, from orbit, and drops a rock on that point by return. It would make any war so much more interesting if you knew you had to dodge hypervelocity missiles if you started shooting at the other guy.

Plus, of course, all those "ah luv ma gunne" types in the US would get a terrible shock and might have to 'go hunting' with a bow and arrow rather than a semiautomatic.


Haven't seen this suggestion yet (though may have missed upstream):

Spend a paltry fraction of the repurposed monies not spent on a squandrous war on research into temporal compression (think Peter Hamilton, but rotated ninety degrees). AAUI, the "slow photons" research of some years past offers a plausible first line of investigation.

(1) Energy storage - what you don't need now can be shunted losslessly into your own future.

(2) Accelerated regeneration of coal beds and/or petrochemical deposits, wherever energy is too plentiful to use all of what's available.

/* Retro and advanced in one breath! */

(3) Crewed planetary/stellar exploration: Eliminate the relativistic middleman and the cryo chambers!

(4) Complete destruction of banking systems which lack a uniform temporal reference (or the sense to peg rates to same).

(5) FTW: evert the TC field, with your best researchers on the inside. If it works even a little bit, the research phase is (from an outsider's POV) condensed into an aggressive schedule with rapid payoff and reasonable costs -- as long as the folks on the inside do not:
a) exceed their energy budget from global perspective, nor
b) decide that they hate everyone and will just wait for the rest of the universe to die.

I'll leave it to someone else to point out how the fruits of such research, assuming that they are non-null, could be used to become your own grandpa and/or wind the cat.

(If unwise use of TC shatters the universe into shards, the study of universal manifold topology will finally have a deep, visceral, and probably immediate significance. :-)


I had assumed in my naievety that Celtic manuscripts would have been translated slowly over the last century, but obviously nobody is as sensible as I.

As for intelligent cats, that is a bad idea. We dpn't need another empathy less, carnivorous hunter running around the planet.


Christopher Hawley: what you're proposing falls under my rubric of "magic wands"; it'd be nice if we could do it, but we have no reason to think it's even possible, much less cost-effective. The trouble with this spending exercise is that it assumes the money to be spent is available right now, or rather in the form of $0.5Tn between 2003 and 2008, and a bunch more to come. At best, you're proposing a fifty year research program; at worst, you're asking for a hole in the laws of physics.


Bit of ecohacking anyone? http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/may/29/greentech.geoengineering

I like the idea of the refractors between the earth & the sun - only a trillion dollars too.



Fuck off, Atlatl, you're banned.


Kratman is delusional.


Andrew G:

1. Do Not Feed The Trolls.

2. Atlatl is now banned. (Invoking someone who seems to worship the Waffen-SS as an authority will do that around these parts.)


Note to those who want to invest the money into translating European texts (of an Enlightenment nature, I guess) into Arabic:

Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum, premier minister of Dubai (that crazy guy) just had the same idea and has set up a foundation to the tune of, oh, 10 billion dollars to "build bridges between the west and the middle east".

I've put a link to an article in german about the whole thing into the "url"-bit ..


Charlie @ 298:

Sorry about that, Kratman has just been popping up a lot in other places for me. I get annoyed when people act like he knew what he was talking about rather than being a writer of bad technothrillers based on Mark Steyn's writings...


Andrew G: I'll go a bit further. From what I know of Tom Kratman's avowed beliefs (and I've run across him on usenet a few times) he's not welcome here. I see no reason to provide a free soapbox and megaphone for brownshirts or their apologists, and quoting Kratman seems to be a good indicator for such scum this decade.


Christopher Hawley @ 304

We could breed cats for intelligence inside a compressed-time field, then when they develop thumbs and a high IQ we could — oh, wait, that's what got Suzdal tried and sent to Shayol. Never mind.


We had a mess, here in the UK, earlier this week, when something like 3 GW of power generation went unexpectedly off-line: One of the Sizewell units, and a huge coal plant in Scotland. The capacity on standby was inadequate, and a lot of it is quite small plants, less than 100 MW.

Now, I'm not going to say what I think of the current batch of politicians running this country into the ground, but we haven't been replacing the aging plant. They've sat on their hands blathering for more than a decade. They let the "market" build small gas-fired plants, which were quick to build, faily efficient, and cheap to run while Russian natural gas was cheap.

If I had been given control of that much money, in 2003 or so, I would have put a chunk of it into nuclear power. Despite the flaws (much exaggerated by the scientifically illiterate of the chattering classes), it's the best we have available now.

It still wouldn't be built yet, but I'd be five years ahead of our current Financial Genius and Glorious Leader, probably much more.


Dave, you mean Longannet or Cockenzie was down? I don't recall seeing anything in the newspapers.
Personally, I think the politicians don't have a clue what they are doing.


Guthrie: Longannet dropped off the grid within two minutes of Sizewell B, taking out 3.4 gigawatts. And a handful of smaller plants (probably good for 0.5Gw between them) were down, too. Turns out it was a pure coincidence -- but a bad one. Details here.


Longannet is straight out northwards from me, when I'm standing ont he small hill out the back of my flat.
But what the fuck was wrong with it? Why won't they tell us?
And how on earth did they manage to build and maintain a coal conveyor so badly that it collapses onto a shower block?


Why are Europeans breeding less?

For the same reason that the rest of the Developed World is. (Note that European Americans have the same fertility rate as British).

We no longer need children, for starters -- they don't help out on the farm or in the factories. We have cheap contraceptives. Children are a financial burden, expectations are higher than they were in the past on how we raise our children. Most people can get the emotional satisfaction from one child that you can get from two or three. Women don't want to be baby factories, many want careers. Children restrict your freedom -- you have to plan everything in advance with them in mind. Children are stressful on a relationship.

There are ways to combat that. Some are cultural, people might just start wanting more children for unseen reasons. Governments can help by providing tax cuts or credits for children to offset the cost. They can provide paid maternity leave and job security for women. They can provide daycare for children so both parents can have careers. They can promote a strong economy that has good jobs to give potential parents a sense of security.



Anything "Atlatl" posts will be deleted as soon as I notice it. There's no need to give him what he wants.


Jeffrey@290: Efficient batteries are not just for cars. The biggest problem of solar and wind farms is not necessarily their output, but their reliability. If you could have a sort of "energy silo" that would store power for the rainy days, that would already be a big improvement.

Even the classic power plants would benefit from this. One of the peculiar problems of France's power grid is how to cope with the irregular consumption patterns. You can't turn off a nuclear power plant overnight just because the factories that depend on it don't work night shifts - and public illumination only consumes so much. They would certainly benefit from a regulatory scheme.

It doesn't even have to be large scale. I would gladly install a big battery in my home if I could use its power over the day and charge it overnight - on half-priced current. I could even tile my house with solar cells - although that might not prove such a good idea in the Netherlands.

In a nutshell: any dollar spent on energy storage and transportation research is a dollar well spent.


Since battery storage research keeps recurring, what about that old standby- flywheels. I know that some wind and solar pwer system already pump up small flywheel systems to store power for later on, and that such tech is off the shelf.
Use the 3 billion to repair and upgrade the power grid; decentralize the power stations to smaller units (mostly alternative) replace/bury the oldest power lines (the US has tons of old power lines strung from poles still) , make it easier to move the power around, and store in flywheels all over the system. Mandate that equipment has to have a certain percentage made in US and theres a way to get the economy stimulated with plenty of blue collar work to go around.


the energy storage problem is, as far as I can see, one of the biggest problems in the energy field.

solve it and all types of renewable energy are immediately more feasible (financially - although many are feasible and profitable now).
solve it and the liquid fuels problem is gone - battery/fuel cell/X powered transport.
solve it and you could implement a decentralised grid network with many small generators (renewable ideally).

This would be much more reliable than the current structure (the example in the uk over the past few days shows how reliability can be heavily influenced by a few large suppliers - distributed is more resistant to this sort of thing).

Fuel cells seem to be the main prospect on the market, and they are getting better all the time. However they are not brilliant, they are expensive and generally the manufacturing process is dirty.

Pumped flow batteries are another possibility, though not sure how close to market they are. effectively a big battery, but instead of being sealed the fluid holding the charge is pumped away to a reservoir and stored for later.

Compressed air has been mentioned above; I think this is less likely as it's inherently inefficient to generate, to store and to convert to some useful work (leaks, as well as compressor efficiencies below 30%, typically 10%!).


@309: Thermal power stations like anything else big, hot and with moving parts need occasional maintenance. There's more base-load supply than we need at any given time for this reason. Some of it is taken off-line for scheduled maintenance at various times. The summer is good for this as it's a period with lower energy consumption. Unfortunately something tripped (non-fission related) at Sizewell B at the same time Longannet was taken off line for that maintenance.

@312 - @314: energy storage costs money and efficiency. The big UK grid energy store is pumped storage, a reservoir hydro system in Dinorwic, Wales that cost 500 million quid (1980) to build and 12-15 million quid a year to run. It's about 60% efficient and can deliver 600MW into the grid at 30 seconds notice for about two or three hours depending.

That's about as cheap as you're going to get for large-scale power storage -- battery systems will need ripping out and replacing every few years as the cells age, flywheels have moving parts and require power conversion in both directions, electrolysing hydrogen for fuel cells is very inefficient etc. etc. Storage is one of the factors that could make wind and other "renewable" energy systems useful but adding in the necessary cost of storage tends to knock them out of contention. As it is the grid operators are legally required to buy in wind-generated electricity but they have to maintain base-load spinning reserve to cover drops and outages from such intermittent sources. This wastes fuel and runs up hours on the boilers and process plant, requiring more maintenance per baseload GWh produced. See above.

As for night-time baseload power being wasted you'd be surprised at the number of businesses who buy that cheap power, like metal foundries who can melt iron and steel with cheap power overnight and pour/cast during the day.


I visited a 13MW (2 x 6.5MW turbine I think) hydro installation somewhere in wales - they used to build them next to the aluminium mines, and use that for smelting. Nowadays, it's more common to use gas - on an industrial tariff, it can be 50% the price of electricity, so on a large scale the savings pile up.

In terms of storage - house sized fuel cells seem like a good plan (waste heat to heat the house and maybe cooling through absorption cooling), and charge them up with wind/solar/biomass (biomass gasifier to small generator -they don't exist much yet, but give it a few years).

That could easily provide for a house, in terms of electricity and heat demand. It would leave the house pretty much independent in terms of energy (size the generator as required, modular fashion). Maintain the grid connection to allow the fuel cell to charge up from the grid if there is a problem with the renewables, or pump excess power into the grid (ideally local grid).

The problem is the cost of the fuel cell. this will come down - advances all the time etc etc. but they are still hard to make without using a lot of energy & oil based products, as well as creating pollution.


accelerationista @ 316: I visited a 13MW (2 x 6.5MW turbine I think) hydro installation somewhere in wales - they used to build them next to the aluminium mines, and use that for smelting. Nowadays, it's more common to use gas - on an industrial tariff, it can be 50% the price of electricity, so on a large scale the savings pile up.

I don't have numbers on me, but as far as I know, a natural gas powerplant isn't cheaper to operate than a hydroelectric one, it's just that there's few places left where you can (technically or politically) build a hydroelectric plant. (For what it's worth, 13MW is tiny - you can't smelt many tonnes of Al with that.)

Are you perhaps confusing your metals? Aluminium isn't pulled out of the ground in a form that can be smelted.


I think we're starting to drift off-topic a bit, not that managed investment in the energy infrastructure isn't a much better way to spend money than fighting a land war in Asia.

What I think is also apparent is that the dead hand of the market is a piss poor way of making decisions about expensive long-term projects. Not that central management by a government is automatically better. See, for instance, the NHS IT problem.


many small aluminium mines scattered about wales, was extracted then formed into useful things using power from the hydro stations (or so i was told).

On alternative boondoggles:
how about a couple of million on research into group forming networks? a couple of million is a miniscule amount of the total on hand. This type of thing would probably help with large IT/organising projects, would also apply to reorganising the national grid, would also result in X new ideas that would probably come in rather handy. more information here http://www.reed.com/dpr/
a bit speculative, but in the context of eg flickr, myspace, etc etc etc, seems like a worthwhile avenue of approach


@319: Aluminium smelting produces aluminium metal from bauxite ore. It is an electrolytic process, using massive quantities of electricity and carbon electrodes. There were large smelters situated in the Highlands where cheap hydro power was readily available, before the National Grid was upgraded and that power could be shipped south. Major smelter operations were being built in the Grampians as recently as the 1970s.

Refining and remelting aluminium scrap can be done by gas heat but it won't work for the actual smelting process to produce metal from the ore.



More seriously, I was reading New Scientist yesterday, and there seems to be a disconnect between research on diseases that effect the world's poorest people and the investment that capitalists are willing to put into researching cures. There being little or no profit in it.

One particular case was Hookworm, there are many others. A chap called Peter Hortez had been the first ever scientist to research it and he couldn't get funding until the Fairy God(father / mother?) the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation dropped $18 million on him.

I'd have thought that trying to plug the gap between what capitalism does for profit and what we ought to be doing on a humanitarian basis would swallow up all that money, no bother.


Dave@306: And when we do build nuclear plants, those gas-fired plants will remain useful for peak load spinup/spindown capacity, so it's not really a waste.

AndrewG: Without provoking Charlie, kooks can point out issues and get everything about them wrong...but they can still be issues.


I have been thinking that we need to get the oil companies and the auto companies together, give them 10-15 years to get off of oil, and fund it by reducing our defense budget by 10 percent. I believe 500 billion would do the trick. Then, we wouldn't need to worry about the middle east and we wouldn't need as big of an army because our army now is basically just the world's security guards.


Jim @ 323: If you want to reduce US dependence on oil, just increase the gas tax. We're much lower than Europe or Australia. In Australia I think it works out to the equivalent of $5.50 a gallon or so right now.

Use the money to replace oil power plants and/or as tax credits for Northeasterners to replace the oil heating systems that part of the country uses.

The higher prices will drive up consumer demand for more efficient vehicles and alternative energy. Already gas prices over $4 are getting people to start buying better cars.

It might be difficult politically though -- two major presidential candidates were trying to pander to voters by saying they would *remove* the gas tax for the summer. And economically, you'd want to phase it in over several years to give automakers time to produce. Right now hybrids are going for a premium, there's a wait list for the Smart Fortwo, and 14 year old Geo Metros are going for twice their value...


As far as the US auto industry is concerned, remember this:

Companies such as Ford and General Motors are worldwide. They already make and sell successful, fuel-efficient, small cars.

But not, it seems, in the USA.

Why is it we visualise them as only feeding the American lust for the gas-guzzler?


Andrew G: "might" be tough? To have tax levels comparable to other countries you'd need to roughly double gas prices -- that is, ramp your petrol tax up to around 100% (which is roughly where it is today in the UK -- duty of roughly £0.5 per litre on petrol, with VAT at 17.5% on top), which is a sure-fire recipe not only for losing elections, but for massive economic and political upheaval.

Too many people in the USA live too far from where they work. I've heard a figure of 30 miles for the average commute: with a truck that can get 30 miles/gallon if driven abstemiously, a realistic fuel tax would result in your average commuter's fuel bill rising to roughly $250 a month, just for getting to and from work.

Realistically, major social change is called for: namely, radical changes to zoning laws to permit mixes of light industry, office, retail, and other non-noxious businesses within waking distance of residential developments, refurbishment of inner city areas as residential zones, conversion of suburbs back into agricultural land to feed the neighbouring towns and cities, and other measures to make it easier for people to live close to their place of work. (Here's a thought: bring in regulatory control of retail premises to squash those huge WalMart and similar warehouses on strip malls and encourage the construction of much smaller, local shops in the middle of residential areas, so that people don't have to drive 20 miles just to buy a new light bulb or a case of beer.)

This is a huge infrastructure problem, not to mention a legal one. But I'm fairly sure it can be solved, given time. The trouble is, you need to start making it possible to live a low-fuel-consumption lifestyle before you start wielding the big stick of rising gas prices -- otherwise the rising energy cost will cause enormous hardship, disproportionately falling on the poor, without actually achieving any useful change. (Except, maybe, to car buying habits. Which is less significant than car usage habits, which is the real target to aim for.)


Charlie: Here's a little thought - In most UK towns, there is absolutely no reason why the local councils could not run bus routes to just-outside-town shopping centers. By and large, they do not. Sigh.

Coventry council's buses which go mostly empty much of the day and than tail off very, very fast even on very busy routes after 6pm are an extreme case, but...


Andrew: I agree.

Also there are other situations where regulating the buses would be handy.

For example: take Edinburgh. On Friday and Saturday nights everybody and their dog goes to the pub, and between 12:30am and 2am they head home. (With a late trickle from the clubs and other late venues at 3am-3:30am, and everything happens 2 hours later in August due to the Festival and the blanket late licensing extension.) The buses, however, shut down around 11:30pm, except for the hourly night bus service, and the taxi firms mostly change shift around 1am, resulting in huge swarms of drunken pedestrians trying to mob any passing taxi as they drift slowly homewards.

Requiring the local bus companies to run a normal weekday-frequency service until 2am on two nights a week would (a) pay for itself (those buses would be at rush-hour capacity) (b) considerably reduce the fuel bill (compared to taxis seating 1-4 people at a time), and (c) empty the town centre faster, reducing the police crowd-control workload.

(And the same problem goes for most other British cities, subject to local licensing hours. Hell, the Police would probably be able to save themselves a chunk of their budget and improve their crime figures if they were allowed to pay for free buses to take the tired and emotional revelers back out to their suburbs.)

(Note for American readers: we Brits don't pretend to do firearms, so you guys shouldn't pretend to do heavy drinking. M'kay? If it helps, consider that pubs occupy an equivalent position in contemporary British social life to Churches in American social life ...)


I remeber reading at least part of a paper out of LLNL on energy storage using flywheels, elastomers (read 'rubber bands'), and other methods. (Said paper was from the 1970s or 1980s.) Part of the problem with flywheels is the materials have to be able to handle considerable force when rotating at speed. It might be easier now than it was then, but think about high-speed disk drives and how large a physical platter you can have on them.


Charlie @ 326:

The gas tax increase would definitely have to be done gradually, over several years . Doubling the price over night would be a political and economic disaster.

As it is, I pay about $200 a month on gas, on top of $350 car payment, and $100 insurance. And that's less than a lot of other people in this part of the country. If you reduced taxes in other areas, you could offset the financial burden some while still giving people a way to reduce the cost by adopting more efficient habits and vehicles.

In regards to zoning, that's happening in some areas - I live in an older part of the country, so strip malls and big box stores are less common. I'm not sure banning things like Walmart is a good answer though, it's a one-stop-shop for many people. If anything, I could see them doing better with higher gas prices. The other problem with the zoning ideas is that they are controlled by local governments, not Federal or State. It would require a pretty broad movement among city planners, who would have to decide to undo the past 40 years of city planning...

We have a lot of room to improve the fuel efficiency of our cars before we have to tackle vehicle use. City cars are almost unheard of here -- the Mini is a cute novelty and the SMART is a weird new concept. The best we have are 4 seat subcompacts that get about 34mpg. Diesel is pretty much impossible to find outside of large trucks and SUVs, a very striking difference between the US and Europe.

OTOH, hybrids are really catching on here. They're seeing over 50% increases in sales each year and are currently the only segment of the car market that's really making a profit. The only problem is that they all cost over $25,000 to drive off the lot. There's a big potential for fuel efficient cars in the $10,000-$20,000 range I think.


Charlie@326: I've heard a figure of 30 miles for the average commute

Yeah. I'm about 15 miles, but about half is city driving and half is highway, which makes it worse for gas milage. My car gets about 30 mpg.

the problem is geographically, there aren't a lot of job options in, say, a 5 mile radius, so people need cheap transportation to get 10 or 15 or more miles, so they can get a job, create their own wealth, and create the surplus wealth that allows a civilization to prosper.

I heard the next model of Toyota Prius will get even better mileage than the current one. If true, I might trade in my old car (well, not so much as trade as let them take it without me having to pay them money) for the new prius.

Some coworkers of mine have 20 mile commutes.


Inertia answers for a huge number of "why are things the way they are?"
Diamond semiconductor chips have very nice properties, have nice thermal characteristics, and higher clock frequencies that non-exotic silicon structures. However, the installed base is almost entirely focused on silicon. Therefore, silicon is what gets the investment and diamond is lost in the noise and left on the sidelines.

The same thing is true for powering and heating houses in the US, the focus is prncipally on commercially supplied power and oil or gas heat--the distribution systems are a given in most of the country, the equipment is ubiquitous (gas and oil furnaces for sale in hardware stores and/or from people who repair furnaces who there are many many many small businesses that work on them), the zoning laws are written for them, the financing is in place, builders they are the default for....

Changing off that requires consciously rethinking and reworking everything from the expectations of homeowners to the zoning laws to retraining people for installation, upkeeping, building.... it requires developing new business relationships and suppliers, requires the entire "distribution channel" revamp for the manufacturer, distribution, stocking, and repair of non-fossil fuels-based power heat and lighting, changes in house design optimizing, and requires financial rethinking...

Here and there there are people who've got solar panels on houses, and out on the praries there were wind-powered pumps to pull water up out of the ground for livestock, but the investment required generally means that few people think towards solar and/or wind as primary power sources for personal residences and businesses--even though wind and water power long ago were important enough (pre-internal combustion engines...) that e.g. the deed on relatives' property on Cape Cod includes the right to put a windmill on the property... . The investment requirements are such that the very affluent so-inclined might put up solar panels, but few other people do so... cost and effort involved even to consider it, are barrier that preven most people from even consciously much less seriously contemplating it.

The USA -could- have had maglev trains decades ago, but the Department of Transportation decided in the mid-1970s to not go forward with development funds for it....

"After the OMB under the Nixon Administration terminated maglev research in the US, the linear synchronous motor was adopted by both the German and the Japanese maglev teams. Our team constructed a fully operational 1/25 scale model system on a 400 foot track"

"...I wonder at the incredible length of time it has taken us to appreciate the theoretical significance [of superconductivity] as well as the practical importance of this phenomenon, considering that aviation matured in a mere fifty years."


"....1989 I retire from Kaman and move to my office at Bedford airport, incorporating as Magneplane International Inc. We win a 2.8 million dollar contract against giant teams including General Dynamics, Westinghouse, Boeing, Kaiser, Bechtel, Mitre, etc. We do a 2.8 million dollar "Concept Definition Study", ending with a 2500 page report, on time and on budget. It was funded by DOE (Dept pf Energy), DOT (Federal Railroad Administration), and managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

"1992 The Federal Railroad Administration kills the maglev reports (to protect their Amtrak interests) but the Army Engineers publish their own report, recommending Magneplane as the concept best able to "leapfrog foreign technology (German and Japanese). Senator Pat Moynihan (D NY) manages to get the Army Engineers to support magneplane, and I work with program manager General Pat Kelly, commander of civil works. But he is assigned to put out oil fires in Kuwait after the Gulf War, and thus ends all government support of maglev."


The Federal Railroad Administration kills the maglev reports (to protect their Amtrak interests)

The Feds don't care about Amtrak, either ('Amtrak's on-time record: if it's on time, it's a record').
They're protecting airlines, which are the real competition for high-speed passenger rail.


Just as an aside, it seems to me that commuting is more common these days (In the UK, and poss. the USA) because of the changes to the economies, such that people change jobs more. INstead of being able to sit at one job in one place for 20 years, you will have to move around more. Yet moving house is costly and a lot of hassle.
So, you end up doing like my brother in law, who is an accountant in training. He has worked in 3 or 4 different places in the last 5 years, with commutes up to about 20 miles, and as small as 3 miles.

Of course, if you try to get work in areas which are not very common, like me, then you have to move halfway across the country. I put this down to increased efficiency and specialisation.


There's also a lot to be said for the current electricity system in terms of simplicity to the homeowner. It Just Magically Works. Most people don't understand electricity (in fact, here in the USA, most people don't seem to understand anything), and couldn't calculate their power requirements if they tried.

Plus, most of these decentralized sorts of schemes see a real return on investment after 5+ years (often 10-15 years). Your average homeowner (or renter) can't possibly think that far in advance. People are purely centered on the here and now—in 5 years, they're positive they'll be living in that mansion, or in Hawaii, or somewhere. Practically nobody buys a house and actually plans to live in it.

So, there's an extreme disincentive for the average person to invest a dime in anything related to their housing or power situation. Why, if they were to install some cockamamie solar collector thingamajig, that would be like giving free money to the next person to own their house! And, they'd have to figure out how much their equipment draws, not just flick the circuit breaker every other day when they overload a circuit. Craziness!

And of course, in any case, your average person doesn't save a dime to begin with, and is living paycheck to paycheck, so some sort of capital investment lunacy is hardly going to catch their notice. If the roof starts leaking, they might theoretically replace it one day, if they have no other choice, but investment? Hah!





(And in answer to your question: it might surprise you to learn that I don't monitor these discussions 24x7. It usually takes me time to respond to nuisances. Which is why I am currently recruiting co-moderators ...)



Oh, so that's why the current maladministration won't subsidize solar and wind power. They think like that fool from Alabama, who's against solar and wind power because 'they won't work' in his state. (I'm trying to figure out how Alabama ended up permanently on the dark side of the moon, but that's another story.)
I'd really like to introduce these people to solar-assist water heating, which has been around for decades, and also to low-light solar-powered calculators, which work in ordinary room light, not bright sun, just to watch their heads explode.


#338: Calculators? Why, that there be arithmetic, which is close to mathematics, the tool of the devil!

No, seriously—solar and wind make a lot of sense, but a quick look at how bad people are at keeping their roof from leaking or maintaining a septic system will show why the dream of panels on every roof and a battery in every basement may have some kinks to work out.


Justin #339- more that there will be an uncomfortable change over period, rather like the early 19th century when they introduced gas lighting, and people went looking for leaks with candles...

However, lack of knowledge is a bit of a problem. I am perpetually amazed by the number of fairly normal intelligent people I know who try and brush off climate change, yet they havn't even acquainted themselves with the science properly. So it is with solar hot water, more insulation, etc. Even with freely available knowledge about all these things, many people seem to have other things to think about, whether its going to the pub or doing overtime to try and keep their job, I don't know. But if they'd spend an evening reading up on this sort of thing rather than in the pub, it would do them a lot of good.


Given that the US Imperial Federal Government has unrecognized liabilities in the trillions (e.g., employee pensions), I'd be happy to see them set aside the money for that.

It won't happen, of course.


Justin @ 339:

Wind power doesn't really work in the southeastern US. Solar should work very nicely though. Perhaps not as well as the West, but still well enough to be worth the investment.

There's a nice wind resource map for the US here:

As you can see, the best locations for wind are either offshore or in a large corridor from Texas north to Canada.

A map of solar power resources can be found here:
The best area is a band from Texas west to California, but the southeast and Plains states have a lot of potential too.


guthrie @ 340: When was the last time you received an ad in the mail for solar water heating? Does Home Depot sell & install it for you? Does hot water cost as much as your car?

That's the thing. Solar water heaters pay for themselves quickly, but hot water just isn't that expensive in peoples' minds. Depending on where you live in the US, hot water and electricity are already cheap compared to other "utilities" like the gas for their SUV... or even their Prius, these days.

Plus, since most people don't have to think about electricity or hot water much anyway (It Just Magically Works, and it comes from a monopoly) they're not used to trying to shop around or invest in these things, even as much as they might look for cheap gas or car insurance.

Is it surprising that most people don't know about things which aren't marketed and won't save them much anyway?

(Depending on where you live, insulation may have more potential to save you money. But it can also be a pretty big-ticket item to invest in, especially if you plan on moving every 5 years)


Well, it's worth remembering that Petrol has doubled here (Seattle) in the last 12 months, which is a pretty significant hike. Most of the gas stations around here are around $4.25+ for a Gallon of unleaded and over the $4.50 mark for Diesel.

I've also noticed that the on-road car profiles around here are changing and have changed since I moved out here last year with a lot more vehicles looking like European cars. Saturn (GM) now marketing an out of the box European Astra hatchback too.

There are problems though. People are switching to public transport which was already in a mess; the lack of a joined up transportation policy around here means that voters rejected a bill that would fix some of the problems and the time lag involved means that things will get a lot worse before they get better; even at $4.25 it's still pretty cheap.

That's the real problem. I can still run 2 cars with engines I'd never even have considered in the UK. As long as I use the Jeep for ferrying the dog around and don't go long distances and use the Honda with the large but reasonably efficient engine I can keep this up for a while even through another doubling.

On the other hand, I'll accept that I'm fairly well insulated from price rises at the moment.


Justin #343 (we're up this high already?)

Well, that is part of the problem- it shouldn't take being pushed by multiple adverts for people to get stuff done. But hey, thats the consumerist society for you- surrender volition to the adverts, whoever shouts loudest wins.

At the moment, I'm paying about the same for my gas as for my broadband. But I am well aware that solar water payback time would be closer to a decade, which is probably bit too long right now, and being in central Scotland means I don't get quite so much sun. The companies who make the equipment are easily found online, but its getting people over the initial capital cost.

We come back down to the education problem.
INsulation at least is well enough known about, it has taken probabbly a decade to get the message across, and I'm getting my flat cavity walled in a couple of months, which should compensate for the price rises.
Of course, I'm getting it cheaper by taking advantage of a grant, a cost of 150.


I do see ads, and even billboards, for solar systems. Not as often as I should, though. I also see installed systems every so often - I'm in Los Angeles. I'd say they'd be useful even in multi-unit buildings: they could provide power for lighting common areas, or help provide hot water. There's a largish industrial building, just down the street from where I live, with what looks like several hundred square meters of solar panels over the roof - from the vantage I have, I can't tell if they're photovoltaic or water-heating. I feel like every bit of load taken off the grid, or out of the natural-gas system, is potentially a Good Thing.


Justin @ 343:

I suspect solar heating and other alternative sources might become more popular up here in New England. The main problem is during the winters though.

Most people up here have oil heat and furnaces, with some newer gas ones. Prices have gone way up -- a know a woman who was hit with a $1000 bill at the end of her monthly installment plan because prices had gone so much over the estimates.


Daveon @ 344, guthrie @ 345:

Yes, that's a good thing to keep in mind, really. People may be shocked and appalled that gas is $4.25USD/gal, but the price is still not really high enough to change peoples' behavior. Here in Seattle, hybrid cars and the like are selling well, but I see just as many SUVs on the road as I did five years ago.

With a titanic, shocking price increase, gas still costs about in line with Cable TV. To put it another way, gas (something people see as an utter necessity) costs about as much as petty, base entertainment. Another way of looking at this is, given a car kept for 100,000 miles and getting 30mpg, gas will have to hit $8/gal before the cost of fuel is similar to the cost of buying a midrange vehicle. And for luxury cars, we may be looking at $16/gal for parity.

There's a lot of complaining, but gas will have to get a whole lot more expensive before people start having to give up their cable TV or take the bus.


I saw in the news today that GM is planning on closing 4 truck/SUV plants in North America and to refocus on cars.

They seem to be of the opinion that the market is changing for good and demand for SUVs and trucks will be much lower in coming years.


Justin- the thing is that cable TV and the internet are not essential for survival, in the way that a job and car to get to it are. Yet without them, it is much harder to be a part of society and its culture, and you lose some connectivity to other people. And of course this is important, there is more to people than work, despite what they try and tell us.


Guthrie: the internet is becoming as much a vital part of society as the Post Office used to be. It's not quite replaced the letter post yet as a medium for all official communications, but it's clearly on the way; increasingly, bank statements and utility bills are delivered over the net, as are banking transactions and catalogue purchases (aka "e-commerce"). Internet access is not 100% vital to my job, but loss of internet access is extremely inconvenient and gets in the way of my ability to do research, communicate with my editors (and my readers), and get stuff done.

(And yes, I'm with you 100% on the "more to people than work" front.)


Exactly, Charlie. I worked this out a few years ago, after some anti-welfare people were bitching about unemployed people with mobile phones, and I realised that they needed them to keep in touch with people, and possible job opportunities, especially if they didn't have a home phone.

The thing is, I don't see a future where the poor have no internet access and the rich and middle class do. With mobile networks in Africa, and mobiles small and cheap enough as we have now, all but the dregs can partake of the connectivity. For now anyway, but if the internet neutrality stuff goes bad, then there will be definite stratification. And in an information economy, that will help maintain the class distinctions.

Ahhh, information. So many problems come from restricting it. I seem to recall in Bujolds "Barrayar", that its written into the BEtans constitution that everyone has the right to access information.


Justin @348,

About SUVs on the road... I have a roadside assistance gig so I am on the road every day. A lot. You DON'T want to know what my fuel bill is. Fortunately I drive a car, not a truck - I do only the light stuff like jump starts, fuel delivery, tire changes, lockouts - so my mileage is quite good with smart driving habits. Treating the speed limit as an absolute limit and not a recommendation does wonders all by itself.

I think I have noticed a slight downtick in calls for service to SUVs and other Big Rig vehicles lately. My invoices list the car type and I went over my past job calls to satisfy my own curiosity, and there is a very slight drop. Trouble is, some people with SUVs are people with a load of kids and they need a bigger vehicle what with safety seat rules and such. A minivan would make more sense, but lots of families are stuck with SUV.

I have noticed that more drivers are following my own fuel-conservative driving habits.


Justin @348, today's WashPost has an article on how public transit has increased by 10.3% in the first quarter because of gas cost.


I have gottne the impression over the past month that more people are driving on the (Scotland) motorways at below 70mph, which of course saves fuel.

I even heard on the radio at the weekend some southern states car racing type person talking about how he'd found that by dropping his speed when driving to racing events from 80mph to 70mpg, he saved as much as a quarter tank of petrol. Wow, imagine that!
(I'm being a little bit sarcastic there)


And the net's all going to heck, too.

The Akami State of the Internet Report is good reading..

(Among other things, the latest drop by 15% of connections to them over 5MBit...)


Andrew, would you mind expanding your post #356 for those of us who don't know much about the hidden bits of the internet? I've poked around on Akamai's website, and it makes a bit more sense, but I havn't a clue about the nuts and bolts and why high bandwidth connections don't seem to be increasing, or whatever it is you are trying to say.


guthrie, ISPs say that something like 5% of their users use something like 95% of the bandwidth -- mostly with peer-to-peer downloading. So some ISPs have started either charging more for more bandwidth or limiting bandwidth.


Most of the ISP's here in the UK have packages with bandwidth limits. I have an unlimited one, but it only ever runs at 250k, and to be honest you don't need much faster than that for anything, at least when at home.
I think the question is more how much more bandwidth can we install?


Get good primary and secondary education and basic health services to the two billion or so people who go without. This would create the foundations for massive economic growth in the next fifty years.


If you're a British supporter of nuclear power, could you please sign the petition...