Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This ain't no game, Jack

The timer on the scoreboard flashed under 2:00 and astonishingly, this motley crew of aging hockey players from upstate NY was still clinging to a 2-1 lead in the finals. Our opponents were a tough bunch of cops from Toronto who out shot us by more than 2 to 1 but just couldn't slide them by our goalie who was, as we say, "standing on his head."

Suddenly a fluke goal is scored by the Toronto cops on a deflected pass through the crease. The clock now shows just under 20 seconds and all I am thinking after playing 4 games inside of 48 hours is "please, no overtime." I get my wish- our opponents break the puck out of their zone, beat our defenseman and score with 2 seconds left. The buzzer sounds and the trophy is handed to the guys from Toronto while we skate off the ice dejected.

It is difficult to "spin" the results of a game, although this difficulty apparently dissuades few. There is only one question involved in assessing the results of a hockey game; who put more pucks in the opposing team's goal within the allotted time.

Victory and defeat are far less easy to determine in other avenues of human endeavor. Take Wars for example.

Who won the recent war between Israel and Lebanon (perhaps more accurately Hezbollah)?

Who's winning the War in Iraq?

Who's winning the War in Afghanistan?

Scoring Wars is difficult. What should we count? People killed? Territory taken?

Scoring Wars is very difficult. Even if we could arrive at a consensus of what to count to determine a victor, we would find it extremely difficult to verify the count. Hockey has referees and judges to determine penalties and goals while Wars are "self-scored."

Who killed whom and what territory is held by whom are not only fought over in real life but in the media as well- the war within the war. The Germans and Japanese who trusted official media accounts were a bit shocked to discover they weren't winning as the bombs started to fall on their cities. The scoreboard they trusted was showing the Home team up 5-2 when the real score was 2-8.

This makes planning difficult, which is unfortunate. Unlike our hockey game, which decided who would take home a trophy, wars often determine a significant portion of national flow of funds. Knowing who is winning and losing is key to choosing the form in which one denominates one's savings.

Reparations, the modern variant of tribute, and a silly one at that (take two functioning civilizations, blow up some of each others stuff and then fight over who should pay for the mess) are a case in point.

Iraq, by virtue of losing the first Gulf War still owes Kuwait billions of $. Germany, by virtue of losing WWI, owed the victors so much money that their currency eventually became worthless. The United States, by virtue of its failure to impose its will on the Vietnamese, had to pay for that war itself, thus contributing to the inflation of the 70s.

So I wonder.

Who's winning the War in Iraq?

Who's winning the War in Afghanistan?

Who's going to pay for these experiments in "democracy?"

I still chuckle at the notion of "imposing democracy" i.e. self rule, on a people. As George Carlin would say, it's like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence, two words which just don't go together.

In my view, those who come up with the right answers to the above questions, and position themselves accordingly, will be the big winners in the game of financial speculation. I won't argue the case here as this is another issue (like exercise) where division of labor is not helpful. I will, however, caution one more time, don't trust the home team scoreboard, which sometimes takes the form of financial market prices. Think for yourself on this one.

If the US gains greater control of Middle Eastern oil exports, many of the fears over the growing deficits will be quieted. Conversely, if control over ME oil exports is lost, the effects of those deficits will be felt much more strongly.

Somebody is going to pay for the war and for rebuilding the Middle East such that the residents will continue to export their oil. And these costs are rising by the minute.

This ain't no game, Jack. This is War.