Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Western Civilization: Over a Barrel

I just can't get the climatic scene from Frank Herbert's Dune out of my head these days. (Plot spoiler ahead for those of you who have not read it, which at this point I would highly recommend).


The novel is stuffed with details of political intrigue as many different clans vie for control of the key universal commodity, the spice. There are false flag operations, military oppression for mass psychological conditioning and, to quote Mr. Herbert, himself, "games within games." I loved it as a young teen when I thought it was fantasy, now it is a bit scary.

Anyway, the climax comes when the emperor brings his army to Arrakis, the only planet from which this key commodity can be "mined", to confront the clan which currently has been given the concession to mine there. The emperor is going to complain that the supply of spice is too low because the indigenous population is not being managed correctly. Meanwhile the clan with the concession has a plan to move up in the imperial hierarchy. Neither party has given much thought to the true power of the indigenous people, until...

The mythic leader of the indigenous people releases his battle hardened, by virtue of living under oppression on a desert planet, hordes, which to the surprise of the other leaders, defeat both the Imperial and concession holding clan's armies on the ground. They assumed that the indigenous population was a bunch of rabble, easily defeated.

Then, to add insult to injury, this "messiah", whose armies, while the largest force on the planet, are dwarfed by the Imperial armies, threatens to destroy the spice, to prove a point: He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing, the thing being civilization as they know it. As the universe needs this commodity to survive, and it is clear that the indigenous people can destroy the commodity, political control passes to their hands.


Good thing it's fiction, right?

With the Alaska fields shutting down for potentially months, (talk about bad timing) it seems to me that now is not the best time to be poking the hornet's nest of the Middle East with a stick. I imagine this perspective is not lost on other Middle Eastern oil producers, nor the Russians, Chinese, Venezuelans, etc. The Alaska shut down has changed the assumptions of the game in a big way. Let's pray the Gulf stays hurricane free.

With winter approaching, and refinery capacity tight, time (total US petroleum stocks are about 130 days of imports) is not on the side of those who need oil, and intend to recast the politics of the Middle East by military means.

Meanwhile the irony of the focus on the Fed decision today will be lost on many financial market participants. Hey, the Fed paused...whee! buy stocks...oops Saudis, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans (take your pick we've pissed them all off) say no oil unless Israel leaves Lebanon. Sell, Mortimer, SELL....(Trading Places allusion for those who didn't misspend their youth watching movies).

Imperial politics, what a hoot.

If I don't laugh about it I'm going to be really depressed.

Now I'm off to cut some firewood.


BA said...

Yes, Ive thought about the similarities with Dune and the present day quite a bit...

We really need to get serious about alternatives to "spice". Should have been done 10 yrs ago, and IMHO skip Iraq.

Dude said...

About a year ago I wrote a little piece on this blog about missing our chance during the Carter adminsitration. As William James put it, When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.