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GP 23 July 2008: Six Fine Fellows

True Stars.  The most interesting and effective people in the world do not bask in the glow of notoriety but create their own light.  In this age of celebrity, we can be certain that most of the talked-about on the nightly news are merely moons, less than celestial bodies whose glow is all due to reflected light.  So this week we give you six luminaries you probably have not heard about, but are worthy of your attention. The people who can or have made a difference on energy, global warming, terrorism, or political reform just don’t titillate the scribblers who write the news.

Why six?  Well Tom Standage is out with A History of the World in Six Glasses, a small tome that tries to tell the history of mankind through the lens of drink—beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, and, you might have guessed it, Coca Cola.  We have not gotten to the Coke part yet, but we hope that Standage is cosmopolitan enough to cite a chestnut involving Krishna Menon, an Indian statesman, and Henry Cabot Lodge.  Once in the UN Assembly, some Far Eastern delegate burst out with lavish, over-the-top praise for Menon, claiming that his accomplishments were known all throughout Asia.  Whereupon Henry Cabot whispered into Menon’s ear, “Just like Coca Cola.”

If Standage can do the world in six glasses, surely we can do a big chunk of modern history with six people. The problem, of course, is to find giants who have followed Robert Heinlein’s dictum: “Take big bites out of life; moderation is for monks.”  This quote is attributed to skillions of other people as well, so maybe there’s something in it. Anyway, here are six who may be moving some mountains.

Boone PickensT. Boone Pickens is a very unlikely hero.  A corporate raider, he made a few billion in the process. He backed the scurrilous Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry.  Yet he probably will do a lot more to favorably change the world’s weather than Nobel prize winner Al Gore. 

The fact is that this longtime oilman is getting into wind power big time, with plans to build the world’s biggest wind installation in Pampa, Texas.  Texas already has pulled ahead of California on wind, which now accounts for 2% of its power, this in a state, ironically, that has traditionally savaged the environment.  Simultaneously the state is doing something about power transmission: getting power to where it is needed is a major problem for alternative energy providers. “Texas regulators have approved a $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project” (New York Times, July 19, 2008, p. B3).  “The planned web of transmission will carry electricity from remote western parts of the state to major population centers like Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio.”  The U.S. still has a long way to go, only meeting 1% of demand nationally with wind.  Denmark produces an amazing 20%, and the world’s leader-Germany—generates 7% of its power from the wind.  Spain, another wind convert, gets about 10% of its load from wind power. Bob Dylan can finally say something new is “Blowin’ in the Wind”:

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

Pickens is hugely right on this issue and he has mounted a big wind (or call it hot air) campaign with ads on TV, and copious press coverage stoked by his public-relations
machine. We do need to pull 20% of our power out of the wind.  As he says, he has drilled as many holes as anybody, but we simply cannot drill our way out of our energy crisis, with domestic oil production tailing off each year.  Now that he has reached 80, wind power is the last hurrah for this old wildcatter—the Gorilla from Amarillo.  “My Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil,” just appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed Page (July 9, 2008, p.A15); we hope that Obama is listening.  Coming from the Midwest, the Senator from Illinois has been too close to the ethanol lobby—the wrong kind of power when the ethanol is made out of corn.  You can find much about wind power on Big Ideas: it is a favorite subject of the Global Province since, in 2008, it is the one source of alternate power where the price is not in the stratosphere.

Charlie Wilson.  Another crusader from Texas with mixed credentials is Charlie Wilson, a onetime Congressman who was into a whole mess of carousing and assorted other hijinks, but who took up the cause of ridding Afghanistan of Russian invaders.  Basically he got the CIA to ship weapons to the Afghans that would bring down the Soviet gunships.  His successful efforts were so unlikely that they were turned into a very fun movie called Charlie Wilson’s War.  It would seem that the defeat of the Russians laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War but also set the stage for Taliban-al-Qaida  terrorism which now has roots throughout the world.  We don’t know whether to thank Mr. Wilson or curse him.  Maybe he reminds us of Engine Charlie Wilson, who claimed that what was good for his General Motors was also good for the country—and vice versa.  We’ve since learned that both GM and Engine Charlie were mixed blessings.

Gerald TemplerSir Gerald Walter Robert Templer was the British chap in Malaysia who beat Communist guerillas—at an acceptable price.  Today the neocons and hawks are claiming that we are close to victory in Iraq: this does not square with the news that comes back from our friends there.  But even if it is true, it is a Pyrrhic victory.  It has cost too, too much: we cannot afford these trillion dollar affairs—and never could.  And it has clearly distracted us from more important foreign policy challenges.

Working closely with Robert Thompson, the Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya, Templer's tactics against the communists were held up as a model for counter-insurgency.

Templer famously remarked that, “The answer [to the uprising] lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the people.”  He demanded that newly built villages, where ethnic Chinese were resettled away from the jungles and beyond the reach (and influence) of the guerrillas, look inviting.  To further gain the “hearts and minds” of the non-Malays, who were the main source of communist support, Templer fought to grant Malayan citizenship to over 2.6 million Malayan residents, 1.1 million of whom were Chinese.
Templer sought “political and social equality of all” Malayans (contrast with post-independence Ketuanan Melayu). (See Wikipedia.)

Terrorism and insurrection, whatever their forms, are not targets that can be fought with setpiece armies.  Intelligence and unconventional styles of governance are key to their successful prosecution—not something that can be done by traditional armed forces.  It will be the task of future U.S. administrations to build a model along the Templer lines and, possibly, to develop counter-terrorism forces outside the umbrella of the Defense Department.

José Sérgio Gabrielli de AzevedoPetrobras, originally a Brazilian oil monopoly created by President Getúlio Vargas in 1953, lost its complete dominance in 1997 but has since become yet more powerful.  It has discovered huge reserves (nobody knows quite how much) and is a world leader in deep offshore oil exploration.  Unsung, it is the 3d largest company in all the Americas after Exxon and General Electric.  Its president is José Sérgio Gabrielli de Azevedo, who has trimmed out deadwood and set the company on a tremendous growth trajectory.  As the U.S. peaks out in oil, Brazil is getting going—only symbolizing the larger shift in geopolitical power that is occurring as Brazil finally achieves its place in the sun.  Under its current president, Lulu, Brazil is becoming a force to reckon with.  It is time to turn our eyes to Latin America.

Gabrielli has announced far-reaching plans for Petrobras.  “In an indication of its optimism, Petrobras is undertaking a massive buildup of its drilling capacity.  Nine leased rigs will start up in 2009 and an additional seven in 2010….”  He is plumping for greater government control of reserves in the offshore area, since Petrobras had already taken the big drilling risks and companies following on would be drilling where there is little uncertainty. 

Solo CissokoSolo Cissoko is another one of those great artists that help meld together different parts of the globe, but is not on our entertainment charts.  Even though he and other African musicans have often performed here. He is the global kora master, his home today as much Scandanavia as Senegal.

Solo Cissokho belongs to the Mandinka-people, a Senegalese minority that makes up for 3% of the population in his country of birth.  Solo hails from Ziguichor in the Casamance district, and was born into a family that has seen the art of kora playing being passed from generation to generation through more than 700 years.  Other well-known performers from his family include Baka Beyond’s Kausu Kouyate and Seckou Keita.  Cissokho maintains a strong and vivid tradition as a griot, a scald that transmits his people’s history, comments on various aspects of his community and accompanies key social events.  Solo was introduced to the 21-string harp at the tender age of 7.  Says Cissokho on the early days: “I began my career by building my own kora.  That way you really learn the characteristics of your instrument.”  The first attempts at playing it were accompanied by cries of frustration: “It was so difficult to reach all 21 strings with just four fingers!” (From Music Information Centre Norway.)

Solo very much fits the mold of the modern artist whose task apparently is to provide glue to the globe, weaving together strands from different countries much more ably than the vaunted information systems that are suppose to spread knowledge far and wide.  Culture, it seems, is better at spreading the word than electrons.

P.S.  It also takes a Steelman to change the world.  Sarah Steelman, that is.  In this letter we have celebrated six genii who are sending us down new highways.  But Ms. Steelman, an Amazon, is a power to be reckoned with.  She is the Republican Treasurer of Missouri who has chosen to run for Governor.  Unfortunately she is in a tough race, since the kings of the Republican establishment are arrayed against her.  It seems as if she has been on the attack against their cozy, even corrupt arrangements that profit nobody but themselves.  She has come out against their moonlighting, their disgraceful earmarks, and their golden parachute pensions.  She’s gotten a “sunshine law” to shed light on their lowlife doings.  “Last year she stopped payment on a $70,000 secret check” Governor Blunt pushed to pay off a sexual harassment suit against one of his officials.  She pushed back against ethanol programs and plants that were overpriced and in which state officials or their relatives were invested.  (See the Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2008, p. A11).

P.P.S.  Eventually ethanol will make sense when we make it from different feedstocks.

P.P.P.S.  Smartly Senator Obama has made a trip to Afghanistan and the Middle East.  But we think it shrewd of John McCain to go to Columbia, not just because he had an inkling that U.S. FARC prisoners there would escape, but because Latin America has vast geopolitical and economic importance to us, and we must vastly expand our relationships and reciprocity with that region.

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