Saturday, November 04, 2006

Iraqi nuclear secrets and Persian psychological ones

The New York Times reports that, in their effort to prove that the Iraqis possessed dangerous nuclear secrets, the Bush administration accidentally revealed those dangerous nuclear secrets. Apparently, there were a few pages of equations that are not public domain, and the "experts in the field" say that producing those equations is a nontrivial task.

Some of us with long memories doubtless recall the Community College kid who transfered to Yale for his Junior and Senior years, and was featured in an eighties Sunday New York Times article for learning how to make an atomic bomb. Fearing the DHS, I hesitate to do too many google searches for his name, but respondants are welcome to fill in details. Since that story came out, I had always assumed that the biggest difficulty in making a nuclear bomb lay in acquiring rather than assembling materials, so the contents of the new story increases my own sense of safety, even while they described a world that had become less safe.

I can understand the New York Times' reasoning for documenting Bush administration incompetence on the eve of a national election, but did the New York Times story also make us less safe? Fifty years ago, had the story been covered at all, they would not have explicitly shared that correct information had been leaked. After all, before the article, there was no reason to assume that the Iraqis had even gotten their math right. The nuclear research program in Saddamite Iraq was probably like a massive, openended software development project that none of the scientists had any interest in completing, so it is quite possible that the Iraqis themselves were unaware that they had learned real secrets until they read it in the Times.

But, if the NY Times story makes you worry, this piece from the LA Times will provoke tooth-chattering anxiety. Who knew that Iranians had been refining bluffing games for as long as Anglo-Saxons had been colonizing the New World, or that Iranians have won more "World Series of Poker" championships than any country other than the United States?

With luck, I'll soon develop some better math for oil prices (and more importantly, oil price volatility), reversing my earlier post about the petroleum maket. In stark contract to my earlier views, I've concluded that oil prices are determined by a finite and limited set of market participants, and there is an inverse correlation between the number of participants in an oligopoly and the amount of volatility they introduce into the market. Oil volatility is particularly complicated because some participants can directly control the socio-political tensions that affect volatility.

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