A plug: Plenty of people have opinions about whether or not nonviolent activism is an appropriate alternative to violent opposition or acquiescence to injustice, and if so under what circumstances this is the case. But if you want to learn about how nonviolent activism works, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and what we can learn of its effectiveness from an unsentimental look at the historical record, Gene Sharp’s three-book series The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Amazon: part one: “Power and Struggle”, part two: “The Methods of Nonviolent Action” and part three: “The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action”) is what you’re after. (Another useful Gene Sharp pamphlet, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A conceptual framework for liberation is widely-available on-line.)

Sharp is the founder of The Albert Einstein Institution which conducts research and analysis into nonviolent activism, and also exchanges information with activists and governments worldwide — training activists on how to use nonviolent methods for political ends, and showing governments how to use the power of popular nonviolent resistance to supplement or replace conventional military homeland defense.

One Richard Parker did some interesting back-of-the-envelope calculations . He took the $87 billion that Dubya announced he’d be asking us to pay to clean up after the adventure in Iraq, added to that the $55 billion extra that members of his administration suggest he forgot to mention. “On a whim,” Parker writes, “I investigated whether $142 billion (87 + 55) is sufficient funds to buy enough gold to pave the highways with gold.”

He notes that at today’s prices gold costs about $12 per gram, and that there are about 330,000 “lane kilometers” of interstate highways, with each of these lanes being in the neighborhood of 3.6 meters wide. “According to FTC labeling requirements,” Parker notes, “24kt gold plating must be at least 0.5 microns thick to be called ‘gold plate.’” By his calculations, the complete U.S. interstate highway system could be gold-plated with $142 billion in gold at today’s price, with 10,000 “lane kilometers” worth of gold left over to pave a few extra roads in important congressional districts.

This begs the question, of course, of whether this would be as much of a delight and consolation to our nation’s drivers as the slump in gas prices that is anticipated when Iraqi oil starts hitting the market in quantity.

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