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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Prepositional Logic

if (
This is why one broad way to view the history of the post-Victorian world is the competition between the information state and the energy state. The information state is, ultimately, focused on liberating individuals, and creating social structures which find a means of coping with limited information. It must grant intellectual and social autonomy, so that individuals w(h)o are freer will create more information. The energy state is fundamentally concerned with limiting people's ability to make changes, since energy is the ability to change the environment. It seeks to restrict choices and to concentrate control over energy in fewer and fewer hands.
) then
Name: Eric David
Hometown: Elizabeth, NJ
Dr. A,
Here's why I think a major increase in the gas tax is coming, sooner rather than later:

1. The coming spasm of bond-market and currency-market discipline will make even the most brain-dead supply-side fanatic admit by the next budget cycle that the US Treasury is broke and something needs to be done, immediately. But that something won't be to raise upper-income marginal tax rates, increase corporate taxes, or revive the estate tax, of course. With those off the table, practically the only thing left that will generate any meaningful revenue is a gas tax.

2. It's incredibly regressive, so the screw-the-poor right-wingers (i.e., Bush's "base") will find it palatable, even desirable, just like their plan to replace all taxes on investment and inheritance with higher taxes on us poor slobs who have to work for a living. Remember the WSJ's rant against the "Lucky Duckies" who make poverty-level wages and thus avoid federal income taxes? The stray red-state millionaire who's bothered by paying a buck or two extra per gallon will be assuaged by the knowledge that even minimum-wage city dwellers are facing higher mass transit fares too because of the fuel tax hike.

3. Sensible Republicans from the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations (like Robert McFarlane and Frank Gaffney) are advocating a gas tax increase. So are some moderate evangelicals who don't believe Jesus is necessarily coming tomorrow, and even if he does, he might not want to choke on Hummer fumes after each breath.

4. Public outrage at the tax increase will create a groundswell of support for drilling in ANWAR, Yellowstone, Central Park, the South Lawn, and anywhere else Big Oil wants to plant a derrick.

5. Speaking of Big Oil, can't you see them sneaking in a slow 50-cent per gallon increase right around the time that the new tax is phased in? Who'd notice? Only the oilmen as they add more zeroes to their overflowing bank accounts! By the time enough people react and change their habits or buy hybrid cars (if they ever do, since $2/gal. gas hasn't really changed things at all compared to $1/gal. gas), this crew will have long since retired.

6. Lastly, it's great politics, so Karl Rove will love it. What better way to make liberal eco-Democrats put-up-or-shut-up? Bush, who never stands for re-election again, can propose the tax and force the Dems (and the moderate GOP-ers who the conservatives want to get rid of anyway) to walk right into the trap of having to vote for it, while the real right-wing nuts get to "look out for you" and scream "no new taxes!"
end if;

Stirling Newberry's thesis presents the claim that "Are you a progressive? Then Peak Oil is Not your friend". Policy direction keyed on that premise raises several logical outcomes, including the possibility of a regressive tax on gas as the Altercation letter writer anticipates.

Perhaps we can try making friends with Global Warming?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Straight Story

POLICE OFFICER: It is dangerous and illegal to ride a bicycle in a procession.
Democracy Now! broadcast a segment discussing an upcoming documentary about "Critical Mass" bicycle turn-outs in New York City. I suppose city governments can have various concerns about large scale protests, usually citing safety issues and law-breaking potential. But recently, the opposition has turned more sinister:
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Siegel, you're a long-time civil liberties lawyer. What is going on here? What about the lawsuit saying that the group TIME’S UP! cannot publicly -- or individuals cannot publicly talk about these events?

NORMAN SIEGEL: I think it's very troubling. It's the first time that I'm aware of where the City of New York is trying to enjoin protest activity. I think it has huge ramifications for activists, if the city can prevail on this. The implication would be that activists could not publicize any form of civil disobedience. Just think of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement not being able to publicize people coming together to sit in at the Greensboro lunch counters in the early '60s.
The documentary called "Still We Ride" focusses mainly on the ride which took place right before the RNC and where police arrested 254 very, very, very slow moving bicyclists.

I don't really know who coined the phrase "Still We Ride" but google-cycling turned up this essay by The Cyclotherapist circa 1999:
Why do we love the bicycle? What is it about the bicycle that is so endearing and enduring for us? Why do we, sensible people who work hard all week, get on a bike and beat up our brains and butts to ride as far and as fast and climb as high and as hard as we can? We sweat, we swear, we ache, we agonize, and still we ride.
I look forward to seeing the documentary at some point but knowing how these independent productions tend to get lost in the mix, I suggest as an alternative David Lynch's The Straight Story. Lynch himself describes it thusly "It's a very slow road movie....This is a story about old age. And it's a story about a man's life." I love the movie because you cannot truly figure out what the enigmatic elderly protaganist Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) hopes to accomplish by driving his John Deere riding lawn mower across Iowa to visit his brother in Wisconsin. One critic partially rationalized his plight:
The slow pace of this film is key to a fundamental issue being addressed. Alvin cannot be in a hurry, so he is not in a hurry. He accepts the terms of his task, and uses them to whatever advantage is available.
That basically reveals a single individual's psyche. Absurd at its core, a Critical Mass event essentially multiplies Alvin by a thousand and replaces his riding lawn mower with a bunch of old Schwinns. And not one person in the procession can justifiably answer the question "What's the point of this activity?" other than to say we're just going at our own pace.

Apparently, authorities fear this fact-based reality more than anything else.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Passenger

Spring brings forth the optimists among us. monkeygrinder details the latest dreams of high mileage nirvana by pundit stooges Boot, Friedman, and Zacaria, and then inserts this "robbing Peter to pay Paul" thesis:
And this, we pump into 3.25 billion cars? To what end? Jared Diamond has asked what the individual who cut down the last tree on Easter Island was thinking.

Funny you should ask but - on the historical record - we can find what ran through the mind of the kid who shot the last known wild passenger pigeon:
Press Clay Southworth was just 14 years old when he persuaded his mother to let him take the 12-gauge shotgun and shoot the bird that was eating the corn on the family farm.

“I found the bird perched high in the tree and brought it down without much damage to its appearance,” Press Southworth would write 68 years later at the age of 82. “When I took it to the house Mother exclaimed — "It's a passenger pigeon!'”

It actually took about one hundred years to decimate a population of likely over a billion birds along the eastern heartland. A Cornell economist tries to describe the tipping-point algorithm here (PDF). Look at the equations sideways and they look a bit like ordinary supply-demand relationships crossed with predator-prey concepts.

I didn't read Thoreau as a youngster but do remember writers such as Sterling North who wrote descriptive accounts (usually from a boy's perspective) of 19th century Wisconsin. I haven't picked up his book The Wolfling since but still recall details of lakes, streams, and backwoods teaming with wildlife. The accounts of passenger pigeons by natural historians Audobon and Muir bring back those memories and bridges to the stark contrast of what occurred at the end of the century. Right before the whimper of a boy and his shotgun, it panned out like this:
Then in 1896 the one last great nesting flock of 250,000 passenger pigeons came together at a site near Mammoth Cave in Ohio. Hunters descended on them in droves. Only 5000 birds escaped the massacre. Not one dead bird reached the market as a derailment resulted in a shipping delay. More than 200,000 rotting carcasses were finally dumped in a deep ravine nearby.
The last passenger pigeon in the wild was shot in 1900. On September 1, 1914, in the Cincinnati Zoo, Martha, a passenger pigeon born in captivity died at the age of 29, the last of her species.

Oh the passenger
He rides and he rides
He looks through his window
What does he see?
He sees the bright and hollow sky
He see the stars come out tonight
He sees the city’s ripped backsides
He sees the winding ocean drive
And everything was made for you and me
All of it was made for you and me
’cause it just belongs to you and me
So let’s take a ride and see what’s mine
-- James Osterberg

Truth be told

I kid you not. The news reader on NBC's Today Show reports on current average U.S. gas prices of $2.15 and states matter of factly and with a straight face: "Analysts blame the rising cost of oil."

Whenever I get asked to prepare a plan and feel a bit flaky, I try to mess with two required sections: one called Objectives and one called Goals. In the Objectives section, I will usually write words to the effect "our objectives have been met when we accomplish each of our goals to be described later". While in the Goals section, I flip the coin and write "the goal is to meet each of our objectives that we have outlined earlier".

Usually no one notices the circular logic ... until the plan gets put into practice.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Cool Runnings

File under the preceding post

Without doing any really controlled experiments, I have noticed a perceptible decrease in mileage when using my car's heater/defroster in the deep winter months. Kind of odd, but cold decreases fuel efficiency in inverse proportion dependence to my feelings of guilt. So when you see people bicycling in below zero weather and start muttering, remember that guilt is a transferrable commodity. Guilt can be neither created or destroyed. In theory, guilt leaves my pedalling brain and enters the nearest passing motorist.

Then we find the disturbing yet entirely predictable outcome for Prius gas mileage. That the energy efficiency flaw in hybrid vehicles turns out to key on heater or air conditioner use makes some intuitive sense. The fact that poorer gas mileage vehicles show less relative impacts on heater use than higher gas mileage vehicles should really come as no surprise. The finding indeed sucks, but then again you can't argue with the math.

Watch for the guilt-free Prius drivers next winter. They will be the ones that turn another kind of green. Either that or they will decide to drive with a few extra layers of clothing.

Acetone : Patents Pending!

Scientists rarely publish results based on negative findings. If they did, libraries would fill up with volumes of journals at a rate faster than facts pass through an Intelligent Design believer. We would get research titles on "Jello doesn't suffer from sunburn" or "Loud music does not emit odors". If this process kept up over time, the lack of research objectives would cease to matter; a scientist could simply state: "My five-year old son Jeffy was curious, and we could not find anything on the Internets".

So with that as a disclaimer, a speculation making the rounds recently claims that Acetone In Fuel Said to Increase Mileage 15-35%. Evidently, a few ounces of the common finger-nail polish remover liquid does the trick. On first glance, the conjecture seems plausible enough. Mixing acetone with gasoline reduces the surface tension of droplets leading to a larger surface to volume ratio and thereby improving combustion efficiency. Or something like that. Great news if true and a breakthrough in defeating the war on terrorism!

The problem comes when you cannot find counter evidence to the assertion. You can never convince all the people by simply saying "not true"; a fraction always need some solid evidence. (Even then a fraction of this fraction would scream conspiracy)

So for the intrepid out there, willing to experiment with acetone, I have a suggestion: Enroll in graduate school and work toward a thesis proving the validity of the assertion. As anyone will tell you, coming up with a thesis topic remains the biggest challenge of a graduate school education. The equivalent of planets coming into alignment needs to occur before all parties achieve satisfaction. I guarantee that a topic involving commodity acetone and a friggin' beater car would make everyone happy. You could actually do the experiment before enrolling, prove to yourself that it pans out and then convince the faculty advisors with utmost confidence that your idea has merit. At least a few faculty members, strapped for cash, will likely go along with the idea, realizing that "sink or swim" remains the motto for navigating the academic system.

If it works and you did not screw up in your calculations or experimental setup, you should breeze through and perhaps make a fortune afterwards. If not, you have likely wasted 2 years in a Master's degree program and maybe 6 or 7 in a PhD granting program. In all likelihood, no one, including yourself, will have the interest or energy to publish a negative finding. Let the next sucker take the bait.

You make the call on whether the reward exceeds the risk.

And by the way, somebody set up a research Wiki here for you to publish your results:
* Post your data here. - If the above instructions are a tad too complicated for you, just post your information right here, and someone will move it to a separate page for you; or you can post it to the discussion page for this main acetone index and someone can move it to the appropriate location from there.
One entry claimed promising results but only gave a Contact email: (pending). A bit shy and reserved this Pat fellow.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hockey Stick Graph for Oil

Today's WSJ article by Peter A. McKay called "It's Getting Tough to Find an Energy Boost" once again showed plots of oil prices adjusted for inflation over the past 35 years. You can find an almost identical graph here. The main gist that usually gets conveyed (and annoys me to no end) relates to how oil prices have remained constant when adjusted for inflation. In other words, we don't have it so bad. The qualifier "adjusted for inflation" becomes the standard disclaimer.

My own standard disclaimer goes: economics is the dismal science. I conjecture that these numbers should not, in general, get corrected for inflation. As a thought experiment, instead of looking at oil prices adjusted for inflation of the dollar, look at oil prices in the context of a different currency, namely that of oil itself. That may seem strange at first glance, but as time goes on, oil itself may gradually replace all other artificial forms of currency. In that case, plotting oil adjusted for dollar inflation would seem as foolish as plotting the value of the dollar in terms of dollars -- adjusted for inflation. In elementary (non-Ponzi) logic we call that a tautology.

In other words, scarcity of oil itself leads to inflationary pressures on the dollar. And at some point, and especially if we hit a wave of inflation or stagflation in the coming months, we will have to stop plotting these bloody graphs as "adjusted for inflation". Basically, we need to start facing facts instead of massaging numbers.

As an outcome of reverting to a reality-based perspective, we can start looking at trends afresh. For example, what happens if we track only non-inflation-adjusted oil prices over time. In my own interpretation, it essentially matches that of the "hockey stick graph" well-known in global warming prediction circles. By matching that type of graph, I mean that we can begin to use the same statistical methods to discern trends that climatologists have used over the last few decades. This includes filtering out noise, etc.

When we do hit the knee in the hockey stick for oil, as many people think we have for average global temperatures, we can start to track the inexorable rise in cost. Unfortunately, like global warming, it won't stop until we put into place a real course correction.

Lying or Weasel Wording? WWAFS

WWAFS = What Would Al Franken Say?

Incompetance, ignorance, or evil intention, I can never quite make out why people always screw up simple oil consumption numbers. From Saturday's issue of the StarTribune, an op-ed writer, Donald G. Engebretson, pontificates:
The recent flurry of letters in the Star Tribune from citizens decrying the Senate vote moving America closer to tapping oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) perfectly encapsulate every ignorance-based fallacy surrounding drilling in ANWR.

One writer mentions the "minuscule oil reserves." U.S. Geological Survey mean estimates are that the ANWR oil reserve contains between 4.4 and 5.8 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil (the amount that could be profitably extracted). Conservative estimates of daily production are 1 million barrels per day for 30 years -- an increase in U.S. oil production of nearly 25 percent. That's 4.5 percent of America's annual consumption, equal to the oil imported from Saudi Arabia each year.

The amount of economically recoverable oil could be three times that, but if not, just how large in dollars is 4.5 percent? It's $420 billion, or $14 billion per year that the United States would save in oil imports. Ask any business owner if slashing 4.5 percent from the expense side of the ledger would be a small thing for a business, and not worth the trouble.
Too bad the guy can't multiply numbers. First off, one million barrels of day for 30 years is almost 11 billion barrels of oil. Twice as much as what they estimate the area actually holds (says right there in the same paragraph!). Secondly, Engebretson's comparison against U.S. production misleads the reader into thinking that we can draw a large percentage of our needs from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The ratio of 25% he quotes reduces to 5% if we consider that we use over 20 million barrels of oil daily from all sources.

I judge this letter to fall into the evil intention camp. Subtle shifts in numbers tend to have a cumulative effect when many of these "corrections" get strung together.

(Insert strange tangential comment here: Mr. Engebretson performed with an early 80's punk-funk band called Things That Fall Down. Another right-winger from that same band, Scott Brooks, has a blog called Pink Monkey Bird that basically fawns over utterances from the Hewitt and Powerline camp. More proof that the Mighty Wurlitzer of the Twin Cities wingnut editorial faction arises from a small coterie of disenfranchised bitter musicians.)

The right-wing financial apologist Larry Kudlow stated a few days ago on his blog: "The Veep was not overly concerned with the economic threat of $60 a barrel oil, correctly noting that oil use in today’s economy is only about half of what it was 25 years ago." This statement just echoes more of the same subtle lies that tend to accumulate like radon in the basement. Matt Savinar provides the origin of this oft-repeated weasel-wording:
Since 1973, we have managed to cut in half the amount of oil necessary to generate a dollar of GDP. At the same time, however, we have doubled our level of consumption. Thus, despite massive increases in the energy efficiency over the last 30 years, we are more dependent on oil than ever.

Get off the booze and crack, Kudlow.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The rich get richer

The world gets 4 days more of oil while the best buddy of BlairBush'ka increases his wealth enormously.

- News
- Background

Potential defensive talking point: Present the class-envy argument.

Professor of "Oh the Humanities!"

Robert Park continues his mini-expose of a hydrogen proponent/zealot here. Also reproduced below in its shortness and sweetness:
In his 2003 State-of-the-Union address, President Bush called for building a Freedom Car, "powered by hydrogen and pollution free" (link). Baloney, but people didn't ask where the hydrogen will come from. They asked if it's safe. Hey, it's fuel -- fuel burns. However, Dr. Addison Bain insists that in the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, it was the paint that burned, and compared it to rocket fuel. More baloney, but guess who bought it? (link) However, A.J. Dessler, D.E. Overs and W.H. Appleby found the burn rate of an actual piece of Hindenburg fabric to be thousands of times too slow. The fire consumed the Hindenburg in 34 seconds. If the 800 foot-long craft was painted with solid rocket fuel, it would have taken 12 hours to burn end to end. Dessler is a PhD physicist (Duke), 26 years as Professor of Space Physics and Astronomy at Rice (15 years as Dept Chair), directed the NASA Marshall Space Sciences Lab (4 years), and is Sr. Scientist at Univ of Arizona, Lunar and Planetary Lab. What about Dr. Bain?

In his memoir, The Freedom Element: Living with Hydrogen, Doctor Bain says he is a former manager of hydrogen programs at Kennedy Space Center, but what is he a "doctor" of? He writes of being "teary-eyed" at finally becoming a PhD, but nowhere mentions his alma mater. Even the bio on the jacket of his book gave no clue. A Google search turned up nothing after Flathead High School in Montana. Someone suggested we try California Coast University, a "distance-learning" university in Santa Ana. That's where Lynn Ianni, the therapist for "The Swan" on Fox Television, became Doctor Ianni in 1998. Although CCU has no campus, that's not a problem; it has no courses. There, in the same graduating class with Dr. Ianni, getting a Management PhD, was Dr. Addison Bain. Now look at me, would you? Here I am getting all teary-eyed too.
Amazing that the American Physical Society actually admitted that they "stood corrected" concerning the veracity of Bain's study when they published their news item in 2000. With a bit of scientific googleology, Park essentially retracted APS's original pandering over this historical revisionism.

I can not help but comment on Park's last bit of insight on a dfferent news story, concerning purported editorial direction of IMAX science films:
The 2003 IMAX film "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," sponsored by NSF and Rutgers, would seem to be just the sort of documentary that science centers thrive on. Not exactly. It was turned down by a dozen Science Centers, mostly in the South, because of a few brief references to evolution. There goes the profit margin. The result is that IMAX films just aren't made if the science might offend the religious right. It's worse in schools. Even if there is no prohibition on teaching evolution, teachers leave it out rather than listen to all the complaints. In the 1925 Scopes trial, Clarence Darrow said, "John Scopes isn't on trial, civilization is on trial." It still is. And it's losing.
If you simply take the potential ticket sales into consideration, we should apply the standard conservative vs. liberal Newberry algorithm to the profit margin equation. "A liberal will watch to see what you think, the conservative will watch to see how much you agree with him - Stirling Newberry". In this case, religious-right conservatives who would have otherwise stayed away by some fraction, will now pay for tickets, while liberals will still go, perhaps to see what the fuss is about. This formula works pretty well for the typical weak-kneed media outlet, of which the IMAX franchise likely belongs.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Fat Man

After reading Battle Groups Head For Persian Gulf by Big Gav, I posted a comment on his blog displaying my incredulity at a statement made by a WorlNutDaily author who said:
Neither the president of the United States nor the prime minister of Israel want to find out that the mullahs have nuclear weapons by seeing a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv.
I could not believe that somebody could possibly make the same rhetorical mistakes that occurred before the current Iraq war started -- something along the lines of "But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud / Condi Rice".

But then a day later, the author's name finally registered, Jerome Corsi, author of the anti-Kerry Swift Boat book and all around bomb-thrower (and currently the vice president of development and senior editor of U.S. Financial Marketing Group, i.e. I have no clue what he actually does). In that case, anything he says requires immediate disposal into the great bit-bucket in the sky. Like this:
But, if all else fails, we have three nuclear-armed carrier battle groups in the region that are more than capable of resolving the problem.

I suggest, given Corsi's excitement over this turn of events, that he sign up for the Slim Picken's role.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Al, Roscoe, and Jed

Commenter Heading out stated the painful truth concerning the last Cricton post:
Unfortunately the impact that authors such as Crichton have on public opinion is then reflected in the ways that the government treats different subjects. I haven't read this one yet but I am aware of the problem because of the impact that "Prey" had on some research areas.
The unfortunate headline when that came out: Prey - "Nanotechnology runs wild!". Unfortunately the impacts whittle away at both ends of the spectrum: for the (1) mass-market consumer who doesn't pay attention to deep news items at the expense of pulp fiction and to the (2) politico producer of laws who acts on the deep-rooted impulses of the constituent minority who misrepresent this stuff to their own agenda.

Fortunately it can also work both ways for progress as well. For example, which of this trio may have more of a long-term effect on awareness of our current energy predicament?

Retired but still active Professor Albert Bartlett who has taught and lectured about energy depletion and unlimited growth for the past several decades. Barlett has spoken to audiences at a rate of 30-40 times a year. Sadly, still probably not enough.

Old farmer, current U.S. Representative and former scientist Roscoe Bartlett who gave a recent late-day congressional testimony on oil depletion to an apparently small crowd and maybe some C-SPAN devotees. A dKos diary entry provoked some comments.

Fictional president Jedediah Bartlett who presided over a West Wing segment called Hubbert's Peak (now and forever in reruns).

Which Bartlett do you think had the biggest audience?

Nod to ByteSmiths.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


The nut-case Michael Crichton once again has sold lots of copy with his anti-global warming novel "State of Fear". More than anything else, Crichton appears filled with hate and venom, and likely embarrassment and envy, as he did not name his book with the obvious title "Climate of Fear". Really, how could he or his legions of publicists miss out giving it such an alliterative and allegorical name as that potential hit title? (soon to be a major motion picture!)

Probably because Nobel Prize in Literature winner Wole Soyinka already laid claim to that title with his series of lectures Climate of Fear : The Quest for Dignity in a Dehumanized World. The Nobel laureate appeared on Majority Report Radio (mp3) the other night.
Fear can be bearable, even a force for good, for example bringing a community together to fight a common threat from the natural world like a forest fire, "a kind of fear one can live with, shrug off, one that may actually be absorbed as a therapeutic incidence".
This philosophy basically puts people like Crichton in their place, without any kind of leg to stand on. You have to wonder if Crichton and company actually spout their lunacy because they really wish to project onto their opponents their own feelings of inadequacy and the unknown.
Other kinds of fear, though, are "downright degrading". Crucially, they involve a loss of human dignity and freedom to act. First we had the fear of nuclear war between the superpowers, now "the fear is one of furtive, invisible power, the power of the quasi state, one that is not open to any negotiating structure."
I really believe that important issues like climate change and oil depletion involve a healthy kind of fear, and not the projected fear that Crichton wants us to believe -- that some sort of cabal of global warming activists want to strip us of our dignities and freedoms. But, true to the ways of projection, Crichton can only claiming the moral and ethical high ground via reverse psychology. In fact, the non-negotiable quasi-state we deal with rests in his world-view and those power-brokers he shares this view with.

But then again, maybe Crichton just wants to sell some books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Air America Radio keeps ramping up their energy issue-related talk quotient. Tonight, Mike Malloy pulled out a vintage audio bumper of Bush explaining his own deep thoughts about our energy future.

I tried refactoring this paragraph because I believe the reporters screwed up the punctuation and could not quite translate BushSpeak. In reality, it said:
"Overtime is technology. Is going to change the way we live for. The good for the environment." said the President. "That's why I proposed a hydrogen-automobile-hydrogen (H2Au) generated automobile. We're spending $1 billion to come. Up with the technologies to do that! (... points to sky or heavens ... )

We must remind ourselves that the president thinks on a different astral plane than us mere mortals. He has it all figured out and we have yet to keep up.

Malloy further predicted the last people able to afford gasoline, those driving Cadillac SUVs, will eventually get pulled from their vehicles and get eaten on the spot by the ravenous hordes.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Day After

I laid claim to a kind-of tipping point in last week's Ides of March post, but Morgan Stanley's Steven Roach is betting on the 16th as a better bet.
In my view, March 16, 2005 could end up in the running as a possible tipping point for America. Suddenly, the US has taken on a very different aura in an increasingly unbalanced world: The confluence of a record current account deficit, a disaster from General Motors, and yet another new high for oil prices all speak of an increasingly precarious role for the global hegemon. World financial markets have barely begun to sniff that out.

From Moon on Alabama, the G.M. situation appears worse than Chrysler -- "This is a company headed for bankruptcy but the Wall Street pimps will not admit it until the bitter end.".

From what I have read about corporate bureaucracies that start to head south, the first thing workers detect in their environment is a huge increase in paperwork. In essence, this meaningless paperwork amounts to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic; ultimately telegraphing the action of suits in the head office as they get increasingly nervous over trying to justify their existence. I sometimes wonder if the same effect exists at the federal government level as we get deeper in the doo.

In Paul Kennedy’s historical framework, America is extending its reach at precisely the moment when its economic power base is weakening -- a classic warning sign of the fall of a Great Power.

Was March 16, 2005 America’s tipping point? Only time will tell. The optimist can hope that it was a wake-up call for a saving-short US economy to put its house back in order. For once, call me an optimist. It’s time for America to smell the coffee.

Also, oil depletion author Michael Klare provides more background info on Grag Palast's U.S. imperial conquest findings in Mapping the Oil Motive.

Spew Spewitt

As Billmon notes, I remain immune to criticism from the right wing corporatocracy due to my engineering-related contributions to society.

So I feel confident in avoiding their vitriol by pointing out how right-wing radio shill Hugh Hewitt continues to provide voice-overs for his advertisers as they craft ever-more elaborate Ponzi schemes (c.f. shilling for Iraqi dinars)

Ask Debt Relief Corp. to reduce your credit balances!
Avoid high interest rates. Save up to $20,000.

Because this scheme, as with all other Ponzi schemes, will eventually stall out, I predict that Spewitt will add these future voice-overs:

Ask Debt Relief from Debt Relief Corp. Inc. to your reduce your debt relief balance!

Ask Debt Relief from (Debt Relief from Debt Relief Corp. Inc.) Ltd. to your reduce your doubled-up debt relief balances!

Ask Debt Relief from those frauds expecting you to get [Debt Relief from (Debt Relief from Debt Relief Corp. Inc.)) Ltd.] Esq. to relieve you of your totally screwed-up debt relief relief!

No doubt the tool will get his take before everything crashes around him. And I have to add: our Social Security system looks utterly benign in comparison to this kind of crap.

Update: I have been linking to a few Billmon allegorical posts lately. Recommended also is the blog-haven for the old Billmon commenter crowd Moon of Alabama (which contains trenchant energy comments and peak oil threads from Jérôme à Paris of the erstwhile Rouille blog).

Update: Jérôme also writes "Brain Dead? Molybdenum and Whale Oil tell our sorry tale."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hindrocket nears climax

TBogg points out the disconnect of Time Magazine's "Blog of the Year" Powerline congratulating congress's decision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, while one of the bloggers (Hindrocket1) works for a law firm instrumental in achieving punishing verdicts against Exxon for the Valdez oil disaster.

Still curiouser, Hindrocket has blogged consistently of his admiration for dog-sledding races and the Alaska Itidarod in particular ("one of the world's great sporting events"). See Hindrocket's post "Itidarod Nears Climax".

Well it should make future races more exciting, at the very least.

1aka AssMissile

Working Backwards

George Monbiot asks the one question that crosses all lines of sociology, psychology, politics, and science, subsequently gets distorted completely by the media, but no one has seriously come to grips with:
Why are we transfixed by terrorism, yet relaxed about the collapse of the conditions which make our lives possible?
Monbiot gives it a good thinking over:
Another reason is that there is a well-funded industry whose purpose is to reassure us, and it is granted constant access to the media. We flatter its practitioners with the label "sceptics". If this is what they were, they would be welcome. Scepticism (the Latin word means "inquiring" or "reflective") is the means by which science advances. Without it we would still be rubbing sticks together. But most of those we call sceptics are nothing of the kind. They are PR people, the loyalists of Exxon Mobil (by whom most of them are paid), who have been commissioned to begin with a conclusion and then devise arguments to justify it.
I don't recall if teachers actively taught this technique in school, but we all learned how to "work backwards" to solve problems. Even though this technique produces good result for finishing homework problems, technological breakthroughs or any other real-world issues rarely get solved this way. It usually takes some sort of epiphany to solve a complex problem -- but as the majority of the people spend most of their time "working backwards" to get slightly ahead of their fellow man, we will never make much progress.
  • Taxes: Work backwards from the goal of avoiding having to pay anything at all
  • Las Vegas: Work backwards from a desired outcome to calculate probabilistic odds so that "the house always wins"
  • Sales: Based on commission and a desired income, work your way backwards until you can sucker the required number of marks (also works for the stock market).
  • Terrorism: Tabulate an enemies list and check off the vanquished one by one.
These schemes all have ulterior motives. But people normally don't see the ulterior motives of others unless somebody rubs their face in it. Monbiot points this out quite clearly:
Their presence on outlets such as the BBC's Today programme might be less objectionable if, every time AIDS was discussed, someone was asked to argue that it is not caused by HIV, or, every time a rocket goes into orbit, the Flat Earth Society was invited to explain that it could not possibly have happened. As it is, our most respected media outlets give Exxon Mobil what it has paid for: they create the impression that a significant scientific debate exists when it does not.
Obviously, this pattern would also help for wacko theorists that still populate our media (think ABC's Peter Jennings special on UFOs that aired recently). For example, if we all agree to teach Intelligent Design in schools at the objection of the biologists, should UFOs be taught in physics, and Atlantis covered in Earth Science?

For the last century or so, our energy situation didn't require much by the way of working backwards. In fact, few people really cared or worried about future possibilities. For example, when did anyone ever see a geologist paired up with an analyst on the long-running Wall Street Week television show? As Monbiot writes:
The cure to all ills is endless growth. Yet endless growth, in a finite world, is impossible. Pull this rug from under the dominant economic theories, and the whole system of thought collapses.
Monbiot gets it. We can't "work backwards" from certain outcomes. The global warming trajectory has no bounds and if we do see bounds, it will likely hit some physical "rail" that we won't like. Likewise, the end outcome of fossil fuel use is ... (drum roll) ... no more fossil fuel. That's the only logical conclusion that Monbiot can make and that will override any other conclusion that the industry tries to derive through clever PR. How do we "work backwards" from there? Answer: We can't. The best we can do is perhaps conserve our way there (wherever "there" is); all the while remembering to ignore the furious objection of Ponzi scheme artists everywhere.

Because to figure out where one lies in a pyramid scheme, just determine the number of links in the chain, and work your way backwards. Unfortunately, with respect to oil, the next generation will likely form the last link in that chain.

Fellow England-based journalist Greg Palast found evidence about the true ulterior motive for the Iraq conquest here. He writes:
New plans, obtained from the State Department by Newsnight and Harper's Magazine under the US Freedom of Information Act, called for creation of a state-owned oil company favoured by the US oil industry. It was completed in January 2004 under the guidance of Amy Jaffe of the James Baker Institute in Texas.
Not surprisingly, Amy Jaffe happened to also play a previous role as one of the PR people that Monbiot describes. As I posted previously, she has laid much of the groundwork in formulating the whole Ponzi scheme by first reassuring us against the possibility of dire oil depletion scenarios. In other words, repeating the mantra equivalent to "just relax, people":
But Amy Jaffe, who studies energy matters at Rice University's Baker Institute here in Houston, dismisses such talk.

"These people are acting irresponsibly, in my opinion, scaring people," she said. "They said a few years ago that Russia would peak, and now we know the amount of resources there is much greater than we previously imagined."

So she has laid out a clearly effective PR policy: plot perceptions in the foreground, then plan in the background, and wait for the plundering to begin. That was the intended objective pay-off.

Summary: I think we just discovered a verifiable paid-off oil-industry hack. (And all we had to do was work our way backwards)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

What's New

Dr. Robert L. Park from U. of Md. and the APS does a weekly roundup of physics news (always with a touch of snark). This week he hits energy and natural resource topics on all cylinders.
WHAT'S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 18 Mar 05 Washington, DC

Described in media stories as a Johns Hopkins physicist, Michael D. Griffin is at the Applied Physics Lab, a government contract lab far from the campus, and although he has a B.A. in physics, his Ph.D. is in Aerospace Engineering from the Univ. of Maryland. During the Reagan years he was Deputy for Technology of SDI (Star Wars), which managed to squander $30B on mythical weapons. Eighteen months ago, Griffin testified before the House Science Committee on "The Future of Human Space Flight". He began by invoking Queen Isabella and Columbus. OK, so he's not very original, but the Columbus mission was to find a short cut to plunder the riches of the East. That is just the sort of sound conservative economics the universe needs. But maybe, before we settle the rest of the solar system as Griffin proposes, we might want to ask our robots if there are any riches out there to plunder. Meanwhile, it probably wouldn't hurt to take better care of this planet. These other places don't look that great.

The Index of Forbidden Books was abolished by Vatican II, but Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who used to be the top enforcer in the Vatican, still harbors nostalgia for the old days. "Don't buy and don't read" The Da Vinci Code, he instructed Catholics. That should help sales, as though it needed help. Some scientists would put Michael Crichton's novel, State of Fear, on an Index. It's standard Crichton, i.e. the bad guys are scientists. In Jurassic Park, for example, scientists discovered the secret of life and used it to make a theme park. Scientists in State of Fear predict global-warming catastrophes; when it doesn't happen, they create disasters. Well, at least scientists are powerful bad guys. But Crichton laced the book with genuine citations and graphs from the literature, creating a sense of authenticity, but some say, crossing a line. It is pretentious, but it's fiction.

Everyone has seen the horrifying film of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. A 1/28 scale model of the giant airship, made for a Hollywood movie, hangs in the National Air and Space Museum. A plaque said "It's hydrogen exploded." That's incendiary language to the National Hydrogen Society, which promotes hydrogen as a fuel. Dr. Addison Bain, a founding member, undertook his own investigation of the accident, declaring, "Hydrogen does not explode." He claimed it was the fabric covering the airship that burned. The Department of Energy bought it, the Air and Space Museum revised the plaque, the media did specials on it. Alex Dessler, a physicist and former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center did not buy it. He led a group that found Bain wrong on every point. So who is Dr. Addison Bain? Stay tuned.

Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the University of Maryland, but they should be.
Archives of What's New can be found at http://www.aps.org/WN
I had also long heard the argument of the Hindenburg's fabric catching on fire (as opposed to the hydrogen sparking). The rationale seemed fairly reasonable. But I had no idea that hydrogen apologists pushed this counter theory. But like Park implied, you can readily find sites such as the National Hydrogen Association (!?!) webpage and dig out this kind of statement:
The Hindenburg fabric was found to be made of a cotton substrate with an aluminized cellulose acetate butyrate dopant. The observations of the fire listed above, in fact, are consistent with a huge aluminum fire.
So, it was the extreme flammability of the Hindenburg’s fabric envelope which caused the disaster and not the lifting gas inside.
Oh, the humanity! Why does Dr. Park hate humanity?

In the world of soft sciences, I happened to catch V.V. Chari, a U. of Minn. economics professor and consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, on a Furitan radio talk show today. He had this quote (paraphrased):
The reason for the media's interest in the shrinking (U.S.) dollar is the same as there is interest in the Laci Peterson case: It is a slow news week.
What a tool, I suppose a big news week in Chari's circles occurs when Greenspan cryptically farts in tongues.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Toles of the Washington Post

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Future Timeline

For yucks, read Billmon
January 14, 2007: Wolfowitz embarks on a 60-day World Bank “pro-democracy” tour to promote the Caspian Sea project. His first stop: Disney World’s Epcot Center, where he holds an enthusiastic town meeting with the animatronic puppets in Exxon Mobil’s Energy Adventure and GM’s Test Track exhibits.

Thy Name is Mud

The abiotic theory of fuel creation will keep resurfacing as long as people have a hyperactive imagination. Recently, on DailyKos and elsewhere, somehow a Cornell colleague of the late Thomas Gold, chemical geologist Larry Cathles, has been implicated in promoting the same abiotic theories. I read this article and don't see any explicit connection to abiotic genesis. Instead, I venture that of the huge amounts of petroleum and natural gas leaking out from current reservoirs (as Cathles describes), most of it leaked out over a long period of time. ... Let us all repeat: No use crying over spilled milk.

Moreover, the latest articles from the abiotic faction read like Guiness Book of World Records bids for the longest stream-of-consciousness paragraphs -- for amusement, see serious rambling here or here.

On PeakOil, threadbear wrote:
Anyone who reads (Thomas) Gold's book, "Deep Hot Biosphere" should be impressed.
True, gullible people (by definition) get impressed quite readily. I find it very revealing to point out other scientific theories that Thomas Gold has been totally disproven on:
Steady State Theory
Holy Smoke! points out that the Big Bang theory has superceded precursor. theories
Moon is DEEPLY covered by very fine dust or similar crumbly material
Apparently, when Neil Armstrong and company touched ground at moonbase alpha, the lunar lander did not sink into the quicksand after all! You can believe NASA's official history, but then again why not the Capricorn One version?
Solar sails break laws of physics
CalTech scientist seriously disagrees.
Nice track record there. Apparently, Gold practiced a kind of "shotgun" approach to physics, spewing various theories in random directions.

The shotgun approach works to some degree -- throw enough mud at the wall and some will eventually stick. Unfortunately, like many of Gold's other ideas, the abiotic theory has not stuck. Scientists more than anyone else realize that their credibility suffers when they get proved wrong one too many times. Unfortunately, other professors within proximity of Gold at Cornell will have a hard time desoiling their reputations. Too bad that the crap that Gold flung ended up sticking on them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bi-partisan wedgy

From the Congressional Record on March 14th, this exchange between two house representatives from Maryland:
Mr. GILCHREST. If the gentleman would yield just for a second, I am sure he knows, but the general public, I do not think realizes it is not necessary to be sitting right on top of a volcanic area, an earthquake zone to get geothermal energy. We on the Eastern Shore of Maryland have a number of schools that are actually providing heat for those schools from geothermal energy. Some of these things are sort of a hidden secret. But it is the classical conventional wisdom that keeps us from exploring some of these things a little bit further. And I think the gentleman is bringing those out tonight.

Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. Is this tying the school to the molten core, or is it simply using a heat pump and exchanging, not with the air? What you are trying to do in the winter-time is cool the air and what you are trying to do in the summer time is heat the air.

Mr. GILCHREST. It is actually bringing water up from the surface, from the subsurface. The water is much warmer further down.

Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland. It is indeed. But you still have to have energy to use that. You are much more efficient using a heat pump that is tied to the ground, to groundwater than it is to the cold air in the winter and the hot air in the summer. If you are thinking about what you are trying to do is to cool the cold air in the winter time and to heat the hot air in the summertime. And obviously ground water is very much better in both seasons than either the air in the winter or the cold, the hot air in the summer or the cold air in the winter.

Ocean energy. You know, it takes an enormous amount of energy to lift the ocean 2 feet. That is roughly what the Moon does in the tides, is it not? But the problem with that is energy density.

There is an old adage that says what is everybody's business is nobody's business. And the corollary to that in energy is if it is too widely distributed, you probably cannot make much of it. And we have really tried to harness the tides. In some fjords in Norway where they have 60-foot tides you put a bar there, when it runs in you trap it and then you run it out through a turbine. When it is running out, you can get some energy from it. And there is potential there, a lot of potential energy. But you know it is very dispersed. We have a hard time capturing that energy.

I suspect that our hour is about up, and this is maybe a good place to end. We are going to come back and spend another hour looking at agriculture, enormous opportunities from agriculture. But let me remind the gentleman that we are just barely able to feed the world now. And if we start taking all of this biomass off the field, what is going to happen to the tilth of our soil, to the organic matter in our soil, which is essential to the availability of nutrients in the soil by the plant. So there are lots of challenges here. There are lots of opportunities here. And we will spend another hour talking about them. Thank you very much. And I yield back, Mr. Speaker.

Can you tell which congressman is Republican and which is a Democrat? In actuality I don't think it matters much, Bartlett got elected as a PhD farmer and Gilchrest as a former high school teacher. I bet it will take a lot of weedy (as in deep in the ...) talk like this from both sides of the aisle before we get to some good alternative energy legislation.

Update: Full transcript at Energy Bulletin

Humpty Dumpty

Monkeygrinder posted an image of the world's biggest shooting target, illustrating the difficulty in trying to secure everything on God's green Earth.

The tanker pic begs for a bit of creative doctoring:

What David Appel says:
I see that the bastards have won this ANWR round. I wonder how many of them have spent any time in the wilderness themselves, how many value untrammeled wilderness for the glory that it is. Probably none of them.... New Rule: all new members of Congress shall be required to spend one month backpacking through America's wilderness areas. Only then shall they be permitted to take office.

And we should force all congressman to mass transit commute to work once a week, as Amtrak nears death, BushCo readies it for privateering or plundering (via Atrios).

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Beware the Ides of March

An interesting confluence of events surrounding Peak Oil made the news today. Kind of a royal flush.
US Congressional Record on Peak Oil, highly informed house representatives speak out.
Herold Inc. called out Enron first, Peak Oil next?
ChevronTexaco Chairman and CEO calls for U.S. energy independence at oil industry shindig.
CBS MarketWatch mentions Peak Oil extremists (in a positive light!)
Not a peep

How deep does Bush's cluelessness extend? From the Salon article:
Last week, President Bush gave a speech on energy policy in Columbus, Ohio, in which he encouraged Congress to pass an energy bill. Once again, he touted his plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a move he said would "eventually reduce our dependence on foreign oil by up to a million barrels of oil a day." The key word here is "eventually." Even if approvals for drilling ANWR were granted immediately, the first oil from the refuge would not reach the continental United States for years. Furthermore, as the New York Times reported last month, it appears that the major oil companies may have cooled in their desire to drill in the refuge. During his speech, Bush also talked about efficiency measures that could save homeowners electricity. But during his 4,600-word, 35-minute-long speech, Bush uttered the words "hybrid vehicle" exactly one time.

It's astonishing that Bush, the former Texas oil man, still doesn't understand the fundamental problem of America's imported oil addiction. Nor does he appear to grasp the threat that is posed by the possibility of peak oil.

The majority of the oil that the United States imports from places like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela is used as motor fuel in automobiles. Yet the president conflated the idea that burning more coal and building more nuclear power plants will somehow allow America to reduce its oil imports. In his speech, Bush refused to discuss the obvious: We cannot cut our oil imports (read: gasoline addiction) without dramatic changes to our auto fleet. At some point, the United States will have to force the automakers to build more efficient automobiles. And a key part of that efficiency changeover will mean replacing increasing numbers of America's 200 million cars and trucks with hybrid vehicles.

A select few of the nattering neo-cons have started to join the soft parade, but you still won't hear them talking about the issue on nutjob sideshows such as buddy Hugh Hewitt's radio sermon (I listen so you don't have to)
Even some of Washington's most hawkish neoconservatives are embracing the idea of high-mileage hybrid vehicles. Former CIA director James Woolsey, a key backer of the war in Iraq, is driving a Toyota Prius. Woolsey, along with neocons like Frank Gaffney have begun preaching the Greens' gospel of energy efficiency. The neocons haven't joined the Sierra Club. Instead, they're arguing that energy conservation is simply smart strategy when dealing with the Muslim extremists who reside in the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf. But so far, the neocons haven't been able to get Bush's ear.
They don't get Bush's ear, because they have to first proceed through the Hewitt -> Limpball -> Norquist -> Luntz -> Dobson -> Moon -> Cheney -> Rove marching Wurlitzer band first. And that aint gonna happen soon.

The 15th

Update: Yoo-hoo, Hugh, over here! On AirAmerica Radio's Majority Report tonight guest Flavia Colgan mentioned Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil reserves as a drop in the bucket.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Not Africa, yet

Ski season wrapping up, no accumulated snow to speak of all winter. Selfishly, I will say, oh well, at least I got to practice my V2 technique on the lake crust. I can't wait for next winter, just to go around in circles on a flat surface. I do hope we continue to form ice.

Shell Game

This web site, Shell Crisis, violates Occam's razor by presenting way too convoluted a theory to explain why Shell Oil had to reduce their petroleum reserve estimates and thus lose the equivalent of $140 billion amount of worth. The site's author, Michael Ekin Smyth writes:
Shell's crisis centres on its inability to reconcile its figures with the definitions set by America's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC, which has all of two petroleum engineers, relies significantly on the definitions produced by the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

The SPE divides the total resource into 10 different categories grouped under three main headings: proved reserves, contingent resources and prospective resources. Proved reserves are the quantities of oil or gas from known reservoirs and expected to be recoverable with current technology and at current economic conditions. Prospective resources are those that may be recoverable in the future with advanced technologies or under different economic conditions.

The current debate focuses on the first category: 'proved reserves' which is subdivided into three main categories, 'proved', 'proved+probable', and 'proved+probable+possible'.

The crisis - the clash
As fair warning, I don't recommend anyone trying to deconstruct the site's organization (it looks as if the author has simply done the equivalent of spreading his notes on the dining room table in the hope of trying to conjure up a cogent thesis).

Instead let's follow what Occam's razor says: the best explanation derives from the fewest number of assumptions leading to the simplest conclusion. With that, most would simply suggest that actual lowering of reserves due to oil depletion caused Shell's current predicament. Who would have thunk it?

Unfortunately the simple argument doesn't allow one to show off your wordsmything skills in the hopes of landing plum writing assignments or to try to get rehired by oil companies desperately in need of their own Karen Hughes.
A journalist and speechwriter for nearly three decades, Michael has been writing about energy issues since 1990. After four years with OPEC, he joined Shell as a speechwriter in 1996.
He joined the OPEC news agency in 1991, immersing himself in the arcane politics of the energy world. Based in London since 1996, he has worked as a speechwriter and scriptwriter for senior Shell executives and for a variety of other companies.

Let's just say that my B.S. detector went into hyperdrive on this one.

Update: Fixed ShellCrisis link.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Oil-based Framing

What never-ending news story does this describe?
  1. Political machinations lead to decisions involving food and fossil fuel.
  2. The combination shapes global socio-political direction.
  3. Small segments of the populace end up receiving many of the subsidies
  4. Although the initial intent proved admirable, the long-lasting effects may turn out a wash.
  5. Consumers end up paying for the subsidies
Answer: (A) The Oil For Food "scandal".

But as this story has started to implicate the accusing side (Iraq fraud and corruption and U.S. ignored oil smuggling), the correct answer actually is:

(B) The Oil Is Food "truth"
  1. Large agro-businesses seek to use political connections to obtain cheap fossil fuel products for production of fertilizer
  2. Subsequent cheap fertilizer helps further spur the green revolution and U.S. exports act as a currency to control overseas development.
  3. Agro-businesses reap much of the profit.
  4. Depletion of fossil fuels leads to increase in cost, driving many away from fertilizer use.
  5. Agro-businesses continue to need income. We pick up the tab.

I never thought much of the media's Oil For Food scandal, always thinking it just some framing device coming from the Furitan1 wing of the Republican party, mainly meant to discredit the United Nations and therefore the French. The truth remains closer to the unspeakable but simple "We need oil for everything we do" argument.

Ray McGovern on why we went to Iraq.

Big Gav is also pondering the same thing today. Check it out.

1 Furitans aka furious Puritans

Standard Oil Depletion Disclaimers

If peak oil was like the stock market:
Caution: Past technological innovations are no guarantee of future developments. 1

If peak oil was like the medical industry:
Caution:Side effects may occur if you are taking large doses of petroleum, or if you take them over a long period of time. Some side effects are mild and may go away without treatment. Others are more serious and should be treated right away. You may not have every side effect listed here, but you should be aware of problems that could occur. Only some side effects are listed here. In general the side effects of various fossil fuels are comparable, but ask your doctor or pharmacist about specific side effects of the type of fuel you're taking.2

If peak oil was like the automobile industry:
Caution: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

If peak oil was like the construction industry:
Caution: Do not operate heavy machinery while under the influence of cheap oil.

If peak oil was like the software industry:
Caution: Mother earth makes no warranty, representation or guaranty that the petroleum will be uninterrupted or error free or that any defects can be corrected.

If peak oil was like the fast food industry:
Warning: Filling may be hot. What are you, stupid or something?

If peak oil was like the legal profession:
Warning: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you. In other words, don't worry -- our leader Dick Cheney has it all figured out. signed: Alberto Gonzalez, A.G.

Final Disclaimer
If this site was like real journalism:
Duh: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.3

1via Aaron at PeakOil
2modified from a Sam Seder rant on using infinite horizon arguments
3no animals were injured, maimed, or killed during the writing of this piece.

Commuting patterns

Car commuting has yet to reach a peak as a principle means of transportation. Car use has increased to 88.1%, while "working at home" has also increased to 3.1%. (Despite the networking revolution, this has only increased by 0.1% since 1985)

Bicycling has gone down to 0.6% from a high of 1.0% in 1985.

ref: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics table

Friday, March 11, 2005

Eye of the Beholder

Heineken wrote:
I love redcedars. They add beauty and atmosphere to any landscape, they stay green (or purplish) through the winter, and their berries are avidly consumed by birds, who also use it for cover. The wood lasts forever in ground contact and so makes the ideal fencepost. I burn a lot of it in my woodstove.

The wood is beautiful and aromatic and repels bugs, so it's great for lining drawers and for furniture construction.

Redcedar is easy to transplant and makes a great screen.

The bark and fluting on the trunk of an old cedar are lovely to behold.
Carp are a lovely fish with exquisite flesh which soothes the palate when smoked.
Pheasants are a lovely bird with radiant plumage and tasty to boot.
Eurasian milfoil is a lovely aquatic plant which harbors many gamefish.
African bees are lovely insects which produce nectar from the gods.
Zebra mussels are geometric wonders of nature.

No they all exist as opportunistic alien species which after millions of years of stable population and range have suddenly taken hold in new regions due to you know who.

Anybody that thinks the monotonous dirty-red specks that dot the New Mexico landscape represents natural history, the work of natural succession, or any kind of pretty scenery needs to rethink their position. Art can exist as panoramic view of semi-arid desert just as it can as a finely-crafted cedar chest. We always have to consider trade-offs.

One other thing: the "easy to transplant" property of red cedar. That's similar to saying that carp are adaptable and milfoil spreads easily.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

James Walleyed Baker

A useful concordance:
Finite resourcesInfinite resources

Via Quark Soup
Former Secretary of State James Baker, a close ally of the Bush family, broke ranks with the Bush administration on Thursday and called for the United States to get serious about global warming.

Baker, in a speech to an audience that included a number of oil company executives, said "orderly" change to alternative energy was needed.

"It may surprise you a little bit, but maybe it's because I'm a hunter and a fisherman, but I think we need to a pay a little more attention to what we need to do to protect our environment," he told the Houston Forum Club.

"When you have energy companies like Shell and British Petroleum, both of which are perhaps represented in this room, saying there is a problem with excess carbon dioxide emission, I think we ought to listen," Baker said.

It looks as if Baker has initiated the process of joining the reality-based community. However, what he does not say probably tells more than his "sportsman" concerns about climate change. For instance, why did he not say anything about Oil Depletion? Given the amount of time that Baker has spent with the Saudis and other mideast oil producers, he could have easily mentioned our oil future with just as much credibility. And impact. Fisherman have just as much concern about gas used in towing their boats to secluded and remote lakes and the amount they use to powering their 100+ horse-power bass boats.

He likely does know, but perhaps Baker realizes the futility of bring up the O.D. subject. The reality it presents may just turn off too many people; smart politics does not dwell on depressing subjects. On the other hand, he may think that climate change/global warming presents a challenge for people to adapt in interesting and maybe "sporty" ways. After all, the majority of hunters and fisherman have never shied away from extremes in temperature.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Smiley from the PeakOil board posted on resource supply/demand inelasticity:
It is often said that the problem with predicting oil prices is that we have never seen a structural deficit of an important industrial commodity.

Perhaps I found an analogy with oil, molybdenum. Molybdenum is a metal which is used in steel production. Since 2002 supply demand balance swung to the demand side. The demand has outgrown the supply.

This deficit has had some very interesting consequences for the price. over the past three years the price of molybdenumoxide has increased from $2 to $28.50, a fourteenfold increase . Since the speculative position on this market is relatively small we can assume that these prices reflect the real supply demand fundamentals. It is staggering to see how a relatively small supply shortage can lead to these enormous price increases. It really shows how inelastic these markets are.

I think the steel market and the oil market are fairly comparable when it comes to inelasticity. If so then this is what we can expect for oil when the market runs into a deficit. The price increases we have seen so far are nothing compared to what is going to happen.

If moly is of any guidance we can expect the price to suddenly double, triple or quadruple when a real shortage occurs. That is a pretty scary thought.
Doing a bit of research on this topic, it looks as if the price of molybdenum becomes inextricably tied to how much copper mining occurs. Apparently, molybenum gets collected along with the copper ore, and if copper demand slumps (as it has recently, internet bubble bursting and all that) so to the molybdenum supply decreases, and therefore the price of molybdenum rises.


Anybody that has done high-tech vacuum science work knows the many ways molybdenum gets used. Pure molybdenum has some weird properties. If we want some tough high-T structures that we wish to spot-weld stuff to, the choice is between tantalum and molybdenum. You can only bend molybdenum a few times before it breaks (that's real inelasticity for you), but tantalum has more flex to it. (Curiously, tantalum has its own set of supply/demand problems due to all the African in-fighting over the valuable ore -- link)

In the other place it gets used, as a bolt lubricant, we know that research labs end up using lots of molybdenum disulfide (vacuum scientists refer to this as "moly"). If molybdenum disappeared, physical science research would definitely feel it, same as with an impending helium shortage.

And weird enough, but bicycle manufacturers actually paid attention to the molybdenum shortage:

Gira bike manufacturer ponders profitability over molybdenum shortage

Chrome-moly frames used to have more popularity than they do now, but still, I found it fascinating to read how they analyze and adapt to this shortage.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


If you can keep track of the odometer in cars you've owned AND you use airlines that keep track of frequent flyer mileage for you, try out the following experiment:

Miles driven in own car = 60,000+
Miles flown via frequent flyer = 152,000+
Miles flown otherwise = 50,000+ (guessing on this)

Typical MPG own car = 25
Typical MPG per airliner passenger = 52

Total fuel used via car = 2400 gallons
Total fuel used via airplane = 3800 gallons

Even though I don't consider myself the typical commuter, the numbers still surprised me. In the past whenever someone started complaining about airline delays, I would reply "at least we don't have to travel by covered wagon". Henceforth, I will say: "treasure these times".

Monday, March 07, 2005

Urban Home Companion

Salute to a one-year run for a great radio show on Air America. Although I caught it only about once a week because of its late-morning time slot, Unfiltered had a great trio of voices. Brainy, funny, and hip, but now with the mysterious departure of Lizz Winstead, it'll take a while to regain its bearings (if it doesn't get cancelled). They actually had the guts to feature long segments where they discussed things like fuel efficiency standards.

To somebody on the Unfiltered blog who said the sudden change felt like a punch to the stomach, I empathize. I don't know why it hit me so hard, but I started thinking about the many times Lizz referred to her parents with such reverence, who if I remember correctly are in their 80's now. ...

The best comedians mine territory that hits home, that's why she and the show really worked for me.

One show in particular I remember where they all discussed John Kerry's daughter reminiscing (during the DNC) about her dad giving their hamster CPR. And then Chuck D out-of-the-blue volunteering some hilarious tale about his family's cat that went through all kinds of near-death experiences when he was a kid. As I recall it got electrocuted at one time, and his father or grandfather actually succeeded in resuscitating the pet.

Classic stuff, the show to me became a Prairie Home Companion transformed to a multi-cultural, urban setting.

Apologies to Liz Phair, but this Lizz was the whip-smart one.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Caps blog

A recommended blog with a mix of economics and oil commentary: The Capital Spectator

apologies to Franken

Top tech city?

Now that I have denigrated mass-media ramblings on science and tech, I have to point out a recent article in Popular Science describing their very subjective opinion on the top tech city in the USA.
Minneapolis ranked first among U.S. cities in innovative transportation solutions, fourth in energy technology.
It ranked first among U.S. cities in innovative transportation solutions, fourth in energy technology. the city fell above the 50th percentile in every category measured, a broad-based showing of tech savvy that set it apart from the competition. With everything averaged together, there is no city in America where a culture of high technology has a more pervasive presence.

What happens when things get too cold?
The streets are clean enough to eat off, and seem curiously devoid of pedestrians--a ghost-town ambience that can be attributed to the Minneapolis skyway system running overhead. Back in 1962, city planners gave up trying to deal with the northern winters, where temperatures have bottomed out at 34 below, and began turning the entire center of the city into a giant human habitrail. The skyway is a series of sealed bridges above street level that winds for mile after disorienting mile through arcades of shops and plazas, opening on vast atriums with indoor waterfalls and trees to remind the tunnel-dwellers of the outside world. It's not a dome over the entire city, but it strikes me as being admirably close.
How can you heat a building in the middle of winter?
... Mayor Rybak drops me off at the Green Institute, a nonprofit that promotes environmental tech- nology and sustainable energy use--another area in which Minneapolis scored high points, with its eight EPA-rated EnergyStar buildings. The institute's building is a textbook on green technologies. It has no furnace but is kept at a constant temperature by a nontoxic antifreeze (so green you could actually drink it) circulating through a series of geothermal wells dug into the bedrock below. Mirrors above skylights follow the sun to reflect it inside, and sensors lower all electric light correspondingly, hibernating when people leave the room. Teused steel forms the bulk of the support beams, and the building has an insulating living roof planted with minnesota prairie species. The electrical system, run partly from an array of solar panels on the roof, kicks power back to the grid when it overproduces. Shelving consists of pressure-treated boards of soy and newspaper that look just like shiny black marble.

What about heating a honking big building in the middle of winter? Like the Mall of America?
There is no heating system in the 4.2-million-square-foot building; the entire place is heated by the lighting system and the body heat of tens of thousands of bustling shoppers. It is a biosphere of consumers. The 400 trees in the mall's vast atrium are kept pest-free by tens of thousands of ladybugs. There is a 1.2-million-gallon aquarium and a whole amusement park under a roof big enough to dock the hindenburg . (This may be the only place on earth one could feasibly pick up wi-fi on a roller coaster.) The completed light rail slithers from the skyway in downtown minneapolis straight into the belly of the beast.

Amazing how much they equate metropolitan high-technology with beating the cold. On the down-side, too bad the writer did not mention anything about the low-tech/high-tech transportation convergence in Minneapolis. Mayor Rybak has been relentlessly pushing for bike paths and alternate means of transportation. For example, both buses and the light-rail transit have spaces for bicycles (buses carry bikes on the outside, the LRT has bike hooks on the inside).

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Good News Industry

The NY Times has apparently promoted John Tierney to the op-ed columnist position vacated by William Safire. Chris Mooney has a piece from a few years ago chronicling Tierney's approach to journalism. Let's say that he comes close to The Good News Industry style of reporting that achieved some notoriety a decade ago. This consisted of publishing encouraging news items, ostenstibly written up to counteract dire warnings of future maladies. (Waaay too many scary prognostications back then; nowadays with the bad things happening in real-time, this type of journalism has morphed into the Fair and Balanced style favored by such outlets as Fox news.) Mooney notes that Tierney has written quite often on science and the environment, predominantly from a Libertarian perspective; he likes to think that the free market alone can force positive outcomes. Watch Tierney carefully, as he will likely cover energy issues in his column while sounding positive about our future prospects, kind of like a John Stossel in print.

In keeping with the theme, I also have Good News to report. I have taken pains to carefully monitor the physical characteristics of a stationary stone in my possession. By tracking measurements of the stone's weight, I believe I can corrolate the stone's stability against future stability in the oil markets. As I have noted constant weight data over the past few years, I have high hopes for a stable future supply of oil.

In an analogous story:
"The stone feels cold," he said on touching the carving and columns. "But dry."

Breaking into a smile, he added, "So the pope will live."
Good news, indeed.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Cuckoo Times Two

My previous post singled out a physics professor for trying to popularize or at least legitimize the theory of abiogenic/abiotic sources of oil. In retrospect, I should have added that too many popular accounts of science and technology fall way short in substance. Of course it has something to do with our limited collective attention span and publishers need for sales. Sadly, the professor's book probably fed the appetite of Art Bell fans, and thus likely had enough sales to keep the publisher happy.

Well, today we have the real cuckoos coming out to roost and displaying their own truly misguided theories. On his radio show, Sean Hannity said some incredibly stupid things about America's future energy independence. Baited cleverly by a guest caller (none other than Air America's Robert Kennedy Jr.), Hannity proceeded to list how the USA could lessen its dependence on mideast oil. Hold on to your horses, as he declared these as promising sites for oil independence:
  1. Coast of California
  2. Coast of Florida
  3. The Great Lakes
  4. "ANWAR" (i.e. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
  5. All of our National Parks

To back up his arguments, he declared that exploration rigs can coexist peaceably with wilderness. (I wanted to scream at the radio -- Dude, that's not the point! Hannity should really take a look at the wildlife sanctuary along the Orange County coastline of Huntington Beach. Lots of old stripper wells coexisting nicely with wildlife .... so where's our independence oh Great American Sean?)

He then tried to counter-bait Kennedy by discussing the Kennedy clan's NIMBY resistance to windmills off of Cape Cod. Of course, Kennedy did not take the bait and humorously hung up on Hannity.

So the #1 cuckoo Insanity Hannity next decided to ask his #2 ace-in-the-hole kook Newt Gingrich for his take on American oil independence. Without batting an eye, Newt spewt this inanity:
Having recently spoken with former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, I believe that hydrogen-based fuel will be the answer to our future energy needs (Ed.: or words to that effect)
please put me out of my misery

Update: A caller to Hannity's show presented his theory on the popularity of SUV's and trucks. In his mind, the role of people like Ralph Nader and Robert Kennedy Jr. in introducing fuel efficiency standards such as CAFE on passenger cars caused consumers to flock to the behemoths. Without these eco-nuts applying their form of fascist indoctrination, apparently we would have long ago advanced to better fuel efficiency vehicles through free market mechanisms. (waves index finger rapidly in circles around ear)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


I finished reading the "abiogenic oil" chapter from the book Nine Crazy Ideas in Science by Prof. Robert Erhlich of George Mason U. I have no idea the popularity the book had when first published in 1991, but it does stand as a curious testament to popular science writings, whereby any dry, factual investigation gets in the way of selling books.

Erhlich does take a few potshots at Thomas Gold and his abiogenic theories but overall gives him a pass. What kind of a grade Gold in fact gets, we can judge in comparison to the other crazy ideas that Erhlich covers. He has a rating system by giving a "cuckoo" rating to each the nine crazee ideas, with the first three getting 0 cuckoos :
  • could be true, why not? -- Oil, coal, and gas have abiogenic origins
  • could be true, why not? -- Sun exposure is beneficial
  • could be true, why not? -- Faster-than-light particles exist
  • probably not true, but who knows? -- Low doses of nuclear radiation are
  • very likely not true -- Time travel is possible
  • very likely not true -- The solar system has two suns
  • almost certainly false -- More guns means less crime
  • almost certainly false -- AIDS is not caused by HIV
  • almost certainly false -- There was no Big Bang
As I recall, health and science classes in elementary schools used to teach the relationship behind Vitamin D and sun exposure (and probably still do). Strange insight indeed to put the well-understood Vitamin D uptake on the same level as abiogenic oil.