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One of the live oaks that bless my home

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Natural Born Fools

Dr. Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate and professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton, wrote this in his Op-Ed, entitled "Natural Born Drillers":
And this tells us that giving the oil companies carte blanche isn’t a serious jobs program. Put it this way: Employment in oil and gas extraction has risen more than 50 percent since the middle of the last decade, but that amounts to only 70,000 jobs, around one-twentieth of 1 percent of total U.S. employment. So the idea that drill, baby, drill can cure our jobs deficit is basically a joke.

Why, then, are Republicans pretending otherwise? Part of the answer is that the party is rewarding its benefactors: the oil and gas industry doesn’t create many jobs, but it does spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign contributions. The rest of the answer is simply the fact that conservatives have no other job-creation ideas to offer.
His piece was followed by 554 reader comments, many of which read like this:
...They (the Republicans) want to help the petroleum industrial complex - but they couldn't care less of what it means to ordinary Americans or to the landscape that is our America. Think fracking is no big deal? It's causing earth quakes on the Great Plains...
Number one Readers' Pick

Let me parse these statements briefly.  I'll start from saying that I have some environmental credentials.  It is enough to read what I have written and publicly said over the last decade or so.  I also live what I preach: drive a small diesel car, have rain water on tap, use two lovely donkeys to mow my meadows, and grow my own vegetables. In addition, I do not subscribe to the "drill baby, drill" slogan, which is as silly as the two quotes above.

Now back to my main point: North Americans, Dr. Krugman included, are swimming in oil like fish swim in water.  There are only a few very small countries on the Earth that use more oil per capita than any of the commentators on Dr. Krugman's piece. So like the proverbial fish that do not see water and do not register that their noses are wet, most Americans do not notice that crude oil and natural gas have created and are running our economy.  

A year ago, I wrote The U.S. Fatso on a Miracle Diet of Renewables, where I showed how important hydrocarbons are in the functioning of complex societies.  Obviously, very few people read that piece, although it was the most popular entry in my blog for a while.  Well, nothing has changed, except that all surplus oil has disappeared from the global markets, and the earthlings are stumbling towards a real shortage of oil and really high fuel prices. 

Let's imagine now that the bad crude oil and natural gas vanished from our lives overnight. In the morning, three quarters of Americans, after taking a cold shower and eating cold food, wouldn't drive to work or school.  I am assuming that these Americans were getting their electricity from coal or uranium, because otherwise their water would not be running from the faucets and food would be rotting in the dark stinking refrigerators.

But not to worry, even if these oil-free Americans walked to their job places, there would be nothing for them to do.  UPS and FedeX, delivery trucks, ships, and planes would all be grounded.  Amazon.com would go out of business overnight.  Apple, Inc. would not be able to import those white hot iPhones and iPads from their Chinese sweatshops. The sweatshops would cease production too, because their spare parts would disappear in one day. The liquid crystal displays, motherboards, plastic boxes, and many other parts of the iPhones would become unavailable worldwide. And so on.

Do you want me to go over an oil- and gas-free medical care system in the U.S.? I guess not. And how about an absolutely clean pension system and Social Security checks?  Let's not go there.  Oh, I know, I should perhaps write about food that is not already growing in our gardens and close-by communities - if these communities have seeds and horses or oxen.  Let's skip that one too.

My all time favorite is Academia that cavalierly presumes it will be able to function and do expensive research in an oil-free world that will also be free of NIH, NSF, BES, DARPA, ARPA-E, and so on.  Petroleum engineering departments across the U.S. are the most overworked and understaffed departments in Academia.  In my department, the student-to-faculty ratio is 42, and we bring over 1 million of external research dollars per faculty per year. But The U.S. News & World Report does not even bother to rank us with the other, apparently more important departments, such as aerospace, mechanical engineering or chemical engineering.  Where would those departments be without crude oil?!  Can you imagine jets flying in an oil-free world? Or aerospace departments that work on gliders, while churning those future Lockheed-Martin employees?

In summary, my evil oil and gas industry is creating and maintaining all the jobs in our advanced U.S. economy.   It takes a Nobel-winning economist to overlook this detail and the dedicated commentariat of the New York Times to vent their hatred of the oil industry, while all are benefiting from crude oil and natural gas every second of their lives. 

Knock, knock, here I come... My name is Reality. Anyone out there to check on? I guess not; just an endless parade of natural born fools...

I was kidding. Upon reflection, let's go and buy some of that hot hot Facebook stock and create both jobs, one in India and the other in China.

P.S. Hans Rosling in a magic TED's 9 minute talk uses the washing machine allegory to explain what I am talking about here. What can't the lucky few swimmers in crude oil and natural gas understand about how important these fungible, concentrated fuels are?

My friend, Jeff Brown, has reminded me of the following excerpt from "A Night to Remember," by Walter Lord:
Only six years before, when he (Captain Smith) brought over the brand new Adriatic, he remarked: "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that."
I see Captain Smith's arrogance in many of the arguments by Dr. Krugman, Mr. Daniel Yergin, and so many, many others. Their unsinkable Titanic is the U.S. economy.

P.S.P.S. Here is a plot of oil price versus the energy return on investment (EROI).  This plot was created by my UT and ASPO colleague, Dr. Carey King. Anyone can see where we are headed. Or can we?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let's bet some more...

Almost a year ago, in The Global Las Vegas, I told you how the runaway betting on imaginary things screwed up real people. Today I was reminded that nothing has changed, and Goldman Sachs continues to do what they've always done, ripping off clients, while disparaging them verbally. Goldman Sachs, an evil twin of Federal Government, remains the dominant player in our crazy megalopolis, the Earth-encircling Las Vegas.  There is no place to hide anymore, unless we wish to escape into the past.

In the meantime, the real world economy continues to consume Earth's resources at an ever-increasing rate as more of very desperately poor people are now just poor, and want to have some of the same amenities we take for granted. The results are predictable and the price you and I pay to commute in the U.S. is at an all-time high.

To put this price index into perspective, it now costs 10 times more to move from point A to B in the U.S. metropolitan areas than it did 60 years ago.  And the driving costs continue to explode with no relief in sight. Therefore, I take issue with this recent statement by Paul Krugman:
The irony here is that these claims come just as events are confirming what everyone who did the math already knew, namely, that U.S. energy policy has very little effect either on oil prices or on overall U.S. employment.
If people cannot get to work because of the high gasoline price, there will be an impact on U.S. economy.

So where is the heated public debate on transportation alternatives?  Nowhere it seems, as we are wasting precious time widening those roads everywhere.  Road-widening is the only solution we can think of as communities and that's dangerously unimaginative. I used to think that we could see more clearly into the future, but I don't anymore.  Woe on us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rush Limbaugh & Co. Very Limited

Rush Limbaugh is a drug-infested, lying high-school bully, who - for the reasons explained below - has been getting away with uncontrolled outbursts of hatred and verbal abuse of others. Recently, I watched a video tape of Rush drowning in self-importance, while dreamily talking dirty about a young woman, who dared to assert that she was in control of her body and destiny. He reminded me of a teenager who was jerking off while cursing. But Rush's age is 61, not 16, just like 1984 is not 1948.

On a fourth wife, roughly half his age, Rush still seems to be incapable of controlling rage when he senses a challenge to his male dominance. I would advise Rush to work out issues with his snow white manhood, drugs, and aggression towards women with a psychiatrist or psychologist. The whole world doesn't need to participate.

I wonder what the three earlier wives would tell us about Rush's brutality? How often did he hit or abuse them? If we paid these three wretches as much or more as they are being paid to keep silent, one wonders what would they say? Newt's second wife was pretty direct when describing her own paragon of fidelity, marital support, and christian morality. 

Let's not forget, however, that Rush is an ex officio member of a larger team of hand-picked hate mongers and professional liars assembled by Faux News. (If you don't already know it, faux, pronounced as fou, is a French word for false.)

Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Greta van Susteren, Geraldo Rivera, Neil Cavuto, etc., are all highly paid actors and professional propagandists, for whom a "no" becomes a "yes" for cash. It is telling that the Urban Dictionary defines a hate monger as "a media personality who spreads hate under the guise of a political affiliation or a religious belief." Ann Coulter is a prototypical hate monger.

The Faux News stars may have their own problems with anger management and other symptoms of madness, but in truth they all work hard and with great skill on the implementation of an ideology of hate, division, and backwardness. An atomized, suspicious and angry, poorly-educated society - without universal healthcare, but with constant distractions of pop music, sports, facebook, reality shows, celebrities, and fashion - is easy to manipulate. Of course, neither my observation nor the current implementations by Rush or Faux News are original. George Orwell described it all in 1984, written, as you've already guessed, in 1948.

The able agit-prop functionaries of Faux News have been working diligently to deliver what they are paid for.  Agit-prop, a contraction of the words "agitatsiia" and "propaganda" was an omnipresent activity in the post-Revolutionary Soviet Union. Intended to inculcate and promote "appropriate" social values among the masses, its many forms (press, radio, film, music, sculptures, paintings, poster campaigns, and the countless agitation centers, or 'agitpunkts', among others) served as a powerful means of politically educating the population at large. And when agit-prop failed, a bullet in the back of the head of each nonbeliever or gulag usually did the job.

Faux News is a national agitpunkt of today. Just like the telescreens in 1984, Faux News is omnipresent in hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, and airports.  Often it is the first channel after the start up menu on the hotel TV networks.  A coincidence?  Hardly.  The U.S. proles (a newspeak term for the proletariat, the poor and uneducated classes in the Oceania that included North America) need to get their daily fixes of hate and cheap distractions, and Faux News is here to serve ample doses of both.

In this context, Rush or Bill are simply delivering a daily "Two Minutes of Hate." In 1984 (the book of course), the purpose of the Hate moments was to channel the citizens' foggy feelings of angst and hatred from leading a wretched, gray, and controlled existence. The citizens' feelings had to be foggy, because all words to express human feelings were eliminated from the language they were taught at school.  Imagine describing anything with up to 140 characters and not all letters. Or think of the current high school students drilled to take the endless debilitating tests that leave no time for independent thinking and learning.

By re-directing the suppressed feelings of the population away from the Oceanian government and toward external enemies (who never existed and were pure propaganda inventions), the Two Minutes of Hate minimized subversive thought and behavior.  Does this ring a bell? Please recall my words when you watch the daily propaganda installments on Faux News.

In case you think that I exaggerate, here is a quote from William Casey, an ex-CIA Director:
We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.
From first staff meeting in 1981
I guess, Mr. Casey had a deadline in mind: 1984.

I grew up in Poland soaked in a similarly crude propaganda and hating every minute of it.  My respite was to go to the BBC, or Radio Free Europe, or the Voice of America that provided me with antidotes for the low doses of the slowly working venom injected into my veins each day by the local mass media.  It did not work then, and it does not work now.  Or does it?  So many of the Polish immigrants I know, many with advanced academic degrees, revert to the propaganda they grew up with, and are enthusiastic consumers of Rush Limbaugh and Faux News.  Now, that's really scary!

P.S. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my most favorite writers, came up with this helpful quote:
"If you go back through history, you'll find people who have been most eager to rule, to make laws and to tell everybody exactly how God Almighty wants things here on Earth - those people have forgiven themselves and their friends for anything and everything.  But they have been absolutely disgusted and terrified by the natural sexuality of common men and women."
Billy the Poet talking to Nancy McLuhan after deflowering her.  As all hostesses of death, Nancy was a beautiful frigid virgin schooled in martial arts for self-protection.  Welcome to the Monkey House, p.49.